IN the four belt era, boxing has been plagued by undeserving mandatory challengers and bizarre rankings for years. A consequence of this has been a splintering of world championships in each division, making it increasingly hard to point to a single fighter in a weight class and say, “They’re number one.” The truly definitive way of determining this is by crowning an undisputed champion; a fighter who holds all four major belts in their division. 2021 could be defined by such feats.
Last week, Top Rank finally confirmed that the super-lightweight unification fight between Josh Taylor and Jose Ramirez is official for May 22. Each man holds two belts each. On paper, it’s one of the fights of the year and is only enhanced by the titles attached, with the winner following in the footsteps of Terence Crawford, who held all four 140lb belts in 2017.
Not long after that announcement, Claressa Shields made history by becoming the first fighter – male or female – to become undisputed champion in two weight classes during the four belt era. Her achievement, though remarkable, came with little fanfare. Shields was headlining her first-ever pay-per-view event against Marie-Eve Dicaire, who did not prove much of a threat. It was an underwhelming way to make history.
The victory received little coverage – certainly less than the announcement of Taylor-Ramirez – and while this could be attributed to gender inequality, it’s also important to note the gulf in quality of these two fights. Taylor and Ramirez are established champions who have beaten world-level opposition. While Shields is undoubtedly elite, Dicaire is somewhat of an unknown quantity, even to hardcore fans.
That is not the fault of Shields, or indeed those who organised the fight (though it should not have been on PPV, that’s for sure). Shields’ legacy as an all-time great female fighter is already secured but for her, and women like her, to get the respect they deserve, women’s boxing has a long way to go.
Speaking to Yahoo Sports before the Dicaire fight, Shields was adamant that one of the main reasons women’s boxing is not catching up to men’s is because they are still forced to fight two-minute rounds as opposed to three.
“I care about the sport and I know for a fact that [round and fight length] is why we don’t get paid like the men and also why women’s boxing is not considered on the same level as men’s boxing,” she said. “We don’t even go three minutes. Like, forget the 12 rounds, but we don’t even box three-minute rounds. A lot of fans have said to me that they feel like they’re being cheated out of our fights because they’re two minutes. They want to see their favourite fighter get knockouts, they want to see their favourite fighter look smart, and two minutes is not enough time.”
The debate is far too nuanced to get into fully here, but Shields’ arguments should be listened to, as should the comments of Dr Margaret Goodman – a recent inductee into the International Boxing Hall of Fame – who told Yahoo that three-minute rounds should be trialled.
In mixed martial arts, women were also limited to two or three-minute rounds while men fought five-minute ones, but that rule was scrapped years ago. Just this past weekend, Amanda Nunes – widely regarded as the greatest female MMA fighter of all time – was chief support on one of the most stacked cards in recent UFC history. It’s no surprise that Shields intends to transition to MMA later this year.
The biggest undisputed fight mooted for this year is, of course, between heavyweights Anthony Joshua and Tyson Fury (see YouTube for the latest developments). Another heavyweight fight that doesn’t quite get the juices flowing in the same way is Andy Ruiz Jnr vs Chris Arreola. According to BoxingScene, the rotund Californians will headline a FOX Sports PPV in April, with a venue to be announced.
This fight is… fine? Arreola has been in some fun clashes in the past, though he is now 40, while Ruiz is looking to get back on track after losing to Anthony Joshua at the end of 2019. Taking place on PPV on a major American network just makes no sense, though. Ruiz’s stock soared when he upset Joshua in the summer of 2019, while Arreola has not fought since losing to Adam Kownacki in August that same year.
Strap in, folks. In separate interviews with iFL TV, Bob Arum and Eddie Hearn stated that Fury-Joshua is a done deal and all that’s required now are a few signatures. Then, we can get an announcement. At the time of writing no such announcement has been made, but it appears to be imminent. How very typical of boxing it would be to confirm something so monumental after something as strange as Ruiz-Arreola on PPV.
After WBC mandatory challenger Avni Yildirim turned in such a poor effort against Canelo Alvarez, Mauricio Sulaiman – the sanctioning body’s president – told Boxing Social that they will investigate their processes of selecting mandatory challengers, as something is clearly wrong. They could have asked literally any boxing fan before the fight if their processes were off, and would have found out a lot quicker.
After Ryan Garcia revealed a potential fight with Manny Pacquiao is now dead in the water, former multi-weight world champion Mikey Garcia told reporter Jo Ankier that he will in fact be fighting the Filipino icon in May, with a date to be finalised soon. If that’s the case, it’s an interesting fight that has a lot of upside for Garcia, as a name like Pacquiao on his record would catapult him right back into the top-level mix.