A lot happened in boxing's heavyweight division this past weekend. Anthony Joshua retained his version of the heavyweight crown by knocking out Eric Molina, and presumably set the stage for a showdown against former heavyweight king Wladmir Klitschko in April. New Zealand prospect Joseph Parker graduated to champion by decisioning Andy Ruiz Jr. for the WBO crown, and Dillian Whyte squeezed by Dereck Chisora in a controversial split decision win, keeping the division interesting enough to survive the bizarre departure of its last recognized champion, Tyson Fury. But if the current drove of heavyweight contenders didn't make boxing's most coveted division confusing enough, the World Boxing Council (WBC) just took on the challenge.
Earlier this week, the WBC named current Kiev mayor and former heavyweight champion Vitali Klitschko "Eternal World Heavyweight Champion". Yes. You heard that right. Eternal World Champion.
"Nothing is impossible," Klitschko said in an interview) regarding the WBC's announcement. "I was born in the Soviet Union, a big country where professional boxing was forbidden. I would watch Mike Tyson when he became the youngest world heavyweight champion in 1986, and I said to my friends, 'Do you know what boys? One day I will be fighting guys like that. One day I will be world heavyweight champion.'
"And one day I wore that green belt that was once Tyson's, that belonged to Muhammad Ali. For a while, it was mine."
The WBC championship, commonly referred to as "the green belt", is probably the most recognized and sought after belt in boxing, and despite the multitude of championships that exist today, belts do serve a purpose. Theoretically, they are there to inform the public who is the best fighter in a given weight class. These days, however, it's gotten out of hand.
On the WBC website, there is a catalog of the current champions within the organization. For the main sanctioning body itself, there are four categories, each carrying a respective belt: World, International, Silver and Diamond. Though fans tend to roll their eyes anytime there's a "Diamond Belt Championship", this amount of subdivisions isn't actually that bad; at least not in comparison to when we get into the different federations within the WBC.
The regional federations associated with the WBC include, but are not limited to: the North American Boxing Federation (NABF), Fecombox Federacion de Comisones de Box de la Republica Mexicana (Fecombox), The European Boxing Union (EBU), Asian Boxing Council (ABCO), African Boxing Union (ABU), Oriental and Pacific Boxing Federation (OPBF), South American Continental Boxing Federation (CONOSUR), Hispanic Boxing World Boxing Association (ABMH)…and I'll just stop there for the sake of article word count. This is also just ONE of the major organizations. Cataloguing all the belts of all the federations of all the sanctioning bodies would be redundant.
So why do sanctioning bodies create so many titles? Well, there are a couple of reasons. One is for the sanctioning fees. Every belt requires a portion of the fighters' purses and this is essentially what keeps these organizations afloat. Why would anyone agree to such fees? Well, that leads to the second reason. Belts sell fights. With the current lack of boxing media, and the number of contenders in the sport, people just don't know who fighters are anymore. Having the title of "champion" inserts a perception of legitimacy to the general public, regardless of how ridiculous said championship might be. The only problem with that approach is that the deluge of belts dilutes their significance, and with enough time, they will come to mean nothing. It is part of what is killing the sport.
So what then does an "Eternal World Championship" mean? Not really sure. There has not been any sort of official definition from the WBC, but what we can be sure of is that it has no real affect to the current state of active heavyweights since older brother Klitschko has long been retired. But that also means he would never have to defend the title, and presumably never lose it, essentially implying that Vitali Klitschko is the best WBC champion that there ever was and ever will be. (Eternal is eternal, after all). Perhaps then the more fitting question is whether or not he deserves such a recognition if all inactive fighters are eligible. What about Lennox Lewis? Sonny Liston? Muhammad Ali? Larry Holmes defended "the green belt" an astounding 16 times compared to Vitali's 11. By logic, shouldn't Holmes have a more rightful claim as the WBC "Eternal Champion"? What this might then suggest is favoritism based on a criteria that has nothing to do with actual athletic performance.
And this is another major problem fans have with the slew of sanctioning bodies that exist in boxing. Too many of the sport's superstars are determined by popularity and politics rather than objective fighting skill, and corruption runs rampant because of it. Fans grow tired of the mismatches, the incompetent judges, the lazy officiating, and of generally being cheated of good fights and a legitimate display of contest because sanctioning bodies want to keep their cash-earning superstar on top. In turn, they have responded to Klitschko's new crown reflective of the sentiment. Reddit has some of the funnier comments.
In reply to the last comment, neither can we.