World Boxing Super Series gets second season, adding bantamweight events

The inaugural World Boxing Super Series tournaments in the cruiserweight and super middleweight divisions still have champions to crown, but organizer Comosa AG didn't wait for their completion before unveiling some of the plans for a second season on Wednesday at a news conference in London.

Promoter Kalle Sauerland, Comosa AG's chief boxing officer, announced that the number of eight-man single-elimination tournaments for the second season will be increased from two to three, with bantamweight being one of the divisions.

"After a fantastic first season with super middleweight and cruiserweight, we have decided that bigger is better," Sauerland said. "So we are going out with three divisions in our second season."

The bantamweight division is deep and exciting and three of the world titleholders -- Ryan Burnett, Zolani Tete and Emmanuel Rodriguez -- will be part of the field.

"We are delighted to have three champions agree to go into the bantamweight tournament," Sauerland said. "Burnett, Rodriguez and Tete represent three continents. They represent what the World Boxing Super Series is all about and we cannot wait to see these amazing athletes compete for the Muhammad Ali Trophy."

Burnett (19-0, 9 KOs), 25, of Northern Ireland, outpointed Lee Haskins to win a world title last June. He unified two belts in his first defense by outpointing Zhanat Zhakiyanov in October but then vacated one of the titles. Burnett cruised to a lopsided decision over Yonfrez Parejo in his second defense on March 31.

"I have always wanted to be a world champion and to unify the titles against the best opposition out there," Burnett said. "Now the World Boxing Super Series allows me to continue my dream against the other champions in the bantamweight division."

Tete (27-3, 21 KOs), a 30-year-old southpaw from South Africa with outstanding punching power, has made two defenses, an 11-second obliteration of countryman Siboniso Gonya in November followed by a shutout decision against former two-division world titleholder and mandatory challenger Omar Narvaez on April 21.

But Tete has been calling out Burnett, having boxed both of his title defenses in Burnett's hometown of Belfast. Now he may have a chance to face him in the tournament.

"I am very humbled and honored to enter the tournament," Tete said. "This is the opportunity I have been looking for -- to show that I am the best in my division."

Rodriguez (18-0, 12 KOs), 25, of Puerto Rico, cruised to a near-shutout decision over former bantamweight titlist Paul Butler to win a vacant 118-pound belt on Saturday in London on the Tony Bellew-David Haye II undercard. He and his team stayed in town for the news conference announcing the tournament.

"I am very happy to be in the tournament," Rodriguez said. "It is great to be able to fight against two other world champions and get the chance to unify the belts. I will do my best to win the tournament."

There are still five more fighters to be added to the field for the tournament that will start in the fall. Japanese star Naoya Inoue (15-0, 13 KOs), 25, a former junior flyweight and junior bantamweight world titleholder, is expected to take one of the available slots as long as he defeats Jamie McDonnell and takes his secondary title on May 25 in Tokyo.

The other two divisions that will have tournaments in World Boxing Super Series' second season have not been announced, but one will be junior welterweight, multiple sources told ESPN. There has also been talk of the other being at heavyweight.

The 140-pound tournament, according to sources with knowledge of the details, which are still being finalized, will include:

  • Regis Prograis (21-0, 18 KOs), 29, a Houston southpaw expected to forgo a mandatory shot at world titleholder Jose Ramirez (who is not joining the field);

  • Cleveland's Ryan Martin (22-0, 12 KOs), 25, who notched a one-sided, eight-round decision win over Breidis Prescott on the Gennady Golovkin-Vanes Martirosyan undercard on Saturday night;

  • World titleholder Kiryl Relikh (22-2, 19 KOs), 28, of Belarus, who will take on former titlist and mandatory challenger Eduard Troyanovsky (27-1, 24 KOs), 37, of Russia, in the quarterfinals;

  • Russia's Ivan Baranchyk (18-0, 11 KOs), 25, and Anthony Yigit (21-0-1, 7 KOs), 26, of Sweden, who would fight for a vacant world title in another quarterfinal.

The finals of the first-season tournaments are up next but both have been postponed until later in the summer due to injuries.

In the cruiserweight tournament, Ukraine's Oleksandr Usyk (14-0, 11 KOs), who owns two belts, and Russia's Murat Gassiev (26-0, 19 KOs), who also has two, are due to meet for the undisputed world title. They were supposed to meet Sunday in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, but the fight was postponed because Usyk suffered what was announced as a minor elbow injury in training.

The super middleweight final, originally scheduled for June 2 at the O2 Arena in London, was also postponed because world titleholder George Groves (28-3, 20 KOs) suffered a dislocated left shoulder in his unanimous decision victory over British countryman Chris Eubank Jr. in the semifinals on Feb. 17. Groves, who had arthroscopic surgery, is due to face countryman Callum Smith (24-0, 17 KOs) in the final.