Tarver to take on Johnson on Saturday

There will be an interesting subplot going on when Antonio Tarver and Glen Johnson hook up Saturday at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

The bout, which will be televised live on HBO, will determine who is the best light heavyweight in the world, but the belt that the winner will take home will not belong to a sanctioning body, it will belong to a magazine.

Tarver, 22-0, with 18 knockouts, and Johnson, 41-9-2 (28), respectively disposed of their WBC and IBF straps and will meet instead for the belt offered by THE RING magazine.

THE RING does not recognize the sport's various sanctioning bodies, such as the WBC, WBA, IBF and WBO, but the merits of the boxers instead.

"Titles are won and lost in the ring," said Nigel Collins, in his second reign as editor-in-chief at THE RING, which was founded in Feb. 1922 by Nat Fleischer. "Tarver knocked out Roy Jones (who had unified the light heavyweight championship). How could anybody believe anyone else is the world champion?"

Apparently the WBC and IBF.

Although the 36-year-old Tarver knocked out Jones in May, the WBC said it would strip Tarver if he fought Johnson instead of its No. 1 contender and mandatory challenger, Paul Briggs, 23-1 (17), of Australia.

And even though the 35-year-old Johnson, of Miami via Jamaica, knocked Jones completely unconscious in the ninth round of their September tilt, the IBF threatened to strip Johnson if he fought Tarver instead of its No. 1 contender and mandatory challenger, Rico Hoye, 18-0 (14), of Detroit.

According to Johnson, who was reached on his cell phone Monday, the whole issue came down to dollars and sense. Unlike the sanctioning bodies, THE RING doesn't charge the boxers a sanctioning fee when they compete for a belt. Its sole purpose is to recognize the best boxer in the world and provide him with a belt that is not bedecked with an acronym.

"I believe it (fighting for THE RING's belt and recognition as the recognized world champion) is a great idea," Johnson said. "It's the best idea out there. Everybody else in boxing wants money. There's always somebody trying to make money off the fighters. THE RING isn't looking for a payoff. That's really rare in the business."

In addition to Tarver, THE RING recognizes seven other world champions out of the 17 weight divisions, including heavyweight champion Vitali Klitschko, who gave his endorsement to "The Bible of Boxing" after his eighth-round stoppage of Danny Williams on Saturday.

The other six champions recognized by THE RING include Bernard Hopkins (160 pounds), Winky Wright (154), Cory Spinks (147), Kostya Tszyu (140), Jose Luis Castillo (135) and Manny Pacquiao (126).

Because of the unwillingness of the various champions (or their promoters) to meet each other, there are still nine championship vacancies according to THE RING.

"Part of our philosophy on our championship policy is that the best matchmaker is the marketplace," Collins said. "The WBC wanted Paul Briggs and the IBF wanted Rico Hoye (to fight for its belts). HBO wanted the two fighters that knocked out Jones to get together. Which is the more attractive fight?"

And what could possibly make more sense than the light heavyweight division's recognized champion (Tarver) fighting its No.1 contender (Johnson)? Collins said this common sense philosophy would eliminate any confusion as to who is a champion.

"There's only one world, so there can be only one champion," Collins said. "It's not rocket science. How many people can tell you how many champions there are? There's only one Super Bowl, not three world champions. There's only one Wimbledon champion. It (should be) the same with boxing. That's what we're trying to do."

Rocket science, no. Sweet Science, yes. Championship vacancies are filled by winning a box-off between THE RING's No.1 and No. 2 contenders, or, in certain circumstances, a box-off between its No. 1 and No. 3 contenders.

Unlike what happened to Kostya Tszyu, who was stripped of his WBC and WBA belts at 140 pounds while he was out with injuries, a RING champion relinquishes his belt only if he retires, moves to another weight division, or is defeated in the ring.

The trend is catching on. Shortly after bringing home to Reno the IBF cruiserweight belt in May, "Koncrete" Kelvin Davis said he wanted to unify the title and own THE RING belt.

Collins said it's a no-lose situation for the fans and the fighters.

"People who pay the bill are the boxing consumers," Collins said. "They deserve the best fights for their money. They pay to see fighters, not belts. And fighters should earn the most money they can."

Tarver and Johnson will receive more money for facing each other than they would've had they faced Briggs and Hoye, respectively.

"The bottom line is my family and myself," Johnson said. "I have three kids and a beautiful fiancée. I have a larger extended family that is too plentiful to think about how many there are in it. Everybody wants to make money."

Collins said that includes some unsavory characters.

"There is a lot of corruption in boxing," Collins said. "Promoters, managers - these people work with other corrupt people. They don't want an honest champion. They've been successful manipulating championships, having three or four per weight class."

Collins said many media types have yet to offer support to THE RING's honorable endeavor, but that it can count ESPN, USA Today's Dan Rafael and, to some extent, HBO as its allies.

Whether Tarver or Johnson wins on Saturday, the real winners could end up being THE RING and boxing fans everywhere that are tired of being fed the same old rotten cheese by the Alphabet Boys.

One world. One champion. That's how it was when boxing began. One world. One champion. It's time for history to repeat itself.


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