JOSH TAYLOR is the world’s best fighter in his weight class. Not many boxers in the current era have been able to make such a claim. For that reason alone, what Taylor has achieved must be regarded as truly remarkable.
The word ‘undisputed’ has been used a lot in recent days and Taylor’s feat is indeed a huge one. But the precariousness of that status in the modern boxing era was highlighted on BBC 5 Live when Mike Costello and Steve Bunce warned that Taylor may not be the ‘undisputed’ super-lightweight champion in his next fight. The reasons for that are two-fold: one, he may decide to rise in weight in his next bout and two, the real sickener, retaining ‘undisputed’ championships is even harder than winning them.
That sheer impossibility of keeping all four organisations happy for longer than a fight or two should highlight why this notion of ‘undisputed’ is not quite the promised land it’s often made out to be. There is indeed something magical about a fighter proving they’re truly the best on the planet but now Taylor has done that (by beating his closest rivals), we don’t need the sanctioning bodies to tell us. We know that because the two best fighters in the division had a fight that crowned a king. That was not because of the sanctioning bodies, it was in spite of them.
Imagine if Taylor fights Jack Catterall, his WBO mandatory, in a homecoming bonanza but one of the IBF, WBA or WBC decide to strip him because he’s not fighting their mandatory. Or he fights someone other than Catterall and the WBO strip him.
Bernard Hopkins, after a gruelling road to gaining ‘undisputed’ status, defended all four middleweight belts for the second time against Jermain Taylor in 2005. But after losing on points, in a very tight bout, only three of the four titles were on the line in the rematch. Taylor would eventually lose to Kelly Pavlik who in turn would be beaten by Sergio Martinez. Taylor, Pavlik and Martinez were each exceptional challengers yet the sanctioning bodies didn’t see it that way: By the time Martinez was champ in 2010, five years after Hopkins fixed a title perceived to have been broken since Sugar Ray Leonard defeated Marvin Hagler in 1987, his claim to the throne was only recognised by the WBC. The other three bodies defied all logic and sound thinking by creating extra ‘champions’ who did not merit that status. In turn, the industry blindly recognised those other titlists too and only heightened the problem in the process.
Yes, we absolutely must applaud Josh’s victory over Jose Ramirez, previously number two at super-lightweight to his number one, but to get too caught up with unifying all four titles only empowers the sanctioning bodies when it’s their policies that are the root of the problems at the very top. That Taylor is just the fifth male boxer since 1988 – or the sixth, if we ignore the daft WBC Franchise situation and recognise Teofimo Lopez as lightweight king – to be regarded an ‘undisputed’ champion is nothing short of shameful.
Again, Taylor deserves immense credit for what he has achieved in 18 fights. He has shirked no challenge and in his three biggest fights – against the revered Ramirez, Regis Prograis and Ivan Baranchyk – his opponents came defending unbeaten records as well as titles. To be clear, winning all four belts is secondary to beating all of his closest rivals. Yet the fact we will almost certainly see the championship fractured within the next 12 months, regardless of what Taylor does next, is preposterous when you really think about it and the work involved to get here.
There was a time when the words undisputed and champion were not as mutually exclusive in boxing as they are today. And nor should they be. The Oxford definition of champion is ‘a person who has surpassed all rivals in a sporting contest or other competition’ whereas undisputed means ‘not disputed or called in question; accepted.’ Therefore, every champion, by definition, should be undisputed. The WBA, IBF, WBC and WBA each serve a purpose but until the industry collectively realises those purposes are rooted in greed and short-term thinking, the sport will always be marginalised, at least to a degree.
What we have in Josh Taylor, should he stick around at 140lbs and invite challengers to face him, is an undisputed champion. A clean slate, if you will. And there should be no dispute over his claim until he leaves the division or loses a fight, regardless of what the sanctioning bodies may say.