Boxing titles explained: How do championship belts work?
Here's everything you need to know about boxing titles, from the major sanctioning bodies to mandatory challengers and unification fights.
What is a championship belt?
In boxing, a belt is awarded to the champion of an individual weight class by one of the four major sanctioning bodies.
Belts change hands when one of those four organisations sanctions a title fight, in which the champion takes on a challenger.
Along with world titles, which are contested by the best fighters on the planet, belts are also awarded for lesser, more regional titles, such as the British champion and Commonwealth champion.
What are the major sanctioning bodies?
There are four major sanctioning bodies: the WBC, WBO, WBA and IBF. Each one has its own world title in every weight class.
Another belt is often awarded by The Ring magazine. The Ring belt is the most prestigious, as it is typically awarded only to the very best fighters who fulfil a rigid set of criteria, one of which is that they are the only champion in their weight class.
How many weight classes are there?
There are currently 18 weight classes that are recognised by major governing bodies, ranging from atomweight (7st 4lbs) all the way up to heavyweight (unlimited).
Some weight classes have different names depending on the governing body. For example, the 10st division is known as super lightweight by the WBA, but junior welterweight by the WBO.
What is a unification fight?
A unification fight is when two champions in a single weight class meet, with two or more world title belts on the line.
If any fighter holds more than one world title at a time they are recognised as a unified champion.
An undisputed champion is any fighter who holds all the world title belts in their weight class.
How do mandatory challengers and eliminators work?
A sanctioning body will often rule that the champion must take on a specific opponent. This fighter is known as a mandatory challenger.
If the champion turns down the fight, they are forced to vacate the title.
An eliminator is a fight that determines the next mandatory challenger. If a fighter wins a final eliminator, he is guaranteed a mandatory title shot.
Mandatories make it extremely difficult for champions to secure – and hold on to – multiple belts, as the governing bodies will rule that they must take on challengers at the top of the rankings, rather than other champions.
When will a fighter vacate a title?
An unwanted mandatory title fight is just one reason a champion might vacate his belt.
The most common reason for giving up a title is to move to another weight class. Champions will often decide to pursue fights in a higher division, as the heavier weight classes often present more lucrative opportunities.
Fighters might also give up their belts due to suspensions or injuries, which prevent them from defending the title.
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