For fight fans, the oft-peddled sentiment that “boxing is dead” is a tiresome one. The suggestion that the sport is in terminal decline is, simply put, untrue. Perhaps a tad obviously, I point towards the staggering 4.4 million Pay-Per-View buys generated by Mayweather vs Pacquiao two short months ago.
Same Old Story
Of course, fights of such magnitude are a rare event, but boxing will always maintain the ability to draw in the casual fan on such occasions, and further will maintain the fanfare of the more steadfast enthusiast in between such mammoth clashes.
Those who forewarn the drawing of the sport’s final breaths are mainly those who see other combat sports, primarily mixed martial arts, as being a threat to the sport as opposed to complementing it.
A non-sporting hero of mine, Stephen Fry, once quipped that one technology does not replace another, but rather they complement each other – books are no more threatened by the Kindle than stairs are by elevators for example.
I would argue that the same can often be said of certain sports, particularly those with so many shared elements like boxing and MMA. No, boxing is alive as ever; it is in need of a check-up however.
Recently our very own Niall Doran wrote an informative piece on the ways he feels boxing will be different in five years time.
Amongst the forecasted improvements was the growth of American boxing kingpin Al Haymon’s latest venture, Premier Boxing Champions, which is hoped will prosper as a UFC-style organisation where the best fight the best and there is no ducking the fights that fans are calling out to see, a phenomenon which presently is an ugly blight on the sport.
Just as I believe MMA and boxing go hand in hand, so too do I believe that the potential success of Premier Boxing Champions would be well-served by the (relatively) recently founded Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, or TBRB. The TBRB is boxing Ronseal: it does precisely what it says on the tin.
The board acts as an independent provider of fighter’s rankings in a time where unbiased, independent rankings are to be found nowhere else.
In a potential situation in the future where the best fighters are fighting each other under the umbrella of one organisation, TBRB rankings would identify who should be fighting whom, and identify who is the one true champion of each weight division.
Traditionally, the Ring magazine’s fighter rankings provided an antidote to the muddled, unrealistic and inconsistent rankings provided by the self-serving major boxing governing bodies – the WBA, WBC, WBO and IBF.
These independent rankings were a much needed antidote – one need only look towards the video footage of IBF founder and former president Bob Lee taking money to provide a favourable ranking for a fighter to highlight the dangers of reliance on the rankings provided by governing bodies.
More recent ineptitudes include the ranking of Yemeni boxer Ali Raymi as no. 11 in the WBA junior flyweight rankings on June 5th of this year despite his having passed away on May 23rd. This is the second incident of its kind after the WBO moved up deceased fighter Darrin Morris in their rankings in 2000, and left him ranked for four months after his death.
However the sanctity of The Ring’s independence and impartiality was corroded when in 2007 the ownership of the magazine was acquired by Oscar de la Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions.
This was followed by a change in the Ring’s championship rankings policy which allowed those ranked at No.1 or No.2 in a weight class to fight those ranked at No.3, No.4 or No.5 to fill a vacant championship.
Too Many Belts
The landscape of championship boxing has further been polluted by our old friends, the alphabet governing bodies, by the sheer number of titles they offer. Despite the fact there are seventeen weight divisions in professional boxing, there are now over one-hundred titles up for grabs across the four major alphabet bodies, a figure which makes a mockery of the term ‘champion’.
From an fan’s perspective, it’s obvious why change is going to be a slow process.
Let’s take my own countrymen as an example: it would take either a reformer with tunnel vision or a fantastic liar to say that they did not somersault and shriek with joy when Andy Lee unloaded his eighteen punch armageddon on Matt Korobov to claim the WBO Middleweight title, or when Carl Frampton easily outpointed Kiko Martinez to scoop the IBF Super-Bantamweight title. Of course we celebrated; the words “world champion” hold a great weight.
It is this weight, this significance, that we as fans must preserve and protect, however.
Yes, let us celebrate Frampton, Lee and any other alphabet champion as the fantastic fighters they likely are. Let’s spur them on to become the genuine champions they may indeed house the potential to become.
But don’t tarnish the very notion of being a champion, the idea of being the singular greatest in one’s weight class, a title that any worthy champion will defend against any willing contender.
For no one can dispute Guillermo Rigondeaux’s claim to the super-bantamweight throne, and minus the rose-tinted glasses of patriotism it’s clear that Andy Lee slots in as the third, fourth or even fifth best middleweight in the world at the moment. Gifted, yes; champions, no.
Lack Of Main Stream Coverage
It is this mess that the TBRB, established in 2012, has tasked itself with cleaning up, and it’s clear that no corners will be cut in doing so.
As the organisation’s charter rather grandly puts it, “the gravitas of the championship will be vitiated no longer”, and as such a vacant championship may only be filled when the number one and two contenders fight. New champions may otherwise be crowned by defeating the previous champion.
Rankings are only provided for the top ten fighters in each division, and are decided upon by a board consisting of at least twenty-five members, with three chairs acting as arbitrators where necessary.
As of today, July 25th, only eight championships have been filled (which itself is indicative of the sort of problems faced by the rankings board). This clearly is a process which will take patience.
The oddity is, boxing media seem bizarrely stubborn in their refusal to promote the TBRB.
Indeed I am sure many of you, despite being keen enthusiasts, will have barely heard of the organisation. You will see the ranking board’s logo sported with pride on our own Boxing News and Views homepage, but major broadcasters like Sky and BoxNation seem to want nothing to do with it.
Never once have I heard Steve Bunce, Johnny Nelson, Max Kellerman or any other major broadcasting figurehead domestic or international even make reference to the board, save for Teddy Atlas.
There does seem to be an attitude amongst Sky Sports, Eddie Hearn et al that the more title fights on offer, the bigger the audience draw.
If this is indeed their attitude, it seems to me to be a narrow-minded approach.
After all, if recognition is only given to one true champion in each division, the best will be forced to fight the best in order to get that lucrative title shot, and we can bid farewell to the reign of the hyped-up, one-sided, tomato can fights we are currently forced to digest.
Without this crucial media support however, the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board will quickly become a ‘what could’ve been’ and boxing MMA’s corrupt cousin, lying in repose.
(Note image credit: Bemparana.com)
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