Boxing world titles: Will we ever see one champion?

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Boxing World titles have become a bit of a circus in recent times

I have a few questions for my fellow boxing fans. What is a real world champion? Who is the real world champion? How many “world champions” should there be? How many do we need or want? 

I have a few thoughts on this but first I would like to mention my background. I first started watching professional boxing as a small child. I come from a large family of boxing fans, spanning multiple generations and eras. I come from a time when the heavyweight championship, and there was only one champion, was the greatest sports title on the planet. Everyone, not just boxing or sports fans, knew who the heavyweight champion was. I first watched a professional fight on a black and white television with a grainy and flickering picture. I also listened to some great championship fights on radio. My family members would often gather for fight parties, decades before PPV came around. We would all crowd around someone’s television. My mother told me how they used to get together to listen to fights over the radio during the Jack Dempsey and Joe Louis eras. 

I felt the need to share my background as a boxing fan with you to explain why my thinking on this subject is biased. I am, shall we say, less than thrilled with the current state of professional boxing and this is why. 

Currently there are multiple sanctioning organizational bodies within the sport of professional boxing, each with their own “world champion”, holding one of the alphabet belts. How many are there? I am not sure of the exact count but I have broken it down into what I refer to as the major league and minor league. In the major league we have the WBA, WBC, IBF and WBO. Their fights and champions generate the most attention and money of course. In the minor league we have the IBO, IBA, IBU, NABC, NBA, and WBF, just to name a few. You can add that many more world champions to the mix. A personal friend of mine once held one of those belts in the cruiserweight division. 

The four recognised world title belts

For the purpose of this discussion I will focus on the four major organizations. If having four different world champions for each of the seventeen weight divisions was not enough, there are even different levels of world championships within a few of these organizations. For example, we are now seeing titles such as “Regular Champion”, “Super Champion” and “Interim Champion”. 

If you were to ask the average boxing fan who is the current heavyweight champion, you would be sure to get a lot of different answers. How did we get to this point? 

It all boils down to money and greed, pure and simple. Professional boxing has always brought in a lot of money. More and more people wanted a slice of the pie and they have tried to make the pie bigger and bigger. It is no secret that powerful syndicates like organized crime held control over professional boxing for a long time. In 1962 the World Boxing Association (WBA) was established, with the stated purpose of ensuring fairness. Due to politics and infighting within the WBA the World Boxing Council (WBC) was formed in 1963. The WBA and WBC were now rival organizations with their own champions. Over the years after that many fighters and promoters complained that they could not get fights unless they were willing to totally submit to one of these organizations. The International Boxing Federation (IBF) was formed in 1983. The IBF was able to immediately attract some big names, such as Larry Holmes, the WBC champion at the time. Holmes went far to advance the IBF. He was unhappy with the WBC and voluntarily dropped their belt. At the time Holmes was by far the most recognizable heavyweight champion of all of them. The World Boxing Organization was formed in 1988. All four of these organizations now had their own world champion. Other lesser organizations were also formed, each with their own “world champion”. These organizations wanted a piece of the championship action but were not able to attract the same big names as the “Big Four”. 

Larry Holmes dropped the WBC belt in favour of the IBF

So now we have all of these different boxing organizations touting their own fighters as world champions. This means more money for more people but what does it mean for boxing fans? 

I see a real dilemma with the current state of affairs in boxing. Face it, the boxing organizations are businesses more than anything, and there is a lot of money involved. The people involved with these organizations are sure to strongly resist any mergers because it would mean they would no longer have total control over this money. I still believe a merger, if handled right, is a possibility. This has been done before. Other large professional sports organizations have successfully merged. The National Football League and American Football league merged into one organization and thrived. The National Basketball Association merged with the American Basketball Association very successfully. I can see no way that professional boxing can be consolidated if the different organizations were to remain separate entities. If a merger were to take place the personnel from the different organizations would have to be involved in a role such as board members. There would also have to be a governing body such as an oversight committee to ensure fairness and equity. 

So how do we name an undisputed champion? I am of the belief that real championships are won through competition so the tournament format would have to be used. Promoter Don King once successfully held a tournament to establish an undisputed champion for the middleweight division. It was this tournament that went far to put Bernard Hopkins on the map. His impressive win over Felix Trinidad established him as the top middleweight. I believe that this action could be used for all weight divisions. The champions from the big four organizations, WBA, WBC, IBF and WBO could compete against each other. It would take only two fights to establish an undisputed champion. The title defense requirements and obligations would have to be worked out but I do not see this as an insurmountable obstacle. This would probably also make it easier for talented fighters to get a title shot without having to have a connection to certain promoters, and we all know this happens. 

This is a professional sport and I can understand the concept of making money off of it, but what about the athletic competition factor, what fans want and pay for? Are the fans okay with having several competitors recognized as “World Champion”? I am of the opinion that having so many organizations involved, all claiming to represent the world champion, cheapens my beloved sport of boxing. It would be my wish to see boxing restored to its rightful glory. 

What are your thoughts? Are you satisfied with the current state of professional boxing, with multiple champions, or would you like to see change? 

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