Too many champions

THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco - The Philippine Star

The trouble with modern professional boxing is that there are too many championships staked. In this piece, we trace the multiplicity and overabundance of these watered-down world titles. Time was when there was only one international boxing organization (the World Boxing Association) and only seven (some say eight) weight classes in the late 1800s: flyweight, featherweight, lightweight, welterweight, middleweight, light heavyweight and heavyweight. Bantamweight was added a few years later in 1888, cruiserweight after that around 1903. (What makes Manny Pacquiao’s accomplishment so remarkable is that he won four of the original seven, which nobody else has done).

From the original, there are now 17 weight classes in boxing. Just this year, the World Boxing Council added the bridgerweight class to fill in space beneath heavyweight.  If you can’t win in one division, you just need to lose or gain a couple of pounds to find the path of least resistance in another. In some cases, it now takes just over a handful of fights to become a world champion. It’s possible to be Rocky Balboa and fight for a world championship as an unknown.

As recently as 10 years ago, some American sports media advocated removing at least half a dozen weight classes, mostly the lower ones. Many modern champions do not even have a sizable amateur background. From fighting at least twice a month over a hundred years ago, boxers now fight twice a year. And that’s not even the worst part.

The WBA, WBC, International Boxing Federation (IBF) and World Boxing Organization (WBO) are the four most-recognized boxing bodies. The WBA is just over a century old, while the WBO was formed in 1988. But if you were to follow some of their own rules, there are up to six belts at stake per weight class: the regular champion, super champion, international champion, global champion, silver champion, and in the WBC, a franchise champion. And more.

“The WBC has four different types of championships. The Diamond belt, which is an honorary championship given to the winner of a historic fight, such as when Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao fought in May 2015. The Eternal Championship is designated for titleholders that have never lost the belt or retire undefeated while having a series of consecutive title defenses, DAZN reported in September of last year. Most egregiously, WBC also introduced franchise championships in 2002, but people only started talking about it two years later. It sounds like an “I can fight whomever I want” title. All this is to earn more in sanctioning fees and get more sponsors and business partners. Strangely, while the WBA is being punished for its carbon-copy belts, the WBC keeps adding more.

“Initially, the WBC established that the Franchise Boxer privileges were conferred and not won or lost as a result of the outcome of a bout,” defends WBC president Mauricio Sulaiman. “As any rule of importance, the WBC has modified its Franchise boxer rule so that it reflects the realities of our ever-evolving sport.”

Despite this shopping list of belts, boxers still aspire for more. They want to be lineal champion, loosely defined as  “the man who beat the man,” dating back to the days of John L. Sullivan. They want to be unified champion and hold the championship of at least two of the four major organizations. At best, they want to be undisputed champion and win all four crowns. Or you can just wait for someone else like Canelo Alvarez to do the hard work, then win all the belts from him.

Though it is easier to aspire to be a world champion, it is harder to get singular recognition. Fighters still make fights with or without belts, so it’s a matter of bribing them to stay with your organization as long as it’s beneficial.

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