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Why is it so hard to have undisputed boxing champions?

By Chris Summers
BBC Sport

Boxing fans have been yearning for years for a single champion in each weight category but with four main governing bodies - the WBA, WBC, IBF and WBO - there seems little chance of it happening. What can be done?

(L to R) Devon Alexander, Amir Khan, Timothy Bradley
Who's the champ - Alexander, Khan or Bradley?

Amir Khan said recently he intended to become the undisputed light-welterweight champion by "unifying the title".

But he is one of three recognised world champions at his weight, the others being Timothy Bradley and Devon Alexander, and the chances of unification are mired in boxing politics.

Unlike most sports, there is no single governing body which decides the rules in boxing, markets the sport and looks after its long-term future.

WBA (World Boxing Association) - previously known as the National Boxing Association, it was formed in 1962 in the US but is now based in Panama
WBC (World Boxing Council) - formed in 1963 and based in Mexico. Run by Jose Sulaiman since 1975
IBF (International Boxing Federation) - created in 1983 after Bob Lee lost out in bid to become WBA president. Lee was convicted of racketeering in 2004. It is based in New Jersey
WBO (World Boxing Organization) - split off from WBA in 1988 and is based in Puerto Rico

The WBC and WBA date back to the 1960s and two more governing bodies, the IBF and the WBO, subsequently came into existence.

In some weight categories there are now four world champions, and that is not even including the IBO or the WBU belts, which remain fringe prizes.

The motive for the proliferation of these organisations is money. Each body charges a sanction fee - many thousands of pounds - to allow a fight to take place for their title.

Tris Dixon, editor of Boxing News, says: "A lot of it boils down to greed. None of these organisations are willing to work with each other because at the moment they each get a slice of the pie."

Unlike tennis - where there is a single set of world rankings - in boxing each body has its own world rankings, which rarely include the champions from other bodies.

The WBC does not even have WBA champion David Haye in its top 40, while the WBA ignores both Vitali Klitschko (WBC and WBO champ) and his brother Wladimir, the IBF title-holder.


In 2001 the WBO was ridiculed after it admitted it had twice moved super-middleweight Darrin 'The Mongoose' Morris up its rankings despite the small matter of him being dead.

WBO president Francisco Varcarcel said at the time: "We obviously missed the fact that Darrin was dead. It is regrettable."

Dixon says: "You've also got 'interim' champions and 'super' champions and the whole thing is a big convoluted mess. We need someone to take the bull by the horns and do something about it."

American promoter Lou DiBella said: "Boxing has become marginalised, especially in the United States, where the public don't know 90% of champions. We need unified champions who will have name recognition."

Joe Louis and Max Schmeling before world heavyweight title fight in 1938
Things were so much simpler in the old days...

DiBella, whose fighters include Paulie Malignaggi, Andre Berto and Sergio Martinez, said: "The problem is that, unlike other sports, there is no governing body looking after the long-term interests of the sport. Boxing is lacking a long-term strategy. We have not adjusted to the 21st Century.

"There are four major competing bodies who don't rank each other's champions and by definition they are not a unifying force."

DiBella said he liked unification tournaments, like the current Super Six among super-middleweights, but he said the problem was that the winner would only be a unified champion for so long before one or other of the governing bodies was persuaded to strip him and create a new champion.

British promoter Frank Warren said: "People blame governing bodies and promoters but you have got some fighters who don't want to fight the best. They just want to hang on to their title and make easy money.

Lennox Lewis holds three world title belts
Lennox Lewis was undisputed world champion for a while

"The main culprit is American TV because they are the ones who insisted on every televised bout having a title, which led to the proliferation. TV has become like a governing body itself because they are the ones who try to control the sport."

Warren said he supported unification tournaments, while adding: "The problem with the Super Six is that it takes two years and [IBF title-holder] Lucian Bute, who is not in it, would probably beat all of them."

The general secretary of the British Boxing Board of Control, Robert Smith, said: "I can't see a time when the main four bodies would merge.

"The difference between boxing and football is that we don't have fixtures. In football you know Liverpool are going to play Manchester United on a certain date. In boxing the fixtures are really left to the promoters and if the promoter has a young fighter who he wants to get established he may use an inferior title to promote his man.

"It could be argued that Ricky Hatton was helped by becoming WBU champion. It was a vehicle for getting him established and eventually fighting Kostya Tszyu.

"For the really big fights you don't need a title. Mayweather and Pacquiao will happen - there's too much money for it not to - and boxing people know they are the two best fighters in the world so it could be for the Mickey Mouse championship for all anyone cares.

"It would be wonderful if there was a governing body like Fifa but I can't see it happening."

But Dixon offers a glimmer of hope: "[American promoters] Don King and Bob Arum are in their 80s now, [WBC chief] Jose Sulaiman has been in poor health. We are about to reach a crossroads and things could be about to change. It depends on if there is anybody out there who has the vision and the gumption to make this happen."

see also
Khan planning to unify division
16 May 10 |  Boxing
Froch set to remain in Super Six
27 Apr 10 |  Boxing

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