Interview: Matt Christie

BN: Following Artur Beterbiev’s win over Anthony Yarde, will the WBC now enforce Callum Smith’s position of mandatory?

First of all, what a great fight. I was so happy to see such an exciting, action-packed fight. Yarde deserves all the recognition. He was very brave and hit Beterbiev like no one has hit him before.

Callum Smith is the WBC mandatory and he has to be the next step for Beterbiev.

BN: Would you ever try to enforce a ‘unification’ fight instead, one that is for the benefit of the sport, like Beterbiev-Bivol most certainly is?

I don’t like to speculate. The WBC have made it clear all along that they would accept the WBO mandatory [Yarde] to go first and now it’s the WBC mandatory to go next. We have not received any correspondence for anything different.

BN: You are actively trying to ensure that each sanctioning body has their ‘turn’ in situations like this aren’t you?

We are trying to build the best relationships [with rival bodies] for the sport and to get the right system in place. Unfortunately, agreements have been broken but we remain positive. We are planning face-to-face meetings between the four organisations because there are many pressing topics when it comes to ‘unified’ or ‘undisputed’ champions; it gets very complicated. The mandatory concept works perfectly, flawlessly, when there is no unified champion but when a champion has two or more belts, the mandatory concept gets in the way. We have seen abuse from that system, we have seen fighters rushed into mandatory positions [by rival organisations] when they are not the best contender. But we all have different rules and agendas. We, at the WBC, are trying to do our best to ensure we all have an understanding.

BN: It would certainly be clearer with one set of rankings. Are there too many organisations?

It doesn’t matter what I think. The WBC was born 60 years ago and we have done many things for the sport. The IBF and the WBO were formed as outbreak organisations from the WBA. The situation is that television networks demand championship fights from promoters then the promoters look around and support the creation of new organisations. The truth is there are four recognised organisations but there are a lot more than that out there. You could create one tomorrow, there’s nothing to stop that.

It’s up to the fans to decided who is the real champion, to decide which organisation brings legitimate history, administration and credibility. I can only speak for the WBC, but I can proudly say we are a premier organisation worldwide.

BN: So is it a source of frustration that the amount of titles and organisations make it hard for those fans to follow the sport?

Yes, it’s difficult. Real boxing fans understand but for casual and new fans it’s much more difficult [to follow]. It is just a matter of doing better PR campaigns, doing everything better. But boxing is a sport that is unique. It doesn’t have the structure of other sports, where one league controls everything, the fixtures, the TV and the business. In boxing, everything is separate. The WBC does not control the business, the TV rights, the sponsorship.

Another thing that boxing has is constant paranoia. The media is so paranoid about everything – that bad decision, that bad action. In other sports, everything is positive from the media. They want to see their sports grow. If we all worked together as an industry like that, we [boxing] would move forward. Boxing has always suffered from that negativity.

BN: It’s a fair point but when you’ve been involved in boxing for a long time, and followed it all your life, it’s easy to get frustrated with the sport when it keeps making the same mistakes. We all want it to be the greatest sport on the planet… The Conor Benn situation, for example, did not shine a good light on the sport. How far through the 270-page document that he handed in to the WBC to prove his innocence are you?

We have been in very positive, fast-forward communications. It is a highly legal matter and I cannot speak of the topic. What I can say is that, for the first time, in direct communications and I believe things will get expedited as the information becomes more clear. We always believe in the innocence of athletes until they are proven guilty. I have known the Benn family for many, many years and I’m just hoping this gets resolved quickly.

BN: Is it a concern, from your point of view, that the British Boxing Board of Control [BBBofC] or UK Anti-Doping [UKAD] haven’t had the same document?

That’s part of the process. I can’t speak on behalf of the BBBofC or UKAD. It is being dealt with vigilantly and with professionalism but it is a complicated matter.

BN: Should the WBC have acted quicker when the results of the first failed test were discovered?

I don’t want to say any more on the matter at this moment and I apologise, I always want to answer everything. But this is out of my hands for legal reasons, I’m sorry.

BN: I understand. It’s early morning there in Mexico, what does the day ahead look like for you, the head of the WBC?

With WhatsApp and emails you cannot escape! I have already had discussions about the [Ilunga] Makubu-Badou Jack fight that will take place in February on the Jake Paul-Tommy Fury card in Saudi Arabia. I have spoke to the supervisor of Beterbiev-Yarde, I had a one-hour zoom meeting with my office to plan the whole week and once this interview has finished, I have a zoom meeting with the three other sanctioning bodies. At the office I have meetings with current and former WBC champions and another journalist coming to talk to me about the 60th anniversary of the WBC. Then I have a working lunch, an appointment at the bank and whatever else comes, like phone calls and urgent matters. It is a long process every single day!

BN: So what is at the top of the agenda when you speak to the WBA, IBF and WBO?

To confirm a reciprocity commitment. We have three options: We can administer our own procedures without any care for what the other organisations do and see who has the most muscle; we can agree to look at everything case by case; or we can agree to have a reciprocity agreement where each organisation’s individual decision will be respected. [For example] If I have ordered a fight involving one fighter, another organisation should not order a different fight for that same fighter. We are looking to see how we can have common mandatory challengers because [otherwise] undisputed champions have to live their whole life making mandatory after mandatory defence, and that’s when titles get lost.