Unbeaten boxers must face closest challengers to be considered great

Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury during their WBC Heavyweight Championship 'draw' last December 1, 2018.

MUSICAL taste is one way of gauging someone’s age – and so is asking about the boxing rivalries which defined their youth.

You don’t have to be a fight fanatic to recall the big bouts, the big names.

An uncle’s wedding reception came to a standstill on that Saturday night when Barry McGuigan dethroned Eusebio Pedroza. What they were doing letting a one-year-old stay up so late is another matter…

The rivalries I remember involved ‘Sugar’ Ray Leonard, ‘Marvellous’ Marvin Hagler, Tommy ‘The Hitman’ Hearns, and Roberto ‘Hands of Stone’ Duran.

Those greats all seemed to fight each other almost every other month, which added to their allure, and to their fame.

Later there were Chris Eubank, Nigel Benn, and Steve Collins taking on each other and some other close contenders.

That’s what I came to expect from boxing, the best meeting the best, to define who really was the best – until the next fight at least.

In that era of those aforementioned ‘four kings’, heavyweight boxing was in the doldrums, with Larry Holmes past his peak, some of the title-holders taking the Michael – Dokes, Weaver, and Spinks – to be considered as worthy heirs to Ali, Frazier, and Foreman.

‘Iron’ Mike Tyson transformed that moribund scene, but his scary superiority put plenty of men off from challenging for that coveted crown of ‘Heavyweight Champion of the World’.

Yet since the mid-Eighties boxing’s ‘alphabet soup’ of various ‘titles’ has become increasingly unpalatable.

It’s perfectly sensible for boxing to have many weight gradations. The traditional eight weight categories have expanded to 18 – and fighters still put their bodies through hell to shift pounds and ounces to balance the scales.

However, there are far too many governing bodies. Too many sub-categories.

Regular? Interim? What do those titles even mean?

No wonder the sight of glittering belts being thrown into bins has become a boxing cliché.

The progression should be simple – win national title, then a continental one, then the world crown.

Instead, it’s often hard to tell who the real world champion is.

There’ve been ups and down since the time of Tyson, but it seemed we were set for another great era to close this decade.

Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder not only have fabulous names, they fought out a thrilling contest to a controversial draw late last year – and promised the public there would be a re-match to decide on a winner.

That hasn’t come about, nor have either of them agreed a bout with Anthony Joshua, the WBA/IBF/WBO/IBO champ.

None of their next fights are against duffers, but it’s still strange that ‘AJ’ is taking on Jarrell Miller rather than Dillian Whyte, who is rated the number one contender by both the WBO and IBF (although the WBA does have Miller higher up).

I fully understand that boxing is a business, that the fighters deserve to make money as a reward for all the risks they take.

Yet let’s hope that the current top trio only avoid each other for a short time.

Imagine if Liverpool had pulled out of their trip to the Etihad at the start of this year. They’d be five points clear at the top of the table at this stage.

As a consequence, at the end of this season they might be able to call themselves the EBC (Everyone But City) Champions – yet they’d be rightly ridiculed for not going up against their biggest rival.

Obviously Fury and Wilder shouldn’t have to fight only each other (or Joshua), although after their controversial draw a re-match between them is absolutely required.

Joshua’s credibility will also continue to be questioned unless and until he takes on (and beats) Fury and/or Wilder.

As it stands, as far as I can see, the WBC doesn’t even seem to rank Joshua, but that derision is reciprocated by the organisations which do rate him.

WBO stands for ‘Wilder Buzz Off’ (Fury is fourth best in their eyes); the WBA think Joshua is just ‘super’, better only than Manuel Charr (or is it Trevor Bryan?! I really can’t tell), with no mention of either Fury or Wilder. The IBF also, bizarrely, ignore those two. I can’t even be bothered to look up the IBO rankings.

To re-iterate, I have huge respect for boxers. It may be that which I normally disdain, a sport without balls, but it’s not really; even female fighters have those metaphorical attributes.

The punishment fighters take both in terms of preparation for and during fights, is remarkable.

It was sobering (or should have been) to discover that had I ever entered a ring as an adult I would probably have had to do so as a middleweight. For a while I might even have been categorised as a cruiserweight – and that wasn’t because ‘muscle weighs more than fat’. Embarrassed emoji.

The effort expended to work your way towards the top in boxing is exceptional, and professionals obviously want to maximise their earnings.

Perhaps the most coveted title of all is ‘unbeaten’, with Fury, Joshua, and Wilder all still able to stitch that label to their glitzy dressing gowns.

They – and their promoters – want to protect those proud records, but if they keep on avoiding each other they will be doing more damage to the sport.

Even if boxing ‘politics’ (which appear to be as stupid and avaricious as the traditional sort) mean that the various governing bodies will never amalgamate surely some statty sort can pull together an algorithm to rate fighters more effectively than this mess.

Then we could get back to the age-old concept of challenging the person ranked above you in order to climb the greasy pole, rather than running all the way to the bank.

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