Despite boxing’s hot streak, sanctioning bodies continue devaluing world champions

·6 min read

This year has a chance to go down as one of the greatest in boxing in at least 25 years, perhaps more. For years, we complained about the mismatches that were put together and how they devalued the belts.

Someone, somewhere heard the cries.

So far in 2022, we’ve seen the following significant bouts:

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  • Josh Taylor won a split decision over Jack Catterall for the undisputed super lightweight title.

  • Gennadiy Golovkin stopped Ryota Murata for the unified middleweight titles.

  • Errol Spence Jr. stopped Yordenis Ugas for the unified welterweight titles.

  • Tyson Fury stopped Dillian Whyte for the WBC/lineal heavyweight titles.

  • Shakur Stevenson decisioned Oscar Valdez for the unified super featherweight titles.

  • Katie Taylor won a split decision over Amanda Serrano for the undisputed women’s lightweight title.

  • Dmitriy Bivol decisioned Canelo Alvarez for the WBA light heavyweight title.

  • Jermell Charlo stopped Brian Castaño for the undisputed super welterweight title.

  • Gervonta Davis knocked out Rolando Romero for a WBA lightweight title.

It gets better. On Saturday (Sunday in Australia), George Kambosos Jr. fights Devin Haney for the undisputed lightweight title. On June 7, Naoya Inoue and Nonito Donaire Jr. rematch for the unified bantamweight title.

Artur Beterbiev will face Joe Smith on June 18 in New York for three of the four light heavyweight title belts. On June 25 in San Antonio, Jesse Rodriguez and Sri Sor Rungvisai will meet for the WBC super flyweight title. Also on that card, Murodjon Akhmadaliev will face Ronny Rios for the unified super bantamweight titles.

On July 23 in Saudi Arabia, Oleksandr Usyk will face Anthony Joshua for the unified heavyweight title. And on Sept. 17, Alvarez will meet Golovkin for the undisputed super middleweight title. Claressa Shields will fight Savannah Marshall in September for the undisputed women’s middleweight title. And Mikaela Mayer will fight Alycia Baumgardner for the unified women’s super featherweight titles on a date to be determined.

That’s only part of what’s going on.

But, and there’s always a but, it’s far from perfect. But this time, instead of blaming cautious promoters or risk-averse managers, tentative boxers or television networks who don’t want to co-mingle the blame goes squarely on the sanctioning bodies.

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - MAY 05: Canelo Alvarez holds various belts as he poses during a news conference at the KA Theatre at MGM Grand Hotel & Casino on May 05, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Alvarez will challenge WBA light heavyweight champion Dmitry Bivol for his title at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on May 7. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Undisputed super middleweight champion Canelo Alvarez holds various belts. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

If you talk to a lapsed boxing fan and tell them all the big matches and great fights that have already been held and what’s on the schedule, the genuine reaction is an eye roll.

They’ve been conditioned by years of false promises not to believe it. And they’ll come back with some version of the quote, “It’s impossible to know who the champion is in any weight class,” which should make anyone with an interest, financial or rooting, in boxing cringe.

It’s true, though, and it’s personified perfectly by the Kambosos-Haney fight. It’s billed as for the undisputed championship, and it is, but the sanctioning bodies, in this case the WBA and the WBC, make it hard to understand that.

If you were paying attention, you saw Davis knock out Romero in vicious fashion to retain the WBA lightweight title. So how is one to believe that the Kambosos-Haney winner is the undisputed champion, when undisputed means the fighter who holds the IBF-WBA-WBC-WBO belts in the same division?

And then the WBC several years ago caused issues when it elevated Vasiliy Lomachenko from WBC champion to WBC Franchise champion. It was never clear to anyone what it was, and what it mostly was was an opportunity for WBC president Mauricio Sulaiman to give a fancy, shiny new belt to one of the best fighters in the world.

The problem with that, though, is that titles should be won and lost in the ring, not by sanctioning bodies elevating them to a different status or creating a duplicate title entirely.

Kambosos versus Haney is for the undisputed lightweight title because Lomachenko won the WBA-WBC-WBO belts in the ring and Teofimo Lopez won the IBF belt in the ring. Before Lomachenko and Lopez fought, Sulaiman told reporters the winner would be the WBC champion.

Lopez won that fight and was undisputed, though he wasn’t called that because of confusion of the Franchise belt status. And when Lopez lost to Kambosos, that made Kambosos the undisputed champion. But Haney picked up a WBC belt, which is why Lopez has mocked him as “an email champion.”

It’s a rampant problem. At heavyweight, Usyk upset Joshua last year to win the IBF-WBA-WBO titles. Fury has held the WBC title since knocking out Deontay Wilder in 2020. But on June 11 in Miami, Florida, Trevor Bryan will defend the WBA heavyweight title against Daniel Dubois. Bryan got the belt — essentially a gift from the WBA to promoter Don King — in 2018 when he stopped B.J. Flores for the WBA’s “vacant interim heavyweight title.” There is rarely a need for an interim belt, and there wasn’t in 2018, but the WBA did it and now it muddies the picture.

Josh Taylor celebrate victory in the junior welterweight bout against Jack Catterall in the at the OVO Hydro, Glasgow. Picture date: Saturday February 26, 2022. (Photo by Steve Welsh/PA Images via Getty Images)
The super lightweight division no longer has an undisputed champion after the WBA stripped Josh Taylor of his belt in early May for refusing to make a mandatory defense. (Photo by Steve Welsh/PA Images via Getty Images)

Boxing’s stakeholders — promoters, television executives, managers — need to convene a meeting with the heads of these sanctioning bodies and point out how harmful it is to the sport for them to keep pulling these shenanigans.

It’s bad enough when each of the four sanctioning bodies has a different champion. But when an individual sanctioning body has two or three champions within a division, it devalues all of the belts.

Fighters shouldn’t be stripped if they fight a champion from another organization or if they defend against someone in the top three at least once a year.

The organizations should rank all fighters in their ratings, even those who hold belts in other organizations.

And there should never be an interim champion unless the actual champion can’t defend the belt after six months of inactivity and is unable to return within three months.

That would give the belts meaning, help to bring back some wayward fans, create new ones and provide a sense of order that boxing lacks.

So Kambosos and Haney are fighting for the undisputed title. The winner should then fight Davis, who was so highly impressive in beating Romero, to end all doubts.

And then maybe this little hot streak that boxing is on will be more than just that, and may turn into something truly meaningful and long term.