by Tim Harrison
Much can, and has been said of the shady practices of the sanctioning bodies that rule the sport of boxing. Greed, corruption, arrogance, and unscrupulous back-door dealings are synonymous with the four major organizations that have the privilege to crown world champions.
The World Boxing Council (WBC), World Boxing Association (WBA), World Boxing Organization (WBO), and International Boxing Federation (IBF) have had boxing in a chokehold for decades now. Working hand-in-hand with unscrupulous promoters and power players in the game, the 4 major sanctioning bodies have done their best to kill the interest of the mainstream media, as well as casual fans.
From alleged unfair, U.S.-dominant influence on the WBA in the 1960’s to the IBF’s rankings fixing scandal of the late 1990’s, to the multiple titleholders in weight classes that the sport is plagued with today, the sanctioning bodies have had a free run at the pockets of the fighters for far too long.
While it is unclear who is pulling the strings of whom; the promoters or the sanctioning bodies, it is clear that they go hand-in-hand when speaking of what is wrong with boxing today.
For those of us that hope for change in the sport, a few ideas are tossed around: a strong, authoritative central commission, promoters that have to play by the rules set forth by said central commission, and a clean and incorruptible sanctioning body to recognize true champions. We have recently seen the emergence of the World Boxing Board (WBB), based in Puerto Rico, as well as the Independent Boxing Syndicate, as detailed by The Boxing Tribune (insert link here).
For those of us that hope for real, tangible and effective change for the advancement of the sport, it is the emergence of such sanctioning bodies that inspire the fleeting moments of hope; hope that these upstarts will abide by their initial promises to return integrity and honesty to this sport that we love and fight for. We hope that our faith in the good of the promises of these upstarts will inspire real change, and will last longer than the temporary inebriation of a shot of strong whiskey.
Is it at all possible for an upstart organization such as the WBB or the IBS to come in and unseat the big boys at the table? Based on the lowered expectations of boxing fans and media alike, it is. Only time will reveal any results.
As you will read in this extensive series, the current power structure is utterly corrupt and incapable of reform. New blood is needed if we are to bring about any change to boxing. Absent any honesty and integrity, we may indeed see the wreckage of this once-great gladiator sport strewn along the dilapidated highway to irrelevance.
Depending on who you speak to, the WBC may be the worst of the bunch. Jose Sulaiman and his gaggle of “yes” men have done their best to ruin the integrity of the sport, all while fattening their wallets.
Increasing U.S. interests dominating the WBA gave birth to the WBC in 1963. Originally designed to give a more even worldwide rankings distribution, the WBC deviated from its course long ago, and finding its way back appears to be a fool’s errand for Sulaiman and crew. To the uninformed layperson, the rankings and practices of the WBC may appear right as rain. To those that actually follow the sport, serious questions have been raised.
Most recently unheralded prospect Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, the Silver titlist in the jr. middleweight (154 lb) division, was gifted the opportunity to fight for the vacant WBC jr. middleweight title. Alvarez was set to defend his Silver title in a tune-up bout with EBU welterweight (147 lb) titleholder Matthew Hatton. After a request by Golden Boy Promotions, the WBC, in a two-thirds vote, elected to put its recently-vacated title on the line between a prospect who, in his own words, was not yet ready for title contention, and a journeyman from the welterweight division. For the second consecutive time, the WBC jr. welterweight title was to be contested at a catch weight of 150 lbs (the first being Manny Pacquiao vs. Antonio Margarito, November 13, 2010).
It should be noted that Matthew Hatton’s more accomplished brother, Ricky, has a promotional deal with Golden Boy, the promoter of Alvarez. This deal does not unequivocally mean it had any influence on Golden Boy’s decision to petition the WBC, but it is worth mentioning, given the fact that Ryan Rhodes (WBC International titleholder, #3-ranked WBC contender at 154) was available at the time, and would have made a more logical choice of opponent.
If you look back less than 2 months prior to the Alvarez-Hatton farce, you will see the curious case of Sergio Martinez. In January, middleweight champion Sergio Martinez was stripped of his title in favor of Sebastian Zbik, who was quietly being put in place to defend the title he would be awarded against Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., the son of former WBC champion and Mexican icon, Julio Cesar Chavez. The WBC’s overwhelming desire to have Chavez fight for one of their titles was apparent, as evidenced by his high rankings in both the middleweight and jr. middleweight divisions, absent quality opposition on his record.
After HBO refused to approve Zbik as an opponent for his March 12 mandatory defense, Martinez was shown the door, and was subsequently “promoted” to Champion Emeritus. Some in the compliant and complacent media took the press release announcing Martinez’s “promotion” and ran with it, touting his new status as an honor and a privilege. Critical thinking remained, however, as quiet voices did their best to call attention to the possible motivation for the WBC’s actions.
Surprisingly enough, this was not the first time Martinez was given the old “heave-ho” by the WBC. Following his April 2010 victory over WBC/WBO middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik, Martinez was given a June 23, 2010 deadline to decide between defending the WBC’s middleweight or jr. middleweight titles. This took place shortly after the WBO dusted off its rule book and used a seldom-enforced rule to strip Martinez of his middleweight title.
The aforementioned Chavez Jr. lurking in shallow waters, yet still highly-ranked, may or may not have been the clear motivating factor behind the WBC’s move to rip one of its titles from Martinez’s waist. As we have watched the events unfold, it appears as though the second time will be the charm.
Shady practices have long gone hand-in-hand with bogus titles at the WBC. Champion Emeritus is one of many bogus titles recognized by the WBC.
The Silver title was created, we were told, to replace Interim titles. The Silver title first appeared in 2010, with Justin Savi as its inaugural winner. The Silver title was not received with open arms, however. In his May 22, 2010 bout with Rafael Marquez, Mexican legend Israel Vazquez rejected the opportunity to fight for the WBC Silver featherweight title, prompting an angry open letter from Jose Sulaiman, which read more like a diary entry of the head cheerleader chronicling her rejection by the Varsity Quarterback.
Despite the appearance of Silver titles, Interim titles existed until Zbik’s elevation to full champion in January, taking nearly a year to fade away. International titles, yet another title recognized by the WBC, serve a dual purpose; to give regional stars title recognition, while giving another revenue stream to the WBC.
Bogus titles certainly aren’t the only blemish on the face of the WBC. A simple review of the WBC’s rankings will reveal a number of oddities.
Former middleweight kingpin Kelly Pavlik sits comfortably in the #1 spot of the WBC’s super middleweight rankings, despite a recent, relevant fight in the division. Pavlik has 1 fight within the 161 to 168-pound range to qualify as a super middleweight; a 2008 164-pound catch weight, non-title win over Jermain Taylor. After outgrowing the middleweight division, followed by a short stint out of boxing to get a handle on a reported alcohol problem, Pavlik came back to a comfortable spot in his new weight class.
In another recent rankings head-scratcher, prior to his November 13 curb-stomping at the hands of Manny Pacquiao, Antonio Margarito miraculously shot up the WBC’s jr. middleweight rankings after a lackluster victory over welterweight club fighter Roberto Garcia. After a long stint as a welterweight, a 15-month period of inactivity (12 months of which were due to his infamous “plaster gate” suspension), and 1 fight in the division, Margarito found himself in the position to fight for the vacant WBC jr. middleweight title.
All Margarito needed was an opponent.
Enter Manny Pacquiao. Need I say more?
I shouldn’t, yet I shall.
Any sanctioning body that is able to collect 3 percent of Manny Pacquiao’s fight purse can sit back and happily count its earnings. Margarito’s surprise ranking eerily came after Martinez’s ouster from his perch atop the 154-pound WBC class, and just prior to the announcement that he would be the next lamb led to slaughter on Pacquiao’s bunny hop through the pea patch of historical significance. The prospect of collecting another 3 percent of a Pacquiao fight purse was too much to pass up for the organization, that only 1 year prior, created the WBC welterweight Diamond title exclusively for Pacquiao’s November 2009 WBO welterweight title affair with Miguel Cotto.
Further exposing the true meaning and motivation of the Diamond title, the WBC attempted to offer yet another WBC welterweight Diamond title to the winner of last May’s Floyd Mayweather-Shane Mosley fight. Thankfully both Mayweather and Mosley thumbed their noses at Sulaiman’s blinged-out vanity piece.
As an aside, Bernard Hopkins and WBC light heavyweight champion Jean Pascal elected to shell out a sanctioning fee for a Diamond title, in addition the the fee for the WBC light heavyweight title, when May 21 rolls around.
The WBC is not alone in their campaign to line their pockets at the expense of the integrity and honor of the sport of boxing. As you will see in part 2 of this series, the WBA has certainly done their share.
You can e-mail Tim with questions or comments at: firstname.lastname@example.org, follow him on twitter at: www.twitter.com/TheTimHarrison, or find him on Facebook at: http://www.facebook.com/officialtimharrison.