by Tim Harrison
Darrin “The Mongoose” Harris’ boxing career came to an unceremonious end after his July 1999 win over David McCluskey, a fighter saddled with a record of 17 wins, 59 losses, and 5 draws at the time of his defeat. 1 year later, and without another fight to his credit, Harris occupied the number 10 spot in the World Boxing Organization’s super middleweight world rankings. Only 16 months later, and now ranked at number 7 (still without another fight to his credit) Harris would pass away following an attack of meningitis.
The WBO’s December 2000 rankings had the deceased Morris ranked at the number 6 spot, moving him one step closer to a potential world title shot at then-WBO super middleweight world champion Joe Calzaghe. Morris would take another step towards a world title shot in the WBO’s January 2001 rankings, despite having been inactive since July of 1999, and dead since October of 2000.
When a small group of Puerto Rican and Dominican board members of the WBA struck out on their own in 1988, they started the WBO with high hopes and promises of running a tighter ship than their predecessors at the WBA. Embarrassing snafus such as the Darrin Harris debacle were not what they had in mind.
By November of 1988, the WBO had crowned its first world champion; super middleweight Tommy “Hitman” Hearns, who won the inaugural WBO title with a 12-round majority decision victory over James Kinchen. Marquee champions such as Nigel Benn, Chris Eubank, Dariusz Michalczewski, and Riddick Bowe gave the WBO the worldwide clout it needed to rise to prominence.
As the WBO has progressed into the 21st century, its legitimacy has grown to an extent. While it is considered 1 of the 4 major sanctioning bodies of the sport of boxing, the Japanese Boxing authorities do not recognize the WBO. Furthermore, the IBF does not factor the WBO’s rankings or champions into its own ranking system.
As detailed in our in depth look at the uncouth practices of the WBA, the WBO recognizes numerous champions per division, and has a more flexible set of rules in place to allow the naming of Super Champions. The number of Super Champions fluctuates, and currently 4 WBO champions are recognized as Super Champions: Wladimir Klitschko (Heavyweight), Manny Pacquiao (Welterweight), Juan Manuel Marquez (Lightweight), and Omar Narvaez (Jr. Bantamweight).
The decision to name a Super Champion is made by a committee of board members. A champion that has unified his title, with a long-term television contract, 10 successful defenses, quality of opposition, and extensive amateur background all can be used to determine a Super Champion.
On the surface a Super Champion is a great way to recognize the accomplishments of great champions. Unfortunately the receiving of Super Champion status allows boxers more leeway to take optional defenses while mandatory challengers are forced to wait in line. A regular champion must defend his title against a mandatory challenger within 9 months of winning the title, while a Super Champion is given 12 months. This longer waiting period also allows the WBO the chance to name an Interim Champion, creating another steady revenue stream in the process.
Interim Champions have been named in some fitting cases, as most recently seen in the light heavyweight division. WBO light heavyweight champion Juergen Braehmer won the Interim title in 2009, and was subsequently elevated to World Champion when Zsolt Erdei vacated his title to campaign as a cruiserweight. Braehmer’s first defense came in December of that year, when he scored a TKO victory over Aleksy Kuzmienski in Hungary. Legal problems kept Braehmer out of action until January of 2011, when he was scheduled to unify his title with WBA champion Beibut Shumenov. 3 days before the fight with Shumenov was to take place, Braehmer backed out of the fight, citing an injury. Braehmer also backed out of his May 21 title defense with WBO Interim Champion Nathan Cleverly – also 3 days before the bout was to take place.
Braehmer’s long period of inactivity justified the WBO’s decision to name Cleverly Interim Champion, and subsequently World Champion following their decision to strip Braehmer of his title.
Despite the correct and effective use of an Interim title, far too often in boxing, we see the egregious misuse of the same Interim titles. The WBO has fallen prey to the same lackadaisical rule enforcement procedures that forced the departure of its creators from the WBA. When Michael Katsidis (Interim Champion) and Juan Manuel Marquez (World Champion) met on November 27, 2010, the lightweight crown was to be unified. Katsidis lost by TKO in the 9th round, thus making the Interim Championship null and void.
In his very next fight, Katsidis challenged Robert Guerrero for both the WBA and WBO Interim lightweight titles, both vacant at the time. Marquez, at the time, should have been allowed a 12-month period in which to defend his WBO lightweight Super Championship. What other purpose would re-introducing the Interim Championship serve, other than creating a new revenue stream?
When Sergio Martinez defeated middleweight kingpin Kelly Pavlik in April 2010, he won the WBC and WBO middleweight titles. Martinez already held the WBC jr. middleweight title, so he had the option to campaign in either division. Due to a seldom-enforced and oft-circumvented rule that states a WBO champion who wins a non-WBO championship in a different weight division must decide which division he will campaign in, within 10 days of winning the non-WBO championship, Martinez was stripped of his WBO title before his next opponent was signed.
Shortly after Martinez was honored in a ceremony at the WBO’s headquarters in May, he was told to choose between the 154 and 160-pound divisions. “I learned a while ago that these organizations don’t give you a belt,” Martinez said, “They loan it to you. When they elect to take it back, they take it back. I thank them for the opportunity to win it and to hold it, but there is nothing I can do about it if they want to take it back. They can match whoever they want below me [for the vacant belt], but in my view, that winner can’t truly call himself a champion.”
The by-law in question, WBO Regulations of World Championship Contests, Section 15, sub-section c, is one that is often excepted when a fighter petitions for more time to decide on his weight class going forward. Martinez was formally stripped on June 1, and by the end of July two unheralded prospects, Danny Jacobs and Dmitry Pirog fought for the vacant title.
Later that same year, WBO welterweight champion Manny Pacquiao moved up one division and captured the vacant WBC jr. middleweight title. More than a month had passed before his decision to move back down to the welterweight division was announced. With the recent stripping of Martinez still fresh in our minds, the WBO, as well as the mainstream boxing media looked the other way, while the highest paid active boxer was allowed to fully weigh the options before him.
If you’re wondering what Pacquiao’s earnings have to do with the WBO’s decision, look no further than his 2010 reported earnings of approximately $32 million. Pacquiao’s March title defense against Joshua Clottey netted the WBO 3% of his reported $12 million fight purse.
Check back with the Boxing Tribune for part 4 of 4, detailing the shady dealings of the IBF. If you missed the first 2 parts of this series detailing the WBC and WBA, you can read them here:
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