Since boxing’s primitive years, the quest to identify the best has always been the aim for undoubtedly every fighter and fan that has decided to don a pair of boxing gloves or watch the noble puglisitc sport.
Declaring a fighter “the” boxing world champion was thought to have been established as early as the late 19th century. Due to racial and geographical divide there have always been variations as to the claim of the true world champion, but today over one hundred years on from the earliest signs of claim for global supremacy, boxing has been submerged into a quagmire of “Super”, “Regular”, “Diamond” and “Interim” champions, which quite frankly now begs the question, “Does a world title actually mean anything anymore?”.
With any occupation, a worker always wishes to reach the pinnacle of their given field in order to gain a high level of respect and beyond all else, earn more money – boxers aren’t any different.
From an early age through junior amateur, amateur and professional ranks, aspirations undoubtedly are clouded by one main aim and that is to become a champion. With titles comes increased coverage and undoubtedly an increase in financial gain.
Obviously not all fighters can become world champions (give it ten years!) but a majority can become champions at varying levels and degrees and earn good money, if not always life changing.
The prestige and honour of becoming a world champion is recognised world over. By definition “Champion” – a noun, states “A person who has defeated all opponents in a competition or series of competitions, so as to hold first place and is widely renowned as the best at that particular time.”
Obviously to reach the pinnacle of their sport, a world title still has ultimate and definitive meaning for a fighter, take a look at Kell Brook collapsing in joy in the ring after his world title win over Shawn Porter in California last weekend. That’s just one occasion of overwhelming jubilation we can name on behalf of fighters from thousands and thousands of occasions at varying championship levels; but does the “world title” actually mean anything to the fans watching anymore?
Here are some figures to mull over: currently boxing hosts 93 world champions over 17 different weight divisions. 39 of these “world” champions are administered and represented as WBA champions. This means on average from Strawweight all the way up to Heavyweight, the World Boxing Association (WBA) hosts 2.29 “world” champions per division. Shocking, considering this organisation was the first of today’s top four associations to award a world title (then called the National Boxing Association [NBA]) back in 1921. Somehow you’d think the older you get the wiser you become – not so here, it’s appalling really.
The dilemma presented to boxing officiandos across the world now is just what to answer; confronted with the question by the casual guy on the street, “Who is the best? Who is the champion?”. Five minutes later they have been given six or seven names and are left feeling utterly bemused and disinterested, their short term interest in boxing has wavered and they’ve labelling the sport as “corrupt” and “too hard to understand”. Not good.
Having four recognised sanctioning bodies with four different world champions in a division is bad enough, sanctioning bodies now creating sub champions within each division is quite frankly insane and can only be blamed by greed. With sanctioning fees at an all time high, and the clamour for “International”, “Intercontinental”, “Silver” and “Bronze” titles rising with it, sanctioning bodies are now making money by the bucket load at the expense and confusion of boxing fans around the world.
Where and when will it all stop?
Like anything, if something is rare and numbers produced are very limited then that object or position is valuable and prestigious. We don’t have multiple Presidents or Prime Ministers or Pope’s at the same time. It’s a highly sought after illustrious position. Therefore it’s respected.
Would fight fans still tune into a bout they desired if a world title wasn’t at stake?
Look at prospective match-ups in the not too distant future. Floyd Mayweather vs Marcos Maidana; does anyone actually care that this fight is for multiple world titles? Or are they just wanting to see the best in the sport display a master class or on the flip side the Argentinian cement the most major of upsets? Ask yourself, would you still tune in?
By all sensible reasoning its the latter. Nothing would change regarding the viewership of that fight if the WBC and WBA suddenly decided in their wisdom to withdraw their backing of the contest (and pigs would fly that day). People would still tune in to watch two top tier welterweights collide live on PPV television.
You can then argue the renowned world title has lost its respect among fans.
The greatest argument you can put towards my goal in this assessment is perspective. Lets look at other sports. Can you name the soccer champions of England, Spain, Italy, France and Germany? Probably.
Can you tell me who won the Wimbledon tennis championship? Maybe.
Can you tell me who won the Super Bowl? Definitely.
Now name me all 93 boxing “world” champions? You just can’t.
No neither can 99% of people at the drop of a hat. Being the champion is supposed to be prestigious. You are the sole and best individual or collective group in your sporting environment.
Boxing is the only sport currently recognisable where this just isn’t the case.
Having 93 world champions isn’t prestigious or recognisable for that matter. 17 champions would be. 17 people who you can identify as being the lead of their division – the pinnacle. Something for all to aspire to.
Are fighters at fault? Definitely not. Right now the finger of blame should be pointed firmly in the direction of Panama.
World championships used to mean something – right now I fear they simply don’t.
Follow me on Twitter: @GaryG Mushrow