There’s a quiet revolution raging through the boxing world.
On Saturday night, in Moscow, cruiserweight boxers Oleksandr Usyk and Murat Gassiev fought for something called the World Boxing Super Series title.
It concluded an intriguing tournament that featured eight of the best cruiserweights in the world, cleaning up the mess created by the alphabet soup of boxing organisations.
The winner apparently walked away with a staggering $10-million and broad acclaim as the best cruiserweight fighter in the world, the first undisputed champion since 2006 and holder of the WBC, WBA, IBF and WBO belts.
This is important because for years boxing has been damaged by the tin pot organisations that purport to look after the sport.
One consequence of their proliferation is that we now have several “world” champions in each weight division, a farce when you compare boxing to other sports where only a single champion is ever proclaimed.
By this measure, of South Africa’s 82 “world champions”, just one, Vic Toweel, bantamweight champion in 1950, was universally recognised.
There are thus few authentic world champions, only organisation champions, but it doesn’t sound or look as good, so we pretend otherwise. Boxing is poorer for this madness.
The WBSS is a noble attempt to clean up the mess. One of its architects is leading European promoter Wilf Sauerland, who happens to own a home in Cape Town. Another is Richard Schaefer, the former right-hand man of Oscar De La Hoya.
What they’ve created is an elegant tournament to unify divisional champions. Each tournament offers rich storylines, bucket loads of money and high-quality boxing.
Indeed, last night’s finalists had a combined record of 40 fights with 40 wins with Usyk a two-time Olympic gold medalist. Among his pro victims are a trio of South Africans, none of whom heard the final bell.
Earlier, on Friday, SA’s Zolani Tete was among eight boxers unveiled in Moscow for the WBSS’s next tournament, between the world’s best bantamweights.
Even if the WBO champion loses in the first round, Tete is already a winner: he will earn $1-million for just showing up. It will be like winning the lottery.
Earning the big pot of money - $10-million - won’t be easy. There are three rival “world” champions in the mix, among them three-division champion Naoya Inoue, whose nickname ('Monster' is well-earned.
A super-middleweight tournament is also underway - the final will take place later this year - and a junior-welterweight event is also lined up.
Hard core fans understand the politics of the game and the machinations of the organisations, but this is a big win for occasional fans who must wonder why we also have obnoxious titles like “Silver”, “Regular” and “Super” champions.
They are much less about honour than a cynical money grab.
The WBSS clears away the chaos and not only unifies the division, but helps create superstars. Usyk and Gassiev don’t speak English, thus limiting their appeal in international markets, but they’re entertaining and can fight, giving them an important foothold in major markets like North America, Western Europe and Britain.
The WBSS has also embraced the modern world. While it has several linear television deals, much of its content is consumed via online video, streaming and on social media. It taps into technological reality and the discerning millennial market, where growth is critical.