Only those entirely immersed in the sport are able to negotiate the labyrinthine collection of weight classes, governing bodies and titles the sport has adopted in recent years. Designed to provide a measure of its participants’ success or failure these multitudinous belts simply add ever more tiers and layers, so the benchmarks become ever more meaningless. Even the seemingly unimpeachable concept of a fighter’s record is blighted by the need for context and understanding of the titles and belts that will adorn it.
There is no longer an available method for recognising a fight’s or a fighter’s place in the sport’s hierarchy. And there is the rub. The simplest, purest sport is now engulfed in unnecessary complication. Complication that ostracises the general public and pushes boxing further to the margins of the sporting landscape.
Evidence of this was available to all last weekend. Not in the kamikaze actions of Chisora and Haye in Munich, though their selfish quest to state or restate their significance in a forlorn heavyweight division did stink of desperation for attention, but in the triumph of Northern Ireland’s Brian Magee in Denmark.
His 36th professional victory was a significant one, a knockout of a former European Champion is never not so. A left hook to the body ended Rudy Markesson’s resistance in the fifth round, and in the Dane’s ‘back-yard’ too. The victory reaffirms Magee’s credentials as a contender in the 168lb division. A division revitalised by the two-year Super Six tourney.
For a fighter who has scrapped with Carl Froch, Lucian Bute and Robin Reid with some distinction this impetus is welcome. And in fairness, that should be the only requirement of a prizefight. It needs to be commercially successful of course, but ultimately provide progression for the victor. But beneath these timeless facts there was another line of superfluous decoration. In victory, Magee ‘retained’ his Interim WBA World Super Middleweight championship.
Now the existence, and merit, of an Interim belt is lamentable enough. Rewarding a championship of the World because the ‘real’ champion (as far as the sanctioning body in question is concerned) is unable to fight is pretty hollow but does possess a modicum of logic. Creating an Interim belt when the ‘real’ champion is fit and active but otherwise engaged in defence of the belts of other sanctioning bodies, and thus a Super-Champion, is stretching credibility way beyond acceptable boundaries.
In recent years, the Venezuelan based body the World Boxing Association (WBA) have stepped even further into virgin territory. On Saturday, Magee defended an Interim belt awarded with the current existence of a WBA Super Champion – Andre Ward, so called by the WBA because he possesses more than 1 of the 4 major belts (WBA, WBC, IBF and WBO) – and the WBA World Champion – Karoly Balzsa, a Hungarian who won the ‘vacant’ belt last August.
The sketchiness of Magee’s claim to even a portion of the world-title, if the ‘portion of the world championship’ concept is not enough of an oxy-moron in itself, is further diluted by the knowledge Magee won his ‘title’ of Interim Champion BEFORE Balzsa had won the vacated title. In summary, the WBA awarded an Interim belt with a simultaneously available vacant championship created by the elevation of its own champion to Super Champion status. With me so far?
Of course, the WBA isn’t the first body to inaugurate new belts to reward fighters for success in fights clearly not involving the top fighters in the division. The WBC recently introduced Silver Championships and the WBO have long-held Inter-Continental Championships for those outside its own top 10 to name but two examples. The WBA is not alone and naturally as a profit-making organisation it is good business to have more opportunities to collect fees for the use of their belts and titles as tag-lines for fights. It would be commercial negligence not to capitalise on this craving for titles to sell shows to television. Simple supply and demand economics.
The WBA’s Vice President, Gilberto Mendoza Jnr offers a pragmatic defence of the multiple title concept and suggests those who denigrate their existence are failing to keep pace with sports marketing or worse still are opportunists; quiet when the title suits their needs, critical when it doesn’t. The following is an excerpt from an article Mendoza Jnr penned for the WBA’s News site.
As any managerial organization does, the world sanctioning bodies must apply themselves to the fundamental objective of livelihood, which depends a lot on the ability to adapt to the new demands of sports marketing. Failing to do do, they are at risk of disappearing.
Most of the attacks on the interim champions or super champions come from the same actors with hidden interests in every situation. If they benefit they keep quiet, otherwise they raise their voices of criticism. They never worry about investigating the reasons for the existence of the aforementioned titles.
They overlook that is a way to adapt the business to the sport, as well as to guarantee activity and balanced opportunities to all ranked boxers from around the world. It is a way of balancing the talents of those who for lack of financial support have no opportunities to develop in lucrative markets. It also makes it possible to sustain the validity of boxing as a sport, seeks to popularize it, and promotes longevity and stardom in the champions, as in the case of the super champions, without intervening in their commercial affairs.
One wonders whether this bulimic appetite for ever more titles, and it is important to remember that these bodies are responding to demand, and the ensuing complication of boxing’s structure, creates a knowledge obstacle for potential audiences?
Plainly, it has to. And with a handicap like that, is it any wonder one of the WBA’s more recent ‘champions’ was swinging tripods at a press conference to get noticed?