And they say the offside rule is hard…

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They say the offside rule is hard…

By Lily Priggs


…but all boxing fans know the offside rule in football is nothing compared to the layers which need to be unraveled before you can begin to understand the world of professional boxing.


To start with, there are four sanctioning bodies all of whom offer world titles in 17 different weight divisions: the World Boxing Association (WBA); the World Boxing Council (WBC); the International Boxing Federation (IBF) and the World Boxing Organization (WBO) (Let’s not include the fringe IBO and WBU for now).


The WBA was the first governing body established in 1962 (formerly the National Boxing Association formed in 1921), but after being inundated with charges of corruption and internal disputes regarding what rules should be applied, rival factions were formed. Boxing fans dream of the four sanctioning bodies uniting but the possibility is incredibly remote given the sanctioning fees each rakes in every time one of their titles is contested.


This makes working together for unification fights – bouts with two or more belts from different sanctioning bodies – a challenge as the negotiations over money and rules are fraught. Undisputed champions (holders of all four belts) are few and far between and often have to vacate one or more titles to retain the others or to pursue a higher fee from more lucrative non-title fights. It would be impossible for a fighter to fulfill all mandatory obligations as well as the voluntary fights which earn them millions – after all a boxers career is fairly short, so it’s important for them to make wise choices when it comes to money.


For similar reasons, it is not in any sanctioning body’s interest to have undisputed champions for long, and to ensure this is the case, they rule the champion must take on a specific opponent who becomes the mandatory challenger. If the champion turns down the fight, they are forced to vacate the title and thus the drama begins all over again.


This leads to the conversation around mandatories and voluntaries. To step up the ladder, you need to take certain fights to put you in contention for a title shot; but unless you’ve been put forward for a final eliminator (a fight that determines the next mandatory challenger) there are plenty of hurdles to climb before you can earn your shot. Not only does the challenger need to have a ranking, but the sanctioning body will often be influenced by which fight will bring in the money.


With the 17 divisions which allow for 68 world champions (male and female) at any one time, and with fighters switching weight divisions, partly chasing the titles, and partly chasing a big pay cheque, it feels as if we could all be in the running for at least one of those belts.



Adding another layer are the promoters and managers who have their own agendas based on strategic plans to make the most money for and from their fighters. This often involves a long game of building a fighter’s fan base before risking them in title fights. Furthermore, there are the broadcasting channels who want to keep their fighters fighting on their channel which often prevents the biggest fights being made.


Finally, the icing on the cake: trash talk. Fighters, particularly at the elite level, are experts at talking a good game and vowing to fight their biggest rivals. But it often turns out to be just ‘talk’ to keep their fans onside, and more often than not, the money on the table is the deciding factor, which leaves boxing fans a little miffed about why certain fights never materialise.

A case in point is the Deontay Wilder-Anthony Joshua-Tyson Fury love triangle. Fury signed an exclusive deal with ESPN while world champion Wilder’s fights are broadcast on Showtime, which is why their rematch is yet to take place. The fight, due to take place in 2020, is expected to be a cross-promotion between Showtime and ESPN, the first such pay-per-view in America since Floyd Mayweather’s long-awaited and ultimately disappointing fight with Manny Pacquiao in 2015.

Both Wilder and Fury are earning millions from their respective contracts without risking their unbeaten records against top-level opponents, so their demands to fight Joshua are often unrealistic and the wait to settle the debate of who rules the heavyweight roost goes on.

Although after Joshua’s shock defeat by Andy Ruiz Jr, his rivals are probably kicking themselves!

So, are we all clear?!

To be honest, I’m actually surprised anyone fights at all!


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