Boxing Organizations: A Guide

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Boxing is a sport unto itself. The sweet science as its most commonly referred to, is an aberration when compared to most traditional sporting competitions. With top events and divisions spread out across numerous countries and continents, it’s difficult for any fighter to reign supreme with countless organizations, challengers, and politics governing the sport behind the scenes. Take the current heavyweight champion of the world Andy Ruiz. After an odds defying upset of reigning champion Anthony Joshua, Ruiz acquired three belts in his victory: WBA, WBO, and IBF. Outside of the WBC belt, currently held by Deontay Wilder, Ruiz is potentially two fights away from becoming the unified heavyweight champion of the world. A feat that has yet to be accomplished. Below, we’ll go through a comprehensive look at the four main boxing organizations and their accompanying belts while also digging into the contentious history of a few organizations. Finally, we’ll end with a look at The Ring Magazine and Lineal Championship. If we can’t make boxing fan of you after this guide, you’ll have at least more than enough information to get started betting on all the upcoming matches, exclusively at Mr. Green.

What is the Difference Between WBA, WBC, IBF and WBO?

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If you’ve ever tuned into a boxing match, outside of the spectacle of a televised fight, the discussion around belts and different champions has surely peaked your interest. Unlike most sporting competitions where fixed leagues, tournaments, or cups are at the center of a competition, associations in boxing, the four largest being the WBA, WBC, WBO, and IBF, operate as individual organizations with very little overlap and cooperation. As you can imagine, this leads to an environment where the competition between the associations is just as fierce as the one taking place in the ring!

A fighter can only truly be the undisputed champion of the world once they’ve collected all four belts within their weight class. A task that’s made even more difficult thanks to behind-the-scenes politics between associations and promoters. Notwithstanding, the elite level of boxing talent held by fighters at the top of each organizations.

As I’m sure you’ve surmised, to become undisputed is a rank that few fighters have reached in the modern era. At the time of writing, only five fighters have managed to achieve the rank of undisputed champion.

Men: Cruiserweight Oleksander Usyk and Light Welterweight Terrence Crawford

Women: Lightweight Katie Taylor, Welterweight Cecilia Brækhus, and Middleweight Claressa Shields.

Another factor standing in the way of unification bouts is simple economics. The climb up the ladder to a championship is long and arduous. Most fighters will never hold championships belts and therefore are unlikely to land lucrative fight contracts. Moreover, without a belt, fighters are unable to land high-profile brand sponsorships and PPV deals further limiting their earning potential. Case in point, Floyd Mayweather vs Manny Pacquiao. Ask any fight fan and they’ll tell you that this destined bout happened five years too late. If you’re to query the fighters and their promoters, a single mention of their reported paydays (Mayweather pulled in an astonishing $300 million) will immediately put things into perspective. It pays to be top dog, literally. If we’ve thrown you for a loop, not to worry. Read on for a comprehensive breakdown of each boxing association, a current overview of some of the best fighters, and a few interesting insights that should go a long way in your efforts to be a successful sports bettor.

WBA – World Boxing Association

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The oldest of the “big 4”, the World Boxing Association, also known as the WBO, was founded in the United States in 1921. Interestingly, the association was originally known as the National Boxing Association, however, in 1962, the growing acclaim around the sport of boxing pushed the governing body to project an image of global authority. The mythic Jack Dempsey, a fighter the original Rocky franchise was modelled on, became the association’s first heavyweight champion after a thrilling knockout of French international Georges Carpentier.

WBA Rankings and Weight Classes

As of 2019, the WBA has 17 sanctioned weight classes in the men’s division. On the women’s side, 16 weight classes are sanctioned for competition. Across all weight classes, the WBA awards a Regular World Champion belt. In addition to that belt, a Super World Champion can be awarded to a fighter; an occurrence that does happen on occasion. We’ll dig into this further in the next section. Finally, a list of fighters are ranked from 1-15, a leaderboard if you will of a current division’s rankings.
As mentioned above, once fighters have earned a championship belt, their main concern is to line up lucrative paydays against competition that falls below their pedigree. Colloquially known as “showcases’ and “money fights”, it behaves an association to enforce mandatory challengers to keep a division healthy and competitive.

What are the Different WBA Champions and Belts?

If you weren’t confused before, hold on to your seat, things are about to get dicey! The WBA has two championship belts available in all divisions: A “Regular Champion” and a “Super Champion”. What’s the difference? A Regular Champion is a belt holder from within the division, while a Super Champion is a fighter that holds two or more belts from an outside association. Therefore, in the instance a fighter holds both a WBA and WBO belt, the association will also award a regular championship belt to keep the division from stagnating.

Famous WBA Champions

Since 1962, the WBA heavyweight championship belt has changed hands 45 times. Ukranian boxer Wladamir Klitschko is the longest reigning belt holder in the modern era, remaining champion for 1610 days. A shocking upset to UK international Tyson Fury came as a surprise to both casuals and diehard supporters. If there was anything to be learned from that contest, boxing is a sport that has quite a bit of luck built into it, a truth that you’ll want to consider when developing a surefire betting strategy

After such a high, Fury was unable to regain the focus and effort required to remain a prized fighter, a battle with depression being the main cause of his absence from the sport, opening a slot for fellow brit Anthony Joshua to step in and claim the belt for himself. Defeating Klitschko in a battle of strength and grit, his victory catapulted him to the rank of Super Champion as he already held the IBO title. 

Alas, boxing is a sport of upsets. As mentioned in the introduction, Mexican boxer Andy Ruiz, a massive underdog coming into the fight, could dethrone Joshua and claim the WBA, WBO, and IBF heavyweight titles and rise to the top of the division after one match. Supported by his family, their unwavering belief in Ruiz was put to the test as the entire family bet on his victory. It might not be the most statistically rigorous boxing betting strategy, however, if it ain’t broken, why mess with it!

Outside of the heavyweight division, boxing is filled with stars competing across a variety of weight classes and associations. The great Manny Pacquiao, at the age of 40, has just become the WBA Super Champion after a great victory over incumbent Keith Thurman.
The WBA is currently experiencing an upswing in talent now with the division frothing with fighters clawing for an opportunity to fight for the belt. If there ever was a time to get into the division, it’s now!

WBC – World Boxing Council

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A truly international organizations, the WBC was created by a conglomerate of representatives from 11 separate countries: USA, UK, France, Mexico, Panama, Puerto Rico, Argentina, Chile, Peru, Venezuela and Brazil. Established in 1963, the association is widely considered the most prestigious and famous of the “big 4” If you’re a fan of big name fights, then the WBC is the association for you. Famed for their ability to make the toughest of fights, the WBC is championships that prides itself on facilitating the highest level of competition. They’re even open to the invention from time to time, case in point, the one-off “money belt” to facilitate a legendary clash between Floyd Mayweather and Connor McGregor.

Outside of matchmaking, the WBC has also revolutionized the officiating of the sport, cutting down the number of rounds in a match from 15 to 12 while also introducing a standing eight count. Finally, their commitment to protecting the safety of fighter lead to the creation of additional weight classes to curtail excessive weight cutting techniques employed by fighters to remain competitive at lower divisions. All in all, the WBC is stellar organizations with a rich and illustrious history that should continue to lead the way in the sport for many years to come.

WBC Rankings and Weight Classes

As of 2019, the WBC has 18 sanctioned weight classes in the men’s division. On the women’s side, 16 weight classes are sanctioned for competition. Like the WBA, the WBC employs a leaderboard system to rank top contenders form 1-15. However, unlike the WBC, the WBC has stood by its championship belt, opting not to award auxiliary belts to belt holders from outside associations. Instead, during periods of absence or inactivity from a champion, an interim belt can be awarded with an immediate fight being set with the incumbent champion at the earliest date.

That’s not to say there hasn’t been some invention within the association. The WBC has been forthcoming in its attempts to facilitate high-profile matches utilizing honorary championships to push through bouts to ease tension between fighters and promoters. Jiselle Salandy and Vitali Klitschko are two fighters who’ve been bestowed with a WBC Eternal Championship belt in their final bouts after historic careers.

Famous WBC Champions

If there ever was a catalog of matches and boxers to be in awe of, the WBC surely is the standard to be compared against. Boasting some of the greatest champions, most notably within the heavyweight division, here’s a list of fighters who’ve earned the rank of champion in the WBC:

  1. Mike Tyson
  2. Muhammad Ali
  3. George Foreman
  4. Joe Frazier
  5. Lennox Lewis

And the list goes on! Outside of the heavyweight division, the likes of Oscar De La Hoya, Canelo Alvarez and the legendary Sugar Ray Leonard have all held belts across a variety of divisions.

IBF – International Boxing Federation

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The International Boxing Federation, more commonly known as the IBF, was created in 1983 in a bid to reshape the United States Boxing Association for a global market. Like the WBA, boxing had surpassed regionally boundaries and become a truly global sport.

IBF Rankings and Weight Classes

As of 2019, the IBF has 17 sanctioned weight classes in the men’s division. On the women’s side, 17 weight classes are sanctioned for competition. In terms of its championship, the IBF has fared a lot better than both the WBA and WBC in maintaining the integrity of its belts. Employing strict oversight of champions within their purview, the IBF isn’t afraid to strip inactive champions of their belts in fear of weakening the competitiveness of their divisions. Most recently, Canelo Alvarez was forced to forfeit his IBF Middleweight belt after refusing to schedule a fight with his mandatory challenger within the division.

Famous IBF Champions

The first IBF champion was Martin Camel in 1984, but the organisation remained obscure in the early days until it recognised some of the other major organisations champions – such as Larry Holmes, Aaron Pryor, Donald Curry and Marvin Hagler – which enabled the IBF to ride on the tailcoat of the other organisations and champions until their own belts were treated with greater value. Indeed, in the case of Larry Holmes, he opted to relinquish his WBC title with the offer of receiving an IBF one. It was a bold move that quickly paid dividends for the organisation, who became the third biggest boxing organisation in the world in a short space of time. Britain’s IBF featherweight champion, Josh Warrington, is one of the biggest names in association currently, after winning the IBF title by beating fellow Brit Lee Selby in 2018, before also beating the likes of Carl Frampton and Kid Galahad in successive title defenses and an impressive unbeaten record of 29-0 in the fight against the latter.

WBO – World Boxing Organization

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Initially, a splinter organizations from the WBA, the World Boxing Organization, or the WBO, was created by a group of Dominican and Puerto Rican businessmen frustrated with the rule changes being enacted by the WBA in 1988. Understanding the value of celebrity in boxing, the WBO built its name from some of the greatest fighters in the early 90s. The likes Joe Calzaghe, Oscar De La Hoya and Wladimir Klitschko all held belts within the organizations. While the WBO does utilize Super Championship belts in some insistence, unlike the WBA, the titles are mostly considered honorary championships for a select group of fighters who fulfill certain qualifications. Furthermore, because the titles hold no significant merit within the division, fighters aren’t at risk of losing their titles to opponents in a loss. Current fighters to be award WBO Super Championships include Anthony Joshua, Oleksandr Usyk and Manny Pacquiao.

WBO Rankings and Weight Classes

As of 2019, the IBF has 17 sanctioned weight classes in the men’s division. On the women’s side, 17 weight classes are sanctioned for competition. Like the aforementioned organizations, the WBO ranks contenders in a leaderboard format that determines rankings while also facilitating matchmaking within the division. As mentioned above, forgoing a Super Championship belt has led to stability and continuity within the organizations. In times of absence, an interim belt is used to buy a champion time to recover from injury or purse bouts outside of the organizations.

Famous WBO Champions

Consider to be on the lower end of the “big 4” in terms of prestige, the WBO belt is still a crucial part of a unification attempt by any fighter. What it lacks in acclaim, it more than makes up for in excitement and entertainment. Currently, some of boxing’s biggest stars hold belts within the division. In the case of Vasly Lomachenko, the current number one pound-for-pound fighter in all of boxing, the WBO was where he first earned acclaim, winning his second belt at lightweight with a career-defining performance against the resilient Jose Pedraza.

Ever a rollercoaster, the heavyweight division has seen a few chaotic pendulum swings in the last five years. After Tyson Fury stripped Wladimir Klitschko of his belts in an upset for the ages, his subsequent step away from the sport left a vacant title up for grabs. After Joshua Parker defeated Andy Ruiz, yep, that Ruiz, Parker went on to lose the belt to Anthony Joshua who, yep, lost the belt to Andy Ruiz in Madison Square Garden this past June. Talk about drama!

What is The Ring Boxing Champion?

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Now that we’ve covered the four leading boxing associations within the sport, let’s quickly go over the Ring Boxing Championship. A leading publication within the boxing world, The Ring magazine has long been associated with the sport, stretching back to 1922. From its inception until the late 1990s, The Ring magazine regularly awarded world championships to fighters that met its requirements. After a brief hiatus, The Ring Championship returned to the boxing world in 2001.

The Ring championship is governed by a set of strict and somewhat odd policies that have limited exposure and acclaim of their belts. Governed by the magazine’s editorial board, The Ring Ratings are compiled by a group of journalists from across the world with their input and analysis determining the rankings of fighters and their eligibility to compete for a belt. For example, if a champion loses a fight in their weight class, outside of The Ring championships, he or she will immediately be stripped of their belt. Moreover, if a fighter changes weight class, doesn’t fight for 18 months, avoids top-level competition for a period of two years, they’ll forfeit their belt. Any suspensions or failed drug tests also result in an immediate forfeit of a belt.

A great example of the absurdity of their policies is clear in the welterweight division. Floyd Mayweather first became The Ring welterweight champion in 2006, holding on to the belt until his initial retirement in 2008. The title was vacant until 2013, when, once again, Floyd Mayweather claimed the belt. After retiring for a second time in 2015, as of writing this boxing guide, the belt has remained vacant since his absence. To fully crystallize the point, since 2006, Mayweather has been the only person to hold The Ring welterweight title, even though he’s been retired for nine of the 13 years.

The Lineal Championship

Initially a close relative of The Ring Championship – before merging for a period – The Lineal Championship was reintroduced in 2012 after The Ring enacted severe policy changes that limited the eligibility of countless fighters. Even so, The Ring is still considered the more prestigious of the two championships.

Oddly enough, for a time anyway, the Lineal Championship was thought to be a true world championship in the mold of boxing titles in the past. Considered a golden age at the time, before the invention of sanctioning bodies, humorously referred to as the alphabet soup (WBA, WBC, IBF, WBO), a Lineal Championship was awarded to one fighter in each division, thereby making them the undisputed champion of the world.

The word “Lineal” refers to the method of which the championship moved between fighters. Champions were to be decided in the ring without the interference of governing bodies, true to the core ethic of prizefighting.
Outside of match, the only way a champion could lose their belt was the following:

  1. If he/she is beaten in a contest within his weight class.
  2. If he/she formally retires.
  3. If he/she vacates his weight class.

Vacancies are rectified by the number one and two contenders of a weight division being drawn against each other for a championship match. Rankings are determined by an independent ranking organization to maintain the impartiality and integrity of the championship.
Now, quite a few vacancies are open for Lineal Championships, however, a few big names still lead the way with the likes of Mikey Garcia, Canelo Alvarez, and Guillermo Rigondeaux holding active titles.
While it may have lost some of its pedigree after the split from The Ring, the Lineal Championships is still a historic belt that any prized fighter would be fortunate to hold.