By Lyle Fitzsimmons
Now the day is come/Soon he will be released
Glory hallelujah/We're building the perfect beast
With those 34-year-old Don Henley lyrics swirling in my sun-scorched, sleep-deprived head, I’m back at the keyboard to consider an idealistic mandate – constructing the ideal sanctioning body.
Of course, as with most mandates – be they political, popular or existential – some dissension exists. Some insist, with varying degrees of civility and grammatical correctness, that time spent questing for an idyllic organization would be better spent ignoring the practice altogether.
They’re simply unnecessary, the naysayers contend. And rather than reassembling the alphabet morass with designs on a better end-product, the boards and nails should instead be tossed aside to allow the sport – particularly the most recognized top-shelf performers – more freedom to legislate themselves.
Just such an approach, at least according to a recent e-mail respondent, read as follows:
“If the top 10 or 15 fighters in the world boycotted these corrupt sanctioning bodies, they, along (with) their rubbishy belts and useless rankings, would all disappear very quickly. The only people who need these scumbag organizations to survive are the scumbags who run them.”
Elaboration came from another poster:
“The truth of the matter is each of the organizations (allows) absolutely horrid mismatches to be called ‘title defenses’ by their champions because they bring in sanctioning fees. Fighters can get hammered in their previous fights and still get a title shot because the promoters of a champion want a patsy to slap around to pad their fighter's record.”
In spite of warranted disgust, the latter view stops short of tossing baby out with bath water.
Rightly so, because the all-or-nothing approach some favor simply isn’t practical.
Though the “top 10 or 15” in the world are indeed able to call their shots and pick and choose 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 IBF champ at 154 pounds who soldiered on for 12 years after dropping his belt in 2005, and has another fight scheduled later this month in Estonia.
And while scrapping the system entirely taps into a visceral “off with their heads” vibe shared collectively by fans, to do so would eliminate the very prizes that guys like Ouma and others still anonymous pursue in the shadows.
Championships, at least to the fighters, are still necessary.
If nothing else, as sort of a backstage pass to where the headline acts hang out.
According to foiled heavyweight challenger Eddie Chambers, who was stopped in 12 by Wladimir Klitschko in 2010 – five years after earning the fringy IBU title – there’s nothing better than winning and holding a belt to gain admission to the exclusive 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.”
Still, it’d be best for everyone to reach a place where Chambers’ logic falls flat.
So perfecting, rather than discarding, the title mechanism really should be the goal.
And in this Tuesday corner, that process begins and ends with rankings.
The too-frequent presence of the 50th- or 75th-best fighters in a given division’s championship bouts – not to mention others not even included in an impartial top 100 – is proof positive that the existing structure is flawed beyond repair.
Regardless of circumstance, mismatches like that shouldn’t happen.
Problem is, short of voluntary business dissolutions in San Juan, Panama City, Mexico City and East Orange, the changes needed are neither likely nor imminent.
So creating a scenario where the “majors” exist for the betterment of the sport is more important than pie-in-the-sky fantasies where we all wake up one day and they’ve disappeared.
In other words, until those dreams come true, the rest of us need to be prepared with options.
Here are five of mine:
• 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. Diamonds may be a girl's best friend. But they've got no place in boxing. As for the media, anyone acknowledging such 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 a guaranteed legitimacy for all participants in title bouts.
• Mandatory, with a Twist: Require champions 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 football has shown 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.
Got some of your own? Let’s hear them.
Who knows, maybe someone’s listening.
And even if not, just think of the catharsis.
* * * * * * * * * *
This week’s legit title-fight schedule:
IBF/WBA/WBC/WBO cruiserweight/junior heavyweight titles – Manchester, United Kingdom
Oleksandr Usyk (champion/No. 1 IWBR) vs. Tony Bellew (No. 1 WBO/No. 7 IWBR)
Usyk (15-0, 11 KO): Sixth WBO title defense; Two KOs in six title fights, nine in nine non-title fights
Bellew (30-2-1, 20 KO): Fifth title fight (2-2); Twentieth fight at cruiserweight (19-0, 13 KO)
Fitzbitz says: Usyk hasn’t been a KO machine of late and Bellew has as solid a resume as anyone the Ukrainian has beaten, but it’s hard to envision the top cruiser’s run ending now. Usyk by decision (75/25)
Last week's picks: 1-1 (WIN: Berchelt; LOSS: Burnett)
2018 picks record: 77-32 (70.6 percent)
Overall picks record: 997-336 (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.