Opening Bell: Super Super Series
When the World Boxing Super Series tournaments were announced last fall the idea sounded great, especially the cruiserweight version, with organizers promising: a deep, eight-man field with high-quality fights in a single-elimination format that wouldn't take too long to complete -- less than a year; a unified champion emerging because all four titleholders agreed to participate; the sanctioning bodies would stay the heck out of the way; and there would not be a draw in the final because of a tweak to the rules for just such a situation. The fighters would make good money and their promoters were happy to enroll them because they'd also earn nicely, and win or lose they owed the tournament no options beyond their fighter's stay in the tournament.
It sounded great but it also sounded too good to be true. And you know what they say: If something sounds too good to be true, it usually is. That's commonplace in boxing, where promoters and fighters often over-promise and then under-deliver.
However, if 99 times out of 100 the something that sounded too good to be true was, I am pleased to say we boxing fans have been treated to the one time in a 100 that the promise made was the promise kept.
The World Boxing Super Series cruiserweight tournament delivered everything it was hyped up to be. It was everything right about boxing.
The field was tremendous, there were no soft-touch fights, the fights were generally fan friendly, the production of the events was first class, the combatants showed great sportsmanship and it all concluded with the super skilled and versatile Oleksandr Usyk cruising past devastating puncher Murat Gassiev by lopsided decision (albeit in an entertaining bout) to unify all four 200-pound belts for the first time in a historic win Saturday at the Olimpiysky Sports Complex in Moscow.
To top it all off, the tournament paid homage to boxing history by commissioning the Muhammad Ali Trophy to give to the winner and had Ali's widow, Lonnie Ali, on hand to present the hardware. That was a wonderful, thoughtful touch.
Going into the tournament, Usyk -- whose hero is Ali -- was the top seed and Gassiev was No. 2 but there was not even close to a guarantee they'd each reach the final given the level of talent involved: titleholders Yunier Dorticos and Mairis Briedis, former titleholders Krzysztof Wlodarczyk and Marco Huck (aging perhaps, but in the conversation for the best in division history), and contenders Dmitry Kudryashov and Mike Perez.
In the end, we saw some eye-catching knockouts (Dorticos-Kudryashov and Gassiev-Wlodarczyk), a 2018 fight of the year contender (Gassiev-Dorticos), a razor-close battle (Usyk-Briedis) and an absolute masterpiece (Usyk's crowning victory).
The one complaint was the lack of American television. How a network didn't make a serious play for the tournament will forever remain a mystery.
With the platform of the WBSS, Usyk (15-0, 11 KOs), already one of the great amateurs of all time and a 2012 Olympic gold medalist, has launched himself into the pound-for-pound conversation thanks to running the table against Huck, Briedis and Gassiev (not to mention his pre-WBSS resume).
Without the tournament, Usyk would not have gotten the opportunity to prove himself and we boxing fans, who love to argue about virtually everything, have to agree on this: Usyk is the No. 1 cruiserweight on the planet.
And the World Boxing Super Series cruiserweight tournament was super indeed.
Prospect watch: Jaron Ennis
Remember the kid's name: Jaron Ennis. The 21-year-old welterweight from Philadelphia is a tremendous prospect who could become the best fighter to come out of the great boxing city in years.
Ennis (21-0, 19 KOs), a former National Golden Gloves champion, got his first major television exposure on Showtime in the "ShoBox" main event on Friday in Sloan, Iowa, and dazzled. He blew out Armando Alvarez (18-1, 12 KOs), 28, of Key West, Florida, who was a clear step up in competition, in three rounds.
Ennis knocked Alvarez down four times in the third round before referee Adam Pollack stopped it with one second remaining. Ennis notched his 11th knockout in a row by scoring his knockdowns with a nice variety of punches: left hand to the head, left to the stomach, three-punch combination and a fight-finishing right uppercut.
"I came out and did what we planned on, which was to just get out there and break him down," said Ennis, whose older brothers, Derek Jr. and Farah, had previously boxed on "ShoBox."
The next step: Ennis is ready for another solid step up in opposition and a lot more TV time. He is exactly the kind of prospect "ShoBox" was created for.
Robbery of the weekend (and maybe the year)
In the "ShoBox" co-feature, lightweight Thomas Mattice (13-0, 10 KOs), 27, of Cleveland, was given a split-decision win against Zhora Hamazaryan (9-1, 6 KOs), 22, of Armenia, who clearly dominated the fight but was on the short end of two scores of 76-75 while one judge gave him the fight 77-74. The offending judges, Mike Contreras and Jeff Sinnett, made Adalaide Byrd's 118-110 scorecard for Canelo Alvarez over Gennady Golovkin in September look awesome.
Hamazaryan knocked down Mattice with a hard right hand in the second round, pressured him relentlessly, rendered Mattice's typically hard jab irrelevant and worked him over.
"ShoBox" analyst Steve Farhood, not one for hype or hyperbole, has been on the series for its entire 18-year run and said, "That was the worst decision I've seen in the history of ShoBox."
Blow-by-blow man Barry Tompkins referred to the decision as "criminal" and when the highlight package of the fight ran at the end of the telecast he said they would have shown Mattice highlights if they could find any.
Hamazaryan was distraught. "I am extremely upset," he said. "I worked many years for this opportunity, and for the judges to take it from me is just terrible. I know I won. I have already talked to my team and we are going to protest this fight to the right outcome and we will give him a rematch. I knocked him down, hurt him several more times and dominated the fight. And how could they just take this from me?"
Fights you might have missed
Saturday at Bang Phun, Thailand
Junior featherweight Srisaket Sor Rungvisai (45-4-1, 40 KOs) TKO1 Young Gil Bae (28-7-2, 22 KOs)
Sor Rungvisai, 31, of Thailand, the junior bantamweight world champion and one of boxing's pound-for-pound best, took a nontitle homecoming fight at 120 pounds following three huge wins in a row in the United States, two against former pound-for-pound king Roman "Chocolatito" Gonzalez and his February slugfest against Juan Francisco Estrada. He took on a very soft touch in Gil Bae, 38, of South Korea, a former strawweight world title challenger coming off a 15-month layoff, and absolutely battered him from start to finish. Sor Rungvisai pounded him around the ring nonstop until knocking him down under a punishing furry of punches, at which point the referee waved it off at 2 minutes, 50 seconds of the first round. Sor Rungvisai, who headlined the "Superfly 2 card against Estrada in February, turned down an opportunity to headline "Superfly 3" on Sept. 8 and instead will defend his title against an opponent to be determined in Bangkok on Oct. 6.
Saturday at Laval, Quebec
Cruiserweight Jean Pascal (33-5-1, 20 KOs) TKO8 Steve Bosse (1-1, 1 KO)
Former light heavyweight world champion Pascal, 35, exited a seven-month retirement to move up in weight and fight in his hometown in an all-Quebec novelty fight against former MMA fighter and minor league hockey enforcer Bosse, 36. Bosse, who had his first boxing match in February, hung in there because of his toughness but (not surprisingly) he was outclassed by Pascal, who may not be what he once was but he can still handle himself and beat good fighters. Pascal dropped Bosse in the third round with a left hook on the chin, did as he pleased and then dropped him again with another left hook to the chin in the eighth round. Bosse beat the count but he was in bad shape and referee Michael Griffin waved it off as the round ended. It was an entertaining fight but Bosse reportedly suffered a torn biceps and injured jaw.