MANILA, Philippines – By now, the news has circulated through the mainstream and niche media alike that Floyd Mayweather Jr has been stripped of the World Boxing Organization (WBO) welterweight title that he captured when he defeated Manny Pacquiao on May 2.
The catchy headline evokes many mental pictures. Some explanations seem plausible enough; others are steeped in a misunderstanding of the mechanisms of what Jimmy Cannon called “the red light district of sports.”
Was Mayweather stripped because he really didn’t deserve the win? Is it because he’s an arrogant SOB? Is it because he’s afraid to fight the top contenders?
No, no, and also no.
Mayweather’s designation as titleholder of the WBO was stripped because he refused to pay the $200,000 sanctioning fee imposed by the Puerto Rico-based company. According to the WBO’s rules, a fighter who wins their title must pay 3% of the prize money for the bout, with a ceiling capped at $200,000.
$200,000 seems like a small pittance after earning a reported $220 million, but it’s exorbitant for a leather strip with a few ornaments on it. Consider the diamond-encrusted, custom-designed belt the organization gave Pacquiao after he beat Timothy Bradley in their 2014 rematch. How much did the WBO claim it was worth? $10,000.
Mayweather doesn’t need the belts to be recognized as the champion. He’s beaten Pacquiao in the richest fight in history. He’s been a champion in 5 divisions, and after the disdain for him subsides with the passage of time, he’ll be (begrudgingly) recognized as one of the greatest fighters of all-time.
It doesn’t matter that the WBO stripped Mayweather, just as it didn’t matter when a five-judge WBO panel concluded that Pacquiao should’ve gotten the decision in the first fight against Timothy Bradley in 2012. Did it a change a thing? No. And stripping Mayweather doesn’t change that Mayweather is the pound-for-pound best fighter in the world.
Below is an excerpt of the WBO’s statement on their decision:
“Despite affording Mr. Mayweather Jr. the courtesy of an extension to advise us of his position within the WBO Welterweight Division and to vacate the two 154-pound world titles he holds, the WBO World Championship Committee received no response from him or his legal representatives on this matter.”
Essentially, Mayweather wouldn’t give the organization a lot of money and give up the titles he held in another weight class from two rival organizations – the Mexico-based World Boxing Council (WBC) and the Panama-based World Boxing Association (WBA).
Also, a fighter who is a champion with one of the four major organizations – the New Jersey-based International Boxing Federation being the other – that champion cannot become the mandatory challenger of another champion, essentially making unification matches a matter of economics rather than to clarify who is truly the best.
Belts serve a purpose – they help the public to recognize who are the top contenders in a division. But at a certain point, fighters don’t need the belts. Take for instance in 2004, when Antonio Tarver and Glen Johnson gave up their light heavyweight belts to meet for 175-pound supremacy.
They were stripped of their belts for refusing to meet mediocre mandatory challengers. Did they need the title belts to be recognized as the best? No, the public knew better.
The only championship that I believe to be sovereign over the others is The Ring magazine* lineal title, which comes without a sanctioning fee, and can only be earned by beating the champion, or if the no. 1 and no. 2 contenders in a division fight each other to fill a vacancy. If they choose not to fight out, as is a frequent symptom of the sport’s politics, either of them can fight the no. 3, 4 or 5 contenders for the title.
The Philippines’ lone boxing champion – Donnie Nietes – is recognized as The Ring champion, and would still be recognized as the best 108 pound fighter on the world if the WBO ever decided to strip him.
The fighter makes the belt; not the other way around.
Don’t get me wrong; the WBO is not necessarily the bane of the sport. The WBO and IBF, though the newer of the 4 major bodies, are far more judicious than the WBA and WBC, the former of which routinely collects sanctioning fees for “interim” and “regular” titles that have essentially devalued any of their championships, and the latter which sells “silver” titles for fighters who can’t quite get to the level of the real champions.
Mayweather being stripped of the WBO title means that Timothy Bradley is now recognized as the full champion. Good for him, because he’s an honest, hardworking fighter who showed his class and courage in a unanimous decision win over Jessie Vargas last month to win the interim title.
Congratulations to Bradley, and congratulations to Mayweather, who realized that $200,000 can be better spent on his children’s future than in the pocket of some sanctioning body.
*Disclosure: I have been a contributor to the Los Angeles-based publication and website since 2011.
Ryan Songalia is the sports editor of Rappler, a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) and a contributor to The Ring magazine. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @RyanSongalia.