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By far, one of the most confusing things about boxing is figuring out who the Champions really are. Usually people have a pretty good idea of who the Heavyweight Champion is, but beyound that it gets very muddled.

First, the sheer number of belts is dizzying. There are 8 basic weight classes: Heavy, Cruiser, Lt. Heavy, Middle, Welter, Feather, Bantam and Fly. Then, of course, you have the "super" or "juniors" in between those. So, there are about 13 or so weight classes. There are 3 "major" "sanctioning bodies" of boxing: The WBA, WBC and IBF. The WBO is also fairly well known. We'll just ignore the other hundred organizations our there. Basically you can do the cross product of {W,I,NA},{B} and {C,F,O,A} to get them all. Then many of these organzations will have "national" or "continental" champions in addition to their "international" ones. The WBC even has the insane policy of creating a "super" champion when someone dominates a weight class. This frees up the regular WBC belt for someone else. My point: Belts from the so-called "alphabet soup groups" are meaningless.

The solution to this problem: Ignore those groups. Their rankings are all based on bribery anyway. So, what is boxing fan to do? Just think for yourself. Currently, even though the belts are spread out in many weight classes, it's not hard to figure out who the real champ is.

As of April 27, 2002 we have:

Heavyweight: Lennox Lewis
Cruiserweight:  Vasily Jirov
Light Heavyweight:  Roy Jones, Jr.
Middleweight:  Bernard Hopkins
Welterweight:  Vernon Forrest
Lighweight:  Floyd Mayweather, Jr.
Featherweight:  Marco Antonio Barrera*
Bantamweight:  Tim Austin
Flyweight:  Eric Morel
*This one is interesting because he doesn't have any of the 3 major belts.

If you want to figure out who the champ is don't bother looking up the listings for the belts. The best way to is check with a couple different boxing journalists/commentators. I recommend Dan Rafael of USA Today. He also keeps a monthly updated list of the top 10 by division.

There is also one more alternative that may just add to the problem. The venerable boxing magazine, The Ring, has starting giving out belts again. Currently, their list of champions is very similar to what I have above. Their policy is to never strip a fighter of a belt. The other groups force a fighter to fight the "number one contender" within a certain time period. The problem is that getting labeled "the number one contender" is mainly a matter of politics. The Ring plans to simply berate a fighter who doesn't take on good competition. I don't have much faith that this system won't fall apart in about 5 years. Still, it's better than the alphabet soup groups.

One good thing is that the major Boxing broadcasters have also lost all faith in the belts. ESPN2's Friday Night Fights' commentator Max Kellerman is a big supporter of The Ring belts. The HBO and Showtime crews openly scoff at undeserved belts. The terms "title holder" and "champion" are not used interchangeably by most commentators. Even if a guy, like Roy Jones, Jr., continually fights the "number one contender" offerred him, but dodges the guy that everyone knows is the real contender he will take a lot of heat for it. Hopefully this trend will continue to the point that the boxing commisions go out of business.

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