The Trouble WIth Mandatories

04.03.07 - By Paul McCreath: This coming weekend, Wladimir Klitschko (47-3, 42 KO's) will defend his IBF heavyweight title against mandatory challenger Ray Austin (23-3-4, 16 KO's). Why? Austin has never defeated another high rated fighter. His losses came against Charles Hatcher, Harold Sconiers and Attila Levin, not exactly a who's who of the boxing world. He has also been held to a draw by Zuri Lawrence, Lance Whitaker, Larry Donald, and the somewhat more respectable Sultan Ibragimov, in that eliminator that should have eliminated both fighters.

While the IBF has him as their mandatory, Ring Magazine doesn't rank him in their top 10, and most other boxing sites don't rank him in the top #15 in the division. How did he get this fight that has so few people excited? To answer that question, you have to look back a few years and see how all this developed.

Up until 1921 and the beginning of the NBA, there were no sanctioning bodies and no mandatories. This group became the WBA in 1962, and soon after, we saw the explosion of these people into four major ABC groups and countless lesser ones, all with their own champions. Before the first rules were brought into effect by the alphabet boys, champions were forced to defend their titles only by public opinion, and that didn't always work too well. Jack Dempsey went three years as world champ with no fights until he lost to Gene Tunney. Rocky Marciano never gave Nino Valdes a shot, although he was a top ranked opponent. Floyd Patterson avoided Zora Folley and Eddie Machen like the plague, while he held the title and kept Sonny Liston waiting for two years for his chance.

Meanwhile, the likes of Pete Rademacher in his first pro fight, Roy Harris, Brian London,and Tom McNeeley got their title shots. The sanctioning groups tried to bring some order and responsibility to boxing by requiring the champs to fight a leading contender every so often. The time limits varied but for heavyweights, it is usually 12 months.

The idea was good but the practice has been something else. The rule is often broken. We have extensions, exceptions, and often just plain political influence or corruption that result in many delays in the defenses the public calls for as well as fighters being named as mandatories who are not deserving. One result is the IBF fight this weekend. Now, I have no quarrel with Ray Austin fighting for the title in a voluntary defense. He is a fringe contender, so that would be fine, but the mandatory challenger? But you can't really blame the IBF completely for this nonsense. Look at the Ring ratings. Out of the top 10 ranked fighters, four of them are belt holders, so they are unavailable.

There would be no point in the IBF naming the champ from another organization as their challenger. Unification bouts, while popular with the fans, are not in the best financial interests of any of the people who make these decisions in boxing. Briggs is meeting Ibragimov and Valuev meets Chagaev, while Maskaev will meet somebody, maybe Sam Peter, once the WBC make up their minds. Liakhovich and Brewster have been injured and unavailable, which leaves us with James Toney. Toney was recently soundly defeated by Sam Peter, thus diminishing Toney's potential as a challenger, and he also turned down a fight with Wladimir Klitschko, previous to his fight with Peter. So, who is left in the top 10? Nobody. You can see the problem. Austin is no prize, but he is as good as anyone available.

The major reason why we have this impasse is the fact that we have 4 ABC groups, who refuse to work together for the good of the game and recognize one champion only in each division. It doesn't help when some of the boxing promoters have so much influence with the alphabet boys in getting his often undeserving fighters named as mandatories. I don't see too much hope for change until we have one body for the world that is not subject to bribes or political influence. We need to get rid of the sanctioning groups and I wish I knew how.

Maybe if our best champions would just refuse to submit their sanctioning fees and simply fight the best men they can find and gain public support that way, we could starve out the alphabet boys. After all, their only interest is money. Cut it off and they would go away. If anyone has any other ideas, I would love to hear them.

Article posted on 05.03.2007

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