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Boxing's title belts of little importance to the public

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One thing you may have noticed about yesterday’s final pre-fight press conference at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas hyping the fight this weekend between welterweights Floyd Mayweather, Jr. and Marcos Maidana is that neither man was sporting their championship belt.

Mayweather is the champion according to the WBC while Maidana is the champion of the WBA, but neither man paraded those title belts around the room. Floyd was presented with another Ring magazine belt but aside from that there was little mention of the chintzy trinkets.

It has become clear in this day and age that the title belts and the titles themselves awarded by what the late Bert Sugar anointed the “alphabet soup” organizations are becoming somewhat of a footnote. Mayweather is the type of fighter that transcends sanctioning organizations, titles and title belts. Even Canelo Alvarez and Alfredo Angulo who faced each other in March (on pay-per-view no less) did so without any sort of title at stake. And you know what? It didn’t make one bit of difference.

The bottom line is that boxing is a business. For the fighters at the very top it can be extremely lucrative as evidenced by a payday this weekend for Mayweather that is a guaranteed minimum $32 million. In the grand scheme of things, to a guy like him, whether he has a title belt or not makes absolutely no difference. Ask any boxing fan and they will tell you it makes no matter one way or the other when it comes to buying a ticket or purchasing a PPV whether a title is at stake.

It seems that boxing fans have finally arrived at a place where title belts do not matter. The sole criteria these days is that fans want to see the best fighters face each other. Whether it is Manny Pacquiao and Timothy Bradley or Mayweather versus Maidana it really doesn’t make much difference. What drives the economic engine of the sport is quality match-ups not titles created by a sanctioning organization in Mexico, Venezuela, Puerto Rico or New Jersey.

There are really only a few factions remaining that care about titles and title belts and these are truly the enablers of the alphabet cartels. Primarily it is the television networks HBO and Showtime. When they are able to “sell” a bout as being for a “championship” they seem to feel better about it. Secondly, it is fighters on the way up or who are the least well known. To them, a belt from the WBA, WBC, WBO or IBF represents a significant steppingstone to better days ahead. Lastly, second tier promoters can use a fighter that has a championship belt to get them on HBO and/or Showtime and to get themselves and/or their fighter a larger paycheck.

There are times when the belts still matter. 49-year-old Bernard Hopkins seems to be using them as an excuse to continue his long career. Hopkins holds two light heavyweight belts, wishes to add a third and if successful claims he may retire. It is much the same motivation that drove Evander Holyfield to also fight until he was nearly 50. There are occasions when the titles help sort out a muddled situation among contenders, but by and large they are becoming less important in boxing.

As with any product that becomes over saturated in any market the value of that product goes down. It is a simple economic model that has stood the test of time. And so it is with title belts in boxing. Any time there are four people running around with title belts all claiming to be welterweight champion of the world – Mayweather, Maidana, Pacquiao (WBO) and Shawn Porter (IBF) then the public will see less value in those titles. They will seek to clarify the situation for themselves and identify who the real champion is by some other method. In perhaps the ultimate display of what the belts meant to him, heavyweight champion Riddick Bowe was so disenchanted with the demands of the WBC that he unstrapped the title from his waist in 1992 and tossed it into a London trash can.

The Ring magazine performs a service in helping to clarify the situation by ignoring the sanctioning organizations and anointing the person usually best deserving of a Ring championship, but they are not above error and or criticism. Other independent online rating groups have popped up and those also help to clarify the situation. But by and large, the public has become quite adept at identifying who the real champ is and who to throw their weight behind. As a result, the sanctioning organizations have become much less important.

So much so that the fighters who are their champions don't even bother bringing their belts press conferences anymore.

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