Klitschko, Haye, and the problems with Pro Boxing

As the latest attempt to arrange a fight between David Haye and one of the Klitshkos seems to have gone off the rails, almost inevitably you can hardly move on Boxing sites for people trying to shift the blame on one side or the other. One Article on East Side Boxing however got it spot on for my money by pointing out that this is actually symptomatic of the state of Heavyweight Boxing – that it is essentially stagnant, with too many title-holders and too little action amongst the boxers wanting a shot as they know that all they have to do is wait. Of course, the article has been quickly over-run by comments that don’t get it and instead go back to the old partisan approach of being for one guy and against the other. I suppose I should give my own opinion on what’s going on, and that is that Wladimir and his camp are being somewhat too demanding, possibly because they are used to being able to dictate terms and are somewhat taken aback at someone not just falling into line. The argument runs that Wlad needs a tune-up before taking on Haye; so he is trying to insist on a date in Early July in order to take on Derek Chisora at the end of April. The problem is that there is no guarantee that Wladimir will actually beat Chisora; if the admittedly long-priced outsider can somehow get lucky (and it’s not impossibly, just unlikely) then he will almost certainly be tied up by the rematch clauses that he revealed were in the contract he had previously agreed. So Haye would then be left without an opponent for July, and with the real prospect of losing his title for not taking on Ruslan Chagaev, his mandatory challenger.

The article on East Side Boxing points out that the Heavyweight Division is essentially stagnant as there are also few fights between the contenders trying to get a World Title shot. With three title-holders, you can expect 4-5 World Title fights per year; all a contender has to do is wait their turn, and in the meantime take safe fights. This will only change if there are fewer titles to go for; but with the Klitschkos highly unlikely to face each other and a unification bout with Haye looking dead in the water, anyone in even the Top 20 knows that they will probably get a chance sooner or later. Wladimir’s choosing of the unheralded and certainly inexperienced at World lever Chisora proves this.

Partly it has to be said that the problem is that the Klitschkos have dominated the division and this isn’t an article about slagging them off; their application and skills have made them worthy if not always appreciated champions and the top 10s of the various organisations are littered with fighters that have already faced one or both brothers and lost. My purpose here is not to demean their abilities.

For me the problem is that there are just too many champions, and the sport is devalued as a result. I’ve been watching boxing long enough to remember the emergence of the WBO as the fourth major sanctioning body, and even the first few years of the IBF becoming established as the third. Then there’s The Ring Magazine’s title to make five. That’s before you even reach the Alphabet Soup of other sanctioning bodies that recognise “World” champions.

Add in that each body may also have other designations such as “Super Champion”, “Silver Champion” and “Interim Champion” and it becomes a confusing morass that sometimes feels like it means the only fights that aren’t for some sort of World Title are those that happen in a pub on a Friday Night. It’s great for promoters, but for those who aren’t hardcore boxing fans it just devalues the idea of a “World Champion”.

It’s not just at Heavyweight where the problem lies. Manny Pacquiao is without doubt a tremendous fighter and has a good claim to be the Pound-for-pound best in the world – most fans go for either Pac-man or Floyd Mayweather. But several times, he has changed weight division and his first fight there has been for a World Title – most recently, for a vacant title. Did he really deserve to be ranked as a contender in a division he had never fought in before? For that matter, did his opponent (Antonio Margarito) deserve a title shot at that weight either? The suspicion is that it was a convenient belt made available by an organisation (the WBC) that was happy to help someone who had already held several of their own titles at other weights.

Even when titles are unified, you can bet that they won’t stay so for long; one body or another will strip someone because they didn’t fight their mandatory contender ahead of another organisations, and so the belts get shared out again.

How can you stop this? The short answer is that you can’t. Just as turkeys won’t vote for Christmas (or Thanksgiving if you’re a stray American) the various sanctioning bodies – most of which have been formed by breakaways from one of the others – are unlikely to decide to combine. However until they do – or some other way is found of establishing the true number one in a division – boxers and their managers and promoters will continue to make a mockery of the idea of a World Champion.


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