Gray Matter: Tank Davis, the WBA and the imminent death of authentic world title fights
On Saturday night, in his adopted home city of Atlanta, Gervonta Davis scored an impressive stoppage of the previously unbeaten Mario Barrios. Initially tested, Davis gradually solved the much larger man, scored two spectacular knockdowns in the eighth round and closed out brilliantly in the 11th. Despite the world-level action that was taking place in Las Vegas and Mexico – Vasiliy Lomachenko halted Masayoshi Nakatani and Julio Cesar Martinez stopped Joel Cordova – I personally thought that Davis was the fighter of the night. “Tank” was exciting, quick, ferocious, powerful, and he virtually blew the lid off the State Farm Arena with a memorable performance.
However, there’s always a “but” in boxing.
“He is still undefeated, now a three-division world champion,” bellowed the legendary ring announcer Jimmy Lennon Jr. before overfilling his lungs with air. “… and the new WBA super lightweight champion of the world, Ger-von-tayyy… Taaaaank… Dae-visssss.”
I’ll keep this short because it was flogged to death last week. Just 33 days before “Tank” crushed Barrios, there was a junior welterweight (or super lightweight) championship fight between Scotland’s Josh Taylor and California’s Jose Ramirez at the Virgin Hotel Las Vegas. It was a great fight between undefeated unified world titleholders and when the dust had settled, Taylor had claimed a unanimous decision and walked away with Ring Magazine, IBF, WBA, WBC and WBO championships. Now, when you hold all of that glitzy hardware, in any division, you are universally lauded as “undisputed” champion. It’s the fistic holy grail, and no boxing outlet or broadcaster would dream of calling you anything but “undisputed.”
Unfortunately, it took the WBA just over a month to take a political piss on that idea from a high height. Let’s be honest here, when Taylor became undisputed champion, the WBA trinket that Barrios won by defeating a 7-0 Batyr Akhmedov in 2019 should have been declared vacant. I’m not silly enough to believe that the organization would put it out of circulation for good, but at least remove its presence when there’s an undisputed champion on the scene. Anything less is an insult to Taylor and the sport.
Davis is one of the most exciting fighters in the world today. He doesn’t need fake belts, and fans will flock to see him strut his stuff regardless. He’s popular and he’s kicking ass. Indeed, if all the egomaniacal promotional suits would sit down and behave like adults, Davis could conceivably rise to the top of the star-studded 135-pound division.
The problem is that Davis is now – wrongly – being labeled by some outlets as a “three-weight world champion (130, 135 and 140).” How can anyone justify this? As well as Taylor being undisputed when “Tank” captured the WBA “regular” title at 140, Teofimo Lopez was a hair away from holding the undisputed distinction at lightweight when Davis annexed a WBA “regular” belt at 135.
I understand that networks love the term “world title fight” and will pay promoters more coin if there’s a belt at stake. I understand that some of that money will go into a fighter’s pocket. I understand that casual fans will be a bit more excited. We just need to find balance and stop being stupid. You cannot have a “world titleholder” when there’s an “undisputed champion” in the same division. Why? Because by inference, there’s a dispute. Make your mind up! Is Taylor the undisputed champion or isn’t he?
“People don’t know you have to pay; for every belt you win, there’s a sanctioning fee,” Floyd Mayweather told Showtime in October 2020. “If a fighter has just the regular belt, he has to pay a sanctioning fee. If a fighter is a super champion, he has to pay a sanctioning fee. This is not good for the sport of boxing.
“Every fighter is a champion now. Belts now are like a fighter winning an amateur trophy.
“We gotta clean this sport of boxing up. This shit, this doesn’t look good.”
Nine months later, Mayweather was promoting Davis-Barrios, which, given his prior outburst, is more than a little unfortunate. The great ex-champ won an assortment of world titles in five weight classes, but he never fought for a WBA “regular” in his entire career, and you best believe that was by choice. It was a meaningless trinket then and it’s a meaningless trinket now. Following Davis’ win on Saturday, Mayweather stated, “We keep everything in-house; Mayweather Promotions, PBC, we’re all one family.” Well, that’s just great news for fans that want to see Davis take on Ryan Garcia, Lopez or Lomachenko, none of whom are in the Mayweather or PBC stables. But let’s be clear, Floyd isn’t the only one who enjoys an in-house promotion.
Oscar De La Hoya once harbored dreams of reducing the amount of title belts that are in circulation. He was perhaps three or four years into his promotional journey and still active as a prizefighter, but his energy soon faded and he has promoted several WBA “regular” bouts since. What the sport needs is people with influence to work harder for change, because succumbing to this is just lazy. You can almost hear the wheels turning among the powers at be. “Why work with a promoter I dislike for a real title when I can self-promote a matchup with a fake one?”
The label “three-weight world champion” would actually suit Gervonta Davis. Why? Because he’s a brilliant young fighter. But what happens when there are so many belts around that a fighter who is clearly not world-class is labeled a multi-weight titleholder? The dilution of the term “world champion” has long since started, as evidenced by Adrien Broner’s resume. Broner, good but not great, is a “four-weight world titleholder” and all of his belts are legitimate. Regardless, he’ll be very lucky to ever enter the Hall of Fame. That’s an astonishing comedown! Think of Thomas Hearns taking titles in four weight divisions in 1987 and the hysteria that surrounded that achievement. I could give you tons of other examples.
Just imagine an era where there’s a three- or four-time WBA “regular” titleholder. How about five-time? Six-time? Anyone endorsing WBA “regular” title fights, particularly when there’s an undisputed champion at the weight, is complicit in killing off the importance and majesty of world title fights completely. And it’s only going to get worse.
Gervonta Davis is a three-time world titleholder at 130 pounds – no more, no less – and he’s now proven that he can beat a naturally bigger man in style. That’s more than good enough for a 26-year-old who is approaching his peak years. Do we really need to fabricate his achievements when he’s done so much already?
As Floyd himself said, “This shit doesn’t look good!”
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Tom Gray is Managing Editor for Ring Magazine. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Gray_Boxing
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