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17 SEPTEMBER 2014

 

Championship Belts: They Won’t Even Hold Your Pants Up


WBC silver belt is just one of many
WBC silver belt is just one of many

By Dave McKee: This is a guide for those of you who would like to know exactly what sanctioning bodies say their respective belts are all about.

World Boxing Council
The WBC is at the cutting edge of new title belt technology. In addition to regional titles and world championships, all of which come with the expected belts, the WBC has created a couple of new belts to, in their words, enhance the sport and benefit boxers. Again, this is the position of the WBC, and readers are encouraged to reach their own conclusions.

WBC Silver Belt
In a recent interview Mauricio Sulaiman, executive director of the WBC, explained the need for the Silver belt, extolling its virtues as a catalyst for better boxing and bigger paydays.

For North American Boxing fans Sulaiman compared the title associated with the belt to Major League Baseball’s (MLB) Minor League system. He pointed out that under the auspices of a single governing body one finds MLB, which consists of players who have essentially ‘made it’. They have reached the highest levels of achievement in their sport.

He then points to the minor league teams, each under the umbrella of the parent organization, but filled with players who have not yet made it. They play in relative obscurity, and they make very little money. Each jockeys for notice from the big league teams. In the minor leagues they have the opportunity to show off their skills and can expect to be considered when a need arises at the top.

Sulaiman then asks us to consider a fighter in a region with a weak media market. He imagines a fighter, who, though deserving of notice, may be ignored by HBO and Showtime and by the big promoters. He may consequently toil in obscurity without the accolades and paydays he deserves.

When regional belts and world titles are not available for this fighter, the Silver World Championship provides an opportunity for global recognition, without global domination. Winning the Silver belt is, in Sulaiman’s view, the equivalent of landing a spot on a minor league team.

WBC Diamond Belt
The Diamond Belt is a very different kind of belt. The original press release for the institution of this title indicated that the belt was to be used when elite fighters meet at a catch-weight. Sulaiman states that, in fact, the Diamond Belt is awarded to the winner of a boxing event of special significance. The Diamond Belt goes to a Diamond Champion, but this is not a title in the traditional sense: it is not ever subject to defense. Sulaiman’s explanation, given last week via phone, contradicts the press release. If he correctly portrays the current rules of the WBC, the thinking behind the diamond belt is compelling, though ultimately flawed.

If Ring Magazine can name ‘Fight of the Year’, it stands to reason the WBC could award an honor to the winner of a fight deemed significant, in a broad, historical sense, to boxing. Imagine a Mayweather/Pacquiao fight, should it ever come to pass. There is little doubt this fight would pit two of the greatest champions of their day in a contest the entire boxing world would love to see. From the most casual fan to other champion fighters, this bout would command attention. One could easily imagine that the event itself warrants special honors. The winner, even more so.


The belt is beautiful, encrusted with diamonds, rubies, emeralds and gold. The actual strap is itself fashioned from Italian Ferrari leather. At a value of $50,000, it is a wonderful trophy to mark a special moment.

The problem here is precisely that the special honor is a belt rather than a trophy. In boxing a belt is a symbol of championship. It is a signifier that a fighter defeated a foe in the ring, and that only he deserves recognition as the best. The distinction is temporary and can be taken from him any time he steps into the ring to defend his belt.

The Diamond Belt really honors a moment, though it is awarded to a winner. Had $50,000 been invested in a great trophy, adorned with gems and beautiful sculpting, perhaps it would avoid the problems inherent in awarding a belt. It could feasibly take on deeper significance. Imagine such an award, perhaps called the Ali-Frazier Trophy, recalling the first ‘Fight of the Century’. Further imagine the winner of Mayweather/Pacquiao being presented with this glorious piece of art, perhaps adorned with busts of Ali and Frazier. This would in itself be an event, and it would do nothing to muddy the championship waters with one more confusing belt.

WBC Emeritus Champion
Of course the WBC has at times also recognized, in addition to the Silver World Champion and Diamond Champion in any given weight class, an Emeritus World Champion. This designation goes to a champion who must take himself out of contention for a period of time, but allows him to get a title shot when he returns. One obvious example here is Vitali Klitschko, who took a four year hiatus due to injury. Sulaiman indicated via phone that the Emeritus title has been abandoned due to abuse of the designation by fighters and managers seeking to avoid title defenses.

World Boxing Association
WBA Super World Championship Belt
The WBC is not alone in expanding the number of championship belts. The WBA provides an interesting logic in their provision of a ‘Super World Champion’ belt. This belt, they say, represents an attempt to designate an undisputed world champion. The WBA claim the impetus for this belt was a recommendation by Lennox Lewis. In this case the WBA vacates their world championship if their world champion comes to earn a similar distinction from another sanctioning body. The now former World Champion becomes the ‘Super’ World Champion.

Mauricio Sulaiman of the WBC says there was once a discussion among the four major sanctioning bodies to agree to this process across the board. If the four could do it, then each body would have a world champion recognized by their organization. Through shared interest in a Super Champion, an undisputed champion could emerge. The details could not be worked out, and Sulaiman’s WBC (along with the WBO and IBF) chose not to join the WBA in creating a Super World Champion.

Conclusions
In the end, one wonders why regional titles, which make sense as one moves toward the goal of world title, aren’t enough. Mike Tyson points out that having more belts means more title shots and more paydays for fighters. From a sanctioning body’s perspective it is either altruism, as Sulaiman would have us believe in the case of the Silver Belt, or a proliferation of paydays for the sanctioning body.

From a fan’s perspective, this is bedlam. Sports produce winners and losers. For boxing, a sport that seems always to be on the ropes, it’s a sad irony. Few sports offer such intimate, conclusive man-to-man and woman-to-woman contests. Beat up an opponent and you win. But when the prize is an expensive, but mystifying, trinket chosen from a grab-bag of similar trinkets, how can we know who really is the champ?


September 13, 2011


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