Undisputed Part 2: Is it Relevant in Modern Boxing?
Following from the previous post in the series: ‘Undisputed Part 1: 2020’s The Decade of 1 Champ in Boxing?’ Where I touched on the:
- The number of Undisputed Champions in Boxing since the 4 Belt Era.
- What is Undisputed?
- The 4 Major World Governing Bodies; WBA, WBC, IBF, WBO.
- 100+ years History of Undisputed Championships in Boxing.
- More Undisputed Boxing World Champions being crowned in the last 18 months than the previous 18 years!
Being a few days away from the first Lightweight Undisputed Championship bout since the Late Great Pernell ‘Sweet Pea’ Whitaker won it in 1990 in the 3 Major Belt era. George Kambosos (WBA, IBF, WBO and arguably WBC Franchise World Champion) vs Devin Haney (WBC World Champion). Which has been famously termed by Bill Haney; Devin’s father, as ‘The SuperBowl of the Lightweight Division’. As exciting as it is to name one Champ above all in the 135lb weight class, which is arguably the most talent rich division in all of Combat Sport. I feel there are a few drawbacks to having Undisputed fights and Champions in Boxing which makes it unsustainable in the long term for the most part. Now take this June 4th Contest, we have both fighters claiming to have the famous Green WBC strap with both having valid claims to wear it.
Let Me Explain
Vasiliy Lomachenko won his first WBC belt in a vacant title contest in August 2019. To then within a year be elevated to Franchise Champion; a title which is supposed to be honorary and non transferable. Which was seen as an odd surprise to the Boxing World as at that point Vasily had only held WBO and WBA titles in his professional career. Maybe him being touted as the Boxing Consensus Pound for Pound fighter had something to do with it, unfortunately Sway I dont have the answers lol. The organisation awarded Devin Haney the main WBC belt who didn’t need to beat anyone to gain the title of Champion. He has successfully defended the belt multiple times since gaining the title. However, back in the middle of the Pandemic in October 2020 Teofimo Lopez Jr upset the apple cart by beating Loma and adding the WBA and WBO to his IBF belts. As Loma never lost the WBC belt in the ring and instead was elevated by the organisation and not relinquished of his honours. Teofimo laid claim that he is the first 4 belt era Undisputed Champion of the division but was never recognised as WBC true Champion. Which got wilder when Teo gained the franchise title from Loma which was originally not supposed to be transferable. Then if the Apple cart were not upset enough in what was Boxing biggest upset of 2021 George Kambosos proved all doubters wrong including myself. In what was perceived to be a keep busy mandatory fulfilment bout in the November 17th 2021 thriller not shown on Triller lol. Which saw both fighters hit the canvas and George winning the title from Teofimo in his home town by the way of the Judges decision. Now saying all of that we can put all disputes to rest with hopefully a non controversial win on June 4th in Melbourne, Australia.
As pointed out in the part 1 to this sequel we as fight or entertainment fans as a whole love Closure. As well as a casual observer of the sport who watches the Bigger fights in the Sport they like to know each Division has its proven best. Just like the UEFA Champions League Final which was won by Real Madrid this month and making them hands down the best club football/soccer team in Europe.
However these are my humble points on why I feel an Undisputed Champion in Boxing may not be sustainable and relevant and possibly even good for the Sport RIGHT NOW:
Multiple Belts in the Same Organisation, in the Same division
You may be thinking ‘Paul, what punch are you pulling? Your previous post to this series explained there are now 4 major sanctioning bodies for each weight class. Now you’re telling me there are more than one belt in some sanctioning bodies too?’
Unfortunately; so, that is the answer, I am not talking about geographical and regional titles which are won by fighters on their road to world Championship glory. Which ironically enough to the eye look similar if not almost identical to their world title counterparts. Or even interim titles which broadcasters so repeatedly mention that is a recognised world title. Like earlier this month when David ‘Red Flag’ Benavidez beat David Lemieux in a tremendous brutal fashion and the PBC commentators kept referring to him as now a 3 time World Champion. Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez still holds the WBC world title. I’m talking more about what I mentioned in the previous paragraph in WBC creating two belts in the Lightweight division. Also with the potential for them to create a third belt in this division which can be transferable and won. Which exists in other weight classes, the Diamond Belt holder. This is awarded to when what the sanctioning body deems to be a significant or high profile bout for their world Championship. A scenario for this could be if the winner of this bout ends up beating Loma next and has a super fight next with the Biggest American born Pay per view star right now the Undefeated Gervonta ‘Tank’ Davis.
Now talking about Tank Davis this leads me to our favourite sports oldest organisation the WBA. they for the best part of two decades could have upto 4 Champions in the same weight class! Being Regular, Unified, Undisputed and Super championships. Thankfully in August 2021 they announced plans to reduce the number of titles having only the Regular and Super titles. Kambosos has the Super WBA title. Gervonta paraded with the Regular title in which he defended against Rolando ‘Rolly’ Romero in typical exciting Knockout fashion this past weekend. Which will confuse most fight fans to who is the true WBA Lightweight World Champion, considering both Champions are undefeated:
A quick explanation is that the WBA will now have one Regular Champion in a weight class until that Champion unifies with another sanctioning belt. That is when that Champion becomes the WBA Super Champion and the WBA will make a vacant bout for a new Regular Champion which has no obligation to fight the Super Champion.
Log Jams at the Top
If you have one Champion in a weight class you have the four sanctioning bodies who have their top 10 ranked contenders. Which can be over 30 top class Boxers at one time. This means the top Contenders for these organisations will at times be title shot ready winning interim bouts against fighters they were expected to beat but not fighting the top ranked fighters in the other organisations or promotions. Take for example the often tagged Glamour division of Boxing, the Welterweight division. Has Errol Spence who holds WBA, WBC, IBF and is heavily linked to fight also undefeated WBO Champion in an Undisputed showdown for the end of 2022. In this weight class you have talented contenders, one which probably stands out more than the rest and looks like the next Generational talent to the eye test thus far is Jaron ‘Boots’ Ennis. Who is also undefeated in his 29 professional bouts stopping 27 of his opponents, tagged a Switch hitting boxer, puncher like Terrance Crawford who isnt even 25 yet. Already had accolades from a couple best of all timers like Roy Jones Jr and Floyd Mayweather Jr as being the truth. Yep I know the Truth – Errol Spence moniker and a switch hitting boxer, puncher like Crawford he seems that he’s destined to be a Ruler of the division. Yet he won’t be able to get his shot at a genuine World title until the Undisputed dispute is disputed.
Just as mentioned previously with an Undisputed Welterweight Showdown of this magnitude in the works there is the possibility of a Rematch clause in the contract for the losing fighter to have a second chance to win. Just as what was spoken about the Heavyweight Unification bout which never happened with Tyson Fury and then multiple title holder Anthony Joshua. Which again would have held up the weight class but due to Fury contract obligations with Deontay Wilder. We got to see within a 12 month timespan:
- The Fury Wilder trilogy, an Epic Heavyweight Classic which saw 5 knockdowns in total.
- Anthony Joshua lost to the undefeated and former Undisputed Cruiserweight World Champion Oleksandr Usyk.
- Tyson Fury knocked out longtime WBC mandatory Dillian Whyte in an all British contest in front of over 90,000 fans in the iconic Wembley Stadium.
Big Fights not being made as there is no belt attached.
This can be said in the Super Middleweight Division where you have one Champion who holds the belts, Canelo. A long feuding rivalry of Caleb Plant and David Benavidez who happen to fight under the same promotion are unlikely to fight unless one of them becomes a World Champion again. As well as Jermall Charlo who has flirted with coming up in weight and has also developed an unfriendly rivalry with Benavidez. Again will be more likely to chase a Canelo title bout at 168lbs then fight the two top contenders who share the same stable.
Losing titles for not being able to fulfil Mandatory bouts
This is common in Boxing for 1 title holders so you can imagine the politics a fighter will have to go through to juggle all four Sanctioning Bodies obligations:
- Bigger money fights elsewhere.
- Wanting to take a break from the sport to enjoy their winnings and the fruits of their labour.
- Going up in Weight for new Challenges.
As the image states above Jermell Charlo less than a month from his fight of the Year contender win. Where he knocked out Brian Castano to become the first 154lb Undisputed Champion of the 4 Belt Era. Is being handed a mandatory Ultimatum by WBO to defend his title against Tim Tszuyu who only just won a mandatory fight recently. Unlike Heavyweight contender Dillian Whyte who waited for years and took competitive and dangerous fights in between Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder trilogy series for the WBC strap. Which unfortunately may see Charlo who has fought some of the most competitive bouts out of most boxing Champions in a very rich talent pool weight class. Vacating his belt and expanding his legacy at the middleweight division and missing out on potentially epic fights against Danny Garcia and even Terrance Crawford.
We have recently seen Josh Taylor give up his WBA title because he chooses to get married and enjoy his life for a few months rather than fight back to back after achieving the highest honour he can achieve at Super Lightweight. This also shows in the lack of defences Undisputed Champions have fought in the 4 Belt era no male has defended all 4 belts more than once. You have more success on the female side with Katie Taylor impressive 7 defences and Cecilia Braekhus historic 10 defences.
Sanctioning Body Fees
Becoming the Champion of the World is the ultimate aspiration for many Boxers. As it normally gains them noteirity, immortality and bigger paydays but with winning a major title means you have to pay the Sanctioning Body Fees. These fees are normally 3% per organisation of the gross pay of a bout. Meaning a 4 Belt title holder can pay upto 12% to the Sanctioning body, as well as pay his manager, coaches, sparring partners, nutritionists and so on. That by the time they have their final paycheck in their hands after all the deductions they could be looking at below 50% the original agreed pay. Now in the past there have been Boxers who realised their star power and agreed to pay a flat fee and not the percentage like a Floyd Mayweather Jr but it rarely happens. You can perhaps now see how a major Boxing organisation would benefit from having more than one Champion in the same weight class?
Boxing Greats who didn’t become Undisputed in the 4 Belt Era
Andre ‘Soldier of God’ Ward. Undefeated 2 weight class Unified Champion who only was missing the WBC title before hanging his gloves up in the Light Heavyweight division.
Wladimir Klitchko. A Long time 3 Belt holder in the Heavyweight division never became Undisputed mainly due to the other long reigning Champ in the division being his older brother.
Manny ‘Pac Man’ Pacquiao. The legendary 8 weight Division Champion who has held 12 titles over his illustrious career.
Floyd ‘Money’ Mayweather Jr. Has the perfect 50 and 0 record without even drawing a fight and being Boxing’s Biggest ever Pay Per View draw has never held the WBO belt. He has also often relinquished belts to win it back later after making bigger fights than chase an Undisputed title at the Welterweight or Super Welterweight where he mostly resided at the money side of his career.
Just look at the Top 10 Highest Grossing Pay Per View Rankings of All Time. Only the number 10 ranked bout had the Undisputed title on the line and it was a defence rather than a Unification bout. Which took place over 30 years ago:
Possible Rise of a 5th Major Belt?
In the world of Boxing anything is possible. Now I am not talking about the Ring Magazine belt which has existed for over a century. Which is widely respected as crowning the weight class true Champion by their merit or lineage to have beaten the person to have beaten the person. This title has high acclaim as when it is rewarded and retained there isn’t a sanctioning fee which needs to be paid either.
Unfortunately I am talking about the smaller 1990’s established Sanctioning bodies which oddly enough only have the last letter to differentiate from one another:
- IBU – International Boxing Union. With Shannon Briggs and a past prime James Toney being notable winners of the title hasn’t really made a serious claim in the sport in 15 years.
- IBA – International Boxing Association. This organisation has had title holders in their primes Like Mayweather, Mosley, Gatti, De La Hoya to name a few but again hasn’t really taken off since the 2000s.
- IBO – International Boxing Organization. This like the IBA has your favourite fighters of the last two decades as a Champion at some point in their career. Including 3 Mayweathers and 3 of Great Britain’s Greatest Heavyweight Champion Boxers. This Sanctioning body is most likely to be the 5th edition of the 3 as you tend to see a lot more Champions wear it with the same pride as the perceived Big 4. It also seems to have the similar identity the WBO title had before it became major. By heavily being won and Retained by popular fighters from Europe and is even recognized as a legitimate World Championship by the British Boxing Board of Control and European Boxing Union. It has a Boxing world friendly attitude to letting Boxrec rank their fighters who are independent record keepers. The President Ed Levine has famously said “We never had more than one champion per weight division nor will we”. Which can be a refreshing sentiment to Boxing fans far and wide.
With all these drawbacks of having an Undisputed Champion in every weight class, is it really relevant in modern Boxing?