by Fox Doucette
Quick question. What do Beibut Shumenov (in action this weekend), Guillermo Jones, Robert Stieglitz, Cornelius Bundrage, and Billy Dib have in common? If you guessed “they’re fringe contenders calling themselves world champion”, give yourself a pat on the back and a cookie.
Sechew Powell is also in action this week, fighting Gabriel Rosado for a minor trinket on the WBO ladder after halfheartedly boxing his way out of the IBF picture with consecutive losses to Bundrage and Cory Spinks. Let’s leave aside for a moment the idea that the IBF—or anyone—thinks Spinks ought to be a world champion. Not to get all Stephen A. Smith on you guys, but “Sechew Powell?! The only way Sechew Powell should have been allowed anywhere near a world championship boxing match would be if he bought a ticket, and even then you want to keep him in the nosebleed seats for his own protection.”
Beibut Shumenov is the same way, and his run to championship status has been covered by your columnist before (“For Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan”, Southpaw #6, July 28, 2011), but to recap, guy from Borat country wins a dubious decision despite a resumé that wouldn’t impress a Friday Night Fights prospect (and indeed, Shumenov defended his title on FNF when he couldn’t get any major US media outlets interested in his fights) and goes around parading his world title belt like a three-year-old cheerfully informing its mother that it has gone potty. Shumenov has done nothing to earn the merit of “world champion” beyond beating up on guys that have to pick up the slack because the real power players in the division are happy with the belts they have and don’t want to play ball with the WBA if they don’t have to.
You could almost forgive a paper champion from the WBA, though. Rightly or (more to the point) wrongly, the WBA has super champs and regular champs and it at least allows some buzz to be created when guys fight for the minor title. On fight night, casual fans get a championship atmosphere, and more hardcore boxing pundits get a reference to cite when arguing for an up-and-coming contender to fight the “real” champion. Hell, at heavyweight the WBA “regular” belt is about the only thing in anything resembling dispute and therefore the only thing that can engender real discussion above 200 pounds about anything beyond how the Klitschko brothers ran out of mortals to pummel. Down the scale at junior middleweight, Austin Trout gets a negotiating chip to work with while Floyd Mayweather gets to correctly claim he beat the real champ when he beat Miguel Cotto.
In Shumenov’s case, though, no such excuse exists. There is no WBA “super” champ at 175 and the last time that honor was contested, Antonio Tarver beat a still-spry Roy Jones Jr. in May of 2004 in what would be (though few realized it at the time) the beginning of the end for Jones as a serious championship fighter (Jones would fight only one more time for a world title, in his very next fight, losing a challenge to Glen Johnson for the IBF strap.) Shumenov is not Alexander Povetkin or Austin Trout; he is a joke who knows very well that if he fought Chad Dawson or Tavoris Cloud or even Nathan Cleverly in order to unify two belts and claim “super” championship status, he’d get his inexperienced, hasn’t-beaten-anyone brains beaten in. Just last week (and yes, it pains your columnist’s soul to admit this), we saw Lucian Bute show off what happens when you build a record and a reputation without being seriously tested then step in with a guy (Carl Froch) who’s picked better fighters than you out of his teeth in the past.
Choose any major sanctioning body and look at its history of title fights. Sometimes you get some really great scraps between really great fighters (the WBC has been a very good steward of the super middleweight crown, generally speaking.) Other times you get a “you sure this isn’t some FNF trinket?” list (the WBA light heavyweight title Shumenov holds, which hasn’t been held by a genuine champion since Roy Jones Jr. wore the strap from 1998 to 2000—and again, this isn’t because of a super champ and hasn’t been for eight years now.)
In other cases, people luck into belts; Billy Dib has his featherweight strap because Yuriorkis Gamboa vacated the IBF title because he apparently wanted to drink Gatorade rather than attend the day-of-the-fight weigh-in, which mattered to the IBF but not to the WBA. Dib fought for the vacated title, won it from Jorge Lacierva, and now gets to be that hybrid of prospect and champion that makes him a 126-pound Saul Alvarez (leaving aside Alvarez’s superior abilities as a boxer and better overall level of competition.)
Incidentally, to wrap up the list from the top of the article, Guillermo Jones is the WBA champion due mainly to being from Panama (where the WBA is headquartered) and otherwise has the same knocks against him that Shumenov does. Stieglitz, the WBO super middleweight champ, came by his title mainly because someone had to hold it since Lucian Bute owned the IBF and the WBA and WBC drew all the best fighters for Super Six, a tournament Stieglitz was and is nowhere near on the level to compete in. Same old song and dance; either “someone has to be the champ” or else someone lucks into the draw of a title without having to fight the top guys.
What’s the moral of the story here? Simple, really. Create one set of rankings with one true champ, get a strong national commission so that fighters have to work their way up the ladder and deserving fighters get title shots, and the media needs to put an asterisk next to the paper champions. On that last front at least, we can control the flow of information. What we’re going to do about the first two is an open question, but we can start by not giving Beibut Shumenov the satisfaction of convincing anyone that he’s the light heavyweight champion of the world (that would be Chad Dawson) when he fights on Saturday night.
Fox Doucette covers Friday Night Fights for The Boxing Tribune. His weekly column, The Southpaw, appears on Thursdays. Fan mail, hate mail, and contributions to the “Pay Sacha Baron Cohen to Retire Before He Makes The Same Movie Three More Times” fund can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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