On Saturday Billy Joe Saunders took a middleweight title from game Irishman Andy Lee. Credit should be given to Saunders for successfully completing a very difficult task. However, Saunders might also have to be credited for making titles – like the kind he just won – entirely useless. Make no mistake about it, the utter and complete needlessness of titles and championship belts has been evident for some time now. It just took one last brave push to effectively make them completely pointless, those shiny belts now nothing but pretty trinkets.
Indeed, Saunder’s openness about not being “ready” to unify all the middleweight belts for a year and a half while simultaneously expressing interest in facing the likes of Miguel Cotto is almost admirable in its honesty. It’s also indicative of the fact that titles are no longer necessary in modern boxing, that it should be clear to everyone how trivial and meaningless they’ve become.
A title, after all, is not simply a prize one wins. It is a symbol of being the best at a particular endeavor. If Saunders has no reason to even hide the fact that he knows he isn’t the best, why should he be in possession of a decorative ornament which indicates otherwise? Nothing against Saunders, who seems like a decent enough human being, but enough already.
Everyone knows that Billy Joe Saunders isn’t even close to being the best middleweight in the world. Gennady Golovkin has to be rated number one at 160, at least until someone comes along and proves otherwise. Saunders’ title, along with those held by Canelo Alvarez, Daniel Jacobs and anyone else, are only relevant as bargaining chips. And boxing is supposed to be a sport, not a game of Monopoly. Golovkin will probably never swear off titles, but wouldn’t it be great if he did? Just imagining the guy stepping up to the podium and renouncing all of the alphabet titles while declaring himself king of the middleweight division is enough to put a smile on a true boxing fan’s face.
Let these guys keep their titles, he could say. What difference do they make? Everyone knows that I’m the guy to beat at middleweight. Some might argue the man would be foolish to make such a bold statement, but there’s no doubt the varnish would suddenly dull on all decorative belts the second he did. For the public would know Golovkin is right, that he is the guy to beat, no matter who held what title, and that there is only one way to be truly recognized as the top dog of the middleweights from there on in.
For, truth be told, titles are arguably only valuable these days as income boosters. It shouldn’t be that way, but it is. Sadly, they will remain powerful trinkets until we, the fans, indicate we don’t think much of them, that we have little interest in seeing Saunders fight Cotto, or Canelo fight Joe the Produce Guy on pay-per-view, when more relevant matches are in order.
Make no mistake about it, there are some fans who will continue to enjoy boxing in its current title-centric state. You can see these types in comment sections online all the time. They’re the ones supporting guys like Saunders for pretending guys like GGG don’t exist. Such things make economic sense, they argue. And besides, all fighters avoid other fighters.
Good for them, I say of these individuals. Let them spend their time and money focusing on who the second, third, fourth and fifth best middleweights are out there. Let them get excited over the games of monetary chess that promoters, networks and fighter’s camps play before a real match can get made. To each his or her own.
The rest of us, however, should forget about these meaningless belts. Indeed, we should even forget about the venerated lineal titles, and just focus on who we think is the best. And if who the best in each division becomes a matter of dispute, well, public demand should lead to a truly meaningful confrontation. It may take a while to see results, but we, the fans, have the power here, whether we realize it or not.
Those who are okay with how things currently operate in boxing are most likely in the minority. That means their economic pull will lessen if eyeballs keep away from ridiculous matchups (and by ridiculous matchups, I mean those of the Adonis Stevenson variety). Promoters are in the business of making money, after all. If and when the current blueprint falls apart, they will surely get the point.
So, as a New Year’s resolution, let’s start ignoring titles in 2016. I know it’s hard to do, but it’s necessary at this point. We’ve been left no other choice. Competition is all about credit being given where it’s truly due. And right now, credit isn’t being given where it should when guys like Billy Joe Saunders can hold aloft a so-called world title belt. — Sean Crose