As the leader of one of the four major sanctioning bodies in boxing, WBC president Mauricio Sulaiman realizes that there needs to be some kind of reform to prevent roadblocks for unified champions to make the most sensible fights possible happen first.
There are currently 10 unified champions in the sport. The multi-belt holders are Anthony Joshua, Canelo Alvarez, Jermell Charlo, Errol Spence Jr., Teofimo Lopez Jr., Naoya Inoue, Artur Beterbiev, Josh Taylor, Jose Ramirez and Murodjon Akhmadaliev.
Sulaimán recently told a group of reporters including BoxingScene.com that mandatory fights for unified champions need to be handled better in order to make the most palatable fights.
“It’s a sensitive and problematic [situation]. It’s complicated, and it’s not easy. Of course there are examples, there are mistakes, and we’re trying to handle it the best way possible. It’s an important topic in our sport that deserves attention,” said Sulaimon.
“Our rules are very clear. We want the best fights. We want the development of the sport. We do not want to give mandatories to fulfill and just to impose. We are very flexible and understanding case by case. We will not allow a mandatory contender to abuse that position.”
One of the most significant mandatory situations that is still lingering in the sport for a unified titlist is Joshua’s mandatory defense of the WBO title against Oleksandr Usyk. It’s a bout that could potentially further stall the megafight between Joshua and WBC champion Tyson Fury.
Immediately after Joshua knocked out his IBF mandatory in Kubrat Pulev in December, WBO president Francisco “Paco” Valcárcel switched gears and resurfaced attention that Joshua needed to fight Usyk next.
The WBO has a rule that if a champion moves up to a new division, as the former unified and undisputed cruiserweight king Usyk did when he moved up to heavyweight in 2019, then he could challenge for the title in his new vision at his discretion.
“I have discussed in the past, maybe not to the formality that I wish, but I have discussed with the other organizations a concept — whenever there is a unified champion, we should plan ahead, do a tournament and fights between the mandatory contenders [of each respective sanctioning body],” said Sulaimán. “At the end, the champion has to do one mandatory, and not multiple ones. That holds back the development of the sport.
“Each organization, and promoter, has their own rules and agenda. Once you get a mandatory, it becomes a legal problem.
“The reality is that the mandatory contender was introduced by the WBC many years ago. The champions could sit and defend without facing the real, up and coming forces. In most cases, the mandatory contender works. I cannot speak for the other organization’s processes. I can only respond to what the WBC does. We have been consistent in making sure the mandatory process is at the highest level possible. The reality of having multiple organizations and multiple titles, and the quality of the challengers dilute on many occasions. The WBC has been consistent in making sure that we order final eliminations to determine the mandatory. We encourage unification bouts. We do not get in the way of that. I don’t recall a problem with a mandatory contender in recent years who was an obstacle for great fights to happen.”
While promoting Gennadiy Golovkin’s mandatory defense of his IBF middleweight title against Kamil Szeremeta in December, Matchroom Boxing head and Usyk promoter Eddie Hearn emphasized that the Joshua versus Fury fight eclipses all of the belts.
“I obviously work close with Usyk. They are in a strong position as the mandatory challenger,” said Hearn. “At the same time, we have a fight on our hands — and sorry to the governing bodies — that eclipses all belts. We just got to be a little bit careful.
“You may be on the verge of going, ‘You know what? Let’s just get rid of all the politics right now. Let’s just drop all the belts.’ Because if you give up one belt, you might as well lose them all.”
“It gets to the stage where you got the biggest fight in all of boxing. You’re paying each governing body hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars. Now you got another guy who probably wants seven figures to step aside. So you just have to be careful.
“The aim of this fight has always been to be for the undisputed championship, When Anthony Joshua came into my office years ago, that was always the dream. We will do whatever we can to make sure every belt in boxing is on the line for the Tyson Fury fight.”
Manouk Akopyan is a sports journalist, writer and broadcast reporter. He’s also a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and MMA Journalists Association. He can be reached on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and YouTube at @ManoukAkopyan, via email at manouk[dot]akopyan[at]gmail.com or on www.ManoukAkopyan.com