Reform Needed To Unify Titles

Micky Williams Top Rank Boxing

Boxing needs to unify the alphabet soup titles and last year we saw a few in the four-belt title era, though Devin Haney would unify the lightweight division and vacate the belts to move up in weight. Canelo Alvarez is in control and the so-called face of boxing can do what he wants as the unified super middleweight champion.

Recently, Teofimo Lopez was considered the unified lightweight champion and quickly dropped his belts to continue a takeover, attempting to unify the junior welterweight division as a two- division title holder. Lopez continues his quest next month in Las Vegas opposing Jamaine Ortiz on ESPN.

Call it ego or establishing a legacy. It’s all about the lucrative money on the table and negotiating fees with the sanctioning organizations that supervise the four major titles.

Noted was Terence Crawford last year and his dominance over Errol Spence Jr that unified titles in the welterweight division, also doing the same as a light welterweight in 2017. And Jermell Charlo unified all four light middleweight titles in May 2022.

Nor bypassing the female division, Amanda Serrano became the first female to unify all four featherweight titles last February. But as is the case so many times. Serrano, the only Puerto Rican to win world titles in more than four weight classes, is no different from others. She vacated the WBC title due to the sanctioning organization refusing her desire of a female fighting twelve three-minute rounds.

Only in boxing can sanctioning organizations set the guidelines, The respective athletic control boards and commissions are there to supervise. They appoint judges at ringside and the referee. Promoters are a part of the process.

But unification titles are a marketing tool to lure a fight fan. Unification is what fighters, promoters, and most of all what the fans demand. Streaming networks that dominate the sport vie for rights to distribute fights of this magnitude. And with a pay-per-view industry still holding its own, putting two champions in the ring to unify titles, that can be a revenue stream that benefits all.

Regardless, the hype to the fight as they say, to unify a division becomes an alphabet soup dilemma again with the WBC, WBA, IBF, and WBO, the leaders of championship supremacy. The fight business does revolve around the alphabet soup. They collect sanctioning fees, while the promoters and fighters abide by their respective guidelines. Oscar De La Hoya, the Hall of Fame champion and head of Golden Boy Promotions is constantly seeking change, reform as I say, to provide fans fights they deserve.

However, unification does not work. There has to be a better way because even the astute fan of the sport and media like yours truly are confused. Name the recognized champions of every division? Who holds what title among the various divisions? I certainly can’t answer and need the assistance of to assist with clarification.

For years the heavyweight division was easy to identify, then with the legendary Muhammad Ali. Or quickly identify with Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Ken Norton. Or identify the undefeated Rocky Marciano, Joe Louis, Jersey Joe Walcott, even Jack Dempsey.

Then Mike Tyson came along with Buster Douglas. And for years the Klitschko brothers (Wladimir and Vitali) had a hold on the heavyweight division, but traffic towards unification was an obstacle. Lennox Lewis, a three-time champion remains the last heavyweight to hold the undisputed title, retiring with a record of 42-1-1 with 32 KOs.

My point here, as we enter a new boxing year, boxing needs reform to solidify that designation of a unified champion. A national boxing commission would be the answer towards unification and set by-laws, but for years the concept has been knocked down. Promoters have not been advocates of regulation and neither are those alphabet soup organizations, the main two of which are the WBC (World Boxing Council) headquartered in Mexico City, and the WBA (World Boxing Association) located in Panama.

And with the sport and promoters moving more business to the rich kings and prince of Saudi Arabia, unification fights will be in demand. The question is, do sanctioning bodies want their titles around the waist of one champion?

They will attempt to unify the heavyweight division again when WBC champion Tyson Fury meets Oleksandr Usyk (WBO, IBF, WBA titles) televised on ESPN Pay-Per-View, February 17 and originating from Saudi Arabia. They will try again, though barring no controversy or a draw that could lead to a rematch. After all this is one of those heavyweight title fights that was in demand. Fury is an attraction and Usyk, the Ukranian can slug and punch which put him in position before being classified as the unknown.

Monday in England, former heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua and Francis Ngannou faced off to announce their upcoming fight, Match 18 in Saudi Arabia streamed live on DAZN. Ngannou put Fury to the limit in his first professional fight after being a successful UFC champion.

They will wait to oppose the Fury-Usyk outcome, pending of course if the division is once again not unified. Matchroom promoter Eddie Hearn, who guides Joshua, has said the title belts will go through his fighter.

Again, though, the unification process will be played out with the sanctioning organizations who hold that significant weight, more reason the sport needs reform. And with one pro fight, what warrants Ngannou the opportunity to immediately be in the title mix?

Look ahead and the light heavyweight division unification will eventually be a reality, this after knockout artist Artur Beterbiev beat down Callum Smith Saturday evening. Beterbiev, (20-0, 20 KOs) with the highest knockout ratio among current fighters, defended his unified WBC/WBO/ IBF world titles.

The stage is set to unify again in the four-belt era with an eventual showdown against Dmitri Bivol, the undefeated WBA champion. Top Rank (Beterbiev) and Matchroom (Bivol) will petition the sanctioning organizations. The purse bids will eventually be set and we have the fight.

But how long will that division remain unified? Reform is necessary. Then again this is boxing and that’s a question that remains to be determined.

Rich Mancuso: X (formerly Twitter) @ Ring786 Mancuso

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About the Author

Rich Mancuso

Rich Mancuso is a regular contributor at NY Sports Day, covering countless New York Mets, Yankees, and MLB teams along with some of the greatest boxing matches over the years. He is an award winning sports journalist and previously worked for The Associated Press, New York Daily News, Gannett, and, in a career that spans almost 40 years.

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