The great pretenders
SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - February 26, 2015 - 12:00am

The superfight between Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather in Las Vegas on May 2 will be for multiple world welterweight titles since both are champions in their own right. Pacquiao is the WBO titleholder while Mayweather holds the WBC and WBA “unified” belts. The other world welterweight champions are WBA “regular” titlist Keith Thurman of Florida, the IBF’s Kell Brook of Yorkshire and the IBO’s Ali Funeka of South Africa.

The May 2 showdown will be for the lineal welterweight crown, a notional recognition based on a widespread consensus of boxing experts as the champion of champions. There can be no doubt that the winner of the superfight will be honored as the world’s No. 1 welterweight. The Ring Magazine has in fact moved a step forward in bestowing recognition to the winner as the world’s No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter.

At the moment, Mayweather is The Ring Magazine’s No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter. Heavyweight Wladimir Klitschko is No. 2 and Pacquiao, No. 3. So aside from the multiple titles and lineal recognition, what will be at stake on May 2 is the honor of being named the world’s No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter.

Mayweather used to be the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter until he retired after beating Ricky Hatton in 2007. He was out of boxing for a year then returned to outpoint Juan Manuel Marquez in 2009. By then, Pacquiao had become the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in Mayweather’s absence. Eventually, Mayweather reclaimed the recognition after Pacquiao’s successive losses to Timothy Bradley and Marquez.

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The lineal championship is almost sacred in boxing. Muhammad Ali held the lineal heavyweight title thrice after whipping Sonny Liston in 1964, George Foreman in 1974 and Leon Spinks in 1978. Pacquiao is the only fighter ever to hold lineal championships in four divisions – flyweight, featherweight, junior lightweight or superfeatherweight and junior welterweight or superlightweight. Curiously, Pacquiao was never recognized as the featherweight champion by the top governing bodies like the WBC, WBA and IBF. But after knocking out Marco Antonio Barrera in 2003, he was hailed as The Ring Magazine’s featherweight titlist and the people’s champion. Barrera was widely considered the top featherweight when he was bowled over by Pacquiao.

For the record, Pacquiao is also the only fighter ever to capture eight world titles in different divisions – flyweight, superbantamweight, featherweight, superfeatherweight, lightweight, superlightweight, welterweight and superwelterweight. Pacquiao could’ve garnered 10 if he didn’t skip the superflyweight and bantamweight divisions to go straight from 112 to 122. Still, it’s not likely that anyone at least in this generation will be able to eclipse or even duplicate Pacquiao’s feat.

The lineal champion is traditionally described as “the man who beat the man.” He is often the unified titleholder. The winner of the May 2 superfight will unify the WBA, WBC and WBO 147-pound titles so that will solidify his claim as the lineal welterweight champion.

Unfortunately, the WBA’s recognition isn’t quite as prestigious as the WBC’s or the WBO’s. In a crass display of commercialism, the WBA recognizes 27 world champions in 17 divisions broken down into 17 “regular” titlists, seven “super” kings, two “unified” rulers and one “undisputed” titleholder. What makes a champion super, unified or undisputed is not clear. Perhaps, the WBA purposely wants it vague so as to justify the body’s subjectivity.  Mayweather is listed as the “unified” welterweight champion and also the “super” junior middleweight or superwelterweight titlist. Obviously, the more world champions the WBA recognizes, the more it is able to exact sanction fees.  In the WBA, boxing is business and to hell with the integrity of the sport.

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In case you’re interested, here’s the lowdown on the other world welterweight champions. Thurman, 26, has a 24-0 record, with 21 KOs. On March 7, he defends the WBA “regular” title against Robert Guerrero in Las Vegas. Thurman won the interim WBA crown via a 10th round stoppage of Argentina’s Diego Chaves. He defended the interim title thrice, beating Jesus Sotto Karras of Mexico, Julio Diaz of Mexico and Leonard Bundu of Sierra Leone. Diaz was coming off losses to Shawn Porter and Amir Khan when he faced Thurman.

Brook, 28, has a 33-0 record, with 22 KOs. Last August, he scored a majority decision over the previously unbeaten Porter, a former Pacquiao sparmate, to wrest the IBF diadem in Carson, California. He will stake the IBF crown against Romania’s Ionut Dan Ion in Yorkshire on March 28.

Funeka, 36, is a 6-1 South African with a 72-inch wingspan and a 36-4-3 record, including 29 KOs. Last November, he posted an 11th round technical decision over Russia’s Roman Belaev to claim the vacant IBO welterweight throne.

It’s about time that boxing cleans up the world championship mess. There are just too many world titlists and too many sanctioning bodies that rip off the public. Determining the lineal welterweight champion is a step in the right direction. In the welterweight division, there can be no other world champion than either Mayweather or Pacquiao and they’ll settle the issue on May 2. Thurman, Brook and Funeka are useless ornaments that clutter up the honor roll.

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