BEING a champion used to be something extremely special in boxing. It was a coveted achievement. But when I started seeing boxers who were simply not at world level posing with multiple belts I realised we were headed in a horrible direction.
It has been suggested that the more belts there are the better it is for the boxers because of the increased opportunities available to them. I do not subscribe to that idea at all. It’s only a matter of time before the majority of fans figure out that the majority of bouts with titles on the line are not worth paying more money to watch.
I think some casual fans see a belt on the line and they assume it means they are going to see a high level of competition but the fact is there are so many of these championships they have lost all meaning. Even being the champion of your country is increasingly misleading: For example, what good is being a United States champion if there are ten or 12 fighters in the country who your manager would never allow you to defend that championship against because it puts your ‘world ranking’ at risk?
Already, ‘champions’ are unknown and unrecognisable. There will be so many of them that even hardcore boxing fans will not be able to remember either them or who they beat to capture their championships. Many fans have a much easier time telling you who Ray Robinson defeated to win the world welterweight title in the 1940s than who Adrien Broner defeated to win any of his four belts in the modern era. I mean, there have been more ‘three-division world champions’ over the last 20 years than there had been over the previous 100 and that’s not because the boxers of today are better, it is simply because there are ten times more titles available to win.
I challenged for the IBF light-heavyweight title against Henry Maske in 1996. It’s true that I would have regarded that as a legitimate title but even then I knew that I would have had no business calling myself THE world champion at 175lbs because everyone knew that Roy Jones Jnr was the man at that weight.
I also fought for the IBO title against Drake Thadzi two years later. But I took that contest, not for the belt on offer, but for the chance to face a good opponent (who had just beaten James Toney) on television. If I won that, I hoped I might move up the pecking order and get a chance against the real champion. There is no way on this earth I would have proclaimed myself a world champion or even paraded that belt as such. I simply have too much respect for the sport. We need more of that perspective now.
Belts have to be secondary to being considered the best fighter in the world. In earlier eras, being a champion and being the best went hand in hand but that’s no longer the case. Back in 2004 and 2005, the top two light-heavyweights in the world – Antonio Tarver and Glen Johnson – fought each other without a major belt on the line. They didn’t want to pay the sanctioning fees yet everyone was aware the winner would be recognised as the best 175-pounder on the planet. The lack of belts didn’t harm the appeal of that contest one little bit.
It is now all so ridiculous and damaging I would never have believed such a situation was possible until I actually witnessed it myself.
I always say that the people who run boxing are clearly not people who love boxing because there is absolutely no way on this earth that someone who really loved our sport would allow these manufactured and diluted championships to overtake it.
What is happening today is a crime against boxing and the people in charge of it are absolutely the ones who are committing it.