The planning is over, the draws are long set and it's time to fight. The $50 million World Boxing Super Series finally kicks off on Saturday.
Cruiserweight world titleholder Oleksandr Usyk (12-0, 10 KOs), the No. 1 seed from Ukraine, will defend his belt against former longtime titleholder Marco Huck (40-4-1, 27 KOs), one of the best in division history, in the quarterfinals at the Max-Schmeling-Halle, in Berlin, Germany.
The fight kicks off eight consecutive weeks of WBSS bouts, as eight-man fields in the cruiserweight and super middleweight tournaments will be narrowed to semifinalists in the single-elimination event that will award the Muhammad Ali Trophy to the winner of each.
The super middleweight tournament opens Sept. 16 at Echo Arena in Liverpool, England, where No. 2 seed Callum Smith (22-0, 17 KOs) takes on Sweden's unseeded Erik Skoglund (26-0, 12 KOs).
Although Comosa AG, the company putting on the WBSS, has announced various television deals in a variety of countries in recent weeks, such as terrestrial network ITV in the United Kingdom, they have not secured an American broadcaster. Showtime had said it was interested and was negotiating a deal when the tournaments were announced but backed off. There were efforts to bring other networks on board also, including the strong possibility of premium cable network Epix returning to boxing coverage to handle the WBSS, but that did not materialize either.
So a slew of major fights have no U.S. television home at this point, but that will not stop a slate of intriguing fights from going on, starting with Usyk-Huck.
In his third title defense, Usyk, a 30-year-old southpaw and 2012 Olympic heavyweight gold medalist, will take on Germany's Huck, 32, in front of his home crowd. While he likes being at home, Huck said he would have faced Usyk anywhere.
"I wanted to show Usyk that he is in my hometown and that he should be prepared for the battle of his life on Saturday."Marco Huck
"It is going to be very nice to fight in Berlin, but I would also fight Usyk on the moon," Huck said. "Usyk is a well-schooled boxer, and I cannot wait to step into the ring with him.
"When I fight, there's always something going on. It's never boring, but spectacular. Huck fans around the world know that a Huck fight means entertainment. When I reach my potential on fight night, I can beat everyone. I am very optimistic and confident that I will beat Usyk."
As the top seed, Usyk picked Huck as his opponent from among the unseeded fighters. He said he did so because of the great reputation Huck has fashioned in his decorated career, during which he tied the division record with 13 title defenses in 2015 before losing the belt Usyk eventually won.
"Marco Huck is the most famous and prestigious opponent I could have chosen," Usyk said. "He has accomplished [the] most title defenses in the history of the cruiserweight division, an extremely experienced man. Huck does not fear anything or anyone and goes for the victory through the fire. He marches constantly forward and tries to determine his fights by all means."
Usyk said he has studied Huck and has devised a plan to beat him.
"I have a tactic specifically aimed at Huck. This is necessary, because in my opinion, he is one of my toughest competitors in this tournament," he said. "But why should I talk about it now and give Huck an advantage that he does not deserve? The surprising moment is on my side now, and I will take this advantage with me in the ring. Huck, by the way, has an advantage because he is at home in front of his audience in Berlin. This definitely makes him stronger, but I love this challenge."
Despite going 2-2 in his last four fights and coming off a decision loss to Mairis Briedis in a vacant world title fight in April, Huck was the picture of confidence at the final prefight news conference on Wednesday.
"Marco Huck is the most famous and prestigious opponent I could have chosen. He has accomplished [the] most title defenses in the history of the cruiserweight division, an extremely experienced man. Huck does not fear anything or anyone and goes for the victory through the fire."Oleksandr Usyk
"I have been giving many victory interviews in Berlin," Huck said. "It is an important fight. I have been more tested in my battles than he has. Usyk should prepare for a war on Saturday. I have no fear stepping up against Oleksandr. When I am at my best, I can beat anybody."
After the formal press conference ended, things turned chippy between the opponents when Huck pushed Usyk during their face-to-face photo opportunity.
"I wanted to show Usyk that he is in my hometown and that he should be prepared for the battle of his life on Saturday," Huck said.
Usyk was furious but did not retaliate.
"I will bury him on Saturday," Usyk said.
There is a lot on the line in the tournament -- division supremacy, millions of dollars and a chance to unify the four major belts because all four of the titleholders have entered.
On Sept. 23, No. 4 Yunier Dorticos (21-0, 20 KOs), a Miami-based Cuban defector, will defend his belt against "The Russian Hammer" Dmitry Kudryashov (21-1, 21 KOs) at the Alamodome in San Antonio. No. 3 Briedis (22-0, 18 KOs), of Latvia, will defend his belt against Ireland-based Cuban defector Mike Perez (22-2-1, 14 KOs) on Sept. 30 at Riga Arena in Riga, Latvia; and No. 2 Murat Gassiev (24-0, 17 KOs), of Russia, will defend his belt against Polish mandatory challenger Krzysztof Wlodarczyk (53-3-1, 37 KOs), with Oct. 21 at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey, penciled in, though the date and site have not yet been officially announced.
The Usyk-Huck winner will meet the Briedis-Perez winner in one semifinal, and the Gassiev-Wlodarczyk winner will face the Dorticos-Kudryashov victor in the other semifinal. The semifinals are supposed to take place in early 2018, with the finals ticketed for May 2018.
"I can fulfill my dream of unifying all the belts," Usyk said. "I had previously thought about how it would be possible to achieve this goal. Fortunately, the door is now open for the road to glory. In this tournament, all the world champions participate, and the winner can rightly be described as the best cruiserweight in the world. On top of that, the winner gets the Muhammad Ali Trophy. I admire Ali, because he is the biggest role model in boxing. I will thank God if I win a trophy with his name on it."