Five Steps to a Better Boxing Future
By Lyle Fitzsimmons,
Contributing Boxing Editor
"Now the day is come/Soon he will be released/ Glory hallelujah/We're building the perfect beast."
And with those 26-year-old Don Henley lyrics swirling in my sun-scorched and sleep-deprived head, I'm back at the keyboard to consider a task whose mandate may or may not have been statistically necessitated at this point last week -- constructing the ideal sanctioning body.
Of course, as with most mandates -- be they political, popular or existential -- some dissension exists. Some insist, with varying degrees of civility and grammatical correctness, that time spent initiating a quest for an idyllic organization would be better spent ignoring the practice altogether.
They're simply unnecessary, the naysayers contend. And rather than reassembling the alphabet morass with designs on a better end product, the boards and nails should instead be tossed aside to allow the sport -- particularly the most recognized top-shelf performers -- more freedom to legislate themselves.
Just such an approach, at least according to respondent "ColWallace," was set in motion during the run-up to this spring's welterweight superfight in Las Vegas.
"If the top 10 or 15 fighters in the world boycotted these corrupt sanctioning bodies, they, along (with) their rubbishy belts and useless rankings, would all disappear very quickly. Mayweather set the ball rolling snubbing the WBA before the Mosley fight. (It) would be great if other fighters followed suit, as the only people who need these scumbag organizations to survive are the scumbags who run them."
Meanwhile, last week's case was elaborated on by another feedback provider, "Giacomino."
"The truth of the matter is each of the organizations (allows) absolutely horrid mismatches to be called 'title defenses' by their champions because they bring in sanctioning fees. Fighters can get hammered in their previous fights and still get a title shot because the promoters of a champion want a patsy to slap around to pad their fighter's record.
"At a minimum, they should ban defenses like Vitali Tajbert had in May, when he 'defended' his WBC super featherweight title against a 35-year-old Hector Velazquez who had been KO'd in his previous fight and had lost three of his previous four bouts."
In spite of warranted disgust, the latter view stops short of tossing baby out with bath water.
Rightly so, because the all-or-nothing approach that some favor simply isn't practical.
Though the "top 10 or 15" in the world are indeed able to call their shots and pick and choose titles most worthy of their wardrobes, the vast majority of active professionals -- and active amateurs aspiring to be active professionals -- are still driven by the lure of championship status.
"Any belt is good," said Kassim Ouma, a former IBF champion at 154 pounds whose bout with Keith Holmes for the lightly, if at all, regarded UBO international middleweight title was postponed in May.
And while scrapping the system entirely taps into a visceral "off with their heads" vibe now shared collectively by fans, to do so would eliminate the very prizes that guys like Ouma, Holmes and others still anonymous pursue in the shadows.
Championships, at least to the fighters, are still necessary.
If nothing else, as sort of a backstage pass to where the headline acts hang out.
According to recent heavyweight challenger Eddie Chambers, who was stopped in 12 by IBF/IBO/WBO champ Wladimir Klitschko in March, there's nothing better than winning and holding a belt or two to gain admission to the club where such trinkets are no longer valued.
"I think for a fighter that is just coming up (winning a title) is important, but for an established fighter not so much," he said. "Because he is now more of a household name and therefore, a star, and 9he) doesn't really need any belt to solidify him."
Still, it'd be best for everyone to reach a place where Chambers' logic falls flat.
So perfecting, rather than discarding, the title mechanism really should be the goal.
And in this corner, that process begins and ends with rankings.
As evidenced last week, the presence of the 49th- and 76th-best fighters in a given division's championship bouts -- not to mention two others not included in an impartial top 100 -- is proof positive that the existing structure is flawed beyond repair.
Regardless of circumstance, mismatches like that shouldn't happen. Problem is, short of voluntary business dissolutions in San Juan, Panama City, Mexico City and East Orange, the changes needed are neither likely nor would they come quick.
Given that reality, creating a scenario where the so-called majors can exist simultaneously for the betterment of the sport is just as important as improbable pie-in-the-sky fantasies where we all wake up one day and they've all disappeared.
So long as that doesn't happen, the rest of us need to be prepared with options.
That said...here are five of mine:
- If You Ignore it, Maybe They Won't Come After All: Fans, analysts, countrymen...don't acknowledge anything other than the basics. Concurrent fights between contenders are just that. Not interim title fights or title eliminators. Diamonds may be a girl's best friend. But they've got no place in boxing. As for the media, anyone acknowledging such imposters should be subject to permanent credential suspension.
- A Common Set of Rankings: Rather than a half-dozen groups with a half-dozen Top 20s, how about one unified set compiled either by a disinterested machine or a media consortium not wholly owned by a promotional company? Let the sanctioning bodies pluck their challengers from a common list, at least moving toward a guaranteed legitimacy for all participants in title bouts.
- Mandatory, But With a Twist: Require incumbents to defend twice per year, once against a common No. 1 -- or highest available -- and once against a Top 10 foe. If a champion elects to fight more in a year, other opponents should be chosen at his whim. An anonymous hometown kid, a big-money foil 25 pounds lighter...makes no difference. And anyone who can win multiple titles and meet defense requirements in multiple classes, go right ahead.
- Catch This: Weight-class boundaries need to be non-negotiable. If a fighter chooses to defend his title two pounds lighter than the limit, so be it. But no title match should be sanctioned "requiring" any fighter to come in at anything other than established weights. Erase this silly promotional loophole and watch how quickly the post-fight "Waaaah...this is why my favorite guy lost" threads dry up.
- Technological Superhighway: If the World Cup has shown nothing else, it's that sports with a built-in feasibility for instant replay ought to use it. Replay should be used to determine whether cuts are caused by punches, and, if protests are filed over controversial scoring decisions, it should be employed to give three separate arbiters a chance to uphold or vacate the verdict. If it's the latter, a rematch should be immediate.
Got some of your own? Let's hear them.
Who knows, maybe someone's listening.
And even if not, just think of the catharsis.
* * * * *
This week's title-fight schedule:
Last week's picks: 0-0
Overall picks record: 207-72 (74.1 percent)
Lyle Fitzsimmons is an award-winning 21-year sports journalist, a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and a frequent contributor to sports radio talk shows throughout the U.S. E-mail him at email@example.com, follow him at twitter.com/fitzbitz and read more at fitzbitzonfights.wordpress.com..