John Wharton

Sometimes it’s hard to defend boxing and, at times, the sport can be its own worst enemy. At its best, it can be a beautiful, emotive and even an artistically fascinating spectacle. At its worst, it’s ugly, dark and malevolent. I’ve been fanatical about boxing since I was a child, watching the sport sat next to my dad on the couch bearing witness to names that conjure up magical memories. Names that bring smiles to the faces of those old enough and fortunate enough to have experienced those golden years. Hagler, Leonard, Hearns, Duran, Tyson – names that conjure up a million images. From the brutality of Hagler v Hearns and many of Tyson’s fights to the artistry and skill of Leonard, as he danced and jabbed his way around a bemused and broken Duran in Montreal.

However, the real beginnings of my fanaticism was in early summer 1990. The World Cup in Italy was just beginning, Adamski topped the charts with Killer, Acid House and rave culture was at its zenith, whilst at the box office Back to The Future III and Total Recall were drawing the crowds as Madonna and Warren Beatty were stinking out the cinema in the disjointed and drab Dick Tracey.

Sometime during that hot summer, my dad brought home a boxing magazine that would alter my life. On the cover was Mexican Superstar Julio Cesar Chavez and Ring Magazine were waxing lyrical about his victory over Meldrick Taylor in March of that year. I read that magazine from cover to cover, until it just about disintegrated in my hands.

At that point, boxing had 51 recognised world champions, spread out over seventeen divisions (the WBO were not recognised by most at that point) and for around two or three years, I could name all the world champions. I read everything I could about the sport, subscribed to about four publications, and spent most of my pocket money on boxing videos, books and magazines. In those innocent and precocious years, there was no internet, we had limited Sky TV and there were only four terrestrial channels. So, the chances to watch fighters, other than the marquee names and elite British boxers, were extremely limited. In order to catch thirty seconds of highlights of the bout between Julio Cesar Chavez and Kyung Duk-Ahn you needed to be up at the crack of dawn to watch Transworld Sport on Channel 4.

Nowadays, I’m seeing through the eyes of an adult rather than the wide-eyed innocence of youth, and to paraphrase Marcellus in Hamlet, “Something is rotten in the state of boxing”. As I stated earlier, in those callow and halcyon days of 1990, there were 51 world champions and this is a fact that was widely lamented by the boxing scribes of yore.

Fast forward 26 years and the WBA now has 42 recognised world champions of their own! Let that sink in for one second – 42, yes FOUR and TWO. This isn’t a typo or a misprint, they really do have FORTY-TWO recognised world champions and this isn’t including the Continental titles, Pan European or even the Lower Kazakh WBA Cubic Zirconium belt. This is either Super Champions, Unified Champions, Champions in Recess, Regular Champion, or Interim Champions.

Let’s be quite honest here, the sole reason for this is money – pure and simple filthy lucre. The more champions they have, the more they can rake in from sanctioning fees.

The WBA aren’t the only guilty party – the WBC had Diamond Champions and Champions Emeritus. By and large, they have given up such nonsense, but, a closer examination sees that have Vitali Klitschko as Champion Emeritus and that is largely honorific. Their Middleweight Champion is Saul Alvarez but they have Gennady Golovkin as their Interim Champion. This is the only division which has this situation and it appears to be an anomaly. Maybe this the WBC’s way of forcing a fight between Alvarez and Golovkin – a fight that the whole of boxing wants to see. Perhaps I’m being a little naïve or optimistic but the installation of Golovkin makes little or no sense, even by boxing’s twisted logic.

It was Sam Cooke who sang “It’s been a long time coming, but I know a change is gonna come.” Now, I’m not equating the current situation within the sport to the Black America’s long, arduous and painful struggle for equality and, without meaning to trivialise the political importance and meaning of the song, it does apply to the current situation within the sport. My belief that a change is gonna come may be hopeful and to some even quixotic but what is life without hope?