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Carlos Toro's Boxing Newsletter (3/1/2022): Boxing's Response To Russia, TV Ratings, Josh Taylor's Future, More
How each major sanctioning body in boxing has responded to Russia's invasion in Ukraine and more.
Russia’s recent invasion of Ukraine and military attacks on the Ukrainian people has sparked a response from the powers that be in boxing, condemning Russia and its role in the ongoing conflict.
Over the weekend, boxing’s four major sanctioning bodies (WBA, WBC, WBO and IBF) issued a joint statement in response the invasion. Signed by the four presidents of each sanctioning body, they announced that they will no longer sanction fights in Russia until the matter is resolved.
The World of Boxing United for Immediate Peace
The four boxing governing organizations in the world join together to express their position with regards to the tragic war which is taking place as Russia has invaded Ukraine.
Just as the world claims for cease of fire, our organizations have decided to not sanction any boxing championships in Russia. Just as this war has put a stop of boxing in Ukraine, our organizations will not sanction fights in Russia until further assessment of the situation.
May God bless everyone and bring peace to our world.
Francisco Valcárcel (WBO President)
Daryl Peoples (IBF President)
Mauricio Sulaiman (WBC President)
Gilberto J. Mendoza (WBA President)
Although that is their joint stance on the matter at the time, some of the sanctioning bodies were left up to their own devices when it comes to additional sanctions.
At 11:33 a.m. ET on February 25, WBO President Francisco “Paco” Valcarcel tweeted that the sanctioning body is considering not sanctioning world and regional title bouts in Russia “and not including Russian boxers in its ranking for as long as the invasion of Ukraine lasts.”
The second half of the tweet created some confusion, leading many to believe that the WBO is considering removing all 16 Russian fighters across 10 weight classes out of its rankings. After I spoke with a WBO official asking for more clarity, Valcarcel meant not including any more fighters in its rankings moving forward until the conflict is resolved. This means that the 16 fighters, listed below, are presently not in danger of losing their WBO rankings.
- Evgeny Romanov (#10)
- Murat Gassiev (#1)
- Aleksai Papin (#8)
- Maxim Vlasov (#3)
- Ali Izmailov (#14)
- Aslambek Isigov (#4)
- Fedor Chudinov (#7)
- Artysh Lopsan (#12)
- Magomed Kurbanov (#2)
- Bakhram Murtazaliev (#3)
- David Avanesyan (#4)
- Zaur Abdullaev (#14)
- Ruslan Kamilov (#7)
- Mark Urvanov (#9)
- Albert Batyrgaziev (#15)
- Nikolai Potapov (#8)
Of course, things can always change in the future, but that is their present stance. The WBO would meet up on February 28 and officially vote on the two proposals that Valcarcel tweeted. The proposals were laid out as such:
1. Not to sanction regional and world title bouts in Russia until invasion ends.
2. Not to rank Russian fighters from the date of the invasion until it ends.
Barring any last minute changes in the intent and wording of the second proposal, that proposal refers to additional Russian fighters not being ranked until the invasion ends.
Both proposals were approved with one being a unanimous vote (save for one absentee vote) and the other being a majority vote.
The WBA took more direct and immediate measures in response to the invasion, though some were left unclear and vague. The sanctioning body also met on February 28 and announced nine total measures in response to the invasion, with Belarus also a part of these measures.
The World Boxing Association (WBA) in its support for peace and the cessation of Russia’s invasion in Ukraine held this Monday a directorate meeting in which they unanimously approved the following actions:
1. The WBA will exclude Russian and Belarusian boxers from the next ranking lists. The measure is temporary and will be reviewed month by month. Current world or regional champions will maintain their status, and this will also be subject to review by the respective Committee.
2. We reaffirm the non-sanctioning of world and/or regional bouts in Russia.
3. Russian and Belarusian officials will also be banned from participating in world and/or regional championship fights, according to a resolution from the WBA Executive Committee.
4. Russian fighters will not be allowed to enter the ring with their flag, their anthem will not be played and the country will not be named.
5. Promoters or teams of Russian boxers who violate this provision may be sanctioned.
6. WBA reserves the right to exclude from its rankings boxers who are in favor of the war.
7. All measures shall be applied to Belarus.
8. All managers, promoters, trainers affiliated to the World Boxing Association will, to the best of their ability, seek mediation mechanisms for peace.
9. WBA will launch a campaign for peace.
The WBA through its president Gilberto Jesus Mendoza and its directorate is committed to carry out all necessary actions to achieve peace.
The measures we are announcing today are provisional and of immediate effect. They may be amplified or suspended as the situation progresses.
The new WBA rankings, which were released to the public on March 1, made sweeping changes, some of which weren’t properly conveyed when it announced these measures.
For starters, nine fighters’ names were completely redacted from the latest rankings and they are simply named “Not Rated.” Those fighters are Arslanbek Makhmudov, Evgeny Tishchenko, Umar Salamov, Fedor Chudinov, Mikalai Vesialou, Magomed Kurbanov, David Avanesyan, Roman Andreev and Mark Urbanov).
In addition, all fighters from Russia and Belarus no longer have those countries next to their names on the rankings. Most are listed with no country, some have their country listed as “WBA.” Batyr Akhmedov is the lone exception with his country being changed from Russia in the January rankings to Uzbekistan in the new February rankings.
Although the WBA previously said world and regional champions keep their status as champion, regional champions don’t have their respective titles listed on the rankings as four fighters either have #nowar or #PEACE listed instead. Those titleholders are NABA heavyweight champion Arslanbek Makhmudov, WBA Gold super middleweight champion Fedor Chudinov, WBA Gold lightweight champion Roman Andreev and NABA featherweight champion Andranik Grigoryan.
Below are the full changes concerning Russian and Belarusian fighters in the WBA February rankings:
- Arslanbek Makhmudov (NABA Champion; Ranked #8, now listed as “Not Rated” with #nowar added and no country listed)
- Aleksei Egorov (Ranked #2, with #PEACE added and WBA listed as country)
- Evgeny Tishchenko (Previously ranked #15, now ranked #14 as “Not Rated” with #nowar added and no country listed)
- Dmitry Bivol (WBA Champion, with #nowar added and WBA listed as country)
- Umar Salamov (Ranked #13, now listed as “Not Rated” with #nowar added and no country listed)
- Fedor Chudinov (WBA Gold Champion; Ranked #2, now listed as “Not Rated” with #nowar added and no country listed)
- Magomed Madiev (Previously ranked #3, now unranked after loss to Felix Cash, who is now #15)
- Mikalai Vesialou (Ranked #11, now listed as “Not Rated” with #nowar added and no country listed)
- Magomed Kurbanov (Ranked #6, now listed as “Not Rated” with #nowar added and no country listed)
- Radzhab Butaev (WBA “Regular” Champion, with #nowar added and WBA listed as country)
- David Avanesyan (Ranked #12, now listed as “Not Rated” with #nowar added and no country listed)
- Batyr Akhmedov (Ranked #5, country changed from Russia to Uzbekistan)
- Roman Andreev (WBA Gold Champion; Ranked #7, now listed as “Not Rated” with #nowar added and no country listed)
- Zapir Rasulov (Previously ranked #15, now unranked)
- Mark Urbanov (Previously ranked #3, now ranked #11 after loss to Angel Rodriguez, who is now #3; Urbanov listed as “Not Rated” with #nowar added and no country listed)
- Andranik Grigoryan (NABA Featherweight Champion; Ranked #8, with #PEACE added and WBA listed as country)
- Mikhail Aloyan (Previously ranked #15, now unranked)
It should be noted that Russian and Belarusian WBA champions, both at a world and regional level, can still defend their titles and that the overall matter will be reviewed on a month-to-month basis.
As if that wasn’t enough, the WBC, WBO and IBF issued an additional joint statement saying that it “will not certify any championship fights involving boxers from Russia and Belarus.”
The WBC, WBO and IBF join the sports world in an urgent plea to cease fire and end the war in Ukraine, with the invasion from Russia.
Effective today, our organizations will not certify any championship fights involving boxers from Russia and Belarus. We will constantly monitor ongoing developments, hoping this situation is resolved soon, to reestablish normal life and activity.
The boxing world is united for peace, the sports world is united for peace and reject any form of war. Innocent lives are being lost and soldiers are dying from Ukraine and Russia.
May God help to bring peace to our world.
The wording of the statement could leave plenty up to interpretation. Does this mean that Russian and Belarusian fighters can’t challenge for any titles, either regional or world level belts? How does this affect unified WBC and IBF light heavyweight champion Artur Beterbiev, who is Russian and hopes to unify titles with WBO titlist Joe Smith Jr. later this year? What makes things so unclear is that the statements given by these sanctioning bodies in recent days have been somewhat vague.
While the parts of not sanctioning fights in Russia are made abundantly clear, what’s not clear are statements like the WBA wanting to “launch a campaign for peace.” There’s also the latest statement from the WBC, WBO and IBF regarding “certifying boxers” from Russia and Belarus. Is it a similar stance the WBO where no additional fighters from those countries can challenge for titles and that current beltholders are safe? It’s hard to imagine the above statement meaning that none of Beterbiev’s future fights will no longer be title bouts (and there’s a chance a three-belt unification with Smith would proceed as planned if it does get made), but no one outside of the can say that with 100 percent certainty unless there is full transparency on what they mean.
It’s evident that this is a delicate situation and boxing is nowhere near anyone’s top priority when it comes to Russia and Ukraine. Boxing had to issue some kind of statement condemning the awful measures Russia has taken against Ukraine and their initial stance of no longer sanctioning fights in Russia seemed completely fine. However, further statements seem to be targeting fighters, but not the countries themselves.
It’s not the first time something like this has happened. The WBC didn’t recognize boxing activities in South Africa from 1975 to 1992, due to apartheid. In 2022, more countries could receive similar treatment by the sanctioning bodies like Belarus, depending on how they progress.
The issue here is that there is no best answer on how to go about this if you’re a sanctioning body that everyone can agree on. The hope is that this situation can be resolved soon, but no one can adequately predict when that is. With the addition of Belarusian boxing into the sanctioning bodies’ decree on the matter, it opens the possibility of more countries being affected if they also join the conflict.
It’s unlikely that we’ve seen the last of the sanctioning bodies when it comes to announcing their stance on the Russia-Ukraine conflicts. If that’s the case, there may be a shift, whether big or small, in how professional boxing in Eastern Europe is looked at by some of the sport’s most important figures.
Boxing TV Ratings Through February 2022:
The first two months of 2022 have passed and there are some notable boxing television viewership figures to go over.
ESPN’s first Top Rank card of the year, which took place on January 15, averaged 460,000 viewers over the course of its 107-minute broadcast. The card also drew a 0.12 rating in the 18-49 demo, which was good for 27th best among original cable telecasts for the day. The card also drew 150,000 viewers in the 18-49 demo as well as a 0.26 household rating. This card was headlined by Joe Smith Jr.’s latest WBO light heavyweight title defense against Steve Geffrard.
Two weeks later, Top Rank’s second ESPN-televised card saw a noticeable improvement in terms of viewership and ratings. The January 29 card, headlined by Xavier Martinez vs. Robson Conceicao, averaged 539,000 viewers and a 0.15 rating in the 18-49 demo, good for 17th-best on cable for the day. The card also drew 197,000 viewers in the 18-49 demo and a 0.31 household rating.
The PBC on FOX TV card that served as a lead-in to the Keith Thurman vs. Mario Barrios pay-per-view on February 5 finished with an average viewership number of 963,000 (it drew 249,000 viewers in the 18-49 demographic) for the two-hour block, easily beating out past PPV prelim cards on FOX. The show also drew a 0.59 household rating, including a 0.19 rating in the 18-49 demo. Looking at the past few cards that are pay-per-view prelims on FOX shows how much better the Thurman vs. Barrios prelim card drew:
Luis Ortiz vs. Charles Martin (January 1, 2022): 730,000 viewers
Manny Pacquiao vs. Yordenis Ugas (August 21, 2021): 459,000 viewers
Andy Ruiz Jr. Chris Arreola (May 1, 2021): 636,000 viewers
In addition, the last time a pay-per-view prelim card on FOX drew these kinds of numbers was back in July 2019, which was a card that served as the lead-in to Manny Pacquiao vs. Keith Thurman.
PBC on FOX has had hits and misses when it comes to drawing high viewership for its cards since the pandemic, but the Thurman vs. Barrios prelims did better than most cards that took place since COVID-19 shut down boxing. Including this one, there have been 18 cards televised on FOX and only five of them (Vito Mielnick Jr. vs. Nicholas DeLomba, Anthony Dirrell vs. Kyrone Davis, Caleb Plant vs. Caleb Truax, Luis Ortiz vs. Alexander Flores, Yordenis Ugas vs. Abel Ramos) drew a higher viewership number.
The two-hour card on February 5 had two excellent fights in the form of Omar Juarez vs. Ryan Karl and Abel Ramos vs. Luke Santamaria. Juarez scored a split decision victory over Karl after a furious rally from Karl while Santamaria scored an upset win over Ramos by unanimous decision.
Showtime has only had two cards this year so far as part of its “Showtime Championship Boxing” series and the viewership figures are somewhat similar to what they were the year prior. The only real noticeable improvement was in the January cards where this year’s main event (Gary Russell Jr. vs. Mark Magsayo) averaged more than 300,000 viewers, a feat that no fight on Showtime was able to produce in either January or February of 2021 and 2022.
Keep in mind that the Showtime viewership listed are mainly for lineal television and not on its app, so the total viewership is obviously going to be bigger.
The January 22, 2022 card was headlined by the aforementioned Russell vs. Magsayo, with the rest of the undercard failing to average more than 150,000 viewers. However, the January 2021 card, headlined by Angelo Leo vs. Stephen Fulton Jr., didn’t have a single fight average more than 200,000 viewers. By that measure, Showtime Championship Boxing this year is off to a slightly better start.
January 22, 2022 Showtime Championship Boxing Viewership By Fight:
Tugstsogt Nyambayar vs. Sakaria Lukas: 127,000 viewers, 0.03 rating in 18-49 demo
Subriel Matias vs. Petros Ananyan: 150,000 viewers, 0.03 rating in 18-49 demo
Gary Russell Jr. vs. Mark Magsayo: 324,000 viewers, 0.06 rating in 18-49 demo
February 26, 2022 Showtime Championship Boxing Viewership By Fight:
Chris Colbert vs. Hector Garcia: 253,000 viewers, 0.05 rating in 18-49 demo
Gary Antuanne Russell vs. Viktor Postol: 270,000 viewers, 0.05 rating in 18-49 demo
Jerwin Ancajas vs. Fernando Martinez: 243,000 viewers, 0.04 rating in 18-49 demo
In other ratings news, Boxxer announced that the February 5 card on Sky Sports drew an average viewership of 585,000 with a peak viewership of 1.05 million over in the United Kingdom. According to Boxxer, this broke the previous in-home viewing record on Sky Sports that was previously held by Anthony Joshua vs. Gary Cornish back in 2015 as well as Amir Khan vs. Samuel Vargas back in 2018.
The card on Boxxer, which aired in the United States as a $30 pay-per-view, saw Chris Eubank Jr. defeat Liam Williams by unanimous decision after dropping Williams four times in the bout. Also, the card featured Claressa Shields defeating Ema Kozin in a unified middleweight title bout and the pro debut of Caroline Dubois.
What’s Next For Josh Taylor & His Junior Middleweight Titles:
The aftermath of Josh Taylor’s controversial split decision win over Jack Catterall on February 26 has left many wondering what is next for the undisputed junior welterweight champion.
One thing that is apparent is that Taylor’s days at junior welterweight are numbered, with a move to welterweight happening at some point in the somewhat near future. This leaves the future of the four junior welterweight titles he possesses (WBA, WBC, WBO and IBF) up in the air.
If and when Taylor moves up in weight and vacates all of his titles, that could mean as many as eight different boxers in position to fight for those soon-to-be vacant belts. Figuring out who are the likeliest to fight for those belts isn’t as tough a task as one would think.
Catterall was Taylor’s mandatory for the WBO title, but there are other mandatory challengers either waiting in the wings or on the verge of putting themselves in position to become mandatory challengers.
The WBA has Alberto Puello, who previously held the organization’s interim belt at junior welterweight, slotted as the top contender for Taylor’s WBA title. If the title were to be vacated today, Puello would likely be ordered to fight the next highest ranked available contender (for the sake of the hypothetical, let’s assume everyone is available). In the WBA’s case, that would be Ismael Barroso. Should either fighter be unable to fight, the next-highest ranked fighter in the rankings would be Ohara Davies, followed by Sandor Martin.
The IBF also has a clearer road to crowning a potential new champion should Taylor vacate that belt as well. That fight would be Subriel Matias and Jeremias Ponce, who occupy the IBF’s top two spots at 140 pounds. Each won title eliminators in the past and so those two are likely to be ordered to fight at some point, whether it’s as a final eliminator, an interim title, or for a vacant world title. The next highest-ranked fighters in the IBF rankings are Liam Para and Shohjahon Ergashev.
In the cases of the WBC and WBO, it’s not entirely clear, at least not as of this writing. The WBC already has Jose Zepeda slotted in as the No. 1 boxer in its rankings, so his title shot is practically secured one way or another. It’s this weekend’s Top Rank on ESPN main event between Jose Ramirez and Jose Pedraza that is one to watch.
The fight is a title eliminator for the WBC, meaning the winner will more than likely be ranked No. 2. Ramirez is already No. 2 as of this writing in the rankings and Pedraza is No. 10 (really No. 8 given that Catterall and Viktor Postol are ranked No. 8 and 9, respectively, and lost on February 26). One fighter to watch out here is Regis Prograis, who is ranked No. 3. Prograis is scheduled to fight Tyrone McKenna later this month and he could be a factor if the No. 2 spot opens up.
As for the WBO, there is no real way to figure out who gets to fight for the title if it becomes vacant. Due to the controversial nature of the scorecards in Catterall’s loss to Taylor, the WBO could keep him at No. 1 and declare that he is owed another title shot. If the title were to be vacated and Catterall is given another shot, the next highest-ranked available contender would be Liam Paro, who is No. 2, followed by No. 3 Teofimo Lopez. If the title is vacant and Catterall is not among the two fighters competing for it, Lopez vs. Paro would be the next step.
Of course, all of this is hypothetical and things can change in the coming weeks. No one knows if and when Taylor moves up to welterweight and vacates his titles, meaning the potential fights mentioned above could be different.
There is always the possibility that Taylor gives it one last go at junior welterweight before calling it a day and makes one last title defense. If we’re to go by who would be next on the mandatory title rotation, that would be Puello of the WBA.
The other thing to note when Taylor moves up in weight is his first title shot. Taylor is currently the WBO “Super Champion” at junior welterweight, which is not to be mistaken for the WBA “Super” title it has. The WBO version of it is a special distinction given to certain WBO champions who fulfilled a set criteria. The key thing for Taylor as “Super Champion” is his ability to become the mandatory challenger for the WBO title in the next weight up or down. In this case, it would be welterweight, where Terence Crawford reigns as WBO champion.
It’s not a new phenomenon as several fighters in past years have done the same thing. Oleksandr Usyk became the mandatory challenger for the WBO heavyweight title after his run as undisputed cruiserweight champion. Claressa Shields actually moved down to junior middleweight and challenged for that WBO title after she became undisputed champion at middleweight. Then-flyweight champion Kosei Tanaka moved up to super flyweight and became the mandatory challenger for the WBO super flyweight title. Crawford was actually undisputed champion at junior middleweight and he used his status as “Super Champion” to become the mandatory challenger to the WBO welterweight title held by Jeff Horn at the time.
Usyk, Shields and Crawford were all successful in winning the WBO title they challenged after being named “Super Champion” with Tanaka being the only one who did not win the WBO title in their championship challenge.
Taylor can move up to be the No. 1 fighter in the WBO rankings at welterweight, but he won’t get that fight immediately. Crawford’s last fight took place in November 2021 against Shawn Porter in what was a mandatory title defense. As Crawford is a “Super Champion,” he also gets more time between mandatory title defenses, it being up to 18 months. This means Crawford doesn’t have to fulfill his mandatory title defense until May 2023.