IN all of its 112 years Boxing News has never experienced such a convoluted world championship system as the one in place today. We will no longer support it.
In some weight classes there are as many as seven fighters owning WBC, WBA, IBF or WBO belts which proclaim them to be ‘world champion’. Indeed, the WBA even recognises up to five fighters in a single division with a claim to its ‘world title’. Despite the occasional promise from those organisations to restore some semblance of order, the opposite has occurred. ‘Of course we support unification fights,’ they say, ‘we just need to create some more belts to allow that to happen.’ And so along comes Super, Regular, Interim, Gold, Silver and Franchise belts that we’re told are good for the sport. Short-term, or for as long as fans continue to buy into this nonsense, it could be argued that more belts create extra revenue opportunities for the boxers. But basic common sense should tell anyone that generating more mess doesn’t clean up an existing mess. In the long-term such garbage will build and build to the point people can’t stand to look at it anymore.
No matter for now. Far too many promoters, broadcasters and influential journalists embellish these new belts to the extent they become genuine titles. But how can they be genuine? Who besides the sanctioning bodies earning money from them has checked the credentials of these titles? All they’re actually doing is demanding more sanctioning fees which are being paid because – in the eyes of promoters – these new belts, regardless of how bogus they obviously are, add some ‘prestige’ to the fights they’re trying to promote. It is no secret that certain promoters favour certain organisations because they know their fighters will get high rankings within those particular rankings. That alone should be a huge concern.
It’s impossible to think of another sport in which there are so many ‘world champions’ around, both past and present, who have achieved this status without proving themselves to be the best in the world. By my calculations, no fewer than 74 of the 81 active male ‘world champions’ (in 17 weight classes) have not yet won a contest that could have resulted in them being universally declared the best in their division.
A boxer independently ranked number 10 in the world, for example, might beat a rival independently ranked number 17 in the world and then call themselves a world champion because they now own a belt with those words engraved upon it. This kind of scenario happens time and again and it’s then widely reported that the winner is now a ‘world champion’ in a division in which numerous other ‘world champions’ already exist. New fans are hoodwinked. The sanity of the educated hangs by a thread. Attempting to make sense of it all is a puzzle without a solution.
It’s not the fact that there are so many belt-holders that’s the real problem. The real problem is that belt-holders are under no pressure to fight other belt-holders and, even when they try to, such contests are ludicrously difficult to arrange. Boxers, therefore, are often forced to defend their belts against obscure and undeserving challengers because – and this is the real kicker – organisations do not rank belt-holders from other organisations. As result of this, the more ‘champions’ there are, the fewer genuine contenders there are in each of the sanctioning body Top 10s because so many boxers are already aligned to one organisation or another.
Anthony Joshua, for example, will not find Tyson Fury listed under any of the heavyweight rankings he presides over. The fact that the WBA, IBF and WBO do not classify Fury as a Top 10 heavy should confirm to everyone that the current system is grotesquely flawed. Think about this some more: Three of the four sanctioning bodies we are asked to place our trust in, who essentially govern the sport by default, do not rate Tyson Fury – the fighter who beat Wladimir Klitschko and Deontay Wilder – as a Top 10 heavyweight. Moreover, the WBC omit Anthony Joshua from their heavyweight ratings (though they do rank several fighters whom Joshua has beaten) simply because he has some gold around his waist that doesn’t have their crest upon it. We can all rant and rave about Joshua and Fury not fighting each other but the truth of the matter is that they operate in a sport in which, quite simply, they do not have to. When we’re essentially relying on the boxers’ respective teams to do the right thing it is little surprise, therefore, that fights such as Fury-Joshua never leave the negotiating table and contests such as Errol Spence-Terence Crawford don’t even get as far as that table.
So what are we to do about it? Being completely honest, I am acutely aware that Boxing News can only do so much. I’m under no illusion that we can change the sport. As both the oldest and most independent boxing publication in existence we can, however, choose to do the right thing and hope that others might take notice.
From this issue onwards we will not be calling any fighter who has won an alphabet title a world champion. Indeed, to avoid any hint of confusion we will not even call them a champion. When we have to reference the sanctioning bodies such fighters will simply be known as belt-holders, title-holders or titlists. The only fighters Boxing News will classify as world champions will be those who have actually proven themselves to be the best in the world, regardless of the belts they own. We will not use the word ‘undisputed’ or ‘unified’ any longer – such phrases merely empower sanctioning bodies – unless we provide context for doing so. In simple terms, world champions are world champions – no prefix is required – and can only be created by the number one in a weight class fighting the number two; or in a situation in which an existing world champion loses their title in the ring.
To ascertain the number one and two (and of course, three to 10) in each weight class, Boxing News will now incorporate the Transnational Boxing Rankings (TBR). Like Boxing News, TBR is fiercely independent. Their mission statement is as follows: “The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board is an all-volunteer initiative formed in October 2012 with the intention of providing professional boxing with authoritative Top 10 rankings, identifying the singular world champion of every division by unbiased reasoning and common sense, and to insist on the sport’s reform.” Unlike The Ring Magazine (whose rankings policy can generally be admired) they are not aligned with any promoter and operate under strict guidelines regarding the creation of champions. Currently there are 28 members on the TBR ratings committee from all over the world, ensuring they’re an authority on world boxing in a way that no other rankings can claim to be. Myself and others from the BN team will join that committee. In short, the Transnational Boxing Rankings – and now the Boxing News Rankings – are the most genuine and impartial rankings in existence.
In future, every report or preview will no longer classify sanctioning body title fights as world title fights. Instead, we will focus upon their own individual world rankings as opposed to the belt. As an example, the upcoming featherweight contest between Kid Galahad and James “Jazza” Dickens will simply be a bout between the world number four (Galahad) and the world number nine (Dickens). However, because we are a publication of record we will state, for now, that the vacant IBF belt is being contested in much the same way that we always mention which broadcaster is showing the fight.
The hope is that broadcasters and other boxing media will follow our lead and, in turn, allow fans – and the fighters and their teams – to truly contextualise what is at stake. Describing the fight for what it is, a good bout between two Top 10 contenders who can rise in the rankings with victory, rather than what it isn’t, a real world championship fight, doesn’t make it any less of an attraction. On the contrary, identifying the true meaning of a bout should make it more so.
To be clear, we are not downplaying any fighter’s achievements; we are simply putting such achievements into perspective. We know that 99 of 100 fighters want to fight the best so they can be recognised as such. Our stance, we hope, will only encourage them to do exactly that. It is far simpler to follow one set of independent rankings instead of trying to make sense of several, none of which can rightfully claim to be honest or impartial.
At Boxing News, we often moan and groan. We don’t do this for the sake of it. We do so out of a deep love for the sport and recognition of how great boxing could be. If everyone in the sport follows our lead there is a chance that this potential could be realised in the none too distant future.
Boxing, it’s over to you…