I love professional boxing. But there’s no doubt it’s been in decline for quite a while. Popularity is waning and the biggest boxing events seem to involve social media celebrities in exhibition matches. However, the root of the problem lies with the greedy sanctioning bodies, and their blatant money-grubbing schemes, that have devalued the very Championships they were supposed to enhance. In this video I explain where it all went wrong. And what it would take to fix things.
Whatup nerds? I’m Jay Shareef. And today I’m talking about boxing.
Now… I consider myself to be a cultured and civilised man. So… you might imagine that I have a problem with combat sports. And honestly… I kind of do. There’s a part of me that doesn’t like the idea of people getting paid to hit each other.
But… I do like boxing. More specifically I enjoy men’s boxing. It’s my second favourite sport after football
However… It’s a sport that’s been in decline for quite a while. And today I’m going to talk about the reasons for that.
Now, some people will tell you it’s down to the growing popularity Mixed Martial Arts. And others will say it’s because of YouTubers and social media celebrities using the sport for publicity stunts.
I don’t think that’s the full story.
In fact I think the blame lies elsewhere.
There’s no doubt that MMA and the UFC in particular have exploded in popularity over the last 20 years. But fans of MMA are often fans of boxing too. It’s not a zero sum game. And… people can, and do, enjoy both of them.
I do totally understand why a lot of boxing fans are annoyed, and sometimes even angry, about YouTubers getting involved. Over the last few years we’ve seen social media celebrities fighting each other. And… I didn’t really have a problem with that.
No boxing fan actually took it seriously.
Those guys may have called themselves “professional boxers”. But… the only professional thing about it was that they were getting paid.
Everyone understood that this was basically exhibition matches.
They were creating some drama and fake conflicts online. And then… they pretended to settle their scores in a boxing ring. It was a circus show and everyone knew it. I didn’t have a problem with it.
And… even when Floyd Mayweather fought a YouTuber in an exhibition match I didn’t really have a problem with it, because they billed it as an exhibition. And an exhibition match isn’t supposed to be taken seriously.
There was nothing corrupt or shady happening there. They were up front that this was just entertainment. Nothing more.
However, there is genuine corruption in boxing. And there are plenty of shady shenanigans that have damaged the credibility of the sport. But TWO big problems loom larger than everything else. Before I can get to that I need to give you some background.
Professional Boxing used to have EIGHT weight classes. These are known as the Traditional or Glamour divisions. The idea being that boxers of similar sizes would fight each other. And it made sense. For one thing no-one wants to see a 200 pound guy fight someone half his size. It would be a total mismatch. Not to mention very dangerous.
Over the last century, however, the number of weight classes has increased to eighteen. And it may soon expand to nineteen if the WBC gets its way.
Who is the WBC? Well they are a “sanctioning body”.
As the name suggests… a sanctioning body is responsible for sanctioning professional boxing matches. And in my opinion THEY are the reason boxing is losing credibility.
Right now there are FOUR major sanctioning bodies in professional boxing:
The World Boxing Association (WBA).
The World Boxing Council (WBC).
The International Boxing Federation (IBF).
And… The World Boxing Organisation (WBO).
These four are often called the “Alphabet Organisations”.
And the championship belts they hand out are commonly referred to as “Alphabet Titles”. These organisations are also the main reason why boxing has become a bad joke.
To explain why, let’s have a quick pop quiz.
The WBA is the oldest sanctioning body. It’s now summer 2021. And the WBA is exactly 100 years old. So here’s my question: According to the WBA, which of these five men is the World Heavyweight Champion?
Is it Trevor Bryan?
Or Anthony Joshua?
The correct answer is…
ALL OF THEM!!
According to the WBA all FIVE of these men are Heavyweight Champion.
Anthony Joshua is the WORLD SUPER CHAMPION.
TREVOR BRYAN is the WORLD CHAMPION.
MAHMOUD CHARR is the WORLD CHAMPION IN RECESS.
ROBERT HELENIUS is the WORLD GOLD CHAMPION.
And DANIEL DUBOIS is the WORLD INTERIM CHAMPION.
The WBA are very bad at updating their website. Which is why Daniel still hasn’t been added to their official list online. But he’s definitely been handed the belt.
So the World Boxing Association (WBA) recognises five different men as Heavyweight Champion. And each of these “Champions” gets a title belt. And what’s even more bizarre is that most of these belts look EXACTLY the same!! The WBA are handing out multiple identical belts with “World Champion” written on them… in the SAME weight class!!
Now… most boxing pundits and boxing fans aren’t buying this. And pretty much everyone agrees that Anthony Joshua is the genuine WBA World Heavyweight Champion.
But giving out multiple belts in every weight class has meant lots of matches being billed as title fights when they don’t involve any genuine titles.
The WBA is the worst offender. But they aren’t the only sanctioning body guilty of doing this. The WBC is almost as bad. For example, earlier this year they had THREE Champions in the Lightweight division. And once again all three of them received an identical belt with World Champion written on it.
Devin Haney was recognised as the World Champion.
Teofimo Lopez was labelled Franchise Champion.
And Ryan Garcia was Interim World Champion.
This was made worse because the WBC wouldn’t say whether Franchise Champion was higher than World Champion. At times the WBC acts like the Franchise belt is the highest title. And at the same time they pretend that the World Champion title is just as legitimate.
It gets worse though. The WBC also hand out various other belts. The most common being the WBC “Diamond Belt”. That’s not so bad though. Because that’s not really a title. In reality it’s just a trophy. And they hand it over to the winners of historic fights between great champions.
So… what about the other two sanctioning bodies? Well thankfully the WBO and the IBF are not quite as shady. The WBO occasionally recognises Interim Champions, but that’s quite rare. And the IBF never has more than one Champion per division. So, ironically, the younger sanctioning bodies are behaving in a more dignified way than the older ones.
But these kinds of shenanigans are exactly why boxing has become a joke. Handing out meaningless title belts and inflating the number of weight classes has effectively watered down the value of being a World Champion.
So there are two obvious questions.
Why have they done this?
And why won’t they fix this?
The answer can be summed up in one word: MONEY!
The reason for all these shenanigans is pure and simple greed. Here’s how it works…
Every fight has a “purse”. The purse is the total amount the two fighters get paid. Basically it’s their guaranteed prize money for taking part in the fight.
How they split the purse depends on the circumstances. If the two fighters are of a similar credibility then they might agree to split the purse 50-50.
However, if you have a superstar fighting a low-level opponent then the big name will usually get the lion’s share. And you may end up with a 90-10 split.
Now that might sound unfair. But for the low-level fighter that 10 per cent of the purse could be the most money they’ve ever made. 10 per cent of twenty million dollars is still two million dollars.
Anyway… The point is this: Every time an Alphabet Body sanctions a TITLE fight they are entitled to a percentage of each fighters purse. Commonly they will take 2 to 3 per cent of each boxer’s title fight prize money as a “sanctioning fee”. However they can only take a percentage IF it’s a title fight. So… the best way for them to make MORE money is to collect MORE sanctioning fees.
But the only way to get more sanctioning fees is to have more TITLE fights. And you can probably see where this is going…
The more weight divisions we have the more titles they can hand out. And if they go further and create multiple belts for each division then they can have even MORE title fights.
This has led to some bizarre situations. For instance, the WBA currently recognises 55 different champions across 17 weight classes. That’s more champions than ALL the other alphabet bodies put together. That’s beyond a joke.
Another joke – albeit a bad one – was the creation of the WBC Franchise Champion.
You see, the way boxing is supposed to work is that every sanctioning body has league table for each division. They keep a list of the best fighters. And… the guy at the top of that list is known as “The Mandatory Challenger”.
So, for example, if you are the IBF Heavyweight Champiom then you will be told by the IBF to fight your Mandatory Challenger. If you refuse then you’ll be stripped of the title.
And this is really important. Without Mandatories a Champion could choose to fight low-level opponents for years. Mandatories exist to ensure that Champions don’t just sit on their titles forever.
Mandatories keep titles active.
That’s… the theory. But as you can probably guess some of the big-name fighters and their promoters have tried to subvert the system. Basically they’ve put pressure on the sanctioning bodies to delay and even avoid Mandatories.
Many of the most egregious examples involve the WBC.
Deontay Wilder was perhaps the least talented Heavyweight Champion in boxing history. He knew it. And all his people knew it. The number one Challenger for Wilder’s WBC title was Dillian Whyte. A very high-risk fight for Deontay. And Dillian White was number one on the WBC heavyweight rankings for more than a thousand days. During which time the WBC never ordered Wilder to fight Dillian White.
Now was that thanks to pressure from Wilder’s side?
I’ll let you decide that for yourself.
Anyway… that isn’t even the worst example of WBC Shenanigans. Which brings us to the WBC Franchise title. Which was a truly despicable money-grabbing move by the World Boxing Council.
You see… Vasyl Lomachenko was the WBC Lightweight Champion. But Lomachenko didn’t want to fight his Mandatory challenger Devin Haney. The WBC should have stripped him of his title. But Loma was a boxing superstar who made a lot of money.
If the WBC stripped him of his title they would lose out on the fat sanctioning fees they got from his fights. So they found a workaround.
Loma was given the WBC Franchise title at Lightweight. And the WBC declared that the Franchise Champion doesn’t need to fulfil any Mandatories.
And at the same time they elevated the Interim Lightweight Champion Devin Haney to WBC World Champion.
This was great for the WBC. They could keep collecting sanctioning fees from Lomachenko’s fights.
And it was great for Loma because he got to duck a dangerous opponent.
It wasn’t so great for the fans though. And it was bad for Devin Haney too. He wanted to fight Loma and prove to everyone he was a legit Champion. The WBC denied him that opportunity. They gave him the title. But it was now a title that they’d just devalued.
As it happens… karma is a bitch!
The WBC had previously implied that the Franchise title was a permanent designation. Basically, they told Loma he’d be Franchise Champion for life.
And then… they changed their tune.
So… when Loma lost to Teofimo Lopez the WBC handed the Franchise belt to Lopez.
But this only led to further confusion.
Traditionally, if you have more than one title in your weight class you’re referred to as a “Unified Champion”. And if you are recognised as Champion in your weight class by all major sanctioning bodies, then you are the “Undisputed Champion”.
Lopez was now recognised as Lightweight Champion by the WBA WBO and IBF.
And the WBC referred to him as Franchise Champion.
He was definitely a Unified Champion. But the boxing world wasn’t sure whether he was the Undisputed Champion.
Lopez, naturally, claimed to be the Undisputed Champion.
Strangely, the WBC also referred to him as Undisputed Lightweight Champion. However, when you visit the WBC website, The Lightweight section has a massive photo of Devin Haney!! With Teofimo Lopez listed underneath him.
As a result, very few people are willing to accept Lopez as Undisputed. Even though he probably deserves that status.
So, for the sake of collecting more sanctioning fees, the WBC has basically screwed over BOTH Haney and Lopez.
Of course, all these shenanigans are just the tip of the iceberg. The WBA, WBC and WBO have throughout their histories made some very questionable choices with their rankings. It seems that fighters managed by certain boxing promoters get pushed up the rankings very fast when they don’t deserve it.
Just in the last year Don King managed to get several of his fighters ranked very highly by the WBA, even though they had dubious records. And, despite losing badly to Joe Joyce, Daniel Dubois was immediately given the opportunity to fight for the WBA Interim World Title.
It seems that your previous record in the ring doesn’t matter much. As long as you’ve got a wealthy or influential promoter backing you the sanctioning bodies are willing to rank you highly.
So… What can be done?
Is there anything that CAN be done?
As it happens… YES there is.
But let’s be realistic.
There’s no way the sanctioning bodies will reduce the number of weight classes. In fact, it’s likely they’ll add even more weight classes as time goes on. However, it’s quite possible that the number of titles in circulation could be cut down significantly.
As I mentioned the WBA has more titles in circulation than all the other Alphabet bodies put together. And in the last year they’ve done some very dubious things at the behest of powerful promoters. As a result, The World Boxing News website chose to stop recognising the WBA as a legitimate sanctioning body.
And then, one week ago, Chris Mannix on DAZN had this to say:
“The WBA’s relationship with boxing is parasitic. They are fee-gobbling bloodsuckers who have done nothing but damage this sport. And, until they clean it up, boxing would be a lot better off if all the fighters with WBA belts throws those belts in the trash.”
It was a brutal assessment. And it happened on one of the most powerful boxing broadcasters in the world.
Within days the WBA announced that they would take action. They promised they would cancel ALL Interim titles. And that, going forward, they would not treat the Gold Title as a World Title. So, in future, the Gold belt would get you ranked in the Top Ten/Fifteen. And nothing more. Essentially, the Gold Titles will now have a similar status to regional titles.
So… is this good news?
Well… this is the WBA promising to reduce the number of “Champions” from 55 to a mere 31. It’s definitely a positive step.
But… there are a couple of things worth keeping in mind.
Firstly, even with these changes they still have the possibility of three different Champions per weight class. So, in the heavyweight division the WBA still recognises:
and Mahmoud Charr
The second concern the experts have is a feeling of déjà vu. Because this isn’t the first time the WBA have made such promises. Back in 2016, the WBA told the world a similar story about their plans to reduce the number of titles that they handed out. And then they did the exact opposite. So there’s some justified cynicism about the WBA’s promises.
It’s also worth noting that, even though the WBA have said they will no longer recognise Interim Champions they did add a caveat. Basically, they said they might do it again “in extreme circumstances”. And I expect that, the next time some powerful promoter pressures them, they’ll cave and re-instate the titles they’ve just promised to abolish.
Maybe I’m being too cynical. Time will tell.
Hopefully, the WBA will keep their promise. And, hopefully, the WBC will agree to take similar action as well. But… I’m not holding my breath.
Anyway… That’s all from me. I hope you found this illuminating. I’ll be back with another video very soon. Later nerds.