Opening Bell: A satisfying conclusion
In March 2017, organizers announced plans for something called the World Boxing Super Series, with the idea to put on two eight-man, single-elimination tournaments with the best fighters in two weight classes that they had not yet determined.
In their perfect world, they would attract top fighters willing to fight the best for substantial purses, and their promoters would be happy to enter them because the tournament had no future rights to them once it was over. It sounded like fantasy because in boxing, and in life, things that sound too good to be true usually are.
But it worked out for the WBSS and the fans -- despite the constant difficulty of finding a broadcast partner for the first season in the United States.
They selected the cruiserweight and super middleweight divisions, and both kicked off last fall and produced a series of good fights. They got all four titleholders to participate in the cruiserweight tournament, and on July 21 in Moscow, Oleksandr Usyk cruised past Murat Gassiev in a masterful performance to become the undisputed world champion.
The super middleweight tournament wasn't as loaded and the matches were not as interesting overall, but that tournament, after a delay because of a shoulder injury suffered by George Groves in the semifinals, came to a satisfying conclusion on Friday at the Indoor Sports Hall at King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, an unusual location that hosted the fight because of the hefty seven-figure site put up by those in the kingdom.
In the all-British final, Callum Smith (25-0, 18 KOs), 28, scored a decisive seventh-round knockout of Groves (28-4, 20 KOs), 30, to take his 168-pound belt and also win the Muhammad Ali Trophy, which was presented in the ring by Rasheda Ali, the late heavyweight champion's daughter.
It has been a long wait for Smith to at last get his title opportunity and climb the mountain -- joining his brother, former junior middleweight world titlist Liam Smith, in winning a world title.
Smith took it to Groves, who was making his third title defense, in an entertaining bout. With boxing legends such as Evander Holyfield and Prince Naseem Hamed at ringside, Smith fulfilled the potential so many have seen in him. He outboxed and outpunched the shorter Groves, finally putting him away with more than a dozen unanswered blows, including a left hook to the head that was the beginning of the end, several rights to the head and a right to the body that dropped him to a knee as referee Luis Pabon counted him out at 2 minutes, 4 seconds.
"I have waited so long for this," Smith said. "I'm a big believer in my own ability, and I knew I was good enough to become the best on the planet. I'm not a man who shows a lot of emotion. You never see me ecstatic, but you saw it [after the knockout] because it's a lifetime ambition fulfilled."
Groves was classy in defeat.
"Embarrassing," he said. "I've never been hurt by a body shot before this in my entire career, but all credit to Callum. He deserves this night."
And all credit to the folks at the World Boxing Super Series for executing two quality tournaments just as promised.
The second season -- this time with three tournaments, at cruiserweight, junior welterweight and bantamweight -- begins on Sunday in Japan.
Prospect watch: Joe Joyce
Heavyweight "Juggernaut" Joe Joyce (6-0, 6 KOs), 33, who claimed the 2016 Olympic super heavyweight silver medal for Great Britain, made his American debut on the Premier Boxing Champions on Fox Sports 1 undercard on Sunday night in Ontario, California, in his first bout with trainer Abel Sanchez and systematically destroyed battle-tested Iago Kiladze (26-4, 18 KOs), 32, a native of the Republic of Georgia fighting out of Los Angeles. Joyce, who is on the fast track, knocked Kiladze down with a right hand in the second round and with a left to the body in the third. Then, after Joyce dropped him in the fifth round with a left hook, Kiladze got up and quit 41 seconds into the round for his third knockout loss in a row.
"It is great to be here. I started training in the United States because it was the best way to start my career here," said the 6-foot-6, 263-pound Joyce. "It is great to have my sixth win here, and I look forward to getting in the ring again soon. I think I made a great impression here tonight, and I just want to continue that streak."
The next step: With the victory in the books, there's a good chance Joyce will return on Dec. 1 and appear on the Showtime PPV undercard of the fight between heavyweight world titlist Deontay Wilder and lineal champion Tyson Fury, according to Ringstar Sports promoter Richard Schaefer, who co-promotes Joyce.
Prospect watch II: Efe Ajagba
Boxer who had opponent leave ring wins by KO in return
Efe Ajagba, who won by DQ in August when his opponent left the ring when the bout started, knocked out Nick Jones in the first round on Sunday.
In another undercard bout on the PBC on FS1 card Sunday night, 2016 Nigerian Olympian Efe Ajagba (7-0, 6 KOs), 24, who fights out of Houston, actually got to throw some punches. Ajagba's previous ring appearance went viral when he faced journeyman Curtis Harper on Aug. 24 in Minneapolis. After the bell rang to start the fight, Harper stunningly walked out of the ring rather than fight, which resulted in Ajagba being awarded a disqualification victory. This time, the 6-5-, 238-pound Ajagba faced Mississippi native Nick Jones (7-1, 5 KOs), 31, to show off his punching power when he landed a clean right hand to the center of Jones' face, busting him open and dropping him. A bloody Jones beat the count but he was in no condition to continue and referee Rudy Barragan waved it off at 2 minutes, 25 seconds.
"Now we know why my last opponent walked out of the ring. He was afraid that was going to happen to him," Ajagba said. "I watched tape of Jones and I knew he was slow. I was ready to attack the minute I got into the ring."
The next step: Ajagba will stay busy on PBC undercards for the time being. He's still raw and learning under trainer Ronnie Shields. "I want anyone that my management will put in front of me," Ajagba said. "I am ready. I prepared for six rounds and I can't wait to get back in the ring."
Fights you might have missed
Sunday at Ontario, Calif.
Junior featherweight Brandon Figueroa (17-0, 12 KOs) KO10 Oscar Escandon (25-5, 17 KOs)
The fight was supposed to be the co-feature of the PBC on FS1 card but was elevated to the main event a few days beforehand after former welterweight titlist Victor Ortiz was charged with three sexual assault felonies, including rape, and his fight with John Molina Jr. was canceled. Figueroa, 21, of Weslaco, Texas, the younger brother of former lightweight world titlist Omar Figueroa, took on the best foe of his career so far in former interim featherweight titlist Escandon and won handily in a good scrap. Figueroa, who is 5-foot-8 and towered over the 5-1 Escandon, was ahead 89-82, 88-83 and 88-83 before he dropped Escandon with a right uppercut that forced referee Lou Moret to wave off the fight at 1 minute, 42 seconds of the 10th and final round. Escandon, 34, of Colombia, lost his third fight in a row by KO.
Light heavyweight James DeGale (25-2-1, 15 KOs) KO3 Fidel Monterrosa (39-19-1, 31 KOs)
In April, DeGale outpointed Caleb Truax to regain the super middleweight world title he had lost by massive upset decision to Truax in December. But DeGale, 32, of England, soon vacated the title rather than face interim titlist Jose Uzcategui and made this very low-profile ring return buried on the PBC undercard. He blew out Monterrosa, 30, of Colombia, knocking him out for the count with an uppercut at 2 minutes, 57 seconds of the third round. DeGale has been coy about his future but has been hinting at a major fight coming after this tune-up against Monterrosa, who fought for a lightweight world title in 2010 -- at nearly 40 pounds less than he fought at against DeGale.
Friday at Temecula, Calif.
Lightweight Devin Haney (20-0, 13 KOs) W10 Juan Carlos Burgos (33-3-2, 21 KOs), scores: 100-90 (twice), 97-93
Haney, 19, of Las Vegas, is one of boxing's fastest-rising prospects, and he passed what figured to be his toughest test against former three-time world title challenger Burgos, 30, of Mexico, in the "ShoBox" main event on Showtime that his own company promoted. Haney was bigger, faster, fresher and more technically sound as he cruised. Haney jabbed well and hurt Burgos badly in the sixth with two right uppercuts, and the outcome was never in doubt.
Also on the tripleheader, lightweight Thomas Mattice (13-0-1, 10 KOs), 28, of Cleveland, and Zhora Hamazaryan (9-1-1, 6 KOs), 22, an Armenia native fighting out of Los Angeles, fought to a split draw -- 77-75 Mattice, 77-75 Hamazaryan and 76-76 -- in a rematch of Mattice's tremendously controversial decision in the first fight on July 20. In the opener, Los Angeles-based super middleweight Cem Kilic (12-0, 7 KOs), 24, of Germany, outpointed DeAndre Ware (12-1-2, 8 KOs), 30, of Toledo, Ohio, in an entertaining battle, 79-73, 79-73 and 78-74.