THE 2022 Cup Finals, despite being held in the middle of winter, have been as gripping as any Cup that I can remember. We may all find the Qatar setting problematic but, when viewed purely as a sporting event, it has delivered thus far. The reason for that should be easy to understand. It is a tournament with a beginning, middle and end, where the team left standing can rightfully call themselves the best in the world.
Football has several tournaments that work on that premise, whether in league form or knock-out cups. Without them – the league tables, the FA Cups, the international tournaments – football would not be the sport that it is. If, for example, the likes of Manchester City, Real Madrid and AC Milan decided against competing against Liverpool, Barcelona and Napoli and instead spent the majority of their time hammering ill-equipped teams 9-0. Fans would of course still be occasionally impressed by the odd moment of brilliance and now and again entertained by the game itself. However, it would rapidly become a minority sport where only the hardcore fan remained due to the lack of structure – very much like boxing today.
Those inside the boxing bubble will say that assessment of our sport is untrue. Particularly when that assessment comes two weeks after a reported 60,000 fans braved the harsh winter to watch Tyson Fury pummel Derek Chisora to defeat. Events like Fury-Chisora III prove that boxing is alive and well, or so say the promoters and spoon-fed media. However, if we flip that logic then hopefully we can understand how big and all-conquering boxing would be if Tyson Fury and the like were fighting regularly, and against worthy opponents every single time. If, dare I say it (because such blue sky thinking always makes the powerbrokers shake their head and chuckle in the most patronising way), there was a system in place that demanded the best fighters always take on their closest rivals.
Last weekend, Terence Crawford thrashed David Avanesyan is six rounds. In the eyes of some, Crawford is the best active fighter in the sport today and on ability alone, he might well be. Yet, at the age of 35 and unbeaten in 39 fights, when was the last time he fought someone the fans believed had the faintest chance of beating him? It’s untrue to say those opponents don’t exist. Errol Spence Jnr has been the logical rival for Crawford for almost five years. Five years!
How can that happen? Well, the answer is both simple and maddening. There is not a regulatory body in our sport that demands the leading fighters take on their closest rival. In fact, there are numerous bodies in place – namely the WBC, WBA, IBF and WBO – who essentially encourage their champions to fight anyone besides their closest rival. Like the WBA, who this week ordered Fury to take on Daniel Dubois next.
For further context, Crawford holds the WBO welterweight title and the WBO do not rate Spence as a leading contender when it is exceptionally obvious he is either number one or number two in the division. Why? Because Spence holds the IBF, WBA and WBC titles, three sanctioning bodies who do not rate Crawford despite it being exceptionally obvious that he is either number one or number two in the division. But still the promoters and certain broadcasters attempt to brainwash fans – and even the fighters – into believing those belts are far more important than they have any business being.
In turn, those promoters and broadcasters create their own little worlds in which they can do anything they like as long as they have a sanctioning body to dress up their incessant stream of hogwash as something palatable.
Truth is, nobody in the wider world cares about the sanctioning bodies, they gave up trying to work it all out a long time ago. So passing fans are drawn only to the odd recognisable name – like Tyson Fury – as opposed to the sport itself because, as all of the above proves, the sport itself barely exists. We are blindly heading towards an era where one-off events are king. Ones that contain not the best fighters or fights, but the most famous. Don’t blame Jake Paul when we get there, either.
And if you still believe the current system is ‘working just fine thank you very much’, why did no TV or radio network in the UK show any interest in this week’s contest between Naoya Inoue and Paul Butler? If those belts are the be-all and end-all, why, when all four of the damn things were on the line, was no one broadcasting it? Because nobody knows who they are, what they have achieved, nor understands the supposed significance of ‘undisputed’.