Please Mr. Sulaiman, I want off your 'Magic Round-A-Bout'
10.17.04 - By John Caulfield: The Super Middleweight division is perceived as not being the strongest of divisions right now (which is harsh, but reflective of the fact that the divisions strongest fighters are almost all from outwith the United States), but the 168lb weight is entirely indicative of the problems confronting the sweet science in its bid to re-establish itself as a form of main stream entertainment. Indeed, in every professional sport in the world it is the role of that sports governing body to ensure that if things go a bit awry - either on or off the field of play - to step in and resolve the situation. Every professional sport it seems, except for Boxing.
Article posted on 17.10.2004
To witness the WBCs handling of their belt at 168lbs leads to genuine fears for the long term future of the sport at any weight. No matter how entertaining the sport, or how good an overall product it is, if it isn't administered efficiently and with some degree of clarity, then you are fighting a losing battle when trying to win over fans and their PPV dollars. Now, before you stop reading, this isn't going to be a dreamy reminiscing of the good ol' days, or some hopeful piece about how we'd be better off without the alphabets - they're here, and they're here to stay unfortunately.
So what exactly is causing all the gnashing of teeth and angst at Super Middleweight? Well, it's just like most of the other weights really, there are plenty of talented fighters around, it's just that they aren't fighting each other. And, for the most part, the lack of big time fights has been caused by the various governing bodies. That the alphabets chase sanctioning fees ahead of what is good for the sport overall is a crippling and well documented problem - but that's a sermon I said I wasn't going to preach, so instead we'll go an an circus sideshow ride called the "WBC Magic Round-A-Bout." Roll up, roll up, and hop aboard as our magical little ride has been spinning for nearly eighteen months now...
Back in April 2003, WBC Champion Eric Lucas took his belt on the road to Liepzig, Germany, for a mandatory defence against Marcus Beyer. An extremely controversial split decision gave the the belt to the home fighter, and the WBC picture in this division has been a bit of a mess ever since. With the belt barely fastened around his waist Beyer ruled out a unification bout with his compatriot Sven Ottke on the grounds that "he is a close friend." Now for mine, it shouldn't be up to the fighters to discriminatorily choose their opponents on the basis of who they are closer friends with, but in this instance it was irrelevant, as neither fighter was ranked sufficiently in an opposing alphabet to warrant a mandatory match-up anyways. But pontificating on such issues is sailing mighty close to the sermon I said I wasn't going to preach, so I digress. Let's get back on the magic round-a-bout shall we?
Perhaps acknowledging the controversial nature of the decision, the WBC ordered a rematch, but somewhat ludicrously gave Beyer the chance of an optional defence first. Lucas was told he had to wait, and that he would fight the winner of Beyer and his opponent as the first mandatory challenger. The WBC press release was quite clear on the matter - "The WBC will determine right after this bout a limited period for the confrontation against Eric Lucas."
August 2003 saw Beyers first defence of his title against Australian Danny Green in Nuremburg, Germany. It was another controversial night for the German. After being floored in each of the first two rounds by two sweet right hooks, Beyer was looking as though he was going to be outclassed. In a clinch at the end of the second round the two fighters heads clashed, and the referee deducted points from Green for head butting. Green lifted his head into Beyer again in the fifth round, and Beyer was cut fairly badly. The real question was though - was the cut caused by Greens head in the fifth round, or his gloves in the second? Despite being dominated for almost all five rounds, and all but massacred for two of them, Beyer was awarded the fight after Green was disqualified. Whilst the deduction of points in the second round was unquestionably harsh, the clash in the fifth was unseemly, and worthy of some form of sanction. Whether it deserved disqualification or not seems to depend on which hemisphere you reside in. Whether the head clash in the fifth even made contact with Beyers laceration also seems to depend on which hemisphere you reside in.
The scene was set then. Lucas would get his chance for revenge against Beyer, after all it was what the WBC had determined prior to the Beyer - Green fight, right? Well... errr... no. Again acknowledging the controversial nature of the decision, the WBC ruled that Green was to be the mandatory challenger to the winner of the Beyer/Lucas re-match, a fight ordered to take place by November 2003 at the latest. Unfortunately for all parties, Beyer was still recovering from his mauling at the hands (or head if you choose to believe) of Green in his previous bout. He was ruled out of the fight against Lucas with an infected eye. Incredulously, in an unabashed dash for a sanctioning fee, the WBC ordered Green and Lucas to fight a title eliminator. The winner would hold the 'Interim Belt' and would become the mandatory first challenger for the currently incapacitated Beyer.
Now, we know nature abhors a vacuum, and so it appears does the WBC Magic Round-A-Bout. Realising perhaps that the situation was moving towards an eventual and clear resolution, the WBC decides to take some action. Knowing it is onto a good thing with this interim belt stuff - and of course the accompanying sanctioning fees - it decides to introduce a new player into the mix. In a decision that gives new meanings to the words 'ineptitude' and 'farcical' the WBC decrees that the fight between Costa Rican journeyman Henry Porras and the undefeated Mikkel Kessler would not only be for the Danes "WBC International" and IBA belts (just what we need - more belts!), but it would also be a title eliminator. Which begs the obvious question, just what exactly were Green and Lucas fighting for if Kessler/Porras were fighting a title eliminator? Kessler won the fight in October 2003 in front of his home crowd, although just what the win earnt him in terms of positioning himself for a WBC title shot would later prove to be questionable.
Roll on December 2003 and Lucas and Green get it on in Montreal, Canada. After losing the first two rounds, Green powers his way to a 6th round stoppage over the veteran Canadian in a fight mercifully free of controversy. All of a sudden things start to look fairly straightforward again in the division, that is if you ignore the fact that Lucas could feel justifiably robbed of his chance for revenge against Beyer (despite being promised just that), that Kessler had just won a 'title eliminator' which meant he was theoretically the #1 contender, and that Danny Green had also just won the right to a mandatory fight against Beyer. Confused yet? I hope not...
So, the re-match between Beyer and Green is scheduled for February 2004. Just to complicate matters further, whilst training for the fight, Green damaged his hand. And despite protestations from Jeff Fenech (Greens manager and trainer) that the injury would only cause the fight to be delayed by no more than four weeks, the WBC ordered Beyer to undertake another sanctioni... errrr... optional defence rather than facing an available mandatory in #1 contender Mikkel Kessler in February, or rescheduling to face 'Interim Champion' Danny Green in March.
The optional defence was against the unheralded but heavy fisted South African Andre Thysse in Dresden, Germany, at the end of February. Before the fight with Thysse is set, WBO Champion Joe Calzaghe offers Beyer a unification bout. For the sake of our sanity we should be thankful that Beyer apparently declined the offer. The only surprise was that the WBC didn't somehow contrive to make Calzaghe a madatory challenger and thus invite him on board the magic round-a-bout. Maybe if the WBC felt that a Calzaghe/Beyer bout offered them enough money they would have created a special belt just for Calzaghe to designate him as #1 ranked contender to go along with their interim and international "Champions" belts. I heard the 'Spurious Champion' belt was under consideration, but nobody within the WBC could figure out how to spell it.
Meanwhile, in order to keep his fighter active - and to perhaps prove a point to the WBC - Fenech organises a match-up for Green against Kiwi journeyman Sean Sullivan for the end of March. Likewise Mogens Palle (Kesslers manager) entered into negotiations with Julio Cesar Greens management for a fight also set down for March. Of course, you just knew there would be a complication arising from these three unnecessary fights. Beyer (by UD) and Kessler (11th round TKO) won their fights without apparent complication. Events were not so straightforward in Greens victory over Sullivan. Apparently Green entered the bout suffering from a virus. This didn't stop him from battering the durable Kiwi for all ten rounds. The scenes after the fight were some of the strangest I can recall. Green totally dominated the fight, and the three judges scored all ten rounds in favour of him, yet Green appeared close to delirium as he apologised to all and sundry for his 'loss' and vowed to get his career back on track immediately. Green was assisted from the ring by four or five aides and was hospitalised suffering from dehydration. The resulting incapacitation resulted in the cancellation of the Beyer/Green bout set down for June.
Armed with the knowledge that incomprehensibly stupid decisions still manages to garner them sanctioning fees, and assuming that fans seem to enjoy their magic round-a-bout, the WBC prove that there are constants in the universe by inexplicably ordering Beyer to undertake yet another optional defence rather than ordering him to fight the still available #1 contender in Mikkel Kessler. Step up former Italian Middleweight Champion Christian Sanavia, and welcome aboard the magic round-a-bout. For whilst Kessler was disposing of Beyers previous victim Andre Thysse with an 11th round TKO in Copenhagen, Sanavia was busy disproving my constants theory by actually carrying away a split decision over Beyer in Germany. See, I told you this round-a-bout was magic, a foreigner actually winning an SD in Germany! Whatever next?
In a decision that must have sent Canadians into an apoplectic rage for the sheer injustice of it all, the WBC ordered that Sanavia give Beyer an immediate rematch. The fact that Sauerland had options on Sanavia as part of the deal to give him a shot at Beyer in the first place had no bearing on this decision, right? Right??? Remaining true to form, the WBC attempts to defy all logic and concept of fairness in its mad dash for money by ordering that Green and Kessler also go toe to toe in order to decide who should get first crack at the winner of Sanavia/Beyer. So the two fighters who have already been designated as the #1 mandatory challengers through prior victories in the ring get to square off so that the winner is... errrrr... the #1 mandatory challenger.
The location of the Sanavia/Beyer rematch took place last week in - wait for it - Erfurt, Germany. The cynic in me wants to point out that in Sanavias 33 fight career, his rematch with Beyer was only the third time he had fought outside of his homeland. Why exactly he would choose to make his first ever title defence on foreign soil is a bit of a mystery. I mean it couldn't have had anything to do with those options Mr Sauerland, could it? Whilst Beyer reclaimed the belt with a sixth round stoppage, Kesslers management team decide they are not going to abide by the purse bid outcome for their match-up with Green.
Accusations from the Danes against the WBC are flying thick and fast out of Denmark. Suggestions that Fenech lodged his bid hours after the deadline are widespread, and legal action is threatened. It is made clear in no uncertain terms that Team Palle are not going to send their boy down under when they enter into negotiations for a fight against an as yet un-named opponent for November (The fight with Green was scheduled for December). Rumours also abound that Team Palle are in negotiations with the WBC for first crack at the winner of Green/Beyer on the basis of the allegedly flawed purse bid. If these negotiations are actually taking place at all, it lends some credence to the story that the purse bid wasn't exactly as it should have been, despite public protestations from the WBC to the contrary.
This utterly ridiculous situation could have so easily been avoided way back in August 2003. In its chase for sanctioning fees the WBC has turned its title into a farce at Super Middleweight, has frittered away 12 months in the careers of two of the divisions hottest prospects, and 18 months in the career of one of its distinguished veterans. All this at a time when boxing is desperately seeking credibility with the sporting public. And whilst Markus Beyer has undoubtedly been the sole beneficiary of this sorry affair, it would be totally unfair to apportion any of the blame onto the fighter himself, although questions need to be asked about the role his management has played in this entire scenario.
So, where does that leave us now? Well, it SHOULD mean that our ride on the magic round-a-bout comes to an end as according to the WBC, the Beyer/Green re-match should take place early next year, but I'm willing to bet the ride keeps spinning for a while yet. Even if - and it's a very big IF - Beyer and Green actually do get their rematch next year, the initial challengers to the champion will remain somewhat unclear. It can't be a coincidence that Eric Lucas decided to announce that he was ending a year of inactivity (his last fight was the loss to Green) in a December match-up with Tony Menefee not long after Beyer regained the title from Sanavia. Sensing that he was well placed to finally get his rematch with Beyer should the German manage to defeat Green. Lucas is even better placed for a title shot should Green capture the belt though. Prior to the 'Interim' title fight, both Green and Lucas had clauses stating that the loser of that fight would get first shot at the title should the victor beat Beyer. It wouldn't be a total surprise if Lucas were to enact that clause, although it would be safe to assume that Beyer would demand a rubber match with Green should he lose the belt to him next year. All of that means that if the story of the flawed purse bid between Green and Kessler is true, Mogen Palle could be negotiating with the WBC to ride the round-a-bout for another year or so. As Green will go into the rematch with Beyer as the heavy favourite, Kessler could be waiting a further three months or so for the rubber match, then a further three months or so for the contractually obligatory Green/Lucas rematch. Add to that the three months or so before Kessler would get in the ring with Green, and the assumption that the Beyer/Green rematch will take place within the next three months. In fact, Palle will be negotiating for a position that his fighter has already held - and gotten absolutely nowhere with - since October 2003: the #1 ranked mandatory contender.
And so the magic round-a-bout will keep on spinning. While it does, fans are getting off in droves. It shouldn't come as a surprise. As with all circus sideshows, once you've been on it a few times, it starts to get excessively dull.
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