The Disputed Light Heavyweight Champion of the World
By Steve Kim (September 26, 2002)
As of right now, Roy Jones holds the WBC, IBF, IBO, WBA, IBA and WBF title belts in the light heavyweight division. And there's no denying that Jones would be the prohibitive favorite against any other 175-pounder in the world today and one of the game's best fighters, pound-for-pound. But that doesn't make him the undisputed light heavyweight champion of the world.
That distinction could just as easily belong to current WBO titlist Dariusz Michalczewski.
Remember, it was 'the Tiger' who first won his WBO title in September of 1994 with a 12-round decision over Leeonzer Barber. Then after making nine successful defenses, he would take on Virgil Hill (who held the WBA and IBF belts after downing Henry Maske) in a unification tilt in November of 1996. He would soundly defeat 'Quicksilver' Hill in June of 1997 to hold the WBO, IBF and WBA belts simultaneously.
Michalczewski would have those belts for about 15 minutes before the machinations and the manuverings of the sanctioning bodies took over. Michalczewski, would be stripped by the WBA for having a WBO title belt and the IBF's top contender William Guthrie won a lawsuit requiring him to get a shot at the IBF title within 30 days. Michalczewski would quickly drop the IBF belt like a hot potato.
Regardless, it was clear at that point, that for all intents and purposes, it was Michalczewski that was the game's best light heavyweight. And it would be several months before Jones would step up from super middleweight.
Meanwhile, the titles that were taken away from him became fractured. In July of 1997, Guthrie would win the vacant IBF crown by stopping Darrin Allen in three rounds. Then two months later in September, Lou Del Valle would win the vacant WBA title by stopping Eddy Smulders in eight rounds.
In November of that year, Jones would begin his march to one of the most dubious and spurious 'undisputed title' reigns in the history of the game. He would down the ancient Mike McCallum -- 'the Bodysnather' was a natural jr. middleweight who was at least 5 years from his prime -- for the 'interim' WBC light heavyweight title. He did not gain full recognition from Jose Sulaiman's crew until Fabrice Tiozzo decided to move up to the cruiserweight division.
Of course he would vacate the WBC belt for an aborted fight with heavyweight Buster Douglas. In the meantime, Graciano Rocchigiani decisioned Michael Nunn in a close and controversial 12 rounder to win the WBC title in March of 1998. Of course, as you all know by now, the WBC basically stole the title away from 'Rocky' and re-installed Jones as their champion in June -- move that could cost the WBC millions of dollars and even more in terms of public perception and credibility.
>From there, Jones would set about unifying the division -- something Michalczewski had basically done a year earlier. In July of 1998, Del Valle, would face Jones in his first bout after winning his WBA title. Predictably, Jones easily out-boxed Del Valle over 12-rounds, despite being floored momentarily in their bout. The IBF belt was a bit more well-traveled, as Guthrie was brutally knocked out in his first defense by Reggie Johnson in February of 1998 in five stanzas. Johnson would then make two successful defenses against Will Taylor and Ole Klemetsen before facing Jones in June of 1999.
Jones would dominate Johnson with a dazzling display of speed and quickness and soon, he had the WBC, WBA and now, the IBF belts around his waist. In the subsequent years, he'd add some more hardware to his collection and earn universal acclaim as the undisputed light heavyweight champion.
One problem though, Jones never defeated the man that once held two of his major titles (IBF and WBA) and had never lost those titles in the ring.
That would be the aforementioned Michalczewski, who remains unbeaten in 47 professional bouts. But that's business as usual for the sanctioning bodies and Michalczewski and his promotional company seem more than happy to racking up relatively easy defenses of his WBO crown. But why isn't he wearing one of those sparking 'Ring Magazine' Championship belts? After all, he holds much more of a claim to the linear title(you know, the man who beat the man, and so on and so on) and he never lost those titles where it counts -- in the ring. Wasn't the 'Ring Championship' designed to protect fighters from these types of things? Why is Jones 'the Ring Champion'?
"Because he put together the three alphabet belts," explained Nigel Collins, the editor of The Ring magazine who was instrumental in instituting their championship policy. "When he unified the alphabet belts, we figured that was enough."
But didn't Michalczewski do that when he downed Hill?
"One of our problems was that when we were putting together our policy," continued Collins, "you could go back and you could find a bunch of weird stuff going on with a lot of the guys. And we just didn't want to get into doing anything retroactive. It would drive you absolutely nuts. Rocky Marciano would still be champ or something. It was too much, so we figured, ' Let's take it from this point forward' and at that time he already had the three belts, we said, 'OK, we'll make him the champ'."
If their policy was in place in 1997, Michalczewski "probably would have been The Ring Champion" says Collins. But he notes that he would have to check on the rankings of the fighters he defeated at that point to make a definitive statement. But if he was their champion, unlike the WBA and IBF, he would have never been stripped of his title.
"That's one of the beauties of our system," Collins, points out. "You don't have to worry about all that bulls__t. I mean, there are champions that abuse their position, that's a fact of life, but when you look at all the Byzantine situations that are created, when you begin stripping guys and order them to fight this guy and the other, it creates a situation that is far worse than having an occasional guy who ducks worthy contenders."
But it is ironic that Jones was awarded his title by 'The Ring', largely on the fact that Michalczewski was stripped of his titles.
"Every now and then we get a call or letter from somebody that says Dariusz Michalczewski should be the champion," says Collins. "First of all, it's retroactive and we're not gong to do that. But secondly, what I like about our policy is that it eliminates the necessity for the kind of story you're writing. It make it real simple, 'did you beat the champ?' If you didn't, you're not the champ. If there was no champ, 'did you meet the criteria that we've established?'"
Lucky for Jones, it wasn't in place a few years back. It seems he didn't beat the 'real' champ for any of his three major belts.