When plans for the World Boxing Super Series tournaments were announced earlier this year, promoters Richard Schaefer and Kalle Sauerland promised quality fighters would fill out the brackets of the eight-man fields.
On Friday they began keeping their word with the announcement of the first three fighters who will compete for the Muhammad Ali Trophy in the cruiserweight tournament and their piece of the $50 million overall prize money: world titleholders Murat Gassiev and Mairis Briedis as well as top contender Krzysztof Wlodarczyk, a former titleholder.
"We promised you the biggest names and champions in the divisions and here we are delivering," Schaefer said. "More names will follow shortly. We simply can't wait to get the action started."
In March, Comosa AG announced plans for two eight-man single-elimination tournaments in which 16 fighters will divvy up the $50 million prize money, with the winner of each tournament also receiving the Muhammad Ali Trophy. Comosa AG enlisted Schaefer and Sauerland to promote the cards and decided that the first two tournaments will take place in the cruiserweight and super middleweight divisions.
The tournaments are supposed to kick off in September with quarterfinal matches in each weight class, with the semifinals taking place in early 2018 and the finals scheduled for May 2018.
By signing Gassiev (24-0, 17 KOs), Briedis (22-0, 18 KOs) and Wlodarczyk (53-3-1, 37 KOs) to participate, organizers have landed three of the premier cruiserweights in the world -- and made a title unification bout part of the tournament.
Schaefer and Sauerland have said they would work with the sanctioning bodies to make sure mandatory defenses don't interfere with the tournament and that seems to be the case as Gassiev's mandatory challenger is Wlodarczyk, but they won't necessarily fight each other.
In early July, Comosa is supposed to stage an official presentation gala in Monte Carlo, Monaco, to determine the draw. In each weight class, the four top seeds will select their quarterfinal opponents from the four unseeded boxers on a live TV show.
The fighters view the tournament as a chance to gain wider exposure, earn big purses and face top opposition.
"It is an honor to be in the World Boxing Super Series," said Gassiev, 23, of Russia, who won his title by split decision against Denis Lebedev in December and will be making his first defense. "This is the best fighting the best. I have never lost a fight, I am the IBF champion and I look forward to winning the other belts as well to cement my position as the best fighter in the division."
Briedis, 32, of Latvia, won a vacant world title by unanimous decision against former longtime titleholder Marco Huck on April 1.
"This is the Champions League of boxing and I am going to prove that I am the world's best cruiserweight," he said. "The competition will be tough, but to be the best, you have to beat the best."
Wlodarczyk, 35, of Poland, a former two-time world titleholder, has won four fights in a row, including a split decision against Noel Gevor on May 20 in a title elimination bout to become Gassiev's mandatory challenger.
"I will stamp my authority on the division by beating the best cruiserweights out there and winning the World Boxing Super Series," Wlodarczyk said. "There is a reason the winner gets the Muhammad Ali Trophy. He was the greatest of all time, and the winner of this tournament has the right to call himself the greatest cruiserweight of our time."
The timing of the announcement of the first three participants was no accident. They were announced the day before the one-year anniversary of Ali's death and tournament organizers have received permission from his estate to use his name and likeness promoting the tournaments and for the name of the trophy.
"Nobody will ever forget what Ali has achieved. He was the greatest of all time because he defeated the best opponents out there," said Roberto Dalmiglio, head of Comosa AG's management board. "The World Boxing Super Series is all about the best fighting the best, and that is why we named the trophy after him."
Sauerland said they continue to sort through possible participants for both tournaments.
"We have received a massive amount of applications for both divisions," Sauerland said. "The best fighters are lining up to be in the tournament. Just like the fans, they love the format and the fact that there will only be one man standing at the end."