|In the aftermath of Glencoffe Johnson's coronation as the king of the light heavyweights, the chairmen of the IBF and WBC will not be joining in the celebrations. The success of the promotion and the universal recognition of the bout as "the people’s championship" will not sit well with any of the four major governing bodies. The events of|
Saturday night at the Staples Center in Los Angeles should sound out a warning to all the alphabet soup organizations. If the public wants to see certain match ups badly enough and both camps are in agreement, having a recognizable title at stake is preferable but by no means essential. The sanctioning bodies have always followed the credo that if you can manage to fool enough of the people enough of the time, you can still turn a profit. But with this fight a dangerous precedent may have been set. No sanctioning fees were paid, no title was at stake, yet the participants were still universally recognized as the two best fighters in the division.
For years, the governing bodies have held the fight game in an inescapable clinch. They have been accepted as a necessary evil. The various organizations titles provided a degree of authenticity for the fighters that held them. A recognized belt to keep for posterity and the kudos of being a linear champion allowed the alphabet soup groups a validity they did not always deserve. The hidden agendas, the conflicts of interest and charges of corruption were legion. As that self-appointed "bard of boxing", Bert Sugar once said, "Some of these people not only took money under the table, they took it over the table and on occasion took the table as well." Things have changed since the days when Italian men in double-breasted suits decided who fought who, when they fought and who won. Today there is no need to fix a fight, when both fighters are on your payroll, you can't lose anyway. Also, there is no longer an Italian monopoly, these organizations are equal opportunities corrupters. As Larry Holmes once remarked about Don King, "He don't care about black or white, only about the green."
The decision taken by Tarver and Johnson to face each other instead of mandatory challengers cost them both their respective titles. But we should not get carried away with the idea that they made these choices for the good of the sport. They took this route for the same reason John Dillinger and his gang chose to rob banks, "cos that's where the money is." The names of Rico Hoye and Paul Briggs would hardly have the HBO executives salivating over the prospective pay-per-view sales.
The motives of everybody involved in Saturdays promotion are not necessarily important, what is relevant is that it took place independent of the four major sanctioning groups. Call me a hopeless optimist, but it would be nice to think that Tarver-Johnson could act as a catalyst for future match-ups. Maybe promoters and television executives will get the message that titles do not make great fights, great fighters make great fights. It will be interesting to see if the IBF or the WBC decide to find a way of sanctioning the inevitable rematch. But why should Glencoffe Johnson pay a sanctioning fee when he is already recognized as the best fighter in his division.
Patrick Gibbons can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org