Editorial: Minimalist approach ensures IBO viability
It seems pretty simple by definition.
Champion: A person or team that has defeated all opponents in a competition or series of competitions, so as to hold first place.
So simple, in fact, that most of the major sports seem to have it all figured out.
At the end of the National Football League season in MARCH, there’s only one Super Bowl champion. At the end of the National Hockey League season in May, there’s only one Stanley Cup champion.
Fans in Pittsburgh and Detroit, rejoice.
At the end of the National Basketball Association season in June, there’s only one NBA Finals champion. And at the end of the Major League Baseball season in October, there’s only one World Series champion.
Supporters in Boston and Philadelphia, celebrate.
No “super” champions. No “interim” champions.
No champions “in recess.” No champions “emeritus.”
Why then, is the routine so completely different in boxing?
A quick spin through the Web sites of the sport’s “major” sanctioning bodies reveals the degree to which the championship definition has been perverted.
According to the World Boxing Organization, no fewer than 18 fighters are needed to play the role of title-holder over 15 weight classes – even with vacancies at 115 and 147 pounds that were unfilled upon compilation of its MARCH ratings.
Four super champions. Two interim champions. Six dubious distinctions.
In addition to 12 garden-variety world champions.
Not to be outdone, the World Boxing Council goes a few steps further in its generosity, hailing 20 fighters over 17 jam-packed weight classes for MARCH – including three at 154 pounds and two more among the little guys at 105.
Two interim champions. One emeritus champion. Three worthless trinkets.
Not to mention 17 plain-old regular champions.
Still, the overall prize of excess goes to the World Boxing Association, which recognizes no fewer than 24 men in its most-recent 17-class ratings package – spreading its bloat from the big boys heavyweight all the way to the miniatures at light flyweight.
The ridiculous Panamanian ledger includes two interim champions, two undisputed champions, one unified champion, one super champion, and, as mentioned previously, the ever popular champion in recess.
A staggering seven meaningless baubles.
Which prompts the painful question – if an interim champion lost to a unified champion in an undisputed title eliminator, would the super champion make the first compulsory defense against the champion in recess or the regular world champion?
Or would anyone really care?
All kidding aside, it’s the latter question that’s draining the sport’s lifeblood.
An informal survey of fans at a recent card in South Florida pointed to the glut of champions as a major reason for detachment, with formerly hardcore followers flaking away because of an inability to identify true superstar performers.
“It’s hard enough just keeping up with all the organizations who each have a champion in each weight class, but now there seem to be a bunch of belts on top of belts on top of belts,” one fan said. “It’s too hard to even bother with anymore.”
And as easy as it is to blame the sanctioning bodies for their greed and corruption, it’s not the only proper target for the venom.
At the very same card in Florida, media members flocked to worship at the altar of insignificance, prolonging by association the myth that the long-standing alphabet flock is doing anything to benefit entities other than themselves.
One writer in particular, when queried about the sport’s ills, pleaded guilty.
“Everyone who covers boxing is aware of the problems and has ideas on how to solve them, but it takes someone willing to buck trends. And that’s easier said than done,” he said. “So people move their mouths in private, but things stay the same.”
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
And, ironically, the best hope for change also comes from South Florida.
The International Boxing Organization, based in the Miami suburb of Coral Gables, continues to fight the good fight for the sport, and, more importantly, its efforts are beginning to gain traction in important circles.
Heavyweight Wladimir Klitschko, considered the consensus best in the division regardless of the belts he does or does not possess, is not only the organization’s signature champion – he’s also among its biggest fans.
“I would put the IBO in a totally different spot from the other organizations and I think the work that they’re doing is amazing,” Klitschko said.
“Through the years the IBO has gotten stronger and they’ve become established, and for writers and journalists to make lists of champions and not mention the IBO is just ridiculous.
“And the more guys like Lennox Lewis and Ricky Hatton and Wladimir Klitschko that are considered the best in their weight divisions as IBO champions, the more the IBO will become recognized.”
The IBO will take center stage in early May in Las Vegas, when incumbent champion and consensus division No. 1 Ricky Hatton defends his 140-pound status against challenger Manny Pacquiao in the sport’s biggest event of 2009.
It’ll be a chance for the IBO, and President Ed Levine, to take yet another step toward recognition in what he admits will be an ongoing process.
“We’ll never have interim champions or super champions, it’s just ridiculous and it takes away from the status these great fighters have achieved,” he said.
“Our mission is to promote honesty, transparency and doing things the right way, and I'm going to continue doing that because it's still enjoyable to me.
“We will continue to earn respect and credibility through our actions and hope that those with the power to label sanctioning bodies as credible or not will base their conclusion on those attributes, not merely by the length of time we have been in existence.”
For the good of the sport, it’s best they pay attention.