The sport of Boxing is no stranger to tournament style competition. While many likely associate the idea of Boxing being contested under tournament style formats with the amateur ranks with several tournaments taking place yearly and of course, Olympic competition occurring every four years, the professional side of the sport has seen its share of tournament concepts as well. While many of these tournaments have served a purpose of unifying world championships in a given weight division, often accompanied by significant elements of hype by the respective promoters and television networks involved, there have also been reality television style competitions such as The Contender and The Next Great Champ series that did serve as a way to introduce several fighters to a more casual audience and in the case of Sergio Mora, the winner of The Contender's first season, an eventual world champion, who since retirement has gone on to become one of the sport's respected expert commentators.
At last year's annual World Boxing Council (WBC) convention a new unique tournament concept was introduced known as The World Cup Boxing Series (WCBS), which would consist of a mini tournament concept with four fighters being selected to compete in two bouts with the winners of those two fights meeting in the tournament final. While those of us who grew up in the New York area of the United States as this observer did, likely associate the WCBS abbreviation that this tournament coincidentally has, with the call letters of both the ViacomCBS owned television and radio networks of the same abbreviation based in New York City, this tournament concept is unique in that it offers a straight-forward approach that in theory, would not have a long, drawn-out process to complete and would hopefully be absent of any complications and turmoil that has often reared it’s head in previous tournament concepts.
The debut of the World Cup Boxing Series tournament would/will take place in the talent-deep 135lb. Lightweight division with the winner of the two bouts earning the WBC's Latino Lightweight championship. Although some will likely criticize the WBC, at times justifiably for its practice of developing and awarding championship belts of various labels and distinctions, while the WBC Latino championship is one that can get lost in the mix of the various regional championships that are associated with the sanctioning organization, the bigger aspect is that the winner of this tournament will likely be moved up in the WBC's world Lightweight rankings.
On February 24th, the debut of the World Cup Boxing Series began in Obregon, Sonora, MX. In the first semi-final bout, Isai Hernandez faced Irving Castillo. An important thing to keep in mind in addition to both of these tournament bouts being scheduled for eight rounds is that all four of these fighters who were selected to participate in this tournament are at the prospect level of the sport, which gives this tournament concept a real sense of it being a development tool to gage talent that may be on the verge of contender status and/or fighters that have not been able to benefit from television exposure before. Not unlike a concept premium sports cable network ESPN in some ways pioneered when they began broadcasting the sport in 1980 and awarded ESPN branded championship belts to the winners of tournaments they held on their network featuring fighters who at that time were at similar stages as the four fighters competing in this tournament being promoted by soon to be inducted Hall of Famer Roy Jones' RJJ Boxing, who’s events are streamed on the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s (UFC) MMA promotion's digital subscription-based combat sports network UFC Fight Pass.
The Hernandez-Castillo bout saw Castillo begin the fight by using his 5’5 frame to keep the 5’2 Hernandez at distance where the shorter Hernandez had trouble getting his punches off due to being kept on the outside. As the fight progressed, Hernandez was able to force the combat on the inside. This resulted in an at times ugly fight to watch as both fighters had periods of effectiveness, but neither of them were able to stand out clearly from the other, which can be attributed to the height difference between the two and a bad clashing of styles. Ultimately, Castillo was able to get the nod of two of three official judges in earning an eight round majority decision to move on to the final of the tournament.
As for who Irving Castillo will be facing in the final, coincidentally, the main event of the card in Sonora, MX, featured the second semi-final bout between Luis Torres and Rodolfo Flores. From the opening bell Torres stalked Flores with an almost systematic confidence. The difference in punching power also appeared early on as Torres frequently knocked Flores off balance when he would land cleaning. To his credit, Flores had a fighter’s instinct and tried to fight back and impose his will on Torres. What resulted in the second round however, was Flores becoming over aggressive and being knocked down with a short right hook to the head. Torres would score a second knockdown of Flores in round three with a flurry of punches, but then would be deducted a point moments later when he threw Flores to the canvas as he attempted to finish the fight after Flores had gotten up from the second knockdown. A point deduction that would prove to be insignificant as Torres would continue his attack and ultimately be able to force a stoppage of the fight in the fourth round.
This now sets up the finals between Luis Torres and Irving Castillo, which will tentatively take place on June 2nd on another RJJ Boxing promoted card. If everything goes as planned, which unfortunately due to a variety of circumstances including, but not limited to an ongoing global epidemic is never a sure thing, it will be interesting to see what will be next for the World Cup Boxing Series after this inaugural Lightweight tournament.
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