LONDON — It is boxing, but not as we know it.
The World Boxing Super Series (WBSS) rolled into London last weekend on its latest stop on a global tour during the quarterfinal stages of two eight-man competitions at super-middleweight and cruiserweight.
After visiting London on Saturday for super-middleweight titleholder George Groves’ fourth-round win over fellow Englishman Jamie Cox at the SSE Arena in Wembley, it is on to New Jersey for cruiserweight titleholder Murat Gassiev against Krzysztof Wlodarczyk next weekend.
The promoter for the World Boxing Super Series is holding talks with English football clubs Arsenal and Brighton over the possibility of hosting a bout between George Groves and Chris Eubank Jr. early next year.
George Groves made quick work of Jamie Cox on Saturday Oct. 14 to set up another all-English clash against Chris Eubank Jr. in early 2018.
Then on Oct. 27 it is back to Germany for the final super-middleweight quarterfinal between Juergen Braehmer and Rob Brant. It is an unrelenting and ambitious schedule for the two eight-man elimination competitions with the intention being that the WBSS revolutionises boxing and becomes something akin to soccer’s Champions League.
It will need time to catch on globally and fight fans in the UK have been unhappy that the super-middleweight quarterfinals were available on a pay-per-view basis via ITV Box Office rather than on the channel’s free-to-air platform.
Saturday’s 12,500 venue in the shadow of Wembley Stadium, where 80,000 watched Groves get knocked by Carl Froch in 2014, was not full for an entertaining encounter.
But while the WBSS does not have that appeal yet, it will gather momentum and receive increased interest especially in the UK with the semifinal between Groves and his English rival Chris Eubank Jr. due in January or February.
Promoter Kalle Sauerland, who is also Chief Boxing Officer of tournament organiser Comosa AG, is happy with the WBSS development so far.
“For the UK perspective, the tournament really caught fire last weekend [Eubank’s third round KO win over Turkey’s Avni Yildirim] and today [Groves’ fourth round KO win over Jamie Cox] just put gasoline on the flames,” said Sauerland.
Groves, the only titleholder in the super-middleweight tournament, hopes winning the Muhammad Ali trophy will give him worldwide exposure and elevate him into the pound-for-pound list.
“They want to build a brand,” Groves told ESPN. “The ability they have got is that it’s a tournament and a fixture list which you don’t get in boxing usually.
“A lot of the backers are involved with the [soccer] Champions League. They understand tournaments can be big and so far it’s been great. There have been some variation of results, big crowds in plenty of different countries. It will build momentum as well.
“There are always hypothetical fights but these aren’t, we have a pathway. I know who I would fight next if I won.”
The sparkling production and organisation of the WBSS in London on Saturday did not fail to impress, and it is offering something different to boxing fans in its imaginative presentation.
Due to the worldwide television schedule, the start times are always punctual, and there is a future easy-to-understand schedule of fights with the semifinals due early 2018.
The super-middleweight and cruiserweight finals, with the winner pocketing about $8 million (£6m), are due in May or June 2018.
The WBSS will return to the UK early next year for Groves-Eubank and perhaps for Liverpool’s Callum Smith against either Braehmer or Brant, and Sauerland is looking at possibly hosting Groves-Eubank at a soccer stadium.
That would be an unprecedented move to hold a boxing event outdoors at that time of the year in the UK due to the weather.
“Fulham is one we’ve looked at but we have to find a club that has the schedule which will allow the pitch to recover,” said Sauerland.
“Cardiff [the Principality Stadium] would be one that we’d definitely talk to. I think this fight could do 40-50,000 with ease.
“We’re not ruling out northern venues. This is a British fight. George has been in big fights up north, Eubank Senior has been in massive fights up north. I think it’s a fight we could take anywhere in the UK.
“We will find a creative venue for it. But having said that we could pack out Wembley Arena.”
There is money behind the WBSS — $50m in overall prize money — and backers who have a long-term vision for the tournament.
“Next year I think we’ll definitely go for a lighter weight class too, featherweight or super-bantam maybe,” said Sauerland.
“I think the middleweights could be good too once the Canelo-Golovkin thing has settled. Maybe one of the seasons we can get the heavyweights in, that is an interesting division.”