Andre Ward deserves his belts, but do the belts deserve Andre Ward?
One of boxing’s biggest problems in gaining tracking with mainstream sports fans is the ridiculous state of its divisional champions. If one asked who the heavyweight champion is today, any number of names could accurately be returned, depending solely on which particular boxing rankings and championship organization one referenced at the time.
In short, these alphabet boxing organizations, the WBC, IBF, WBA and WBO, are killing boxing. So too are their little cousins, the minor alphabet groups (like the IBO and WBF) whose goal seems only to help further muddle the championship water.
It’s not really the fighter’s fault, but being complicit in such an absurdly terrible system does nothing to further the interests of the sport. Here are the most terrible divisional title claims, ranked by the following criteria: the titleholder’s overall ability, the status of legitimate inter-divisional competition and the situational shenanigans of the applicable sanctioning body that helped them grab (or keep) their title.
The curious case of Alexander Povetkin’s claim to heavyweight supremacy is quite easy to solve. Povetkin isn’t either of the Klitschko brothers, and he’s done just about everything in his power to avoid getting in the ring with either one of them.
Instead, the undefeated big fellow has fought the likes of Cedric Boswell and Nicolai Firtha. After blasting no-hoper Andrzej Wawrzyk earlier this month, Povetkin is supposedly ready to face Wladimir Klitschko October 5 in Moscow.
Paulie's a good fighter, but he's not the best at welterweight.
Paulie Malignaggi has had a tremendous career. He’s fought some of the very best fighters of his generation, including Miguel Cotto and Ricky Hatton, and he’s faced a consistently high level of opposition.
Moreover, Malignaggi absolutely deserved his win over Vyacheslav Senchenko last year. What he didn’t deserve, though, was a title belt for it. Malignaggi eked past Pablo Cesar Cano last fall, proving once again how little his claim as the best in the welterweight world really does mean.
Peterson (right) didn't look like a champ against Matthysse.
Lamont Peterson is a really good fighter. He’s had solid wins against Amir Khan and Kendall Holt, and he absolutely earned his IBF title belt. Unfortunately, Peterson just got shellacked by fellow junior welterweight Lucas Matthysse.
Because of alphabet belt shenanigans, the contracted weight for the fight was a pound over the limit, so the IBF and WBC could avoid unification. It’s dumb, and it hurts the sport. Regardless, any claim Peterson had to being 140-pound champ was pummeled out of him by Matthysse.
WBA light heavyweight titlist Beibut Shumenov lifted Gabriel Campillo’s belt in probably the biggest robbery of 2010. Instead of giving Campillo a rematch, Shumenov has milked his relationship with the WBA to gobble up wins over a slew of has-beens and also-rans.
Shumenov has potential, but he’ll need to step it up against real 175-pound competition if he wants to be considered a legitimate titleholder. Fighters like Jean Pascal, Nathan Cleverly and Tavoris Cloud would be stiff competition.
Of course, the ultimate test would be against linear champion (as recognized by the TBRB), Chad Dawson.
Australia’s Danny Green is a tough dude. He’s engaging, popular and likes to slug it out.
Still, Green isn’t even really top-10 material for a division that includes guys like Marco Huck, Yoan Pablo Hernandez and Guillermo Jones. In fact, of cruiserweights currently ranked in the top 10 by the TBRB, Green has only faced two of them and lost handily both times.
Chris Van Heerden has beaten some decent competition. His last three efforts have been decision wins over notables Kaizer Mabuza, Sebastian Lujan and Matthew Hatton. However, Van Heerden lays claim to world champion in perhaps the most star-studded division in the sport of boxing, all while never fighting anyone close to the level of top-tier guys like Floyd Mayweather, Juan Manuel Marquez and Manny Pacquiao.
Heck, Van Heerden hasn’t even faced the Robert Guerreros of the world yet…how can he be champion?
One does not become champion of a division that includes Canelo Alvarez, Austin Trout and Erislandy Lara by defeating an unknown fighter named Michel Soro in the Ukraine. That is, of course, unless you’re WBO junior middleweight titlist Zaurbek Baysangurov.
The 28-year-old is at least trying to make good by fighting top competition, though. Baysangurov takes on super-talented prospect Demetrius Andrade in July. Regardless, the winner shouldn’t be hailed a divisional champion.
Simpiwe Vetyeka isn’t a bad fighter. He did his part by dominating IBO featherweight champ Daud Cino Yordan in April. But in a division with fighters like Mikey Garcia, Chris John, Abner Mares and Orlando Salido, Vetyeka has absolutely no claim to being hailed divisional champion.
Vetyeka hasn’t fought anyone who comes close to that quality of fighter, and he isn’t even ranked in the top 10 of the division by most legitimate ranking systems.
Xiong Zhao Zhong become the first professional boxer from China to win a major world title last November when he out-pointed Javier Martinez Redendiz for the WBC minimumweight belt. By almost all accounts, it should have been Denver Cuello with the opportunity, who was actually paid step-aside money by the WBC in order to help them crown Zhong.
The ink for Zhong-Cuello is dry for June 28, though, so Zhong’s gig as a world champion may be over soon.
The World Boxing Federation has a particularly egregious list of divisional champions, and Jesus Cruz Bibiano is probably the worst.
Losing three of his previous four contests, and having as many losses as wins (nine), earned him a so-called world title shot when he was matched against Cesar Vazquez last November to crown the vacant WBF super featherweight champion. Bibiano stopped Vazquez in Round 8, and he’s won two fights since to keep his crown of worst alphabet titlist in the sport.