By Derek Bonnett: The network rivalry between HBO and Showtime has taken a turn. For the last two decades each cable giant has produced memorable boxing cards and historical match-ups like Barrera-Morales, Gatti-Ward, Castillo-Corrales, and Marquez-Vazquez. The two premium cable boxing outlets have competed as evenly as the men in the four aforementioned boxing rivalries.
Each year, the best each network could hope for was a split decision nod over the other. However, 2009 has produced a unanimous decision winner with an outcome more reminiscent of Camacho-Chavez than any of the bouts produced by the eight fighters mentioned above.
What made Showtime such a distinctive winner and most deserving recipient of Secondsout’s award for Service to Boxing 2009? Five words: Super Six World Boxing Classic.
Tournaments in professional boxing are a rarity and, when they do come off, they tend to lack the names the fans are interested in truly seeing because the top fighters aren’t willing to commit themselves to the time to see the tournament unfold. The money usually isn’t there and trophies prove a small consolation.
Showtime provided an answer to the age old question: how do you get the best fighters in a single division to fight one another? After years of showcasing super middleweight talent from Joe Calzaghe to Mikkel Kessler to Andre Ward, Showtime executives decided to use their existing relationships with these fighters to foster negotiations for the Super Six World Boxing Classic. Through lots of hard work and probably a few miracles, the premium boxing network delivered boxing fans a tournament with the names Kessler, Ward, Arthur Abraham, Jermain Taylor, Carl Froch, and Andre Dirrell, who are easily ranked among the upper echelon of the 168 pound class. Showtime has delivered the Super Six fighters and done so without a pay-per-view price tag.
"We wanted to unfold a lineage for the fans to see just who was the best super middleweight in the world," one Showtime representative explained. "It was a very deep division in which Showtime had great familiarity. The tournament concept was a way to keep the storyline going for the fans and the fighters. It takes away the mantra that seems to become the norm, which we have to get away from, where one loss, to many people, seems to signify the end of someone’s career."
Too often in the sport of boxing we see a fighter step up to meet one of the best only to lose and then fear stepping up again to risk another defeat. We see fighters sitting on title shots and waiting for attrition to grant them their big fight as opposed to going out there taking the big risks and forcing a champion to take notice of them with their ring accomplishments. Taking on the best and losing shouldn’t be as detrimental to a fighter’s career, particularly when the loser acquits himself well. If any division were to have its top ten fighters matched and one boxer were to emerged with a .500 record, that fighter should still be viewed as serious factor in the division.
Can Showtime alter the way boxing fans and experts think? Well, the answer to this question may have to be tabled until the conclusion of the tournament. However, some of the match-ups featured in Group Stage 1 of the tournament may have already served to change our minds about which network to turn to for the best in world boxing coverage.
Arthur Abraham’s emphatic twelfth round KO of Jermain Taylor has boxing pundits very excited about the former middleweight champion’s prospects in the tournament. Andre Dirrell’s closely contested defeat to Carl Froch has many fans wondering how the young contender might respond in his next bout. Could Dirrell help to prove Showtime’s belief that one loss does not spell the end for an elite fighter? Andre Ward’s dominance over Mikkel Kessler shocked the boxing world and has both established Ward as a new favorite and forced us to ponder how Kessler will respond to his next challenge coming off of the loss.
Group Stage 2, which gets underway in March 2010, will feature very appealing match-ups contested between Arthur Abraham and Andre Dirrell, Jermain Taylor and Andre Ward, and Mikkel Kessler and Carl Froch. The ratings for Group Stage 1 were described as "formidable" by Showtime. One can only imagine the viewership for the Group Stage 2 match-ups will exceed 2009’s success.
Showtime has another great year of boxing planned for 2010 and it certainly includes more than the Super Six World Boxing Classic. For right now, let’s just be happy we can celebrate and honor the efforts of one boxing’s greatest friends. Showtime outdid itself and all the competition in 2009. It has set the bar very high and it’s 2009 schedule will be a tough act to follow. Boxing fans eagerly await the best 2010 has to offer.
Congratulation, Showtime! Thank you for your service to the sport of boxing.