Officials for World Series of Boxing confident in growth

Like any fledgling sports league, the World Series of Boxing has encountered its share of hits and misses. But officials of the fifth-year league believe the current model will lead to success.

Overseen by the International Boxing Association, the WSB has expanded to 16 teams and remains an outlet for Olympic aspiring boxers. Unlike the league’s first three seasons, the teams now represent countries instead of cities.

And South Florida again has a presence in the league. When the WSB began four years ago, the league featured a franchise in Miami. Now, the USA Knockouts, the American representative in the league, have their 2015 home matches at Miccosukee Resort and Gaming in West Miami-Dade.

“I think we have come a long way since our first season, and I am very proud, too, that World Series of Boxing continues to grow at a tremendous pace,” said Karim Bouzidi, WSB’s chief executive officer. “Looking back, there have been 884 boxers competing in the first four seasons, with boxers from 76 different countries having competed on teams throughout the series’ history, making it a truly global competition.”

Boxers also look at the league as a transitioning phase toward the professional ranks. WSB bouts are scheduled for five rounds, and fighters participate without headgear.

“I’m gaining a lot of experience, something different, because instead of fighting three rounds, it’s now five rounds,” said Carlos Balderas, a member of the USA Knockouts. “You’re learning a lot not just about your fights but everybody else’s fights.”

Balderas, who fights in the lightweight division and is unbeaten in his three WSB bouts this season, also appreciates the team concept.

“It gives you a little more confidence to know that you’re not in this by yourself, you’re in this together as a team,” Balderas said.

The league features national teams representing five different continents, broken into two groups. Each match consists of five bouts with the victorious team decided by the number of bouts won. The Knockouts improved to 6-2 and are second in Group B after their 4-1 victory over Argentina on Friday night at Miccosukee.

Around the ring

▪ Fresh off his dominant win over Bernard Hopkins in November, Sergey Kovalev will continue to seek his goal as the sport’s top light-heavyweight and move higher on pound-for-pound best fighter lists Saturday night.

Kovalev, a native of Russia and part-time Fort Lauderdale resident, will defend his multiple sanctioning body titles against former champion Jean Pascal in Montreal.

“I am very interested to fight with him and see what I can do in the ring against Jean Pascal because every fight is something new,” Kovalev said.

Kovalev (26-0, 23 KOs) did part of his training camp preparation for Pascal (29-2-1, 17 KOs) at the Normandy Gym in Miami Beach.

▪ Former lightweight and welterweight champion Adrien Broner won a unanimous decision against John Molina, and Keith Thurman won a unanimous decision over Robert Guerrero on Saturday night in Las Vegas.

The bouts were televised nationally by NBC, the network’s first prime-time boxing telecast in 30 years. NBC plans four additional prime-time broadcasts and six Saturday afternoon fights this year.

▪ South Florida will have its first professional card of the year March 26 at Hialeah Park and Casino. Rances Barthelemy, who recently vacated his IBF junior-lightweight title to move up to the lightweight class, is scheduled to fight on the card against a still-undetermined opponent.

▪ Tony Harrison (19-0, 16 KOs) scored a second-round technical knockout over Hollywood resident Antowne Smith (23-5-1) in their middleweight bout Friday night in Las Vegas.

Coming up

Thursday (9:45 p.m., HBO Latino): Francisco Vargas vs. Will Tomlinson, 10, junior lightweights.

Friday (9 p.m., Spike TV): Andre Berto vs. Josesito Lopez, 10, welterweights.

Friday (10 p.m., Showtime): Antoine Douglas vs. Thomas LaManna, 10, middleweights.

Friday (11:30 p.m., Telemundo-Ch. 51): Jonathan Vidal vs. Ricardo Rodriguez, 10, bantamweights.

Saturday (9:45 p.m., HBO): Sergey Kovalev vs. Jean Pascal, 12, for Kovalev’s WBA, WBO and IBF light-heavyweight titles.