The quest for the World Boxing Super Series Muhammad Ali trophy has officially begun.
What began as a high-profile concept has taken a major leap toward reality as three major cruiserweights have enlisted in the series being put together by Richard Schaefer and Nisse & Kalle Sauerland. The World Boxing Super Series brass announced on Friday of its first batch of signees - unbeaten cruiserweight titlists Murat Gassiev and Mairis Briedis, as well as former beltholder Krzysztof Wlodarczyk.
“We promised you the biggest names and champions in the divisions and here we are delivering," exclaimed Schaefer in a statement released through WBSS press office. "More names will follow shortly. We simply can’t wait to get the action started!”
The first round of matches are due to begin in September, with hopes of reaching the finals at cruiserweight and super middleweight (the identity of whose entrants are forthcoming) by next May. According to the latest news release, the quarterfinal pairings will be determined during the Draft Gala in Monaco in early July.
In each weight class, the four top-seeded boxers will select their quarterfinal opponents from the four unseeded boxers. From there will come the confirmed fight dates and locations for the first round matchups.
Whispers of the cruiserweight signees have suggested the bracket will be loaded with the division's very best talents. It also helped clear up future plans for some of those very boxers, including those who seemed to have fallen out of the spotlight since reaching the pinnacle.
Among the names released, it stands to reason that Gassiev (24-0, 17KOs) is the pick of the litter. However, the ferocious punching cruiserweight titlist from Russia has been neither seen nor heard since outpointing Denis Lebedev last December in Moscow to win a piece of the division's crown. The 23-year old from Russia is one of many boxers under adviser Al Haymon's Premier Boxing Champions banner whom has struggled to secure a television date in recent months.
We now know the reason for at least his recent ring absence.
“It is an honor to be in the World Boxing Super Series,“ said Gassiev. “This is the best fighting the best. I have never lost a fight, I am the IBF champion and I look forward to winning the other belts as well to cement my position as the best fighter in the division!“
If his mandatory title status is to be strictly honored, it's very possible that he will already know his first round opponent.
Wlodarczyk (53-3-1, 37KOs) boxed his way back into contention following a surprise 12-round win over previously unbeaten Noel Gevor in his native Poland this past May. The 35-year old twice held titles at cruiserweight, first outpointing Steve Cunningham in their Nov. '06 vacant title fight before conceding the crown in their rematch just six months later.
His second reign lasted much longer, knocking out Giacobe Fragomeni in the 8th round of their May '10 rematch after being held to a controversial draw one year prior. Six successful defenses followed before dropping a landslide decision to Grigory Drozd in Sept. '14. He has since won four straight heading into the upcoming tournament.
“I will stamp my authority on the division by beating the best cruiserweights out there and winning the World Boxing Super Series,” insists Wlodarczyk. “There is a reason the winner gets the Muhammad Ali Trophy. He was the Greatest of all time, and the winner of this tournament has the right to call himself the greatest cruiserweight of our time.”
“This is the Champions League of boxing and I am going to prove that I am the world´s best cruiserweight,” he said. “The competition will be tough, but to be the best, you have to beat the best.”
The road to such supremacy will also include having to get past a hard-punching champ who made a bit of history with his most recent victory.
Briedis (22-0, 18KOs) has rapidly emerged as a cult favorite, but it was actually a one-and-done appearance at heavyweight that helped the top-rated cruiserweight punch a hole through the wall. He became an instant hit the moment boxing fans caught wind of his Aug. '15 highlight-reel knockout of Manuel Charr thanks to YouTube footage.
The boxing world made sure to never again miss a step ever since, adding five more knockouts to his ledger including a thrilling 9th round stoppage of Olanrewaju Durodola in boldly marching to the cruiserweight title picture. His seven-round KO streak came to an end with his last fight, but well worth it as a 12-round decision win over former titlist Marco Huck this past April helped Breidis make history in becoming the first ever Latvia-born boxer to win a world title.
It's hardly where his story ends.
“This is the Champions League of boxing and I am going to prove that I am the world´s best cruiserweight,” claims Briedis. “The competition will be tough, but to be the best, you have to beat the best.”
Such was the exact intention in putting together this lucrative tournament.
“The best fighters are lining up to be in the tournament," said Kalle Sauerland. "Just like the fans, they love the format and the fact that there will only be one man standing at the end.”
Richard Schaefer, Comosa`s Chairman of the Americas, added: “We promised you the biggest names and champions in the divisions and here we are delivering. More names will follow shortly. We simply can’t wait to get the action started!”