Sanctioning Body Blows – How to Make Sense of the Alphabet Organizations

May 22, 2009 – By Scott Kraus- Imagine you are a movie director and, for some reason, you cast a group of boxing writers and hardcore boxing fans in your movie. You are about to film a scene in which you need this group to communicate impassioned rage, the kind of venomous vitriol usually reserved for mass murderers and banking executives. How do you inspire this ragtag group to deliver a powerful performance, to make the audience really believe their anger? You ask them the following question: How do you feel about sanctioning organizations in boxing? Then you yell “action” and start writing your Oscar acceptance speech.

Boxing aficionados address the sanctioning organizations the way conservatives address socialism and liberals address Dick Cheney – with blunt, bitter disdain.. In Dan Rafael’s weekly boxing chats on, fans assign humorous, more appropriate nicknames for the acronyms (e.g. WBC = We Be Cheating). Showtime and HBO are routinely criticized for placing too much emphasis on sanctioning body titles to promote fights. Some writers ignore the sanctioning body titles altogether in an attempt to subvert their stranglehold on the sport, either focusing on the Ring Magazine rankings or foregoing talk of championships at all. Many writers compose passionate, persuasive diatribes on the damage done to the sport by the sanctioning bodies.

The reason for all this outrage is that the sanctioning organizations elevate unadulterated greed and shameless exploitation to an artistic level Bernie Madoff would admire. The invent titles out of thin air (e.g. interim titlist) to gouge as much money as possible. They strip fighters of titles without reason. They name mandatory challengers anonymous to even the most diehard fans, thereby preventing attractive matchups by forcing fighters to face paper contenders rather than more dangerous, entertaining adversaries. They simply cannot help but reach into a fighter’s pocket for cash, even as they strap a belt around his waist.

The ideal solution to the sanctioning body madness is to develop a worldwide organization to govern and mandate the sport of boxing, similar to the International Olympic Committee. Unfortunately, the logistics make this an impractical nightmare, like trying to memorize all the sanctioning body titlists at a given time. An international governing body is the goal, but it is a long-term goal, one that honestly may never come to fruition even with great effort. So far, little effort has even been made.

One effort that may help clarify the situation slightly is for the boxing media to come to a consensus about the language used to address titles and championships, and to define the terms more clearly so that fans know the difference. To do my very small part, the following is a summary of the language I will use to discuss the sanctioning organizations and championship picture in future pieces.

- Boxers who have earned the lineal/Ring Magazine title in a weight class will be referred to as world champions, lineal champions, or Ring Magazine champions. Some writers are uncomfortable with Golden Boy Promotions’ control of Ring Magazine and others do not agree with the Ring championship criteria, but I have not personally observed evidence of manipulation of the rankings since Golden Boy took control of Ring and I generally agree with their criteria, so I will go with their designation. And because there are so few Ring champions (currently only 6 in 17 weight classes), the title has the prestige and elite distinction the public expects from a world championship

- Boxers who have won a title from one of the sanctioning organizations will be referred to as world titlists, titlists, titleholders or [sanctioning body] champions (e.g. IBF light heavyweight champion Chad Dawson). This distinction may be too subtle for some and others may argue that I give the sanctioning bodies too much credit but, considering the value that fighters give these belts, I think it is only fair to recognize fighters’ efforts. As dirty and offensive as the IBF is, Chad Dawson earned recognition as the IBF champion in the gym and in the ring, and I do not believe that refusing to acknowledge that accomplishment will make the sanctioning bodies go away

- Boxers who have unified titles from two or more of the sanctioning organizations will be referred to as unified world titlists, unified titlists, unified titleholders, or [multiple sanctioning body] champions (e.g. IBF/WBO heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko). Unified titlists deserve to be recognized separately from single sanctioning body champions because they have (theoretically) fought and defeated two reigning titlists, elevating their level of achievement

- Interim titles, super titles (generally used for unified titlists and therefore covered above), emeritus titles, regional titles, and other various trinkets will not be recognized. Everybody has a line, and mine is drawn here

While language will not solve the problem, it will define the terms of conversation for the sport in a way that everybody can understand.

To further clarify the distinction, I offer an analogy to a more clearly organized sport, baseball. Sanctioning body titlists are the equivalent of playoff teams in baseball. Winning a world title is an accomplishment, as is making the playoffs in baseball. A playoff team in baseball can be referred to as a champion, but only with qualification (e.g. National League West champion Los Angeles Dodgers), similar to sanctioning body champions.

Unified titlists are the equivalent of league champions in baseball, the teams that make the World Series. League champions have elevated their achievement of making the playoffs by beating other playoff teams, the same distinction that separates titlists from unified titlists. Again, they can be referred to as champions with qualification (e.g. American League champion Tampa Bay Rays) and they have earned a more prestigious title.

World champions are the equivalent of World Series champions in baseball. The Philadelphia Phillies are world champions in baseball. Manny Pacquiao is the junior welterweight world champion in boxing. This is the highest honor (apart from number one pound for pound fighter) you can earn in the sport and one without peer. There are multiple titlists and multiple playoff teams, but only one world champion.

As for the mythical pound for pound list, that is one thing that boxing has gotten right and the one element for which there is no equivalent in other sports. Manny Pacquiao is the number one pound for pound fighter in boxing today and no organization, no matter how corrupt, can take that away from him. If there was money to be made, though, you better believe they would try.

Article posted on 22.05.2009

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