Most people have no problem getting to grips with the rules of boxing – but when it comes to the titles, it’s a different story. There are so many different competitions, federations and belts that it’s easy to find yourself completely lost.
What’s more, the number of belts seems to be increasing all the time, as new governing bodies pop up and create their own competitions. How can a casual fan stay on top of it all?
But don’t worry. Help is at hand! We’ve compiled a list of the most important belts that you should know about.
Major World Titles
Who’s the world champion? Well, that depends on who you ask. The four major world titles are bestowed by the WBA (World Boxing Association), WBC (World Boxing Council), IBF (International Boxing Federation) and WBO (World Boxing Organisation).
The WBC belt is probably the most famous, purely for aesthetic reasons, but all four awards are seen as being on a par with one another.
To add further confusion, some organisations have different categories of champion – regular, super and interim. The WBA is particularly notorious for this, sometimes declaring three separate world champions at the same time. This can lead to some complex situations, as the interim and regular champions – despite theoretically being of a lower level than the super champion – go about “defending” their belts. There have been some attempts to change this, to keep the number of so-called world champions to a minimum.
Other World Titles
Think four world champions is enough? Think again! The four major world titles are the most prestigious, but they’re far from the only belts available. A number of smaller organisations award their own world championship belts.
The IBO (International Boxing Organisation) is the most important of these bodies. Individually, its matches don’t get much attention, but its world champion title is often used for unification, allowing boxers to add another belt to their jewellery cabinet. Big-name fights, like the match-up between Anthony Joshua and Wladimir Klitschko, could result in the IBO moving up in the rankings and joining the majors – but the jury’s still out on that one.
Aside from the IBO, there are some other small bodies that are largely unrecognised. These include the WBF (World Boxing Federation), GBU (Global Boxing Union) and UBO (Universal Boxing Federation). They may offer world championship titles, but few in the world of boxing take them seriously.
Honorary and Commemorative Belts
By now, you’ve probably figured out that not all belts are awarded equally. That’s particularly true when it comes to commemorative belts. The WBC offers several other belts, the most famous of which is the Diamond. It gets awarded to the winner of significant, historic fights between high-profile boxers. The Diamond belt does not require a fighter to defend it.
The WBC also gives the eternal champion title to a fighter who retires undefeated without having lost a world title. Vitali Klitschko was awarded this title after successfully defending the WBC heavyweight title ten times.
The WBC is particularly noted for creating extra belts. In 2017, it introduced the Adolfo Lopez Mateos belt to celebrate Mexican heritage in a fight between top Mexican fighters Canelo Alvarez and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.
There are dozens of other belts which could fit into this category – the BoxRec #1 belt, bestowed by the BoxRec website on the top-ranked fighter, is just one example.
Just like world championships, there are plenty of rankings titles up for grabs.
The most prestigious are those affiliated with one of the four major governing bodies, which guarantee the winner a place in the Top 15. These include the WBO European and Oriental, as well as the Inter-Continental, International and North American regional belts.
Below these, there are belts which don’t guarantee a spot in the rankings, but they do offer a stepping stone to fighters working their way up. The Youth World title, WBC International Silver, WBO Oceania and IBF East/West Europe all fit into this category.
There are a number of other rankings titles affiliated with smaller organisations. Quality varies, and there is less prestige attached to winning them.
The EBU (European Boxing Union) is often seen as the most elite of the European organisations. It offers three major belts in Europe: the Europe title, the EU title, and the External Europe title for boxers from non-EU countries. The EBU’s rankings, published monthly, are affiliated with the WBC.
Although there are other European belts available, we don’t see the same situation as in the world championships. Rather than having numerous awards seen as being on the same level, the EBU is generally viewed as the most prestigious and important and attracts a much better quality of boxer than other European titles.
The other options within Europe include the WBO European title, and the IBF East/West Europe belt. Winning the WBO belt is more important for a boxer’s career, as it results in a guaranteed spot in the WBO Top 15. The IBF title doesn’t have any such reward.
Belts in the UK are governed by the BBBoC (British Boxing Board of Control). There is a clear hierarchy, starting with the Area titles, which divides the country into different regions. Northern, Central, Midlands, Southern, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish titles are up for grabs at this level.
Beyond that, there’s the more prestigious English title which, unsurprisingly, is for English fighters. Boxers from the rest of the country can fight for the Celtic title. This is not limited to the UK: fighters registered with Ireland’s BUI can also compete.
Finally, the most elite British title is the Lord Lonsdale belt. Usually, fighters will have to have won at least one eliminator to challenge this title, which is fought over 12 rounds instead of 10 like the rest of the BBBoC’s belts.
There are also belts offered by the British Promoters Association. These are not exactly prestigious, but they are often used as a stepping stone for talented boxers trying to break into more elite competitions.
The Commonwealth Belt
In years gone by, the unique rainbow-coloured Commonwealth Belt, awarded by the Commonwealth Boxing Council, was seen as a particularly elite prize and a step above the Lord Lonsdale belt.
This has changed recently, though. Nowadays, the Commonwealth Belt is not on a par with the British championship, but it still attracts good fighters looking for another piece of arm candy for the collection.
Ireland may be a small nation, but boxing is big news there. The BUI (Boxing Union of Ireland) awards the title, which is fought over 10 rounds. Eligible fighters must have fought in at least an eight-round contest beforehand.
On their way to the Irish championship, many fighters compete for one of the minor belts on offer. The BUI has the Celtic belt, while Boxing Ireland Promotions has its own Celtic Nations title.
These belts are open to fighters of Celtic origin, so boxers who compete are not only Irish – they can also be Welsh, Scottish, Cornish, Manx, or from the historic Celtic nations of Brittany in France or Galicia in Spain.
The American system is divided along state lines. Each state has its own belt. Prestige can vary wildly, depending on how popular boxing is in any given area. Boxing isn’t the crowd-pleaser it once was in the US, and state championships rarely draw huge crowds these days.
Of course, this is just an overview. There are thousands of boxing belts in the world of sport today, with wildly varying levels of skill required to get hold of them – and more are introduced every year!