After legendary boxing ring announcer Jimmy Lennon Jr. read all three judges scorecards in the superb and extremely close fight between Badou Jack and James DeGale, I could feel more than 10,000 spectators’ excitement die a swift death.
Confused anger from many in the Barclays Center welled up upon the announcement that the fight was called a majority draw. The decision did not take anything away from the early fight of the year candidate, but it did make things awkward for the super middleweight division as it was a world title unification bout.
Both men kept their respective world title belts after the draw (although Jack, who was frustrated by not winning fights he felt he won and was having issues making weight at 168 pounds, vacated his WBC belt soon after the fight in order to move to light heavyweight).
Now, six weeks later, we return to a similar scenario: a world title unification bout between two highly-touted fighters (Danny Garcia and Keith Thurman) at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. This fight is now following a recent trend in the sport where world champions are fighting each other to unify their world titles. Fans, media, promoters and even the boxers themselves are trying to clean up the clutter that is the over saturation of world titles in the sport.
The goal? Have each weight class have one undisputed world champion.
It’s no secret that unifying world titles is the sport’s plan. I talked to promoter Lou DiBella back in January and he told me he wants only one world champion.
“I always prefer to see one world champion,” DiBella said. “I always prefer to see fewer champions. I’m of that [mentality].”
The Jack vs. DeGale and Thurman vs. Garcia fights aren’t the only unification bouts in 2017. Already confirmed this year are Gennady Golovkin vs. Daniel Jacobs in WBA unification bout where all of Golovkin’s middleweight world titles are also on the line as well as Wladimir Klitschko vs. Anthony Joshua for Joshua’s IBF world heavyweight title and the vacant WBA title.
The sports is currently experiencing waning interest from sports fans — Jack vs. DeGale only drew 454,000 viewers — slowly falling to the wayside as the sport of MMA, spearheaded by the UFC, has become the world’s most popular combat sport.
If ever there was a way for the sport of boxing to become popular as it was years prior, it will take the collective effort of everyone involved to fix it's problem of having way too many world champions.
The transcendent stars of boxing’s past all unified their respective weight classes, becoming must-see attractions. Floyd Mayweather unified the welterweight and light middleweight divisions at the height of his career. Manny Pacquiao unified the sport by becoming a seven-division world champion, and Muhammad Ali was the unified and undisputed world heavyweight champion for the majority of his prime. Even Golovkin, arguably the biggest name in boxing right now, is the unified middleweight world champion on a quest to win every single middleweight world title, with Jacobs and WBO middleweight champion Billy Joe Saunders remaining.
See the pattern?
Unifying world titles kills two birds with one stone. Not only can these fights be marketed as a must-see high profile battle between two champions, but also the number of world titleholders go down and the titles’ value go up.
That is not to say that boxing will be back on the map as the premier combat sport by the end of the year, but 2017 is a damn good start. With so many high-profile fights already confirmed and more to come, the sport is primed for a comeback.
Thurman vs. Garcia is just another in the right direction. That is, if a star stands in the end as the unified welterweight champion.
Fightful will have coverage of Thurman vs. Garcia live from the Barclays Center on March 4. The fight will also be broadcast on Showtime’s Championship Boxing program.