Q & A with Ken Hershman of Showtime
Four of the six 168-pounders in the Super Six Boxing Classic are rated in THE RING's super middleweight Top 10. Photo / Howard Schatz
Ken Hershman, vice president of sports programming at Showtime, walked into his boss’ office in May with an ambitious idea to stage a super middleweight tournament involving at least six fighters and multiple promoters. Five months later, we’re about to witness the kick off to the Super Six Boxing Classic, a modified round-robin tournament that will pit six of the best 168-pounders against one another over the next year and a half. The fighters will face three opponents each in the first round. The four with the most points, which will be determined by results, will then move into single-elimination semi-final then final rounds to determine a champion. The opening round begins Saturday, when Arthur Abraham faces Jermain Taylor in Berlin, Germany, and Carl Froch fights Andre Dirrell in Nottingham, England. Here are Hershman’s thoughts going into the competition.
RingTV.com: How did you come up with the idea of putting the tournament together?
Ken Hershman: We were looking at the 168-pound division; we’d been active in that group for some time. We were looking at a lot of terrific fights, trying to figure out how we can make them. You know boxing is typically an a la carte business; you buy one fight here and try to set up a few down the road. When I saw all these great possible matchups, I realized I couldn’t afford them all a la carte so I had to figure out a way to group them together. So that got us talking about coming up with some kind of concept where we could package it all up. The tournament concept is what won the day and we set about doing it.
RingTV.com: How difficult was it to pull off in light of all the moving parts?
KH I went into my boss’ office and said I have an insane idea. I said I just need some time to figure out whether it’s doable but don’t expect me to come back and tell you I succeeded. That was the mindset going in. Nothing like this had ever even been probably tried let alone accomplished in boxing. But we went about it in a very smart way. We were really committed to making it work. We found the right buttons to push. Everybody got on board. And lo and behold, it happened.
RingTV.com: Does the structure of the tournament resemble your original vision?
KH: This is the vision. We envisioned six of the best fighters in the world facing each other. Obviously, when we first put the tournament on paper, hypothetically looking at all the matchups and the fighters in that division and how many fights over months and years, it’s changed dramatically from that. When we initially settled on what we were going to do and how we were going to go about executing this thing, it looks remarkably like that.
RingTV.com: What did you learn from boxing tournaments of the past?
KH: We absolutely examined a bunch of past tournaments, what worked and what didn’t. And obviously the world is very different today than it was back then. First and foremost, you know, with this level of talent, a single-elimination tournament – which is really what the others have been – would not be doable because you’d have to pay the fighters too much to take the risk that on one bad night they’d be out of the tournament. So that is what sort of engendered the modified round robin. Once we hit on that, the light bulb went off. We were like, “Ah ha! Now we have the formula and let’s go execute it.”
RingTV.com: Anytime a fight is staged, there is an element of risk from a business standpoint. A fighter could pull out, viewership could be disappointing, etc. How much riskier is this tournament than a single fight?
KH: I think it’s risky anytime you say you’re going to do something in boxing. And something as ambitious as this, and something that needs time to play itself out like this does, is tremendously risky. But we think that there’s a lot more upside than downside. We think this is going to hold together. We have all the formulas in place to make it hold together. And we think we have the six fighters who are committed to this to make it hold together. Yeah, there’s always risk in boxing that something unforeseen will happen to trip you up along the way, but we think we have as many bases covered as possible. This is a very solidly built tournament with very clear rules and clear guidelines for everybody to follow. So we think it’s going to be tremendous.
RingTV.com: Why haven’t we seen more tournaments over the years?
KH: It’s virtually impossible to have all the stars align, where you have the depth of talent in one weight class, where you have the right group of fighters who are willing to put themselves in this position, where you have the right group of promoters that are willing to consider not only one fight or an individual agenda but also the betterment of boxing. I think a lot of stars aligned to make this happen. Plus, you needed the idea and the fortitude to stick it out and make it happen. Not knock on anyone else but we were the first and we’re proud of that.
RingTV.com: Fans seem to be genuinely excited about the tournament. Why do you think that is?
KH: Again, it’s the first-ever of its nature, No. 1. I think it’s the talent pool, No. 2. These are incredibly talented, compelling fighters, that if you’re a boxing fan, you say, “I’d love to see this guy fight that guy and that guy fight this guy,” and lo and behold there it is in your lap for the next 18 months. And I think the tournament overlay on top of the regular traditional boxing match, with gaining points and progressing to a single-elimination semifinal and final just appeals to the sports fan in all of us. It has all the elements.
RingTV.com: Do you have any regret that it’s not an eight-man tournament? As it is, you have six of the best super middleweights in the world but such capable 168-pounders as Lucian Bute and Librado Andrade are not part of the competition.
KH: No regret. We set out at the beginning when we sketched it out to look at it that way. It was just too cumbersome, too big and too drawn out for eight to work. So we had to go with a way we thought best to get it accomplished in the time frame that it needs to be completed by. There are a couple of great fighters who aren’t in this tournament but it doesn’t take anything away from the six that are in it. It doesn’t take anything away from their accomplishment if they get through the group stages and the semifinals and win this thing. That’s going to be one of the biggest accomplishments in boxing ever. I think if you look at the reaction we’ve gotten to this tournament, the reaction the fighters have gotten, the promoters, there’s no taking away from the talent those two fighters [Bute and Andrade] have, but this tournament is as strong and powerful without them as it would be with them.
RingTV.com: What was the drawback of adding two more fighters?
KH: If you add two more, just think about the mathematics of it. Two more fights means you go from 12 fights in the tournament to something like 18. So it’s exponentially that much more time, that much more money. You add two more promoters, Golden Boy and Canadian Interbox. Everything just got weighed down dramatically by adding those two fighters. It wasn’t as simple as just adding two fighters. We could’ve gotten eight fighters. We made the decision that the tournament was best constructed with six.
RingTV.com: Does the length of the tournament concern you?
KH: It remains to me the fundamental concern as we march forward because you don’t want this thing to drag on too long, you want to get to a winner. Like the NCAA Tournament or some of these other sports that have the luxury of people not getting beaten in the head for a living, they can progress their tournaments much more quickly from start to finish. We have to let fighters, especially fighters taking on this level of competition, we have to give them time for their bodies to heal, for them to re-energize and go back into training camp and prepare for their next fight. So it’s inevitable it’s going to take some time. But that remains my one concern, that it not take too much time, that we keep everyone on track.
RingTV.com: Are you concerned that anyone will fall out of the tournament? And if it happens, what will you do?
KH: I’m not concerned. I think these six fighters are committed to seeing this through from start to finish. They’ve signed on for that and are committed to it, so I don’t foresee that. But, in the unfortunate situation where there’s an injury that prevents a fighter from continuing, a replacement mechanism in place. It’s hard to say now, today, Oct. 12 who that replacement would be because we don’t know when we’re going to be confronted with the need to replace him. If it’s a year from now, then it would probably be different fighters that are eligible than if I looked at it today. So I’m going to reserve any type of speculation on who it might be until we need to cross that bridge and hopefully we never do.
RingTV.com: How will you determine whether the tournament has been a success?
KH: I can answer that question very easily. I think this tournament has been a tremendous success already and we haven’t had the first fight. When I look at the media attention, all that it’s done to re-invigorate interest in the sport and all the things it has created already, I think this tournament is already a home-run success today. I think after Saturday night, we’ll see how the fights go, you can never fight the fight for these guys, but we should be well on our way to having an historic beginning. So I think this is already a success.
RingTV.com: Would you consider staging another tournament in a different weight class?
KH: I think it’s safe to say, if we can find a certain circumstance that has all the same ingredients, that we would do this again. I think that there will be another Super Six down the road.
RingTV.com: Can you throw out a possible division or is that getting ahead of the game?
KH: We’re getting ahead of the game because I gotta let this play out. As you said, and I agree, the boxing landscape changes too quickly, that what may look like a good weight division today will fall apart six months from now. We’ll start exploring those possibilities. But we’re doing a lot of super middleweight fights in the next 18 months; I don’t want to bog down the whole schedule during the tournament.
RingTV.com: Can you see separate tournaments overlapping?
KH: We haven’t decided that. Again, a part of it is you have to be opportunistic, you have to strike when you can. So if there’s some overlap, I think that would be OK and something I would look to do. If we can start the next one, ideally, around the finals of this one, that would be even better.
RingTV.com: You must be proud that you were able to put together a significant international tournament such as this. How excited are you?
KH: To me, it’s the highlight of my career to date, but I’m most happy for everybody here at Showtime, our creative services group, our PR group, our production team, our marketing group who hit this out of the park. Hiring [photographer] Howard Schatz, creating Fight Cam 360, creating this spectacular trophy ÔÇª that the winner is going to take home, every element of this is just extraordinary. It’s energized the group to a level I haven’t seen. They’re all incredibly proud of the work. And I’m happy for the fighters who have signed on to this historic structure. I was told there weren’t any fights over who fights who because they knew they all had to fight each other at some point. They all went into this believing they were going to be the one in the finals, that they were going to be the one holding the cup at the end of it. And it’s legit; they really, really believe, which is a testament to them. You hear a lot of fighters talk the talk but who don’t walk the walk. Boy did they walk the walk.
Michael Rosenthal can be reached at [email protected]