The boxing fans of long course are now accustomed to the incredible complexity of the bureaucratic machine that regulates and directs the Noble Art. Acronyms and federations that sprout like mushrooms, titles and titles with more and more fanciful names, rules in continuous evolution, often broken even by those who wrote them: generalized chaos to which unfortunately also the insiders contribute when for their own advantage they deceive the less expert fans on the value of a match, of a title or of a classification. It is not uncommon, therefore, to hear questions such as: “Why isn’t there a single world champion per category?”, “How much is an IBO ‘world’ worth?”, “What are the ‘Interim’, ‘Silver’ and ‘Franchise’ belts that we often hear about?” Let’s try to answer these and other questions with this concise guide, hoping to provide some clarity for the benefit of newbies.
The splitting of world titles: a peculiarity of boxing
One of the most marked organizational differences between professional boxing and the vast majority of other individual sports is the simultaneous presence of several world champions, each proclaimed as such by a specific federation. The reason for this peculiarity is soon said: while in other sports it is relatively easy to set up selection tournaments to crown an undisputed champion, in pro boxing, given the need to ensure a reasonable physical recovery between competitions, this is not possible and to determine who deserves the “big chance” we must resort to subjective rankings. Up to the years ’60 these classifications were compiled from journalists of great authority and they were universally accepted with few exceptions; nevertheless managers and promoters without scruples were free to do the good and the bad time and for a boxer to receive the wished world opportunity depended too much often from the “saints in heaven” rather than from the merits on the field. Think about the case of Ezzard Charles, put on hold for so long among the middle-lowers that he changed weight category, or to that of Jake LaMotta, forced to fix the match with Billy Fox in the hope to get in exchange his chance.
The four sisters (WBA, WBC, IBF, and WBO)
Although the WBC is generally considered the most prestigious of the world acronyms, the oldest one is the WBA, founded under the name of NBA (National Boxing Association) back in 1921 by the will of thirteen American states wishing to counter the growing power of the Athletic Commission of the State of New York. Already then it happened that disputes arose on the identity of the “true champion” of a given weight category. In 1962, the NBA changed its name to WBA, and one year later, the birth of the WBC gave birth to a duopoly that lasted for twenty years. Only in 1983, the IBF joined the two sisters, masters of the market, being the only one of the four to be based in the United States and having to comply with more stringent laws, it is considered the most serious in enforcing its rules. More recent is the history of the WBO, founded in 1988 by Puerto Rican Luis Batista Salas, which was initially the “cinderella” of the acronyms: the talented boxers who won the belt left it vacant in a short time to aim for more prestigious titles. Over the years, however, the WBO has managed to acquire equal dignity with the other three federations and today all four are recognized by the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
IBO: an acronym that lives of reflected light
In Italy, there has been a lot of talks recently about a fifth acronym that until recently was not recognized by the FPI, the International Boxing Organization. Let’s make a necessary premise: in countries with a great boxing tradition, this debate does not exist at all. The main international news sites such as ringtv.com or boxingscene.com most of the time dedicated to the challenges valid for the IBO title only a little more than a paragraph, deliberately omitting the word “World” in order not to confuse their readers. One of the most popular arguments among those who support the importance of this title is that it is now in possession of athletes of great fame as Anthony Joshua, Erislandy Lara, and Gennadiy Golovkin, but this thesis, if deepened, appears a bit lame. None of the champions mentioned has in fact pointed directly to the conquest of the IBO belt considering it a point of arrival: it is the federation itself to “place” its title in those major events, already decorated by other acronyms, that can make it shine “of reflected light”. The actual importance of this belt (which at the time of writing this article is vacant in 6 out of 17 categories) is therefore closely related to the value of the opponent who is defeated to obtain it but is not comparable to that of the four fundamental acronyms.
The “Interim” title: a sensible idea transformed into absurdity
It often happens that an initiative of one of the world’s federations is carried out at first with absolutely reasonable motivations, only to then lapse into absurdity. This is the case of the so-called “Interim” title, which was initially assigned when a world champion was unable to defend his belt in the time established by the rules for reasons of force majeure such as illness or injury. In these cases, it seems sensible to appoint a pro-tempore champion while waiting for the holder to be able to fight again, and then set them against each other. Unfortunately, in a short time, the “Interim” titles have flocked from every part without any impediment to keep out the real champion, with the only purpose to give a sweetener to the involved boxers and to publicize events that of “world” have only the name.
From the “Super champion” to the “Franchise champion”.
Another case of rule quickly broken by its own creators is that of the “Super champion” of the WBA. The federation based in Panama has invented this recognition with a bombastic name stating that it would have been assigned to the boxers able to reunify more world belts, in order to free them from the obligation of the official defenses that would have been superimposed to those of the other acronyms. Unfortunately, it did not go like this, and today we have several “super champions” who have not reunified a single belt. Therefore, in the categories where there is a super champion, the “simple” champions, called “regular”, are the holders of the “B” series: how can an athlete claim the title of world champion, if even the federation that named him as such does not place him at the top of its ranking? Since bad ideas often find proselytes, recently the WBA’s brilliant idea has been “copied” by Mauricio Sulaiman for the WBC, with the creation of the “Franchise” title on a similar basis.
Silver title: did you need it?
About ten years ago, the WBC added some meat to the fire with the creation of the “Silver” title. Although initially, the organization based in Mexico City had presented it as a simple replacement for the Interim title, in reality, the two awards soon began to coexist on the international scene. The Silver champion can be considered as a sort of official challenger, although the times with which he is granted the opportunity to fight for the world championship are rather variable and apparently decided with total discretion by the federation. The masterpiece of masterpieces is then the title “Silver ad interim”, assigned very rarely and for mysterious reasons, whose value is essentially null.
Let’s neglect here even more bizarre and paradoxical titles such as the WBA Gold or the WBC Diamond and let’s not go into an analysis of the national, regional, or continental awards in order not to make the discussion too heavy: to describe and analyze all the belts with which our sport is convincing, we would need a special manual and not a simple in-depth article. In any case, we hope to have cleared the field from the most common misunderstandings that those who begin to follow international boxing come across.