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Canelo vs Rocky: ABC titles, is it as easy as one, two, three?

Are the alphabet titles in boxing becoming less important year-on-year?

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Canelo Alvarez v Rocky Fielding - Press Conference Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

This weekend, Saul “Canelo” Alvarez travels to the Big Apple to challenge Briton Rocky Fielding for a piece of history. Fielding holds the WBA “world” super middleweight world championship after dethroning Tyron Zeuge in July this year, travelling to the champion’s backyard in Germany and stopping the formerly undefeated 26-year-old in the fifth round.

Wow. Our Rocky is a world champion! An astonishing achievement for a fighter on the fringes of British level bouts for the majority of his eight-year career; his previous step-up finished in devastating circumstances as he was stopped in the first round by the now-WBA super middleweight champion, Callum Smith.

Wait. So, Rocky and Callum are both WBA world champions at the 168-pound limit. Correct.

This isn’t news to us in the boxing community. We have become numb; become blind; become used to the multitude of world champions each governing body wants to sanction.

As boxing fans, we celebrate multi-weight world champions. Huge credit is given to the fighters who can work their way through the weight classes picking up titles as they go, with Manny Pacquiao leading the way having boasted straps at eight different weights. Quite remarkable.

But where do we draw the line? When we flick back through the history books looking at the resumés and reigns of heroes gone by, will the name and status of their title mean anything?

Canelo is a fantastic fighter. He has become the face of the sport over the past two years, and through racking up his 50 professional wins he has won world titles at light middleweight and middleweight.

This being said, the fight on Saturday night feels nothing more than a smash and grab. A chance for the Mexican to pick off some low hanging fruit in the shape of Rocky Fielding; but how valuable is the fruit of the WBA “world” strap?

The World Boxing Association aren’t alone. If we jump down to featherweight we can see a prime example of the headache that multiple champions within a governing body are causing.

WBA “super” champion: Leo Santa Cruz. WBA “world” champion: Jesus Rojas. WBA “interim” champion: Jhack Tepora. WBC champion: Gary Russell Jr. IBF champion: Josh Warrington. WBO champion: Oscar Valdez. WBO “interim” champion: Carl Frampton.

Seven champions within one weight class, with the Ring Magazine remaining vacant. In this case, the WBC has only one champion named, but they can’t be let off the hook. “Silver” champions, “diamond” champions and “champion emeritus” join the WBCs full and “interim” champions, in another minefield of an organisation.

We haven’t even mentioned the IBO! Flung into the spotlight in 2017 when Chris Eubank Jr. stopped Renold Quinlan to win the IBO super middleweight title, the Eubanks and ITV did their best to claim we had a fifth belt joining the alphabet soup. It didn’t last long, however, the longer Eddie Hearn and Anthony Joshua claim that they hold “four of the five” world championship titles, the more we will have to start accepting that this is part of reality now.

The problem is: where does this stop? The WBA promised last year that they were on the verge of ordering “champion vs champion” fights to determine one face for the black and gold belt, however, we seem further away than ever from this coming into practice. With 32 champions ranging from mini flyweight to heavyweight, the WBA are losing their credibility as the oldest, wisest governing body in the sport.

The IBF are gaining more respect with their implementations of mandatory defences and their one-champion model. Founded in 1983, the red strap of the IBF is the second youngest behind the WBO, however, their reluctance to join the other three in money-making attempts to split the belts into thirds has seen them regarded higher in recent years.

After the dust had settled on the Staples Center a fortnight ago I found myself plotting the path of the heavyweight “big three” over the next twelve months.

I had been sucked in. As much as I enjoyed the spectacle of Wilder vs. Fury, as a Brit, Joshua vs. Fury is the fight that we all want to see. However, with the WBC belt missing if this fight was to occur now, it left me craving the rematch more — in an attempt to unify the WBC and lineal titles before joining Joshua’s “four”.

Should this matter anymore? Is unification important? Should we just demand the big fights and leave the belts to be scattered and harvested in the growing fields of the governing bodies? Ideally, yes, but this would mean de-valuing the achievements of future champions; fighters that have dedicated their lives to get their hands on a strap of any colour.

I can live with four belts. Heck, I can live with five belts. But we need to start dismissing the secondary and third titles in each division if we are to continue judging fighters against others on the titles they have won.

Unfortunately, this starts on Saturday. If Canelo beats Fielding inside Madison Square Garden on Saturday night, the Mexican can’t be regarded as a three-weight world champion. Beat Callum Smith, and fine, no arguments.

Is there a bigger picture, though? Are we letting our fandom cloud what really matters in boxing?

The important thing here is to differentiate between Fielding/Canelo and the WBA. Fielding can’t be criticised for taking this opportunity with both hands. Speaking at the announcement of the fight, Rocky was grinning from ear to ear at the opportunity that this manufactured WBA belt has given him:

“It’s the mecca of boxing. I was there three years ago with my girlfriend, did a tour around Madison Square Garden and got ourselves tickets to the New York Knicks games, $30 dollar tickets right in the top tier. I was going to my girlfriend, imagine fighting here one day. Three years later I get a call and I’m topping the bill, do you know what I mean, it’s unbelievable! It’s what we dream of, it’s what we’re in the game for, big fights, big nights, big names and I don’t shy away from anyone. This fight made sense in every department.”

This fight will change the life of Rocky. Change the life of his family. Change the life of his kids. Following Rocky’s story to the Big Apple and seeing him breathe in the New York skyline through every pore in his skin, it’s hard to take the strongest moral stance on the nature of his title defence.

The sheer bravery that fighters display in climbing through the ropes each fight night is something that can’t be underestimated; something that can’t be ignored, especially in light of Adonis Stevenson’s condition since his fight with Oleksandr Gvozdyk.

We sit in awe of fighters putting it all on the line week-in-week-out, from our seats in the stands, or from our couches at home never really understanding what they have put their bodies through. If secondary titles make the career of a once underdog, then who are we to dismiss these straps as money-spinners and manufactured: fighters benefitting from bigger purses is surely what really matters.

It’s a tightrope of a conversation to walk. Doing what’s best for the sport, the fighters and the fans can rarely be tackled in one swoop, pleasing all parties. This being said, the “lineal” title needs to be celebrated. The man, that beat the man, that beat the man should still be considered the man to beat in each division.

Titles can be split; titles can be shared, but knowing where the lineage lies allows the confusion over belts to become just a footnote. Boxing fans are too smart and too well-schooled to have the wool pulled over their eyes by the governing bodies. In years to come, we’ll be talking less about multi-weight world champions, less about multi-time world champions and more about the true number one in each division and how long they lasted.

It’s easier said than done. Let’s start with the heavyweights...

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