THE constant mention of the ‘four-belt era’ is becoming something of a nuisance. Firstly, let’s take nothing whatsoever away from the seven male fighters who have won all four belts because, well, that’s what the sanctioning bodies do.
I know I’ve said all this before. Even so, after reading a report published via Press Association (PA) about Jermall Charlo’s victory over Brian Castaño, I was a little frustrated to see almost as much space being given to the ‘four-belt era’ as the (very good) fight itself. PA were far from the only guilty party.
It’s almost as if the ‘four-belt era’ is somehow worming its way into public consciousness as a golden era due to the amount of titles fighters now have to win to gain universal recognition as the world champion. Without question, it’s not easy to win all four titles. It’s even harder to retain them; thus making the tag of ‘undisputed’ the end of a journey rather than the start. The word would be better utilised as the name of an annual tournament – now, there’s an idea – rather than a championship status.
Similarly, the notion that titles get ‘unified’ as soon as a fighter holds more than one of them is also bothersome. Unification is two or more things coming together to make one. When a boxer wins the IBF and WBA titles, for example, they do not then become one championship. The titles remain independent because they are operating from different rules and rankings. Though it may appear the sanctioning bodies are now more willing to work together to create that ‘undisputed’ showpiece, there is very little unity at all. Once the organisations have draped their silverware over the fighter of the moment, the usual mayhem ensues.
In this ‘four-belt era’, there have been only three successful defences of an ‘undisputed’ championship (in 34 years) and only four defences in total. Only one fighter – Jermain Taylor when he beat Bernard Hopkins at middleweight in 2005 – has actually won all four belts in one fight. Because he then decided to honour his rematch with Hopkins, Taylor had to give up the IBF strap. By now, the WBA were recognising Maselino Masoe as a ‘world champion’ in the same division where Taylor was also their king.
Josh Taylor clinched all four titles last year and last week he lost one of the belts because he failed to agree a defence against the WBA mandatory, Alberto Puello. Had Taylor opted to take the fight against Puello he would risk losing his IBF and WBO straps because neither rank the Puerto Rican as a viable contender. Puello is unranked by BN, too.
So how can one organisation rank a fighter at No.1, as the most deserving challenger, when another organisation does not rank them at all? After all, all four organisations are privy to the form of boxers so why do the ratings of each body differ so wildly?
Puello was previously the WBA ‘interim’ belt-holder when there was absolutely zero need for an interim belt-holder. Before that he held a WBA ‘Fedelatin’ bauble. So he’s been paying sanctioning fees to the WBA since 2017. The only other organisation to rank Puello is the WBC (at 13th). Puello held the WBC ‘Latino’ trinket not so long ago, again paying sanctioning fees.
One may therefore conclude that Puello has essentially bought his rankings. Inarguably, Puello has not beaten anyone remotely worthy of consideration of a place in the Top 10.
For further context on the absurdity, Ismael Barroso, the WBA ‘gold’ titlist (and unrated by any other organisation) is ranked at two despite being inactive for 16 months; Jack Catterall, beyond unfortunate not to get the nod over Taylor in February, is rated at 12th by the WBA; Teófimo López – yet to fight in the weight class – is rated at number eight and up at three is Ohara Davies, who has lost to both Catterall and Taylor already.
It paints a murky picture of the workings of the rankings that formulate this ‘four-belt era’. Though it is of course important for leading contenders to get their shot and rules to be adhered to, it’s surely even more important for those leading contenders to have proved they deserve a shot so the rules are actually fair.
This weekend, David Benavidez and David Lemieux will contest the vacant ‘interim’ WBC gong at super-middleweight. Meaning there will suddenly be some dispute to the ‘undisputed’ reign of Canelo Álvarez just five months after he ‘unified’ the division.