The various sanctioning bodies have caused confusion while costing credibility to the sport of boxing for years. Long gone are the days of one world champion per weight class. Greed and the power of the almighty dollar have taken precedence as each organization has displayed time and time again. Sprinkled with just enough consistent corruption and one could reach the conclusion of just what stunts the growth of boxing the most.These sanctioning bodies have long hurt the fanbase of the sport.
Numerous sanctioning bodies are nothing new. When Mike Tyson became the undisputed heavyweight champion in the late 1980's he did so by winning all three fragmented titles from the respective champion to unify.
Marvin Hagler did the same in the early 80s, winning two of his world championships, the WBC and IBF, from Alan Minter and then becoming the undisputed middleweight king by defeating WBA champion Roberto Duran.
Along the way various trinket titles and lower grade versions of world titles have been created by the sanctioning bodies so they have a steady stream of revenue coming in from the sanctioning fees that go along with fighting for these belts. These smaller titles help promoters sell an event with the idea of bringing credibility to the fighter who would win one of these trivial belts while climbing the ladder to a world title opportunity. These accolades have never been confused with word titles.
The world titles that once meant “undisputed” consisted of the WBC, WBA and IBF world titles. As stated, these varying sanctioning bodies are not new to the sport. All the way back to the Ali-Liston fight in February of 1964 had both the WBA and WBC titles on the line. Those titles were created in 1962 and 1963 independently. The IBF wouldn't come along until 1983 and then unification became a thing.
Fast forward to 2022 and one has to win all 4 world titles rather than the 3 that once meant undisputed, because the WBO is in the mix. The WBO was created in 1988, and gained credibility as a major world title over the years. It's hard enough to unify three world titles, for a fighter to navigate through the politics of the sport and unify all four is nearly impossible.
During the four-belt era there have only been 10 men that have achieved such status. The good news is that 6 of those 10 undisputed champions accomplished the tough task in the last year and a half alone.
A world title brings not only credibility to the fighter but TV dates and big money opportunities as well. What's been happening for several years is that a champion would rather defend his version of the world title than look to unify with another champion of a different organization. This was an unfortunate trend that was going on for quite some time with fans often left disappointed in not seeing the best fighters facing off with one another. That was, until fairly recently.
Currently there are a total of three undisputed world champions, meaning they have captured all four of the alphabet soup titles. These three undisputed champions consist of Canelo Alvarez at 168 pounds, Jermell Charlo at 154 pounds and Devin Haney at 135 pounds.
Up until recently 140 pounder Josh Taylor held all four major world titles before the politics of boxing reared its ugly head and stripped him of his WBA title even though the undefeated Scot has never lost a professional fight in a boxing ring.
On top of boxing having three current undisputed champions there are currently another nine unified champions who hold at least two of the major four world titles, totalling 12 unified champions in all. Simple terms, the best are now fighting the best. Equally as exciting is that many of these unified champs are under 30 years of age which means we will more than likely get many big fights from these already accomplished champions in the years to come.
Recently we saw the undisputed championship change hands at lightweight three consecutive times. Teofimo Lopez became the undisputed champion in an upset victory for all the marbles over Vasyl Lomachenko only to lose the straps in his first defence against dark horse George Kambosos. Devin Haney made the journey to Australia, lifting all the titles from Kambosos in a dominating and definitive decision victory. In a stacked lightweight division fans are consistently getting intriguing matchups between the best fighters in the division.
One weight class south of Haney is a 23 year old from Newark N.J named Shakur Stevenson. He recently unified titles in a winning effort over fellow undefeated champion Oscar Valdez. Errol Spence holds 3 of the 4 majors at welterweight and appears to be ready to put it all on the line with WBO champion Terence Crawford in a battle for 147 pound supremacy.
Over at light heavyweight Artur Beterbiev recently added another world title, totaling three belts to his collection with a second round KO over Joe Smith in a unification fight at Madison Square Garden. That was Beterbiev's second consecutive unification fight in a row.
All that's missing from calling Beterbiev undisputed is the WBA strap which belongs to undefeated champion Dmitrii Bivol, who conquered Canelo on May 7. A Beterbiev-Bivol matchup is as attractive a fight as any that could be made in the sport and seems like a realistic proposition over the next 12 months.
Many a year has passed when the matchups between the champions of each respective division failed to take place. Oftentimes it was over marination which was the case with a Juan Manuel Lopez – Yuriokis Gamboa. This was a potential unification fight between two undefeated world champions under the same promotional umbrella that seemed destined to happen in late 2010.The fight of course never transpired as Lopez got knocked off along the way and then got beat again and yet again taking the luster off a once very anticipated fight.
Move along to 2018 and a matchup between undefeated heavyweight champions Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder seemed like a reality before negotiations broke down and both headed in different directions. Since then Wilder has suffered two defeats and a draw all at the hands of Tyson Fury while Joshua has lost fights to Andy Ruiz and Oleksandr Usyk. Although this fight would still do very well at the box office it has lost a lot of its glamour and purpose with neither man currently holding a championship.
It appears for now the days of champions avoiding their counterparts and not making the important fights in a timely fashion are mostly in the rearview mirror. Aside from unifications we are seeing more and more champions taking on tough assignments, such as the first title defence for newly minted champion Mark Magsayo. Magsayo won the WBC Featherweight title in an upset over Gary Russell back in January.
He had earned that shot by getting off the canvas and scoring a dramatic come-from-behind knockout of Julio Ceja. His title winning effort over Rusell was no walk in the park so one couldn't fault the new champion if he was looking for a layup in his first defence. Instead he entered the ring for the third consecutive time as the betting underdog against former super bantamweight champion and undefeated challenger Rey Vargas…and Vargas got the W, via split decision.
On August 20 is the rematch between Usyk and Joshua with Tyson Fury waiting in the wings for the winner. These are the exact type of attractive and important fights the sport needs. The best facing the best in battles where a belt comes secondary to the matchup.
Although the pound for pound rankings are a subjective list we are currently in an era where a fighter as accomplished as an 18-0 (18 KOs) Artur Beterbiev does not make most top tens. The light heavyweight champion has captured three world titles while making several title defenses and done so by stopping each and every single fighter he has fought. Impressive achievements to say the least but during a time of so many accomplished fighters with deep resumes Beterbiev falls just short of that top ten. That speaks volumes on the current state of the sport.
Title belts will always have their place in boxing but what nothing can replace is the top guys squaring off against one another. That has always and will always be the most important feather in a fighter's cap and ultimately how he is judged and remembered.