|Spelling ‘C-h-a-m-p-i-o-n’ Without The Alphabet
By Coyote Duran (Aug 29, 2007) Doghouse Boxing (Photo © German Villasenor)
It didn't take long for the first salvo in the counterstrike to be launched. In response to the breathless anticipation for and regional success of Top Rank's recent pay-per-view broadcast featuring WBC lightweight titlist David Diaz successfully staving off the challenge of Erik Morales, Don King Productions returns to the Windy City suburbs two months later with not one, but two Diazes in tow.
On October 13, from the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates, Illinois, WBA/WBO 135-pound titlist Juan Diaz, 32-0 (16),
will face off against IBF beltholder Julio Diaz, 34-3 (25), in what could be perceived as a step in the right direction toward division clarity as two major alphabet titlists unify their three alphabet straps in the main event of the evening. But as desired as alphabet unification is and should be in boxing, will further confusion ensue should the winner of Diaz-Diaz challenge the other Diaz in 2008? Probably and, surprisingly, it'll have little to do with having the exact same surnames.
As rare as it is, for years, alphabet title unification gave fans an indubitable answer as to who the one true world champion in any given division was. But as mentioned, unification was, and still is, avoided like a time-share selling Jehovah's Witness. This primarily has always come down to money. Each sanctioning body charges a percentage of what a fighter makes to sanction a 'championship' fight and allow said fighter to claim its belt should he win. It isn't any different for the defending titlist for he has to pay the same sanctioning fee to the governing body to defend his belt. When it comes down to it, it really wouldn't matter if one man or more held the belts. The monies would still have to be paid. However, when one fighter holds all of the belts, his challenger might be dissuaded to pay the exorbitant fees and may be choosy as to which alphabet belt to hold, should he prevail. Case in point, Carlos Baldomir's win over former Undisputed Welterweight Champion Zab Judah.
In beating Judah, the only alphabet strap 'Tata' gained was the WBC belt simply because it's the only sanctioning fee he paid. Besides the WBC's belt, Judah lost his distinction as true welterweight champion, his WBA belt, (which was deemed vacant by the organization) but kept the very empty IBF belt (which reasonably should have been vacated) which was lost to Floyd Mayweather Jr. in Judah's next fight.
When Judah lost to Baldomir, he also lost something far more important. Along with the honor of being a genuine Undisputed Champ, he also lost his Ring magazine belt. Since 2002, The Ring has been bestowing their championships to fighters who ranked high enough to be in the top two spots of each weight class' ratings in the magazine. If numbers one and two fought each other (or in specific cases, number one vs. number three), the winner would receive The Ring belt.
Until recently, unifying the three best known alphabet straps (WBC, WBA and IBF) was accepted as well. The man Zab Judah beat for the Undisputed Championship, Cory Spinks did the latter when he defeated then-Ring champion Ricardo Mayorga (who also held the WBC and WBA titles in late-2003.
But after Baldomir defeated Judah, many were singing a very different song. Since he didn't hold the IBF and WBA straps as well, quite a few fans stubbornly refused to regard him as what he became; a legitimate champion. Some still considered Judah the champion because he held the IBF belt while other fans gravitated toward then-WBO titlist Antonio Margarito for his longevity as a titlist in the division. Others would even bizarrely claim Mayweather was the champion.
And this was before he even faced Baldomir.
The point is, since the welterweight alphabet belts were once again splintered, in the eyes of many fans, the glue that held the belts together in The Ring Magazine Championship suddenly was no longer potent because it graced the waist of one of boxing's least likely champions in Carlos Baldomir. Why not? He beat the man who beat the man who beat the man, etc. It wasn't fair. But when Floyd Mayweather schooled Baldomir for 12 rounds in Baldomir's second defense of the championship, everything became right with the world once more and all of a sudden, Mayweather suddenly became the man to beat.
The lightweight division is entering a very unusual time right now with possible similar (to an extent) circumstances. There exist three major titleholders, each with an alphabet strap to call his own (Juan Diaz claims two; one being a Ring Magazine belt knock-off called the WBA 'super world championship') but none of them are recognized as THE one true champion at 135. That particular distinction goes to Joel Casamayor who gained the vacant strap when ex-champion, the late Diego Corrales failed to make weight for their rubbermatch which was 'Chico's' first official defense. Since Casamayor, who also won Corrales' WBC belt, became champion, the green belt was stripped from him and given to then-'interim' beltholder David Diaz, thus making Diaz the WBC's official representative at 135. As a result, the only belt left on Casamayor was The Ring's belt.
A fighter having been known as the real, genuine world champion without actually possessing an alphabet strap isn't unusual. In recent years, examples have included the likes of Marco Antonio Barrera, who won his Ring featherweight belt, along with the designation of being known as the 'People's' or 'consensus' champion (when introduced by various ring announcers), when he defeated Erik Morales in their rematch back in June of 2002. Top five pound-for-pounder Manny Pacquiao shared the same honor in beating Barrera by TKO in November of 2003 (A recent product ad in the Philippines, which displayed Pacquiao's resume, also referred to Pacquiao as the former 'People's featherweight champion) without holding an alphabet title. Prior to both, former bantamweight titlist/World Junior Featherweight Champion/featherweight Paulie Ayala won his 122-pound championship by defeating Clarence 'Bones' Adams in their February 2002 rematch. Sure, Ayala also walked away with the IBO belt as well, but as it stands, the IBO isn't clearly as recognized as the WBC, WBA, IBF or WBO. This, however, doesn't stop outlets such as Box Rec.com from listing the title as a 'world championship' in their records in reference to any given fighter who has won the belt.
Although altered somewhat due to possession just prior to their fight, former World Light Heavyweight Champions Antonio Tarver and Glen Johnson gave up their respective WBC and IBF straps in December of 2004 to make what they felt was the best fight possible in the 175-pound division. Incidentally, The Ring's belt was up for grabs since Tarver annexed it in defeating Roy Jones Jr. seven months prior.
Interestingly enough, after Tarver regained the championship in a rematch against Johnson, 'The Magic Man' once again lost it (and two other fringe alphabet straps) in a voluntary defense against former Undisputed Middleweight Champion Bernard Hopkins in June of 2006. Since then, 'The Executioner' successfully defended the championship against former Undisputed Junior Middleweight Champion Winky Wright.
Some fighters are considered by many pundits as a champion without any significant belt. Many recognize unheralded WBO titlist Zsolt Erdei from Hungary as the linear light heavyweight champion since he beat Julio Gonzalez (in January of 2004) who defeated German-based Pole Dariusz Michalczewski (in October of 2003) who had more sanctioning body belts in his possession after beating Virgil Hill in June of 1997 than Roy Jones Jr. (who only had the WBC belt) did at the time. Due to mousy, juvenile alphabet politics, Michalczewski would be stripped of the WBA and IBF belts not long after the Hill victory.
So what makes an organization whose history is perennially spotty that much more appealing than another whose mission statement embraces the fighter’s best interests? “I believe there are a number of reasons why some people in the boxing industry do not wish The Ring to succeed with its Championship Policy.” states The Ring’s Editor-in-chief Nigel Collins. “There are, of course, some who have legitimate philosophical differences, which I can respect. But I think this is probably the smallest group.”
Collins continues, “I strongly believe many promoters and managers are comfortable working with corrupt alphabet organizations because these organizations can be manipulated. We've all seen undeserving fighters elevated to so-called mandatory positions. This does not happen by accident, and while it may benefit the individuals involved, it is clearly bad for the health and integrity of the sport. On the other hand, there are certain progressive promoters, Golden Boy, for instance, who have been very supportive. In fact, Oscar De La Hoya has made several public statements, most recently to Brian Kenny on the Friday Night Fights, supporting The Ring. Thankfully, ESPN and ESPN2 have been in our corner from the start and have been highly significant allies.”
However, this is the very same De La Hoya who offered up a small percentage of his last paycheck to defend the bargain basement WBC super welterweight belt (against Floyd Mayweather) he won from Ricardo Mayorga. It certainly is the truth when Collins speaks of ‘The Golden Boy’s’ support of The Ring but De La Hoya’s voluntary defense of the WBC belt illuminates the allure that boxing’s governing bodies have over even the richest fighters.
But what about the fighters who do become world champions only to have their statuses altered due to losing an alphabet belt for reasons other than losing it in the ring? Why should their standings be devalued when their alphabet straps are gone? This happened when World Junior Welterweight Champion Ricky Hatton wisely abdicated his IBF belt to move to welterweight to face Luis Collazo for the WBA title. When Hatton returned to junior welter to face Urango for the vacant IBF title, his status as a genuine world champion, even at the time, was ignored. Yet, save for the most rabid of internet message boarders, very little was bandied about regarding the ignorance of Hatton’s championship status prior to the fight. Collins believes subtlety in network politics may have its place in such matters.
“Most, though not all members of the broadcast teams on HBO, Showtime, and Versus have voiced their support to me personally (regarding The Ring’s Championship Policy), but have been prevented from doing so on the air by their corporate entities. I cannot speak for those entities, but I strongly believe that in some cases, differences on a personal level are involved.”
It’s realistic to assume that such differences and politics will rear their ugly heads once again if or when the winner of the Juan Diaz (rated number one by The Ring)-Julio Diaz (rated number two) battle squares off against David Diaz (rated number three) in an all-alphabet unification tilt. Many insiders predict the latter will take on Joel Casamayor but the fight hasn’t been set in stone as of yet (amd if it happens, bet on Casamayor entering the ring first due to non-existence as a champion in the eyes of the sanctioning bodies and networks). It’s very well possible that the alphabet titlists could even overlook ‘El Cepillo’ altogether and choose to unify, creating an ‘undisputed alphabet titlist.’
Doghouse Boxing’s Anthony Santiago sees Casamayor’s stance as the number one lightweight in the world as simple to understand. “Casamayor is the man to beat.” states Santiago. “He beat Corrales and no one has stepped up to fight him since. Julio, David, and Juan Diaz are all good fighters, but are just titleholders. Juan Diaz, the WBA holder is coming off a win over (Acelino)‘Popo’ Freitas. Not exactly a high quality win and not the type of fight to label you as the man to be beat. Julio Diaz beating Jesus Chavez by third round KO to keep his IBF strap isn't enough to the fans to be 135-pound king either. David Diaz, the WBC champion (which was taken from Casamayor), just came off a close unanimous decision win over faded former champion Erik Morales which in my opinion, he should've won in dominating fashion. So that doesn't make him the man to beat either. Casamayor can be argued by some, to be 38-0 since all of his losses and draws were close and some controversial. His last win was when he captured the WBC crown from the deceased Diego Corrales in October of 2006. Sure it's almost a year since and he hasn't fought since then but Casamayor is the man any of those Diaz's has to beat to be the man at 135 to me. I see this scenario playing out. The winner of Julio Diaz and Juan Diaz should fight the winner of a potential showdown of Joel Casamayor and David Diaz. That way after Diaz-Diaz, the WBA and IBF titles will be unified, and the winner of Casamayor-(David) Diaz will have the WBC strap and they can set up a fight between the winners to have a unified lightweight champion. Is it likely? Probably not with all these different types of champions these alphabet titles have, but it's what is needed. I'll take Juan Diaz to be the better of Julio and David, and I'd love to see him versus Casamayor soon. In my opinion, Casamayor is The Ring 135-pound champion at the moment, but Juan Diaz will not be ignored and will take that title soon enough.”
The sometimes acerbically outspoken-yet-always knowledgeable Cliff Rold from Boxing Scene.com agrees with Santiago that a Casamayor-David Diaz battle is in the cards and that Juan Diaz will eventually wind up as Ring Champion but, as a Ring Magazine Ratings Panel member, also has his differences with ratings and champion selection.
“When they're right, it's a good thing because the true champ has had Ring belts going back to Nat Fleischer. It's a niche history thing. When they're wrong: Rosendo Alvarez at 108 instead of lineal Jorge Arce, the refusal to recognize a 30-plus year unbroken lineal line at 112 even though the whole point of this is to bring back lineage as the standard, Paulie Ayala (as champion) at 122, pretending there was no mess at 175 (and) Vitali Klitschko (as World heavyweight Champion).” Rold emotes.
“Ahem...when they're wrong, they're wrong. The Ring is to be THE alternative so they have to be better period, not just pejoratively. This thing they're doing is still fairly new and I obviously support the effort but there is room for improvement. Still, it's leaps and bounds better than the mobs.” Rold continues. “Oh, and bet the house that David Diaz is fighting Casamayor next so that isn't even a big issue. Juan Diaz cleans up on the winner easy too. Of course the fighter makes the belt, but that's what makes a moment like Patterson-Liston so dramatic.”
“Of course it's 'legitimate.' says Rold referring to the Ring Championship. “It gets play on ESPN, the fighters are increasingly talking it up and Rocky laid it on Creed’s casket (in Rocky IV). Done. Whether it's always handed out correctly or whether the policy was initially structured correctly are different questions.”
So what if Casamayor decides to vacate altogether? According to Collins, the answer is simple.
“Only if the title was vacant and the two fighters were ranked one and two in the division (should any two fighters who happened to possess three unified alphabet titles successfully unify all three belts in order to be considered a bona fide champion).”
Until Casamayor gets beaten in a ring by any one titlist named Diaz or vacates, he will remain the World Lightweight Champion, despite what alphabet-happy fans, networks or certain internet outlets persist in claiming. But in Collins’ view, the tides are shifting, at least with the media.
“Sadly, another factor is old-fashioned jealousy. This is especially true in the print and Internet media, where some feel that if they didn't come up with the concept, it's got to be bad. But judging by the number of print and Internet media people who are members of The Ring's Rating Advisory Panel, there are also a lot of folks who know a good thing when they see it.
The bottom line is that while many members of the media limit themselves to complaining about the corrupt system, The Ring has offered an alternative to the status quo. I believe that in time, the righteousness of our cause will prevail.”
In the end, there will be three kinds of fans; those who support the concept of champions without alphabets, those who scoff and will end up having to deal with it and those who just don’t care one way or the other.
In Joel Casamayor’s case, one can only hope he’ll soon wind up defending his championship against a guy named Diaz. Odds are, he’ll wind up having to enter the ring first.
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