Heavyweight Title Unification: Worth The Risk

By Francis Walker
Updated: March 6, 2005

NEW YORK, NY—Boxing promoter Don King has a plan to unify the world heavyweight championship. He has IBF champion Chris Byrd and WBA champion John Ruiz under contract. Last year both Byrd and Ruiz had each title defenses against Andrew Golota, who will is set to challenge Lamon Brewster for the unrecognized WBO heavyweight title. Although King can unify two or three pieces of the world heavyweight championship, the unification process cannot be complete without perhaps the most essential component – the WBC heavyweight title.

The WBC heavyweight title is held by Vitali Klitschko, who King does not have a contract with. However, King does have Hasim Rahman, the WBC No. 1-ranked contender under contract. Rahman, the man that KO’d Lennox Lewis to win the heavyweight championship in April 2001, could get another opportunity to win the heavyweight title if he meets Klitschko in May.

For Rahman and the other fighters, having a championship will be an essential and important component for King to sell to HBO a heavyweight championship unification tournament. King would have each of his fighters with the IBF, WBA, WBC, and WBO titles. King also has the type of relationships among the sanctioning bodies that can grant his fighters extensions for mandatory defenses which would give King and HBO enough time to set-up a series of world heavyweight championship fights.

In 2001, King, HBO, and Madison Square Garden worked together to crown the first undisputed world middleweight champion since Marvelous Marvin Hagler. At the time, IBF middleweight champion Bernard Hopkins, WBC 160-pound champion Keith Holmes, WBA middleweight champ, William Joppy, and former undefeated two-division champion Felix Trinidad participated a world middleweight championship series.”

Hopkins knocked out Trinidad in round 12 of the tournament final to win the Sugar Ray Robinson trophy, as well as the WBA, WBC, and IBF middleweight titles.

Three of the two middleweight title fights were broadcast on pay per view. Although Hopkins won the tournament, it would have never occurred if Trinidad, the biggest draw, had not entered.

King and HBO are interested in creating a similar tournament for the heavyweight championship. However, there are some issues of concern.

John Ruiz has a mandatory title defense against James Toney, ranked No. 1 by the WBA. Toney is promoted by Dan Goosen. If Ruiz loses his title to Toney, King will have the headache of trying to negotiate having options on Toney’s next title defense or even giving Ruiz a rematch. King will also lose control of the WBA title.

If Rahman loses to Klitschko, who is not obligated to work with King, then the famed boxing promoter will have difficulty trying to persuade Klitschko into the title unification tournament.

Even if Klitschko, the most recognizable of the heavyweight champions enters the tournament, there is no guarantee that he can be the driving force used to sell the tournament.

In Dec. 2004, Klitschko defended the WBC heavyweight title one month after King promoted separate title defenses by Byrd and Ruiz on the same card. Both events were distributed by HBO pay per view. Both events drew a measly 100,000 buys. Either the public is not aware, interested, or even confused as to who the heavyweight champion really is.

Clearly, HBO and King have to do more before they can even think about promoting another heavyweight title fight on pay per view.

That is why the proposed Klitschko-Rahman WBC heavyweight title fight will be broadcast on HBO. The fight is appealing to HBO, as well as sites that include Madison Square Garden (New York) and the Mandalay Bay (Las Vegas). But it’s too risky for King to convince HBO to air it on pay per view.

The public has and continue to be intrigued by heavyweights, but it is only one champ that can command the respect and admiration of being referred to as the “undisputed world heavyweight champion”