APOLOGIES for writing about this again. Bigger apologies go to my forehead, however, as I prepare to slam it against a brick wall for the umpteenth time. Errol Spence Jnr calling out the sanctioning bodies for the fees they charge, while simultaneously showing off the shine on their belts, perfectly illustrated the paradoxical appeal of those ranking organisations.
Spence was right to question where a whopping three per cent of his purse goes for the privilege of fighting for a belt (and when all four are on the line, that three per cent becomes 12) because it seems an awful lot. What we [i]can[i] do is reel off a list of things it most certainly doesn’t pay for. For example, it clearly isn’t being used to pay honest and knowledgeable people to compile rankings, it’s not adding to a pension pot for boxers, it’s not being spent on the carrying out of background checks on the criminals they do business with nor is a penny going to charities like Ringside Charitable Trust. And judging by the state of those shapeless t-shirts that are pulled over the head of the winning boxer within a millisecond of victory being achieved, not much of it is being invested in merchandise.
Anyone who has followed boxing for any length of time will know that having four sanctioning bodies in existence causes chaos. The boxers know it. The broadcasters know it. The promoters know it. The media know it. Yet they all keep the sanctioning bodies in business by facilitating their policies, rankings and belts. Spence did it when he clutched his selection of silverware for the cameras. The broadcasters, meanwhile, harp on ad nauseum about undisputed and unification and what a wonderful occasion it is when all four belts are on the line in this ‘four-belt era’. Very few members of the media have the desire (or intelligence) to recognise the consequences of such utter drivel.
In consecutive weeks recently, we had matches for the ‘world’ super-lightweight title involving four different boxers. And that’s the same division that went through a long and winding process to crown an undisputed champion not so long ago. So, if we had an undisputed champion as recently as 2022, one who didn’t lose his title nor leave the weight class, why was he one of four ‘world champions’ 12 months later? The number jumps to five if you include the WBA ‘regular’ gong and six if you recognise the IBO too (as some broadcasters and promoters are starting to do with concerning regularity). But still, with a straight face, people will classify a division as ‘unified’ and its leader as ‘undisputed’ while knowing that a dispute will cause a split very soon.
Boxing is such an appealing and simple sport at its core, it shouldn’t be so difficult to understand as we strive to gain and retain audiences. The attention span of the fan is dwindling, new viewing habits are being formed, yet the paymasters continue to act like everyone understands the inane championship system.
I am puzzled every single time I hear a ring announcer reel off the belts that boxers have won during the introductions. ‘The former WBO intercontinental champion, the former WBC world silver champion and the current WBA interim world champion…’ What does all that really mean? And if I’m struggling to keep up, you can guarantee that Joe Bloggs lost interest long ago. While we’re on it, when three out of the four organisations already have the word ‘world’ in their company name, why do we need to repeat the word ‘world’ when describing their championship? It’s like saying, ‘the world boxing council world champion.’ Talk about brainwashing. Last week, I even heard Teofimo Lopez being described as the ‘World Boxing Organisation world linear champion’ by a reputable broadcaster. Seriously, what is a world-world-linear champion?
If you haven’t looked for a while, take a nose at the rankings these gangs produce every month and ask yourself why they’re all so different when they’re all supposedly following the same results and form. In nearly every division, each sanctioning body will highly rank a little-known fighter who is unranked by their rival organisations. Imagine some randomer who hadn’t won a match at a decent level suddenly being ranked as the third best tennis player on the planet simply because their manager was in cahoots with the head of the sport. Imagine Worthing FC being rewarded with a spot in the semi-final of the FA Cup because they won the Sussex Senior Cup. The equivalent happens in boxing all of the time and nobody even blinks.
The sanctioning bodies are always welcome, folks. Everyone chuckles at their jokes and puts up with the stink like they’re an incontinent relation at a family gathering. But unlike spending some time with dear old great grandpa, we do have a choice here.
It’s worthwhile, too, to stick your head out of this boxing bubble and see how the rest of the world views these multiple championships. The days of boxers winning world titles being on the back pages have long gone. How many fights with sanctioning body belts on the line take place every year – and how many of those are ever mentioned on the same news bulletins that will always update on football, tennis, cricket, rugby and athletics? The real world largely lost interest a long time ago because of the dilution – to the point that when a truly great matchup occurs, like Spence-Terence Crawford, it gets ignored.
It’s high time for change. Would Spence versus Crawford be any less appealing if it didn’t have any belts on the line? Would Michael Buffer’s announcement sound less grand if he didn’t spend half an hour reeling off the various alphabet titles? Will the ring look uglier because the four controllers are not stood in the middle of it hoisting their belts aloft? Would the winner not having to then defend against an undeserving mandatory be unwelcome?
Most pertinently of all, will anyone of sane mind doubt that the winner is the best welterweight in the world because they’re not simultaneously holding all four straps? But therein lies the biggest problem. The boxers love to win belts because they’ve been conditioned to believe they still mean something. Heck, I’d love to win a belt too. I’ve even got a replica Lonsdale Belt on my office wall… just next to the dent from my head. Yet I’ll never pretend I was once a British champion.
Spence asking questions is not exactly a game-changer but the fact he’s at least started to wonder what the point is in those shiny souvenirs should be championed. And most certainly, if he and Crawford opted not to fight for any of the belts and pocket a sizeable chunk of their purse instead, the real tipping point could be upon us.