Confusing nature of boxing's world championship belt system must be rectified

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For quite some time now, the boxing world has been confused by the world championship belts that reside at the pinnacle of the sport. Becoming a world champion is a professional boxer's dream and perhaps the only accomplishment parallel to winning an Olympic Gold in the amateur ranks.

Boxing's four main governing bodies - the WBA, WBC, IBF and WBO, who are responsible for sanctioning world championship fights - are often criticised for the lack of a singular world champion in a said division, as well as possibly hindering potential fights that could provide such champions.

Recently, for example, Jamie McDonnell was denied the right to become a 'unified' champion when the WBO deemed his 'regular' WBA belt not worthy of a unification fight with their champion, Tomoki Kameda.


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They fought twice, McDonnell decisioning Kameda on both occasions in 2015, but because McDonnell was only the WBA 'regular' champion, and not the 'super' belt holder, belonging to Juan Carlos Payano, the unification was prohibited.

The reasoning behind such a decision lay in the fact the WBO only wished to contest unification fights with the 'primary' titlist of a sanctioning body that allowed multiple champions in the same division, as is the case with the WBA.

In comparison, David Lemieux recently participated in a unification fight with Gennady Golovkin. Lemieux, who held the IBF world middleweight championship, fought Golovkin, the WBA 'super' world middleweight champion, and as he was deemed the 'primary' champion, the unification took place.

This remains confusing for avid fans, who look to keep up with a world championship landscape that changes too frequently. Indeed, the inconsistencies and confusing nature of boxing's championship system is alienating present and future fans, which is concerning for the sport. 

The idea of one existing world champion in each respective weight division is a concept of the past. The sanctioning body's interests and objectives too often intercept, and it is rare that the possibility of a complete 'unified' champion possessing all four alphabet belts arises.

Wladimir Klitschko held three for a considerable amount of time - the fact his brother held the other was a hindrance in providing a 'unified' world heavyweight champion. A 'unified' light-heavyweight champion was never going to exist due the promotional disputes between Adonis Stevenson and Sergey Kovalev, despite both holding all four alphabet belts between them.

Indeed, many regard 'the Ring' Magazine championship - an award bestowed on the supposed division leader - to be the greatest indicator of who is the best fighter in the division, but only four currently exist: Tyson Fury in the heavyweight division, Saul Alvarez in the middleweight division, and Roman Gonzalez and Donnie Nietes in the flyweight and light-flyweight division respectively.

Promotional disputes and sanctioning issues rarely allow such fights between division leaders to take place, and the illumination of the division leader remains clouded. 

The WBA are the sanctioning body that frequently come under the most criticism. In many divisions, such as the heavyweight, light-heavyweight and middleweight division to name but a few, there exists three distinctive 'world champions.'

Take the heavyweight division, for example. Fury holds the 'super' heavyweight world championship, Lucas Browne holds the 'regular' championship and Luis Ortiz holds the 'interim' belt.

The WBA, however, seem to create 'interim' champions when they are completely unnecessary. The WBA middleweight champion, Golovkin, has been defending his belt on an average of three times a year since 2010, and yet there exists not only a secondary belt holder in Danny Jacobs, but also a tertiary 'interim' champion in Alfonso Blanco.

The quest for sanctioning fees from their fights thus seems to be encouraging the WBA to sanction as many championship fights so as to maximise their returns. 

Admittedly, they have recently proposed several ideas aimed at reducing the amount of champions within their respective divisions. The heavyweight championship tournament aimed at determining an 'undisputed' champion will take place over the forthcoming year.

Likewise, they have also stated that WBA 'regular' bantamweight champion McDonnell must face WBA 'super' bantamweight kingpin Payano, whilst Carl Frampton, the WBA 'super' world super-bantamweight champion, must defend against their champion in recess on or before July 27, 2016.

Such rectifications are necessary and it should be deemed extremely positive that the WBA are chasing the possibility of 'unified' champions within their divisions. Technicalities sadly remain.

There is also a problem regarding the definitions attributed to champions in different divisions. Golovkin holds two alphabet belts, the WBA and the IBF middleweight world championship. Kovalev holds three alphabet belts, the WBA, IBF and the WBO light-heavyweight world championships.

Fury holds two alphabet belts, the WBA and the WBO heavyweight world championships. Golovkin is defined by the WBA as their 'super' champion, whereas Kovalev, despite also being a supposed 'unified' champion, in the same vein as Golovkin, has 'undisputed' champion status.

Funnily enough, Fury is the only out of the three that has 'unified' champion status, despite all three being technical unified champions. Is this really necessary?

This may come across as pedantic, but the boxing world needs to see the unification fights that create 'undisputed' division leaders, regardless of how many world championship belts are involved.

Boxing remains one of the purest sports in the world, if not the purest. The existence of multiple world championships within one division is annoying, but a characteristic of modern boxing.

The existence of multiple champions within the same sanctioning body's division, however, devalues the sport and diminishes the accomplishment of winning a world championship, as well as making those blockbuster unifications all the more difficult to negotiate.

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David Haye
Wladamir Klitschko
Floyd Mayweather
Manny Pacquiao

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