Boxing. A relatively simple sport, where a competitor sizes up their opponent in the middle of a square ring, before attempting to punch the living daylights out of them.
By that logic, you would think working out who is the best boxer in the world would be a pretty straightforward task, right?
Let me paint you a word picture of the confusing hierarchy that is the world of boxing.
In each weight division, there are five sanctioning bodies that produce a variety of championship belts that can be won: the WBA, the WBC, the WBO, the IBF and the IBO. A further world championship belt in each weight division is also on offer, this being handed out by the Ring Magazine.
The WBA, the WBC, the WBO and the IBF all do not recognise the IBO’s belts as major titles – the IBO is a much more recent creation – but the Ring Magazine does. The WBA, the WBC, the WBO and the IBF have a panel that calculate their rankings but exactly how these are calculated is not disclosed. The Board of the Ring Magazine deploy a similar system, but produce reasoning behind the order of their rankings. Meanwhile, the IBO uses a computerised system to calculate their rankings.
So, which is best?
Of the five sanctioning bodies, the IBO’s rankings are seemingly the most accurate, with the other four seemingly often handing out high rankings to the fighters of the promoters that they have a particularly good relationship with. However, all five openly favour fighters who contest for the regional belts that they have sanctioned.
With the Ring Magazine only having one belt per weight division, in this sense, their rankings are the least open to potential bias. That being said, the magazine is owned by Oscar De La Hoya, who also happens to be the owner of Golden Boy Promotions, so perhaps not.
Nevertheless, the Ring Magazine belt is widely considered the most prestigious physical title that you can win in professional boxing.
Having read that, you could be forgiven for thinking “it’s a bit weird that he used the word ‘physical’ there”. Seems a bit unnecessary, no? Well… here’s the thing.
Oh yes, it gets worse. Much worse.
There is also a theoretical belt named the linear championship, which goes to whoever beats the individual who was previously the linear champion. This is often the same as whoever is Ring Magazine champion, but not always.
See, you can be stripped of the Ring Magazine belt for various factors, such as inactivity or moving weight class. By contrast, you can only lose the linear title if you either lose or retire (at which point the title is usually conferred via a match between the two top-ranked boxers remaining in that particular division, although deciding on these individuals is controversial in itself).
Basically, to favour the Ring Magazine champion over someone who was previously the consensus no.1 in a weight division, who has also not lost since being the best seems a bit… odd.
Are you still following?
In essence, the sum of what I am trying to say is that there are far too many belts in boxing. Far, far too many.
Having British, European and International belts available makes sense, as it allows young boxers learning their trade to reach identifiable checkpoints in their career, as they steadily increase the level of their opponents.
However, the mess that occurs at world level is simply unnecessary. It’s a whole new level of confusing. There’s been ‘Silver’ champions, ‘Diamond’ champions and ‘Emeritus’ champions. There’s been ‘Franchise’ champions, ‘Honorary’ champions and ‘Interim’ champions. Heck, the WBA even has a belt named the ‘Regular’ world championship, that when you look further into turns out to not really be a world title belt, for they also offer another belt named the ‘Super’ world championship.
It’s pure lunacy.
Now, why am I telling you all of this? Partly because I think it is interesting, but also partly because I think it is an area where we, as boxing fans, should be campaigning for change.
In an ideal world, boxing would follow the same model of the UFC, which has one title on offer per weight division, one matchmaker in Joe Silva and one promoter in Dana White. You get told who to fight and to avoid public humiliation, more often than not, you fight them.
Instantly, scenarios where one fighter avoids a rival for years on end – as Floyd Mayweather did with Manny Pacquiao and Amir Khan is still doing with Kell Brook – would cease to exist. A boxer would be unable to point to mandatory obligations or negotiation difficulties as to why they could not agree to a fight, as there wouldn’t be any.
It would be plain and simple for all to see – if they refused a fight, it could only be because they did not fancy their chances against the opponent in question.
Experienced competitors can earn the right to have a greater say on who they fight, but this still falls far short of them being able to ‘pick and choose’ their opponents, which is exactly how it should be. The best should fight the best.
With a universal ranking, it would also be clear as to whether or not they were doing so.
However, you will notice I used the phrase ‘in an ideal world’. Unfortunately, we do not live in an ideal world and the sanctioning bodies and promotion stables in boxing wield far too much power to realistically be overthrown.
It is not all gloom and doom, though. For there is a solution and one that has surprisingly emerged within the world of boxing itself. Its name?
The World Boxing Super Series.
Since its inception in 2017, the World Boxing Super Series has been an annual knockout competition, featuring eight of the best boxers from a particular weight class, with the overall winner taking home the Muhammad Ali Trophy, of course named after the late, great, heavyweight legend himself. On top of this, the victor can legitimately lay claim to being the very best in their weight class.
The tournament has been a great success in various weight divisions, crowning champions such as Naoya Inoue at bantamweight, Josh Taylor at super-lightweight, Callum Smith at super-middleweight and Oleksandr Usyk at cruiserweight. However, thus far, a World Boxing Super Series tournament conducted at either of boxing’s premier weight divisions – welterweight and heavyweight – has yet to come to fruition, due to the huge purses commanded by the sport’s biggest stars.
Fortunately, that could all be about to change.
In a recent statement, the Chief Boxing Officer of the World Boxing Super Series, Kalle Sauerland suggested that a heavyweight tournament could be on the horizon in 2021.
Now, do not get too excited. The reasoning behind Sauerland’s comments was that Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua look set to agree to a two-fight deal that will see the world title picture locked up for the entirety of 2021. Subsequently, Sauerland’s proposed tournament would not involve either of the division’s champions – unlike the previous seasons of the World Boxing Super Series – and would instead be contested between the heavyweight division’s best contenders, who will all be caught in a logjam waiting for a title shot.
Whilst this is not the fairy tale scenario that we, as boxing fans, dream of, it is still a pretty darn exciting prospect, with the likes of Dillian Whyte and Andy Ruiz Jr. slogging it out on screens for the next calendar year. Although not explicitly name-dropped by Sauerland, I dare say, if the prize pot was big enough, former WBC champion Deontay Wilder may even want to get involved.
What’s most important about this announcement though is that, if it does come to fruition, it will mean an end to the relentless ducking that goes on in the heavyweight division. No longer would champions be able to legitimise facing a lesser contender, for their worthiest opponent would be laid out plain and simple, for all to see.
What’s more, with all of these boxers fighting in the same tournament, under the same rules, with the same level of preparation, we might finally begin to develop a vaguely clear picture of who boxing’s best actually is.
Similar to how we can in… well, pretty much every other sport.