Ortiz – Wilder. Kovalev – Mikhalkin. Brook – Rabchenko. Bivol – Barrera. The weekend of the 3rd March was a weekend of action to make any boxing fan sing. But we were so wrapped up in these huge televised events that we missed another – a Golden Gloves promoted card from South Africa, where Kevin Lerena defended his International Boxing Organisation cruiserweight title against Dmytro Kucher, live on BoxNation.
The IBO is slowly starting to emerge as a legit organisation in the eyes of the public. This is in part thanks to Chris Eubank Jr, who was recently relieved of their super-middleweight title by George Groves (who did not pay sanctioning fees, leaving the belt vacant). While Eubank possessed it, he did everything he could to convince the public of its legitimacy as genuine world honours, but the public, eager to provoke, were having none of it.
While this is understandable, it is hard to deny that the IBO is growing. Perhaps not quite equal to the Big Four yet, it is nevertheless some way above other ‘world’ governing bodies. “I get particularly [riled] when [the boxing community] groups us with some of the other, lesser, organisations,” says Ed Levine, President of the IBO. “Typically they’ll say ‘there’s the four (WBC, WBA, IBF and WBO), then the IBO and the others and they’ll mention three or four other alphabet organisations. But there are no [elite] champions that you could mention [of the lower organisations]”.
It’s hard to argue with this. Most organisations have had a few notable names compete for their belts over the years, but none with the frequency and legitimacy of the IBO. “Look up and see the champions we’ve had in the past 10 years – it’s a who’s who of marquee champions. We had Lennox Lewis proudly defend our title probably half a dozen times. Wladimir Klitschko defended our title 20 times. Gennady Golovkin has defended our title a dozen times… the list goes on and on.”
So why isn’t the IBO more recognised, despite this? “There are better business plans for us to get more recognition, but we’ve chosen a different path… [we use] computerised ratings – they are not based on who does business with us. They’re based upon who the fighter has beaten.” The rankings of the governing bodies have confounded the most dedicated of fans at times, so a system where fighters are not judged on politics but on their achievements alone, is surely a good thing.
Still, some will remain unconvinced. After all, has anyone really heard of Kevin Lerena or Dmytro Kucher? The latter has lost most of his mentionable fights (most notably against Marco Huck and Illunga Makabu), yet remains the biggest win on Lerena’s CV, with Youri Kalenga the only other meaningful name on the it. Lerena defends his new title against Roman Golovashchenko next month in a fight that would rouse local support, but few would pay to see on Box Office.
However, that’s not the only IBO fight taking place in the coming days and weeks. Anthony Joshua and Joseph Parker aside, Erislandy Lara, Jarrett Hurd, Gennady Golovkin potentially Saul Alvarez (impending ban providing) will all compete for IBO world titles before the second week of May, with several other bouts rumoured to be in negotiations.
“People don’t realise that we could do twice as many world title fights every year, that we don’t do, because the quality is not there. The other thing that’s hard to fathom for the typical fan is how [we] can have a fighter who is ranked number 32 fight for our world title, when in every other organisation you have to be in the top 15. The simple reason is, our ranking are computerized. You can’t get a rating [just] by winning one of our junior titles. It doesn’t [suddenly] make you number 11 in the world.”
Judging by the year they have had, there is a bright future for the IBO. “We had champions who performed spectacularly,” said Levine. “We had fights that will be stacked up against the best of the decade. It’s exciting to look ahead… but we didn’t want [last year] to end,” which came to a close with three IBO champions on pay-per-view platforms. “If 2018 measures up to 2017, we’ll be thrilled. It’ll be good news for the fighters and their teams, but even more so, it’ll benefit the fans. That’s what we’re hoping for.”