Heavyweight titlist Wladimir Klitschko is taking the rest of the year off from fighting while his injured left hand heals, but he will no doubt be paying attention to a series of bouts that will determine his mandatory challenger.
Two of those fights will take place this fall as the four fighters -- Chris Byrd, Alexander Povetkin, Eddie Chambers and Calvin Brock -- will participate in a three-fight box-off to determine who will get a shot at Klitschko. All have committed to the tournament, according to their handlers.
In the first elimination fight, former titlist Byrd (40-3-1, 21 KOs), who has already lost twice to Klitschko, will face 2004 Russian Olympic super heavyweight gold medalist Povetkin (13-0, 9 KOs), one of the hottest prospects in the world. They will meet Oct. 27 in Germany.
"We're down to the number of airfares and hotel rooms Chris will get, that sort of thing," John Hornewer, Byrd's attorney, told ESPN.com about the nearly finalized negotiations.
In the second eliminator, Chambers (29-0, 16 KOs) will meet Brock (31-1, 23 KOs) on Nov. 2 on Showtime's "ShoBox: The New Generation" at a site to be determined.
The winners of the two fall fights will meet in early 2008, with that winner earning a shot at Klitschko.
In his only loss, Brock, 32, was knocked out by Klitschko in a November title bout. He has won two in a row since.
"He plans to participate" in the tournament, said Donald Tremblay, spokesman for Brock promoter Main Events.
Chambers, 25, has been eager to participate in the box-off since it was ordered a few weeks ago.
"This is the opportunity I've been looking for," he said. "It's sort of like the NFL playoffs. Win a couple of rounds and get to the Super Bowl against Wladimir Klitschko. That's just what I intend to do -- not only get to the Super Bowl, but win it too, a world heavyweight title. But my focus and attention right now is preparing for my semifinal opponent, Calvin Brock."
Said Dan Goossen, Chambers' promoter: "The heavyweight division needs new faces and I believe Eddie has the perfect combination of talent, dedication and charisma. It's the best scenario, two veterans in Byrd and Brock against two young rising stars in Chambers and Povetkin, with the winner earning their right to fight Klitschko."
Povetkin, 27, has moved quickly up the ranks by facing quality competition in his brief professional career, including a surprisingly easy shutout decision against longtime fringe contender Larry Donald on June 30, and his handlers embraced the idea of the tournament from the outset.
"This is the chance Alexander has been waiting for," said Kalle Sauerland, Povetkin's co-manager. "We have no doubt he will prevail in this interesting tournament."
Byrd, 37, has fought in Germany three times -- twice losing to Klitschko, but also upsetting older brother Vitali Klitschko via a ninth-round TKO in a 2000 title bout. Byrd, with one victory since losing his title via a bloody seventh-round TKO to Wladimir Klitschko in April 2006, has always been willing to fight all comers, even if means going overseas.
"To me this is what boxing is all about," Hornewer said. "This is why Chris Byrd deserves as much respect as anybody out there fighting today. Here's a guy who is willing to go to Germany to fight the Olympic gold medalist on his turf. Hats off to him. If Chris isn't successful in this fight, he needs to look at his career, but this fight has him very excited. He wasn't excited about the prospect of facing Brock or Chambers, but this guy has him excited because he's a gold medalist with a lot of hype behind him, and that's what Chris needs to get him motivated."
Klitschko will return in January or February for an optional defense, adviser Shelly Finkel told ESPN.com. Finkel said Klitschko would then be prepared to face the winner of the box-off in the summer.
"I think [the box-off] is a good thing," Finkel said. "No one wanted to see Brock or Byrd against Wladimir so soon as a rematch, so this is a good thing. It gives the winner of this mini-tournament legitimacy as the No. 1 contender."
Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com