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[ODDS and EVENS] The Dysfunctional State of Boxing as Naoya Inoue Plots Next Move

Should boxing superstar "Monster" Inoue fulfill the WBA's wishes and make a mandatory title defense against Murodjon Akhmadaliev or fight someone else instead?

With four major (and dueling) professional boxing organizations administering separate rankings and awarding separate title belts, nobody's really in charge. It's a dog-eat-dog world in and out of the ring. 

Exhibit A: the ongoing row surrounding who and when undisputed super bantamweight world champion Naoya Inoue will fight again.

The World Boxing Association has declared that Inoue must meet Uzbek fighter Murodjon Akhmadaliev, its No 1-ranked challenger in the weight division, in a mandatory title defense. A deadline of September 25 was set for Inoue.

In issuing this communique, the WBA delivered the following message to Inoue: Fight Akhmadaliev or lose your WBA belt.

Year after year, boxers, aided and abetted by their managers and promoters, ignore mandatory title defense ultimatums and arrange for fights against different opponents.

Again, remember that boxing has no centralized supreme authority. So it often makes sense from a chasing-dollars standpoint for high-profile boxers and their handlers to pick and choose fights based on how much money is involved in the deal.

Ohashi Boxing Gym president Hideyuki Ohashi underscored this point in his reaction to the WBA's recent demand that the 31-year-old Inoue (27-0, 24 knockouts) must fight Akhmadaliev by the aforementioned date.

"It doesn't matter if the WBA title is stripped away," Ohashi said on June 14, according to Kyodo News

Why did Ohashi say that?

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From left, Ohashi Boxing Gym president Hideyuki Ohashi, Naoya Inoue and Shingo Inoue, the boxer's father and coach, pose for photos on May 29. (©SANKEI)

Different Plans in Place for Boxing Superstar Inoue

"Monster" Inoue's handlers are arranging a fight against another foe. It is expected to be against Irishman TJ Doheny (26-4, 20 KOs), the No 2 super bantamweight in the World Boxing Organization's rankings. Doheny is also the International Boxing Federation's seventh-ranked super bantamweight, and he's ranked seventh by the World Boxing Council and eighth by the WBA.

Top Rank, Inc chief Bob Arum, whose organization and Ohashi Promotions collaborate to promote Inoue, outlined the plan in a recent interview with Boxing Scene.

Inoue would fight the 37-year-old Doheny (September 9 is listed as the target date, according to published reports) and then take on 25-year-old Australian Sam Goodman (18-0, eight KOs) in a December bout in Japan, the boxing mogul said.

For those keeping score at home, Goodman isn't among the top-10 ranked super bantamweights, but he's No 1 in both the IBF and WBO rankings and seventh on the WBC chart.

Based on his track record of success and exceptional all-around boxing skills, it's very likely that Inoue would beat both Doheny and Goodman to maintain his unbeaten record. And he's expected to move up to featherweight (57.15 kg, or 126 pounds) as early as 2025.

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Naoya Inoue, a four-division world champion in his illustrious career, is expected to move up to the featherweight division in the near future. (©SANKEI)

Prominent Boxing Observers Weigh in on the Issue

Odds and Evens reached out to several longtime journalists who've covered boxing for decades to glean some insights from them about the issue noted above. 

In short, I wanted to know if they agreed with what Ohashi said. My curiosity also revolved around the question of whether an undisputed world champ should consider having a title belt stripped from them in order to fight somebody else.

A trio of distinguished writers ― Mark Whicker, Wallace Matthews and Thomas Gerbasi ― responded to my inquiry via email before the deadline for this column.

"I'm not well-versed on Inoue's situation specifically but generally I think the great fighters transcend belts, and that he doesn't really risk any credibility by taking the fights he wants," wrote Whicker, who retired as an Orange County Register columnist in 2022 but now shares his views on sports in his Substack newsletter, "The Morning After."

As expected, Matthews, never one to mince his words, delivered a hard-hitting analysis in his reply.

"In the case of a fighter as good as Inoue, the sanctioning bodies are completely irrelevant," wrote Matthews, who was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, New York, on June 9. "No one cares what the WBA says or who it recognizes. If they strip him, he's still undefeated with a great KO record and still a monster. True boxing fans will disregard this and see it for what it is, an extortion attempt by a corrupt organization. If I was Inoue, I'd tell the WBA to pound sand."

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Gerbasi Blasts WBA for Making This Demand

And how did Gerbasi, whose prolific coverage of sport is featured on the Boxing Scene website and other media outlets, react to my email?

"Ohashi is correct. At this point in Inoue's career, the belts don't matter," Gerbasi insisted. "He will sell out arenas and captivate fans with or without them. Those are the perks of being the best fighter in the world. While Akhmadaliev is the more attractive fight, for the WBA to show up with this demand while he already has plans in place is ludicrous, but so on form for a sanctioning body."

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Decades before the era of four major sanctioning bodies, Sugar Ray Robinson (right) faces Jean Wanes in a middleweight bout in May 1951 in Zurich. (ETH-BIBLIOTHEK ZURICH, BILDARCHIV/CC BY-SA 4.0/via WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

A Brief History of Global Boxing Governing Bodies

So how did boxing get here? The WBA (founded in 1921 as the National Boxing Association), the WBC (established in 1963), the IBF (launched in 1983) and the WBO (started in 1988 ― though the last thing boxing needed was another alphabet soup governing body) have competing interests and agendas. Each of them can pretend it has the upper hand and controls how the fist-flying sport conducts business.

But that's as ridiculous a viewpoint as someone saying they have a remote control to dictate the timing of sunrises and sunsets.

As a result, nobody has the final say. So don't expect anything to change in boxing.

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Author: Ed Odeven

Find Ed on JAPAN Forward's dedicated website, SportsLook. Follow his [Japan Sports Notebook] on Sundays, [Odds and Evens] during the week, and X (formerly Twitter) @ed_odeven.

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