Hurry Up and Wait: The Ratings Game

By Caryn A. Tate on July 25, 2017
Hurry Up and Wait: The Ratings Game
How is Bermane Stiverne back to being the #1 ranked heavyweight by the WBC? (AP)

If Erislandy Lara, Errol Spence, or Mikey Garcia didn’t have either a title or ranking by a sanctioning body, no one would want to face them…

Sanctioning bodies, which control the various championship belts and rankings, exist to give some semblance of order to boxing. The titles can give validation to fighters—they can help increase their earning value and, for other boxers, the appeal of making a fight with them. If it weren’t for titles and organizational rankings, a lot of great (yet not huge money-earning) fighters would be stuck without meaningful dance partners. Think Erislandy Lara, Errol Spence, or Mikey Garcia, just to name a few. If these fighters didn’t have either a title or ranking by a sanctioning body, no one would want to face them because the risk just wouldn’t be worth it.

It should be noted that sanctioning bodies do a lot of good for the sport. The WBC (World Boxing Council) has made some great strides of late, specifically with their Clean Boxing Program (CBP). The WBA (World Boxing Association) has a similar drug testing program, called Fair Boxing. The WBC’s CBP requires that all of their top 15 world rated fighters in each division participate in drug testing with the most thorough and cutting-edge organization out there, VADA. The WBA’s program is similar except that it’s currently voluntary—starting in 2018 it will be mandatory for all WBA-ranked fighters and champions. Due to the increase in performance enhancing drugs in sports in general, and the obvious inherent dangers that come from boxers using PEDs, these testing programs are a fantastic step forward. The WBC and the WBA should be praised for having the ethics to implement these policies.

Yet the positives that sanctioning bodies bring to the sport shouldn’t mean they have free rein to treat fighters any way they choose. But, in a sport where there is no broad or independent oversight and not much regulation, that is exactly what happens. It isn’t a surprise since boxing as a whole continues to be one of the only sports in the world that allows a stunning amount of ineptitude and corruption without any consequences, but wrong is wrong.

For example, recently, it was reported that WBC heavyweight world champion Deontay Wilder was in talks with #3 ranked Luis Ortiz for a potential bout this fall. It’s a great fight and one that most fans would love to see. Shortly thereafter, revealed that #1 ranked Bermane Stiverne would have to agree to step aside (and be paid to do so) to allow Wilder-Ortiz, and he stated in no uncertain terms that he won’t.

Now, for a bit of background. Stiverne fought Wilder back in January 2015. Stiverne was the WBC titleholder at the time, and Wilder won a one-sided unanimous decision to become the new champion. Since then, Stiverne has fought only one time, in November 2015 when he defeated solid journeyman Derric Rossy, unranked by the WBC. By comparison, Wilder has fought five times.

After losing the belt to Wilder two and a half years ago, and fighting only once since then against an unranked opponent, how is Stiverne back to being the #1 ranked heavyweight by the WBC? How is he in a mandatory position? Ortiz and all of the other top-ranked heavyweights have been waiting and fighting to get their way to the top, yet somehow they were eclipsed by Stiverne.

Heading down to have a look at the welterweight division: Keith Thurman won the WBC title from Danny Garcia in March 2017. In April, Shawn Porter faced Andre Berto in what the WBC declared was a mandatory title eliminator bout (meaning the winner would be next in line for a title shot versus champion Thurman). Porter had faced WBA champion Thurman in June 2016, losing a razor-thin decision in a fight that demanded a rematch—it was very close, and some thought Porter should have won. In good faith, Porter waited while Thurman fought the unification with Garcia (who was the WBC champ at the time) rather than the Porter rematch.

Porter swept the WBC mandatory spot by stopping Berto in the 9th round. After the fight, Thurman even entered the ring for him and Porter to banter about the potential rematch on camera in Porter’s post-fight interview.

But days ago, reported that the WBC is now considering yet another mandatory title eliminator bout for Porter, this time with #2 ranked Danny Garcia (who, as you’ll recall, lost the belt to Thurman back in March).

It begs the question: how many times does Porter have to prove he’s the mandatory challenger? And why does Garcia, having just lost the title in March, get the #2 slot and the immediate opportunity to supposedly face Thurman again?

Yet, by contrast, in the middleweight division, Jorge Sebastian Heiland has been the WBC mandatory, #1 contender for Gennady Golovkin’s world title for two and a half years. During that time, like Porter, he hasn’t fought the champion and Golovkin hasn’t been forced to face his mandatory for the WBC belt. There has also been no requirement for Heiland to continue to prove he’s the mandatory.

Until now.

Jermall Charlo is now the #2-ranked middleweight by the WBC and will be facing Heiland on Saturday, July 29 for the mandatory spot that Heiland supposedly secured over two years ago. Charlo, who was the IBF champion at junior middleweight, elected to vacate that title and move up to middleweight. Somehow, he bypassed all of the other top ranked middleweights by the WBC and debuted at #2 and also secured this mandatory eliminator bout with Heiland.

Imagine being Heiland, or any of the other top ranked middleweights by the sanctioning body. What lottery did they lose that they are forced to wait, and wait, only to get knocked down a slot or two by someone who just moved to that division and wasn’t even the titleholder for the same sanctioning body?

Now let’s move down to the super flyweight division. Roman Gonzalez won the WBC super flyweight championship from Carlos Cuadras in September 2016, though it was a debatable decision. Regardless of how one scored it, there’s no denying it was a close fight, and much like Thurman-Porter, should have garnered an immediate rematch out of respect for the fighter who came up short on the judges’ scorecards. Instead, Gonzalez faced Srisaket Sor Rungvisai (aka Wisaksil Wangek) next, who was the mandatory for less than a year and who lost the belt to Cuadras in a one-sided affair (though it ended on a technicality from a cut, Cuadras was solidly out-boxing Rungvisai) back in 2014.

Rungvisai upset Gonzalez, winning a close decision that some debated. Now, he and Gonzalez are scheduled for a rematch in September—Gonzalez is being given the immediate opportunity to win his belt back. On the undercard, Cuadras will face the also excellent Juan Francisco Estrada, an extremely tough out for both fighters, with no title on the line.

So despite the fact that he was the previous champion, that many thought he won the bout with Gonzalez, and that it was a closely contested and scored fight, Cuadras has been maneuvered into an indisputably difficult match with one of the best super flyweights in the world, who gave Gonzalez hell back in 2012. Cuadras isn’t being offered the same immediate opportunity that Gonzalez was, to win his title back; and Rungvisai isn’t being allowed to take the title and move on to other things, the way Gonzalez was with Cuadras.

A similar situation is going on with the IBF (International Boxing Federation), specifically at junior welterweight. Julius Indongo won the IBF world title in December 2016; the same month, Sergey Lipinets defeated fellow top-rated fighter Lenny Zappavigna in a bout that the IBF called a title eliminator. Instead of requiring the new champion to face his mandatory challenger in Lipinets, the IBF allowed Indongo to take on WBA champion Ricky Burns next, whom Indongo defeated to become a unified champion. Now, Indongo is scheduled to face WBC and WBO world champion Terence Crawford in August, yet again bypassing his IBF mandatory challenger. On top of that, according to Lipinets’ co-manager Alex Vaysfeld, the mandatory challenger wasn’t even offered step-aside money by the IBF to continue to wait. The IBF simply informed Team Lipinets that their board members had voted to allow Indongo another unification fight rather than his mandatory, and that the winner of Crawford-Indongo must face Lipinets by November 17.

Some fighters, like Lipinets, Cuadras, and Porter, are rarely allowed the better opportunities or even seemingly easier, stay-busy fights. Instead, they are constantly expected to be in tough every time out, constantly forced to prove themselves over and over again. Yet others, like Julius Indongo, Roman Gonzalez, Bermane Stiverne, and Jermall Charlo, are given opportunities that others aren’t. One has to wonder why these sorts of inconsistencies exist within the very same sanctioning body.

Of course, the fighters being offered these opportunities are not at fault—any athlete would, and should, jump at the chance for a good career opportunity. The issue here is the lack of any apparent consistency or order by the sanctioning organizations.

And many of these proposed fights are good matchups. Title unifications are always particularly appealing. But they should be secondary to adhering to the sanctioning body’s own designations and honoring those fighters who have been waiting and fighting their way to get to the top of the ratings, most of them for years.

It’s past time for boxing to have a truly independent organization that oversees the sport and its sanctioning bodies, similar to the NFL or NBA. Problems will always exist, as seen with those associations, but at least there would be some attempt at consistency, fairness, and transparency. As is, it’s typically the fighters who lose with all of these disgraceful politics and money grabs at play.

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  1. David 03:16pm, 07/28/2017

    Boxing is mobbed up. It always has been since the 40’s and 50’s, and it always will be until someone cleans it up.

  2. Koolz 01:19am, 07/26/2017

    Buster is right on!
    They are the corruption of boxing the political corruption and someone has to step in and stop it.  Fix something because we could go on and on and on with examples from around the world even.

  3. Tlig 11:41pm, 07/25/2017

    I recall the WBC installing Mike Tyson as number contender for their heavyweight title upon his release from prison back in 1995. The man hadn’t fought in close to 4 years at the time. I was a Tyson fan but was puzzled by such brazen corruption.

  4. JJ Austin 08:09pm, 07/25/2017

    Caryn, I greatly respect you as a Boxing writer and usually always agree with you. That being said Buster is absolutely right. These alfabet clowns are all a disgrace to the sport and any credit given to them or defense of them is not helpful. They deserve Only condemnation especially by people with voices like yourself. I’ll consider this just a hiccup on your part, we’re all entitled to a mistake now and then.

  5. Buster 06:34pm, 07/25/2017

    In the author’s words sanctioning bodies “exist to give some semblance of order to boxing.” Can anyone who knows boxing really believe that? These boxing parasites exist for one reason only—to extort “sanctioning fees” from the boxers for the privilege of fighting for one of their title belts. They have made a mockery of the sport and have only added to the confusion and disorganization which today is at an all time high. They deserve only condemnation. To praise them in any way is the height of naivete. Take away the sanctioning fees and these bums would disappear. Supporting drug testing costs them nothing and gives the impression they really care about this sport.