The Devolution of Title Belts in Boxing
What does a title mean today?
That is a tough question to answer. I can certainly tell you what it meant in the sports hey day. It meant you were the top of a division. Sure there were other guys that were good, but no one was better than you. You had the belt, you beat the best, and you had it all. It was not much different from winning a title in another sport like football or baseball. There was no disputing it; you were the best. Today is a different story though.
Does having a belt today mean you are the best in a division? Fuck no. Hell, you may not even be in the top 5 of a division and still have a belt. To have a belt in the modern world of boxing doesn’t even mean you have fought top competition. For god sakes, you can have a belt and not even fight a top ten contender. Putting it bluntly, belts mean nothing in regards to who is the best anymore.
Just a few years ago THE champion at middleweight didn’t even have a belt. Let me say that again, he didn’t have a fucking belt. That is absurd, but it is the sad truth. Belts are so worthless when determine who is THE guy in a division it’s laughable. What isn’t funny though is it is helping destroy the sport. To prove this look no further than the WBA’s announcement this week.
The WBA (World Boxing Association), one of the major sanctioning bodies along with the WBC, WBO, and IBF, announced they will be unveiling an undisputed title for the Donaire and Waiters fight. That means they will have up to FIVE belts in each division. Five fucking belts! It’s bad enough we have four major belts in each division, but for the past several years each sanctioning body has added more an more belts to each division. From super and diamond champs to regular and interim we have them all.
Now this is not meant to diminish what the belts actually mean to the fighters themselves because they are still life changing. Even winning one of these worthless belts means a fighter will make a lot more money, have better opportunities, and above all accomplished a life long goal. However, all the positive it does for the actors in this play called boxing it doesn’t excuse the overall harm they do.
At its heart a title belt is meant to represent a champion. The best. It doesn’t get simpler than that. So having four “champions”, and in most cases even more, in one division means nothing. It is completely pointless and goes against the very idea of a championship. A champion is the winner, and there can’t be four goddamn winners, this isn’t little league soccer where everyone gets a trophy. To truly understand this problem we need to go back in history to the evolution of the modern championship belt in boxing.
Before the World Boxing Council (WBC) was formed in 1963 there was really no “official” boxing belt. Various commissions had belts and there was the ring title, but none of these had the true international or championship feel until the WBC came along. For the next ten or so years the holder of the “Green Belt” was recognized as the champ of a division. Then in 1974 the World Boxing Association finally achieved international notoriety and threw their belt into the mix. Ten years later you had the International Boxing Federation come on the scene shortly followed by the World Boxing Organization, and presto you had a complete mess in boxing. Fast forward twenty years and you have 4 organizations most with multiple titles in each weight class.
The reason all this happened? Money. Organizations charge fees for fighters to fight for their belts. Usually it is a percentage of a fighter’s purse, but for bigger fights it is a flat fee. Of course boxers only will pay so much money so if the bodies want more money they simply make more belts. Thus you have this endless cycle of madness that means absolutely nothing for who the true champion really is. That’s not even including the fact that a lot of champions don’t actually lose their titles in the ring rather are stripped because they do something the organizations don’t like. If all that wasn’t enough, let’s not forget that not only are there too many belts, but every single sanctioning body is not only corrupt, but has been involved numerous scandals from selling rankings to bribing journalists.
The one saving grace we had in the sport was the Ring Magazine Title. For decades the ring title was given to the champ of a division and whoever held it was typically viewed as the undisputed champion. Over time it evolved and in many people’s opinion became even more legit. In the mid 2000’s it had progressed into the belt that could only be won if the #1 ranked guy in a division fought the #2 ranked guy. That was it. It was only for the best fighting the best. Then Golden Boy Promotions bought Ring Magazine, fired the editors, and changed the criteria to any two guys in the top five fighting. All transparency and legitimacy was gone.
Now we are left with nothing, but an “idea” of a legit champion. Instead of being able to tell the casual fan who the real champ is we have to explain that either “this guy is the champ because he beat the guy who beat the guy” even if he has no belt or in most cases simply say “there isn’t one.” Sure, more belts allows for more “title” fights which means higher ratings, but is it worth it? Are bigger ratings worth mudding the sport? Steering away causal fans who find it confusing? Making a mockery of what was once one of the most prized possessions in all of sports? I say no, fuck that HELL NO! Boxing is too great to deserve the shit they are feeding us.
Sure there have been attempts to try and bring credibility back, but they are far away from making any meaningful impact. The Transnational Boxing Ranking is a great concept, but it really lacks the following to make a difference. Unfortunately as long as the players in the sport (Promotional companies, television networks, fighters, and fans) play along in the endless game of alphabet soup championships we are destined for the garbage they gives us.