The Emperor’s New Alphabet Belt: A Fairy Tale

Amir Khan09.04.09 - By Andrew Harrison: Once upon a time there lived an exciting young fighter, whose only worry in life was when he’d become a ‘world champion.'

Word of the fighter’s ambition spread far and wide, whereupon promoter extraordinaire Frank Warren decided to take advantage of the situation.

‘I can offer you the WBA light welterweight title on a plate young man’ he said ‘and the world will regard you as a world champion. Only those who are stupid and incompetent will dispute this’…………

What fun to be had in adapting Hans Christian Andersen’s timeless fairytale, based on news suggesting that British lightweight prospect Amir Khan is to challenge Andreas Kotelnik for an alphabet title up at light welterweight. A victory here would allow young Khan to pass himself off as a ‘world champion’, however all mirth aside, is this anything to laugh about?

Boxing, as we are constantly reminded, continues to be marginalised, resulting in fans finding themselves with fewer and fewer folks who they can crack a beer open with and shoot the breeze on all things fistic. What makes this even more galling is the fact that there are millions of budding fight fans out there who have largely been turned off this great sport, due to the fact that they just don’t understand the game anymore; too many divisions, too many titles, too much fizzy pop passed off as champagne.

Ricky Hatton is the current light welterweight kingpin, has been for years in fact, yet there are others within the 140 division who are currently laying claim to being ‘the champion’. At present Timothy Bradley parades the WBC and WBO baubles, Juan Urango punches under the IBF banner, whilst the aforementioned Kotelnik holds his trousers up with a little black number sponsored by the WBA. During the recent Holt-Bradley telecast, Showtime managed to identify all of these men as champions, with Ricky Hatton harvesting nary a mention and here lies a major problem. Whilst Ricky has proven himself the best light welterweight in the world, in the ring where it counts, what exactly is it that these men champion?

Bradley has firmly established himself as the number one contender at light welter with substantial wins over Junior Witter and Kendall Holt, no more, no less. He has not as yet, been afforded the chance to establish himself as the best 140 lb fighter in the world and won’t do until he fights Hatton (or Pacquiao if indeed it’s his hand which is held aloft once the smoke clears after his impending showdown with ‘The Hitman’).

Urango has already lost to Hatton, which begs the question, how in the world can Showtime project him as a champion and Hatton as an also ran?

And what of Kotelnik? The man from the Ukraine won the right to call himself ‘champ’ by battering Gavin Rees, but how on earth did Rees become a ‘champion’? Here follows a very sorry tale indeed……deep breaths and away we go……..

Kostya Tszyu became undisputed light welterweight champion by blitzkrieging Zab Judah back in 2001. The WBA then hatched a plan to bolster it’s coffers by raking in a little bit more cash in sanctioning fees, hailing Tszyu as it’s ‘super champion’ whilst allowing Randall Bailey and Demetrio Ceballos to scrap it out for the privilege of becoming the organisation’s ‘ordinary champ’, why have one champion when you can have two right? Bailey stopped Ceballos before being stopped himself by Diosbelys Hurtado. Hurtado went on to lose to Vivian Harris, ‘Vicious’ Vivian subsequently proving his ring mantle was bogus and flopping against the ungainly Carlos Maussa. Maussa then decided to cash in his chips against Hatton (you know, the guy who had been champion all along), Ricky crumpling the pretender to his throne in nine rounds, after which Manchester’s finest figured that his career could probably do without a mandatory assignment against the uninspiring Frenchman Saul M’baye, promptly Fed-Exing the WBA belt straight back to it’s owners (it may or may not have magically transformed into a ‘super’ title by this point……sigh…). M’baye managed to pick up the discarded ‘title’ and hang on to it for a short period, before Warren pitched the lowly regarded Rees in against him, the Welshman out hustling M’baye to become the most unlikeliest of ‘world champions’. Phew.

This is what Khan will be championing should he, as many suspect he will, top Kotelnik in June, a paper championship. The thing is, it isn’t the fans reading this article who I need to convince, we’re not likely to go anywhere, no matter how marginalised our beloved sport becomes, we’re here for keeps.

Rather it’s the fans who stop by once in a while, to catch a big production such as the Ricky-Manny donnybrook in a few weeks time, the ones who often end up looking puzzled at what’s been served up to them before inevitably decrying the fight game as not being quite what it once was. Unfortunately (and much to my chagrin) this article is unlikely to reach those masses in quite the same manner the guy that’s peddling this spurious ‘title’ fight is able to.

Khan’s promoter Frank Warren will almost certainly start trumpeting this fight as being for the ‘light welterweight world championship’ via his weekly column in Britain’s biggest selling tabloid newspaper. ‘Oh how fine the Emperor’s new clothes are’ he shall cry!! The end result being that Khan is seen by many as having reached the pinnacle of our sport on the back of three fights in which he was blown away in seconds by Breidis Prescott, before notching a brace of wins against unranked opposition. Cue much head scratching from said casual fan, before they reach for the remote and choose MMA………or golf…………or table tennis.

Khan is being ushered towards fights which it seems do his reputation more harm than good. How many fans did he win over by beating up on a clearly overmatched yet much loved boxing icon last time out? How much criticism will he now face if, should he manage to beat Kotelnik, he starts referring to himself as the light welterweight champion, when we’re still not sure whether he’s actually a world class fighter?

Surely it would be more prudent to allow the lad to learn his trade under Freddie Roach, before he’s thrown onto the big stage? Running before he’s learned to walk could have disastrous consequences in the long term.

My mind wanders back to former Olympians David Reid and Fernando Vargas racing each other to win alphabet titles in the light middleweight division in the late 90’s. Reid took the WBA version from Laurent Boudouani, before coming face to face with the harsh realities of passing one’s self off as a ‘champion’ whilst still having your ‘L’ plates on. Pretty soon an elite and battle hardened fighter will come along and decide that he’d quite like your title, just as Felix Trinidad did when he gate crashed 154 lbs. Reid took a fearful pasting from Felix and was forever ruined as a fighter. The same fate befell Vargas, despite the Oxnard man having at least been in against world class opposition in Winky Wright and Ike Quartey prior to crossing swords with the fearsome Tito.

Khan’s decision to chase that sparkling title belt so soon could prove to be folly, much like the Emperor’s wardrobe decision in Andersen’s fable which ultimately left him both ridiculed and exposed.

Article posted on 11.04.2009

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