The draws are set for the 16 participants in the $50 million World Boxing Super Series super middleweight and cruiserweight tournaments.
The top four seeds in each field selected their opponents from the unseeded fighters during the draft gala on Saturday night at the Grimaldi Forum in Monte Carlo, setting the stage for several intriguing bouts when the quarterfinals kick off in September and October. Specific dates and locations are to be announced.
In the cruiserweight tournament, which features a who’s who of the deep 200-pound weight class, including four reigning world titleholders (the top four seeds), No. 1 Oleksandr Usyk (12-0, 10 KOs), of Ukraine, selected former longtime titleholder Marco Huck (40-4-1, 27 KOs), of Germany, as his quarterfinal opponent in a match of the division’s new guard against its old guard.
“I picked him for my fans,” Usyk, who will be making his third title defense, said of picking Huck, one of the most well-known and best fighters in the history of the division.
Huck said he got the opponent he wanted.
“This is my wish opponent,” he said. “People say he is really good — an Olympic and world champion. But we will see when he gets in the ring with me.”
No. 2 Murat Gassiev (24-0, 17 KOs), of Russia, did not get the opportunity to select his opponent as he will face his mandatory challenger Krzysztof Wlodarczyk (53-3-1, 37 KOs), of Poland.
“I’m fighting Krzysztof because he is my No. 1 contender. He is a tough opponent, and I’m sure we give boxing fans a great fight,” said Gassiev, who will be making his first title defense.
Wlodarczyk is a former two-time world titleholder aiming for a third title reign when he faces Gassiev.
“I’m very happy because Gassiev is a good fighter and a tough guy. We will give people a good fight,” Wlodarczyk said.
No. 3 Mairis Briedis (22-0, 18 KOs), of Latvia, who outpointed Huck in April to win vacant title, selected former heavyweight contender Mike Perez (22-2-1, 14 KOs), who has dropped down in weight.
“He is a great fighter from Cuba. He comes from the heavyweight division and will give me a tough fight,” Briedis said.
Perez had a 25-month layoff but lost 42 pounds and returned as a cruiserweight for a first-round knockout win on June 10 before joining the tournament. Now he will face formidable opposition in his new division.
“It’s a great challenge. He’s a champion, so I’m looking forward to it,” said Perez, a Cuban defector fighting out of Ireland. “It’s going to be my first belt. I’m looking forward to the fight.”
The previous pairings set up a probable slugfest between No. 4 Yunier Dorticos (21-0, 20 KOs), a Miami-based Cuban defector who will be making his first defense, and “The Russian Hammer” Dmitry Kudryashov (21-1, 21 KOs).
“It’s going to be a great fight and something really interesting for the fans,” Dorticos said.
Added Kudryashov: “I’m happy with this opponent. It will be a good fight.”
Before the cruiserweights picked their opponents, the super middleweights did the honors. World titleholder George Groves (26-3, 19 KOs), the top seed from England, selected countryman Jamie Cox (23-0, 13 KOs) as his quarterfinal opponent.
“Me and Jamie are old buddies,” said Groves, who will be making his first title defense after stopping Fedor Chudinov in the sixth round to win a vacant belt on May 27. “We’ve known each other a long time now. I quite fancied a bit of a domestic dust-up. I wanted to pick my countryman. I know he wanted to fight me. I’ve provided him a great opportunity. He’s fighting for a world title. It’s also a strategic move. It’s a long tournament so I picked the easy guy first.”
Said Cox, who will be taking a monumental step up in the level of his opposition: “I was looking forward to getting a U.K. dust-up. George picked me and that makes for a great fight. It’s time to bury a seed.”
Callum Smith (22-0, 17 KOs), the No. 2 seed from England, selected Sweden’s Erik Skoglund (26-0, 12 KOs).
“There were four really good fighters to pick from, three left for me,” Smith said. “I just think stylistically Erik is the best fight for me.”
Said Skoglund: “To kick off the quarterfinals against an undefeated top guy … is massive. I couldn’t be happier with the choice.”
The No. 3 seed will go to the winner between England’s Chris Eubank Jr. (24-1, 19 KOs) and former super middleweight and middleweight world titleholder Arthur Abraham (46-5, 30 KOs), of Germany. They meet in a 12-round fight on July 15 (Integrated Sports PPV, 2:30 p.m. ET) at Wembley Arena in London.
With both fighters in training, they were represented by former two-division world titleholder Chris Eubank Sr., who picked Turkey’s Avni Yildirim (16-0, 10 KOs).
“Avni is a come-forward fighter. I don’t think he knows how to go back,” Eubank said. “He brings war, and that will make for a spectacular fight. Once my son gets past Arthur Abraham, he will do the same to Avni. Chris Eubank Jr. is an upgraded version of me.”
Said Yildirim: “I am very happy to be here. Good luck to the winner of Eubank and Abraham because it is my time now.”
That left No. 4 seed Juergen Braehmer (48-3, 35 KOs), a former light heavyweight world titleholder from Germany who is moving down one division, to face St. Paul, Minnesota’s Rob Brant (22-0, 15 KOs), a rising middleweight contender who is moving up one division.
“Since I could not pick any opponent anymore, I got the strongest guy,” Braehmer said. “The others apparently avoided him. I look forward to the start of the tournament, and I am curious to find out when and where the fight will take place.”
Brant will be taking a significant step up in opposition against the vastly experience Braehmer.
“There’s not an easy fight in this tournament. Whether it was the first person to pick or the last person, they are all champions,” Brant said. “I’m ready to do my best.”
Saturday’s draft made matchups a reality of what began in March with Comosa AG announcing plans for the two single-elimination tournaments in which the 16 fighters would divvy up $50 million prize money, with the winner of each tournament also receiving the Muhammad Ali Trophy. There were no fighters and weight divisions had not been selected when Comosa AG enlisted promoters Richard Schaefer and Kalle Sauerland to promote the cards before deciding to put on the tournaments in the cruiserweight and super middleweight divisions.
“The last couple of days have been filled with intriguing discussions and speculations about the picks. The waiting is finally over, and we are proud to present eight amazing fights,” Sauerland said. “To see all those stars on one stage was incredible, and it will be even more exciting to see all of them in the ring in September and October. There will not be a dull moment.”
After quarterfinal matches this fall, the semifinals are slated for early 2018 and the finals in May 2018.
“I was fortunate to promote many fights of Floyd Mayweather, Oscar De La Hoya and so many others, but I have to tell you this beats them all,” Schaefer said. “I really believe this has an opportunity to become the brand in the sport of boxing, the kind of tournament fighters really want to participate in because it will elevate their exposure and it will elevate their careers.”