Franchise Champions, Do We Need or Even Want Them?
As it stands in boxing, there are already a ridiculous number of belts floating around. To name a few, there are interim, gold, silver, regular and super championship titles. Even among hardcore fans, keeping up with the excess of belts is no small feat.
In June, the WBC shook up the boxing world by announcing their new creation of the “Franchise” championship belt. Along with this reveal, the organization would declared Saul “Canelo” Alvarez (52-1-2, 35 KO’s) would be the first recipient of the new title.
With the existing over-saturation of belts, no one wanted to see yet another title dreamed up on a whim. The new Franchise belt became increasingly meaningless with the revelation that the belt only the WBC may bestow the title to a fighter.
This means that once appointed, a fighter can’t lose it even if that fighter lost a fight. Likewise, if a boxer, say, knocks out a Franchise champion, they cannot take ownership of the belt. This rather befuddling twist has boxing fans and insiders alike scratching their heads in confusion.
Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, it did.
GIVE AND TAKE
When Alvarez was awarded the Franchise title, he was already the full champion. Meanwhile, Jermall “Hit Man” Charlo (29-0, 21 KO’s) was the interim WBC middleweight champion. Charlo v Alvarez is a gem of a bout that fight fans have wanted to see for years. It’s also a fight that Charlo himself has craved for years.
As the interim champion, Team Charlo was in a prime position to apply a great deal of pressure on the WBC and Team Alvarez to make the prizefight a reality.
Yet, when Canelo was “elevated” to the Franchise champion, Charlo’s interim title was also elevated to full championship status. The common thought is that Alvarez was, in all actuality, stripped, but with a needlessly complicated consolation prize. For one, the belt further muddies the waters on who the true champion is. Further, it derailed a potentially dynamic prizefight. Neither is good.
This week, the WBC named Vasiliy “Hi-Tech” Lomachenko (14-1, 10 KO’s) as their second Franchise champion. Similar to Alvarez, Lomachenko had a fantastic would-be opponent in Devin “The Dream” Haney (23-0, 15 KO’s), who was also the interim WBC lightweight champion at the time of his elevation.
The Dream became Hi-Tech’s mandatory on September 9 with his victory over Zaur Abdullev (11-1, 7 KO’s). Well, that was until the WBC sprinkled their magical Franchise champion dust on the Ukrainian’s shoulders.
Now, Haney is the full WBC lightweight champion, but has no true way to leverage a bout with Loma. Just as Charlo vocalized his desire to face Alvarez, the Dream has sustained a very public campaign calling for a prizefight with Lomachenko.
So, after naming two Franchise champions, two potential barnburner fights went up in smoke. At the moment, the Franchise belt is looking more like an “avoid a tough fight” free pass. Just as well, the Franchise champion does not have any mandatories to satisfy like all other champions are required to do.
When answering questions for ThaBoxingVoice, even the WBC president Mauricio Sulaimán became flustered and irritated trying to make sense of the largely pointless new belt.
“It is confusing. I don’t want to get into it […] can you believe that there is instant replay in football? Twenty years ago, there was a tremendous move against everything that had to be technology. You have to move on to the times. People want to see the best fights happen.
“Lomachenko wants to fight the best challenge possible and we are permitting, through the Franchise champion, to go and fight other champions in other divisions to take on whatever is the biggest challenge.
“Same as Canelo.”
Only time will tell if the two new Franchise champions will face the stiff competition that the fans want, or if they’re allowed to float along facing whoever they feel like fighting. As it stands, the Franchise belt is just the latest example of how politics and favoritism can boldly stain and complicate the sport of boxing.
It will be interesting to see what future Franchise champions are appointed. Similarly, let’s see if they too are miraculously provided an immediate escape route from an impending tough fight.
Yet, even now with just two Franchise champions, we can begin asking key questions. “Why do we need this new belt?” “In what possible way does the Franchise belt help clear up or enhance anything in the sport?”
Bottom line, it seems the new status is a discrete way to allow fighters who are considered “hot commodities” to avoid endangering their marketability with a loss to a hungry challenger!
By: Bakari Simpson