Boxing belts explained: Why are there so many belts and promotions?

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World title belts in the sport of boxing [Image Courtesy: Getty Images]

This is boxing belts explained: an in-depth guide into the reasons behind why boxing has so many different titles. The sport of boxing has been a source of inspiration for MMA since its very inception. However, there are some key differences between mixed martial arts and the 'sweet science'.

Among the greatest differences between the two combat sports is how the promotions work and how their champions are crowned. A UFC champion will never lock horns with a champion from Bellator or ONE in the cage. Cross-promotion is a rarity in the world of MMA.

This, however, is not the case when it comes to boxing. The number of promotions in the 'sweet science' is much greater, as are the number of titles. Why is this the case? Why are there so many belts in boxing compared to MMA?


The Ring Magazine & Don King 1976 Controversy

There have always been different sanctioning bodies in boxing, with different world titles attached to them. The most prominent sanctioning bodies include the likes of the WBA and WBC, to name a few. However, a pivotal event took place in 1976. At the time, the world at large took the words of Ring Magazine as gospel.

Whoever the magazine declared the world champion was simply accepted by the masses, who paid little mind to the few sanctioning bodies that existed. In 1976, however, Johnny Ort—the magazine's managing editor—was found of guilty of fabricating the records of several boxers, which he used to increase their rankings.

This elevated the standing of the boxers in question, earning them money fights on ABC in a US-based tournament devised by controversial promoter Don King to enthrone several boxers as the uncontested champions of the United States. King used Ring Magazine's fraudulent rankings to raise his tournament's standing.

Meanwhile, the magazine was paid a hefty sum of money for their efforts. Alas, this deceit did not go undiscovered as boxing writer Malcolm Flash and the then-associate producer for ABC Sports, Alex Wallau, uncovered the truth, leading to the cancelation of Don King's planned tournament.

More consequences, however, loomed over the horizon. Ring Magazine's credibility as 'The Bible of Boxing' crumbled into dust, leaving many uncertain as to who the world champions were. Promoters, however, were still eager to slap the label of world title on their fights.

Thus, amid the chaos, they saw an opportunity and took it. Promoters worked alongside sanctioning bodies, salvaging grains of legitimacy from Ring Magazine's ruins. This led to the era of promoters and sanctioning bodies joining forces, causing the tide of champions in boxing to rise.


Boxing Belts Explained: Promoters, Sanctioning Bodies & Weight Divisions

In boxing, titles are created and awarded to fighters by organizations known as sanctioning bodies like the World Boxing Association or WBA, for short. It is the oldest of the four major sanctioning bodies recognized by the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

Gervonta Davis, for example, who recently defeated Ryan Garcia, is the WBA lightweight champion. The remaining three major sanctioning bodies are the World Boxing Council (WBC), World Boxing Organization (WBO), and the International Boxing Federation (IBF).

In another example, Saúl 'Canelo' Álvarez is a WBA, WBC, WBO and IBF titleholder. Sanctioning bodies are responsible for creating their own rankings system, which they use to structure contenders who will compete for their titles. This differs greatly from MMA.

In MMA, titles are attached to promotions instead of sanctioning bodies. This is why the UFC and Bellator handle both the promotion of their own fighters and the creation of the titles that said fighters compete over.

Boxers sign long-term contracts with promoters like Top Rank and Golden Boy. Despite the titles they compete for being products of sanctioning bodies, boxers do not sign contracts with them. Instead, they pay a fee to the sanctioning body of their choice to sanction their fights.

Due to the difference in organizational structure between MMA and boxing, co-promotional bouts are far more common in the 'sweet science'. UFC champions will never share a cage with ONE or Bellator champions regardless of how many fans call for such an event.

The last major reason behind the high volume of titles in boxing, however, is the number of weight classes in the sport. As a point of comparison, the UFC has eight divisions for its male fighters and four divisions for its female fighters. ONE Championship has eight male divisions and five female divisions.

There are titles for each division. The same is true in boxing. While the 'sweet science' initially had eight male divisions, it now has 17 weight classes recognized by the sport's four major sanctioning bodies.

Since each division needs its own title, the sport has at least 17 belts in total, with the addition of Ring Magazine's own lineal title, like the heavyweight lineal belt captured by Oleksandr Usyk.

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Edited by Taimoor Malik
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