Opinion | Mar 01 2019

The shocking extent of the proliferation of world titles in boxing

Eric Armit on the shocking numbers that reveal the extent of the proliferation of world titles in boxing
world titles
Boxer Adrien Broner from Cincinnati, Ohio celebrates after defeating Gavin Rees during their WBC Lightweight title bout in Atlantic City  |  Action Images

I felt instinctively that the four major sanctioning bodies were very successful companies when it came to growth. They are “companies”. Income and expenditure has to be controlled, employees have to be paid, business is conducted on an international basis and there is competition from the other sanctioning bodies. They are companies with just one major source of income and that is sanctioning fees for their title fights. When I was a lad there were only eight divisions (no I don’t remember bare knuckles and knee britches so don’t ask) and generally one universally recognised champion in each division. The first big change came when a world-wide coalition of boxing movers and shakers became so angered at the machinations of the WBA that they met and supported, then set up the WBC. After that with no improvement in the way the WBA conducted its affairs a break-away group set up the IBF and later another group of people and organisations dissatisfied with the WBA set up the WBO. Now we had four bodies who in order to survive had to take money out of the pockets of promoters and boxers so effectively out of boxing. These bodies quickly realised that sanctioning fees from world title fights alone was not enough for them to sustain or grow their organisations. Even increasing the number of weight divisions from eight eventually to seventeen was not enough so like any business that sees its single product (world titles) is not bringing in enough money you have to diversify (create more titles). At one time you might have described the proliferation of titles as a cottage industry but it seemed to me it has developed from there into a production line with new titles manufactured with a frequency that Ford Motors might envy. But was my instinct right or my perception false? I decided to do a check as to whether the proliferation activities were as rampant as I thought they were.

At the high end of the market there are still world titles but they have not been spared proliferation. We now have Super titles, plain old World titles, Regular titles (and that is a misnomer if ever there was one) and Interim titles and some champions have been labelled Champion in Recess, Champion Emeritus. Whilst I can make some kind of weird sense about those Super etc. I have no idea what the WBC Diamond title is and the WBA have switched Arsen Goulamirian from Interim champion to Gold champion whatever that means.

The IBF so far have stuck with one world champion and are to be congratulated for that so they have 17 titles, The WBA list Super, regular and Interim so if we ignore their Gold then they have 51 titles, the WBC have World and Interim and if we ignore their Diamond they have 34 and the WBO also has World and Interim so another 34. We have gone from 8 world titles to 136 world titles. That’s proliferation.

Since their first title fight in 1983 there have been 1,312 fights with the IBF title involved. For the WBA, since the split off by the WBC in 1962 there have been 2049 fights involving a WBA world title. Since 1962 there have been 2003 fights involving the WBC title and since their birth in 1988 1,134 fights involving the WBO title although many of the fights above involved unification of the titles.

The real growth industry has been in the area of the various Regional titles such as Inter-Continental, Latino, Asia Pacific, WBO European (I differentiate from the EBU as their titles are nothing to do with the WBC), International, North American etc. The IBF has 14 titles of this nature, The WBA has 11, the WBC has 26 and the WBO has 15. With 17 divisions involved that means there are now 1,132 titles which did not exist until the sanctioning bodies set the production line going at full throttle and don’t even let me get started on the IBO, WBFederation, WBFoundation, Global Boxing Council, Global Boxing Union, Universal Boxing Federation etc. and for all of the above in theory you also have female titles!

If the above has done nothing for you then for me it tells me that my perception and reality are in agreement and if I am dumb enough to write another piece like this in a year’s time there will even more titles and title fights – it’s what growth industries do.