Tuesday October 13th, 2009

The discussion of late has revolved around mixed martial arts' rise has hurt boxing. But let's be clear: boxing has done a heck of a job hurting itself with corrupt rankings, meaningless titles and a noticeable lack of quality fights.

Of course, devoted fans who long to see boxing's return to dominance may find other flaws as well, but those are the Big Three, the ones registered in blogs, chat rooms and writer mailbags the most. Fans scratch their heads in bewilderment when John Ruiz -- who hasn't won a significant fight since upsetting Evander Holyfield in 2001 and hasn't fought in one since getting undressed by Roy Jones in '03 -- is inexplicably elevated to No. 1 contender status.

Boxing loyalists reach for the Tylenol when someone tries to explain to them super champion vs. interim champion, champion emeritus vs. champion in recess. And they bang their fists in frustration when Kelly Pavlik refuses to fight Arthur Abraham, when Floyd Mayweather passes on Shane Mosley and when Nicolay Valuev won't fight anyone.

Just like a dab of Neosporin won't heal a deep cut, one major event won't erase years of self-inflicted abuse in boxing. But there is no question Showtime's Super Six tournament is a step in the right direction.

Beginning on Saturday night, when WBC champion Carl Froch defends his title against Andre Dirrell in Nottingham, England, and Arthur Abraham faces Jermain Taylor in Berlin, Showtime will begin an 18-month campaign to crown a new king of the 168-pound super middleweight division. Kicking off the event was no easy task; getting five promoters to agree on a lunch order is accomplishment enough. Getting them to accept the terms of a complicated tournament format qualifies as a minor miracle.

"To find common ground between two [promoters] is a challenge," Showtime Senior Vice President Ken Hershman told SI.com. "To find it among five is an insane challenge."

But they did. Over the course of several months representatives for the six-man field -- Froch, Dirrell, Abraham, Taylor, Mikkel Kessler and Andre Ward -- hammered out a fair and equitable deal. Concessions were made: Despite his status as WBA champion and globally recognized name, Kessler agreed to travel to Oakland and fight Ward in his backyard. Rules were agreed upon: Each fighter is guaranteed three fights with the scoring based on a points system -- two points for a win, one point for a draw and a bonus point if the fight ends in a knockout. At the end of three rounds the top four scorers advance to a single-elimination Final Four. And a relatively paltry pot -- Showtime has a significantly smaller budget than rival HBO -- was divided in a manner all sides considered fair.

"There were about 300 obstacles," Hershman said with a laugh. "Everyone has their own business interests."

"I really believe this is good for boxing," said Dirrell's promoter, Gary Shaw. "One of the good things about MMA is that when someone loses, it's no big deal. They go on to the next big fight. That doesn't happen in boxing. I think this tournament solves some of that because no one is eliminated right away."

Like any subjectively chosen tournament field, the Super Six has its detractors. Some wonder why accomplished super middleweights, like Lucian Bute and Librado Andrade, were passed over for untested fighters like Ward and Dirrell. Some say the same about Allan Green and Sakio Bika.

"You can't please everybody," said Hershman. "We think we have a really good group."

Indeed, the Super Six field boasts two current super middleweight champions (Kessler and Froch), two former middleweight champions (Abraham and Taylor) and four undefeated fighters (Froch, Abraham, Ward and Dirrell). Overall, the group holds a record of 161-4-1 with 117 knockouts.

Perhaps the most telling indicator of the significance of the Super Six is the buzz it is creating among fighters who aren't in it. Light heavyweight champion Chad Dawson has talked about moving down to face the winner. And after bashing the tournament over the summer, middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik has expressed interest in moving up to take on the newly minted champion. However, Hershman isn't inclined to do Pavlik any favors.

"He should have kept his mouth shut," said Hershman.

Then there is the biggest potential fight of all: Joe Calzaghe, who ruled the 168-pound division for 10 years before retiring last November. Calzaghe has given no indication that he is looking to come out of retirement but the crowning of a new king in a division he once dominated will at least make him sit up and take notice.

"Calzaghe, wow," said Hershman. "That would be amazing. Joe has fought on Showtime many times, and he has far exceeded my humble expectations. A fight with him would be spectacular."

"Would I like to fight Calzaghe?" asked Dirrell. "Are you kidding? That would be a dream."

If the tournament is as competitive as people think, the results will be a dream for everyone.

GALLERY: Stunning shots of Super Six fighters

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