By Lyle Fitzsimmons
It’s as predictable as political gridlock.
When a boxing fan – casual or otherwise – is asked to name the sport’s most prominent problem, chances are exceedingly good that he or she will say something along the lines of “It’s just gotten too complicated.”
And just as predictable is a subsequent scurry by the questioner – be it respected journalist, smart-aleck blogger or omnipotent Twitter-jockey – back to the soapbox, where he or she will indignantly peck away at the greedy, corrupt sanctioning bodies to the delight of a rapt, sheep-like audience.
The mouths roar. The masses cheer.
And the problems persist unabated.
Additional evidence of the latter point could come within a week’s time, which is the limit IBF super middleweight champ Carl Froch has imposed on past conqueror Mikkel Kessler to accept or reject his proposal for a English rematch of their initial 2010 encounter in Denmark.
Kessler won nine, eight and seven rounds on the three scorecards in the first go-round and claimed afterward he’d be agreeable to the idea of giving Froch another crack on his own home turf.
The intervening three years have featured divergent paths for the two belt-holders.
Froch has won four of five in 33 months – losing just to No. 1 Andre Ward and coming back with Nottingham stoppages of unbeaten Lucian Bute and road-tripping American Yusaf Mack.
The latter pair gave him honorable mentions on many legit “Fighter of the Year” lists for 2012.
Kessler, meanwhile, was on the shelf for more than a year after the Froch win and another 11 months after defeating Frenchman Mehdi Bouadla. He finally regained top-end momentum in the weight class with a vicious one-shot KO of Allan Green last May.
One fight since ended in a three-round TKO of Brian Magee in December, establishing him as the WBA’s dubious “regular” champion and making a return with Froch a viable attraction.
But that still might not be good enough for some.
If Kessler accepts terms for the rematch, chances are probably at least 50/50 that the IBF will balk and proceed with stripping Froch for not making a mandatory defense against Adonis Stevenson.
According to IBF rules, champions in each division below heavyweight must defend a leading available contender within nine months of acquiring a title. Stevenson is the No. 1 challenger in the IBF’s latest rankings. Mack, at the time of Froch’s initial defense, was not in the organization’s top 15 at 168.
In other words, it’s all right there in black and white.
But if the boys in East Orange follow their own specs, the outcry will be loud.
Much will come from the legions locked into belief that sanctioning bodies are the root of all evil, and that any effort toward anything other than their complete dissolution is an effort wasted.
And rather than reassembling the morass with designs on a better end product, they say, the boards and nails should be tossed aside to allow the sport’s most recognized top-shelf performers – like Froch – more freedom to legislate themselves.
Problem is, while it makes sense and reads well, in the end it simply doesn’t work.
Though the top 10 or 15 in the world are indeed able to call their shots and pick titles most worthy of their wardrobes, the vast majority of active professionals – and active amateurs aspiring to be active professionals – are still driven by the lure of championship status.
“Any belt is good,” said Kassim Ouma, a former one-defense IBF champ at 154 pounds who was beaten in subsequent tries for middleweight belts against Jermain Taylor and Gennady Golovkin.
And while scrapping the system taps into the “off with their heads” vibe shared by fans, to do so would eliminate the prizes guys like Stevenson, Ouma and others still anonymous pursue in the shadows.
Championships, at least to fighters, are still necessary.
If nothing else, as a backstage pass to where the headline acts hang out.
According to Philadelphia heavyweight Eddie Chambers, who was stopped in 12 rounds by Wlad Klitschko in his lone title shot three years ago, there's nothing better than winning and holding a belt or two to gain admission to the club where such trinkets are no longer valued.
"I think for a fighter that is just coming up (winning a title) is important, but for an established fighter not so much," he said. "Because he is now more of a household name and therefore, a star, and (he) doesn't really need any belt to solidify him."
Nonetheless, it'd be best for everyone to reach a place where Chambers' logic falls flat.
And, while the others might suggest an alternate destination, here are five ways to get us there:
• If You Ignore it, Maybe They Won't Come
Fans, analysts, countrymen... don't acknowledge anything other than the basics. Concurrent fights between contenders are just that. Not interim title fights or title eliminators. Diamonds may be a girl's best friend, but they've got no place in boxing. As for the media, anyone caught acknowledging imposters should be subject to permanent credential suspension.
• A Common Set of Rankings
Rather than a half-dozen groups with a half-dozen Top 20s, how about one unified set compiled either by a disinterested machine or a media consortium not wholly owned by a promotional company? Let the sanctioning bodies pluck their challengers from a common list, at least moving toward guaranteed legitimacy for all participants in title bouts.
• Mandatory, But With a Twist
Require incumbents to defend twice per year, once against a common No. 1 – or highest available – and once against a Top 10 foe. If a champion elects to fight more in a year, other opponents should be chosen at his whim. An anonymous hometown kid, a big-money foil 25 pounds lighter... makes no difference. And anyone who can win multiple titles and meet defense requirements in multiple classes, go right ahead.
• Catch This
Weight-class boundaries need to be non-negotiable. If a fighter chooses to defend his title two pounds lighter than the limit, so be it. But no title match should be sanctioned "requiring" any fighter to come in at anything other than established weights. Erase this silly promotional loophole and watch how quickly the post-fight "Waaaah... this is why my favorite guy lost" threads dry up.
• Technological Superhighway
If the NFL in 2012 showed nothing else, it's that sports with a built-in feasibility for instant replay ought to use it. Replay should be used to determine whether cuts are caused by punches, and, if protests are filed over controversial scoring decisions, it should be employed to give three separate arbiters a chance to uphold or vacate the verdict. If it's the latter, a rematch should be immediate.
* * * * * * * * * *
This week’s title-fight schedule:
WBC light flyweight title – Toluca, Mexico
Adrian Hernandez (champion) vs. Dirceu Cabarca (unranked)
Hernandez (25-2-1, 16 KO): First title defense; Held WBC belt in 2011 (one defense)
Cabarca (13-6, 5 KO): First title fight; Winless in career at 108 pounds (0-2)
Fitzbitz says: “Panamanian taking a big drop in weight, but a larger jump in class to meet one of world’s premier 108-pounders. It’s a rough mix that won’t leave a pleasant taste.” Hernandez in 8
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.
Last week’s picks: None
2013 picks record: 0-0
Overall picks record: 373-121 (75.5 percent)
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.