What Does It All Mean?

By Tom Donelson
Updated: August 22, 2005

GlovesNEW YORK — What does it all mean? I mean what are Championship belts worth these days? Consider the case of Antonio Tarver. Both Antonio and Glen Johnson had a choice. They could defend their title against “mandatory challengers” or they could fight each other for some big bucks.

Both having just beaten Roy Jones and both were recognized as the two leading light heavyweights, so it only made sense for them to fight. Unfortunately for the various sanctioning bodies, it did not.

So Tarver and Johnson gave up their paper titles and fought for the true light heavyweight championship of the world and follow their first fight with a second equally competitive fight. Today, Tarver may not have a “sanctioning body belt”, but he is the recognized champion of the world.

Most recently, Javier Castillejo was stripped of his title when he chose to fight Fernando Vargas as oppose to Ricardo Mayorga. Both fighters each had a legitimate claim as contender but WBC decided that unless Castillejo fought Mayorga, they would strip him of the title.

Castillejo decided that he would rather collect a million dollar payday and went ahead with his fight with Vargas. Mayorga fought a former welterweight champion, but his claim to the title is worthless outside of the Mayorga family. No one truly recognized Mayorga as the junior middleweight champion much less the WBC. The WBC right belongs to Vargas, who beat Castillejo.

For fight fans, ignore the belts and start looking to various boxing polls. Boxingranks.com, Ring Magazine and ESPN.com each have monthly polls that reflect the opinion of leading boxing writers and for the most part, they are fairly close each other.

In most divisions, it is easy to know who are the legitimate champions, true contenders and mere pretenders. Does anyone really doubt that Diego Corrales is not the best lightweight in the world or that Jermain Taylor is the undisputed Middleweight champion?

There are many divisions deep in talent but in each division, there is consensus on who are the best fighters. Obviously in an ideal world, championship belts should be decided in the ring but we don’t live in an ideal world.

Boxing has always been plagued by divisions created by various sanctioning bodies but the present era is worse simply because there are so many sanctioning bodies. There are the WBC, WBA, IBF, WHO, WBU and IBA.

Did I leave any out? It would appear that every fighter in the top of every division would soon have their sanctioning bodies endorsing them.

What is required is that pundits simply refuse to recognize sanctioning bodies and recognized the leading fighters in each division. The boxing polls are a start but they are subject to the opinion of writers.

The use of computerized programs can be added and certainly, a future system can combine the various polls and actual records to determine who should be ranked on any given month. These ideas have been floating out in the boxing world for years.

At the turn of the last century, there were no sanctioning bodies and fights were made as much due to public demand as anything. Both Jess Willlard and Jack Dempsey took considerable time off while many contenders waited. The good news is that in today’s boxing world, a champion can’t take a couple of years off to travel around the world.

The bad news is that many sanctioning bodies demand that their champions fight their mandatory challengers, even if the challenger in question may not qualify. One of the biggest obstacles that boxing faces is that no boxing fans know who are the true champs in each division.

Boxing resembles Professional wrestling in that there are so many belts that no knows who is the champion of what.

Larry Merchant’s recently implored for fans to forget the sanctioning bodies and concentrate on the fighters and fights. Various ranking systems from boxingranks.com, Ring Magazine and ESPN.com will give the casual fans a who’s who of the best fighters in each division.

That is a start.