By Sean Crose
Almost a century and a half ago, when a tough pug out of Boston named John L. Sullivan dominated the fight scene, he was given the title of “champion.” Handing the man a title made a lot of sense, after all. He was widely regarded as the toughest SOB on the planet and pretty much proved it by flattening everyone is his path. Picture, if you will, someone with the braggadocio of Adrien Broner who could actually back it up. Insufferable? Perhaps. But that was Sullivan. Whether you liked him or not, he was the real deal.
Back then a title was seen as an award that was to be bestowed on one who had reached the top of the mountain. It wasn’t a permanent thing – just a temporary position of honor that one could hold until being knocked off the pedestal by someone even better. Looking back on it all, the idea of making someone an official champion was a great idea. It awarded excellence and encouraged excellence. If you wanted to be the man, you had to go in there and beat the man. It was that simple.
Things have clearly changed for the worse. Don’t get me wrong, boxing is a far better sport today than it was in Sullivan’s time. Wladimir Klitschko can’t refuse to fight someone because of his skin color, for instance (not that he’d be the sort to do that anyway). Also, the whole padded glove thing is kinda nice. Oh, and the punch to the throat – a Sullivan hallmark – is now, fortunately, illegal.
The endless array of titles that clutters today’s sport, however, is completely ridiculous. Who, for instance, is the WBA super middleweight champion of the world? Is it “super champion” Andre Ward, “unified champion” Carl Froch, or “interim champion” Stanyslav Kashtanov? I’m guessing it’s Ward, since he won the “Super Six” runoff. Yet I’m also guessing the WBA could switch all those titles around at its pleasure if it so chose.
Floyd Mayweather actually proved how ridiculous the whole thing has become when he expressed a willingness to toss his WBC Welterweight title aside. Mayweather, like many of boxing’s fans, knows how meaningless titles are becoming. Until he retires or is knocked from his throne, Mayweather is both the welterweight and junior middleweight champion of the world – with our without the belts to show for it. He knows it, and we know it, too.
Of course some believe the words “linear champion” have real value. That’s understandable. In order to be linear champion, after all, you have to be the champ who beat the champ who beat the champ, all the way back to the first officially recognized champion of your division. It’s hard to keep track of who the linear champion of each division is, however. Do you know who the linear bantamweight champion of the world is right now, for instance? Does the linear champion even know he’s the linear champion? It can all become taxing, to say the least.
While some out there think it would be best to somehow, someway create one single, solitary title for each division, like the UFC does, that’s simply not going to happen. At least it’s not likely to. The UFC is a private entity, after all. The sport of boxing is not. Besides, boxing is corrupt as it is. The last thing the sport needs is a single overlord. Lastly, boxing’s stars make a lot more money than the UFCs stars do. That’s just a fact. It’s nice to have leverage, after all.
In the end, it’s all about the fans. They’re the one’s who will decide who the champion is. Sullivan’s title would have meant nothing if the public didn’t support it. That’s something to keep in mind. Perhaps ultimately, the whole concept of titles, although sensible, is irrelevant to begin with.
Then again, perhaps not.