Life in the world run by the World Boxing Organisation must be a curious experience. Most of us operate only on the periphery, interested and bemused bystanders to the WBO’s alternative and parallel universe. For those dependent on the Puerto Rican sanctioning body for clarity, objectivity and consistency it must be an entirely frustrating and perplexing existence. Talented and affable Scotsman Alex Arthur is one such subject.
Speaking to Brian Donald of The Scotsman, Arthur explained that he will be waiting by his phone tonight in the hope his promoter, Sports Network, has secured the promotional rights to his clash with talented Dominican Joan Guzman for the outright WBO Super-Featherweight belt. Purse bids are opened later this evening. Outright you ask?
Well, the back story to the fight revolves around the WBO’s determination to maximise their earning potential through sanctioning fees and the titles they create beneath, or in the temporary absence of, the established champion to obtain them. Largely irrespective of the confusion they cause. In this case the creation of the Interim WBO Super-Featherweight title presently in the possession of 29 year old Alex Arthur following his respectable victory over Philadelphia based Georgian, Koba Gogoladze.
However, his status as champion is essentially meaningless given the simultaneous activity of the ‘real’ champion Joan Guzman, a gifted and rounded fighter with only inactivity as an obvious flaw. Guzman is injury prone, and equally adept at leaping divisions and his continued presence at 130 pounds was a surprise to many following victory over Humberto Soto back in November. Guzman’s first fight in close to a year.
Keeping the WBO title appears to have been Guzman’s plan B, the plan A big-money fights with Manny Pacquiao, Juan Manuel Marquez or other high profile names beyond the Super-Featherweight division failing to materialise. Even now sceptics suspect the result of the purse bid could yet determine whether Guzman makes the 130 pound limit again for a fight as low key as one with Arthur would be. This isn’t to disrespect Arthur, but he remains fathoms beneath the bigger names still circling the 130-135 pound divisions in terms of notoriety or renown and unless the pay-day is disproportionately large when factored against the risks, the prospect of Guzman travelling to Scotland for a ‘hum-drum’ defence strikes me as unlikely.
At close to 32, Guzman is overdue his major payday, though inactivity and long unexplained sabbaticals have undermined his progress and kept the high-profile fights at arms length throughout his 10-year career. It is unlikely a trip to Scotland will change that or hand him the kudos or exposure to subsequently land the big fight he craves either.
Guzman, who fought in Cardiff in 2002, is no stranger to British fans having been a contender for Scott Harrison’s WBO bauble for a period of time. Peter Harrison may claim Guzman twice ran out on fights with his son but standing back on the sideline it seemed sensible to assume Scott Harrison could struggle to be ‘fit’ to fight on the dates proposed, the reason espoused by the Guzman camp at the time of their withdrawals. A theory supported by the problems the then WBO Featherweight champion subsequently endured.
However, from Arthur’s perspective accepting the ‘full’ World title from the WBO, should Guzman elect not to fulfil his obligations, would surely prove entirely unsatisfactory and leave the proud Scotsman feeling unfulfilled. Though beating Guzman struck me as highly unlikely, I’m sure reaching for it represents the preferred path for an honest battler like Arthur. Being bestowed the belt by default – despite the Gogoladze victory in an official Interim/Vacant fight (subject to Guzman’s next move) – doesn’t quite have the same credibility for fans either. Given the belt is one of four significant belts available, and the other champions include Juan Manuel Marquez (WBC) and Edwin Valero (WBA), it is unlikely Arthur will be recognised as more than a paper-champion unless he collects the belt by beating Guzman.
For the WBO there are few scenario’s in which they lose. If the fight goes through, they get paid, if the fight doesn’t go through Arthur defends against someone else, they get paid. As a professional entity, getting paid is their primary objective which is never a reality likely to ensure 20/20 perspective on their decision making, in that respect their modus operandi is no-more flawed than more senior rivals the WBC, WBA and IBF but the WBO remain the most maligned of the big four. Despite, the WBO would presumably point out, the numerous proven indiscretions of their more long-standing contemporaries.
Placing short-term gain over the long term health of the sport appears to unite them all.
Life as a citizen of planet WBO is one of paradox. On the one hand the belt claimed is often maligned and tainted because of the machinations of the organisation, on the other without the myriad of sanctioning bodies most fighters, like Arthur, would remain a long way away from a ‘world-title’ shot – whatever that actually means these days. Arthur for example, is in truth a top 10 contender – no mean feat in itself – in a division topped by Marquez, Guzman, Valero and Pacqauio. In short, unless he can best one or more of that quartet he remains no more than a leading contender irrespective of whether he holds the WBO Super-Featherweight belt.
No matter how many belts are available, boxing fans will always know the truth.
Shame for Alex Arthur though who has done everything asked of him since his sole defeat to Michael Gomez all those years ago. For his sake, I hope tonight’s phone call brings the clarity he deserves.