Boxing once upon a time had one belt. Much like you see in the Rocky films, there was once champion, Apollo Creed had the belt until it he was beat by Rocky, to Clubber Lang and back to Rocky. Indeed this fairytale that you saw in the movies actually at one point existed in boxing. Going as far back as when a 22 year old Cassius Clay fought Sonny Liston for the only existing undisputed world title. Until some people didn’t like how the rules where done, and created their own organisations and made their own rules. As it stands in boxing, there are 4 recognized world titles. Unless you have them all you are not seen as the undisputed world champion. In 2017 we had our first undisputed world champion in many years in Terence Crawford who held all four belts in the Junior Welterweight division. But the politics, conflicts of interest and demands of the belts meant it lasted a mere couple of weeks as the IBF stripped him for not fighting his mandatory. This is just one of the many stories in boxing that you have heard if you are a purist. But for the average Joe it is merely impossible to make sense of it all. Hence I will be giving a brief breakdown of each belt in this article.
Whats the Interim Belt mean?
To start off fans of boxing and UFC always think that this belt is created just for a laugh and to have more champions. But there is a purpose and reason for this belt. When a World champion is ordered to defend his/her belt against the number one contender in the rankings they are expected to honor that. But if the champion cannot defend the belt for certain reasons, whether it being an injury or personal problems then the number one contender must fight the number two contender for an Interim belt. The Interim champion is recognised as the World Champion in that division until the original champion returns. When the champion returns he/she must fight the interim champion to unify the belts to define the legitimate champion. If the champion does not return or fight the interim champion, they are stripped and the Interim champion is promoted to the legitimate World champion. But this Interim belt isn’t always used correctly and sometimes used as a stepping stone rather than a insurance belt for a shot at the title. Its treatment by different organisations will be explained below.
The World Boxing Council (WBC)
This is seen as the big one to many boxers you ask. They all want the green and gold belt. The reason for this is because of the greats, Ali, Frazer, Tyson and Mayweather, they are all previous holders of this prestigious belt. This explains the draw to the belt itself. Unfortunately there are some issues in the organisation that don’t sit well with a lot of people. As the organisation was originally created in Mexico, a lot of people feel there is preference to certain Mexican fighters with the belt organisation. The most public story is the story of how Argentinean Sergio Martinez was stripped of his WBC World Middleweight Title.
When Sergio Martinez held this belt in 2010, it was ordered by the WBC that Martinez must fight his mandatory, Germany’s undefeated Sebastien Zbik. Martinez had a contract with HBO to air his fights and had agreed the fight but HBO did not deem Zbik an HBO fighter. It was felt he wouldn’t bring in the viewers. So Martinez was advised by HBO to fight the undefeated Serhiy Dzinziruk. But there was no difference really in the reputation in either fighter. So because Martinez had his hands tied, as a boxer you need the belt for recognition but your TV money to make a living. So the WBC essentially stripped Martinez of his belt and gave him emeritus status which gives him the option to come fight the the holder of his old belt. So Martinez won his fight pretty comfortably and HBO, yes you heard right HBO held a fight for the vacant belt between Sebastien Zbik and Julio Caesar Chavez Jnr of Sergio’s old belt. As well as that, Chavez being the son of Mexican great Julio Caesar Chavez senior. Which is where you can see the bias in the WBC. To further confirm this bias, Martinez had to chase the fight he was entitled to as emeritus champion for almost 3 years against Chavez to regain his belt. Chavez was critised for being protected by the WBC and cherry picked opponents. The story became so outrageous to boxing that a documentary was made on Netflix called “Maravilla” about how Martinez chased the belt that was wrongly taken from him for 2 years. Eventually he got his fight and beat Chavez by points much to the relief of promoter Lou DiBella. Frustrated yet? I know the feeling, in the words of Paulie Malignaggi “boxing is full of s*!@ “.
The WBC also has what is called Silver and International Champions to name a few. The Silver was created to replace the Interim belt but the only difference is, when the legitimate world title is vacated, the Silver champion isn’t lifted to the status of World Champion. These belts are more as used as stepping stones in the rankings, for example the international belt is seen as top 15 in the rankings, and Silver is seen as top 5/10. An International belt holder is not a World champion, I dont know where some people have got this from. It literally gives you a high ranking and that is it.
An example is Heather Hardy a current featherweight and former super bantamweight (above) was mentioned by former UFC heavyweight Brendan Schaub as a “2 division boxing world champion and possibly go down as the greatest female boxer of all time” on his podcast the Big Brown Breakdown. This shows the confusion, lack of knowledge and complete ignorance towards the sport made by the MMA man. Heather Hardy is recognised as an incredible boxer and probably my favourite boxer in women’s boxing just for her personality alone, at the moment seems to have a lot of exposure to media because of her MMA bouts for the company Bellator. In regards to belts she held the WBC International belt in Super Bantamweight and holds the International belt in featherweight. The WBC World champion in Super bantamweight is Fatuma Zarika from Kenya and the Featherweight world champion is Jelena Mrdjenovich from Canada, one who Hardy has been chasing a fight with over the past year. Thus, showing the uneducated opinion in regards to boxing belts made from Schaub.
The World Boxing Association (WBA)
Another beautiful belt that has a lot of history. It is deemed by many boxers just as prestigious or if not second in line to the WBC belt. This belt unknown to a lot was created first but under the name the National Boxing Association but changed its name to the WBA in 1962. A lot of greats have held this belt, of course Muhammad Ali fought Joe Frazer for the belt and other names such a Floyd Mayweather, Tyson Joe Louis held the belt. The big confusion with the belt is in some weight classes it holds a Super Champion, Regular Champion and Interim Champion. Here is the deal, originally when a champion holds the WBA belt on its own he/she is seen as a regular champion. Once this champion unifies the WBA with any other of the belts, being the WBC, IBF and WBO then they are lifted to the status of a Super champion as they hold belts simultaneously. Furthermore, the Interim champion is lifted to the status of Regular champion. In the past a fighter could not be a “Super” Champion unless holding more than one belt or a regular champion was mandatory for a shot at the super champion but once again the confusion with boxing politics took place to protect certain names and promoters.
The first example being when George Groves fought for the WBA Super title last May 2017 against Chudinov on the undercard of Kell Brook vs Errol Spence world title fight. Neither Chudinov nor Groves held any belts going into the fight but yet fought for the vacant “Super” title. The second example is when Floyd Mayweather fought Marcos Maidana the first time. Mayweather at the time was the WBC welterweight champion and Maidana the WBA regular holder. Once Mayweather won the fight of course he was elevated to WBA Super Champion. But because of the power of Mayweather the WBA changed to rules and sanctioned that the WBA Super Champions had no longer any obligations to fight mandatory fighters, which meant “One time” Keith Thurman who was WBA interim champion was elevated to WBA regular champion but no longer had the power to get a shot at Mayweather and was left in the dark until Mayweather retired and vacated the belt.
The WBA like other organisations are no saints. The above retired boxer Paulie Malignaggi at one point in time held the WBA Welterweight title and was scheduled to fight Adrien Broner who was signed to Mayweather promotions at the time. A lot of people remember the fight for the classic “Don’t brag about taking my side piece, you don’t get laid” quote made by Malignaggi in a confrontation the two had at the end of the fight. But what a lot didn’t know was this. When a challenger beats the champion, the belt that is handed to him/her in the ring to hold up and put around their waist is actually the former champions copy. What happens then is once the two fighters get back into the dressing rooms the new champion hands back the old champions belt. The new champion gets a new manufactured belt sent to them by the belt organisation a few weeks later with their name in scripted. However, on “The Magic hour” podcast, formerly known as “Brooklyn to the World”, Paulie Malignaggi stated how when he was about to fight Broner the WBA had already made a belt for Broner with his name on it, once again showing the nonsense in boxing. In a lot of peoples eyes Paulie won the fight put of course politics prevailed and “The Magic Man” lost on points.
The International Boxing Federation (IBF)
The IBF has been seen as the strictest of all belt organisations over the last few years. It was established quite a few years after the WBA and WBC so is seen as not quite as prestigious. After many shady agreements and total ignorance of rules, the IBF had a whitewash in its organisation and now do everything, and I mean everything, by the book. When you are the champion, it does not matter if the number one contender is someone that’s never been heard of, doesn’t have a promoter or manager or never sold more than 1,000 seats, you have to fight him or your stripped. Even if you want to unify against the baddest man in the division, the IBF doesn’t care, everything is done by the book. This is an advantage to some fighters. A perfect example would have been Kell Brook. Kell Brook was possibly the most dangerous fighter in the welterweight division, but really brought nothing to the table in terms of his resume. So he was a high risk and low reward fight. He was heavily avoided by champions because promoters and managers didn’t want their fighters to risk their belts for pennys. So the only way he could become a champion is go up the IBF ranking, that way knowing once he became number one contender the IBF would give him his shot. And they did against Porter who Brook beat to get the title. This is the benefit of the organisation. The downside Kell Brook had mandatory’s against very low level opposition making little money and getting little recognition.
Another example of the downside of this method is the situation of Tyson Fury when he beat Vladimir Klitschko for the WBA, IBF, and WBO belt in November 2015. Before the two fought there was a contractual clause that Klitschko had the option of a rematch if he lost. Once “Dr. Steel Hammer” lost he activated his clause so Furys hands where tied. Furys team were approached by the IBF and demanded to fight the mandatory challenger Glaskov instead. Furys hands where tied and refused to ask the IBF for a special exception as they where contractually obliged to fight Klitschko. The IBF stripped Fury immediately and let number one challenger Glaskov fight for the vacant belt against number two contender Charles Martin. In the early stages of the fight Glaskov could not continue due to ligament damage in his knee. Martin by default became champion and then essentially sold his belt to Anthony Joshua by fighting him for a purse of about 6 million pounds sterling. Thus, Anthony Joshua beat Charles Martin declaring him by boxing language as the IBF Heavyweight “Paper” World Champion as he didn’t beat the true champion in Fury or otherwise known as “the guy who beat the guy”.
The World Boxing Organisation (WBO)
The WBO is regarded as the least important of all organisations mostly the organisation is only just recently created in 1988. So essentially was only recognised as a legitimate World title and Boxing governing body in the late 90s. As James “Lights out” Toney said in a live interview on Jonathan Ross in the 1990s in relation to Chris Eubank Seniors belt “The WBC stands for we be crooks and the WBO well we don’t even count that”. That opinion has changed of course now. You cannot be recognised as an undisputed champion in this day and age unless the WBO is part of your collection. Like the other three organisations of course it has its corruption and politics. Belt organisations usually have tight knit relationships with certain promoters and give preference. Over the years the WBO seems to have a good relationship with Frank Warren promotions and Top Rank promotions with Bob Arum. All you have to do is look at the list of world champions in each promotion stable and most are holding the WBO belt. An example of the politics in this organisation is when Manny Pacquaio came out of retirement in 2016 he signed with Bob Arum and immediately got a shot at the WBO belt that was held by Jesse Vargas. This belt was held by Manny only a year earlier in 2015 until he lost it to Floyd Mayweather. Another example being when Terence Crawford, another Top Rank fighter became Undisputed Light Welterweight champion in 2017, has decided to move up in weight and is now skipping the queue and being placed as mandatory for the WBO Welterweight title against the Champion Jeff Horn. Not only this is happening, but the WBO belt he left behind at super lightweight is going to be fought for most likely by Terry Flanagan. A Frank Warren fighter who is the current WBO champion at lightweight. Coincidence?
Are the belts that important?
The belts hold prestige and can give you almost insurance going into negotiations but understanding who is the real champion in each weight class is difficult. Sometimes a Unified champion is seen as the best fighter in his/her division. Sometimes the 4 belts are all spread out and it’s really down to opinion. Furthermore the best can be “the guy who beat the guy” or the lineal title as seen above being held by Tyson Fury, for example Vladimir Klitschko losing to Tyson Fury. Klitschko was seen as the linear champion in the division. So Tyson Fury became seen as “the guy”. But through many personal problems and issues with governing bodies he was stripped of the IBF and vacated the WBA and WBO. But still holds the lineal title. The belts at heavyweight are now shared between Anthony Joshua, Deontay Wilder and Joseph Parker. None of which beat Fury in getting their belts. So essentially Tyson Fury is still seen as the best in the division by many peoples opinions. It must be known although that the lineal title is not a World title, more of an award recognised by the ring magazine.