The question of “who is world champion” has no simple answer, and that has never been truer than today. Including the Big Four (The WBA, WBC, IBF and WBO) there are no fewer than 25 separate governing bodies, nearly all of which have “International”, “Global”, “Universal” or “World” in their names. This means, of course, that technically there can be 25 world champions in each weight class. There are also ‘regular’ and ‘super’ champions, interim champions, “Diamond” champions, “Champions Emeritus” and “Champions In Recess”… it really is no wonder the newcomers to the sport are confused. And the confusion only intensifies the deeper you look…
Its easy to spot the suspect organisations; some find it so difficult to stage title fights they have more vacant titles than champions. Cases in point, the GBU (Global Boxing Union) has 6 listed world champions in 17 weight categories. The IBA (International Boxing Association) has 4, as do the IBU (International Boxing Union).
No one can even say how many champions the Universal Boxing Federation, the self proclaimed “Home of Champions”, recognises. Istvan Szili, who apparently possesses their middleweight title, last fought for that belt four years ago on the only occasion it has ever been contested. Henry Lundy won the lightweight title in 2016 and hasn’t defended it in his three fights since, while Yenifel Vicente traded their super-bantamweight title for a ranking with the WBO. Dewayne Beamon won the light flyweight title last year, though he too hasn’t defended the belt in five fights (and is listed by the UBF as being their featherweight champion).
Rankings, incomplete and out of date on many governing bodies’ websites, can even confuse the governing bodies themselves; the UBO, for the sake of simplicity, recognises the rankings that are published on internet-based rankings site BoxRec. While this is well-meaning enough, the consequence is that bizarrely, none of their listed world champions are in their own top 70 fighters. At the time of writing, light-heavyweight champion Cedric Bellais is ranked 74th in the world by BoxRec; super-welterweight champion Tommy Browne is ranked 73rd, super-featherweight champion Igor Magurin is, ranked 201st, cruiserweight champion Joey Vegas is 330th, and their remaining two belt holders are listed as ‘inactive’, which the organisation may or may not know.
Some bodies have different versions of themselves: the IBU was first created in Paris in June, 1913. The Germans gained control of the organisation in World War 2, named it something else (the APPE) but had left it defunct by 1946. It was re-established as the IBU 50 years later in Atlanta, and has since awarded world belts to fighters like Shannon Briggs, James Toney and Eddie Chambers.
The WBU, criticised recently for sanctioning heavyweight Danny Williams against former lightweight Lee McAllister, also had multiple incarnations. It started in 1995 and amassed a good roster of champions like Ricky Hatton, George Foreman, and Thomas Hearns. After the death of President Jon Robinson, the company lay dormant until 2011 when it resurfaced in Georgia, but now stays on the fringes of the sport with a handful of belt holders hoping for bigger things.
Nonplussed yet? Well, it gets weirder.
There are some governing bodies that apparently don’t acknowledge certain weight classes. The Global Boxing Council, for example, don’t have listings for any weight below bantamweight, missing out super-fly, fly, light fly and straw weights altogether. The IBU have left straw weight through to bantamweight unranked. Their super-bantam and featherweight ranks are filled with dubious contenders, their super-featherweight rankings are populated by super-middleweights, while their lightweight and light welterweight listings are also empty. Elsewhere, the IBA actually award a belt for an additional weight class, the “Super Cruiserweight” division, which has a weight limit of 210lbs, and is vacant.
Sometimes the divide between mission statement and reality is borderline unfathomable. Take the World Professional Boxing Federation, who’s goal is to “bring more credibility to the sport of boxing… [and] rebuild confidence of the fans and the media in crowning worthy and legitimate champions”.
Those deemed ‘worthy and legitimate’ include Benjamin Kalinovic, who won their super-welterweight European title in his 9th and final fight, which was scheduled for 6 rounds. Brian Vera won their International middleweight title against gatekeeper Taronze Washington, who was outpointed over 8 in a Texas convention centre in 2014. Also included is Francis Kimani who, despite retiring two years ago with a 7-3-2 record, won the world Youth super-bantamweight title in Zambia by knocking out Bazila Ngosa in the latter’s first professional contest. It was also to be Ngosa’s last; he was served a lifetime ban after trying to punch the referee for stopping the fight.
Some bodies have never sanctioned a single fight. The Pan Asian Boxing Association, an organisation operating in Asia and the Pacific, was closely affiliated with the WBA for many years, and was considered by the organisation as being its representative in the region. However, in March 2016, the WBA voted to only recognise the WBA Oceania title as the area’s formal title, thus discontinuing its relationship with the PABA.
In order to be recognised by a world governing body, the PABA simply created one, the World Boxing Society, and then recognised itself as the regional . To this day, the WBS has yet to sanction a single title fight, at world level or otherwise. The contest between Carleans ‘Chay Cay’ Rivas and Hye-Soo Park in 2017 would have been for the female light flyweight title, but the fight never happened. Rivas is currently 6-6-3, Park is 5-7-1.
Where are they now?
Outside of the Big Four and the IBO (from whom everyone receives regular updates), what does the future hold for these fringe governing bodies?
IBU – Last held a title fight in 2016 in a gymnasium in Chengdu, China (Melissa St. Vil and Rogelio Casarez each won super-featherweight titles). No scheduled sanctioned bouts.
WBF (World Boxing Foundation) – Still going. Last sanctioned a fight in August, when Tommy Browne won the UBF, UBO and WBF world super welterweight titles in Australia.
WBF (World Boxing Federation) – Also still going, although to their credit are at least sanctioning regular fights. Most recently, Xolisani Ndongeni defended his lightweight world title in August, taking his record to 25-0.
WPBF – Little is known. Last sanctioned a fight in December 2017 when Junior Pati won the Asia Pacific heavyweight strap against the 4-and-0 Mokhai Parahau.
IBC – Alexander Gurov won the last sanctioned IBC bout, winning their cruiserweight world title in 2012 in his final fight. Nothing as yet planned for the future.
WBU – Still going. Kristijan Krstacic won their light heavyweight world title in May, and Mike Keta defeated Sladan Janjanin to win the middleweight title in September.
GBC – Also still around. Averaging between 6 and 9 sanctioned fights a year, they held their first of 2018 in May – a cruiserweight world title fight won by 43-year-old German Rene Huebner (who, interestingly, also won their heavyweight belt back in 2014).
IBA – Eleider Alvarez’s 7 round demolition of Russian terror Sergey Kovalev in August was, incredibly, sanctioned by the IBA. Despite only sanctioning one world title fight in 2015, one in 2016 and two in 2017, superstars like Mairis Breidis, Beibut Shumenov, Bernard Hopkins and Curtis Stevens stand alongside Kovalev and Alvarez as some of the men to have competed for IBA titles since 2013. A reasonable roster of names by comparison to some other organisations.
UBO – 32-year-old Alexander Frank defeated 52-year-old Zoltan Petranyi in a single round earlier this month to claim the UBO heavyweight title, in the fifth world title fight sanctioned by the organisation this year.
GBU – German super-welterweight Antonio Hoffman defended his world title in their most recently sanctioned bout in June. On the same event, former Big Four world champion Firat Arslan won the vacant GBU cruiserweight title on a card that included no fewer that 8 GBU-affiliated fights.
WBL – Most recently awarded world titles to Saul Gutierrez (a 15-wins, 19-losses featherweight) who overcame a fellow-Mexican gatekeeper in a rodeo arena, and Rasul Dibirov (a 4-wins, 3-losses cruiserweight) who defeated the 12-37 Ghanaian Kwesi Tutu in a gym in Accra. Just to remind you; these men are world champions.
UBF – The organisation with the questionable number of champions has no scheduled upcoming bouts.
WBS – The World Boxing Society not only have every world title vacant, they have every top 4 position in every weight class vacant as well, and the only news item on their website is the announcement of the organisation’s inaugural launch in 2016. We won’t see anything from them for a long time.
RBO – The Royal Boxing Organisation have only ever sanctioned 2 world title fights, with the aforementioned Cedric Bellais winning their light-heavyweight title in July this year. Before that, Mohamed Yassa won their super-lightweight title in January. Early days for the new company.
WBC – The World Boxing Confederation recognise two world champions; Silverio Ortiz, who won the super-welterweight crown in March 2017 and hasn’t defended it since, and George Hillyard, whos contest for their light heavyweight title was his only fight at the weight before he retired.
LBF – The Legends Boxing Federation doesn’t recognise any legends currently. Their only world champion, female light-middleweight Jennifer Retzke, last defended their title four years ago before moving on to challenge for the belts awarded by the Big Four, but lost on each occasion.