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22 APRIL 2018


Who is the Champ?

Is Erdei the real champ at 175lbs
Is Erdei the real champ at 175lbs

By John Lumpkin

Tell the truth now, how many of you recognized – scratch that, knew that Zsolt Erdei was THE reigning World Light Heavyweight Champion? In division filled with names like Joe Calzaghe, Chad Dawson, Roy Jones Jr., Glen Johnson, Bernard Hopkins, Antonio Tarver, and Clinton Woods, it is Zsolt Erdei that is the undefeated linear champion and holds the WBO Light Heavyweight title with a respectable 10 title defenses to his credit. Despite his credentials, Erdei was never even mentioned on any of the USA broadcasts in any capacity over the past several weeks light heavyweight championship contests involving most of the aforementioned combatants.

Erdei’s problems stems from several issues. It started with the 1997 bout between then linear WBA/IBF Champion Virgil Hill and WBO Champion Dariusz Michalczewski which was won by Michalczewski, but for various reasons, Michalczewski did not pick up the WBA and IBF titles. These titles through a series of interim championship bouts would eventually go to Roy Jones Jr., who would later add the WBC, IBO, NBA, IBA and WBF belts to his collection. Despite his claim to the linear championship, Michalczewski would lose his status as THE champion to the vastly more accomplished Roy Jones Jr. through no fault of his own. Simply put, the fans and the press anointed Jones Jr. as the champion.

The choice of defenses made by Jones Jr. were highly criticized given his talent level, but Michalczewski did not do himself any favors by defending his title against largely unknowns and previous Jones Jr. victims. By losing his title to Julio Cesar Gonzalez, who had also fallen in his quest to dethrone Jones Jr., Michalczewski’s ability to claim status as the champion vaporized. Erdei would pick his title in Gonzalez’s first defense shortly before Antonio Tarver would shock the world by knocking out Roy Jones Jr. If Erdei was not completely overshadowed before, this event removed him from the consciousness of all but the most dedicated fan.

Tarver’s subsequent loss the Glen Johnson for one of the titles left the others vacant creating a bit of an opportunity for Erdei to make a name for himself. Erdei’s management instead elected to provide their fighter with a steady stream of fringe contenders and lesser known opposition in what is most likely an attempt to earn the most revenue for their fighter. The significance to Erdei’s linear title will likely remain forgotten until a marquee name holds it at some point in the future.

The question for us as fans is do we really value the linear championship? If we are going state that the linear champion is the one and only champion, we have to be willing to not only declare Zsolt Erdei as the champion above all other current claimants, we must be willing void all claims by Roy Jones Jr. for any championship in any division! Obviously, this just does not make sense.

The notion of a linear champion is a wonderful concept, but is no longer a reality. Every division has encountered the situation whereby the reigning linear champion has left the division vacating more than one belt. In years past, when there was mostly one recognized champion, the next champion was the linear champion. With multiple belts being vacated, we consider the new linear champion to be the person that collects several of the major titles. This does not mean that the person is really the linear champion as the claim could be made by any of the fighters and their successors who win any of the titles held by the previous linear champion, but it does allow us to “reset” the linear chain to a single champion. The truth is that the chains have been broken and there are no real linear champions.

Today’s world champion is a function of the organization which sponsors the title. There are at least ten different organizations and several publications that offer “World Championship” belts for boxers to compete for. The credibility of the champion is somewhat linked to the organization sponsoring his title, but there have been exceptions. In fairness to all the fighters that hold the various belts granted by the many different boxing organizations, they have earned the right to be called the champion for their organization and should be accorded that respect.

The International Boxing Hall of Fame officially recognizes the WBA, WBC, IBF and the WBO as the leading organizations in the field. Ring Magazine has recently thrown its hat into this proverbial ring to try to help sort out who the “real” champion is, but its integrity in the matter has now been compromised by its new owner no matter how noble the sentiment. And who can forget HBO’s continuous attempts to discredit all the organizations while simultaneously seeking fights with these same title belts on the line?

The person we recognize as THE world champion in any given division does not necessarily hold one belt or another, but usually holds at least one of the IBHOF recognized belts, has proven their abilities in the ring against the best in the game can offer, and has earned the respect of the fans. The formula is simple – recognition eventually comes to those who fight and beat as many of the best available opponents as they can, fight often, and fight well. Beating a popular fighter is often the catalyst, but of course, nothing quite replaces being that popular fighter. Maybe someday, we will come up with a better system. In the meantime, we can rest assured we will have lots to talk about.

May 2, 2008

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