On the night of Saturday August 27, the World Boxing Association (WBA) will crown a new world champions in the heavyweight division. Alexander Povetkin and Ruslan Chagaev will fight for the WBA heavyweight title; a title previously held by David Haye, while Marcos Maidana will defend the WBA jr. welterweight title he was gifted last month. This would be great for boxing if champions did not already exist in each division. Amir Khan and Wladimir Klitschko currently hold the WBA jr. welterweight and heavyweight titles. Because each also holds another organization’s title, they have been elevated to the status of Super Champion.
The egregious use of the title, “Champion”, is a problem plaguing boxing today. The WBC (World Boxing Council), for one, recognizes World Champions, Silver Champions, International Champions, Champions Emeritus, and even the ridiculous Diamond Champions. The WBO (World Boxing Organization) also plays loose with the rules, and currently has 19 champions on their roster. The far-from-reproach International Boxing Federation (IBF) is the only major sanctioning body to recognize one champion per division.
Perhaps the biggest redundant title offender is the WBA, with 34 current and assorted champions on its roster. The WBA will add a 35th titlist to its stable when former WBA heavyweight champion Ruslan Chagaev and Alexander Povetkin fight for the right to wear a WBA title around their waist on Saturday August 27.
The WBA recognizes three champions in three separate divisions, and the world titles in the super middleweight and jr. featherweight divisions are currently vacant. Expect those vacancies to be filled while the Interim titles below remain in play, increasing the number of divisions with three champions to five.
When looking over the remaining divisions, four stand out as most likely to be expanded in the very near future.
Jr. middleweight Miguel Cotto was recently promoted to Super Champion without ever having defended the title he won via technical decision over Yuri Foreman. Austin Trout claimed the vacant WBA World Title on February 5, 2011 – five weeks before Cotto was to defend his Super Championship.
WBA rules state a champion becomes a Super Champion after ten defenses, and recent amendments allow a Super Champion to be named after only five defenses or when capturing another sanctioning body’s World Championship. An even newer amendment allows the Championship Committee of the WBA’s Board of Directors to vote on Championship statuses (and if the fancy strikes him, WBA President Gilberto Vazquez can unilaterally make the decision), which allowed Cotto, a former welterweight and jr. welterweight champion with no jr. middleweight title defenses, to be named a Super Champion.
With what are becoming the usual long periods between Cotto’s fights, the WBA opted to send him through the express lane to Super Champion so that another steady revenue stream could be tapped. And while World Champion Austin Trout’s next title defense (read, payday for the WBA) is uncertain, the WBA has sanctioned the September 21 bout between Anthony Mundine, who has fought twice in 2011 as a middleweight, and Rigoberto Alvarez for its vacant Interim Title.
Other divisions that will likely be expanded in the very near future are the super bantamweight, jr. welterweight, and light heavyweight divisions. The super bantamweight and light heavyweight divisions only have one champion each, and another profit stream – or champion, can easily and will most likely be appointed.
Former titlists Gabriel Campillo, Zsolt Erdei, and Jean Pascal sit below Beibut Shumenov in the light heavyweight rankings. With one or two more carefully planned defenses Shumenov will soon be Super Championship-eligible, and a World Champion will be installed behind him. And in the talent-rich jr. welterweight division, it only seems a matter of time before Vazquez and Co. places an Interim Title around the waist of one of its competitors.
As stated before in previous columns chronicling the WBA’s dedicated practices in profiteering, excessive champions go hand-in-hand with the corruption, greed, and incompetent regulation that have driven away casual fans and mainstream sponsors. In a sport that strives for mainstream attention, casual fans and mainstream advertisers are driven away by the major players who thrive on the fringes.
The WBA will argue that they are giving fighters a chance at recognition. That is true. If Sports Center runs highlights of next Saturday’s Maidana-Guerrero bout, the winner will be called WBA jr. welterweight champion, and “Joe the Plumber” won’t know the difference. But the hardest of hardcore fans will, and “Joe the Plumber” will eventually stumble upon the realization that Amir Khan also holds the WBA jr. welterweight title – only his title is considered “Super”.
Whoever is declared the victor between Maidana and Guerrero will carry a diminished title, in the eyes of the purists, but he will be forced to pay the same percent of their fight purse as Amir Khan or any of the other eight “Super” Champions paying up to the WBA.
If the WBA has their way, they can recognize up to 51 titlists in boxing’s 17 weight divisions. As it stands today the WBA has 34 champions. If you add in 17 more titles from the IBF, 22 from the WBC (including Emeritus Champions, but not including Silver Champions), and 19 from the WBO we will have 92 assorted and varied champions.
The WBA has said they would like to create different levels of championships, similar to Gold, Silver, and Bronze medals in the Olympics. In the end the WBA has cluttered the landscape with “Super” titles, “Regular” titles, and their “Interim” titles. No matter how they spin it, their smoke and mirrors act has left fans scratching their heads wondering why two Super Champions (Chris John and Yuriorkis Gamboa) were campaigning simultaneously, as recently as June, in the featherweight division.
What it means to truly become a World Champion has been diminished, and it shouldn’t. Should Marcos Maidana, Robert Guerrero, Alexander Povetkin, and Ruslan Chagaev be looked down upon for challenging for a world title that should not be on the table? No. Every professional boxer goes into the sport dreaming of becoming a World Champion.
Despite the hyperbole that saturates press releases and articles celebrating excessive and redundant champions, the bottom line is money is the fuel that powers this train. More champions are good for Gilberto Vazquez and the WBA, but bad for boxing.
(Update: It was announced today that the August 27 Maidana-Guerrero bout was canceled due to a shoulder injury sustained by Robert Guerrero. Click here for details.)
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