By Alex Beard (@alex_beard17)
In a sport where key match-ups are so often delayed by promotional interferences, governing body mishaps and the desperate protection of unbeaten records, the upcoming World Boxing Super Series is a breath of fresh air.
The cruiserweight division, in particular, has been crying out for a tournament like this one – with almost all of the weightclasses’ top level talent represented in the quarter final line-up. Super middleweight is the other weight division taking part in the series, with the likes of WBA champion George Groves and surging contender Callum Smith involved.
The tournament is scheduled to begin in September of this year and end with two finals in May 2018. Fight dates have begun to be announced and anticipation is rising among the boxing populous. As such, there is no better time to look ahead at three of the contests that could end up stealing the quarter-final show.
Chris Eubank Jr. vs. Avni Yildirim
Truthfully, the Super Middleweight tournament won’t really heat up until the semi-final stage. There are clear favourites in at least three of the contests, with your interpretation of the Jürgen Brähmer vs. Robert Brant clash dependent on how highly you rate the American. With that said, the most evenly matched of the other quarter final match-ups looks set to be the collision between Eubank Jr. and Yildirim.
A lot has been written about Eubank Jr. already, but he appears to me to be a simultaneously under and overrated fighter. The casual viewer, drawn in by ITV Box Office’s flashy adverts, probably views him as the second coming of Joe Calzaghe. The ardent fight fan, however, remains unconvinced.
The fact is that the 27-year-old has shown as many weaknesses as strengths in his 25 wins and 1 loss. Through the first half of his 2014 defeat to Billy Joe Saunders, he appeared to be stuck in quicksand, completely at a loss on how to deal with the boxing ability of the now WBO middleweight champion. He was a changed man in the latter portion of the contest, pushing forward relentlessly and smothering his more technical opponent.
Since that loss Eubank Jr. has gone on to register decent enough wins over the likes of Dmitry Chudinov, Gary ‘Spike’ O’Sullivan and most recently Arthur Abraham. He remains for too hittable, you would think, for the upper echelon of the division, and his punching power hasn’t quite translated to the 168 lb. weightclass. There is still untapped potential for him to explore, however, and he will likely go into this fight as the firm favourite.
Yildirim, on the other hand, is a far more unknown quantity. At 25 years of age he’s the youngest man in the super middleweight field, but has more high-level wins than Skoglund or Brant – for what that’s worth. His decision wins over Glen Johnson and most recently Marco Antonio Periban give him a sniff of legitimacy, and he is the WBC’s unbeaten ‘International’ champion.
I’m eager to see whether Eubank Jr. can stop Yildirim, or if he’s merely content to waltz to a decision, while it’ll be interesting to find out if the Turk’s undoubted skills can translate to the top level.
Oleksandr Usyk vs. Marco Huck
This will be a classic clash between the young cub and the old lion. It may be a blowout, yes, but even if it is it will be an important step towards stardom for the Ukrainian. Interestingly, they are only separated in age by two measly years – surprising given the gulf between them in professional boxing experience.
Huck is the second-longest reigning cruiserweight champion of all time, sharing the 13 defence record with Britain’s own Johnny Nelson. He’s amassed a record of 40-4-1-KO27, claiming the scalps of notable names like Ola Afolabi, Denis Lebedev and Firat Arslan. His losses have been to high-level opposition in Steve Cunningham, Alexander Povetkin, Krzysztof Glowacki and Mairis Briedis. So a win over him will still be a significant feather in the cap of Usyk.
The German is a hard puncher, tough and rugged. He’s been around a long time and will aim to use his veteran guile to frustrate his prodigiously talented opponent. Usyk is the better technician and may well choose to sit on the back foot and pick off Huck with stinging counters. A change in tactics at this stage of Huck’s career is unlikely, therefore expect to see him move forward and attempt to stifle Usyk.
The current WBO champion, Usyk took the title from the man who knocked out Huck. His victory over Glowacki told us a lot about him, as he was taken the distance for the first time as a professional. Despite hurting the Pole on a number of occasions he couldn’t get him out of there and instead relied on his boxing skills, firing in heavy combinations on an increasingly frustrated Glowacki.
A couple of lackluster defences over Thabiso Mchunu and Michael Hunter have taken the shine off him to some extent, but he remains one of the most exciting fighters to have emerged in the cruiserweight division for many years. He’ll be looking for the knockout and there are few who’ll be expecting the upset from Huck. A win over the German still counts for something, however, and this could be the perfect platform for Usyk to begin his coronation as a true pound-for-pound talent.
Mairis Briedis vs. Mike Perez
The aforementioned Briedis could well be the man to upset Usyk, with a potential semi-final meeting with the Ukrainian a salivating prospect, but first he’ll have to make it past one of the newest members of the cruiserweight division in former heavyweight Mike Perez.
Perez’s career has been a frustrating tale, with his ascent up the heavyweight division seemingly halted by a victory rather than a defeat. The Cuban claimed a brutal unanimous decision victory over Magomed Abdusalomov in 2013, with the fight leaving the Russian permanently and seriously injured. Perez’s next contest saw him labour to a draw with veteran Carlos Takam, before he was split decisioned for his first defeat by Bryant Jennings.
A knockout win over Darnell Wilson followed, but Perez then suffered a 91-second knockout loss to Povetkin. He ended a two year hiatus with a 29-second stoppage of Viktor Biscak last month, a fight that marked his debut as a cruiserweight. Cutting a more muscular figure, he cleanly halted his previously-unbeaten opponent and promptly entered the Super Six tournament.
Briedis is a formidable proposition for Perez’s first real test at the weight. Unbeaten through 22 fights, he has ended 18 of those inside the distance. His decision victory over Huck last time out showed he was more than just a power puncher, though, as he outclassed his experienced opponent.
At 32 he’s a relatively late bloomer and will see this tournament as his chance to break through as a top-class fighter. This fight will really determine how good Perez can be at the weight, and how good Briedis is full stop.by