The project was ambitious from the get-go, a United Nations kind of affair originally involving six highly regarded boxers from three countries, five promoters and a television executive who believed his network was floating a test balloon that would prove boxing could make sense of the nonsensical, if everyone just agreed to put petty differences aside and work in unison to achieve an ailing sport's common good.
The "Super Six World Boxing Classic," conceived by Showtime executive vice president Ken Hershman in 2009 as a means to identify the finest super middleweight on the planet, has produced some good moments in its nearly 2-year-long run, the next-to-last step of which takes place tomorrow night when WBC 168-pound champion Carl Froch (27-1, 20 KOs) defends his title against 42-year-old Glen Johnson (51-14-2, 35 KOs) tomorrow night in the Adrian Phillips Ballroom of Atlantic City's Boardwalk Hall. But those highs have been mitigated by exclusions, defections and substitutions.
When the winner of the Froch-Johnson bout advances to the Super Six final against WBA champion Andre Ward (24-0, 13 KOs), the last man standing can claim merely to be the survivor of a grand, but flawed experiment.
"The final person to hold the Super Six Cup will have withstood the test of time," Froch, who hails from Nottingham, England, said when it was suggested that the nearly 2 years spent to get to this point might be much ado about nothing. "It's been a fantastic tournament with some top-level fights."
No doubt. But Hershman might have second thoughts about a similar coalition in another weight class, given the untidy detours that plagued this one almost from the outset.
Skeptics wondered how a six-man super middleweight tournament could be staged without Lucian Bute, the undefeated IBF champion whom many thought might be the best 168-pound fighter in the world.
Bute has since signed a multifight deal with Showtime, but his absence has always tainted the Super Six.
The original format called for a Group Stage in which each boxer was supposed to fight three times, with scoring that allocated three points for victories by knockout or technical knockout, two points for victories on points or by disqualification, one for a draw and zero for a loss. The top four finishers from the Group Stage would advance to the semifinals, and the winners of those bouts to the final.
But Jermain Taylor (WBC, WBA, WBO) lost his first two Group Stage bouts by knockout, whereupon promoter Lou DiBella terminated his contract, saying the continuation of Taylor's boxing career would "place him at unnecessary risk." Taylor has not fought since, and his spot filled by fellow American Allan Green. Mikkel Kessler, of Denmark, who lost his WBA title to Ward in the opening round, also begged out after losing to Froch in the second Group Stage. He claimed to have incurred an eye injury and yielded his spot to Johnson.
Andre Dirrell, a 2004 Olympic bronze medalist, who lost a controversial split decision to Froch in the opening round, was outpointing IBF champ Arthur Abraham when he slipped to the canvas in the 11th round and, while on one knee, was knocked unconscious. He was awarded a win by disqualification, but also withdrew because of neurological issues.
By then, the attrition rate had reached critical mass. If the process has created a star, it is Ward, the Oakland, Calif., native and 2004 Olympic gold medalist whose victories include a unanimous decision over Abraham, an Armenian based in Germany, on May 14, in the first Super Six semifinal in Carson, Calif.
Johnson seems to be the longshot these days, but it wasn't always so. He was 32-0, with 22 KOs, when he challenged then-IBF middleweight champion Bernard "The Executioner" Hopkins on July 20, 1997. Hopkins dominated Johnson before the fight was stopped in the 11th round, the only time the man known as "The Road Warrior" has lost inside the distance.
In 2004, Johnson beat three world-class opponents - Clinton Woods, Roy Jones Jr. and Antonio Tarver - and was, surprisingly, voted Fighter of the Year by the Boxing Writers Association of America. He is hopeful that two more successes in the Super Six will get him a long-desired rematch with Hopkins. *