By Cliff Rold
Few fans are all that excited. It’s not even clear the fighters are particularly pumped.
Regardless, the rematch between WBC heavyweight titlist Deontay Wilder and Bermane Stiverne is happening this weekend (Showtime, 9 PM EST/6 PM PST). Wilder won almost every round the first time around. He’s heavily favored to win again. With an assist from a positive test for banned substance that led to a cancelled clash with Alexander Povetkin along the way, Stiverne has fought only once since that loss in January 2015.
That was still enough to wind up in the WBC’s top contender spot.
On Monday, BoxingScene’s Keith Idec penned a piece where fight promoter Lou DiBella asked a logical question: “How do you fight one fight in two years against a guy that knocked you down and subsequently gets knocked out, and barely do anything, and you’re still the WBC mandatory?”
It would be a stronger question if one ignored the circumstances of their first fight. As noted by this scribe in a preview of that clash in 2015:
Deontay Wilder has risen through the ratings of the WBC by sheer numbers. A check of the most current WBC ratings at Heavyweight show that Wilder is undefeated against their top forty Heavyweights.
That’s not a big deal.
It’s easy to be undefeated against the top forty guys in the WBC ratings when you haven’t fought any of them. That’s not a misprint. Wilder is rated number one by the WBC and hasn’t faced one guy rated in the 39 slots below him.
Then again, Stiverne has only faced one current WBC top 40 himself (Arreola is currently their 13th rated Heavyweight and was higher when he fought Stiverne for the vacant belt last year).
Stiverne being the top rated contender with his inactivity isn’t an anomaly. It’s par for the course. The ratings that most influence the fights we see often read more like chaos theory than meritocracy. Heading into this weekend, looking at the four most recognized sanctioning bodies, being the heavyweight champion is an honor shared by three fighters.
Below them is a combined list of top ten contenders twenty-five fighters deep.
That’s right. Boxing’s heavyweight division has twenty-five top ten contenders. Drawing from the current ratings on their websites, here is a snapshot of the heavyweight division heading into this weekend. Titlists are noted by asterisk and, for clarification, the IBF ratings technically have a vacant number one spot now so the below notes the next ten names in order.
For those who would argue boxing creates an institutional barrier to entry for new fans, this picture of the heavyweight ratings provides a strong case. The organizations rarely rate each other’s titlist’s or we’d be looking at a pool of twenty-eight possible top ten heavyweights. Across the four sanctioning bodies, only Dillian Whyte is rated by all. He is noted in red while the other seven fighters rated by at least two are in bold.
Some of the names are almost stunning in their appearance while others are a practice in anonymity. Alexander Dimitrenko has won twice since being knocked out by Parker; one of those wins was against a fighter with a losing record. Fres Oquendo hasn’t had a fight, much less a win, since 2014 though there may still be some outstanding legal issues with the WBA.
Many fans and pundits long ago stopped taking the sanctioning body ratings seriously. They have instead turned to the ratings of various publications or press collectives. Here is a snapshot of what happens when the heavyweight division is filtered through those lenses. In this case, only Ring currently recognizes a champion, maintaining the lineal position of Tyson Fury. The lists below are straight 1-10 rankings.
In full disclosure, this author is a chair and contributor to the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board (TBRB) and believes the sport would be better off with less belts and stronger merit based ratings. Lists like these aren’t constrained by not rating titlists against each other; that’s a clear advantage in pursuit of clarity. Even here, agreement about the top ten heavyweights isn’t universal but one could argue they deliver a much clearer picture of the division’s best.
There are, in total, thirteen fighters listed in the press ratings above. There is unanimous agreement that Anthony Joshua is the division leader. Six fighters, all bolded in red, are rated across the board if in different places. Ironically, Whyte misses a clean sweep of both sanctioning body and press-based lists by way of omission from the British publication.
Only three fighters, bolded in black, appear in only one top ten.
It’s easy to want this to be the way we look at the divisions and just tune out the noise but the noise dictates too much of the rest of what goes on. There are economic and structural realities that can’t be ignored.
Even if we ignore them, it does nothing to eliminate the disappointment many fans express when they get a Wilder-Stiverne II. What has to be recognized is that their disappointment is a byproduct of the chaos. In defense of the fight, it was supposed to be the far more tantalizing Wilder-Luis Ortiz but Ortiz failed a pre-fight drug test for a banned substance. When that fight fell apart, it left Wilder with a mandatory to fulfill.
It left Stiverne.
One could say, “he should just give up his belt,” but that same belt was attained through the chaotic sanctioning body system that had Wilder as a number one contender without a top forty win in the first place. His purses, exposure, and indeed his regard on more objective ratings lists all rose from the Stiverne fight forward.
Winning the WBC belt was good for him. Boxing’s ratings might not reflect pure merit, but those belts retain valuable economic cache.
As long as that’s true, then looking for logical answers about so many of the ratings that matter to fighters and their camps will remain an exercise in frustration.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]