Too many champions in boxing today and the myth of one champion per division…

A rallying call that is often raised in boxing media today is that there are too many champions and we need to return to the “good ol’ days” of one champion per division. At first glance that makes sense. After all, isn’t it confusing that we can have four (or more) recognised world champions in a weight class? That there can be a WBO Champion, an IBF Champion, a WBC champion and a WBA champion? How about a RING champion? Or a Transnational Boxing Ratings Board champion? Or the host of minor champions… IBO, WBF, WBU? Surely they must be running out of acronyms soon? And that’s without looking at the fact that each sanctioning body can have multiple champions in a weightclass… super belts “normal belts”, interim belts, diamond belts…

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It’s clearly a mess. And I fully understand why people want to go back to the old days when there was one champion. We all knew how it worked then. And I sort of agree… albeit with one rather large caveat.

It isn’t true.

This article is based and inspired by an article from the Queensbury Rules blog, courtesy of the Guardian, relating to the Transnational Boxing Ratings Board. You can go to the above Guardian link and see a rough version of these thoughts in the comments. I should stress here that I’m certainly not criticising the TBRB. They have the best intentions, a selection of reputable members and I wish them well in their attempts to supplant (the these days rather underwhelming) RING rankings as the chief independent arbiter of independent boxing rankings. I disagree with some of their analysis of quite who should be champion but that does not impact on my appreciation of their work and to their credit they have, as far as I can see, avoiding the temptation to hark back to that nostalgia driven past of one champion per division. But it is seemingly inevitable these days that whenever the concept of one champion-per-division is raised, it is not long followed by a reference to how things “used to be”.

And things weren’t like that.

To give a very brief overview of the situation today, there are four major sanctioning bodies (the above mentioned WBA, WBC, WBO and IBF) who are recognised as having the ability to award world titles. As such a boxer who holds one of their belts is generally able to call himself a world champion. These bodies can also award multiple belts per division, normally a “normal” title, an interim belt (where a champion has not faced the number one contender but has not been stripped) and a “super” belt for when a champion defeats and unifies with another world title holder in the same division. In addition RING magazine awards a “RING Title”, an honorary title in something resembling a lineal fashion and holders of the RING title are generally considered a world champion.

Frankly, it’s somewhat confusing just to type and I haven’t even scratched the surface of it. Boxing politics is normally a cesspit and the sanctioning bodies are up to their neck in filth. There’s no doubt it can be very confusing for someone new to the sweet science.

But the issue is things have always been like that. There have virtually always been multiple bodies who sanction “world title” bouts.

The Police Gazette once held the same amount of respect as the RING does when it comes to determining a world champion. The RING has done so for much of its existence. The National Boxing Association (the forerunner to the WBA) had champions. The American Boxing Association had champions. The National Sporting Club had a world champion. The International Boxing Union had a champion. Even regulators were in on the action… the New York State Athletic Commission had world champions up to the 1960’s, the British Boxing Board of Control sanctioned world title bouts, the California State Athletic Commission had world champions, other states and countries had their own world champions. Sometimes a champion who had retired designated that the world champion would be the winner of an upcoming bout and at other times promoters simply invented a world title for their boxers to compete for. You can even look to the earliest days of boxing where there was a “coloured world champion” and a “white world champion” in addition to the above.

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One can see this confusion right at the start of modern boxing history. Today we look back and consider the transition to be relatively smooth; John L. Sullivan to James J. Corbett to Bob Fitzsimmons. But if we look at reports from the time the picture is far more cloudy. At the time the likes of Peter Maher, Frank Slavin, Peter Jackson, Tom Sharkey, and Fitzsimmons (before beating Corbett) all won bouts for the “world heavyweight championship” and were all backed by respectable organisations and bodies. Who was the champion in 1895… Corbett who held the lineal title? Fitzsimmons who had beaten Maher, who himself had won a version of the heavyweight title when Corbett announced his retirement and gave his blessings to the Maher-O’Donnell winner as his successor? Peter Jackson, who took over the Police Gazette’s claims after beating Frank Slavin (remembering that at the time the Police Gazette was viewed as being able to determine the world champion)? If one were to track down reports of the eventual Fitzsimmons vs Corbett bout you’ll find the newspapers and scribes almost equally divided with regards to who was “the” champion going in… and after Sullivan announced his retirement in 1891 then there were a large number who thought the “champ” was Peter Jackson after he defeated Slavin for Police Gazzette recognition.

These days Sam Langford is regularly considered the greatest boxer never to have won a world title and a man who was frequently denied even the opportunity to even box for them. But at the time he won “world titles” in at least three seperate weight classes. As a perfect example, consider the scene in December 1913, Paris. Today, we look back and consider Jack Johnson’s bout against Battling Jim Johnson as the lone contest for the world heavyweight title at that time. But if we were in Paris in December 1913, then wouldn’t we consider Sam Langford’s victory over Joe Jeannette a world title bout? After all, the Langford/Jeannette bout had the blessing of the French boxing authority (something the Johnson bout a few weeks earlier didn’t) and was also legitimised the IBU which in turn was supported by the major regulators (which the Johnson bout again wasn’t). In addition Langford won world titles recognised by the IBU and NSC across multiple weight classes. During that same 1913-14 period the likes of George Chip, Jack Dillon, Jeff Smith and Eddie McGoorty (as well as a number of others) could all claim to be “the” middleweight champion and have a reputable body back their claim.

The situation continues into the 1930’s. The history books say that Schmeling was “thechampion after defeating Sharkey in their first bout… but what they don;t say is that NYSAC stripped him due to the controversial nature of the bout and ending as well as his refusal to have an immediate rematch and instead held the winner of Sharkey vs Carnera to be the world heavyweight champion… as can be seen here. A similar situation appeared shortly after; the history books tell us that Louis beat Braddock who beat Max Baer beat Carnera. But at the time the IBU recognised Schmeling as the champion on the basis that Braddock and his team backed out of a signed agreement to face Schmeling and that the German had already defeated Louis, as can be seen here. That article also touches on another controversy; the IBU had previous removed recognition from Baer due to him not facing their number one contender Pierre Charles, who in turn faced George Godfrey for the vacant belt (which Godfrey won). And that’s without touching on the fact the British Boxing Board of Control originally supported the IBU in viewing Schmeling as the champion but then reversed their position when he refused to face their contender Tommy Farr and instead recongised Louis when he agreed to face Farr.

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The history books tell us that after Marciano retired the heavyweight title passed on to Floyd Patterson after he defeated Archie Moore for the vacant belt and that Moore in turn never held a world heavyweight title. But that would come as a surprise to those living in Toronto during 1956, as they had just witnessed Archie Moore defeat James Parker by TKO in a bout that was advertised as being for the world title by Jack Solomons, the leading promoter of his day.

To mention Archie Moore again, in 1948 he faced Ezzard Charles in Cleveland. Charles is often considered the greatest light heavyweight of all time but the history books say he never won a title at that weight. Again, that would come as a shock to those in and around Cleveland at the time as that bout was promoted as a world heavyweight title bout on the basis that the NBA would strip Gus Lusnevich unless he faced the winner within 60 days… which he didn’t.

That’s just a brief list of the most obvious examples. One can go back to any period in boxing history and with a little digging find multiple boxers all with a claim on “the” world championship. Little different from today in fact.

So why the nostalgia? Why do people act as if there was only ever one world champion in those days?

The first reason is media. Today if I want to discover who the champions are I can go online. I can search on boxrec, I can go onto wikipedia, I can check the various sanctioning body rankings. I can look for results on fightnews or one of the hundreds (if not thousands) of various news sites (be that general or boxing specific) and pugilistic focused blogs. “World” title bouts are now often broadcast internationally and even if I can’t watch it on TV in my location I can normally stream it… and if I can’t stream it live I can go onto youtube or one of a multitude to other video hosting sites and watch it there within a day or two.

Previously I couldn’t. Bouts often weren’t televised, or at least not televised outside their immediate location and radio coverage was spotty at best. There was no internet and newspapers didn’t have the reach they now have. The previously mentioned Moore vs Parker bout had no radio or TV coverage past southern Ontario (and none in the US) and the newspapers generally didn’t have much distribution outside Canada. Simply put while if that happened today I would quickly be able to discover it was a world title bout, back in 1956 as someone who lives in London I was unlikely to even know it had happened, let alone who won and that it was for a version of the world heavyweight title. Today, I know that Shinsuke Yamanaka is the WBC Bantemweight title holder… but he’s never boxed outside Japan, never had a bout broadcast on a British TV network and as he’s never faced a British boxer virtually never been mentioned in the newspapers. Without the internet I’d have no idea he exists let alone that he held a title and I’d be far more likely to think that the British Jamie McDonnell (the IBF belt holder) is “thechampion, simply because he’s the only one I’d have seen or heard of. We are simply more aware of multiple champions today then even a dedicated boxing fan would have been in previous years.

Secondly, over the years a number of bodies, notably the RING but also several others, have gone about deciding who the champion was at a given point. It was they who decided that the Moore vs Parker bout wasn’t for the world heavyweight title, it was they that decided that Langford never won a world title and it was they who came up with the Sullivan to Corbett to Fitzsimmons lineage. As history has passed we have allowed the rival claims… be it the Police Gazette, be it NYSAC, be it the IBU, be it the NBA to fade and only recognise those these subsequent bodies have in turn recognised. I have little doubt that in the future someone will do the same for the titles today… that what we now call RING or Lineal champions will be decided and other claims… be they from the sanctioning bodies or other groups, will come to be viewed in the same way we consider those earlier claims.

I should stress this piece isn’t a defence of the sanctioning bodies or the multitude of champions (although I do believe a devil’s advocate case can be made for them). I do fully understand why having so many belts is an issue, how confusing it can be to someone new to the sport and how awful boxing politics can be. There is clearly some value in having a single man considered the champion of the division (although I do note that just because someone is champion doesn’t mean they’re the best or faced the best competition… such is the danger of “to be the man you’ve got to beat the man” style lineal belts) and I’m not going to disparage anyone’s attempts to do so.

But those who hark back to the good old days of only having one champion are harking back to an age that didn’t exist. Boxing has always had multiple belt holders… some more well known than others, some more respected than others… and as boxing does, boxing survives. A proliferation of title belts is neither new nor a killer blow to boxing.

Perhaps the nay-sayers should remember that.

12 thoughts on “Too many champions in boxing today and the myth of one champion per division…

  1. Mr. Rhodes,

    This was a pleasure to read. I was going to reply to your lengthy comments related to the same on The Guardian but then found this. It’s always a pleasure to come across a fellow boxing historian with an eye for details. I too have made a study of championship boxing since the first Queensberry championship bouts and have found that a few of your details and your general conclusion warrant something of a retort.

    First off, in the early 20th century, boxing was only beginning to emerge from the waterfront, barns, and barges, to become barely respectable, never mind regulated. To compare that era with today’s era is warranted, but it actually indicates that boxing has devolved since 1920. The fact that today we have 70 so-called champions when there are only 17 divisions is indeed comparable to time past, but is a time past longer than you suggest. Until 1920, modern boxing was really in its formative states and confusion reigned. In 2013, boxing is older but no wiser. And confusion is just as bad as it was 100 years ago, if not worse.

    The year 1920 was the pivotal year. That was the year New York’s Walker Law was passed. Rounds were capped off, officials had to be licensed, limits set for weight classes, etc. Before 1920, boxing was confusing at best. After 1920 and until the proliferation of the so-called sanctioning-bodies, it was less so.

    The Walker Law absolutely improved the sport. It brought in some sorely-needed consistency. Another improvement was The Ring. The magazine was first published in 1922 -two years after the Walker Law. It too did much to clarify the landscape, especially in 1928 when it began publishing monthly ratings. No other ratings were more authoritative for so long, I’m sure you’d agree that boxing needs a strong and clean ratings system to determine who is who and what is what.

    The point is that your argument weakens a bit when you make the general statement that “it’s always been like this.” I think that is an overstatement. From ~1920 until the last few decades, nearly everyone knew who the champions were. (Incidentally, I chose the “50 years” as a cut-off commemorating the formation of the WBC on the heels of the WBA.) There was, essentially, one divisional champion. At times there would be an alternate claimant, but they were usually almost universally ignored or subsumed soon enough. There are exceptions of course (the 30s middleweights come to mind), but a worse problem to contemporaries in the press back then were the Junior divisions. The press often ignored those champions as mere claimants and their titles as “trick titles.”

    I’ll illustrate by taking another look at your examples. Schmeling defeated Sharkey via disqualification in ’30. The bout was recognized by the NBA and NYSAC as for the throne –and both were the top-two Ring-ranked heavyweights in the world. The fact that, as you say, one state commission (albeit the powerful state commission of NY) decided to strip Schmeling isn’t very weighty when you think about it. It also warns us about the confusion that erupts when an ostensible authority strips a champion. That confusion is multiplied today by the WBS organizations, but the confusion they promote is by design, for profit. That’s a big difference. The point is this: Schmeling easily has the strongest case as the champion. There was no real confusion there. His branch of the HW succession lasts until the moment Louis retired nearly 20 years later.

    The decision of promoter Jack Solomons to recognize Moore as the HW champion after he defeated James Parker wasn’t acknowledged by anyone really, outside of Solomons and Moore, who did so more for PR than intellectual honesty. That too is easy to dismiss and it isn’t just because one competing authority decried it. No one bought what Solomons was selling. By contrast, Floyd Patterson and Moore were ranked #1 and #2 by The Ring when they entered the ring to fight for the vacant HW throne. It was nearly universally-acknowledged as what it was. (Floyd’s branch marches right up to the moment Ali formally vacated the throne on February 1, 1970.) Now, by contrast, Larry Atkins, the Cleveland promoter who made the premature decision to promote Charles-Moore as for the Light Heavyweight crown was not taken seriously. In fact, the morning after, the AP itself stated that the NBA president would call upon the winner of the Lesnevich-Fox fight to face Charles. No mention was made of Charles as the “new champ.”

    I raised an eyebrow at your points about the modern ease of seeking out which claimants are propped up by the sanctioning bodies. First of all, why bother? Why seek out lies? A cursory look at the WBA rankings and how their champions become so is more than enough reason to look elsewhere. As far as we at the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board are concerned, Shinsuke Yamanaka is the #1 ranked Bantamweight. He isn’t the true champion until he overcomes #2 ranked Anselmo Moreno. Doesn’t that make more sense than throwing a belt around either for no good reason?

    The Transnational Boxing Rankings were set up with an eye on exactly that history you so eloquently bring up. We see the risks, for instance, in stripping champions. We are very careful to recruit members who are not compromised and who are knowledgeable and multi-national to lend credence to our rankings. We insist on the top-two best fighting for a vacant throne. We recognize the critical need for rankings that aren’t compromised and that have clear rules of succession.

    While we would say that this era of multiple champions is ridiculous, it obviously isn’t “a killer blow to boxing.” But it is a major reason why boxing, aside from a few fight a year involving celebrity fighters, is routinely ignored these days. To anyone who isn’t immersed in the nonsense today, the idea of 85 world titles in 17 divisions is both silly and dishonest. It’s worse than it’s been in 93 years, and it’s a problem that we as purists and boxing historians need to confront.

    Anyway, thank you for a thoughtful and well-argued article.

    • Mr Toledo,

      Thank you very much for your eloquent and informative response.

      I should start by once again stressing that nothing in the above piece or in my comments on the Guardian was meant to disparage the TBRB, RING or any other body, group or individual who wishes to establish a single legitimate champion of the division. While I may disagree with individual decisions and rankings (and I share most of your… and your colleagues… concerns with how the modern version of RING’s ranking/champion policy) it is clearly a noble endeavor and I have no intention of criticising it in-and-of itself.

      Likewise, I’m not attempting to defend the multitude of sanctioning bodies and the politics that emanates from them. While I believe they do have some positives which are at times overlooked because of their deep flaws, there is no doubt that they have serious issues.

      If I could pick up a few points from your retort:

      “First off, in the early 20th century, boxing was only beginning to emerge from the waterfront, barns, and barges, to become barely respectable, never mind regulated.”

      While the early 20th century may have lacked formalised regulation, boxing very quickly turned from its carnival roots to become a legitimate sport. The most obvious example is the Fight of the Century, with Jack Johnson and James J. Jeffries boxing in front of 20,000 people, each picking up a vast purse (as well as extensive money for the radio rights) in the sort of super event that still drives boxing today. It was a far cry from say the chaos of Heenan vs Sayers in 1860 or the first Molineaux vs Cribb bout of 1810, both of which had the risk of the police stopping the bouts and arresting the participants. The fallout of the Johnson/Jeffries bout may have been ugly but I would submit that was due to the endemic racism of the time as opposed to anything directly related to boxing.

      “From ~1920 until the last few decades, nearly everyone knew who the champions were.”

      I fairly strongly disagree with this. You’re right in saying that RING had done a lot of good in clearing up any confusion and that it’s rankings were generally considered definitive (although I think suggesting this as having occurred only since RING started to produce rankings underplays the regard the Police Gazzette was held in the early 20th Century), but the RING’s influence only extended as far as its readership. While boxing fans may have been aware of who the “true” champion was (much like today), if someone had only a passing interest in boxing they were likely to be influenced by their local newspaper or radio. And for someone reading the The Pittsburgh Press in 1937, there would be no reason to doubt that Schmaeling was the champion of the world. Likewise, if someone was in Dubuque, Iowa in 1931 they would have no reason to suspect that the winner of Sharkey vs Carnera didn’t have a legitimate claim to the world title. With a slight amount of irony, I also note that the piece in the Telegraph Herald suggested that having multiple champions would actually improve boxing.

      Mass media today means that it is very easy to find out who holds the four major sanctioning body world titles, who holds a RING belt and who is generally regarded as the best in a division. That was not the case for much of the 20th Century… and that is the reason why Jack Solomon could get away with declaring “world title” bouts that no other bodies recognised. Who someone thought was THE world champion in any given division was largely dependent on where they lived and what access they had to wider media and communications.

      “I raised an eyebrow at your points about the modern ease of seeking out which claimants are propped up by the sanctioning bodies. First of all, why bother? Why seek out lies?”

      I talk about the ease in discovering the various champions today for the reasons set out above. Take the bantemweight division we both mention and re-imagine it before the days of the internet and such wide reaching media. If I were a casual fan would I know about Shinsuke Yamanaka, considering he has never boxed in the UK, never faced a UK boxer and, as far as I am aware, never been mentioned in the “normal” press? For the same reason would I be aware of Anselmo Moreno? Koki Kameda? Hugo Ruiz? Would I be aware that there is no recognised champion in the division but that the best boxer is either Yamanaka or Moreno (depending on whether I follow your own or RING’s rankings)? Or is it more likely that having seen Jamie McDonnell box in a bout which was promoted as being for a world title, having seen him be presented with a world title after the bout and having read press reports that he was now world champion would I instead think that he is THE world champion? Today I know he isn’t (and is even less likely to be one considering that yet more boxing politics had led to him being stripped) and that he is merely a title holder, thus leading to confusion as to who THE champion is. But without the internet and mass media? Why would I even think there are other champions or that there was an issue?

      Boxing fans today know who the champions are. Sergio Martinez can be stripped of every belt he holds (outside of the ridiculous diamond belt… which was originally meant to be commemorative, much like the even more ridiculous “Fighter of the Decade” belt Marquez and Pacquiao boxed for) to accommodate Chavex Jr but we still know he is THE champion at 160lbs. There may be other champions at junior featherweight, junior welterweight and super middleweight but we know that Rigondeux, Garcia and Ward are THE champions of the division. And even in divisions without an overall champion, we know that, for example, Floyd Mayweather is the ruler of welterweight regardless of what titles he does and doesn’t hold. The issue that is frequently raised is that a casual fan will find the proliferation of titles confusing and that it wasn’t like that in the good ol’ days.

      But it was.

      RING (at least prior to the scandal in the 1970’s) may have been a respected body that determined THE champion of a division (and before that the Police Gazzette) but that didn’t prevent there being multiple claims and multiple people who called themselves champion as well. It’s simply that today we don’t recognise them in the record books and at the time they weren’t known because the reach of the media was much smaller. For a casual fan it could be just as confusing. If we applied the standards of today to the previous history of boxing then there would be just as many champions (if not more) than we currently have. Again, I’m not saying this is a good thing… there was a reason RING started to rank fighters in the first place and a reason it became respected… simply that that was the way it was.

      “But it is a major reason why boxing, aside from a few fight a year involving celebrity fighters, is routinely ignored these days.”

      I think this is a somewhat ethnocentric view. Yes, in world wide terms only a few boxing bouts a year regularly bring in wider interests… but that is not so very different to the time before multiple sanctioning body champions (and as I say, there were always multiple champions… whether respected or not) and even when there were single champions their bouts didn’t always generate world wide interest… the likes of Wallace Smith, Sugar Ramos or Manuel Ortiz were far from being huge names in the UK for example.

      Secondly, there are a lot of bouts a year that get considerable interest, just normally only in a few countries. The Kameda-mania in Japan may have toned down in recent years but they still gain huge ratings and the likes of Kazuto Ioka can likewise draw in millions of viewers. Kessler is a household name in Denmark and one of their biggest celebrities… athlete or not… to the extent that his family have also become major media figures (notably his sister). In the UK the likes of Khan, Froch, Haye and Fury are all front-page news when they box. Adamek draws vast ratings in Poland, Chris John is still a major figure in Indonesia, Martinez gets an almost sickening number of viewers in Argentina, the Klitschko’s are obvious huge names in Germany and the Ukraine (and Steiglitz for example generally gets good ratings for his bouts). That’s a lot of bouts a year that are not ignored… and again, is little different to the old days…Sugar Ramos was a national hero in Mexico but did anything by the specialist boxing press pay attention to him outside that?

      Thirdly, the fact that there are so few major events a year seems to me to be more down to the fact that as a general rule all boxers box less frequently these days. Every Mayweather or Pacquiao bout will be a massive event… but they only tend to box two or three times a year. Likewise, any of the names I mention above will generate a large amount of interest in their respective countries… but again, we’re only talking three or four times a year. In contrast past boxers (especially in the days before all major bouts became televised) boxed more frequently and thus there were more events that more casual fans paid attention to. Disappointing or not, I’m not sure that can be blamed on the proliferation of world titles.

  2. I noted and appreciated your approval of what the Transnat’l Boxing Rankings Board is trying to do. I didn’t intend to come off as if I hadn’t. I’d take no offense, though, if you didn’t approve.

    I agree that the internet age has done wonders for our ability to get information about champions, but see it from a different angle. It makes it easy to see who the “belt-holders” are, sure, but what’s behind that belt is idiocy and corruption, and now it’s easy to see the nonsense perpetrated by the tin-can racketeers who are overdue for oblivion. Better yet, it gives us reams of reasons to just ignore them completely. Way too many writers criticize the nonsense they see with a few taps on a keyboard, but then turn around and acknowledge their belts as something valid. Which is it?

    As to Mayweather at welterweight. I think we should be careful to “award” him a crown simply because he is the best WW in the world. In boxing, a crown should have blood on it. Mayweather needs to fight his nearest rival to earn that and I see no problem at all with denying him because he absolutely should have fought Pacquiao when both were at #1 and #2. Their refusal to come to terms mean that Floyd is not now the champ (he was until his retirement in ’08) and Pacquiao never has been. Those sanctioning bodies have seduced millions of fans into a make-pretend world. The money they skim off fighters’ purses isn’t make-pretend though! Anyway, the premiere fighter in a division isn’t necessarily the champion of said division. You know and have called up examples of exactly that. (Moore. Charles. Mayweather at welter!) Mayweather (#1) has to defeat Bradley (#2) to take another crown at welter.

    I agree that in the first years of the 20th century, boxing did advance from the boxing-on-the-run days when fights were set up outside of cities at 4 am, ankle-deep in mud, lasting only until police raided it. As to Johnson-Jeffries, it was a significant event that doesn’t disprove my point. First, it was a heavyweight bout (which naturally commands more attention) and second, it was less about boxing than something far bigger (perverse, even, given the preoccupation with race in the US at the time). I’m not sure how “legitimate” boxing was, even by 1910, given the confusion, the lack of regulation, the fixes (Jack O’Brien admitted that he had been in many fake fights, Gans admitted that he threw two, Langford was known by insiders as a tanker, and they were far from alone. And why not? There was serious purse supplements to be had and no one to hold anyone accountable.)

    I have to assert again that between 1920 and the proliferation of the WBS confusion-peddlers, most would have known who the real division bosses were. I think you are overlooking the fact that The Ring was used as a source by the AP and the like, which had worldwide distribution. The newspapers also quoted the NBA, which is nothing near so ludicrous as it’s bastard offspring (WBA). The NBA and The Ring almost always agreed on who were on the thrones during that period. Now, if the Smallville Times in Kansas with a circulation of 186 decided that Tommy Ten-Count was the real middleweight champ because they never heard of Tony Zale; well, that’s just an anomaly. It isn’t evidence that “there have always been multiple champions.” (I’m being funny, but you understand what I’m saying.)

    We agree that boxing was at least on the path of respectability by the early years of the 20th century, assisted by the rise of the NSC, IBU, and Boxing News. We should agree that the Walker Law, with an assist by The Ring, was a major step forward in terms of regulating the sport for the better and clarifying who was who. Of course, there were still pockets of confusion, but by and large, the champions were far more readily identifiable than they were before 1920 and after 1977.

    In the end, I think that our disagreement really boils down to a matter of degrees. There have always been competing claimants in history, yes. You allow for varying degrees of respect accorded these alternates in history. I hold that for 50 some-odd years, there was little confusion compared to pre-Walker and post-proliferation of sanctioning bodies.

    • I suppose my basic point on the confusion caused from multiple champions and the impact that has today compared to times gone by (and especially the mythical “good ol’ days” is that I don’t believe it has become more significant.

      Take the super-bantamweight division as an example. At first glance it may seem confusing… Rigondeux, Quigg, Santa Cruz and Martinez all seemingly hold a world title and Quigg and Rigondeux seem to hold the same one. But anything more than a cursory look reveals that Rigondeux is “the man” of the division; both yourselves and RING have him as champion and bodies that don’t recognise champions such as FightNews or the mechanical BoxRec rankings view him as being rated number one. While RING may not be as respected as it was (and again, I share many of your concerns about their approach) it is still a name that carries weight and the majority of reports on Rigondeux will mention that he is the RING champion. The end result is that for anyone who has more than a cursory glance at the division it is pretty clear who the champion/best (and that distinction is one I will explore later) is. In my own writing for example I try (and I admit there have likely been times I fail) to seperate between a “world title holder” and a “world champion”. A world title holder is someone who holds one of the sanctioning body belts while a world champion is someone generally recognised (be it by RING or yourselves) as THE champion of the division.

      And I do not see that as being too different to days gone by where there was an established champion but competing claims that were reported in the press but generally ignored in the record books. Many different bodies designated world champions, some of which were far more respected than others. The names and abbreviations have changed… the end result hasn’t.

      It is perhaps also worth looking at why I personally am somewhat ambivalent about declaring someone THE champion of a divisions because it also touches on the Mayweather point and what I mention above about the champion/best distinction.

      And that comes down to what exactly does “champion” mean.

      Because for me, in the context of boxing and especially in the context of why it’s important to have one recognised champion per division in boxing, “champion” is to a large extent a shorthand term for “best”. It is a way of saying that this boxer is the best in the division, that he is the man all others have to surpass, that (to use a standard definition of champion) he is one who has “surpassed all rivals in a sporting contest.”

      And I don’t believe a lineal, “to be the man you have to beat the man” style champion necessarily means that.

      That’s not to say the two aren’t closely related or that the two won’t coincide, especially when a vacant title requires the top two boxers in a division to face off. But as soon as a boxer holds that lineal title issues start to begin.

      With regards to this I often bring up the example of the 135lbs division while Casamayor was the recognised world champion. He won that distinction (and no-one can deny the lineage) when he beat an overweight and, frankly, shot Corrales and then proceeded to defend it against the limited Santa Cruz (in a bout he was lucky to win) and with a come-from behind stoppage over Katsidis before losing it to Marquez. At the same time Juan Diaz, already the WBO title holder, unified twice, first against Freitas and then against Julio Diaz in impressive performances. Casamayor was undoubtedly THE champion… but was he the best? Diaz faced better competition and looked better doing it. Did calling Casamayor THE champion of the division at that point and Diaz only a leading contender give an accurate picture of the state of the division or who the best was? Or would it be fairly confusing to a non-boxing fan being told that Casamayor was the champion but Diaz was the best?

      One could just as easily use the 175lbs division in the wake of Erdei becoming lineal champion (and I’m still not comfortable with his disputed retirement ending his lineage). From 2004 onwards was he the best in the division while the likes of Roy Jones Jr, Tarver, Johnson, Hopkins, Calzaghe et al boxed on the other side of the Atlantic?

      Did anyone believe Sonny Boy Jaro was the best flyweight in the world in the wake of him beating Pongsaklek Wonjongkam? Yet is there not some confusion inherent in calling him “champion” in such circumstances?

      The same issue appears even when there is no champion. In the wake of Pacquiao defeating Hatton to become the 140lbs champion and then leaving the division, the championship was vacant. But was there much doubt that Bradley, especially after he defeated Holt, Peterson and Alexander was the best in the division? Is it not confusing to say that Bradley is the best and the leading contender but that there is no champion? And is it not even more confusing when applied to Mayweather… a man who was the 147lbs champion, “retired”, came back without another champion being established and is again the best 147lbs boxer in the world but no longer champion despite not losing a bout? Surely that is even more confusing than the multiple sanctioning body titles to a non-boxing fan?

      Did Wladimir Klitschko become more respected or a better boxer for becoming THE world champion in the wake of whatever victory a body decides granted him that right (be it Chagaev or Povetkin) then he would have been if the lineal crown wasn’t on the line?

      Paulie Malignaggi’s recent comments on the nerdish nature of the boxing media spring to mind… and I say that as someone who rather enjoys the nerdish side of things.

      In my mind titles and the like in boxing are trinkets. Some are more respected trinkets than others and certainly a championship of that sort, be it from RING or yourselves or lineal from a different source (I for example regard Rodriguez as the lineal champion of 175lbs) is one of the most respected… more than an alphabet soup world title and certainly more than some of the laughable belts the sanctioning bodies sometimes create… but it is still a trinket. It is something to (either literally or metaphorically) hang on a mantelpiece and which gives an easy way to point out a boxer’s achievements… but it is still a trinket. Sam Langford never won a recognised world championship but I would decry anyone who suggested that he was inferior to others who did simply because of that. Ezzard Charles never won a recognised 175lbs world championship… but I would decry anyone who would say Zsolt Erdei was a better 175lbs boxer than him because of that.

      And if being world champion doesn’t make someone the best and if someone can not be a world champion and still be better than those who are then it rather strikes me that world championships of that sort are something that we perhaps should keep a certain level of ambivalence about.

      To pick up on a final point.

      If fixes and corruption are enough to render boxing illegitimate than I would be concerned that there are vast portions of boxing history that would have to be discarded. I am thinking particularly of. The obvious example if of course the mob involvement in boxing in thed 1940’s and 50’s but one can unfortunately look to more recent dates as well; the 1985 report into organised crime’s connections with boxing by New Jersey springs to mind.

      On the Archie Moore photo, I simply found it through a google image search. I believe I picked it up from a Russian boxing site but a quick bit of investigation seems to indicate the original source was Life Magazine. Unfortunately I cannot find it directly by searching on Google’s archives of Life Magazine photos or discover the issue or date of publication.

  3. PS/ Would you mind telling me where you got the Moore photo in the text? I’m in need of a good one. That’s a good one. Feel free to email me. Thank you!

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  5. Thank you for the information about the Moore photo. Much appreciated. I think that our differences are pretty clear, but I wanted to challenge a few of your points:

    You question Sonny Boy Jaro’s status as Flyweight champion since he was probably not the “best” in the division, suggesting that there is/was some confusion because of that. There is no confusion if you see the difference between the world champion and the premiere fighter in the division. They are often one and the same –but not always. The crystal clear fact is that Jaro’s throne stretched back in a straight line to January 8, 1975 –that’s over 37 years of “the man beating the man.” And let’s not forget -he was toppled four months later.

    Langford may have been the greatest fighter who ever lived, but he never was a world champion because he was never given the opportunity to take a crown. He is recognized as among the top-tier best ever, but that is despite the fact that he was never a champion. He is the best example that supports the differentiation I’m encouraging you to accept:

    Divisional champions and the premiere fighter in the division are not necessarily one in the same.

    There are hundreds of examples where the world champion took on a safer contender than the lion of the division and lost, because styles make fights. No one dismissed the claim of the spoiler who took the title simply because he was not “the best” in the division when he did it. Identifying the champion is easy, not hard, if you allow for the historical fact that the champion is not necessarily the premiere fighter in the division. The guy who beat the champion becomes the champion. The guys who were avoided because the champion’s manager wanted to hold on to the title to make real money, used to be called “uncrowned champions.” No one thought that Moore was the Light Heavyweight World Champion before he took it from Maxim. They knew that Moore was the best fighter in the division, but there’s a difference, and no one was confused by it. Here’s the clincher: How often do you hear “uncrowned champion” these days? You don’t. Why? Because the concept of champion has been degraded to the point where too many contenders are awarded a “championship” by appointment or by fighting someone who is far from the best in the division because the ratings systems are fraudulent. It is confusing!

    Now, you as a nerd/purist, may differentiate between “world champion” and “Title holder” but take a look around the media. Most boxing/sport writers absolutely do not differentiate. And guess what. Casual fans are confused. Which is one major reason why boxing is as Malignaggi said it is –a secondary sport.

    You wrote that you don’t believe that beating the man makes you the man? Is the definition of champion for you the one who “surpasses all rivals” –? That applies to battles royal. It does not and won’t ever apply to modern boxing for the simple fact that few fighters do like Liston did in the late 50s/early 60s and tear through the top-ten contenders one after another to get to the throne. The champion emerges systematically. All sports need an objective system to identify the champion. Dismissing that to say that the champion is the “best” would overturn the system in favor of something hopelessly subjective. In March 1946, you had Zale, LaMotta, Robinson, Cerdan, and Burley ranked by The Ring at Middleweight. “Which is the best?” –Good luck on that one!

    Boxing history does not support your view that the modern level of confusion was always the case. There were times, and there were periods when things weren’t clear, sure, but overall the golden era was pretty damn clear. Two examples of how bad it has gotten since the days of Zale and Armstrong and Marciano and Moore should suffice: Thomas Hearns. Is Thomas Hearns a five-time world champion? Roy Jones. How many times was Roy Jones a world champion? You may know –but google them and see how many do not know. Those offer a quick glimpse of the chaos (never mind confusion) wreaked by the sanctioning bodies. The “end result” most assuredly has changed.

  6. The 4 major sanctioning bodies(WBC, WBA, IBF, WBO) should join to form one difinitive governing/sanctioning body to take control of the sport. The governing/sanctioning body would have ultimately have control over the promoters, fighters, judges, events, official rankings, and the distribution of the one and only championship title belt per weight class. Same day weigh-ins and going back to the traditional 8 weight divisions and maybe cruiser-weight division may also be beneficial for pro boxing.

  7. I don’t even bother watching boxing anymore. The multiple champions WITHIN sanctioning bodies was the absolute final nail in the coffin! There is absolutely ZERO reason to pay any attention to it. It’s a 100% dead body.

  8. Pingback: Quick Jabs: Floyd Mayweather And Yoga; Manny Pacquiao And Taxes; Funky Showtime Ratings; More | Queensberry Rules

  9. Must say this is a brilliant article and the comments likewise very interesting, I am also very interested in this topic love boxing history and have been compiling alternative lineal champions from different claimants aside from John L Sullivan, most do end up at Jack Dempsey, Jeffries or Louis. It started from my Grandad always telling me George Gardner was the greatest heavyweight champion but when I looked at history books he was never a champ but my granddad insisted he was, sometime after Marvin Hart refused to fight him but I still can’t find any sanctioned heavyweight title fight involving George Gardner to win, maybe you could help.

    What I don’t like about the modern historical aspect of the past, is that it completely ignores some legitimate champions like Peter Maher who according to history books never existed as a champion but later retiree’s to come back didn’t get a to hold onto the lineal championship like Corbett did, he retired and then came back and a championship that changed hands from Maher to Fitsimmons to Sharkey became erased like something out of the WWE.

    Sorry for the rushed comment and once again a brilliant article.

  10. The real confusion started back when the WBC opened for business trying to muscle in on the territory controlled by the older WBA (nee NBA). Shortly after that there was an explosion of rival crooked boxing organizations trying to get in on the profitable sanctioning fees. Prior to those days most real boxing fans could name champions in at least the two main weight classes going back to the Golden Age of the sport. Even with the WBA and WBC most fans knew who the champs were in the marquee weight divisions. Nowadays it’s a sad joke that there are more champions than challengers, more titles than fighters.

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