Dirrell incident another strike against Super Six

BY foxsports • March 30, 2010

Andre Dirrell and Arthur Abraham spent most of Saturday night engaged in a compelling fight in Detroit, part of the second round of the World Boxing Classic.

Dirrell would pepper his German-based opponent throughout a round, racking up points as the clock melted away, while Abraham would keep looking for one big blow that would turn the bout around. It was the quintessential boxer-versus-puncher matchup.

Then in the 11th, Dirrell slipped on some water in a corner and went down to a knee, and Abraham unleashed a brutal hook that laid him out. Supporters of both fighters cascaded into the ring at Joe Louis Arena as the scene nearly turned to pandemonium, and the former U.S. Olympian eventually spent about 3 hours in the hospital before being released.

It was a microcosm of the tournament, which generated widespread praise when it was revealed last year only to struggle with the follow-through. And a microcosm of boxing, which finally came up with a novel idea only to have it beset by trouble.

``At least this tournament is not a series of independent transactions,'' Lou DiBella said Tuesday, during a meeting among the promoters involved in the event. ``There's a plan, there's a structure. It's attempting to do something new that has some kind of long-term view.

``So often it seems that we stick our foot out and we aim at it and we shoot it,'' he added, ``and that's the way this industry behaves, and conducts itself, and at least this tournament is a step in the right direction. It's a step forward instead of shooting ourselves in the foot.''

The tournament was designed to guarantee six of the best 168-pounders in the world three fights each, with points awarded based upon the outcome. The four participants with the most points would advance to seeded semifinals, with a championship bout next year.

The setup was lauded for pitting the best against the best, rather than the gross mismatches where the only question is when the fight will end. The tournament also cut through the clutter, doing away with the myriad of alphabet sanctioning bodies and paper champions that have made the sport difficult to follow for even the most ardent of fans.

Six fighters began, one will have his arm raised at the end.

``You owe it to the fans to give them a good show, from top to bottom, not pure (crap) to make more money for yourself,'' promoter Gary Shaw said, his voice rising. ``That's wrong.''

It's a simple premise that boxing has had trouble accepting.

``Unfortunately our sport is screwed up. They fight one or two tough fights and then they think they should get an easy fight,'' Shaw said. ``This should be the sport, with the best fighting the best all the time.''

With that in mind, the first three fights in the tournament went relatively smoothly, with two scheduled in Europe the same night and the third a few weeks later in the United States.

All of them were thrilling in their own way, raising expectations for the future.

Then things began to unravel, with Jermain Taylor backing out of the modified round-robin event following his brutal knockout loss and Allan Green stepping in as a replacement. An injury to Andre Ward has forced another second-round fight to be repeatedly delayed, and promoters have struggled to agree on sites for several of the predetermined bouts.

Most of that has been beyond control, but the result is that a five-week window for the first series of bouts has grown to a nearly three-month window for the second series.

And all the while, public interest has waned.

``It's a challenge to keep the momentum. We had a few injuries that led to some delays, but there are going to be some ebbs and flows in interest,'' said Ken Hershman, the Showtime exec who put the tournament together. ``We're on pace to conclude when we expected.''

Hershman pointed out that ratings have consistently grown, helped Saturday by Showtime's free preview weekend, and there have been massive crowds for nearly every fight.

He also held his hand over a table and claimed the number of stories written about the tournament, stacked on top of each other, would extend several feet into the air, publicity that could potentially grow the sport while building interest in each of the fighters involved.

``There have been a lot of developments, a lot of twists and turns, but that's nothing unusual for boxing,'' Hershman said. ``That's what's so good about this tournament, is nobody is out of it until the end.''


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