Having just listened to WBA President Gilberto Mendoza speak exclusively to NewAgeBoxing, there are a few things that still stick out as an issue. First, let me say that we love Martin Theobald and the New Age Boxing team. Their weekly podcast is a superb listen and they pull no punches. In fact you could say they throw several low blows and even a few intentional headbutts. No one is off limits but their criticisms are normally justified and blend humour, honest opinion and great knowledge. The brown-nosing out of the way, Martin met his match with Senor Mendoza and was kept quiet for long spells! Not a regular occurrence. It is a good podcast though. Check it out!
The interview was well conducted, and is a thoroughly interesting insight into the world of the modern sanctioning body. Gilberto Mendoza spoke well throughout, and tried to address some of the concerns of the fans, especially regarding the Tyron Zeuge – Paul Smith debacle. Mendoza admitted that there are a few problems with how this came about but didn’t really manage to explain them, or justify them, in my opinion. To avoid waffling, I’ve picked out five key areas that I feel still paint the WBA in a particularly bad light (I imagine these problems are prominent within the other sanctioning bodies and praise Gilberto for actually attempting to explain some of the overly complicated processes involved).
- The “mistake” of Paul Smith’s ranking
- Mendoza’s opinion of Paul Smith’s ranking
- The process of getting a boxer ranked
- The relationship between promoters
- The Super and Regular World titles
Where Smith is ranked
Gilberto Mendoza nailed his colours to the mast here and openly admitted he felt it was a mistake to have Smith, who hasn’t won at Super-Middleweight since 2013, posted as highly as fifth in their official rankings. You won’t find many arguments here. If any. Yet, nothing has been done to rectify this error. Someone has made this decision, weeks ago, whether as part of a committee or individually but it still stands. Mendoza stated during the interview that the fight is happening on Saturday so there is nothing he can do now. True, however there was plenty he could have done in the interim. Not that any action would have stopped Saturday’s encounter taking place. From what is detailed below, Mendoza would have likely dropped Smith several positions but still had him eligible for the Regular title.
I feel it necessary here to argue the case for Smith. While I haven’t seen any criticism towards him for taking the fight, the focus correctly being the WBA itself, I do believe that there would not have been anywhere near as much reaction if this were a different boxer. For whatever reason, Smith is not a popular boxer, particularly on Twitter and this has definitely contributed to the negative response. Eddie Hearn has criticised those who contacted the WBA directly for trying to stop Smith earning a living but he is missing the point slightly. Yes, Smith is the indirect target but there is a larger problem with the sport here. Those individuals would ask who else should they contact to voice their displeasure. Hearn has done his job, Smith is doing his but it would appear the WBA has not.
Where Smith should be ranked
After admitting Smith is probably not the fifth best Super-Middleweight the WBA chooses to consider (as champions with other bodies are not included) the Head of the organisation gave his personal opinion that Smith should be in the top 10 or 15, at least. Opinions by definition will always be debated. However, I struggle to believe that, based on recent performances, Paul Smith is one of the top 10 12st boxers on the planet. This is not a criticism of Smith. There is only a small percentage that should be in the elite group but this is partially the problem, there are arguably more world champions in each division than there are true, elite fighters.
The fact that any one of the WBA’s top 15 ranked boxers can box for a world title contributes to the complicated nature of “deserved” and “justifiable” title shots. Which takes us onto the next point, the lack of meritocracy in boxing for a world title.
How boxers get ranked
Now, naively, I thought boxers had to earn their way up the rankings, boxing against other ranked fighters and progressing with each victory. It has come to light (officially at least), that what actually happens is a promoter contacts a certain organisation and requests their man be ranked. As simple as that. They just ask. Any promoter in the world can ask politely and their boxer will be thrown into the title mix. Except, I’m positive that not any promoter could do this or the rankings would be changing on a daily basis. Certain promoters can contact certain organisations and be granted rankings based on unknown factors (at least Mendoza didn’t go into specifics as to why they granted Matchroom’s request).
Certain promoters have long since appeared to favour a particular organisation of choice. This is hardly breaking news, but it is a massive part of the problem within modern boxing. There are many boxers lower down the ladder who could, with the right opportunity, progress but aren’t able to. More a case of who you know, not what you can do.
Inter promotional relationships
Ask any boxing fan and they’ll tell you that boxing would be in an infinitely better state if only promoters would work together. What they mean by this, of course, is if promoters were willing to put their best boxers in with those of their rivals for the good of the sport and to make the best possible matchups. I don’t think anyone had Zeuge-Smith in mind. From a Sauerland point of view, they are building Zeuge. He has the Regular WBA strap, which doesn’t mean too much to most fans, so they are looking for a straightforward defence to continue his progress. Another problem with boxing, a man touted and advertised as a world champion is not facing the best possible challenges. That is a debate for another time however. Sauerland and Matchroom have worked together in the past so it’s hardly a surprise that the German based company would turn to Hearn and co for an opponent. One who performed admirably against Arthur Abraham in two world title contests.
As I noted earlier, a lot of the ire attracted in the UK is because it is Paul Smith. Those opposing can try to take the moral high ground, that they care about boxing (and they certainly do care) but they wouldn’t be nearly as animated if it were another boxer getting such an opportunity. It probably occurs all around the world without them even noticing, but no one is emailing the WBA until “Smigga” gets something he doesn’t deserve. However, that doesn’t change the fact that there are more deserving contenders out there who have missed out.
It used to be a special achievement to be a world champion in boxing. Of course it still is but it has become a much more diluted honour over time. The WBA are particularly guilty of this, having Super, Regular, Interim, International and Inter-Continental champions. The latter three are clearly just glorified ways of progressing through their rankings system, yet, crucially, involve sanctioning fees paid to the WBA. The Super and Regular titles are those that cause most debate. Well, between those that actually care anyway. I am of the opinion that the Regular title holder is just that, a title holder. They hold a belt but there is clearly someone above them. The Super champion. The whole idea is preposterous and isn’t limited to the WBA unfortunately. The WBC have Diamond Champions, World Champions, Silver Champions etc. It makes even more of a mockery than having four separate sanctioning bodies in the first place.
Mendoza stated during the interview, which he has done in the past, that the plan is to get back to one world title. So far, so good. Except that George Groves beat Fedor Chudinov for the Super belt a matter of weeks ago, and Tyron Zeuge is defending the regular belt this weekend. There has already been talk of Groves unifying his against IBF champion and long time rival, James Degale. Unless Zeuge faces Groves, there is no way of having one champion.
These organisations mandate defences all the time. They got themselves into this mess, and in theory, it should be relatively easy to get themselves out. Enforce that Regular title holders and Super champions, “unify” against each other. If anyone doesn’t comply, then strip them of their belt and dissolve the Regular versions. This is a very black and white way of viewing the matter and I’m sure there are many complications preventing it. The main reason for it not to happen, from their point of view – not ours, appears to be the reduction in future sanctioning fees coming their way. Another viewpoint is the unofficial promoters that Mendoza referenced. The TV networks. In many cases, they provide the bulk of the investment and, as a result, pull many of the strings. It is more attractive for them to be able to advertise world title bouts and therefore attract more viewers to their shows. In the bodies’ defence, there may be all sorts of potential legal repercussions for them to strip boxers of their own belts, bizarrely enough.
Mendoza did appear to genuinely want a clearer title situation at the top but hinted it could be later rather than sooner before it is fully affected. Towards the end of the interview, he advised that he hopes to have the multiple title situation resolved within the next year or two. Personally, I don’t see why it should take that long, however I am prepared to give him, and the WBA, the benefit of the doubt. Between now and then though, let their actions speak louder than their words.