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25 APRIL 2018


Alphabet Rules

World Boxing Council
World Boxing Council

By John Lumpkin

Most of us are fairly familiar with the rules of boxing contests, but how many of us really understand the rules of championships? There is the obvious rule that the winner of a championship fight is the champion – most of the time anyhow. After that, it gets a bit sketchy because it depends on which championship we are talking about. In boxing today, boxers compete for belts sponsored by a variety of organizations and these organizations all have differing rules as to who gets to compete for these belts.

There are four major organizations presently recognized by the International Boxing Hall of Fame and they include the WBC, WBA, IBF, and WBO. This is by no means a comprehensive list as there are no less than 10 relatively active organizations offering world title belts as well as an impressive array of organizations offering regional belts.

Each of the aforementioned organizations has their own set of rules and regulations which they use to determine who gets to fight for their title, how they go about doing so, and what they must do to qualify. Their respective rules are different and for many, their rules can appear mystifying because we generally only encounter them when one of these organizations makes a decision about a fighter or contest that does not seem sensible to us.

When these organizations make what some feel are peculiar decisions, it is common practice these days to broadcast one’s opinion that the decision was a result of the corruptness of the organization. It has become such the norm that it is now the prevailing assumption that none of the organizations have any semblance of credibility. The trouble with this type of assumption is that it is unlikely that many of the accusers are familiar enough with the organization’s rules to make the claim. So, let’s look at the different rules for each organization. The following is an interpretive summary of what is contained within the various organizations’ rules, but you are highly encouraged to go to their respective websites and familiarize yourself with the exact rules and regulations.

World Boxing Council (WBC)

The WBC’s rules are fascinating as it is obvious that some considerable thought went into creating them as they address many potentially troublesome issues. You can tell that some of them were implemented at later points as various unexpected situations arose that mandated new rules to be adopted. Unfortunately, for just about every good rule they contain, there is an exception and means to circumvent the rule. The exception is almost always executed by some form of majority vote by the governing board within the organization.

Having exceptions is not necessarily a bad thing assuming there is a solid foundation for the decision and the decisions are consistent. This is where many of the WBC’s rulings get them in trouble with the press because the established bases for which exception votes take place are rather ambiguous at best. This tends to create the situation where the rules are really whatever they say they are at any given point in time.

The WBC’s rules also provide some insight as to how they determine the rankings for the fighters. There are only two things that they make clear about the process. First and foremost, they boldly declare that ratings are subjective. And second, they state that ratings are generated from a consensus taken from a variety of sources. No other pertinent details are provided.

The WBC’s rules are fairly clear as to how they shall be paid and what parties will be responsible for payment. However, they are somewhat vague when it comes to incidental expenses related to covering the expenses of their representatives for different events. It is not clear just how many representatives should attend each event or for how long. What is clear is that the promoter will have to pick up the tab.

The most fundamental problem with the WBC’s rules is that the organization makes more money on fights that have larger purses. And although not specifically stated, there is the implication that the bigger the fight in terms of dollars, the greater the expected fringe benefits that will be bestowed upon the representatives of the organization. It is this situation that likely gives the WBC a bad reputation because the best interests of the organization cannot be aligned with the best interests of the fighters in the sport.

The nature of the WBC rules means that it will always be in the better interest of the organization to do the following things.

1.Hold as many title fights and title fight elimination bouts as possible
2.Require their title holders to be active. If they cannot be active, make an interim champion to ensure a steady stream of revenue
3.Favor the fighter that generates the most revenue
4.Favor the promoter that provides the best perks and most revenue

The WBC does not need to resort to corrupt practices outside its own rules to produce peculiar decisions. Its existing published rules reveal that the organization is not well designed to provide the type of impartial decisions that we would hope a body governing a sport would be able the render. It would take a group of people with an incredible level of integrity to work with those rules and still avoid the temptation to exploit them. Consequently, it would not be surprising for various personnel within the WBC organization to periodically step outside the bounds of ethical behavior. In short, the WBC has created the situation that enables others to question its credibility.

World Boxing Association
World Boxing Association
World Boxing Association (WBA)

If the volume of published materials is any indication, the WBA appears to be substantially more organized than the WBC. This may be due to the fact that they have been around longer and originated in the USA for the legal consciousness is a bit higher. However, there is also ample evidence to suggest that there have been relative recent efforts to improve their organization and processes.

The WBA’s rules contain much of the same provisions found in the rules for the WBC, but they are nowhere near as haphazardly written. The exceptions to the rules are clearly spelled out and have defined procedures. If a vote is required to grant the exception, it is always by a 2/3 majority.

The WBA is very specific as to what their fees are and how much should be paid by whom and when. Like the WBC, they make more money for fighters where the purses are higher and are likely subject to the same types of biases. Unlike the WBC, their rules are more restrictive and this should result in better overall decisions.

The WBA appears to be in the midst of trying to figure out a better way to rank fighters, but are careful not to completely commit the organization to the fullness of the structure they have laid out stating that it may be difficult to do so. They do stipulate the right to use their own discretion when ranking fighters, but their language seems to indicate this should be done in rare cases.

The WBA’s system for ranking includes both a system of points for determining a boxer’s rating and a system of tables that clearly states how the ratings will be affected by the results of fights involving champions and ranked fighters. The system has the capability to provide substantial clarity, and it would be interesting to see how closely they follow it.

The WBA officially recognizes the existence of the other major boxing organizations and has a system for dealing with champions that hold one or more of these titles. It appears to make things a bit easier for the multi-organizational champion by reducing their commitments to the WBA. It does, however, have the potential to create the scenario where there are two people holding WBA championships in the same weight class. It is a compromise that allows the WBA to encourage unification bouts (without it, they would lose revenue).

Despite what appear to be a better set of rules, the WBA has had its share of problems in the past with regards to ethical behaviors. This may, in part, be due to the vast differences in business cultural norms between the WBA’s current headquarters in Latin America and those in the USA where we see the publications decrying foul.
International Boxing Federation
International Boxing Federation
International Boxing Federation (IBF)

The IBF’s rules look like a cross between the WBA’s and the WBC’s. They are fairly simple and organized in a fashion where they are rather easily read, however, the all important Exhibit A listing their fees is conspicuously missing from the related documents (It can be found on the site, but not through the normal links). Interestingly, while they seem to have more fees than the other two organizations, their fees appear to be much lower.
Like the WBC and WBA, the IBF generates their revenue from a percentage of the purse making them equally as susceptible to the same ethical quandaries. The IBF receives revenue for championship belts, interim championship belts, and official contests for the top 2 rankings within each division (This is why you will sometimes see these spots vacant in their rankings).

The IBF is nowhere near as specific as the WBA when it comes to how fighters ranked below the top two slots should placed. They have some general rules and guidelines as to what should happen, but there is a lot of wiggle room. It is unclear exactly how the ratings are established. There is an implication that they are handled by a standing committee on a regular basis.

The IBF’s acceptance of the other organizations is just plain odd. On one hand, they consider the champion of another organization to be ranked higher than any of their ranked contenders and will allow their champion, upon approval, the ability to fight another champion in favor of the mandatory challenger. On the other hand, if any fighter elects to participate (and not necessarily win) in another organization’s elimination or title bouts, that fighter will be removed or lowered in the IBF’s rankings. The effect of this rule is to communicate to fighters that they need to first win the IBF title to avoid being penalized in the IBF rankings for pursuing other belts. It is a self-serving rule that has the potential to create rankings that make little sense to the fans.

The IBF has made some peculiar decisions in recent years, but they make a little more sense when you understand how they operate. Part of the issue is that there rules do not encompass many of the situations that are common in today’s multi-organizational environment. This puts them in a position to have to make decisions on a more frequent basis which are often influenced by the manner in which they are paid. Their 2006 decision to allow Zab Judah to keep his title after losing to Carlos Baldomir is a great example. There is clear rule that states that Judah’s title should have been vacated, but because there was no provision for actually occurred, the remaining rules could be construed to suggest the fight never happened. It is more likely that the IBF simply recognized that by allowing Judah to keep the title they would receive a substantial amount of revenue from at least two fights involving Floyd Mayweather and applied one of their “for the betterment of boxing” exceptions to make it happen.

Exceptions are a part of the IBF’s rules, but what differentiates their exceptions from the WBC and WBA is that a substantial number of them can be decided by one or two people within the organization. There is surprisingly little mention of committee activity in large sections of the rules making the IBF far more autocratic in its nature. There are obvious problems with this type of setup and given the 1999 conviction of the organization’s original President for racketeering involving fixing ratings, there is ample evidence that this is problematic. In an interesting twist, the conviction resulted in USA federal observation of the organization for the next five years helping to ensure its operations were conducted appropriately.
World Boxing Organization
World Boxing Organization
World Boxing Organization (WBO)

The most notable difference between the WBO and the other major organizations is that the WBO has maximum sanction fee that they will earn from a fighter’s purse. The maximum is $90,000 per contestant and with the standard 3% fee (charged by all organizations); this means that fighters earning more than $3,000,000 will find it more profitable to be a WBO Champion. Promoters will also like the lower fees. These benefits are likely offset to some degree by the WBO being the lesser recognized of the organizations.

Most of the WBO’s major activities are done by committee and their powers are clearly identified in its regulations. Very little information is published as to the procedures the committee may use making the process seem a bit secretive. Like the IBF, there are some gaps in the rules that could lead to some problems and leave the organization susceptible to unwarranted suspicion. And with all organizations, exceptions to the rules are possible.
The WBO has a policy supporting the efforts of champions to unify the title and actually encourages it. It is one of the many methods in which a champion can earn their favored status as super champion. The super champion status comes with some perks, but it is unclear whether or not it can co-exist with regular champions like the WBA does. The real oddity here is that one can become a super champion with actually being a champion.

The WBO also differentiates itself from the other organizations by making an effort to state what its officials should not be doing and defining penalties for trespass. One of the provisions bars onsite officials from accepting money on behalf of the organization. If enforced, this can help establish a higher level of integrity.
All Organizations

The organizations all have rules that are designed to self-perpetuate and keep the boxer focused on working within their organization. The rules favor boxers that actively participate in the organization’s ranking and events in the prescribed order. An example of this is the situation where a champion loses his title in an optional defense. Since the new champion did not secure their title opportunity through the system which helps to ensure that only the most qualified fighters are eligible, the standard practice is to require a defense against an eligible contender within a fairly short period of time. In some cases, this is extended to higher rankings.

There are subtle differences between the organizations as to how many defenses must be made and what options a fighter has. In most cases, the fighters need to defend their titles once every 9 to 12 months depending on their division. If a fighter finds that they will not be able to meet the obligations, the procedure generally requires the fighter to request an exemption within a specified time period. None of the organizations, however, have any firm limits on the number of exemptions that can be requested (The IBF has a limit on the effect of an extension on a mandatory).

The organizations’ rules are designed to facilitate bouts amongst top contenders and champions. They recognize that not all fighters are available at any given time and that there are substantial negotiations that often need to take place. Once a decision can be reached on who should be involved in the contest, each organization has a defined timetable as to when negotiations need to complete. Should negotiations fail, they will be followed by a mandated purse bid. The process varies a bit between the organizations as does the percentage of the purse that should be awarded to each participant. Some of the organizations also set minimum purses by weight class (and yes, lower weight classes are paid less).

Champions who fail to make defenses or violate other rules can be stripped of their titles. It is one of those things that never seem fair when it happens, but in reality it is something that the organizations need to enforce. There are appeals processes for this and other events, but they are not free (The WBC, WBA, and IBF publish their rates. The WBO does not mention whether they charge or not). The rates vary and of course, there is no guarantee that the result of the appeal with be favorable.
Organizations will generally perform in accordance with the activities that will produce the rewards they value. No one can fault any organization for doing things in such a manner that provides the organization with sources of revenue. This is the nature of the revenue seeking entity and necessary for the entity to persist. This can be problematic when an organization’s raison d’être is rank others by criteria inconsistent with the manner it in which it is paid. Expectedly, all four organizations have rules in place that make it difficult for them to make decisions that are both fair to the boxers and profitable for themselves.

All the organizations recognize the unfortunate truth that the higher weight classes have traditionally generated the most revenue and have effectively assured that this will always be the case. Their fee structures are linked to the weight classes and they charge significantly more for the higher weights. It is difficult to tell and outside the scope of this article to determine whether or not the extra revenue gained from the higher weights and higher purses is necessary to compensate of the lower revenue from the lower classes and purses to sustain the organizations. One would hope this is necessary otherwise the fees charged seem exorbitant for the nature of the service provided in the manner it appears to be executed.

The money involved in these organizations is substantial and the vast majority comes from the promoters. A casual read through any of these organization’s rules will enlighten many as just how much a promoter pays and the risks they take putting together a championship fight. It provides an insight as to why some fights happen and some do not. It also sheds a great deal of light as to why you do not see a lot of unification bouts. Aside from the money involved, it can be quite complicated to try to follow all the rules of these different organizations. Next time one of these organizations makes what appears to be an odd decision, read the rules – maybe it will make more sense. - Click here - Click here - Click here - Click here

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