Mauling the World Heavyweight Title

By Matt McGrain on September 12, 2014
Mauling the World Heavyweight Title
Kayode fell over the first time Ortiz hit him. Of course he was stopped in the first round.

The universal law of supply and demand decrees very simply that an oversupply of championship fights will devalue those championship fights…

The World Boxing Association sanctions hundreds of fights a year now.

They got the Continental Championship, they got the International Championship, they got the Intercontinental Championship, and they collect fees from each of these meaningless contests. But it is frustrating for the WBA because their dips into the pockets of fighters like Lewis Pettitt (WBA Inter-Continental Super Bantamweight Champion) and Luca Giacon (WBA Continental Light-Welterweight Champion) produce little in the way of profit. The biggest profits lie in robbing professional fighters, all be it with their kind permission, of the riches surrounding world title fights. Money, then, is the only reason that the WBA has taken the ludicrous, almost drunken decision to name up to three world champions for each of the seventeen divisions in boxing.

An article in The Sport Review this week described ably boxing’s biggest problem: “The public still likes boxing,” wrote Mike Pope. “[But] no-one knows who the best fighter is, or even who the world champion is in each division.”

Pope is quite right. Because the various ABCs that “govern” boxing hand out championship belts regardless of the truth of the matter, it is easier for top fighters to ignore one another, easier for top contenders to ignore one another and easier for beltholders in given divisions not to meet. Each of them can create a legacy and own a title without ever beating the best in his division. Apart from this, the reason titles are so popular is that championship boxing sells better than regular boxing. However, the universal law of supply and demand decrees very simply that an oversupply of championship fights will devalue those championship fights, and that is exactly what has happened in boxing with pay-per-view sales and live gates for championship matches on the decline (with occasional and notable exceptions).

Keep in mind this was all true before the WBA got its tail up.

In its continued war on boxing and in its determination to drag even more money from the patient’s wheezing frame, the WBA invented the premise of the “Super Champion”; yes, the WBA “Super Champion.” A harsher critic might accuse the mastermind behind this new title of childishness, but I know that long-time WBA owner – should that be president, or some other euphemistic title? – Gilberto Mendoza has passed his seventieth birthday. Of course, Gilberto, as he ages, has begun to dispatch his son from the organization’s headquarters in Panama to the more remote corners of the globe, including visitations to their interests in Russia. Like the WBC, the WBA is involved in a literal passage of power from generation to generation. Similarities between them and the old-time autocracies of the original European powers will not be lost on the more sensitive reader.

Bob Arum complained bitterly of the bribes he had to pay the WBA in the early eighties in order to get his fighters favorable positions in the rankings, and to obtain for them title shots, but less well known is the fact that, according to Bob Mee, Arum had a role in helping Gilberto Mendoza into his current position of power at the WBA, at the expense of the American Bobby Lee. WBA actually has its roots in America, springing, as it did, from the corpse of the NBA which was set up to counter the power of New York State Athletic commission during the reign of Jack Dempsey. Political coups led the organization out of the states, to Panama, to Ecuador and then back to Panama.

Arum reaped what he sowed then in paying a man named Pepe Cordero thousands of dollars in order to secure a title fight. “You can’t really call them bribes,” said Arum, according to Thomas Hauser, “because you can’t bribe a person who is not in a position of authority. Cordero has no office at the WBA…but anyone who wants anything done has to pay Cordero.”

As witnesses go, the walking corruption that is Bob Arum is hardly ideal, but fortunately his story is echoed by the late Emanuel Steward who talked with Cordero about making a match with his promotional interest, champion Ernesto Espana. After taking a long hard look at the gun Cordero placed on the table in front of him, and agreeing to pay the outsized fees he demanded, Steward asked about how the fight could be made with Steward’s fighter Hilmer Kenty lying outside the WBA top ten.

“That is not a problem,” Steward claimed Cordero replied. “I can arrange that.”

According to The Independent, when Cordero fell out with the WBA in 1988, the former burglar “formed the World Boxing Organisation, which became hugely influential in Britain.”

The man Arum named the WBA’s “number one bagman” was isolated after the attempted coup at the WBA in 1988, in which Nick Kerasiotis of the Illinois State Athletic Commission set out to replace Gilberto Mendoza with Puerto Rican Luis Salas. 

“There’s no communication,” Kerasiotis complained to the Chicago Tribune in October of that year. “Recently when there were questions about the decision in the Marlon Starling-Tomas Molinares fight the New Jersey commission couldn’t even contact the WBA.”

Mendoza’s alleged solution was as inelegant as it was brilliant. He organized the fateful meeting that was to decide the future of the organization at a remote location off the coast of Venezuela and booked out all the available hotel rooms, providing accommodation only to delegates deemed friendly.

He’s still in charge today.

This in turn has led to the inception of the Super-Champion.

As far as I can tell, the “Super-Champion” is a fighter who carries the WBA belt and another alphabet belt, or a WBA champion who has staged more than five defenses. Having bequeathed the title of “Super-Champion” which results in no additional benefits whatsoever as I understand it, the WBA immediately seeks out two fighters who can fight for the WBA “World Championship.”

The new “World Champion” is then supposedly set upon a collision course with the “Super Champion,” except when they aren’t at all, as is the case with “Super Super Middleweight Champion” (you read that right) Andre Ward and plain old “World Super Middleweight Champion” Carl Froch, which the WBA has shown absolutely no interest in forcing or even decreeing. Worse, when the “Super” and “World” champions do meet, the “World” title is ordained vacant and they begin the madness again. As Sports Illustrated’s controversial Pat Putnam put it, the WBA “do what they want to do, name their champions and nobody gives a damn.”

Currently the WBA has very reasonably named as their Super Champion Wladimir Klitschko. Quite unreasonably they have named Ruslan Chagaev as their World Champion.

Chagaev has been nowhere near a divisional top ten in some time now and by nobody’s measure can he be regarded as championship material, not since the Achilles injury that nearly ended his career some years ago. That forty-year-old Fres Oquendo was the man in the other corner this June in Grozny, Russia was ludicrous. After losing to the ancient Oliver McCall in 2010, Oquendo did go on a five-fight streak, even stopping Joey Abell over nine in 2012 – Abell had been stopped in a single round five months before by an out of shape Chris Arreola. Oquendo was ranked #4 by the WBA for this fight. As Ring Magazine pointed out this month, Evander Holyfield would have been a better opponent.

Things got considerably worse for the Heavyweight Title last night when the WBA named a third heavyweight champion, their “Interim” heavyweight champion, a title won by Luis Ortiz at the expense of the hapless Lateef Kayode.

That Kayode was fighting for a heavyweight title is a fact so bizarre that only the involvement of the WBA makes it seem possible. Kayode, 20-0, has been treading water at cruiserweight since 2010 where he made very little impact, a victory over the decent Matt Godfrey perhaps his best result. Since moving back up to heavyweight last year, he has achieved literally nothing, winning two six-rounders against sub-journeyman opposition. Of course he fell over the first time Ortiz hit him. Of course he was stopped in the first round in front of a bemused audience made up of individuals who may decide that they’ve seen their last boxing match, especially if it was their first.

The fights they make suggest either corruption or ineptitude and given the WBA’s history, I would argue that the burden of proof is upon them to prove they are inept. Because Ortiz, though big and moderately skilled, has beaten nobody of note and Kayode, bless his heart, is a joke heavyweight. Oquendo was a washed up heavyweight and so too, sadly, is Ruslan Chagaev. What reason does the WBA have to invent titles to give to these fighters? Specifically, why these fighters – why not Dereck Chisora or Glazkov or Jennings? The possible answers to that question are few and chilling.

I contacted the WBA to see if they wanted to discuss some of these matters but naturally enough they did not respond to my email. It does not pay for an organization which continues to rank Lateef Kayode in its divisional top five at the time of writing to make itself available to questions. But are there answers?

In real terms, I have to say no. Nobody looks at the WBA heavyweight top fifteen to try to understand what is happening in that division. Those that do will be disturbed but not surprised to see Fres Oquendo ranked above Kubrat Pulev but should be equally disturbed to learn that despite this the WBA will earn from Pulev’s sweat when he meets legitimate king Wladimir Klitschko. Despite the boxing public’s hostility towards them, the WBA still make money from fighters. This is likely where any solution lies. It is not something that fans or boxing writers can deal with; the burden lies with the promoters and with the fighters.

Every now and then one of them will stand up to the alphabets – Erik Morales, Tyson Fury, Canelo Alvarez – but there is no groundswell among boxers to deal with the problem at hand. That is likely because they believe that even a shambolic mess like the WBA makes them richer rather than poorer and that fighting for titles is why they got into the game in the first place. This last inarguable point is perhaps why the purchase of The Ring by Golden Boy Promotions (who oversaw the disgrace that was Ortiz-Kayode) hurt so badly. Such was the wasteland created by the IBF and their ilk that a belt awarded by a magazine seemed the preferable silverware.

So I guess you can’t really blame the fighters.

All that is left is to continue to blame the WBA. They name three champions only one of which could be ranked in a reasoned divisional top ten. It takes genuine effort to be named the greatest evil assailing a sport like boxing; maybe the WBA summited that mountain this Thursday.

In the name of full disclosure, Matt would like it to be known that he is a member of the Transnational Boxing Board. He can be reached at m.mcgrain@hotmail.co.uk.

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Luis Ortiz vs. Lateef Kayode



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  1. Matt McGrain 07:02am, 09/17/2014

    Taking it a little bit deeper there Jeff W, but yeah we’re on the same page.

  2. Jeff W 05:32am, 09/16/2014

    A measured, dispassionate and professional piece, Matt. I enjoyed this. A murky world indeed - much like all forms of ‘high’ business. Power is a strange thing - something I find more and more removed from Thomas Carlyle’s ‘Great Men’ theory the older I get. If there are divinely inspired human beings or heroes walking the earth, looking out for us, thus creating a fair and impartial playing field then I don’t see them. Perhaps we made the fatal error in trading Martin Luther King Jr for a new breed of ‘man’; Lloyd Blankfein, Jamie Dimon, Don King and the like.

  3. Matt McGrain 02:40pm, 09/15/2014

    But nicolas, the point is that champion come from countries all over the world, and they all have advantages when the fight “at home”. 
    But they have bigger advantages if they are “friends” with the house promoter, and they have a bigger advantage if they are “friends” with the organisation overseeing the fight.  If you are trying to say that making up world titles helps make fights fairer, you are making a point that is the opposite of the truth.
    This is not about Americans or America.  That is preposterous. 
    Henry Cooper WAS a champion.  He was a British and Commonwealth and European champion.

  4. nicolas 12:52pm, 09/15/2014

    If you are an American fighter and you are fighting a fighter from another country, and you have only American judges judging your fight, how can that not be seen as an advantage to the American fighter, or in some cases American based fighter. Certainly you name great fighters who have gotten most of their decisions legitimately. But I think if you would ask Gabriel Campillo about his fights with Berbeit Shumenov and Tavoris Clowd respectively, I think he would agree with me. Most everyone I have ever talked to felt that George Foreman lost to Axel Shulz, though I did have it a draw myself. Many years ago Dale Brown of Canada went down south to fight a man, can’t remember his name, who would become a legitimate Cruiserweight champ, but lost a controversial unanimous decision for the IBF Cruiserweight title, when the consensus was that he had won. All the judges were from the South. I am not for all these organizations, certainly when the IBF came into existence, I saw at that time trouble ahead. Two competing were sort of fine, on many occasions there were unification fight, Monzon-Valdez, Leonard-Hearns, and Duran-De Jesus III. In many cases in some of these foreign countries, when a guy is “world champion”, I wonder if that just brings on more boxing shows in that area, as it might keep there interest alive in the sport. Henry Cooper was a big star in great Britain when he fought from my understanding. But in this day and age, would he still be that success without having a world title?

  5. Matt McGrain 07:37am, 09/15/2014

    Why does it give “American fighters an advantage”? 
    The legitimate champions working right now, by my reckoning, are Wlad Klitschko (Ukranian, chooses to fight in Germany), Adonis Stevenson (Candian, fights in Canada), Andre Ward (American, fights in America), Miguel Cotto (PR, chooses to fight in America), Floyd Mayweather (American, fights in America), Danny Garcia (American, fights in America), Rignoxeaux (Cuban, chooses to fight in America) and Roman Gonzalez (Nicaraguan, fights all over the world, but favours the East).
    Less than half of these fighters are American and the notion that the IBF and WBA and all of these other crooks somehow “even the playing field”  for non-American fighters by making up arbitrary titles that enable them to make money is ludicrous.

  6. nicolas 01:31am, 09/15/2014

    Matt your comment about if you can’t go overseas to win a world title tough is worn, or that your not good enough.. this has given American fighters another advantage. If you are the American house fighter, is it right that all the judges are allowed on many instances to be American? We can just look at some recent decisions where the fighter from another country did not get a fair shake with American judges only. Of course this used to be the case whether you went to Japan or some other countries. I remember that in the second fight between Roberto Duran and Estaban De Jesus, in Panama, all the judges were Panamanian. I believe the ref may have also been, but am not sure. This forced De Jesus to go for the knockout if he were to win. I remember when Indian Yaqui Lopez fought Victor Galindez, he lost two very controversial fights in Italy, which at that time favored Argentinian fighters over others, and this was with Italian judges only. I don’t wish to suggest that I am for all of these groups, I actually would not have that much of a problem with them if they decided on one champion. the American Association of Boxing Commisions, if they would just decide to have one organizations allow fights in the United States, would have a huge impact, but unfortunately, they do nothing about this mess and are probably just as corrupt as these other groups. ,

  7. Matt McGrain 03:16pm, 09/13/2014

    If you have to go overseas to get WORLD titles, tough.  If you can’t win them when abroad, you’re not good enough.  The idea that the solution is to just make up a new world title so you can have one is contrary to ever sporting notion I can imagine, and the compensatory fact that more fighters can “be world champion” (even if it is one, which I don’t think it is) thereby inspiring his countymen, is nothing when compared to the fact that the general public can no longer name the world champions.  Because at the last count there are more than seventy available WORLD belts, if you count Ring.

  8. nicolas 02:11pm, 09/13/2014

    Jeff Fenech got his first title fight for the IBF Batam Weight championship. the fight was in Austrailia, there were also other title fights with Austrailains fighting, can’t remember the names, though they certainly were not as good as Jeff fenech, and probably would never have been so called world champions.  Before that tie, many Austrailian fighters if they were to get a shot at the title would have to travel overseas and fight before a hostile crowd like Paul Ferrari or Hector Thompson did, not that they would have won those fights. Rocky Matioli, who grew up in Austrailia had to leave the country and go to Italy, because he said there were no opportunities at that time in the 1970s. Ironically, Boxing in Italy was far bigger then than it is now.  While it is true that 100,000 people attended the Neusal-Schmeling fight in Germany, this was pre television days. With the advent of television, and people getting to see fights from around the world, I think that probably changed things quite a bit on people spending their money to see local talent than might not be as good as what they saw on television. As it was, at the time of only the WBA and WBC, it appeared to me that Bob Arum was the number one man in the WBA in getting title fights, and Don King the number one man in the WBC. It seemed to leave a lot of other promoters in the dust. I guess the only way we could really tell if I am right or you are right would be to see attendance figures for such shows through the years, or how many fight cards take place in a certain country. Of course boxing in Germany was helped by the fall of the iron curtain, and those German promoters took advantage quickly. It is just interesting to note that the first German champs from the late 80’s to early 90’s were either IBF, or WBO champs, Henry Maske being one of them.

  9. Matt McGrain 03:17am, 09/13/2014

    Journeymen fight prospects all the time.  Absolutely no need to invent a championship to facilitate these fights. The fight game was at its busiest before the alphabets, and Boxing was absolutely enormous in the UK YEARS before the WBO was ever founded.  Any suggestion that the WBO “helped” British boxing is ludicrous.  I have no idea if the IBF helped Jeff Fenech or not, because I don’t live in Australia - I do know they are now helping grind boxing into the fucking dirt though, and any help they’ve given regional fighters in the short term has cost as a hundred times over.
    Boxing was colossal in Germany pre-alphabets.  Neusal-Schmeling was fought in front of 100,000, as many as saw Tunney-Dempsey.  Suggesting it is big there due to the alphabets is in no way true, at all.
    I think you’re right about the promoters, but I think that’s all you’r right about.

  10. nicolas 09:16pm, 09/12/2014

    As demonstrated in the youtube fight above, these fights probably would not take place if it were not for the television money that goes to them. In some way one can blame such networks for allowing this to happen. HBO and Showtime also have to take blame, as they support the same kind of system of so many champions. While the value of boxing has certainly gone down, is it true in the rest of the world. In some way, these organizations, and fights may have helped boxing flourish in countries that before it was not. Would boxing have started up so big in Germany? In the 70’s, you had some four world title fights, one featuring Muhammad Ali, and the other her featuring Ekhardt Dagge, there only champion for a long time. Did that not explode in the 1990’s, and would it have exploded if it had not been for those groups. As the article mentioned, the WBO was very prominent in Great Britain. Had it not been for the IBF. would someone like Jeff Fenech had gotten the opportunity to go as far as he did?  would anyone from Indonesia have become a world champ, the first was an IBF champion. I’m not condoning all these championships, but perhaps it has spread boxing more around the world.

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