Earlier today, the World Boxing Organization stripped Floyd Mayweather Jr. of the welterweight title he won from Manny Pacquiao last May. Officially, Mayweather had until last Friday afternoon to pay the WBO a sanctioning fee and declare his weight division (Mayweather currently owns a collection of title belts from the 147-pound and 154-pound divisions). The move came as a surprise to exactly nobody who follows the vagaries alphabet-soup trinket distribution. The WBO had already appointed Timothy Bradley as their interim champion on the last weekend of June, on the strength of Bradley’s unanimous-decision victory over previously undefeated, but relatively untested, Jessie Vargas.
So this is what the WBO has told the world, while maintaining a straight face: that a guy who lost decisively to a guy who just lost decisively to Mayweather is still, somehow, more deserving of recognition as the world champion.
I’m a big fan of Timothy Bradley. I’d actually give him a better shot than most at beating Floyd Mayweather. I think he would do better in that fight than Pacquiao did (Bradley also had an easier time with Juan Manuel Marquez than Pacquiao ever did). But anybody who claims Bradley is a real world champion at welterweight right now is kidding himself. Losing to Pacquiao, drawing with Diego Chaves (Bradley should have won) and then beating an untested guy coming up in weight, like Vargas, doesn’t add up to a world champion.
Of course, Vargas himself was a world champion at light welterweight, at least according to the WBA. The WBA recognized Vargas their “regular” world champion after he beat Khabib Allakhverdiev in April 2014. This “fact” may strike some fans as confusing, since Danny Garcia is also the WBA light welterweight champion and has been since knocking out Amir Khan in July 2012. But Garcia is actually the WBA’s “super” world champion. This is a regular practice of the WBA, to assign “regular” world-title status to fighters who often haven’t even beaten a single championship level opponent.
Boxing fans have understood forever that the world title picture in boxing is usually a hopeless bowl of curdled alphabet soup. It’s a subject where, if you try to explain it in words, you run a strong risk of making the subject even more confusing. There are four sanctioning bodies that are accepted as a kind of “gold standard” for recognizing world champions: the WBA, the WBC, the IBF and the WBO. That makes four potential “world champions” at one time, plus however many “regular” or “special” or “diamond” or “interim” champions the four chefs decide to add to the soup for good measure.
It’s probably hopeless to dream about returning to the days when there was just one world champion per division. Having a bunch of trinket championship belts instead of just a single one that truly means something is bad for business as a whole. Unfortunately, the current trinket system is good enough business for the players involved.