With Tyson Fury and co-promoter Bob Arum seemingly completely uninterested in a potential mandatory WBC title fight with Dillian Whyte — which has seemingly been “promised” but never guaranteed — there is talk that the WBC could “bump” Fury to its “franchise champion” status.
WBC President Mauricio Sulaiman tells Sky Sports that the WBC will be reviewing cases for all of its champions, the franchises and the worlds and the interims and the silvers and everyone, I’m sure, and Bob Arum has recently suggested the move for Fury to avoid mandatory orders.
“Franchise” champions don’t have to fight mandatory challengers. It’s unclear if “franchise” champions can actually defend their titles, as the two that have been handed out haven’t been defended. Canelo Alvarez was made “franchise champion” at middleweight, but hasn’t fought at middleweight since then and probably won’t again. Vasiliy Lomachenko was made “franchise champion” at lightweight, but hasn’t fought since then.
Will Lomachenko’s “franchise title” be on the line against Teofimo Lopez later this year? That would be a case where it could make sense, the winner’s going to leave with the WBA, WBO, and IBF belts and be seen as the clear top lightweight in the sport.
But what if Lomachenko weren’t fighting someone of Lopez’s stature in such a big fight next? Let’s say Lomachenko instead was taking a tune-up type of fight against, I don’t know, Yvan Mendy or Terry Flanagan. Could Mendy on a fluke become “WBC franchise champion”?
These, of course, are the sort of dumbass discussions only boxing can give us. It’s BACK, baby!
The specific problem with elevating Fury is that if they do that, and Dillian Whyte fights Oleksandr Usyk or Oscar Rivas (again?) or Luis Ortiz or Andy Ruiz Jr for the vacant WBC title, the one with history and any sort of lineage, the big proposal for the UNDISPUTED title fight between Fury and Anthony Joshua in 2021 has lost its legitimate claim to being “undisputed.”
ESPN can have its talking heads bang on forever about “lineal champions” like it’s all that matters, but it’s pretty obvious by the (lack of) interest in Fury-Schwarz and Fury-Wallin last year that that’s no big draw for much of anyone, and it sounds completely phony when the next week the same talking heads will be perfectly happy to tell you that Andrew Moloney is “defending his world title,” which is a secondary WBA belt.
Perhaps the biggest draw in Fury-Joshua, particularly for the American audience, is the idea of crowning an undisputed world heavyweight champion. But if there’s someone out there who can dispute the claim, it doesn’t really work. Sure, they’d market it as undisputed all the same. They’ll probably do it for Lomachenko-Lopez even though Devin Haney is WBC champion and by definition has a dispute to the claim.
And for the record, it doesn’t matter if you “know” that the best fighter is Fighter A, that doesn’t make them undisputed; if Fighter B or Fighter Q has one of the four recognized world titles, there is someone out there with a dispute, no matter how much less you think of them by comparison.
(Also, I don’t mean to say the American audience is all that matters in the world of boxing, but everyone acknowledges that it’s still the home base for where fights make the most money, generally speaking. The line has shifted on that over the years for sure, but particularly with pay-per-view fights, you need the American audience to make the most money.)
Sulaiman has pretty much stated he doesn’t care about muddying the waters in this manner, which is basically the same approach the WBA have taken over the years with their “super world” and “world” titles throughout many divisions. None of it has helped boxing at all, but all the extra sanctioning fees do help line the pockets of the sanctioning bodies. Their conventions have better food the more belts they manufacture, one assumes.
But who cares, right? This is, after all, a thriving and popular sport, with around 300,000 people watching boxing two times a week on a major U.S. cable network right now, numbers coming with zero competition from other sports in a landscape that was supposedly starving for any type of live sports action at all.