By Cliff Rold
Follow the bouncing belt.
This weekend, 35-year old American IBF Cruiserweight titlist Steve Cunningham (24-2, 12 KO), recognized by most as the best in the world at 200 lbs. since the departure of former lineal Champion Tomasz Adamek to Heavyweight, makes his second defense of his second title reign. Cunningham has expressed at various times his desire to engage in a unification contest at his longtime weight class.
Enter Cuba’s Yoan Pablo Hernandez (24-1, 13 KO).
In February, the 26-year old knocked out Steve Herelius to win the prestigious **snark** interim WBA belt at Cruiserweight. It was a good win, if a silly belt. All the money flushed down the commode on that sanctioning fee amounted to not getting a crack at long reigning WBA ‘regular’ titlist Guillermo Jones.
And brother, has Jones reigned long.
In one of the feel-good stories of 2008, way back even before Jersey Shore debuted on MTV, Jones stopped Firat Arslan to win the WBA belt at 200 lbs. So elated with victory was he that the former Jr. Middleweight contender…
The WBA, never one to stop from stripping a titlist or naming 3 in a single division, allowed Jones to carry on for a full two years and change before defending his belt, for the first time, in October 2010. The Panamanian hasn’t fought since.
Jack Dempsey didn’t defend the Heavyweight Championship once between September 1924 and September 1926. If it’s good enough for Dempsey, it’s good enough for the WBA.
After all, hey, they’ve still got plenty of other guys willing to pay for the extra belts they seem to have in every division. For purists who believe champions should win and lose their titles in the ring, or retire, the Jones reign might be a tolerable cruelty.
However, given the context of the impurity of sanctioning bodies, Jones not being stripped by now is at least improbable. Had he been, this weekend would give Cunningham the unification he seeks and Hernandez a chance at the same. Instead, we have a full IBF beltholder and an interim WBA titlist and it’s time to ask the big question:
If Cunningham wins, is he the interim Super Champion of the WBA?
Of course, that isn’t the big question. The big question, for those who follow the underrated and exciting Cruiserweight class, is will the fight be as good as it looks like it could be? On a weekend when the Middleweight crown is up for grabs in Atlantic City and Rafael Marquez-Toshiaki Nishioka is going down in Vegas, Cunningham-Hernandez is the odd man out for attention in U.S. media this week.
It makes sense. It’s not on U.S. air. However, for fight fans, this is a scrap worthy of being on the radar as well. Both men can box a little, punch a little, and get hit a little too much sometimes. Throw in the aging legs of Cunningham and the fire Hernandez showed against Herelius and this could be a good show.
Hernandez’s interim belt, while questionable in terms of merit, didn’t hurt in getting this opportunity and maybe that fee wasn’t so commode worthy after all. Maybe it was an investment?
As Maxboxing’s Steve Kim has regularly argued in recent years, sanctioning body titles have their value, both to fighters and networks. They allow the unknown recognition, regularly amount to higher purses for their holders, and can strongly assist in getting prominent T.V. dates from networks that somewhat hypocritically bash sanctioning bodies but prefer their titlists for air. (see: Andre Berto’s challenge of Jan Zaveck?)
While belts, given their volume versus the number of weight classes, hardly signify legitimate ‘champions’ anymore, their holders are more often than not involved in the race to determine whom the legitimate champions of classes are.
At the very least, a belt is a sort of Good Housekeeping seal that says a fighter is, probably, one of the ten best fighters in his weight class and, among the full body of contenders of a given class, will be one of the most sought after opponents by those who would like to upgrade from Happy Meals to Red Robin (or beyond).
The funny thing is that sanctioning bodies used to have a bare modicum of shame, at least trying to keep a lid on how many men they recognized as champions within a weight class. Sometime in the last decade or so, even that decorum has eroded. The façade of championship credibility, with interim belts, champions in recess, and other such drivel, is just that. A façade. The tide is unlikely to turn.
What’s left is just a mad scramble to get any of the four major acronyms (WBA, WBC, IBF, WBO) with a shred of recognition from the public to call a guy champ and hope it leads to a big fight.
And, in a turnabout that is fair play, the fighters are more willing than ever to shed belts in pursuit of dollars. Hernandez got enough out of the WBA to lend his fight with Cunningham just a little bit extra before pursuing something other than Jones.
If one recognizes the sanctioning bodies not as a source of sport governance but as essentially a profit venture from whom honors can be purchased under preset, if varying, conditions, then it all becomes easy to shrug off. At this point, getting upset about sanctioning bodies doing something that seems to lend itself to monetary thinking before sporting integrity is like getting mad at a dog for barking.
In 2011, belts might belong to champions but it’s a relationship of correlation, not cause.
This Saturday, two correlations cross paths and fans could get a hell of a fight. The unification of leather gloves and bruised flesh will be enough for one day.
The Weekly Ledger
But wait, there’s more…
Arce Avenges: http://www.boxingscene.com/revenge-travieso-review-ratings-update--44215
New Divisional Ratings: http://www.boxingscene.com/forums/view.php?pg=boxing-ratings
Picks of the Week: http://www.boxingscene.com/boxingscenecoms-television-picks-week--44214
Cliff’s Notes… And it’s official. Anselmo Moreno will defend his Bantamweight belt against Vic Darchinyan and the world will get an indication of whether Moreno is just another solid slickster with a ceiling or the elite talent some (ahem) think they see…Paired with the Abner Mares-Joseph Agbeko rematch in December, it is one of the finest cards of the year…Too bad it’s going up against what will probably be an even better one. Really? Same night as Cotto-Margarito II? Oh well. God bless DVR.
Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel, the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]