Following last weekend’s reportedly successful and profitable return of the UFC, one can assume it as only a matter of time.
The return of big time boxing is closer.
Someone had to go first.
Boxing’s relatively laissez faire form of capitalism won’t let it linger long.
When it gets back, conversations of who should fight who and who is the best fighter in the world, pound for pound, will resume in more earnest fashion. We’re not quite there yet.
For several years in the past, and returning here, a special look was taken in this corner at an aspect of boxing that should never be overlooked. Fighters fight to feed their families first. It’s easy to understand at the professional level.
They also aspire to be champions.
With so many belts around, the idea of champions can get watered down and not just by the WBA. It’s almost certainly one of the reasons pound-for-pound ratings gained so much more heft in the marketplace in the last two generations.
It was a way to cut through the chaff.
That doesn’t mean there still aren’t men who exemplify what a champion should be. They are the men who face the best available in their class more often than others who share their place as beltholders. In anticipation of the return of all the men who call themselves champions, let’s take a look at each of the seventeen weight classes in the game, identifying the most impressive champion in each division, ending with the top ten title reigns in the division.
For the purpose of comparison (and with a full disclosure of personal involvement), this comparison will use the current and archived Transnational Boxing Rankings Board ratings as a reasonably gauge to identify the rated contenders defeated during each current title reign for the primary titlist of each sanctioning body or, where applicable, reigning lineal kings. WBA sub-titlists can be found on the BoxingScene Championship stats page but won’t be included for this evaluation.
Starting at the top, there are the champions at…
Lineal: Tyson Fury (30-0-1, 20 KO; 6 Defenses); won 11/28/2015, UD12 W. Klitschko
WBA (Super): Anthony Joshua (23-1, 21 KO, 0 Defenses); won 12/07/2019, UD12 A. Ruiz
WBC/TBRB: T. Fury (0 Defenses); won 02/22/2020, TKO7 D. Wilder
IBF: A. Joshua (0 Defenses); won 12/07/2019, UD12 A. Ruiz
WBO: A. Joshua (0 Defenses); won 12/07/2019, UD12 A. Ruiz
IBO: A. Joshua (0 Defenses); won 12/07/2019, UD12 A. Ruiz
While Joshua currently has wins over three of the men in the TBRB top ten (Alexander Povetkin, Dillian Whyte, and Ruiz), those wins are spread across his development period, first title reign, and the beginning of his second. In the first reign, beginning with a win over Charles Martin for the IBF belt and up to his loss to the then-unrated Ruiz, Joshua defeated five opponents rated in the TBRB top ten. Wladimir Klitschko had slipped from the TBRB ratings for inactivity but was rated number one by Ring; the number could easily be six with a little different timing. The wins over Klitschko and Joseph Parker also added the WBA and WBO straps to his mantle, respectively. Prior to the first Ruiz fight, the only man Joshua faced who wasn’t rated in the top ten by TBRB was Eric Molina.
While none of those wins included a much-desired showdown with Deontay Wilder, it still represented a strong run relative to the field. If Joshua can resume at a similar pace with his first loss behind him, he will be a model champion.
For now, the premiere champion must be regarded as Fury. If one considers Fury as history’s rightful champion since his 2015 win over Wladimir Klitschko, his defense total would have to be counted at six. Of those men, only one opponent was considered a top ten contender when Fury faced him: Deontay Wilder. The first fight, a controversial draw, has since been overshadowed by a decisive stoppage win. If Fury can diversify his opposition, and keep winning, particularly in a showdown with Joshua after compulsory rematch matters are resolved with Wilder, he can put the finishing touches on being the sort of heavyweight champion the sport needs.
WBA (Super): Arsen Goulamirian (26-0, 18 KO, 2 Defenses); won interim 03/24/2018, TKO11 R. Mehri; elevated to full July 2019 (D. Lebedev Retires)
WBC: Ilunga Makabu (27-2, 24 KO, 0 Defenses); won vacant 01/31/2020, UD12 M. Cieslak
IBF: Yunier Dorticos (24-1, 22 KO, 0 Defenses); won vacant 06/15/2019, KO10 A. Tabiti
IBO: Kevin Lerena (25-1, 12 KOs, 6 Defenses), won vacant title 9/9/2017, SD12 Y. Kalenga
Cruiserweight has remained compelling despite the loss of the fantastic Oleksandr Usyk to heavyweight. The top two men in the class, Dorticos and Mairis Briedis, will square off for the best claim to the vacant lineal throne and be recognized as the rightful champion by TBRB. It doesn’t get better than the best of any division squaring off and the other title reigns in the class have yet to make waves. The Dorticos-Briedis clash, assuming it still comes off after multiple delays, will finally end the second round of the World Boxing Super Series and provide a centerpiece for championship discussion. For now, the only titlist from the four most recognized sanctioning bodies with a recorded defense is Goulamirian and neither defense came against a fighter rated in the TBRB top ten. Choosing between Dorticos and Makabu’s wins for vacant titles, the edge goes to Dorticos who defeated a then-fifth rated Andrew Tabiti versus a then-rated seventh Michael Cieslak. None of IBO beltholder Kevin Lerena’s seven title wins to date have come against someone rated in the TBRB top ten.
Lineal/TBRB: Artur Beterbiev (15-0, 15 KO); won 10/18/2019, TKO10 O. Gvozdyk
WBA (Super): Dmitry Bivol (17-0, 11 KO, 6 Defenses – full; 8 – interim & full); won interim 05/21/2016, UD12 F. Valera; elevated to full prior to defense 11/04/2017, KO1 T. Broadhurst
WBC: A. Beterbiev (0 Defenses); won 10/18/2019, TKO10 O. Gvozdyk
IBF: Artur Beterbiev (3 Defenses); won vacant 11/11/2017, KO12 E. Koelling
IBO: Dominic Boesel (0 Defenses); won title 11/16/2019 TKO11 S. Fornling
Coming off his knockout win over Oleksandr Gvokzdyk, it’s easy to point to Beterbiev as the cream of the crop at light heavyweight. Unifying a pair of alphabet straps doesn’t hurt. While Gvozdyk is Beterbiev’s only IBF title fight win over an opponent who was in the TBTB ratings, that win came over the recognized TBRB champion. It’s hard to top.
Bivol’s six defenses since being elevated to full recognition by the WBA aren’t easily discounted. Of Bivol’s six challengers, two (Sullivan Barrera, Joe Smith) were rated in the top ten when Bivol beat them and one (a then-unrated Jean Pascal) is currently rated on the strength of his victories over Marcus Browne and Badou Jack. It’s more than enough to merit a showdown between the two unbeaten leaders of the class.
To Be Continued with Super Middleweight and below
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]