One month after beating Evander Holyfield in 1992, an undefeated Riddick Bowe, who was then an IBF and WBA champion as well, stripped himself of the WBC strap before the sanctioning body could do so because “Big Daddy” wouldn’t agree to fight Lennox Lewis. In a made-for-TV moment, Bowe staged a news conference in London and tossed his WBC belt in a trash can.
Twenty-eight years later, many principles in the sport still believe that some boxing belts can be tossed away, just after Floyd Mayweather Jr. used his platform to call out every major sanctioning body to “clean this sh-t up.”
Matchroom Boxing head Eddie Hearn is one of the many leaders of the sweet science who’s gone sour on the proliferation of belts hanging in the balance.
"We do [have too many belts]. That's a given. It's not good for boxing at all,” Hearn told Sky Sports. “You look at the UFC model, which we're all very envious of, which is one promotional company, if you like, and one belt. That's where I want to get to in boxing. It's going to take a lot of work, but we're putting a blueprint together for that and it's something we're going to be pushing hard for in 2021 as we continue to expand.”
The timing of Mayweather Jr. and Hearn’s statements coincide with UFC president Dana White proclaiming last week that Zuffa Boxing is close to being announced. White, who is in business together with Mayweather Jr. for a yet-to-be-announced partnership, said that the boxing model is “broken” and the “whole thing needs to be changed.”
White didn’t specifically outline what he’d want to do with all of the belts in boxing, but one can only imagine he'd want for it to mirror the UFC, which has only one champion for each of its eight men’s divisions and four women’s weight classes.
Hearn believes that belts ultimately have a place in the sport.
“What we do have to understand is that belts do matter. These governing bodies are steeped in history ... so we can't forget that,” said Hearn. “The [WBC] Franchise situation, for me, was a terrible move for the WBC, and I love [WBC president] Mauricio Sulaiman. He's a friend of mine, but I just have to be honest. The problem with [the Franchise title] is that [Franchise champions] are the untouchables. We can't have that many barriers to greatness ... You have to give these young fighters and lions the opportunity to try and achieve greatness by chasing guys down. Mandatories are a pain for big champions. We need competitive mandatories. I wish sometimes Anthony Joshua didn't have to have a mandatory.”
As much as Hearn wants to revamp the championship picture in the sport, his biggest breadwinner in Joshua is the WBO, WBA, IBF and IBO heavyweight champion of the world.
Joshua is looking to further unify the division for undisputed status against the WBC, Ring Magazine and Lineal heavyweight crown holder in fellow British boxer Tyson Fury.
The two are scheduled to meet in 2021, after Fury has a tune-up Dec. 5 and Joshua fights in an IBF mandatory bout against Kubrat Pulev on Dec. 12. Should Joshua win, he will formally request to forgo his WBO mandatory against Oleksandr Usyk so the previously agreed upon fight with Fury can finally take place.
“I really want the Joshua versus Fury fight to be for the undisputed title,” said Hearn. “I've seen comments from their side saying the belts aren't important. The belts are important, and they are important for Anthony Joshua. He hasn't accumulated these belts and sanctioning fees over the years to just throw them away. The dream is to be undisputed.”
Hearn has a roster filled with a slew of champions, but IBF and WBA super featherweight titlist Murodjon Akhmadaliev is the only other current unified champion other than Joshua that he promotes.
If Hearn’s plan is to knock out the variety of belts, the best time to be at the forefront of the change could perhaps be when the sport’s glamour division has one clear-cut and undisputed champion next year.
Manouk Akopyan is a sports journalist and member of the Boxing Writers Assn. of America since 2011. He has written for the likes of the LA Times, Guardian, USA Today, Philadelphia Inquirer, Men’s Health and NFL.com. He can be reached on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and YouTube at @ManoukAkopyan or via email at manouk[dot]akopyan[at]gmail.com.