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Who can truly be classed as an ‘elite level’ boxer?

With mythical pound-for-pound rankings and promotional jargon muddying the waters, can we really define the best in the business? 

Jorge Linares v Vasiliy Lomachenko Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

”a select group that is superior in terms of ability or qualities to the rest of the group or society”

We’ve heard it countless times before. In the tedious circus surrounding the possibility of a fight getting made, boxer’s are placed into mythical categories by their promoters and rival promoters based on very little. These labels - despite the overriding knowledge of the boxing public - stick to the fighters like glue; performances in the ring can only do so much to dispell them.

There used to be clear defined levels in boxing. You could be a new professional: a fighter just about to embark in the paid ranks, a journeyman: making a living in the sport without any real aspirations of improvement of recognised successes, domestic level: fighting for area/state titles, gatekeepers: above domestic level but not quite able to succeed at a higher level, continental champions: European belt holders, NABF title holders and world champions: winning a world championship belt from a recognised sanctioning body (WBC, WBA, IBF, WBO).

Now, with ‘pound-for-pound contenders’ and ‘elite level’ tags muddying the waters, lines are blurred between categories as to where on the pyramid a fighter stands. Last Wednesday we saw a classic case of over-hyping a matchup when Alexander Povetkin’s manager Vadim Kornilov alluded to Anthony Joshua and Alexander Povetkin possibly being the top two pound-for-pound fighters in the sport, during the press conference in London - “probably the two best guys, maybe pound-for-pound meeting each other in the ring”. Sure, this adds to the buildup and attention the fight will receive, but lies won’t penetrate the skin of the boxing community, it will, however, continue to deceive the wider casual public, with the true best fighters on this planet the ones that will feel the negative effect.

Let’s not kid ourselves. Boxing is about money. Prizefighting is at the heart of all that compete, with monetary rewards often trumping the glitz and glamour of world titles; the dilution of ‘alphabet’ titles perhaps at fault for this. If fighters are continually placed in these mythical categories without any logical reasoning or performance-based facts to back it up, those who rightfully belong at the top of the tree will receive less media attention and, therefore, less money. Oleksandr Usyk vs. Murat Gassiev is a prime example of this. Us, as boxing fans, knew the script. The two best cruiserweights on the planet, slugging it out for the title of undisputed champion at 200-pounds as well as the inaugural Muhammad Ali WBSS trophy. “Boxing porn” if you will, as cited by eccentric promoter Kalle Sauerland. Without huge promotional machines behind these two fighters, labelling them as “X, Y and Z” in the boxing pyramid, we were simply left with the facts. The facts, for us, are good enough, however, lies sell to the wider public, and in turn, this fight wasn’t the worldwide spectacle it should have been.

Now, despite promoters trying to pull the wool over our eyes in terms of the value of a certain fight, overmatching a fighter in a category he quite simply doesn’t belong in can be dangerous territory. With titles being easier than ever to pick up in modern boxing, silver champions, interim champions, even final eliminator challengers can soon find themselves out of their depth on the world stage, with their health, unnecessarily, at risk.

Take, for example, Britain’s Dave Allen. The ‘White Rhino’ has become a cult hero in Britain after his candid and honest interviews have gone viral over the past three years. Promoted by Matchroom’s Eddie Hearn, heavyweight Allen’s worth has become apparent when he has been included on pay-per-view shows; symbolic of the Rocky story, Allen’s following is huge with the British public wanting to see him succeed. Allen, however, knows his level, but this hasn’t stopped him getting in the ring with the likes of Luis Ortiz, Dillian Whyte, Tony Yoka and twice with former Commonwealth heavyweight champion Lenroy Thomas. Suffering bruising defeats in all but one of these fights (the second fight with Thomas ended in a draw due to a bad cut to Allen’s eye), Allen has taken unnecessary punishment in a category of fighters that he, himself, will admit hasn’t got the talent to be involved in.

For as long as Allen will make money for Matchroom, however, the ‘White Rhino’ will be continually overmatched in the slim hope that he can defy the odds in a Rocky-esque victory; his Rocky styled shorts in his second fight with Thomas underlined the narrative of his story. After the withdrawal of Kell Brook on this weekend’s Whyte vs. Parker card, Allen has been given another shot in a British title final eliminator against the hard-hitting Nick Webb. At a week’s notice, it’s a concern to how underprepared Allen may well be in the ring come Saturday night.

So, with countless fighter’s being thrown into the ‘elite’ category in the pursuit of world honours, who really deserves the title as sitting on the top of the boxing pyramid.

  • Oleksandr Usyk: undisputed and unified cruiserweight world champion. Undefeated, road-warrior and technically flawless.
  • Vasyl Lomachenko: three-weight world champion in twelve fights. Eleven of ‘Hi-Tech’s’ twelve fights have been for world titles.
  • Terence Crawford: undisputed light-welterweight world champion. Undefeated in 33 professional fights.
  • Naoya Inoue: three-weight world champion in sixteen fights. Undefeated, winning 14 by KO.
  • Gennady Golovkin vs Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez winner: controversy aside, the winner of this rematch can be deemed ‘elite’.

Controversial, perhaps, but winning a world title doesn’t mean you can become branded as an ‘elite’ fighter overnight. If the best in the business are to receive the plaudits they deserve in such a subjective sport, distinctions need to be made, and the bulls*it needs to be called from motive-driven promoters.

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