UPON discovering Joe Fournier’s number 11 ranking with the World Boxing Association (WBA), my initial reaction wasn’t one of shock, bemusement or even anger. (This is boxing, after all, a sport in which retired fighters remain in the rankings, drug cheats bed-hop from sanctioning body to sanctioning body, and even the deceased have been known to stagger their way into the top fifteen.)
Instead, the thing that sprung to mind when hearing about Fournier’s Christmas gift, and reading his declaration that he’s now the highest-rated British light-heavyweight in the world (according to the WBA, of course), was a scene from the book (and movie) Foxcatcher in which John Du Pont, an American philanthropist with a fondness for wrestlers and a dream too big for his limited athletic capabilities, is mollycoddled through a number of wrestling matches against Bulgarian pensioners and then given a fugazi belt as a way of concluding his fantasy.
The unease was in the façade. Du Pont, all the gear and no idea, was out there wrestling – wrestling like an old man riddled with arthritis and dodgy knees, admittedly – and defeating men brought in to be defeated, all the while Olympic-calibre wrestlers funded by Du Pont stood around and watched, cornered him, swallowed their pride and basically pretended. They did it for Du Pont. They did it to play along in his world of make-believe and for him to realise his dream. They did it because Du Pont had money.
Joe Fournier isn’t a wrestler, nor does he possess Du Pont’s fortune. He is, however, apparently a rich man and, according to his Twitter profile (my sole source of Fournier-related information, I’ll confess), an international night club entrepreneur and star of the “hit TV show ‘Million Pound Party People'”. He is also a professional boxer, by the way, one now ranked by a sanctioning body as the eleventh best light-heavyweight in the world.
“Good for him,” you might say. And you’d be right. Boxing is a hard enough sport as it is without snobs pooh-poohing the credentials of boxers who may or may not be fortuitous to wind up in the top fifteen of a set of rankings. Whether right or wrong, Fournier got there, against all the odds, and, if his Tuesday morning tweet (below) is anything to by, seems very proud of the fact, too.
On paper, so long as you don’t turn the page, or look too closely, it’s not so bad. Fournier is undefeated in nine professional bouts, all of which, we’re led to believe, were authentic. He looks the part (he makes weight, he wears gloves and trunks well, and he has two arms which extend to land punches). He was once a basketball player, one decent enough to play for England. He should also be commended for not just talking a good fight but actually stepping into the ring, when evidently not needing the money, and living his dream.
Last month, he travelled to the Dominican Republic to fight Wilma Mejia, 22-10-3, and won in round two to register his ninth straight stoppage. It was, by all accounts, the result that convinced the WBA to catapult him up their rankings. It is also a result that has yet to find its way on to Boxrec.com, for whatever that’s worth.
What does appear on Fournier’s Boxrec record, however, are details of a failed drug test (for sibutramine), for which he was banned by NADO until December 2020, following a bout with Mustapha Stini in June 2016. “Politics,” said Fournier, when asked about the situation on Twitter, although I’m not sure whether that’s the reason for the failed test, the reason for the length of the ban, the reason he got his WBA ranking, or the reason he is competing again despite being banned. (On appeal, his sentence was reduced to 18 months, but he is not eligible to box until June 2018.) Frankly, it doesn’t really matter.
What matters is this: Joe Fournier is a 34-year-old novice boxer (in every sense of the word), and, like John Du Pont, is a rich man who doesn’t need to compete but has chosen to do so because he wants to test himself and be in the presence of well-known athletes (one of whom, David Haye, even allowed him to box on his undercard). Whereas Du Pont was awarded phony victories and belts, though, Fournier, fighting not wrestling, now finds himself in the top fifteen of a division comprising the likes of Dmitry Bivol (champion), Sullivan Barrera and Badou Jack, as well as Oleksandr Gvozdyk, Karo Murat, Shefat Isufi and Joe Smith Jr. He won’t fight any of that lot. Don’t worry. But beneath those guys are a few he might end up fighting – crazier things have happened – one of whom, Jake Ball, a six-foot-four British southpaw ranked at fourteen, would presumably be favoured to stop Fournier inside a round.
There are others in Britain, too, fighters like Anthony Yarde and Frank Buglioni, who might take one look at Fournier’s ludicrous ranking, hear of his desperation to land a big-money opportunity, and oblige him at some point in 2018. I shudder at the thought, though accept the more vindictive among us, those hungry for justice, might say fights with the aforementioned should be Fournier’s punishment for taking performance-enhancing drugs. But that’s just cold.
This is a dangerous business, and should any of those ‘fights’ happen, Fournier will quickly learn boxers in the top 15 of the WBA don’t throw matches the way ageing Bulgarian wrestlers fumble around with billionaires. Conversely, they take great pleasure in making examples of those, like Fournier, who don’t belong.
That’s not their fault, nor Fournier’s fault. It is, instead, the job of sanctioning bodies like the WBA, hardly a standard-bearer, to have a duty of care when it comes to issuing rankings. A ranking, lest we forget, isn’t a token gesture, a meaningless trinket or a swimming badge. It’s a number that supposedly reflects a fighter’s proximity to a title shot. Find yourself at eleven, for instance, and you’re not that far off facing the best in the world. You are also, in some ways, a wanted man, someone with a target on your head, someone others wish to leapfrog.
Joe Fournier, a pro for a little over two years, is nowhere near being the best light-heavyweight in London, much less Britain, let alone the world. Joe Fournier, in fact, is still learning how to box. That’s the reality of the situation and there’s no shame in that. Indeed, before his mysterious win over Mejia, the Hounslow-native’s opponents had a combined record of 26-76-1, and only one of them, Bela Juhasz, had more victories than defeats.
The idea, then, that Fournier is now being hunted by the sharks at 175-pounds, men for whom Fournier isn’t a novelty act but a fellow contender, is a terrifying one not only for Fournier, a man whose ego and bravado will temporarily mask any fear, but also those of us who still give a damn about the reputation and integrity of the sport.