Only one reign in the era of the four championship sanctioning bodies (IBF, WBA, WBC, WBO) has there been an undisputed and unified champion that held all four belts at once. The prospect that the same boxer is in position to repeat the same unworldly feat in a different weight-class seems fitting considering his nickname is "The Alien." But that boxer doesn’t train on Neptune; he trains in Philadelphia at Joe Hand Gym. So why aren’t more fighters chasing this like a pitcher chases a perfect game and who else is close to clinching the undisputed banner? The results may surprise you and for some they may not.
The political landscape has created a void in boxing that separates two camps of fighters. Within these two camps is a second degree of separation that pits two television networks against each other.
The battle for control of top boxers has seen almost every division split champions between the camps and two networks. Heated competition to secure top contenders to feed the champions and create entertaining matches continues to blister the rivalry. Each network has deeper benches than the other in at least one division. This fact hurts champions like middleweight WBO titleholder Peter Quillin. Quillin can’t find opponents with enough appeal to legitimize his standing or make him a bonafied star.
There’s many Peter Quillin’s throughout the ranks. One would hope that boxing would go the route of baseball and just sanction the trading of boxers. Divisions could then adequately showcase their potential and of course find undisputed champions. In the case of Quillin, he’s kept by one side just so the other can’t have his title or pit him against their more bankable sluggers. His prospects of being a headliner in the near future are bleak unless he can secure a fight with super welterweight star Canelo Alvarez next year. Perhaps Puerto Rican veteran Miguel Cotto who’s scheduled to fight current WBC middleweight champion Sergio Martinez this June could be an option, should Cotto win.
Beyond the deep rift between the networks and promotional companies lie the sanctioning bodies that control the belts. In the case of the World Boxing Council (WBC) who has Floyd Mayweather as one of their champions, they actually don’t allow their champions to hold more than one belt at a time. In the case of Floyd Mayweather (and Danny Garcia), he’s been given a prolonged furlough on deciding between which belts he wants to keep as he’s unified half of the super welterweight division with the addition of the WBA last September.
In addition to the boxing organizations creating unification limits they’ve also successfully managed to water down their own brand. The exclusivity to earning a championship belt has been lost.
The organizations have actually added more championship labels and littered each division with these distractions. They include "regular champion," "interim champion," and so forth. This allows sanctioning fees to add to the profits of each organization and add to the confusion for fans.
Recently Canelo Alvarez silently fought this concept by refusing to fight for Erislandy Lara’s WBA "regurlar championship" in their upcoming bout this summer. Canelo lost his WBA championship to Floyd Mayweather and recognizes him as the WBA’s true super middleweight champion, subsequently making Lara’s belt meaningless.
Could there be more cooperation between the organizations to allow more of the best fighting the best? The head of the WBC Don Jose Sulaiman is arranging a meeting with the president’s of the other boxing organizations to discuss an array of topics. One can only hope they find ways to better the sport instead of ways to pollute the sport.
It should be noted that Ring Magazine also has a championship belt that they give to boxers with the idea that they’re the undisputed champion of that division. However, Ring is owned by one of the boxing promotional companies involved in the rift that’s separated boxing. This creates a conflict of interest.
Proof is seen in their ranking system that has come under increased criticism. By not establishing a proper formula that encourages boxers to fight the highest (although skewed) ranked opponents, all credibility is lost. This is most notably seen within the welterweight division.
Floyd Mayweather was recognized as The Ring champion for defeating Robert Guerrero. Guerrero questionably became his mandatory challenger with the WBC and was ranked #3 with Ring Magazine after only two fights in the division. Guerrero was then awarded a shot at The Ring title before Manny Pacquiao, Juan Manuel Marquez (Ring ranked #2 at the time), and Timothy Bradley. All three of them are now currently ranked in that order beneath Mayweather. While I believe Floyd is the best in the division and in boxing, I don’t see Ring pressuring him to fight any of the above names or stripping him of his title if he doesn’t.
Mayweather may be an exception to a lot boxing norms but it doesn’t negate how Ring and their owners defy logic when it pertains to matchmaking to establish recognized champions. The dynamite divisions of Lightweight, Jr. Lightweight, and Featherweight, all lack champions. Ring won’t press any of those division’s two highest ranked opponents to fight each other to create champions like other boxing organizations will do. This is in part because it doesn’t work for their owners agenda (Mikey Garcia [fights for rival], Miguel Vazquez [not favored by owner’s network partner Stephen Espinoza], Abner Mares [sheltered]). Ring no longer holds the clout or respect it once had to influence such fights.
As it stands, five divisions have unified champions holding two belts apiece (Klitschko has three). This means each of those fighters needs another two belts to be recognized as the complete undisputed and unified champion.
One could argue that Danny Garcia should have the IBF championship as he won in an unofficial junior welterweight tournament that saw its champion Lamont Peterson knocked out by Lucas Matthysse who eventually was convincingly beat by Garcia. As the old rule goes: "the person that beats the man that beats the man that beats the man, is the guy." Matthysse wasn’t awarded the IBF belt in the Peterson fight as a contracted weight one pound above the division limit was agreed upon, thus vanquishing a chance at making it a title fight.
Danny Garcia, who’s a Philadelphia native just like Bernard Hopkins, still can get the IBF title if a fight with Peterson is scheduled for the summer. Garcia has said he’d like to fight one more time at junior welterweight and Peterson is coming off a win making a showdown a fairly lucrative option for both. Unfortunately Garcia can’t unify the division completely as the WBO champion is under contract with a rival boxing promoter to that of his own.
Here’s a look at the other divisions and the chances of seeing another unified champion.
Heavyweight Likelihood: Very Good
Wladimir Klitschko holds the WBO, WBA, and IBF championships. The WBC is vacant and the next champion could face Klitschko early 2015 at the soonest. Look for Klitschko to reign for years.
Cruiserweight Likelihood: Very Bad
This may be the most ignored division in boxing. No one of importance or value to the networks fights here making any champion, unified or not, meaningless.
Light Heavyweight Likelihood: Good
Bernard Hopkins just unfied the IBF and WBA belts and will probably face WBC champion Adonis Stevenson in the Fall. WBO champion Sergey Kovalev is currently under a short-term contract with the rival boxing camp but could be in a unification fight in 2015. There’s little incentive for Kovalev to stay where he’s at beyond this year as the other champions and most contenders fight for the other side.
Super Middleweight Likelihood: Bad
Andre Ward has already fought and beat the best the division has to offer. He could unify with the winner of the Froch/Groves fight if he works out his own promotional debacle. WBO champion Arthur Abraham could also fight and unify with any other champion. WBC champion Sakio Bika fights for the other side and won’t be able to unify beyond a theoretical Abraham matchup.
Middleweight Likelihood: Very Bad
Peter Quillin, as mentioned earlier, is looking hard for opponents and won’t find any of them champions in the near future. Even if down the line a unification fight happened with a possible future champion like Miguel Cotto or Canelo Alvarez, the rival boxing camp still has the other champion under contract.
Super Welterweight Likelihood: Good
Mayweather currently holds two of the four belts. He will not unify the division. The other two champions are all in the same camp as Mayweather meaning they could face and unify with Mayweather’s eventual successor. Mayweather will fight next at welterweight.
Welterweight Likelihood: Bad
This division has seen more criticism than any other and is at the core of boxing’s gridlock. For five years people have been asking for a Pacquiao/Mayweather showdown. Pacquiao has one fight left on his promotional contract and could theoretically face Mayweather next year in a unification bout if they both keep winning and Pacquiao promotes himself when his contract is up. That could unify three of the belts as Mayweather looks to unify the WBC and WBA on May 3rd against the WBA champion Marcos Maidana. The IBF championship won’t be the subject of unification talks unless current champion Shawn Porter becomes an overnight celebrity or loses the title to a bigger name like Amir Khan.
Jr. Welterweight Likelihood: Very Bad
We discussed the possibilities of Danny Garcia earlier.
Lightweight Likelihood: Very Bad
A unification between Cuban tacticians Miguel Vazquez and Richard Abril appeals to me and maybe only me. Neither has any other high profiled options at this point in their respective careers. Fighting each other could bring meaning to the winner as a unified champion. The WBO is lined with the toughest competition and its contenders could fight each other for years with high profiled matchups that would bring bigger purses than any unification possibility has to offer.
Super Featherweight Likelihood: Even
A unification fight could go down in Tokyo between WBC champion Takashi Miura and Takashi Uchiyama. Don’t expect to see this fight televised since American media often ignores Japanese fighters. A unified champion could appeal to Mikey Garcia or his successor if Garcia moves up in weight. The IBF is wide open and a unified Super Featherweight division is the third most likely division that could see an undisputed champion. The division lacks mainstream attention outside of Garcia. This gives networks and matchmakers little incentive to create such fights.
Featherweight Likelihood: Bad
Too many contenders that offer better fights with each other than unification matches. This is the definition of why undisputed championships aren’t sought out by fighters. Where’s the incentive in fighting a unifying match with WBA champion Simpiwe Vetyeka for a champion like Jhonny Gonzales when Abner Mares still lurks in the distance?
Jr. Featherweight Likelihood: Very Bad
The best of the division and unified WBO and WBA champion Guillermo Rigondeaux can’t face WBC champion Leo Santa Cruz due to the current rift in boxing politics as outlined above. I propose trading middleweight champion Peter Quillin for Rigondeaux so they can find better fights with the other side.
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