IT WAS A WONDERFUL idea that took more than a few not-so-wonderful detours, but the 20-month journey that is Showtime's "Super Six" tournament should draw to a highly satisfactory conclusion on Dec. 17 when WBA super-middleweight champion

Andre Ward

(24-0, 13 KOs) and WBC super-middle titlist

Carl Froch

(28-1, 20 KOs) square off in Atlantic City Boardwalk Hall.

The brainchild of former Showtime boxing boss Ken Hershman, who officially succeeds the deposed Ross Greenburg as president of HBO Sports on Jan. 9, the "Super Six" was an ambitious plan to take six of the finest fighters in a sometimes underappreciated weight class and have them participate in a round-robin tournament.

There were, of course, glitches, not the least of which was the omission of Lucian Bute (30-0, 24 KOs), then as now the IBF super-middle champ, from the original six-man field. As the event progressed, three participants - Jermain Taylor, Andre Dirrell and Mikkel Kessler - dropped out, with Glen Johnson and Allan Green filling two of the vacancies.

Maybe the format was too complicated for everything to come off without a hitch, but a final pitting Ward, the 2004 Olympic gold medalist from Oakland, Calif., against Froch, from Nottingham, England, should prove worth the wait. When Froch scored a 12-round majority decision over Johnson on June 4 in Atlantic City, Ward, who was at ringside as part of Showtime's broadcast team, said, "If you put the best Carl Froch up against the best Andre Ward, you can't help but have a great fight."

And a great fight it should be, if somewhat delayed. Ward-Froch originally was scheduled for Oct. 29, but had to be pushed back when Ward suffered a cut over his right eye in sparring that required seven stitches to close. He's ready to go now, and his showdown with Froch qualifies as a pre-Christmas treat for fight fans on both sides of the Atlantic.

The winner probably will have to be matched with Bute to establish absolute dominion over the division, but what already has transpired should give the boxing world hope that internecine squabbles involving sanctioning bodies, promoters and broadcast entities need not prevent real fighters getting together to produce real champions. With a few tweaks, the "Super Six" format could be adopted in other weight classes where the public too often has been left to wonder who really is No. 1 among multiple alphabet champions.

Here's hoping that Hershman brings order to the jumbled mess that HBO's boxing department had become, and that Stephen Espinoza, who has taken over for Hershman at Showtime, continues to prod the bigger, betterfinanced lead pony in the premium cable-TV wars to raise its game.

And a nod of appreciation should also go to the late Jay Larkin, Hershman's predecessor at Showtime, who was 59 when he died of brain cancer on Aug. 9, 2010. Larkin was David casting stones at HBO's Goliath for more than a decade before he was fired, ostensibly because of cutbacks by Showtime's former parent company, Viacom, in 2005. He might not have come up with the idea for the "Super Six," but he tilled the soil in which Hershman planted the seeds that has led to Ward-Froch.

Bailey fires back

After North Philadelphia's

Mike Jones

(26-0, 19 KOs) outpointed Argentina's

Sebastian Lujan

(38-6-2, 24 KOs) on Saturday night in Madison Square Garden, nailing down a likely March berth against veteran

Randall Bailey

(42-7, 36 KOs) for the vacant IBF welterweight championship, Jones' trainer had some disparaging comments about the 37-year-old Bailey, a former WBO/WBA junior-welter titlist.

I contacted Bailey, who is promoted by Lou DiBella, for a response to Jackson's suggestion that he basically is washed-up.

"I want to laugh so hard," he said from his hometown of Miami. "This is not the first time me and [Jones] were supposed to fight. We offered to fight him many times before and his people always turned it down. They got to fight me now because they can't avoid it any more.

"[Jones'] ass is going to be tore up."

Should be interesting.

Allen suspension cut


Damon Allen

, who has hopes of making the 2012 U.S. Olympic boxing team that will compete in London, was facing a 2-year suspension a few months ago after testing positive for Furosimide, a banned substance.

But Allen, 19, a member of the Mitchell Allen Boxing Team who is enrolled in the U.S. Olympic Education Center at Northern Michigan University, signed an affidavit that he thought he was taking a water pill recommended by his grandmother to reduce swelling in a hand. He must have come across as sincere, because the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency reduced his suspension to 6 months. He becomes eligible on March 1, 2012, in time to compete in the U.S. Olympic Trials.

This week in history * 

On Dec. 5, 1966, in a matchup of legendary Philadelphia middleweights,

Bennie Briscoe

won by ninth-round technical knockout when

George Benton

did not come out for the final round of a scheduled 10 at The Arena. Sadly, we lost both of these superb fighters within the past 12 months, Briscoe passing away on Dec. 28, 2010 at the age of 67 and Benton leaving us on Sept. 19 at 78.

* On Dec. 6, 1963, former light-heavyweight champion Harold Johnson, of Manayunk, made his first ring appearance since losing his title a successful one, outpointing Detroit's "Hammerin' '' Henry Hank over 10 rounds at the Blue Horizon in a bout that was nationally televised.

* On Dec. 7, 1963, after years as a world-ranked middleweight, Joey Giardello finally made it to the top of the mountain with a 15-round decision over champion Dick Tiger in Boardwalk Hall. Giardello, who was 78 when he died on Sept. 4, 2008, is immortalized by a bronze statue at the triangle of 13th, Mifflin and Passyunk in South Philly.