Super showdowns: WBSS super middleweight preview
Last weekend the World Boxing Super Series (WBSS) began with cruiserweight tournament favourite Oleksandr Usyk crushing veteran Marco Huck in Berlin. This week the focus turns to the super middleweight quarter-finals, as England's Callum Smith takes on Erik Skoglund of Sweden. Jack Laidler previews an intriguing quarter-final line-up...
The WBSS has created huge excitement around the boxing world and is a fantastic addition to an already stellar year for the sport.
The super middleweight tournament may not have quite generated the same intense buzz as the cruiserweight version but, impressively, of the eight-man line-up, four of Boxing Monthly's current top ten super middles are present - even if our top two at the time of writing - James DeGale and Gilberto Ramirez - are absent.
The WBSS seeding system, which saw the top seeds pick their opponents, made for gripping TV and no doubt the two tournaments will provide many moments to remember.
Unlike the cruiserweight tournament, which started on Saturday with the firm favourite to lift the trophy, Oleksandr Usyk, demolishing Marco Huck, the super-middle field seems wide open.
With this in mind I’m going to attempt to predict the outcomes of the four quarter-finals, in chronological order:
16 September: Callum Smith (22-0) vs Erik Skoglund (26-0) - Liverpool, England
The opening quarter-final could turn out to be a one-sided affair. Smith’s decision to pick Skoglund seems to be a wise bit of matchmaking. The Swede brings to the fight a somewhat padded resume as, aside from wins over Glen Johnson and Luke Blackledge, the man from Sweden has faced mostly low-level opposition. Claiming only twelve of his wins by stoppage likely suggests Skoglund will struggle to hurt Smith, although he is moving down from his usual light-heavyweight division.
Smith has been on the cusp of a world title shot for a while. It was rumoured that he turned down the chance of fighting DeGale for the IBF strap before electing not to face Anthony Dirrell for the WBC title in favour of joining this competition.
Smith carries concussive power and is capable of walking through Skoglund. He picked up both the British and European super-middleweight titles with first-round knockouts and I can see this also being an early night’s work. I think Smith will get in close, target the body and win in no more than four rounds.
7 October: Chris Eubank Jr (25-1) vs Avni Yildirim (16-0) - Stuttgart, Germany
Many boxing pundits questioned Chris Eubank Sr’s decision to pick the unbeaten Avni Yildirim to face his son.
Although he has only had 16 professional bouts, Yildirim is an experienced fighter. Now 26, he has already fought in Germany, Mexico, Italy and the USA. In just his sixth fight he beat the former light heavyweight titlist Glen Johnson and in his last bout he romped to a comfortable points decision over former world title challenger Marco Antonio Periban. One criticism however may be his power - DeGale, for example, was able to stop Periban in just three rounds.
Eubank Jr comes into this fight as the IBO title holder and off the back of his most impressive win to date, when he dominated the former two-weight world titlist Arthur Abraham.
Yildirim will look to Eubank Jr’s 2014 defeat against Billy Joe Saunders for optimism. In that fight the man from Brighton gave up the early rounds, clearly conscious of emptying the tank in his first 12-rounder.
In every fight since, however, Eubank Jr has started quickly, usually wearing his opponents down in the mid to late rounds.
Yildirim will most likely need an early stoppage if he is to have any chance of winning against Eubank, whose punch volume has been a strength of late. It will be a tough battle while it lasts, but I see Eubank Jr claiming victory via TKO around the eighth.
14 October: George Groves (26-3) vs Jamie Cox (23-0) - London, England
As the number 1 seed Groves was first to select his opponent. In a somewhat surprising move he opted for his fellow countryman, the unbeaten Cox. As part of his reasoning for doing so, Groves pointed out that should the other favourites (Eubank Jr and Smith) win their respective fights, he would face British fighters in every round of the competition and not need to fight away from home.
Groves is tried and tested at world level and has experienced huge occasions. His pair of stoppage defeats to Carl Froch and a split decision loss to Badou Jack have now been firmly put behind him after he won the WBA 'Super' title in May courtesy of an impressive stoppage of tough guy Fedor Chudinov.
Although boasting an unbeaten record, Cox is still unproven above domestic level. After claiming victory against the then unbeaten Obodai Sai for the Commonwealth title, Cox only fought twice more in the next three-and-a-half years. In all, since June 2013 he has only fought seven times against limited opposition.
Although the undefeated Cox brings with him an air of mystery, he will likely find the quality of an elite world champion such as Groves too much to handle. Look for Groves to win by a late stoppage.
Jürgen Brähmer (48-3) vs Robert Brant (22-0), date and venue TBA
This is possibly the hardest fight to call out of all the quarter-finals. If it came purely down to experience then Brähmer would win hands down. In his 51-fight career the German has held both the WBA and WBO titles up at light-heavyweight. After his defeat to Hugo Garay in 2008, Brähmer went unbeaten for seven years, winning nine world title bouts.
Brant, on the other hand, is completely untested. All of his 22 wins have come against less than stellar opposition. His last three opponents had a combined record of 52-21-4.
However, Brant - who is moving up from middleweight - is only 26 and brings with him confidence. He has stopped his last four opponents and in Brähmer, he faces a man that is coming off a damaging defeat to Nathan Cleverly. Brähmer was made to look sluggish against the fresher Welshman and eventually withdrew in the sixth, claiming a shoulder injury in what was the first stoppage defeat of his career.
At 38 years of age there is a feeling Brähmer is perhaps past his best. Nevertheless, if Brant is merely the owner of a padded record he will be dealt with swiftly by the former champion. Should Brähmer struggle at the lower weight against the younger man he may have a difficult night's work ahead. Nevertheless, I see Brähmer winning by late stoppage.