Sometimes I think it's important to establish what should NOT be part of a boxing reform package. One of the things I hear from people that just makes me ill is that the sport of boxing should go back to eight weight divisions, as if that were the natural order of things. “Boxing was really great when you had just eight world champions,” is what you hear from certain boxing observers, speaking like a pharmacist with just the right prescription.
Hey – I'm the first one to admit that we may have gone a little overboard. I mean, it's hard to argue that having four separate weight divisions within ten pounds (as it is between, say, the junior flyweight and bantamweight divisions) isn't somewhat superfluous. And I don't think I'm alone when I question the necessity of the “mini-flyweight” or “minimumweight” division (105 pounds).
But even so, I'm not sure that any “reform advocate” who uses a “back-to-eight” philosophy as part of his argument really knows what the hell he is talking about.
Nonetheless, there are members of boxing media who advocate this position. Do they really understand the history of this sport? Do they think some of the “junior” weight classes, for example, were added only recently, or solely for the purposes of television? Or that they're strictly the product of some governing body's attempt to squeeze out some gratuitous sanctioning fees?
I don't want anyone to think I'm singling out Dan Rafael of the USA Today, who puts out a version of world rankings every month, in a format that only recognizes eight divisions. That's really more a reflection of a limit in space than it is an overriding philosophy about the state of the game. In point of fact, I find it rather remarkable that his newspaper devotes as much space as it does to covering any ratings at all, considering boxing's general popularity vis-a-vis other sports.
No, this is directed at those who feel that a move back to eight weight divisions could possibly serve as a remedy to boxing's ills, in any way, shape, or form. Four major reasons why I think any ratings system or “authority” with eight divisions can't – and won't – work:
1) THEY SIMPLY DON'T HAVE ANY BASIS IN REALITY. If they can't change the way world championships are pursued, what's the use? If the world's governing bodies are not going to abolish their junior divisions, it's not likely any apparatus that does not recognize them will have any relevance. Junior lightweights don't have to fight lightweights, for example, to move up the ladder in their chosen profession, and they simply DON'T fight them, as a general rule. Period.
2) IT'S IMPOSSIBLE TO ATTAIN RATINGS ACCURACY. How can you possibly attempt to rate DeMarcus Corley among the world's welterweights, or Winky Wright among middleweights, and do so with any authority at all? There is no frame of reference, and simply no criteria established for determining where their place should be, since they obviously fight at their natural weight, which is lighter, and have not had to venture into the divisions in which one would attempt to rank them. To attempt to place Joel Casamayor or Jesus Chavez in a top ten of lightweights, for example, would be based not on results or accomplishments, but chiefly on speculation, and that, in and of itself, weakens the ratings process.
3) THERE IS A NEED FOR THE JUNIOR DIVISIONS. Can you imagine a 149-pounder competing against a 160-pounder in this day and age, even in a matchup of world-class fighters? There are some commissions who wouldn't even approve a fight like that, based on the weight difference, and I can't say I would blame them. But that's what you'd wind up with in an so-called “improved”, streamlined system. Sure, I know all-time greats like Emile Griffith and Henry Armstrong have given up weight and beaten bigger men for world titles, but they are an exception to the rule, to say the least.
4) THE JUNIOR DIVISIONS ARE TOO FIRMLY ESTABLISHED TO IGNORE. Although some may try to create the impression that the junior divisions are something new and manufactured for television, they only need to refer to a record book to trace back the history of some of the weight classes. For example, the junior middleweight division has been around since 1962; the junior welters since 1923. The first junior featherweight title fight was held in 1922, and the junior lightweight division first appeared way back in 1921, with Johnny Dundee as champion! Not only was there no television then, but radio was not even fully developed! Other fighters who have held junior division titles before 1990 include the likes of Barney Ross, Tony Canzoneri, Nicolino Loche, Antonio Cervantes, Wilfred Benitez, Nino Benvenuti, Kid Chocolate, Aaron Pryor, Thomas Hearns, Sandy Saddler, Flash Elorde, Alfredo Escalera, Alexis Arguello, Hector Camacho, Wilfredo Gomez, Roberto Duran, and Sugar Ray Leonard. But I guess their titles meant nothing in the course of boxing history, right?
Again, if you're talking about an atmosphere that for nearly 80 years has existed with more than the so-called “original” eight divisions, then any contention that chopping out junior lightweights, junior welterweights, and junior middleweights, among others, somehow represents a return to normalcy would have to be considered “revisionist history”, would it not?
I'm going to take things even a step further. I feel, rather than being something that is considered completely unnecessary and artificial, that the super middleweight (168-pound) division should have been established in boxing a long time ago. I just don't know how we could craft an argument for boxer safety if we tacitly approve, for example, that theoretically, fighters who weigh 161 or 162 pounds could, or should, possibly step into the ring against 175-pound champions on a regular basis, unless that fighter's skills are so overwhelming (Sugar Ray Robinson?) that he could compensate for it enough to be competitive.
Likewise, can you possibly argue that with athletes in general, and heavyweights in particular, being much bigger these days, the cruiserweight division isn't warranted? It has long since been plausible that a fighter who can't reasonably get his weight below, say, 185 pounds, can compete with the best in a division where the top contenders generally weigh between 225-270.
In this particular case, it is not a step back that serves to improve boxing, but rather a step forward.
Copyright 2002 Total Action Inc.