Hearn: WBC franchise title is ‘no good for boxing’

Eddie Hearn has become the latest high-profile boxing figure to come out against the WBC’s controversial ‘franchise champion’ title, saying “it is no good for the sport of boxing”.

The designation – so far handed to Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez at middlweight and Vasyl Lomachenko at lightweight – means the fighter in question no longer has to deal with mandatory title defences, and results in the interim champion being elevated to regular champion without actually winning the belt inside the ring.

There has been speculation that the WBC could soon use the designation for Tyson Fury (30-0-1) at heavyweight, allowing Dillian Whyte (27-1) to take the title after an eternity of waiting while Fury can then move on to a blockbusting showdown with fellow Briton Anthony Joshua (23-1).

Matchroom supremo Hearn though, who promotes both Joshua and Whyte as well as co-promoting the mandatory challenger for AJ’s WBO belt – Oleksandr Usyk – doesn’t want that scenario to happen.

He told Chris Mannix on the SI Boxing podcast: “I feel like when you have a big promotional company you’re always spinning plates. You make the AJ/Fury fight and it’s the biggest fight in boxing and it’s like ‘yes, you made it, great!’. And the next day it’s ‘you’re a disgrace to Dillian Whyte, Hearn, what are you gonna do?’. And people don’t realise the work that goes in behind the scenes for Dillian Whyte.

“Dillian Whyte has been terribly terribly done by over the last few years and I will say this – and this should give my honest view of the situation. Dillian Whyte should have priority over Anthony Joshua for fighting Tyson Fury next – I really believe that. He’s due to fight him by the end of February 2021. I’m happy for that fight to happen. I want Dillian to fight him. I’d rather it was Dillian versus AJ for the undisputed championship of the world.

“But ultimately, we need to make sure the WBC enforce that (Fury vs Whyte), we have to see that Deontay Wilder – who has been extremely quiet – does actually come out and take this rematch (the third fight against Fury, expected to take place later this year). And if he doesn’t, then Dillian Whyte should slot straight in. But I’m pushing the WBC to say by the end of February Tyson Fury must fight Dillian Whyte.”

Respected former HBO executive and promoter Lou DiBella in the past few days described the franchise championship as “horse****”, and Hearn’s own feelings on the matter are strongly informed by his very specific experience of its impact with lightweight star Devin Haney.

“Now, the problem we have is – and we saw this exact same situation with Devin Haney and Vasyl Lomachenko (at lightweight), and I feel like this is so wrong for boxing – I see Mauricio Sulaiman (WBC president) as a friend of mine, he’ll speak out if I do something wrong and I’ll do the same for him as well, the franchise championship is no good for the sport of boxing.

“When we were with Devin Haney, trying to fight for the WBC world title, we committed ourselves to that governing body. We paid the sanction fees, we moved up, we challenged for the regional belts, we challenged for the silver championship, we got ourselves in a final elimination fight, we took that final eliminator that was actually for the interim belt as well because Lomachenko was having the undisputed fight. And finally he (Haney) beats Zaur Abdullaev and he is the mandatory challenger for Vasyl Lomachenko.

“Now the fans get to find out if Devin Haney is the real deal. Two weeks later, at the convention, Top Rank requests that Vasyl Lomachenko be elevated to franchise champion. That gets approved, he’s untouchable. Devin Haney has done all this work – when you chase a great like Vasyl Lomachenko, you should be applauded by the fight fans.

“But how can you ever become great if when you get to the point where we can find out, it’s just ripped away from you. So in this instance, all of a sudden, Devin Haney becomes – via email really – the WBC world champion. He’s elevated from interim. Now he doesn’t want that – and we’re over the moon to be WBC world champion by the way – it’s an honour. But he wants to fight the champion, he wants to rip the belt, he wants to hear those words ‘and the new’.

“He (Haney) doesn’t want any question marks from fans – ‘yeah, you’re not a real world champion, you’re this, you’re that’. So it was disappointing in that respect and it’s the same for Dillian Whyte against Tyson Fury. I don’t want Fury to become world champion (franchise) and the WBC to elevate Dillian Whyte from interim world champion to world champion. ‘Cos he won’t ever feel like he’s beaten the world heavyweight champion, he’s become the heavyweight champion of the world.

“And by the way, I don’t want AJ to fight Fury for the franchise championship, because some people might then say it’s not undisputed. Keep it simple – as a champion you have mandatories. Anthony Joshua, has two mandatories right now – Kubrat Pulev (IBF), which he will deal with next, and Oleksandr Usyk (WBO)

“And we do have an issue with Oleksandr Usyk, he has to get his shot at the world heavyweight title – maybe AJ boxes him in the spring, anything is possible. But we can’t ignore the fact that the biggest fight in boxing is AJ against Fury, unquestionable, there’s nothing even close. So it’s our job collectively as a sport to make these kind of fights, and we can’t just let politics get in the way.

“But we mustn’t ignore people’s rights at the same time.”