One of the most consistent themes in recent years here at The Boxing Truth®️ has been an ongoing chronicle of Boxing’s storied Middleweight division. To be more specific, what appeared to be a gradual progression towards determining one Undisputed world champion in the division in what would be the first since Bernard Hopkins began unifying the division in the early 2000’s before finally completing the process by knocking out then WBO world champion Oscar De La Hoya in September 2004.
The very goal of determining one undisputed champion in any division in Boxing and also the task of keeping the championship fully unified is one that while not impossible, is certainly difficult to achieve. Difficult for several reasons, but one reason that most Boxing fans and experts point to is the political landscape that surrounds the sport. Although some are quick to point out the flaws of the sport and all too often also quick to accuse the respective sanctioning organizations that govern Boxing of corruption, at times rightly, sometimes not, there are other factors that play a role in how difficult it can be to determine an undisputed champion. Factors such as rival promoters refusing to work together to make unification fights happen, competing television networks/platforms, who by paying significant rights fees want exclusivity to a promoter’s respective stable of fighters, and at times a fighter’s reluctance to face other champions in his/her respective weight class can all play a factor and unfortunately serve as roadblocks to an undisputed champion being crowned.
If the reader is starting to feel confused by all of the above and are possibly concerned about the possibility of getting a migraine headache from trying to understand it all, this observer will try his best to make it as painless as possible. First and foremost, this column will not be a long drawn out explanation of all of the above in great detail. Quite frankly, it would take a book perhaps two, or even three written by yours truly to go over every single aspect of the politics of the sport in great detail. While that might be something to ponder in the future, the reader should think of the factors listed above as examples.
This column will however, focus on one political element that does come up frequently for fighters who achieve status as a unified world champion. The obligation of fulfilling mandatory title defenses annually as determined by the respective organizations who’s world championships a fighter holds.
One of the stories that generated significant attention in the last week was the decision of the International Boxing Federation (IBF) to strip current unified Middleweight world champion Saul ‘Canelo” Alvarez of its World Middleweight championship. A decision made by the organization following the failure of the champion, his promoter Golden Boy Promotions, and current mandatory challenger Sergiy Derevyanchenko to come to terms for a mandatory title defense.
As readers will likely remember Alvarez, the WBC/WBA world champion successfully added the IBF crown to his unified championship with his victory over IBF world champion Daniel Jacobs earlier this year. As can happen when unification bouts take place, Alvarez by virtue of defeating Jacobs inherited the obligation to meet the IBF’s number one contender Derevyanchenko within a certain period of time. What makes the decision of the IBF somewhat perplexing is the claim of Alvarez that he was unaware of the deadline set by the organization for him and Derevyanchenko to come to terms for a fight to fulfill the mandatory defense. Whether or not Alvarez or his promoter Golden Boy Promotions were aware of the deadline now appears to be a moot point as the IBF has already mandated Derevyanchenko to meet former Middleweight world champion Gennady Golovkin, the IBF’s two top Middleweight contenders for the vacant championship.
Although it is understandable how fans can and often do criticize sanctioning organizations whenever a situation like this occurs, it is not uncommon for an organization like the IBF to obligate a champion to agree to meet a mandatory challenger before a unification bout between two world champions takes place as to ensure that the winner of said unification bout agrees to fulfill his/her obligations going forward. It is also not uncommon to see a negotiation process for a mandatory title defense take place shortly after a unification bout occurs.
Such circumstances where a unified champion either outright refuses to fulfill those obligations and/or cannot agree to terms for those defenses are essentially the reason why some organizations have adopted interim/regular champion designations in their respective rankings for their mandatory challengers, most notably the World Boxing Association (WBA). As this observer has said often over the years, such designations, though well-intended actually seems to create more confusion and problems than it actually solves.
In regard to Alvarez, it was also recently announced that he would not be fighting in September of this year, which was believed to be his intended target to return to the ring. This also resulted in some criticism being pointed in the direction of digital sports streaming network DAZN, who made headlines last year in signing Alvarez to a mult-year/fight agreement worth reportedly $365 Million. As most know, this was significant as it marked a major transition for Alvarez, one of the sport’s biggest pay-per-view draws, moving away from the pay-per-view medium and becoming one of the first stars in the sport to move toward the subscription-based digital streaming medium, which is the model of DAZN.
Now, in the interest of objectivity, I feel it appropriate to once again remind the reader as this observer has done in the past when discussing DAZN, and the benefits of the subscription-based streaming medium in various columns here at The Boxing Truth®️ that I do not currently work for DAZN or any other network, outlet, or platform outside of my own platform here. Having said this, it is no secret that I have been supportive of the work DAZN as well as other platforms like ESPN+ and Fite TV have done not just for Boxing, but for all of sports overall as I feel it offers the consumer a better and generally more economically reasonable option compared to the traditional pay-per-view model and increasingly expensive single sports packages.
In terms of Boxing and by extension all of combat sports, the Over The Top (OTT) streaming medium has opened up doors for promoters that were not necessarily available on traditional television. How often did we hear over the years prior to the advent of digital streaming platforms that a fighter was inactive due to a network not having available dates to televise a fight, or a promoter not being able to stage as many cards as they could because of lack of an available television network to broadcast said events and/or only being willing to commit to a limited window of dates? This is something that has largely been solved with the advent of streaming.
There are however, some things that will remain a part of the business landscape of Boxing even as the sport is moving in a better, more consumer-friendly direction. Unfortunately among them, are some fights that may be in significant public demand, being delayed from taking place. Some of the criticism that has been directed towards DAZN has been the perceived failure to bring a third fight between Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin, who is also signed to DAZN, to fruition in a reasonable timeframe at least in the eyes of some.
It is important to remember that while multi-sport digital sports streaming networks like DAZN, while serving as a game changer in sports television are still very much in the growing stages. Even though from a cynical point of view it is easy to say that given the amounts of money that are involved that it is and would be easy for a network like DAZN to essentially mandate a fight to take place through contractual agreements, the fighters, their camps, and their respective promoters also play a significant role in when a fight like a potential third Alvarez-Golovkin fight takes place.
The digital subscription-based streaming model may indeed be new, fresh, and an economically beneficial choice for consumers, but some old tactics in terms of Boxing remain. What could be the silver lining for all involved that will both keep public interest high and ultimately quell criticism towards DAZN? In this observer’s eyes there is one obvious answer.
One of DAZN’s strongest assets in terms of Boxing currently is all of the Middleweight world championships currently belong to fighters who compete on its platform, this excludes those fighters who currently hold interim/regular champion designations, who might compete on other platforms and also keeping in mind that the World Boxing Council (WBC) recently designated Alvarez as it’s “Franchise Champion “ due in part to his status as a unified world champion.
While that subject is one to discuss at a later time, the point is that DAZN will likely be the stage where a unification tournament will take place over time to fully unify the Middleweight division. Despite Alvarez being stripped of the IBF championship, if a fight between Derevyanchenko and Golovkin takes place for the vacant championship, it will take place on DAZN’s platform. Demetrius Andrade, the current World Boxing Organization (WBO) world champion is also signed to DAZN and has been looking for a fight with either Golovkin or Alvarez. This sets up a scenario where either the Derevyanchenko-Golovkin winner faces either Alvarez or Andrade, or Alvarez and Andrade meet to unify their portions of the World Middleweight championship before facing the winner of Derevyanchenko-Golovkin.
What this could potentially set up assuming both Alvarez and Golovkin continue to win would be the much-anticipated third bout between the two, but this time potentially with the Undisputed world championship in the Middleweight division on the line. If this is indeed the goal of the promoters involved, it would somewhat justify the stalling tactics that tend to frustrate Boxing fans. Of course, this is all a theoretical scenario and the possibility certainly exists that both Alvarez and Golovkin could lose to either Derevyanchenko or Andrade, which would throw a monkey wrench into any potential plans for a third fight between the two. All of the above however, would be seen on DAZN, which would ultimately be a win for Boxing and the fans/consumers who support the sport.
“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”
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