World Boxing Super Series Chief Boxing Officer Kalle Sauerland gives Boxing Social an in-depth lowdown on the WBSS’ forthcoming female super-featherweight tournament, which he assures boxing fans will be “red hot”…
To many boxing aficionados, the World Boxing Super Series is one of the best – if not the best – initiatives to have hit the boxing scene in the last 10 or 20 years.
Since its inception in 2017, which was greeted with a cynicism all too familiar to the sport, the tournament has earned a reputation for establishing which boxer is the best in each of the weight classes it has featured.
The roll call of Muhammad Ali trophy winners is as stellar as it is spectacular – from Oleksandr Usyk and Callum Smith in Season 1 to Josh Taylor, Naoya Inoue and Mairis Briedis in Season 2. Of this quintet, three are widely accepted members of the current world Pound-for-pound Top 10, a status earned in no small part thanks to their exploits in the WBSS.
Now, for its third season, the WBSS is turning its attention to the fast developing world of female boxing, having announced a women’s super-featherweight tournament.
Speaking to Boxing Social, WBSS Chief Boxing Officer Kalle Sauerland explained the reasoning behind the move.
“It’s very simple,” he said. “We’ve been talking about a female boxing tournament since our inauguration. With the emergence and growth of women’s boxing over the last decade and the depth and talent that’s emerged in the last few years women’s boxing has become something very special.
“It’s really started to emerge from the shadow of men’s boxing. If you look at the lockdown fights two or three of the best were female fights. There was [Katie] Taylor vs [Delfine] Persoon 2, [Natasha] Jonas vs [Terri] Harper and Taylor vs Jonas, just to mention a few of them.
“The World Boxing Super Series has always been about providing an opportunity for the best to fight the best and find out who the best really is and that’s something we’re very happy we can now offer for the first time to female boxing.
“I think this tournament can create a whole new era for women’s boxing – if you look at what the World Boxing Super Series has done for some of the male boxers involved, if you look at the names of those fighters in whose footsteps the women will be following – Inoue, Usyk, Taylor, Smith, Briedis – well, you can see what winning the tournament has done for them and I’m sure it will have the same effect for the women.
“The quest for the Ali trophy is a journey that can provide such a great platform – even for those who don’t quite make it. I mean look at some of those who were losing finalists – [Nonito] Donaire, [Regis] Prograis and [Yuniel] Dorticos spring to mind. They lost but fought so hard and enhanced their names or made a name for themselves in the tournament. So this tournament is a massive opportunity for the female fighters out there.”
Sauerland admitted that the strength in depth in female boxing not only at super-feather but at the weight classes immediately above and below it gives the tournament a long and illustrious list of potential participants.
“There’s a lot of catchweight fights and drifting between weight classes in both male and female boxing, probably even more so in female boxing,” Sauerland said. “We’re totally open to ladies who want to move up or down to super-feather for the tournament. There’s some fantastic talent in and either side of that division.”
Perhaps the most high-profile ‘name’ in and around 130lbs is Puerto Rico’s Amanda Serrano, who has held ‘world’ titles in seven different weight classes, including the IBF super-feather title back in 2011. (Her sole career loss also came at super-feather, against Sweden’s Frida Wallberg in 2012).
Asked about the possibility of Serrano being a participant in the WBSS, Sauerland stressed that the tournament was looking for a collection of strong fighters as opposed to being fixated on one marquee name.
“Serrano is a fantastic name but the WBSS has never been about choosing a division just because of one name,” he said. “You can talk about a lot of fantastic names in female boxing. But this isn’t about a name – it’s about finding a collective group of the best athletes, whether those are considered names or not.
“You can also talk about regional names that are massive in their own countries. But as I said, it’s not about one person. The tournament might be coming at the right time for some and at the wrong time for others – either too early or too late in their careers even if they’re great names. But super-featherweight is a division we know we can fill up from one to eight with some fantastic fights.”
Sauerland also stressed that the rigours of the WBSS tournament format means that it attracts a special breed of competitors.
“It’s a very hard tournament to sign up for. There’s going to be a lot of competition for places and that line-up is going to be red hot because if you want to win you can expect three very tough fights in a nine to 12-month time frame.
“Boxing three times in a year at the very top level and on the biggest platform that boxing can provide is tough and people that sign up for it know it’s tough. Because of that it isn’t for everyone. If we look back to season one at cruiserweight we had all the champions, all the belts in there.
“In Season 2 in the super-lightweights you had top super-lightweights in there but at the time [Jose] Ramirez didn’t want to go in. It didn’t affect the tournament at all, it was still a fantastic tournament with massive semi-finals, for example.
“If you look at the bantams there were one or two names who didn’t want to go in either and I can’t blame them because some people aren’t at the stage of their career where they can have three tough fights in a year.”
The WBSS’ innovative promotional model, by which it does not seek to tie fighters into any sort of promotional agreement beyond the completion of the tournament, has allowed it to broker deals with a wide range of boxers and mount fights that otherwise might have fallen foul of promotional divides.
Sauerland pledged that this ‘work with anyone’ ethos will continue.
“The invitation is open for all top boxers to compete in this tournament,” he said. “We received a lot of interest straight after the announcement, obviously we’d also already had a lot of discussion with many promoters before the announcement as well.”
In terms of the tournament’s timeline Sauerland revealed: “It’s going to kick off in the fourth quarter of the year. That’s something we’re looking at right now with broadcasters and we’re also looking at the sporting schedule around certain boxers who are interested and already discussing going in.
“After kicking off in the fourth quarter from there it will be a regular WBSS calendar with semi-finals in late winter or early spring and the finals in late spring or the summer.”
Sauerland admitted that the uncertainties engendered over the past year or so by the global Coronavirus pandemic had delayed the WBSS’ delivery of a third season, as well been a factor in their decision to restrict the new season to one tournament.
“It’s been a long, long wait,” he said. “It’s felt like forever. After lockdown we managed to put on the first major fight between a champ from Europe and a champ from America for the finale of Season 2, which itself had been delayed due to the first lockdown. To get Season 2 out of the way and finished despite Corona was a very big thing for us.
“The pandemic created issues for us that other promoters didn’t face because we look at creating seasons, not just one event. We also have multiple locations and a big travelling team – things which Corona made very difficult. So to announce that we’re coming back is fantastic.
“One weight class this season was something we didn’t intend to do and didn’t expect to do. In a way it’s quite nice for the female boxers to have our full attention, but it’s also a logistical thing – we want to deliver what we say we’ll deliver and we’re very confident of doing that with Season 3 wherever the pandemic takes us. We’re 100 per cent sure that we can deliver for the athletes, broadcasters and fans.
“The World Boxing Super Series is now very established as a brand. I think everyone knows it’s about the best versus the best. It has that special feeling about it. Awards are frequently given out in boxing and we’ve had the pleasure of receiving the promoter of the year award before, and other lovely titles like that, but the ones we’re really interested in at the WBSS are the ‘fight of the year’ awards which we’ve won and the ‘knockout of the year’ awards which we’ve won.
“Those are the ones that make us happy and have cemented the WBSS brand as a fan favourite. So we’re going to keep on going and keep doing what we’re doing.”