Monday, August 3, 2009

The Brave and the Bold: The Super Six Shoot-out

Jeff Pryor previews Showtime's upcoming Super Six 168 pound tournament.

Boldness by Showtime and Ken Hershman. Braveness on the part of the promoters.

And six brave and bold warriors ready to test their mettle against one another in a brutal round robin of blitzed out brawling to blast the Super Middleweight divisions rankings apart at the seam.

Kessler, Froch, Taylor, Abraham, Ward and Dirrell. Simply by signing on, they have emblazoned their names on the placard that reads "real fighter".

Confident and ready, these six gunslingers, stroll into their matches, knowing it will be tough. Knowing they will likely not make it out unscathed. But believing in themselves enough that should they do their best, it will be worth it.

Wanting to be the best. Willing to face the best.

Hailing from destinations scattered throughout Europe and America, these warriors will put themselves through hell in solitary preparation for the day when each of them stand across from one another, paths finally intersecting, with the determination to boldly lay claim to the crown of the division.

Who will stand above the rest and demand to be recognized?

Mikkel Kessler, of whom it is generally held, is the best of the division, based largely upon the work he did before his competitive outing with Calzaghe, and is also figured to be the favorite heading into the competition. His thorough handling of Librado Andrade looks all the more impressive since Andrade gave Lucian Bute hell and came as close to knocking a man out that you can... without it being awarded to you. Kessler's stand up, disciplined style and all around package should make him a tough match for everyone. He isn't the biggest puncher in the competition, or the fastest, not the most athletic, or dynamic, but all in all he's the most proven; the man to beat heading into the long affair.

Photo © Justin McKie

Carl Froch is the blue collar, gut it out, dark horse. He may be the slowest of the field, but he's also the only do or die warrior of the bunch. Like Kessler's Andrade win, Froch's Pascal victory looks all the more impressive since Pascal has moved up to Light Heavyweight and outclassed Adriane Diaconu. Against Jermain Taylor, Froch showed that he can overcome a deficit in speed and athleticism by sheer will and determination. With above average power and a fiery warrior spirit that isn't easily doused, getting past him will take either an incredibly disciplined and determined performance or a concussive explosion that suddenly takes him out in one fell swoop. Whatever happens, when you step in with Froch, it's gut check time.

Andre Dirrell may be the most dynamic fighter out of the group. He has scintillating speed and a missile powered offense, plus the general athleticism to match anyone in the sport. His career so far has been a mixed bag, and it seems largely due to the psychology of the fighter. Tentativeness, a lack of urgency and a safety first mentality marred some of his earlier bouts. Recently he has opened up his attack more and displayed a dazzlingly violent penchant for isolated pockets of destruction. His participation is one of the more ambiguous elements in the tournament. You get the sense he has more raw talent then anyone else, but is the least consistent. His opening bout with Froch may be make or break in that Carl is the kind of fighter who will not go quietly, and if he can take Dirrel's punch he may grind down the less experienced fighter over the long haul, and cause an irreversible reversion in mentality. Throughout the tournament Dirrell will need to prove he can dig in and gut out some moments.

Photo © Marty Rosengarten /

Andre Ward is the other largely unproven talent in the pool. Like Kessler he is solid in virtually every area, but wholly untested against the kind of opposition he will face in the tournament. It would appear he has the skill to compete in this field, but it's yet to be proven he has that special something needed to rise to the very top. I recall Dirrel's impressive performance against Anthony Hanshaw, and wonder how Ward would have done against Hanshaw that night; I think he would have had a much harder time. Still, Ward has his opportunity, and he's shown a desire to succeed and prove himself. That sort of fire can spur a fighter to keep going when others would have quit. His mental toughness may determine outcomes.

Photo © Justin McKie

Then we have the most accomplished of the two former Middleweight champion's, Jermain Taylor, who has found it a difficult go against determined punchers who he can drop, but not stop. His psyche may be the most fragile of all the fighters. He takes losses hard, and he's coming off what must be the most disappointing of his career, where Froch knocked him out in the waning seconds of a fight he would have won on the cards. Taylor's athleticism is only bettered by Dirrell here, and his combination of hand speed and power will be a handful for everyone at the beginning of his fights. His bursting flurries start to diminish midway through though and he may find it hard to match the consistency of some of the other fighters. Still he sat Froch down, a feat no one else has managed, and that would suggest his power is enough to derail anyone here under the right circumstances. His chronic fatigue syndrome will sour most on his prospects in the tournament, but there are a couple matchup's he will find advantageous and he's been known to consistently get the nod in close affairs.

And finally, another fighter who is largely a question mark, particularly at this weight. "King" Arthur Abraham, gives up his crown to try and conquer another kingdom. The key questions will be whether his power makes the move with him, and if his cover-up-fight-thirty-seconds-a-round style, as has been contended, was a product of his struggles in continuing to make the 160lb weight limit or if, as his earlier fights would seem to point to, that's just the way he fights. His four year run as a title holder lacked top flight competition for much of it. More than any fighter here... more than most in the sport, he has shown an extraordinary level of grit and heart, as exemplified in his first bout with Edison Miranda, in which his jaw was horrifically broken and lolling open for much of the bout. One wonders what you must do to stop this man from fighting. If Abraham's power carries up, his winky-esque power slugging remix of a style will provide an interesting puzzle for everyone he meets.

Those six are the Brave and the Bold. Each of them holds their own advantage, and it will be in the match ups that we see how they all slide and click together to create interesting variations on a theme, while we watch six separate story arcs mature before us.

The first trio of matches present intrigue and a few tough draws.

Kessler vs. Ward would seem to be the most conventional fight. Both guys will come to play, and it may just be a case where the older boy knows the game better. With over twice the experience, Kessler will come in frosty and calm. While Ward may be tight heading into his first title fight. If he can keep it close, even a loss may be a victory, in that Ward may need to get this out of the way just to affirm that he belongs in the tournament and in the ring with a guy like Kessler. A Kessler loss here would set the tournament on it's ear.

Froch vs. Dirrell may cause the most sparks to fly. Froch will push Dirrell, and Dirrell will sting Froch. It's a matchup of diametrically opposed fighters. It may come down to whether Froch can survive the short term and whether Dirrell can survive the long term. This may look like Pavlik-Taylor I... or Froch-Taylor for that matter. Could be a real bad night for either guy. And maybe an explosive tournament debut for whoever makes it happen for themselves.

Taylor vs. Abraham pits the two middleweight transplants against one another. This is probably the best matchup for Taylor in the whole shebang. Abraham doesn't push the pace and he will likely allow the always keyed up and tight Taylor to conserve vital energy over the course of the bout. Each man likes to fight in explosive spurts. While Abraham would seem to have the edge in power, Taylor should have a distinct hand speed edge. Since Taylor has cracked twice before though, even a conservative Abraham may have the necessary firepower to bomb out Taylor. It will be up to Jermain to walk the tight rope and balance his stamina.

To look ahead to further matches seems criminal without knowing the results from these fine openers. Things may look radically different for the outcome of the tournament following round one.

The genius in this tournament is that due to it's round robin styling, there is a philosophical return to a different era in boxing; a different perception of a loss. To a time when being a worthy fighter didn't mean an untarnished record, it meant you fought your ass off against the best out there, come what may. As long as you won more than you lost, you probably did alright for yourself.

This tournament allows us to cut the boys some slack. A just reward for consistently facing the toughest competition.

The other bright spot here is that it would be impossible to find a dull matchup with any of these two names sandwiched together. The matchup with the most potential for dead zones would be Abraham-Dirrell... and even that is pretty damn intriguing. This tournament will be hard pressed to disappoint. The pessimistic fan, might say that boxing will find a way, but the sheer number of top flight fights all but precludes disappointment on a mass scale.

Of the six fighters, there will be one left standing at the end, but there will certainly be more than one fighter who comes out of this more highly regarded than upon their entrance.

It's a high wire act in which any meltdown could mean a string of high profile losses and the end of a career. Balanced against that, the prospect of victory after victory, big fights and elevated profile is enough to lure in the likes of current and former world champions, pound for pound entrants, and Olympians.

Make no mistake, the spoils are great.

Imagine if one fighter emerges undefeated over the course of the tournament... For instance, suppose Kessler beats Ward, Froch, Taylor and Dirrell over the course of the series (perhaps one of them twice), couple that with his already notched wins over Andrade, Beyer and Mundine, and then compare that to a list of significant victories from consensus Super Middleweight all-time king, Joe Calzaghe's career. Kessler might slide past Calzaghe on the esteem scale with that kind of run.

The same certainly goes for any man that runs the table, maybe even for a Super Six fighter who drops a fight. With even two solid wins, lets say Froch scores victories over Kessler and Dirrell, match those with his earlier Taylor and Pascal wins and compare them with Joe's best; Kessler, Lacy, Eubank. That's comparable or better.

The point is, in a young division who's patriarch is a long reigning champ who added relatively few choice pelts to his wall, it only takes a string of three or so stirring performances to stamp your name indelibly on the division, maybe even to usurp the current standard barer. While Calzaghe's longevity was impressive, few would argue the Welshman even had as many significant fights over the course of his 10 year run as champion, as these men will have over the course of the next two years. It is because of this, that they are not just fighting for the current division crown, but to enter the discussion of who has been the most remarkable Super Middleweight of all-time.

In an endeavor so vast and far reaching into the future, there is bound to be uncertainty; what if a string of losses sends Taylor into retirement before the tournaments end, or what if injuries preclude a fighter from continuing on to the next fight? Will a definitive division leader emerge? Will a string of tough fights benefit the fighters enough to justify the wear and tear they are bound to endure? Will the tournament be successful and spur the sport on to a renewed interest in these formatted war fields?

If there is a certainty it is that some will fall, some will prevail and spectators will be rewarded for baring witness.

Fortune favors the bold.

e-mail Jeff Pryor