Another Sunday, another couple of unrelated boxing stories fused together by the random thought processes of yours truly.
Today, we have something very positive that is about to happen, followed by something that has been dragging on for too long, and isn’t so good for the sport.
Our positive opening will look at the upcoming week of July 23 to 29. Within that seven-day span, two of the best fights that could possibly be made in modern boxing will take place.
To bring things back to earth, the closing to this piece today will take a short look at the laughable situation that is the “four-belt era” (I hate that phrase) in boxing.
Let’s get into it!
One Week In July
One of the best weeks in living memory for boxing fans is almost upon us. Within five days we will witness the two best boxers in two weight classes going head-to-head. This is worth writing about.
First up – Tokyo, Japan, will be the focus of the boxing world as super bantamweights Stephen Fulton Jr and Naoya Inoue meet in a tough-to-predict encounter at Ariake Arena on July 25.
A few days later, the attention of boxing fans will be on Las Vegas as the T-Mobile Arena hosts the showdown which will tell us who is the best welterweight on the planet. Americans Terence Crawford and Errol Spence Jr. are the combatants; both are exceptional boxers.
The July 29 fight could be as good as Sugar Ray Leonard against Thomas “Hitman” Hearns, which took place in the same city in September 1981.
Superb Super Bantamweight Battle On The Horizon
Stephen Fulton Jr. (21-0, 8KOs) is the man in the 122-pound division.
The Philadelphia fighter holds two world titles in the weight division and is a supremely gifted technical fighter.
In possession of fantastic reflexes and a tremendous jab, Fulton’s style is one that gives most fighters serious problems. When he decides to be elusive, he is very difficult to land on. His footwork enables him to land then stay clear of any return fire; his defensive chops wins him plenty of rounds.
Fulton can also mix it up on the inside, and although his power isn’t devastating, he employs a high work rate and throws plenty of leather.
Naoya Inoue (24-0, 21KOs) is a big puncher. That should not take away from his boxing ability though as his ring craft is top class. In most of his fights, the man known as “Monster” is on the front foot, controlling the pace of the action.
After conquering the bantamweight division, Inoue has moved up to 122-pounds and not wanting to waste any time, targeted a fight with the division’s best boxer.
The challenge was accepted by Fulton who will be boxing outside of the United States for the first time as a professional on July 25.
Will Inoue continue his reign of terror as he ventures into a new weight class, or will Fulton be able to utilise his size and reach advantage and nullify the threat of The Monster?
We shall find out soon. Regardless of the belts on offer, both boxers deserve credit for making this fight happen. It should be a peach!
The Top Welterweights Are Getting Ready To Rumble
The dust will barely have settled on the Fulton-Inoue encounter when Errol Spence Jr. (28-0, 22KOs) and Terence Crawford (39-0, 30KOs) will go to work in Las Vegas. The winner will become the undisputed welterweight champion.
For a long time, it looked like this showdown would fall into the “great fights that didn’t happen” category, but thankfully months of determined negotiating paid off and the bout is set for July 29.
The two southpaws should bring the best out of one another. Both are patient, tactical fighters, but when opportunities present themselves, both instinctively know when and how to attack effectively.
It could be argued that Spence and Crawford are two of the very best finishers in the sport.
Spence employs a high guard and a busy jab in order to frustrate opponents and create openings for his own arsenal of weapons.
Once his opponent has been lured in by the tempo of his jab, Spence throws harder shots to the body and head as he begins to break his foes down.
Terence Crawford is also in possession of magnificent boxing skills. Although a southpaw, Crawford can fight orthodox and does switch things up from time to time.
Crawford’s versatility could be an important factor for him in the fight against Spence. Crawford also uses a relentless jab, but throws his with more intent than Spence does. As soon as his jab begins to have an impact, Crawford opens up the rest of his offensive playbook.
Spence vs. Crawford is the true definition of elite vs. elite. It’s a 50/50 matchup. Who have you got?
Best Week Ever?
Have two better matchups ever been scheduled for the same week?
Probably back in the days when Sugar Ray Robinson, Joe Louis and Henry Armstrong were boxing.
That era featured many different days of the week being used for fights so it stands to reason that they may have had high quality bouts in the same week, most likely in New York when the Polo Grounds, Yankee Stadium and Madison Square Garden regularly had boxing events taking place.
In modern times I don’t think we’ve had a week like it. I can’t wait.
The Four-Belt Era Is Ridiculous
One thing the greats like Joe Louis, Sugar Ray Robinson and Henry Armstrong didn’t have to worry about during their careers was too many title belts. If you were the title holder in that era, you were the title holder as there was only one world title per weight division.
As the years have gone on, more governing bodies have materialised and we are now at the stage where four governing bodies are recognised and all offering up a world title belt in each weight class.
When’s it going to end? Is there anything that can be done to go back to the way it once was? Does it mean that in 25-years we will have a “six belt era” and that will just generally be accepted?
Adding more world titles might, on the surface, seem to offer boxers more opportunities, but the actuality is that it dilutes the status of becoming world champion.
It also leads to confusion surrounding mandatory defences. One title holder with those below fighting to move up the rankings would lead to better fights getting made more consistently. There would be nowhere to hide for ambitious fighters. It would create incredible competition.
But we aren’t going to get back to that idealistic sounding place in boxing. The governing bodies are too entrenched in the sport now and they won’t give up their position.
Boxing Does Things Differently
I’ve been thinking about this since Errol Spence raised the question of what the governing bodies do with the sanctioning fees they take out of fighter’s purses during a press conference to officially announce his fight against Crawford was on.
It really is absurd. Paying money to have a title. Did the Argentine Football Association have to pay FIFA a percentage for winning the soccer World Cup last year? No.
Does Rafael Nadal need to hand over some of his winnings to Roland Garros for winning 13 French Open titles in tennis? Again, no.
But this is boxing.
When it was announced that Canelo would face Jermell Charlo in September, I saw plenty of posts on social media declaring it the “first time in the four-belt era that two undisputed champions have faced one another in men’s boxing.”
Factually correct, but in using the phrase that I dislike, it adds validity to the preposterous state professional boxing finds itself in regarding the number of world titles.
Is There An Answer?
All I can think of for now is for people who cover boxing to stop mentioning these three letter abbreviations.
I deliberately didn’t mention any of them in this piece despite the fact that many of these organisations will have their titles up for grabs in the fights discussed above.
It is important to give readers all the relevant information when writing about a particular fight, so informing them which titles are on the line is part of the territory.
I’m conflicted as to what is the best approach moving forward. I wish we could just mention “the champion” like the writers who covered Louis, Robinson and Armstrong back in the day go to do.
We could maybe nudge our way back gradually as writers and people who cover the sport. How about we discuss “the champion” in each weight class? The waters are already murky though because my opinion on who is the best in any division will differ from many others who cover the sport.
The best way to iron things out is for the fighters themselves to face the best competition possible. Results in the ring would trump anyone's opinion.
Let’s start with baby steps. We have two opportunities coming up later this month.
The winner of Fulton vs. Inoue is the super bantamweight champion and likewise at welterweight for the Spence vs. Crawford victor. That’s two weight divisions tidied up in the space of a few days.
Now for the other 15.