An Alternative to Unification: A Rematch Between Wladimir Klitschko & Sam Peter
15.03.07 – By Hunter Breckenridge: First of all, let me begin with an apology. I'm quite confident many boxing fans are getting tired of reading about Wladimir Klitschko. Thanks to his recent win over Ray Austin, his status as the number one heavyweight, and the current drama going on with his brother Vitali, he is getting a lot of attention. I imagine those who don't like Wlad are seething over all of the recent articles about him. Even those who like him might prefer to talk about the Marquez-Barrera fight, or Floyd Mayweather, or even what type of crane will be used to hoist Butterbean into the ring.
Article posted on 16.03.2007
I understand all of this. But, alas, he is the best heavyweight in the world right now, and that carries significance. Significance not just to the boxing world, but to the casual fan as well. And there happens to be an issue with Wlad that I would like to discuss. So forgive me as I contribute to the bludgeoning of the dead horse and talk about Dr. Klitschko once more. Or at least talk about an issue that affects him directly. Don’t worry, this is a lot bigger than Wladimir.
Perhaps the biggest complaint that I routinely hear about the heavyweight division is the division of the titles. There are four men currently holding significant belts. Four different sanctioning bodies claim that the man holding their trinket is the best heavyweight. Obviously they can't all be right. Of the four title-holders, Wladimir Klitschko is generally agreed to be the best. He has faced the best opposition of the bunch, has the best tools, is the youngest, and seems to have the greatest upside.
However, most will agree that Wladimir can lay claim to a number-one ranking, but can't call himself a real champion until he has at least partially unified the titles. Even Wlad himself has said this. Klitschko, like most people, believes that collecting more baubles is the best way to claim legitimacy. But I would like to ask why? What makes the various alphabet soup belts so valuable? Doesn’t talk of unification just confer greater legitimacy to the biggest problem in boxing?
The alphabet-soup titles are what fighters tend to strive for. Most boxers want general recognition, but this is not usually enough. A belt is such a tempting thing. Even though the belts carry with them headaches, sanctioning fees, and unworthy mandatory challengers, they are still prized. What if we could cut things down to just one belt? It would be worth a great deal more than 4 “major” belts and countless minor ones. Of all the possible belts and titles, The Ring Magazine championships appear to have the most to offer. A long and distinguished history, (not the new policy, but The Ring itself) no sanctioning fees, no ulterior motives, no money changing hands, and now a much larger advisory panel that only improves its legitimacy.
The concept of beating the man who beat the man is a sensible one. Even if a particular fighter isn't that great, they can still upset a better fighter and win the title. And that person would deserve all the credit in the world for stepping up their game when it counts. Shannon Briggs and Oleg Maskaev are both great examples of this. They challenged better boxers, and pulled out wins. The thing is, all that really means is that the fighter in question had a good win. The belts themselves have little value if there is more than one to go around. What Briggs, Maskaev, Valuev, and Klitschko possess are diluted championships.
If one looks at the Ring Magazine heavyweight top-ten list, it’s true they would see all four title-holders on the list. IBF champ Wladimir Klitschko is the obvious number-one. Amazingly enough, the number-two man on the list isn't a trinket-holder at all. Samuel Peter is actually a great example of someone shafted by the corruption and incompetence of the sanctioning
bodies. What if Wlad told the IBF to go screw themselves and their belt? What if he decided to fight the second best heavyweight in the world? A rematch between Klitschko and Peter would crown the Ring Heavyweight Champion. All without wasting time trying to unify. The only way any of the other title-holders could be recognized as the champion would be to fight the champion. Problem is, Briggs, Maskaev, and Valuev would have to be willing to give up their titles, or at least stop acknowledging that the titles are worth anything. They would be forced to go after the champ. This is not likely.
However, if Sam Peter and Wladimir Klitschko can go along with it, and if the boxing media cease acknowledging the sanctioning bodies, then the title-holders will be holding on to paper crowns. Klitschko fighting the third or fourth best heavyweights won’t confer the same legitimacy that fighting Sam Peter would. Sam beat James Toney twice (once legitimately), and like him or not, Toney was a top-ten heavyweight (maybe still is). Sam also had a good fight against Wlad back in 2005 that deserved a rematch. While Sam is waiting for the Maskaev - Vitali Klitschko mess to be resolved, he could fight for the only belt that matters right now. If one of the other trinket-holders believes that they are more worthy than Peter to fight for the Ring crown, then let them drop their toys, grow a pair, and go after the man in the division! Hiding behind promoters and mandatories proves nothing.
A lot of people don't like the fact that a part of the media is trying to influence the subject they report. This is an understandable concern. The thing is, who else is going to do it? No other organization in boxing has the track record that the Ring has. Nobody else has the collaboration of so many writers and contributors to the sport. The Ring has a very sensible system in place for determining rankings and champions. It isn't perfect, but it is a vast improvement over every other alternative. The Ring charges no sanctioning fees, and accepts no monetary compensation for ranking specific fighters. They go by the consensus of some of the
best minds in the business. Not a bad system at all. Everyone complains about how the sanctioning bodies are ruining the sport. Now we have an alternative. If fighters stopped paying sanctioning fees and stopped caring about the belts, we might see real progress. The promoters could no longer bribe the bodies to rank undeserving fighters. Mandatory title defenses like the recent Klitschko - Austin debacle would become a thing of the past. Having only one title would force the best fighters in each division to gun for one man.
And only the best would be champions or even contenders. Yes, it is possible that a few worthy fighters could be frozen out of the picture. It's sad, but it happens. However, this is preferable to 4 "champions" in each division, with various "interim" and "super" title-holders clogging up the picture and further alienating the casual fan. It might even motivate fighters to work harder and show up to fights in shape. Imagine that, heavyweights that can go three rounds without collapsing from exhaustion. What a concept.
So, what am I trying to say here? What have I been rambling about? There is no good reason for Wladimir Klitschko to try to unify the titles! The corrupt politics of the sanctioning bodies will keep him from successfully unifying, anyway. The absurdly greedy promoters want there to be as many title-holders as possible. They would only allow unification if it would give them control of fighters like Wlad. So, Wladimir, I say, do what’s right! Fight Sam Peter! If you can’t get him, fight a top contender like Ruslan Chagaev or Serguei Liakhovich, or some fighter not listed as a “champion” of one of the sanctioning bodies. Acknowledging their very existence only gives them power! I would love to see as many fighters as possible follow the lead of Carlos Baldomir, and simply refuse to pay sanctioning fees. Dump the belts in the garbage and fight the best. I know this is easier said than done. But, I wish more people would at least start talking about it. If we truly love this sport, then the fighters, the fans, the writers, and everyone else involved in it should be willing to turn our backs on the alphabet-soup gang and let them wither and die.
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