After much conjecture and speculation, it was finally announced on Friday afternoon that on November 27th, Showtime will be televising a split-site super middleweight doubleheader featuring Carl Froch-Arthur Abraham and Andre Dirrell-Andre Ward. In short, the “Super Six,” which is the network’s modified round-robin tournament, was alive and well. It would continue on as originally planned.
Mission impossible became mission accomplished.
"Yeah, people honoring their agreements. What a miracle," said the czar of Showtime’s boxing franchise, Ken Hershman, with a relieved laugh on Friday evening.
Last year, when the network unveiled their innovative tournament format, it was hailed as a revolutionary concept that would bring the best boxers in the world together for a series of fights, while also bringing clarity to a given weight class. And from a critical standpoint, the “Super Six” has been a success, at least inside the ring.
Andre Ward has broken out as a star; Froch and Abraham suffered their first professional defeats in stage two and Kessler and Froch engaged in one of the better fights of 2010 back in April. But on the downside, you had the removal of Jermain Taylor (after he was halted by Abraham last October), the reluctance of Froch to fight anywhere near five time zones of Germany versus Abraham, the justified backlash of rival promoters against Ward and Dan Goossen, who somehow finagled two home fights in Oakland in the first two stages.
But as Kessler dropped out of the “Super Six” entirely, citing an eye ailment and the mysterious non-happenings regarding the Dirrell-Ward fight (which was originally slated to take place on September 25th), it looked as though this whole thing would fall apart.
What do they say about the best laid plans of mice and men?
But Hershman stayed firm. Everyone involved had signed up for this; they knew what they were getting into. You got into this and you ain’t getting out of it.
"It was basically, ’Live up to your agreements’ as it related to everybody," said Hershman, of the message he relayed to the parties who were wavering. "Obviously, with Kessler leaving the tournament, it created an opportunity I thought to sort of accelerate this thing, restructure it just slightly and get right to the semi-finals, which I thought was in everyone’s interest. That didn’t happen and we had to back to the original agreement. So when that became, y’ know, people dragging their feet, it became important for me to spread that message."
So why didn’t Ward-Dirrell take place this past weekend? And why was there so much doubt that this fight would even be rescheduled?
"Well, you’d have to ask them that," said Hershman, of Goossen and Gary Shaw, the two promoters involved. "I never really got an explanation. That agreement was entered into almost two years ago and it was always clear what the fight order was. This fight was part of it and you’ll have to ask the participants what their issues were. But as far as I was concerned, the deal was struck and they were going to honor it."
Neither promoter was available for comment and you get the strong feeling that we will never get to the bottom of why Dirrell-Ward was such a quagmire (And not for nothing but maybe the guy that really holds the answers is one Al Haymon- who “advises” Dirrell- and he’s about as tough to reach for comment as Greta Garbo).
This tournament was the brainchild of Hershman, who obviously has a bit of an emotional attachment to it. This is natural; you put this much effort into something with the best of intentions and to see it possibly implode isn’t the most reassuring feeling in the world. He admits those thoughts crossed his mind. "Yeah, obviously, that was a possibility and if it fell apart it wasn’t going to be because of anything Showtime did or didn’t do. We honored our agreements and we expected everyone else to honor theirs. It was as simple as that."
If they didn’t fight inside the ring, they would have one helluva fight outside of it from Showtime.
Hershman continued. "If it fell apart, it was going to be on their heads and they were going to have to live with the consequences. Thankfully, they recognized that they had to do what they agreed to originally and we’re all fine."
Yet during this stretch, it did not deter Hershman from organizing other tournaments, like he did in the bantamweight division (this one, though, is a standard four-boxer tournament where the winners of the December 11th bouts between Vic Darchinyan-Abner Mares and Yonnhy Perez-Joseph Agbeko in Leon, Mexico will face each other in the early part of 2011).
"Look, boxing’s a tough business, whether you’re trying to make one fight, four fights, six fights," Hershman said. "It’s a very difficult business and there’s a lot of agendas and personalities and factors that go into why things happen and don’t. So it really isn’t about the tournament difficulties. It’s really just about boxing and the difficulties inherit in the sport."
Hershman has a point; maybe this is more about those powerbrokers in the game who seemingly can’t get out of each other’s way and can never see the forest for the trees. Boxing has met the enemy- and oftentimes, it is itself.
The “Super Six,” and the like, at least attempts to gives followers of the sport what they yearn for. And what took place the past month or so will not deter Hershman from future efforts.
"I think this tournament structure is fantastic for the fans and I always say, ’Nobody cares about how difficult it is behind the scenes. No one cares what kind of aggravation we go through in negotiating and posturing, arguing and cajoling- they just care about what they see on the screen and we think this is a great way to bring excitement and a higher profile to the sport, to our fighters and we’re excited about it and absolutely, I’m going to continue to do it."
Showtime had to shuffle their dates like a poker dealer does a deck of cards because their late- September/early-October schedule was beset by postponements and cancellations. This means that on November 6th, November 27th and December 11th, both Showtime and HBO will both be broadcasting major shows simultaneously.
November looks to be one of the best months in recent memory- at least on paper- as it is filled from top-to-bottom with some great match-ups, from Juan Manuel Lopez-Rafael Marquez, Manny Pacquiao-Antonio Margarito, Paul Williams-Sergio Martinez II, Juan Manuel Marquez-Michael Katsidis and the “Super Six” doubleheader..
But does it make up for what has been a generally putrid 2010?
If I’m not mistaken, the last time Showtime distributed a boxing show on pay-per-view was on Thanksgiving weekend of 2007, when Ricardo Mayorga defeated Fernando Vargas at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Well, they dip their toe back into the pool, as they will be carrying the December 18th bout between WBC light heavyweight titlist Jean Pascal and the man who simply refused to go away, Bernard Hopkins.
"As I always say, pay-per-view is not our principle business objective; we do it selectively, "explained Hershman. "I think it’s good we keep our hand in it and I think this is a good situation for us and it worked out. If it fit into our schedule, it fit into Golden Boy’s schedule. So we agreed to do it. It’s really nothing more than that. It was a business opportunity; we just decided that it was right to take advantage of it."
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