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Fight sites crucial for Showtime’s Super Six

So popular in Germany is Armenian-born boxer Arthur Abraham that he sold out the 14,200-seat O2 World Arena in Berlin for his opening bout in Showtime’s Super Six super middleweight tournament in October.

Prone to grand entrances, Abraham turned his ring walk into a ring hover, descending from the rafters encased in steel as the incendiary German band the Scorpions played live on a stage nearby. Airing on public TV across Germany, the bout against Jermain Taylor drew a peak share of almost 40, according to Abraham’s promoters.

If the Super Six followed what has been the typical boxing course, scheduling one-off events that maximize revenue with little regard for the bigger picture, Abraham would stay tethered to German soil, where he and his Germany-based promoter, Sauerland Event, could generate the most cash.

And yet, in his second Super Six bout, Abraham fought Andre Dirrell on Dirrell’s home turf, in Detroit, in front of about 5,000 paying customers — and lost. In his third Super Six bout, scheduled for Sept. 18 against England’s Carl Froch, Abraham likely will venture to the neutral turf of Monaco and the 4,500-seat Chapiteau Espace Fontvieille.

Arthur Abraham (left) stopped
Jermain Taylor in Berlin.

It’s the sort of compromise that has become necessary in a tournament format that has six boxers each fighting three bouts, with the top four advancing into the semifinals.

With the field tight heading into the third and final stage, venue selection has become a critical aspect of the process for all the fighters, especially Abraham and Froch, each of whom has lost once and could be eliminated. Abraham vs. Froch in Berlin would provide a larger payday, but Froch didn’t want to fight in Abraham’s backyard. Midway through last week , they were closing in on Monaco as a solution.

“We’re now moving into a phase of the tournament where the fighters realize they need a little bit of home support,” said Kalle Sauerland, who promotes Abraham. “Do we go for the money or the home advantage? … We want to go where the money makes sense and the image of the fight makes sense.”

The compromise of Monaco likely won’t offer the venue revenue of Berlin, where Abraham vs. Taylor generated nearly $1 million in ticket sales, but a prime-time European time slot keeps the German TV revenue intact.

Showtime also likes the choice because it is fair to both fighters and adds a jolt of glitz.

“You’re not getting 20,000 people, but it’s a very cool place to be,” said Ken Hershman, executive vice president and general manager of Showtime Sports. “There’s a lot of cachet.”

Froch wanted to fight in his hometown of Nottingham, England, at the 30,000-seat City Ground soccer stadium. Sauerland said he was willing to put the fight there, but Froch’s injuries in his last bout pushed the window for the fight out of the summer months and into the English soccer season. Sauerland balked at other options offered by Froch’s promoter, Mick Hennessy, setting off a stalemate that lasted for two months.

“We have lots of backups and fail-safes in this contract, and most revolve around Showtime as the independent party to lend a hand in pushing people to the right place,” Hershman said. “That’s exactly what we did [with Abraham vs. Froch].”

The other two bouts in the tournament’s third and final stage — Andre Ward vs. Dirrell and Mikkel Kessler vs. Allan Green (who has replaced an injured Taylor as one of the six participants) — are set for a Showtime double-header on Sept. 25, with site negotiations still ongoing last week. Kessler will fight in Europe, where he brings a large crowd and a TV deal. Promoters for Ward and Dirrell are exploring a range of U.S. options. The Kessler-Green bout airs on tape-delay on Showtime, leading into a live telecast of Ward-Dirrell. Viewers in Denmark and Germany get Kessler-Green live.

Both semifinals and the final will be held in the United States, Hershman said, with one caveat: If two of the Europeans are matched in a semifinal, that fight could be held in Europe, though it would have to be timed to air live in the United States in prime time.

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