By Lyle Fitzsimmons
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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 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 are considered a steep drop from the true elites in those same divisions.
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.
At heavyweight, mammoth Ukrainian Wladimir Klitschko held the IBO title along with multiple other belts, and remained 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 … that are considered the best in their weight divisions as IBO champions, the more the IBO will become recognized.”
Meanwhile, for boxing and its long-term future, it seems every bit as vital.
I’m no Earth-shaker by any stretch, but I 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.
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 week’s legit title-fight schedule:
IBF junior bantamweight title – Oakland, California
Jerwin Ancajas (champion/No. 4 IWBR) vs. Alejandro Barrios (unranked/No. 72 IWBR)
Ancajas (30-1-1, 20 KO): Sixth title defense; Third fight in the United States (2-0, 1 KO)
Barrios (16-2-4, 7 KO): First title fight; Never won a fight scheduled beyond eight rounds (0-0-2, 0 KO)
Fitzbitz says: The Filipino been labeled by some breathless observers as a new Pacquiao, which is ridiculous. But he’ll look like a prime Manny when faced with this sort of dubious foe. Ancajas in 7 (99/1)
WBA super middleweight title – Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
George Groves (champion/No. 1 IWBR) vs. Callum Smith (No. 4 WBA/No. 4 IWBR)
Groves (28-3, 20 KO): Third title defense; Lost first three title fights before three straight wins
Smith (24-0, 17 KO): First title fight; Four KO/TKO wins in eight scheduled 12-round fights
Fitzbitz says: Groves has lost as many as he’s won on the top level, but the quality that’s been forged through those matchups should get him past an intriguing national foe. Groves by decision (67/33)
Vacant IBO super bantamweight title – Singapore, Singapore
Paulus Ambunda (No. 29 IBO/No. 62 IWBR) vs. Muhamad Ridhwan (unranked IBO/unranked IWBR)
Ambunda (26-2, 11 KO): Sixth title fight (3-2); Held WBO title at 118 pounds and IBO belt at 122
Ridhwan (11-0, 8 KO): First title fight; Fourth fight scheduled for 12 rounds (3-0, 1 KO)
Fitzbitz says: Ambunda enters as the veteran and the fighter with the more accomplished resume, but the younger man seems destined to move onto the belted level here. Ridhwan by decision (70/30)
Last week’s picks: 2-0 (WIN: Joshua, Tanaka)
2018 picks record: 62-28 (68.8 percent)
Overall picks record: 983-332 (74.7 percent)
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body’s full-fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA “world championships” are only included if no “super champion” exists in the weight class.
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz