A Quick Look at Whether Two Other Boxers in the Sport Today Could Possibly Negotiate Together Like the Klitschkos Do, or Whether Two Others in History Ever Could Have

Author’s Note: In light of the more recent successes of the Charlo brothers and in advance of the upcoming heavyweight championship bout between Anthony Joshua and Wladimir Klitschko, a re-post of this article that I originally published on 8 Count News.com in mid-2011.

Imagine if, after Lennox Lewis’ controversial draw with Evander Holyfield back on March 13, 1999, the two of them agreed that they would never fight each other ever again but instead use their collective market power to enter into joint agreements with other top heavyweight contenders whereby a given contender would be told, on two-months-notice, that they would either be facing Lewis for his belts, or Holyfield for his, depending on who was better positioned to take the fight at that time. As bizarre as that might sound, that is effectively what the Klitschkos are doing right now. This past week, top contender Tomasz Adamek and WBA World Heavyweight Champion David (Hayemaker) Haye learned which Klitschko they would be facing after previously signing agreements to face either one or the other in upcoming championship bouts. As far as Standing 8 Court can recall, no such similar agreements have ever been entered into in boxing history. While the Klitschkos’s situation appears unique on its face, however, their agreements with Adamek and Haye beg the question of how feasible it would have been at other times in boxing history, or how feasible it would be today, for two other world champions to successfully pursue similar deals. A quick look follows.

What if Lewis and Holyfield Made Such an Agreement?

Would Lewis and Holyfield have been able to enter into the above-contemplated agreement if they wanted to? Contractually, Lewis, Holyfield, and whomever they contracted with are free to enter into such an agreement. Why not as long as both heavyweight champions could have passed their pre-fight physicals? Odds are, however, that if the respective sanctioning bodies could not agree on one or two alternating top contenders to face Lewis and Holyfield, and threatened to strip them of their belts if they fought another body’s top contender instead of theirs, such an agreement would promptly fall apart. Further, the public outcry would have been unparalleled to anything ever seen in recent boxing history given the furor over their draw.

But why treat the Klitschkos differently? Two potential answers that come to mind: money and novelty. The heavyweight division is simply not what it was back in the late 1990s, when such attractive contenders as Riddick Bowe, Mike Tyson, Andrew Golota, David Tua, Ike Ibeabuchi, Shannon Briggs, and George Foreman were all campaigning and all capable of entering into interesting, lucrative fights with Lewis or Holyfield. With so many interesting potential match-ups, there was really no need back then for sanctioning bodies to stand for such arrangements. Today, the Klitschkos are plainly the biggest draws in the heavyweight division. Additionally, unlike the Klitschkos, who are brothers and reportedly decided not to face each other after a sparring session where one of them fell and broke his leg, Lewis and Holyfield had no excuse, familial or otherwise, to not have a rematch. While the Klitschkos might get a pass from the boxing public since they’re brothers, Lewis and Holyfield would have never gotten such similar compassion if they opted to never have a rematch with one another and instead colluded to sign joint agreements with the best available contenders yet leave the heavyweight championship in a fractured state.

From Super Six to Super Fix?

What if the eventual winner of the Showtime Super Six World Boxing Classic reaches an agreement with IBF Super Middleweight Champion Lucian Bute whereby they would never face each other, but instead one would face Mikkel Kessler and one would face Robert Stieglitz in their next fights, and continue on that way in future fights until one of them loses their title/s? While Kessler and Stieglitz are both worthy opponents, one would have to anticipate an uproar from the sanctioning bodies whose belts they hold if Kessler or Stieglitz did not meet their collective specifications, from Showtime for eviscerating the end goal of the Super Six, and from the boxing public who would want to see a bout to crown the undisputed super middleweight champion after all of the build-up. In sum, such an agreement by Bute and the eventual Super Six winner would be a horrid career move for them in the absence of any credible way to sell their decision to not face one another to the boxing world.

Lower profile past and current world champions than those hypothesized about would face similar logistical problems, as they would be forever plagued by both the individual needs of the sanctioning bodies whose titles they hold and the disgust by boxing insiders and fans at the prospect of two world titleholders mutually agreeing to keep the championship fractured. Enjoy the Klitschkos while they are on top, therefore, since here’s betting that there are no two other boxers in the world today, or that will emerge in the foreseeable future, who can pull off what they have done with Adamek and Haye without serious repercussions. Indeed, for this small moment in boxing history, the prospect of two dominant world champions in one world has been given a reasonable justification.

Please do not hesitate to contact the Law Offices of Paul S. Haberman LLC with questions on any legal, regulatory, or contractual issues that you may encounter in the combat sports world.