Boxing KO’d by bureaucracy of belts

Last month, English Middleweight contender Darren Barker was defeated by Argentinean Sergio Martinez in Atlantic City for the WBC Diamond Championship. Yes, the WBC Diamond Championship. Long gone are the days when one fighter would be crowned the king of his weight class. Modern boxing consists of more than 11 sanctioning bodies of which 4 are considered to be the most prestigious. This means that within a single division, there could be 4 separate world champions. As confusing as this already is, the boxing governing bodies continue to create new belts and championships to puzzle us even further. With the increasing number of belts in modern boxing, one must wonder if they are a status of rank or simply a bit of ‘bling’ around the waist of the fighter.


The number of belts and championships within a single weight class can be seen to be spiraling out of control. For example, there are 6 World Champions within the main 4 sanctioning bodies in the middleweight division alone. The World Boxing Council (WBC) has two champions under its control, Diamond Champion Sergio Martinez and WBC Regular Champion Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. The World Boxing Organisation (WBO) World Champion is Dmitry Pirog. The International Boxing Federation (IBF) has Australian Daniel Geale as its Champion and the World Boxing Association (WBA) has Gennady Golovkin as its regular champion and Felix Sturm as its Super Champion. Never mind Avtandil Khurtsidze who is the IBO World Champion. All these Belts, governing bodies and different champions leave even the biggest of boxing fans dazed. One would think that being crowned the middleweight champion of the world would mean you are the best in your division. But with over 6 champions, who can now be considered the best in the middleweight division? Out of all the fighters listed above, Sergio Martinez is listed as the 3rd best Pound for Pound (P4P) fighter in the world behind Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr. That in many pundits and boxing commentators eyes makes him the best in his division, however the other ‘World Champions’ in the weight class would surely to disagree.


So with such an abundance of belts have they now become worthless? Mexican Legend Marco Antonio Barrera famously dumped his belts in the bin saying exactly that. For the viewing public this saturation of champions means that in almost every class, the label of ‘best in the division’ is disputed. Amir Khan is considered to be the number 1 light welterweight as he holds the WBA and IBF championships. However, others may consider American Timothy Bradley as number 1 because he holds the WBO belt. Although he was stripped of his WBC title Bradley is still considered by the WBC as its Champion in Recess.


The obvious solution would be to see the two fighters battle it out and the winner to be crowned the undisputed Light Welterweight Champion of the World however both fighters claim that they are the best and do not need to fight the other to prove it. Some may say that this is the reason boxing is seeing fewer super fights as fighters do not see the need. We all remember David Haye and his super fight with Ukrainian Vladmir Klitschko for the WBA, WBO, IBF, IBO and Ring Magazine belts. The winner would be considered the world’s number 1 heavyweight boxer. However, this begs the question, what was the point of the WBA, WBO, IBF, IBO and Ring belts? Surely this fight could have happened with just one world heavyweight championship belt.


So what is the purpose of this multitude of belts? They could be seen as stepping stones to promote future unification super fights. For Example the Haye v Klitschko fight where both had a legitimate claim to be considered the best in their division and so put it all on the line to determine a winner. It could also be argued that it gives fighters who don’t have such a large media profile a claim to fight the best and increase their profile. However, you have to wonder whether in reality these fights are created for the promotion of young fighters or for media hype and the financial gain of promoters.


Further evidence of the farcicality of the situation presents itself in Evander Holyfield’s actions when WBU Heavyweight in 2011. When Vitali Klitschko was elevated to WBA Super Champion, leaving the WBA Regular Championship free, Holyfield vacated his WBU Heavyweight Championship to fight for the WBA Regular Championship. This shows that fighters themselves hold different boxing sanctions as better than or worse than the other.  More pertinent still is the entire concept of a WBA Regular World Champion. Exactly what is a ‘regular’ world champion? Becoming world champion should be seen as the pinnacle of a boxers career, a goal they spend their whole life and career trying to attain and when they do, they are a ‘regular champion’. A tag which should never be attached to a boxing legend such as Holyfield.


The idea that you get champions fighting champions to set up super fights looks good on paper, however in practice it is failing. Fighters are not getting into the ring as often and don’t regard holders of ‘lesser’ belts as challengers. For example, Vyacheslav Senchenko, WBA Welterweight Champion, is not even considered to be the best in his Division. Neither is IBF Champion Andre Berto as almost everyone in boxing agrees that Filipino Manny Pacquiao and American Floyd Mayweather Jr are the two best fighters in the welterweight class. Although they are WBO and WBC Champions respectfully, they see no need to challenge others in their division to unify titles as anyone from the most casual boxing observer would agree they are at the top of their class. However plans for the biggest of super fights is currently stalling over the winners purse, robbing the fans of a chance to see one of the most anticipated fights in boxing history. This is further evidence of a sad but growing feeling that money and not belts is now the driving factor in boxing, with any Pacquiao v Mayweather estimated to gross upwards of an unprecedented $100 million. With most sports the overarching governing body could step in to ensure the fans get the big spectacles that they deserve, but the saturation of boxing with multiple federations makes this potential course of action little more than a pipe dream.


With over 11 governing bodies and more than 4 champions in individual weight divisions, it seems that boxing is suffering by confusing  its fans by not creating clear distinction between championships. Super fights can be created on ability and marketability and the different sanctioning bodies and belts serve only to increase revenue by billing more fights as world title fights. Boxing, it appears, is becoming more of a business than a sport. This has led many to other combat sports such as mixed martial arts (MMA) as it creates the fights that the fans want and recognises only one as its ultimate champion within a weight class. The world of boxing has lost sight of its fans desires and lost control of its weight divisions, in the money driven world that is modern boxing, the one thing that should be valued above all is now worthless.

Written by: Daoud Nawaz



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