The Truth About Titles – Understanding Boxing Belt Madness

The boxing world can be a confusing place sometimes.

These days there are more belts than ever and it sometimes can be unclear just what the title a boxer is fighting for may mean. Is it important? Is it prestigious? Is it just made up?

The proliferation of belts in recent years is understandable. Governing bodies are happy to create titles to collect sanctioning fees, boxers are always happy to fight for a belt, and a title being on the line means an almost automatic bump in ticket sales which is undeniably a good thing.

The amount of belts, at all levels, may frustrate some, but they can certainly be of benefit and serve a purpose.

However, for those interested in the intricacies, and perhaps for future reference, Irish-Boxing.com below looks into the world of the boxing titles, from the big stage to the small halls.

World Titles
These days, the most commonly-held view is that there are four ‘major’ world titles.

These belts are awarded by, in order of incorporation:
– The World Boxing Association (WBA)
– The World Boxing Council (WBC)
– The International Boxing Federation (IBF)
– The World Boxing Organisation (WBO)

All four bodies recognise each other to facilitate unification bouts and most now view all four titles as equals although some may give added importance to the WBC belt due to its iconic appearance.

The WBA
Since the turn of the century the WBA have somewhat muddied the waters with a flood of ‘interim’ and ‘regular’ titles, although they claim they are currently trying to rectify this situation.

The Panamanian body are not alone, however they are the worst offenders.

It is not uncommon to see three WBA world champions listed at a weight – a Super champion, a Regular champion (although the Regular part is often left out), and an Interim champion.

Interim titles by definition should be contested should the champion be unable to defend his belt due to injury , with the Interim titlist facing the champion at the nearest convenience, however this has not been the case in recent times.

Regular belts were created initially for instances where a champion had successfully defended his belt a number of times and been declared Super – or had unified with another body.

Both Interim and Regular champions could be considered as mandatories to whoever is the actual WBA champion, and there are encouraging albeit slow moves toward this. However, all too often, regular and interim champions will ‘defend’ their belts as if they were equal to the holders of the above-mentioned titles.

Indeed the WBA is unique in this sense, and it could be argued that a Regular champion is no more a world champion than, say, the holder of a WBC Silver belt (see Rankings Titles below).

Lineal World Titles
The fact that there may be four (or more) men claiming to be ‘world’ champions may anger some who pine for the long gone golden days of just one world champion.

With boxing politics, the enforcement of mandatories, and rival promotional stables and TV networks, it is rare to see a fighter unify all four major belts.

Therefore, to determine ‘the man,’ some give preference to the lineal titleholder – i.e. ‘the man who beat the man who beat the man.’

Of course, it is not that simple. The Lineal title used to be closely associated with the commemorative belt of ‘Ring Magazine‘ the so-called Bible of Boxing. This would work well for a period, offering clarity in the 70s, 80s, and 90s as the number of titles grew.

However controversy erupted in 2012 as a change to the magazine’s editorial policy widened the criteria of what qualifies as a fight for a vacant lineal title. This came following the sale of the magazine to Golden Boy Promotions.

Previously, when Ring’s titles were vacant, a new lineage would only begin when the #1 and #2 ranked fighters (by Ring) fought. This rule was then adjusted so that a fight between the magazine’s #1 or #2 against either the #3, #4, or #5 could also see the vacant Ring title awarded.

This change infuriated some and led to the creation of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board – a rapidly-growing collaborative and independent rankings body who adhere to the ‘old rules.’

Irish-Boxing.com endorses the TBRB, whose board members include Irishmen Kevin Byrne, Paul Gibson, and Jeremy Foley.

Minor World Titles
In addition to the four major governing bodies, there are also ‘World’ titles awarded from smaller bodies, such as the International Boxing Organisation (IBO), the Universal Boxing Organisation (UBO), the Global Boxing Union (GBU), and the World Boxing Federation (WBF). IBO aside, very little, if any, recognition is given to these belts.

In terms of the IBO itself, the belt is often associated with others and providing unified champions with an extra piece of arm candy for the cameras. Away from its use in unifications, singular IBO title fights receive little recognition, as can be seen from the Renold Quinlan v Chris Eubank ‘world title fight’ earlier this year.

Their use in unifications, and IBO title fights such as Ricky Hatton v Manny Pacquiao, led some to believe that the Big Four may soon become the Big Five – much like how the WBO went from minor to major in the late 1990s – however there has been little movement on this front.

European Titles
For most, including us here at Irish-Boxing.com, the most prestigious European title is the blue belt of the European Boxing Union (EBU).

The EBU is an affiliate of the WBC, however predates the formation of the Mexican body. The organisation publishes monthly rankings, with fighters able to move their way up into contention and champions securing world rankings with the WBC.

In addition to the European title, fought over twelve, the EBU also awards two other belts – a European Union title and an External Europe title (for non-EU boxers) – which are fought over ten rounds. Paul Hyland is the only Irish fighter to have won the EU belt. In the near future, due to Brexit, it is assumed the British licence-holding Irish fighters will become eligible for the EBU-EE title.

There are other European titles, recent creations from the WBO and the IBF (with the WBA, who previously endorsed the now-extinct European Boxing Association belt, assumed to be soon rejoining the party soon).

  • The WBO European title, fought over ten rounds, guarantees the victor a spot in the WBO Top 15.
  • The IBF Europe title, fought over ten or twelve depending on the agreement, does not guarantee the victor a spot in the IBF Top 15.

While it could be argued that these two belts are essentially the same as the WBC-backed EBU belt and that we are on course for a situation like at world title level with four equal European titles, this is not currently the case.

The EBU, with its history and rankings system, is superior to its competitors in the eyes of many – with the regional IBF and WBO title fights often being of much lower quality (especially on the part of the ‘away’ fighter).

The Irish Title
Awarded by the Boxing Union of Ireland (BUI) and providing champions with an EBU ranking, the Irish title is a special one for many people and is a belt Irish-Boxing.com wish to see contested regularly.

Fought over ten rounds, Irish title fights are scored by the referee in charge of the fight. To compete for the belt, fighters must have previously competed in an eight-round contest and, recently, the BUI have become stricter in terms of who can fight for the belt, with opposition and results being put under greater scrutiny than previously.

Additional recent changes however have dramatically altered the Irish title landscape. Over half of Irish fighters do not hold a BUI licence and in the past were allowed to fight for the green belt by taking out temporary licences. This rule changed last month, with the BUI now requiring fighters to have held an Irish licence for a period of 6 months (if European based) or 3 months (if non-European based) to be considered to eligible to fight for the belt.

Many believe these changes will severely limit the belt, with financial and logistical barriers effectively preventing scores of Irish boxers from fighting for the Irish title.

Minor Irish Belts
There are currently two titles, fought over eight rounds, that are seen as stepping stones to the Irish title.

Originally there is the Celtic Nations title, an independent belt provided by Leonard Gunning of Boxing Ireland Promotions

The Celtic Nations title used to be provided in conjunction with the BUI, however the body now provide their own BUI Celtic belt. It was initially believed that the winner of a BUI Celtic belt became mandatory challenger for the Irish title, however this has recently been proven to not be the case.

Both belts require opponents to be of Celtic origin (Irish, Welsh, Scottish, Manx, Cornish, Breton, Galician etc) however this rule is sometimes overlooked to facilitate these ‘learning titles’ being fought for.

The British Boxing Board of Control Title System
The BBBofC currently award ten belts.

At the lowest level there are the Area titles – Southern, Midlands, Central, Northern, Scottish, Welsh, and Northern Irish. Nowadays it is extremely rare for the Northern Ireland Area title to be fought for, which is unfortunate.

Then there is the English title and the recently-created Celtic title. An agreement between the BBBofC and the BUI allows BUI-licenced fighters, even if they reside outside the United Kingdom, to fight for the BUI Celtic belt.

At the top of the tree there is the Lord Lonsdale belt, the British title. This often requires prospective fighters to have won at least one eliminator (which may also have been for one of the aforementioned straps).

While the above nine belts are contested over ten rounds, the British title is fought for over twelve. Area titles are scored by the referee while the English, Celtic, and British are done by three ringside judges.

Unlike most belts, the physical British title belt must be passed on to the next holder if lost in the ring or relinquished/stripped. To retain a British title and keep the Lonsdale belt for life a champion must be victorious in three title defences.

Other British Belts
Much like the BUI Celtic and Celtic Nations belts, the British Promoters Association provide straps contested over eight rounds which are seen as a step up marker for some rising prospects, especially on the small hall scene.

The Commonwealth Title
Another of the traditional titles, which unfortunately has begun to lose some of its lustre in recent years, is the rainbow belt of the Commonwealth Boxing Council.

Previously viewed as a superior belt to the British, this has been reversed in recent decades. However it remains a major domestic belt which more eligible Irish fighters should target.

Contested over twelve rounds, a number of fighters from the North have claimed this belt over the years as have BBBofC licence-holding fighters from the South.

Australian Title System
Such is the wide geographical spread of Irish fighters, there are a number of boys in green plying their trade Down Under, and Australians love their belts.

The Australian National Boxing Federation offers territorial belts (New South Wales, Queensland etc) which are contested over eight rounds and feed into the Australian title proper which is contested over ten

U.S. State Title System
Each of the States offer their own title, fought usually over eight rounds. The prevalence and prestige of this belt depends on the area. One area where State titles are a big deal is in Boston, with Murphys Boxing making the Massachusetts State title a major part of their shows.

A flexible belt, a number of Irish fighters have crossed the pond to fight for the strap, most recently Niall Kennedy. In addition, the Massachusetts State title feeds into the New England title, for the states of Massachusetts, Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut and Rhode Island. This belt is also fought over eight rounds.

Rankings Titles
There are dozens of rankings titles which we would tend to split into three tiers.

  • Best of the bunch are the rankings belts which usually provide the winner with a place in the Top 15 rankings of one of the four major governing bodies.

Inter-Continental, International, and North American regional belts (NABA, NABF, USBA, NABO) usually provide this, as does the WBO European and WBO Oriental.

  • Then there are belts which may not initially provide the winner with a place in the Top 15 rankings of a major governing body, but offer a foot in the door – with successful defences perhaps eventually seeing a fighter enter the ladder.

These belts include the IBF Europe, WBO Oceania, WBC International Silver .and Youth World titles.

  • Finally there are the rankings titles of the smaller organisations such as the IBO and the WBF.

The quality and competitiveness of these fights can vary wildly. A fight from tier two may be better in all regards than one from tier one, while a tier one fight could be an exceedingly one-sided mismatch.

World Title Eliminators
By definition, a fight between any two boxers in the Top 15 of a governing body’s rankings is a world title eliminator. A final eliminator provides the winner with the mandatory challenger position and they become next in line to face the current champion.

Commemorative Belts
There are plenty of other belts awarded to fighter. The WBC have been known to offer Diamond, Emerald, and even Onyx belts for major global fights for world titles from other bodies. From the outside this seems to be little more than a way to promote the WBC brand (see: Carl Frampton v Leo Santa Cruz II for the WBA featherweight title, with the WBC Diamond also tacked on).

Then there is the likes of the BoxRec #1 belt, occasionally awarded to the fighter who tops the computerised rankings of the popular website, and even a Brooklyn belt provided by Premier Boxing Champions for the winner of All-Brooklyn bouts, along with many, many more.

Joe O'Neill

Reporting on Irish boxing the past five years. Work has appeared on irish-boxing.com, Boxing News, the42.ie, and local and national media. Provide live ringside updates, occasional interviews, and special features on the future of Irish boxing. email: [email protected]