It is perplexing. I tell you what.
You know that there are several “sanctioning bodies”—groups of money-grubbing individuals that figured out a way to cash in on boxing without actually, you know, boxing. They have assembled and have given themselves self-important names like the “World Boxing Council” or the “International Boxing Federation.” You’ve no doubt long ago grown weary of the oft-repeated (as if it we’re a clever and fresh insult) “alphabet soup” chide dropped and swirled ‘round the bowl by commentators, it seems, nearly every fight night.
This is the system that gives us four “champions” in most weight classes. Yes, there are five sanctioning bodies out there, but only four of them count (I haven’t figured that part out yet.) There is also The Ring magazine, which names a champion, and BoxRec, which is the official record-keeping organization of professional boxing.
These organizations all have rankings, that is, a list of who they consider the best, then next best and so forth. From this list they occasionally pick a mandatory challenger for their titleist, and such. The exception is BoxRec. They have rankings, but don’t bestow a title, or a belt.
The sanctioning bodies are:
WBC: The World Boxing Council: Started in 1963, this is the big one, with 161 participating countries. It also has Don King. Of course Don has been the target of multiple lawsuits from fighters who allege that he shorted them on payments for fights. Not long ago the WBC would not let their titlists fight champions from the WBO (see below). They weren’t into that whole “unification” thing. That has changed. I think probably because Don King signed a bunch of WBO fighters.
IBF: The International Boxing Federation: Founded in 1983, its founder, Robert Lee was later indicted and convicted of racketeering, money laundering and tax evasion. That was in 1999, I’m sure that’s all cleared up now.
WBO: The World Boxing Organization: This one started in 1988 and had trouble achieving credibility. For instance this, from Wikipedia:
The WBO twice moved Darrin Morris up in its super-middleweight rankings in 2001, despite the fact that he was dead. In addition, Morris had only fought once in the three years before his death, beating a fighter with only 17 wins out of 81 fights. Morris was Number 7 at the time of his death and Number 5 when the WBO discovered the error. Valcarcel said, “We obviously missed the fact that Darrin was dead. It is regrettable.”
WBA: The World Boxing Association: This is the oldest one, starting in 1921. They have also been known to rank a dead fighter (albeit a different dead fighter) and at times insist on bribes in exchange for favorable rankings. But that was way back in 2015. I’m sure they’ve grown past that now.
Anyhow those are the four titles that a boxer needs to get in order to have “undisputed” status, like Iron Mike had.
Confusing the issue is:
IBO: The International Boxing Organization. Started in 1988 this one is considered a “minor” belt, apparently, because it is not recognized by the other four. The IBO also started using a computerized system to rank boxers, taking away the subjective (*coff* *coff* *bribes* *coff*) angle, in an effort to bring more credibility to the sport. I wonder if there’s any connection between . . . .
Then there is The Ring. They bestow a title too, but you don’t get it by fighting for it necessarily; you get it as a gift, when the wizards at The Ring have decided you have fought well enough. For instance, in 2006 Wladimir Klitschko knocked out Chris Byrd for the IBF and IBO titles, then picked up the WBO belt in 2008 form Sultan Ibragimov. Then in 2009, after his seventh defense of the IBF title, (against Ruslan Chagaev) he is given the vacant Ring title.
It was not that Chagaev had the Ring title and Klitschko took it from him, it just appeared, irrelevant and unbidden, like the fan man flopping into the Hollyfield / Bowe fight.
I mean, I don’t disagree, the guy was the friggin’ champ, so let’s call him the champ. But I fail to see the importance of some pointy-headed magazine editor telling me he was the champ.
Another example: Last week Andy Ruiz knocked out Anthony Joshua, who, even though had the WBA, the WBO, the IBF and the IBO belts, was not the Ring champion. He had their number one ranking, but their championship was “vacant.” So Ruiz knocks him out, and vaults to . . . wait for it . . . a number three ranking! Now Joshua slipped to number four, but Fury and Wilder moved up because . . . ???
I don’t get the new math.
Frankly I think someone needs to talk to Ring and explain to them that fights are won and lost in the ring. That titles are won and lost – In. The. Ring. That beating the champ makes you the Champ. And being some weasel-y academic with a word processor and superiority complex makes you a Ring magazine editor. I nominate Teddy Atlas.
Yes it seems that everyone is tired of the “alphabet soup,” but not tired enough to do anything about it. I suppose that would require a general boycott of the sport, and I am not that strong. Bob Arum and Don King are still alive (and both 87) and are still calling a lot of the shots, I reckon. They will soon be gone and others will fill their shoes. There’s just too much money involved. It attracts men like King like bugs to a porch light.
I’ve heard that among boxers a prospective Mexican heavyweight champ is called a “unicorn” – because none were known to exist. Now that one has triumphed, (and I truly hope he starts to use that nickname) it tempts me to hope that maybe better heads will prevail – that the magic will spread – that after Arum and King and Lord Voldemort and whoever else is really pulling the levers dies, that better folk will take over . . . .
So boxing purists long ago, disgusted with the soup and the four-champion phenomena, started tracking the “lineal” champion in each weight class. (For a most excellent record of this, see cyberboxingzone.com, past lineal champions. But don’t use their search box. It doesn’t work.)
The theory here is that the real champion is the “man who beat the man.” There is no belt involved with this title, just the knowledge that men who care regard you as the champ.
For instance, Lennox Lewis beat Shannon Briggs to become the lineal champ. Briggs took that title from George Foreman, who took it from Michael Moorer, who took it from Evander Holyfield and so on. The problem is, Lennox Lewis retired before anyone took it from him, so like the Ring title, it was vacant for a time. And, like the Ring title, it was magically bestowed on Klitschko after he beat Chagaev.
So it kind of puts the stank on their ‘purist’ stance when they do this. I don’t know how they decide this and frankly, I don’t know who the hell “they” are. But all in all, there is a logic to what they say, and I support their purpose. If I find out how this is decided, be sure that I will pass that knowledge on to you.
So right now the lineal champion is Tyson Fury, as he beat Klitschko, and has yet to be beaten in the ring. True, he wiggled out of a rematch, then went coo-coo bananas and lost all his belts and even lost his license to box. It took him a couple years, but he got healthier and is back. He had a great fight against Wilder, came away with a draw, and somehow earned the Ring number one ranking.
Anyway, he’s up this week. His bout has been arranged by the ghostly hand of the powers that be (pay no attention to the tapeworm behind the curtain) but I’m going to watch. No boycott by this boy. I am not a man of action; I am merely a man of acrimony.