THE recent decision of American Timothy Bradley Jr. to give up his WBO (World Boxing Organization) welterweight title less than two months before his showdown with Manny Pacquiao in Las Vegas is vivid proof of how screwed the business of pro boxing is.
In relinquishing the title, Bradley deprived WBO officials of the pleasure of yanking the belt off his waist. You see, boxing organizations have this unsavory habit of stripping champions of their hard-earned belts even for the flimsiest of reasons. In most cases, the Alphabet Boys (as the head honchos of the WBA, WBC, IBF and WBO are sarcastically called) would clear the path for their ‘favorite’ boxer by literally handing him the belt after stripping the incumbent champion. Remember the case of German boxer Graciano Rocchigiani, who defeated Michael Nunn in 1998 to win the WBC light heavyweight belt vacated by Roy Jones Jr? When the popular and more bankable Jones Jr. had a change of heart, the WBC reinstated him as champion. Rocchigiani sued the WBC in court and was awarded US$30 million in damages. The WBC would have closed shop had Rocchigiani rejected a compromise amount.
At one point in time, when champions were being stripped left and right of their titles, The Ring magazine, the Bible of Boxing, established a semblance of order by naming and recognizing lineal champions. A lineal champ pertains to a champion whose reign can be traced all the way to the last dominant or undisputed champion of the division. The magazine put up this lineal champ policy to help fans identify the real champ from the pretender/usurper. Whenever a legit champ is inexplicably stripped of the belt at the height of his reign, The Ring continued to recognize him as champion.
Unfortunately, The Ring is not a boxing organization and the Alphabet Boys continued to enforce their convoluted policies. By the 1990s, however, boxing became a huge business with the introduction of pay-per-view subscriptions. With a global audience, the popularity of boxing champions hit the roof, to the point that they became bigger than the organizations. Consequently, fistic superstars like Marco Antonio Barrera, Manny Pacquiao, Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Oscar De La Hoya started commanding mega paydays even if their fights did not involve a world title. In one instance, Barrera dumped the belt rather than pay the organization’s sanctioning fee which he dismissed as outrageous.
Fast forward to the case of Bradley and his decision to give up the WBO belt: Bradley was initially recognized as interim WBO welterweight champion when he outpointed Jessie Vargas in June 2015. Five months later, November 2015, he officially claimed the vacant WBO throne by stopping Brandon ‘Bam Bam’ Rios in nine rounds. Bradley’s impressive thumping of Rios earned him the big fight with Pacquiao, but it came with a lot of complications.
Bradley, as it turned out, had agreed to make his initial defense of the WBO title against No. 1 ranked contender Sadam Ali of Brooklyn should he beat Rios. Simply put, Bradley decided to give up the title because he cannot squeeze in a bout with Ali before the Pacquiao fight.
Bradley’s move is far from being uneducated. With the WBO out of the picture, Bradley and Pacquiao are no longer under obligation to pay the organization’s substantial sanctioning fee. Fighting Pacquiao instead of Ali also makes more sense from a financial and career standpoint for Bradley. He is guaranteed another huge paycheck and stands to avenge the only loss in his professional career. Had Bradley opted for Ali, he would have the belt, albeit for a smaller purse and an unknown opponent.
Pacquiao’s feathers also remain unruffled despite the fight being reduced into a non-title affair. It would be great for Pacquiao to win a world title in his final ring appearance (if you believe such pronouncement), but the Filipino has actually held more world crowns than one can count, including the WBO welterweight crown he was supposed to contest with Bradley. More importantly, Pacquiao’s paycheck will not take a hit from Bradley’s decision.
Ultimately, it is the WBO that has been left holding an empty bag. The organization has its lousy rating system to blame. Ali earned mandatory challenger status because the WBO ranked him No.1 and Pacquiao only No. 2. How the untested Ali ended up being ranked ahead of Pacquiao is anybody’s guess, but this situation resulted in Bradley giving up the belt. Ali is now booked to meet Vargas on March 5 for the vacant WBO welterweight title. Ali-Bradley would have been a tough sell and whoever emerges the winner in Ali-Vargas would be placed under the shadow of the winner of Pacquiao-Bradley III.
The latest from the grapevine is that the WBO is planning to give the Pacquiao-Bradley III winner a “special recognition.” That the WBO still wants to be identified with the fight only shows you how the organization regrets being the casualty of the corkscrewed policies it created.