WBF President Howard Goldberg discusses the current state of boxing and ‘The Big Four’
Over the past weekend, World Boxing Federation (WBF) President Howard Goldberg took some time out of his busy schedule, and sat down to answer questions about the sanctioning body he has headed for six years now, and the sport of boxing in general.
While the World Boxing Federation was founded in 1988, it’s been just over six years since the WBF was reestablished and you took the reigns as president. How do you see the WBF´s development in those six years, and has the organization reached what you had hoped during that time?
I think the growth has been pleasing but much work still needs to be done. We have certainly become more global over this period opening up several new countries and definitely made many new friends.
Critics will say that multiple sanctioning bodies are bad for the sport of boxing. What do you have to say to those critics?
In a perfect world, the boxing purist would want one world champion per division. The reality is that world boxing is not controlled by one organization, such as in soccer, and is far more complicated. Therefore there are several sanctioning bodies, some taken more seriously than others, and some more professional and ethical than others.
What do you consider the biggest problems or concerns in professional boxing today?
Without doubt, the proliferation of titles within each of the sanctioning bodies. Some sanctioning bodies have three or four world champions in the same weight division which makes a complete mockery of the sport. Others create bizarre titles simply to earn a sanction fee.
Also the underhanded under-the-table handing over of money to some sanctioning bodies simply to get fighters rated is also scandalous, but we all know it happens. Also a new thing has arisen whereby certain debatable decisions by judges are now being overturned by some sanctioning bodies which is unacceptable from an ethical point of view.
Scoring of fights is always a contentious issue, but if a sanctioning body selects its judges, they need to stand by them – period! If a decision is controversial, the discussion of a rematch might well take place, but to overrule your own judges’ decisions is ludicrous.
I know you, and the WBF as a whole, preaches honesty and transparency as two of the things that sets you apart from other bodies. Obviously it is easier said than done, so how exactly is this practiced within the WBF?
I have always advocated transparency, ethics, morals and principles within the World Boxing Federation. We have kept the number of different titles down to a minimum. At all my weigh-in’s for title fights, no matter how big or small, I have opened them to the public to invite the public to learn the rules and understand the regulations. Everything within the WBF is completely transparent.
How does the WBF accomplish to be considered on the same level as “The Big Four” organizations?
We need to keep doing what we are doing and even do things better in the future. We need to continue growing and to show the world of boxing that moral and ethics can and should be prevalent in world boxing. We want to attract the top fighters to fight for our titles. This is happening, but too slowly for my liking if I’m honest.
Why do you think the “Big Four” organizations continue to be the most valued organizations, when at least a few of them continue to devalue their own titles by doing interim, regular, super, silver titles etc., and often act in ways that makes the average boxing fan shake his head in disbelief?
I think they are respected for the quality of their champions, but not for their behavior. I think the true boxing fans are getting irritated and frustrated at all these ridiculous titles. I have to give credit though to two of the four who I believe to be principled and ethical, and who are run by two really excellent people. I will let the readers be the judges of who the two are!
Boxers failing to make weight, and massive weight gain between the weigh-in and the fight, is a hot topic in boxing these days. What are your views on that, and would a check-weight on the day of a fight be something the WBF would consider?
It’s an interesting question and one which we have debated within the WBF. Personally, I don’t like the idea of a weigh-in on the day of the fight, and I would prefer boxers to have to start weighing-in three weeks before a fight and be within certain medically accepted parameters three weeks, then two weeks, then one week, then the day before the fight. Our chief medical man, the highly respected Dr. Adam Balogh, is busy on this issue at present.
Not too long ago, there was a case where your current female flyweight world champion Amira Hamzaoui won the title by decision over then-champion Raja Amasheh, only to see that it was later announced that the WBC (who also had a title on the line in the fight) and the German Boxing Federation (BDB) apparently changed the verdict to a No-Contest after Amasheh protested the result. However, the WBF maintained the original result and I believe there was a lawsuit. Can you clarify what the situation is now?
The lawsuit is between Ms. Hamzaoui and the BDB and it is pending in a German court. All I can say is, the WBF will never overrule its judges’ decision even if they are controversial. The minute judges’ decisions are overruled then boxing becomes a free-for-all where anything goes such as with certain sanctioning bodies. Controversy is part and parcel of world boxing, and sometimes boxing decisions will be controversial.
Onto another legal matter, is there any development at all in regards to the British Boxing Board of Control coming to terms with the fact that they are violating European trade laws by refusing to allow other sanctioning bodies other than the WBC, WBA, IBF, WBO and IBO to operate in the UK on BBBofC sanctioned shows? I believe this was something the WBF was arguing with the BBBofC about some time ago…
I wouldn’t say we were arguing with the BBBofC but rather that I sent a letter to them asking to meet and that I would fly to the UK at any convenient time to discuss the WBF with them. All I asked for was a simple meeting for me to introduce the new WBF to them. Sadly they didn’t even bother to reply which I felt was completely unprofessional and discourteous.
When members of the BBBofC sit in high positions on other sanctioning bodies, their views on other sanctioning bodies such as ours might certainly not be impartial. All we asked for a was a meeting and yet they couldn’t even grant that. No reasons were given why we were not allowed to work in the UK, and still to this time, they have been silent. It is pleasing from a moral perspective that they are being challenged at this time on certain issues.
Besides presiding over the WBF, what does Howard Goldberg enjoy doing? I know you used to work as a judge and referee, do you still do that?
I used to be a serious soccer player thirty years and thirty kilos ago. I also represented South Africa at chess although I don’t play competitively anymore. Professionally I was a teacher and headmaster years ago. I used to referee and judge in many world title fights.
Now occasionally I am asked to referee in charity events, which I do. In fact, in Germany next month, my good friend Francois Botha is ‘fighting’ against Uwe Hück of Porsche in a charity bout to raise money for children, and I have been roped in as the guest referee for this charity event. It’s all a bit of fun, and it’s for a good cause, and the WBF is always happy to be involved in events for charity.
What has been your most enjoyable moment as the WBF President? And what is the most enjoyable part of your job in general?
Boxing is in my blood. I have been involved in boxing for more than 40 years. Everything, both the enjoyable aspects and the frustrating aspects, of which there are many, is what I live for. I like to solve problems and I like success. I like to empower the team at the WBF to be professional and to do the best they can. I am also privileged to work with an executive which is honorable, professional, fun to be with, and who can calm me down when needed.
Being from South Africa, please give us your views on the state professional boxing in your country?
South Africa is probably the most complicated boxing country in the world. Politics, television and a few other areas have held South African boxing back over the past few years. Maladministration within Boxing South Africa (BSA) with several CEO’s being fired have not helped either.
Thank goodness BSA has a new Chairperson if the form of Ms. Ntambi Ravele who I respect completely. She has been instrumental in trying to change BSA from being a disgraced body to a respected one and she is succeeding.
Television has returned which has enabled promoters to start promoting once again. Having said that, boxing is still complicated and I guess only if you live in South Africa can you actually understand fully what I am saying.
But what is for sure, is that fighters from South Africa are undeniably on a par with the best in the world, and the top fighters can compete on any stage anywhere in the world.