IT IS unclear what Croatia’s talented but largely untested Filip Hrgovic has done in 15 professional fights to be regarded as the leading heavyweight contender by the International Boxing Federation (IBF). Yet the fact that he is supposed to highlight the mess consistently created by the sanctioning bodies and those who empower them.
This week the IBF announced that Hrgovic must be the next challenger for Oleksandr Usyk, throwing plans for the Ukrainian to take on Tyson Fury early next year into uncertainty. It shouldn’t, of course. It’s obvious that Usyk-Fury is the best bout to make in the division, regardless of the titles at stake. Nobody is calling for Usyk-Hrgovic, bar Team Hrgovic, and only those with a vested interest in the IBF’s ruling are championing it.
Should Usyk decide to relinquish or find himself stripped, Hrgovic might be matched with Anthony Joshua for the vacant strap. Hrgovic is number one, there is nobody ranked at number two (utterly nonsensical), Andy Ruiz Jnr (currently in line to fight Deontay Wilder) is third, which leaves Joshua, at fourth, as the highest available opponent.
The IBF can partly be admired for being sticklers for their own rules, regardless of the consequences; especially when it comes to enforcing mandates. Back in 2015, Fury was stripped of his IBF title less than a fortnight after beating Wladimir Klitschko when he declined to fight the organization’s leading contender, Vyacheslav Glazkov, in his next bout.
Back then, the number two slot was also vacant so Charles Martin, ranked third, stepped up to take on Glazkov in one of the most forgettable ‘world heavyweight title fights’ in history. But what had Glazkov done to deserve his chance in the eyes of the IBF? Like in the case of Hrgovic today, the answer is not accomplishment.
Glazkov’s best wins had come over fading former cruiserweight belt-holders Steve Cunningham and Tomasz Adamek. Both encounters were for IBF regional titles in which sanctioning fees were paid. Similarly, Hrgovic has handed over sanctioning fees to the IBF in three of his last four bouts for the privilege of owning their ‘International’ belt. None of the vanquished opponents – Rydell Booker, Marko Radonjic and Emir Ahmatovic – were considered legitimate contenders before he beat them. None now appear in the IBF heavyweight top 15. Only Zhilei Zhang, who Hrgovic tightly outscored in August, has an IBF ranking – all the way down at number 13. Just looking at the bare facts does little to strengthen the case of Hrgovic nor justify Glazkov’s special treatment seven years ago.
The sanctioning bodies rarely explain their decision-making process when it comes to rankings. But when promoters and broadcasters are so willing to facilitate them, why on earth would they? Eddie Hearn, for example, reacted to the IBF’s decision with glee. He wouldn’t have done, however, if Joshua was still the IBF belt-holder with a contest against Fury in his sights.
The biggest problem we have is this: While the IBF are calling for Hrgovic, and the WBA will soon demand Daniel Dubois gets a try, and the WBO will enforce Joe Joyce’s position, and the WBC will insist Deontay Wilder is due his turn, there’s no system in place that demands the best – Fury and Usyk – actually fight each other. It’s a tiresome rehashing of a daft but familiar story. And this is not just the promoters’ fault. Every single person who has uttered the words ‘four-belt era’ with a straight face can be blamed for this incessant confusion.
Many fans are being hoodwinked by a narrative that has blighted the sport since championships began to multiply. If we’re not careful, we could soon be in the midst of a ‘five-belt era’ if the infatuation with the IBO continues. One only has to look at cringe-worthy social media posts about the ‘best IBO champions in history’ from broadcasters who should know better than evidence.
For those who believe that won’t happen, go back to 1983 and 1988 when the IBF and WBO were respectively formed. If their arrivals had been ignored by the powerbrokers, rather than embraced as marketing tools, it’s unlikely there would be any desire to attach all four belts to fights like Usyk-Fury today.
Furthermore, the obvious impossibility of keeping all four sanctioning bodies happy, and therefore retaining an ‘undisputed champion’ for any length of time, should highlight the absurdity of attempting to do so.
For BN, and the vast majority of fans, Usyk-Fury occurring is what matters, whether there are four belts on the line or none. We hope the fighters themselves realize that, too.