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A Boxing Enthusiast’s Guide to Understanding Boxing Titles

by Albert Guardado Jr.

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Strawweight, welterweight, heavyweight champion ... it seems like there are lots of boxing titles out there. Did you ever wonder where these came from? The titles are derived from the different weight classes and sanctioning bodies within the sport. Here is what it all means. 

We all know or at least suspect that in order to come even close to being a boxing champion, you need to train hard and learn from boxing certified professionals during years of training. 

In order to make all of that boxing training pay off, rules and regulations are set in place to ensure a fair fight and allow boxers to showcase their talents safely. Let’s take a look at the rationale behind weight classes, and then we will get into the major sanctioning bodies in boxing and the titles they award. 

The Need for Weight Divisions

man's feet on a weight scale

Boxing is a martial art like any other. Boxers train their technique, speed, and strength, yet a boxing match focuses on testing technique more than any other variable. In order to determine which fighter has the superior level of technique, boxers’ physical attributes are matched up as closely as possible. While there is variance in height that makes a difference in boxing, it’s uncommon to see a 6-foot boxer in the 145-pound class, for example, so weight classes seem to be a fair way to match the fighters up.

The power of a boxer’s punch is the result of his or her weight, technique, and muscle mass. In order to encourage fair fights, boxers have been divided into weight classes for the last 100 years or so. By matching up boxers with similar weight, we can see a true test of their technique as opposed to watching a much larger opponent dominate a match. Weight divisions remain constant across most of the sanctioning bodies, with a few rare exceptions.

The Main Sanctioning Bodies in Pro Boxing

boxing champions fighting

Sanctioning bodies create and enforce rules and standards of conduct in and outside of the ring for boxers. Their purpose is to create order among what can be a relatively chaotic sport. There are four main governing bodies in the sport of boxing recognized by the International Boxing Hall of Fame. 

World Boxing Association (WBA)

The WBA is the oldest of the sanctioning bodies. The WBA was founded in 1921 as the National Boxing Association. In 1962, the association changed its name to the World Boxing Association after gaining worldwide recognition and adding members from other countries. With a majority of the voters being from Latin American countries, the WBA headquarters found its home in Panama City, Panama.

The WBA sanctions title bouts for both men and women. Given the WBA’s international nature, the top-ranked contenders truly earn their titles as “world champions.”

International Boxing Federation (IBF)

The IBF started out as a smaller operation dubbed the United States Boxing Association. In 1983, the president of the USBA, Bob Lee, lost an election for president of the WBA. He later removed himself from the WBA and sought to introduce his own world-wide organization, and the IBF was born.

In its infancy, the IBF was not recognized. Just a year later, the IBF recognized several belt holders from other organizations as IBF champions. When Larry Holmes relinquished his WBC title to acknowledge his IBF title, that put IBF on the radar. In December of 2017, the IBF extended its sanctioning into Muay Thai events as well. Their top-ranked contenders are noted as world champions.

World Boxing Council (WBC)

The WBC was formed in 1963 and is a worldwide organization. The WBC sanctions bouts in 161 countries. The WBC has several classes of titles. The “world championship” title is given to the top-ranked contender in the weight class. Their “silver title” is awarded to the interim champion. Their “diamond championship” is an honorary championship awarded to the winner of a high-profile bout. Finally, “eternal” championships are awarded to title holders who never lost a match. 

World Boxing Organization (WBO)

The World Boxing Organization was formed in 1988 after a dispute regarding what rules should be applied in the WBA. The WBO is headquartered in Puerto Rico, but it sanctions events worldwide. The organization had a rough start in the U.S. but was welcomed in Europe. Today, the WBO is widely accepted as one of the four main sanctioning bodies and has produced many notable champions. Their top-ranked contenders are deemed world champions. 

The Road to the Title

boxing champion belt close up

There is no cut and dried formula for deciding who is the champion and who is the top contender, but it’s safe to say that it requires a lot of rigorous training and hard work. You need to train constantly, every day, as well as go on specialized boxing training camps. To obtain a title shot, boxers must work their way up through the ranks.

The sanctioning bodies will publish monthly rankings, with the champion at the top spot. Boxers move through the rankings by fighting tougher opponents and winning. A boxer’s rank depends on his win-loss record, the caliber of opponents that he has faced, and how decisive his victories have been.

Boxers must move through the ranks and become the number-one contender to earn a title shot. The champion is required to defend his or her title consistently. Generally, at the very least, he or she must defend it once a year. If several contenders are deserving of a title shot, the contenders will square off against each other and the victor will then face the champion. 

If the contender has enough training under his or her belt and defeats the champion, he or she will then dethrone the champion and claim the title. The new champion must defend his or her title, and the cycle continues. Boxing is a lot like life; if you become complacent, the next person is out there working harder than you to kick your butt! Keep your guard up! 

To keep up with Alberto’s work, follow his activity at CombatBrands.

Want to start training as a boxer yourself? The best way to learn is by attending a boxing camp for beginners. This way, a master can oversee your first steps and get you going on the right path. 

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