Let’s try to break down the complicated title history of exactly what is at stake in Saturday night’s boxing superfight. Saturday night’s boxing clash between Canelo Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin has a lot on the line. It’s a fight between the two top ranked Middleweights according to Ring Magazine, who puts Canelo as the division’s champion and Golovkin as the #1 contender. That same organization ranks GGG #2 pound for pound, Canelo #7. But one of the big selling points here is that it will crown the “true” champion at 160 pounds. In this era of multiple titles per weight class, what exactly is on the line here, and what does it mean? Let’s take a look:
IBF Middleweight Title – Golovkin holds this, having won it from David Lemieux in 2015. This is his 4th defense.
WBA (Super) Middlweight Title – This one is kind of confusing. Golovkin won an interim WBA title way back in 2010, and obviously has not lost it since. Within a few months of winning it, the belt was upgraded from Interim to Regular, then in 2014 it became the WBA Super title. WBA also has a regular MW champ – Hassan N’Dam. Why do they need two champions when Golovkin has always been super active? Because boxing. This is his 18th defense, depending how you want to count it.
WBC Middleweight Title – Again, Golovkin. He won an interim title from Marco Antonio Rubio in 2014, then was named full champion in 2016. He’s made 5 combined defenses of the interim and regular titles.
IBO Middleweight Title – Yep, Golovkin. Seeing a trend here? He won the vacant title way back in 2011 and has defended it 15 times. Fun fact: prior to GGG, the record for most defenses of this belt was 4.
Ring Magazine Middleweight Title – This is Canelo’s, and effectively mirrors the lineal title.
Lineal Title – This is the big one. It’s not a real, tangible belt, but it’s what really matters. This is the “man who beat the man” title. Due to various fighters retiring or leaving the division undefeated, you can’t trace it all the way back to the division’s early days, or even its 80’s glory days. But the current lineal lineage begins in 2001 with the then seemingly unstoppable Bernard Hopkins. His 2001 fight with Felix Trinidad was the Canelo/Golovkin of its day – the fight that would determine the undisputed #1 in the division. And it was Hopkins. Since then, the belt has changed hands 5 times, first when Hopkins lost to Jermaine Taylor, then to Kelly Pavlik, Sergio Martinez, Miguel Cotto, and finally, in 2015, to Canelo Alvarez. (Of note: Pavlik lost a fight to Hopkins while lineal champ, but it was at Light Heavyweight, so not relevant to this discussion.) Canelo is undefeated since, though he’s drawn a lot of scorn for refusing to fight at the actual Middleweight limit of 160 pounds. He’s had 3 fights since – Amir Khan at a 155 pound limit, Liam Smith at 154 pounds, and Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. at 164.5 pounds. This will actually be the lineal champion’s first fight at the true Middleweight limit EVER, as even the Cotto fight was at 155 pounds. Because of that, some choose to view the lineal title as vacant and to be decided Saturday night – your mileage may vary there.
So that is it. Saturday night’s winner walks away as the Lineal, Ring, WBC, WBA (Super), IBF, IBO Middleweight champion. He’ll also be just one title away from total unification, as the WBO title sits with England’s Billy Joe Saunders (who, interestingly, also fights on Saturday, taking on Willie Monroe, Jr.) How much does any of this matter? That depends on your take on the importance of the so-called alphabet titles. But one thing is certain – this fight will determine the best in the world at 160 pounds. Titles or no titles.