Boxing is a funny old sport. You can be a world champion but not the number one in your division. You can be a multi belt champion and still not be seen as the one true champ. It’s frustrating for hardcore fans, let alone those who dabble in the sport for the big fights alone.
For those who don’t know, we are currently in what’s is commonly called the “Big 4” era of Boxing; the WBA being the eldest governing body, the WBC joining it in the 70’s and then the IBF and WBO joining in the 80’s, although the WBO wasn’t seen as a legit world title until the 00’s.
Another organisation that has been going since the 80’s is the IBO. Often seen as the fifth world title (there was a time in the early 00’s that the WBU contested that status) but it’s never been seen as truly legit.
The IBO has had some big names in boxing as their champion: Lennox Lewis, Wladimir Klitschko, Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr to name but four. Current megastars to hold or have held the IBO title include Gennady Golovkin, Jarrett Hurd, Cecilia Braekhus, Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua. In the majority of these cases though, the IBO title has been put on the line when one of these champions already had a recognised “Big 4” world title, or they beat a guy who had been in that situation.
As mentioned, generally the IBO has managed to get these huge stars to be their champion by having their vacant title put on the line when one of the “Big 4” champions have had a defence lined up already. Partly because of this the opinion of the IBO was that it was just an “alphabet” title, i.e. much like the WBU (which still operates along with other boards of dubious repute). What people don’t realise is this is similar to what the IBF did in the early 80’s when they decided to recognise champions from either the WBA or the WBC as their champion in that weight division.
But is the IBO about to branch out on its own and become the fifth legitimate world title?
The deciding factor(s) to whether it will be seen as a “legit” world title will be the International Boxing Hall of Fame, who only recognise the achievements of fighters within the WBA, WBC, WBO, and IBF. Before that, though, the “Big 4” governing bodies will have their say.
Even though the WBO had Hall of Fame worthy champions prior, it wasn’t seen completely as a big title until 2007 when the IBF took the reigning WBO champions out of their rankings and listed them as a Champion, something that the WBA and WBC had done in 2000 and 2004 respectively. So until the WBA, WBC, IBF and WBO start taking the IBO Champion out of their rankings across the board, it will still only be seen as another alphabet title.
To play devil’s advocate, in recent times Anthony Joshua has spoken of the IBO as a legit title, comparing his “four world titles” to Wilder’s one (WBC). We also have had the huge fight only a few weekends ago between Chris Eubank Jr and James DeGale. People forget that Eubank turned down a shot at the WBC title for this fight and DeGale gave up his own IBF title a few months prior to set this fight up.
Many will say that both men ducked their opponents for the WBC and IBF title fights respectively but don’t forget that the IBF became seen as a legitimate world title partly down to Larry Holmes relinquishing the WBC title to accept theirs.
Could Eubank and DeGale’s decisions not to fight for the WBC and relinquish the IBF titles respectively be seen in time in the same way as Holmes’ decision in 1984?
If this is the case it’s still some way off before the IBO being popularly seen as a legitimate world title, especially when in recent times George Groves and Saul “Canelo” Alvarez have refused to pay their sanctioning fees in order to compete for and win the belt. The final factor, will be the fans. There is already backlash that we have four main world titles; not to mention Regular, Global, Gold and Silver Titles.
Chris Eubank Jr will now see himself as a two time world champion and he is – he’s a two time IBO World Champion. It might not be an acknowledged, genuine world title to everyone, but it’s getting a lot more recognition. No doubt it will be seen as that in the future thanks to fighters like Eubank Jr defending it like it was the world title. You may laugh, but when Chris Eubank Snr was a two weight WBO World Champion, the WBO wasn’t seen as “legit”. Yet we look back on his career and celebrate him as a two weight world champion. Maybe Junior will be the catalyst to the IBO being seen as legit in a way that his father was for the WBO.
The deciding factor for the IBO will be truly World Title worthy fighters winning it, defending it and then unifying with any or all the “Big 4” world titles in a way that Naseem Hamed and Dariusz Michalczewski did in their careers. Maybe current IBO World Champions like Chris Eubank Jr, Mohamed Mimoune, Sven Fornling and Chantelle Cameron can replicate that success for the IBO that Hamed and Michalczewski did for the WBO.
Only time will tell.