Crusading for simplicity and...(gasp!)...integrity
By Lyle Fitzsimmons,
Contributing Boxing Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Every couple of days, there's something else.
Another of my colleagues in the boxing media business -- be they friend or foe in terms of affiliation -- comes out with an online or print opinion that laments the existence of sanctioning bodies and the often-dubious role they play in our sport.
It's always easy copy. And it's generally pretty justified.
The premier target of late has been the World Boxing Association, whose interpretations of words like "world" and "interim" have changed from scenarios involving championship injury or layoff to ones simply involving extra sources from which to siphon sanctioning fees.
Specifically raising ire this time is a Friday night bout between unbeaten Cuban import Yuriorkis Gamboa and 33-fight veteran Jose Rojas -- billed by the Panama-based group as an "interim" championship event in the featherweight division.
The collective disgust is nothing personal against Gamboa. He's shown talent and mettle over 14 pro fights in various splashes across American cable TV. And it's not an indictment of Rojas, in spite of his six career losses and winless record (0-3-1) in four previous WBA title bouts from 1997 to 2007.
Whatever chasm exists between the two men will be determined in the ring.
As it should be.
Rather, the angst stems from the WBA's convenient ignorance of its own rules, which state an interim bout need only be staged "when a World Champion is unable to defend his title within the prescribed time periods for debilitating medical reasons, legal reasons beyond his control, or any other justifiable reason."
For the record, WBA champion Chris John defended against Rocky Juarez on Feb. 28 in Houston and appeared little worse for wear afterward. And he's said previously that he plans to fight at least four or five more times -- the next one expected to be a Juarez rematch in June -- to establish himself as an all-time great before considering retirement.
No debilitating medical issues. No legal concerns beyond his control.
And no justifiable reason, outside of a blatant Central American cash-grab, that is, to add another interim figurehead to the bloated roster of 24 champions -- super, world, unified, interim and in recess -- already in place on the WBA's official Web site. Ironically, right alongside the tab marked "regulations."
At best the WBA's behavior is laughable and self-serving.
Across the board it's asinine and ridiculous.
And according to any objective colleague or informed competitor, it's destructive.
What's worse is that it's hardly an isolated instance.
Each of the other sanctioning bodies deemed "major" -- the WBO, IBF and WBC to be specific -- have built similarly muddled structures that approach the weighty excess their friends in Panama City possess, combining to recognize 54 champions where far fewer would suffice.
Not to mention the ever-present behind-the-scenes political intrigue.
In East Orange, an indefensible act is on the horizon regarding IBF 147-pound incumbent Joshua Clottey -- who's being strong-armed into a mandatory defense in spite of a signed deal to both unify and clarify the division with WBO champion Miguel Cotto.
And similar antics are reportedly afoot in Mexico City, where the WBC is issuing an ultimatum to 140-pound kingpin Timothy Bradley, saying he has 15 days to choose between keeping its belt or the WBO's jewelry, which he took last week from Kendall Holt.
Another day. Another head-scratcher. Another reason to stop paying attention and tune in MMA.
Sadly, though, the organizations aren't the only ones to blame.
Responsible in its own way for the title-belt quagmire is the very media for which I toil. A collective group that far too often, while incessantly railing about myriad problems, is far too willing to brazenly contradict itself and follow like sheep.
Oh sure, we'll point out the negatives, but when push comes to shove we'll still show up in droves to fill tables at media room buffets and chairs on press row, giving credence by association to whatever "championship" bout is being thrust upon us.
Case in point, Showtime will broadcast the Gamboa fight on its air. Announcers Nick Charles and Steve Farhood will refer to it as a title event. And myriad outlets will no doubt cover it and flock to be first to welcome the dynamic youngster to the belt-wearing fraternity -- Chris John be damned.
After all, it's still easy copy -- the journalistic equivalent of fighting "not to lose" rather than trying "to win."
Not to mention it's a lot less taxing than leading the crusade.
But guess what, folks...today I woke up in a crusading mood.
Now before I hurt myself with excessive self-congratulation for bravery, this one's not likely to cost anyone blood, land or freedom. As a matter of fact, it's all pretty simple.
All that's involved is a move away from toxic tradition and a willingness to open minds toward a new approach -- at least until it proves no better than same old, same old.
In this case, the new approach is the International Boxing Organization.
Based in South Florida as the post-retirement muse of transplanted New York attorney Ed Levine, the self-proclaimed "Champion of Integrity" somehow toils in anonymity while the sport's consensus grows increasingly dissatisfied with the aforementioned four majors.
Surely, though, by setting itself apart with a catchy tagline and computerized rankings system -- not to mention open financial ledgers -- the IBO has done little to warrant removal from consideration by media and others as a viable option when discussing ways to clean up a glut of titles.
Yet whenever a roll of champions is called, those wearing its belts are often unsung.
Part of the reason, no doubt, lies fairly in the fact that some IBO champions -- middleweight Daniel Geale, super middle Sakio Bika and super fly Zolile Mbityi, for example -- are considered a steep drop from the true elites in those divisions, namely Kelly Pavlik, Mikkel Kessler and Vic Darchinyan.
But such anomalies would be cured quickly if IBO belts became more valued by experts, automatically making the men holding them legitimate targets of fighters -- perhaps markedly better than the status quo in those cases -- desiring to be deemed a specific division's "true" world champion.
To steal a line from my good friend James Earl Jones: "If you recognize it, they will come."
And that's precisely where media and fans can kick-start the process.
After all, it wasn't all that long ago -- 2004, in fact -- that Antonio Margarito and Joe Calzaghe were unknown WBO titlists largely ignored by the boxing mainstream. By 2007, though, after finally getting chances to meet career-defining foes, they were popping up on Top 10 pound-for-pound lists.
Geale takes a baby step in that direction when he risks his crown against former two-time WBA belt-holder Anthony Mundine next month in Australia. With a win, he's 22-0 and a force to be reckoned with. With a loss, the belt becomes property of a successful veteran with obvious "street cred."
Either way, the IBO gains valuable traction.
As for other divisions, many are already taken care of.
Nonito Donaire is an undisputed world elite at 115 pounds while wearing the IBF strap alongside the IBO's and remaining the only man on the planet with a victory over Darchinyan.
Chad Dawson maintains the same dual-title honors at light heavyweight after his 2008 defeat of Antonio Tarver, a feat he plans to duplicate in an IBO- sanctioned return on May 9 in Las Vegas.
At heavyweight, mammoth Ukrainian Wladimir Klitschko not only holds the IBO title along with two other belts, he also remains one of the organization's most high-profile celebrants.
"I think through the years the IBO has gotten stronger and they've become established, and for writers and journalists to make lists of champions and not mention the IBO is just ridiculous," Klitschko said.
"It's not specialists or journalists that are holding the belts, it's the fighters. And the more guys like Lennox Lewis and Ricky Hatton and Wladimir Klitschko that are considered the best in their weight divisions as IBO champions, the more the IBO will become recognized."
Speaking of Hatton, he'll take part in the year's biggest fight next month at the MGM Grand, when he faces Manny Pacquiao for undisputed world supremacy at 140 pounds. A bout in which just one title belt -- guess whose? -- will be up for grabs.
For Levine and the IBO, it's an ideal time to gain brand recognition.
"Its an important event for us, no question," he said. "Maybe our biggest event ever."
Meanwhile, for boxing and its long-term future, it seems every bit as vital.
I'm no Earth-shaker by any stretch, but I'll do my bit by listing IBO title fights on the weekly schedule right alongside the others and by covering its champions with the same zeal with which I follow everyone else - whether it's Hatton, Dawson and Klitschko, or Geale, Bika and Mbityi.
And if each of my colleagues does the same over time...who knows, we might just get something accomplished after all.
Gang way, Nevada. It's high time for a crusade.
* * * * * * * * * *
This weekend's title-fight schedule:
SATURDAY IBF junior lightweight title -- Mafikeng, South Africa Cassius Baloyi (champion) vs. Malcolm Klassen (No. 1 contender) Baloyi (36-3-1, 19 KO): Second title defense in second reign; Former IBF/IBO champion Klassen (23-4-2, 14 KO): Former IBF champion; All but one career fight in South Africa
FitzHitz says: Baloyi by decision
SUNDAY IBF/IBO flyweight titles -- Quezon City, Philippines Nonito Donaire (IBF/IBO champion) vs. Raul Martinez (unranked) Donaire (20-1, 13 KO): Third title defense; Unbeaten since 2001 (19-0) Martinez (24-0, 14 KO): First title fight; First fight outside North America
FitzHitz says: Donaire in 10
IBF junior flyweight title -- Quezon City, Philippines Ulises Solis (champion) vs. Brian Viloria (No. 8 contender) Solis (28-1-2, 20 KO): Ninth title defense; Nine wins in 10 career title fights Viloria (24-2, 14 KO): Former WBC champion; Five-fight win streak since 2007
FitzHitz says: Viloria in 8
Last week's record: 3-0 (100%)
Overall picks record: 79-33 (70.5%)
Lyle Fitzsimmons is a 20-year veteran of sports journalism, a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and a periodic contributor to "The Drive with Dave Smith" on KLAA radio (am830klaa.com) and "Cold Hard Sports" on the MVN network (coldhardsports.com). Reach him via e-mail at email@example.com.