GRAND EXPERIMENT

The Super Six tournament produced a breakout star in Andre Ward and established a formula that could revitalize the sport
December 26, 2011

His quickness and defense are brilliant, but it's his hand speed that stands out, the way the piston-rod right hands and left hooks fire from Andre Ward's shoulders. That velocity was put to devastating effect last Saturday night at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, where Ward systematically dismantled Carl Froch in a unanimous decision in the finals of Showtime's Super Six tournament, unifying the WBA and WBC super middleweight titles and cementing Ward's status as the top 168-pound fighter in the world.

And Ward, 27, is the top super middleweight—an irrefutable distinction that's no small feat in a sport where there are nearly as many alphabet titles as there are letters, and where sanctioning bodies manipulate their own rankings, creating superchampions, interim champions and, just to pocket a little extra cash, champions in recess. The Super Six cut out all the politics. Ward walked off with a pair of titles on Saturday, but it was his handiwork over the last 26 months of the round-robin tournament—mowing down Mikkel Kessler, Allan Green, Arthur Abraham and Froch—that moved him to the head of the class. "He's not just the best 168-pounder, but he's a top five pound-for-pound guy," predicts Lou DiBella, who promoted three fighters in the tournament. "I don't think there is anyone at 168 or 175 pounds that can beat him."

Indeed, that is the Super Six's legacy. The tournament had the predictable bumps—injuries, postponements and withdrawals that forced Showtime to add two new fighters—but brought unprecedented visibility to a division long on talent. Take Ward: He entered as an unbeaten but anonymous 2004 U.S. Olympic gold medalist and finished as a possible heir to thirtysomething stars Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather. "I think I still would have had success," says Ward. "But the tournament helped me get there quicker."

Is the Super Six a sustainable model? With a few tweaks, yes. Two years is too long—switching to a single-elimination format would fix that—and there should be alternates on standby. The sport's disorganized divisions (box) could use the structure. "It was a worthy experiment, one I'd like to see done again," says DiBella. "You had good fights where you didn't know what to expect. In the end that's what matters."

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PRIMED FOR FIGHTS

Three divisions that could benefit from a Super Six--style tournament:

1. Cruiserweight (200-pound limit)

The division is loaded with intriguing talents, but they're mostly European. The return of Antonio Tarver could be what the tournament would need to gain backing in the U.S.

2. Junior Welterweight (140-pound limit)

Lamont Peterson's stunning win over Amir Khan this month added another name to an already crowded field that includes Tim Bradley, Juan Manuel Màrquez and Erik Morales. The event would be pricey, but it would be a ratings bonanza for the network that puts it together.

3. Super Featherweight (130-pound limit)

Once a decorated U.S. amateur, Adrien Broner has become the face of the division, but he is far from the top talent. Two Japanese fighters (Takashi Uchiyama and Takahiro Ao) are high in the rankings, giving this division true global flavor.

PHOTORICH SCHULTZ/AP (WARD)QUICK STRIKE As fast as he is powerful, Ward (right) became a rarity in boxing because of this tournament: an undisputed champion. PHOTOCHRIS SZAGOLA/CAL SPORT MEDIA (BRONER)

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)