LAS VEGAS - Mauricio Sulaiman is pleased with the number of top-level fights that continue to come out of the lightweight division.
Not quite as entertaining to the longtime WBC president are the inquiries demanding he clear up the mess his sanctioning body has created at the championship level.
Earlier this month in Las Vegas saw three claimants to the WBC lightweight throne all under one roof—WBC lightweight titlist Devin Haney, interim titlist Joseph ‘JoJo’ Diaz and “Franchise” champion George Kambosos, the latter who also serves as the lineal/WBA “Super”/IBF/WBO champ. Haney helped reduce the number of physical titles in circulation following his twelve-round, unanimous decision win over Diaz (32-2-1, 15KOs) in their DAZN main event on December 4 at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
Sydney’s Kambosos (20-0, 10KOs) was on hand to scout the fight while also working portions of the DAZN commentary. Sulaiman attended the fight as well, though merely to enjoy a night of boxing and not dwell on the confusion created by continuing to refer to both Haney and Kambosos as WBC champions.
“I’m not going to entertain that question," Sulaiman told BoxingScene.com and other reporters in his best effort to deflect from the criticism of how the “Franchise” champion designation has been misused. "I’m very proud of Devin Haney. I’m very proud of JoJo. It was a very entertaining fight. The story is that they are great fighters, great champions. A fight between Kambosos and Haney would be tremendous. To ruin the story of a great fight in a great division with great activity with something that is hypothetical, I just don’t understand it.
“It was a tremendous fight. They both went all out to entertain and hurt each other. It was just a tremendous fight.”
Haney (27-0, 15KOs) stepped up his game, finding a complimentary style in Diaz to deliver his most entertaining performance to date as a reigning titlist spanning four defenses over more than two years. The unbeaten 23-year-old has held the WBC title since October 2019, receiving an upgrade from his interim lightweight title status upon then-WBC/WBA/WBO titlist Vasiliy Lomachenko (15-2, 11KOs) receiving the “Franchise” title—in name only—in exchange for the physical belt he briefly owned.
The original concept behind the “Franchise” designation was to allow its claimants the freedom to enter meaningful fights without the restriction of mandatory title defenses. It was also supposed to be non-transferrable, meaning that it could not be won or lost in the ring.
To the surprise of nobody, the WBC altered its own rules beginning with Lomachenko’s scheduled October 2020 unification clash with then-IBF champ Teofimo Lopez (16-1, 12KOs).
Top Rank placed a request during the 2020 WBC convention last summer for Lopez to receive the “Franchise” designation should he beat Lomachenko. The official basis for the claim was Lopez’s in-ring accomplishments as a 2016 Olympian for Honduras and—with a win over Lomachenko—a multi-belt titlist. The real motivation, however, was to market Lomachenko-Lopez as an undisputed championship fight without either having to face Haney.
The issue grew once the WBC joined in on the charade. Lopez has repeatedly been referred to by the sanctioning body as the “undisputed lightweight champion” while simultaneously recognizing Haney as the WBC lightweight champion. The same trend continued following Kambosos’ upset win over Lopez this past November 27 at Madison Square Garden’s Hulu Theater in New York City.
Whereas others see an issue in need of resolution, the WBC sees an increase in quality fights.
“The WBC introduced a new concept. The problem is people don’t try to analyze and understand something,” insisted Sulaiman. “The reality is that the 'Franchise' designation is giving the lightweight division unbelievable activity. Now it is leading to Kambosos-Haney, a great showdown. I’m very proud of both of them.
"It causes confusion. Of course, it causes confusion because everybody has resistance to change. We had Lomachenko-Lopez. Lopez-Kambosos. Haney-(Yuriorkis) Gamboa. Haney-(Jorge) Linares. (Ryan) Garcia-(Luke) Campbell. [Haney-Diaz] was a tremendous fight. I will take that route. Great activity, we’re seeing the best boxing division which is lightweight.”
To their credit, Kambosos and Haney have expressed a willingness to settle the matter in the ring. Further to his credit, Kambosos has settled for the distinction of being the division’s lineal champion and new king in town in lieu of recognition as undisputed champion.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox