Other Professional Sports
OTHER PROFESSIONAL SPORTS
As important as professional team sports are in the United States, Americans' sports obsession extends well beyond them. Not every sports enthusiast is engrossed by the hoopla of Monday Night Football or the high-flying acrobatics of the National Basketball Association. Some fans prefer the quiet beauty of a perfect putt or the battle of wills that takes place across the Centre Court net at Wimbledon. Others are attracted to the blunt truth of boxing or the raw speed of the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR). This chapter considers several sports that fall below the top tier of U.S. sports in terms of audience or revenue but are nevertheless important components of the nation's professional sports culture.
Professional golf in the United States is coordinated by the Professional Golfers' Association (PGA) of America, a nonprofit organization that promotes the sport while enhancing golf's professional standards. The PGA of America (2007, http://www.pga.com/home/pgaofamerica/about-the-pga.cfm) states that in 2007 there were more than twenty-eight thousand PGA professionals in the United States, both men and women. However, most of these members were primarily golf instructors; only a small fraction compete in high-profile tournaments.
The PGA of America traces its roots to 1916, when a group of golf professionals and serious amateurs in the New York area got together at a luncheon sponsored by the department store magnate Rodman Wanamaker (1863–1928). The point of the meeting was to discuss forming a national organization to promote golf and elevate the occupation of golf professionals. The meeting led to the organization of the first PGA Championship tournament, which was played later that year. The PGA Championship has grown to become one of professional golf's four major championships, along with the British Open, the Masters, and the U.S. Open. Together, these four tournaments make up the unofficial Grand Slam of golf. (See Table 5.1.) Besides the PGA Championship, the PGA of America sponsors three other top golf events: the Senior PGA Championship; the Ryder Cup, which every two years pits a team of top American golfers against their European counterparts; and the PGA Grand Slam of Golf, an annual event in which the winners of the four major championships compete head to head. Besides these championships, the PGA of America also conducts about forty tournaments for PGA professionals.
However, while professional golfers in the United States are members of the PGA of America, most of the actual golf they play is under the auspices of other organizations. Worldwide, professional golf is organized into several regional tours, each of which usually holds a series of tournaments over the course of a season. There are approximately twenty of these tours around the world, each run by a national or regional PGA, or by an independent tour organization. Each tour has members who may compete in as many of its events as they want. Joining a tour usually requires that a golfer achieve some specified level of success, often by performing well in a qualifying tournament. A player can be a member of multiple tours.
The world's top tour by far, in terms of money and prestige, is the PGA Tour, which since 1968 has been a completely separate organizational entity from the PGA of America. In 2007 the PGA Tour (http://www.pgatour.com/r/schedule/) had forty-eight official events offering more than $280 million in total prize money. The PGA Tour organization also runs two other tours: the Champions Tour for golfers over age fifty; and the Nationwide Tour, a sort of minor league of professional golf.
The History of the PGA
According to the PGA Tour (2007, http://www.pgatour.com/company/pgatour_history.html), the first U.S.
|The Masters||Augusta, Georgia||April|
|U.S. Open||Location varies||June|
|British Open||Location varies||July|
|PGA Championship||Location varies||August|
Open took place in 1895 in Newport, Rhode Island. Ten professionals and one amateur competed in the event. The Western Open made its debut in Chicago, Illinois, four years later. Tournaments were initiated throughout the country at about this time, although there was no coordination or continuity among them. English players dominated the competition in U.S. tournaments. As interest in golf continued to grow, American players improved. Enthusiasm for the sport began to increase after John McDermott (1891–1971) became the first U.S.-born player to win the U.S. Open in 1911. By the 1920s professional golf had spread to the West Coast and southward to Florida, and the prize money was becoming substantial.
The PGA Tour was formally launched in late 1968, when the Tournament Players Division of the PGA broke away from the parent organization. The tour grew during the 1970s and 1980s, with its total annual revenue increasing from $3.9 million in 1974 to $229 million in 1993.
The Champions Tour
The Champions Tour, which is run by the PGA Tour organization, hosts thirty events each year in the United States and Canada for golfers at least fifty years old. The tour grew out of a highly successful 1978 event called the Legends of Golf, which featured two-member teams composed of some of the game's best-known former champions. Following on the success of the Legends event, the Senior PGA Tour was established in 1980, with two tournaments and $250,000 in prize money. The Senior Tour proved remarkably popular, as fans flocked to golf courses and tuned in on television to see legendary competitors such as Arnold Palmer (1929–) and Sam Snead (1912–2002) in action. Even though their playing skills may have diminished somewhat from the level of their prime playing years, the former champions proved popular with golf lovers across the country. At the start of the 2003 season the Senior Tour changed its name to the Champions Tour. The 2008 Champions Tour (2007, http://www.pgatour.com/2007/s/06/28/2008_schedule/index.html) offered total prize money of nearly $58 million over twenty-nine tournaments.
Most tournaments on the Champions Tour are played over three rounds (fifty-four holes) rather than the customary four rounds (seventy-two holes) typical of PGA tournaments. The five majors of the senior circuit are exceptions, because they are played over four rounds. The major tournaments of the Champions Tour are the Senior PGA Championship, the Senior Players Championship, the Senior British Open, the U.S. Senior Open, and The Tradition.
The Nationwide Tour
The Nationwide Tour is the developmental tour for the PGA Tour. Its players are professionals who have missed the criteria to get into the main tour by failing to score well enough in the PGA Tour's qualifying tournament, known as Qualifying School, or who have made it into the main tour but failed to win enough money to stay there. The Nationwide Tour gets its name from the company that bought the naming rights in 2003, the Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company of Columbus, Ohio. It was called the Nike Tour and the Buy.com Tour before that. When the tour was first launched in its original form in 1990, it was known as the Ben Hogan Tour.
In 2007 the Nationwide Tour (http://www.pgatour.com/h/schedule/) consisted of thirty-two events. Three of them were in Australia, New Zealand, and Panama, and the rest were in the United Sates. The prize money for Nationwide Tour events is typically about one-tenth that of a PGA Tour tournament, ranging from about $450,000 to $750,000.
The Nationwide Tour has proven to be an excellent feeder system for the PGA Tour. The PGA Tour reports in "Wilson Gets Nationwide Tour's 200th PGA Tour Win" (March 5, 2007, http://www.pgatour.com/2007/h/03/04/200_tour/index.html?eref=sitesearch) that Nationwide Tour alumni have won two hundred PGA Tour titles, including eleven major championships, as of 2007. A number of top players, including Ernie Els (1969–), David Duval (1971–), Jim Furyk (1970–), David Toms (1967–), and Stuart Appleby (1971–), played the Nationwide circuit before achieving success on the PGA Tour.
Other Men's Tours
As noted earlier, the PGA Tour is merely the biggest and richest of the world's many professional golf tours. There are many others around the world, some of which—such as the Nationwide Tour—prepare players for entry into the PGA Tour. In 1996 the International Federation of PGA Tours was formed by golf's five chief governing bodies around the world. As of 2007 the International Federation (http://www.worldgolfchampionships.com/wgcinfo/international/index.html) had six members: the PGA Tour (United States), the Asian Tour (Singapore), the Japan Golf Tour, the PGA European Tour, the PGA Tour of Australasia, and the Sunshine Tour (South Africa). Together, these tours sanction the Official World Golf Rankings.
The PGA European Tour, headquartered in England, is the premier professional golf tour in Europe and is second only to the PGA Tour in money and international prestige. The European tour was established by the British PGA, but in 1984 it became a separate entity, just as the PGA Tour became independent from the PGA of America in 1968. In 2006 the European Tour (2007, http://www.europeantour.com/) consisted of forty-nine tournaments in twenty-six countries, offering prize money totaling about $168 million (based on August 2007 exchange rates). Most of the top players on the European Tour, including Els, Retief Goosen (1969–), Sergio Garcia (1980–), and Padraig Harrington (1971–), are also members of the PGA Tour. Like the PGA Tour, the European Tour has a developmental tour, called the Challenge Tour, and a senior tour, called the European Seniors Tour.
The Japan Golf Tour is the third biggest professional men's tour (not counting senior tours) in terms of prize money available. However, prize money in the Japanese Tour has not kept pace with the growth of money in the PGA and European tours in recent years.
Performance in all the previously mentioned tours—the six International Federation members, plus the Nationwide and Challenge Tours—earns Official World Golf Ranking points. Other regional tours worth noting are the Tour de las Americas, which is seeking to be included in World Ranking calculations; the Indian Golf Tour; and the Hooters NGA Tour, which is the third-tier U.S.-based professional tour, below the Nationwide Tour in money and prestige.
Women's professional golf, like men's golf, is organized into several regional tours. The top tour for female professional golfers is the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA), which operates the LPGA Tour. Unlike the PGA Tour, the LPGA Tour and the LPGA are not distinct organizations. Both of these terms generally refer to the LPGA that is based in the United States. Internationally, there are other regional LPGAs and tours, including the LPGA of Japan, the LPGA of Korea, the Australian Ladies Professional Golf tour, and the Ladies European Tour.
Founded in 1950 by a group of thirteen golfers, the LPGA is the oldest continuing women's professional sports organization in the United States. It features the best female golfers from all over the world. The 2007 LPGA Tour (http://www.lpga.com/content_1.aspx?mid=0&pid=52) consisted of thirty-five events offering total prize money of over $54 million. Most LPGA Tour events take place in the United States. In 2007 there were also two events in Mexico and one each in Canada, Sweden, Japan, and Australia. Four LPGA tournaments are considered the tour's majors: the Kraft Nabisco Championship, McDonald's U.S. LPGA Championship Presented by Coca-Cola, the U.S. Women's Open, and the Ricoh Women's British Open (held jointly with the Ladies European Tour).
Besides the main tour, the LPGA also coordinates a developmental tour called the Duramed Futures Tour. The Futures Tour began in Florida in 1981 as the Tampa Bay Mini Tour but is now a national tour that functions as a feeder system for the LPGA, filling the same role as the Nationwide Tour does for the men. In 2007 the Duramed Futures Tour (http://www.duramedfuturestour.com/AboutUs.asp) featured a nineteen-tournament national schedule and a total purse of about $1.6 million.
In 2001 the LPGA created the Women's Senior Golf Tour for players over age forty-five. Its name was changed to the Legends Tour before the 2006 season. As of 2007 the Legends Tour had only six events.
The modern sport of tennis developed out of various games that involved hitting a ball with a racket or the hand dating back to ancient times. Lawn tennis was developed in 1873 in Wales by Walter C. Wingfield (1833–1912). It is based on the older sport of Real tennis (French for Royal tennis), which was itself based on earlier forms of racket sports. Tennis gained popularity across Great Britain, and the first world tennis championship was held just four years later at the All England Croquet Club at Wimbledon. This tournament evolved into the famous Wimbledon Championships, which remain the most prestigious tennis titles to this day. A women's championship was added at Wimbledon in 1884. Over the next several years, tennis spread across many parts of the British Empire, becoming especially popular in Australia.
Tennis arrived in the United States early on in this process. A tennis court was set up in Staten Island, New York, in about 1874. The first National Championship in the United States—for men only—was held in 1881 in Newport, Rhode Island. A women's championship was added six years later. The National Championship moved to Forest Hills, New York, in 1915, where it remained under various names for more than sixty years. Now known as the U.S. Open, the event has been held at the National Tennis Center in Flushing, New York, since 1978.
The Development of Professional Tennis
As tennis spread around the British empire early in the twentieth century, national federations were formed in countries where the sport caught on. These federations eventually joined forces to form the International Tennis Federation (ITF), which was the worldwide sanctioning authority for tennis. International competitions between national teams soon arose, the most important being the Davis Cup tournament, founded in 1900, and the Wightman Cup, an annual competition between women's teams from England and the United States, founded in 1923.
Most sports turned professional during the first half of the twentieth century, but tennis remained primarily an amateur endeavor, largely a pastime for wealthy country club members. By the late 1920s it became economically feasible for a top player to make a decent living on the professional tour, but it meant giving up the sport's most prestigious, amateur-only events, such as those at Wimbledon and Forest Hills. The move toward professionalism accelerated after Will T. Tilden II (1893–1953), the best player of his time and a winner of seven U.S. singles championships and three Wimbledon titles as an amateur, turned professional in 1931. Over the next few decades more and more top players trickled into the professional ranks, but the professional tour was not glamorous and the money was mediocre. The ITF fought hard against the professionalization of tennis. In 1968 the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club decided to open Wimbledon to professional players, thus ushering in the "open era" of tennis in which professional players are allowed to compete in the sport's biggest tournaments.
About this time women players became frustrated at the gender disparity in tennis prize money. Women winning a tournament often received a mere fraction of what the men's champion in the same tournament took home. In 1971 a women-only professional tour was formed to address these inequities. This new Virginia Slims Tour was an instant hit. It made Billie Jean King (1943–) the first woman athlete in any sport to earn more than $100,000 in a single year.
Men's Professional Tennis
Men's professional tennis is coordinated by the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP), which organizes the ATP Tour (the principal worldwide tennis tour), and the ITF, which coordinates international play including the Davis Cup and the Grand Slam tournaments. (See Table 5.2.) The ATP was originally formed in 1972 as a sort of trade union to protect the interests of male professional tennis players. The organization assumed its role as the chief coordinating body of the professional tour in 1990. The most important professional tennis tournaments are those that comprise tennis's Grand Slam: the Australian Open, the French Open, the U.S. Open, and Wimbledon. Only two men have ever won the Grand Slam of tennis: Don Budge (1915–2000) in 1938 and Rod Laver (1938–) in both 1962 and 1969. Total prize money for Wimbledon in 2007 was approximately $23 million, with the men's and ladies' singles champions each receiving a prize of $1.4
|Australian Open||Melbourne||Last fortnight of January|
|U.S. Open||Flushing Meadows, Queens, New York||August/September|
million (based on 2007 exchange rates; http://www.wimbledon.org/en_GB/about/guide/prizemoney.html). According to the U.S. Open (2007, http://www.usopen.org/en_US/about/history/prizemoney.html), the tournament offered a payout of $19.6 million, with possible bonuses bringing the total to about $22 million. The ATP also operates the Challenger Series, a second-tier professional circuit in which many top players have started their professional careers.
Women's Professional Tennis
Women's professional tennis is coordinated by the Women's Tennis Association (WTA, which is to the women's game what the ATP is to the men's game). The WTA runs the premier professional women's tour, which in 2005 became known as the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour. In 2007 the Sony Ericsson Tour (http://www.sonyericssonwtatour.com/3/thewtatour/) involved more than fourteen hundred players representing seventy-five nations and competing for $62 million in prize money at sixty-two events in thirty-five countries. Women also compete in the same four Grand Slam events, governed by the ITF, as do the men
The WTA was born in 1973, initially, like the ATP, as a professional organization to protect the interests of the players. The tour itself, which started out as the Virginia Slims Tour, was originally formed out of protest at the disparity between the prize money for men and women. At the dawn of the open era (1968), when professionals were first allowed to compete in Grand Slam tournaments, the male singles winner sometimes received as much as ten times what the female champion was paid. By 1980 more than 250 women were playing professionally all over the world in a tour consisting of forty-seven global events, offering a total $7.2 million in prize money. The tour remained under the governance of the Women's Tennis Council, an umbrella agency run by representatives from the ITF, the tournament promoters, and the players, into the 1990s. The WTA Tour in its current form was created in 1995 through the merger of the WTA Players Association and the Women's Tennis Council. Several sponsors have funded the tour over the years, including Colgate, Avon, Toyota, Kraft General Foods, and Sony Ericsson.
There are several different top-level auto-racing circuits in the United States, in which different kinds of cars race. The two most popular types of racecars are stock cars and open-wheeled racers. From the outside, stock cars essentially look like the regular cars that populate U.S. highways, only covered with corporate logos. Stock car racing is dominated by the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR). Open-wheel cars are single-seat vehicles with special aerodynamic features that allow them to travel at speeds well over two hundred miles per hour without flying off the track. Open-wheel racing is currently in a state of civil war between its two chief circuits, the Indy Racing League and the Champ Car Series. Another open-wheel circuit, Formula One Grand Prix, is dominant in Europe.
The largest sanctioning body of motor sports in the United States is NASCAR, which oversees a number of racing series, the largest among them being the NEXTEL Cup, the Busch Series, and the Craftsman Truck Series. In all, NASCAR (2007, http://www.nascar.com/races/cup/2007/data/schedule.html) sanctions more than fifteen races per year at more than one hundred different tracks in thirty-eight states, Mexico, and Canada. The article "NASCAR Evolution: Survival of the Fastest" (Sports Illustrated, February 19, 2007) notes that thirteen million NASCAR fans regularly fill twenty-two tracks in nineteen states and that licensed NASCAR products bring in $2.1 billion per year. Once merely a regional diversion in the South, NASCAR has exploded into a nationwide phenomenon, rivaling baseball for the number-two spot behind football for the hearts and viewing hours of American sports fans, though attendance and television viewership both slumped in 2006 after a decade of impressive growth.
Stock car racing evolved out of bootlegging in the rural South. Alcohol runners would modify their cars to make them faster and more maneuverable. It was natural for these drivers to start racing their souped-up autos against one another.
NASCAR was founded in 1948 by William France Sr. (1909–1992) and Ed Otto (1908–1986) as a way to organize, standardize, and promote racing of unmodified, or stock, cars for entertainment. The first NASCAR Strictly Stock race took place at North Carolina's Charlotte Speedway in June 1949. Over time, modifications were allowed into the sport, and by the mid-1960s only the bodies of the cars looked stock; the innards were specially built for speed.
NASCAR's rapid growth began in the 1970s, when R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company began to sponsor racing as a way to promote its products after they had been banned from television advertising. The top series, formerly known as the Grand National Series, became the Winston Cup. At about this time, television networks began to occasionally cover stock car racing. Columbia Broadcasting System's broadcast of the 1979 Daytona 500 was the first time a stock car race had been aired nationwide from start to finish.
In 2004 Nextel assumed sponsorship of the series formerly known as the Winston Cup. The Nextel Cup remains the most prominent and lucrative NASCAR racing series. That year, NASCAR established a new ten-race playoff system called the Chase for the Cup, in which the top ten drivers (according to NASCAR's point system) after twenty-six races compete for the series championship. In 2008 the Nextel Cup becomes the Sprint Cup Series to reflect the merger of Nextel Communications with the phone company Sprint.
The two major open-wheel series, the Indy Racing League (IRL) and the Champ Car Series, have been struggling since 2000, as millions of fans have flocked to stock car racing. The reasons for this are complex, but it is reasonable to attribute the situation in part to the acrimonious relationship between the IRL and the Champ Car. Neither has done well financially in recent years, although the success of the rookie Danica Patrick (1982–) breathed some life into IRL in 2005.
Indy Racing League
The IRL is the top circuit for single-seat, open-wheel racecars specially designed for high-speed racing on oval tracks. The IRL was formed in 1994 by a group of drivers breaking away from the Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART; now known as the Champ Car Series), which had coordinated Indy car racing since breaking away from the U.S. Auto Club (USAC) in 1979. The IRL consists of two series: the IndyCar Series, which is virtually synonymous with the IRL, and the Indy Pro Series, which functions as a developmental series for drivers aspiring to join the IndyCar circuit.
Before 1979 the term IndyCar was generically used to refer to cars racing in USAC events. By the 1980s IndyCar was a term commonly used to refer to CART, which by that time was the preeminent sanctioning body for open-wheel racing in the United States. The name "IndyCar" became the subject of fierce legal battles in the 1990s. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway, home of the Indianapolis 500, trademarked the name in 1992 and licensed it to CART, which in turn renamed its championship the IndyCar World Series. Two years later, Tony George (1959–), the president of the speedway, started his own racing series called the Indy Racing League. In 1996 CART sued to protect its right to continue using the IndyCar name. The speedway countered with its own suit. The two groups eventually reached a settlement in which CART agreed to stop using the IndyCar name after the 1996 season, and the IRL could start using it after the 2002 season. The IRL's premier series has been called the IRL IndyCar Series since the beginning of the 2003 season. The 2007 IndyCar Series (http://www.indycar.com/schedule/) featured sixteen races from March to September.
Champ Car Series
The USAC was formed in 1956 to take over coordination of the national driving championship from the American Automobile Association, which had launched the championship in 1909. The USAC controlled the championship until 1979, when a group of car owners formed the Championship Auto Racing Teams that they hoped would give them power in negotiations with the USAC over media contracts, race purses, promotion, and other issues. The two entities immediately clashed, and CART soon separated from the USAC to establish its own racing series. Most of the top teams defected from the USAC, and CART quickly became the dominant open-wheel racing circuit. The USAC held its last National Championship in 1979, before reluctantly handing the reins over to CART.
The IRL's split from CART threw open-wheel racing into a tailspin from which it has not yet recovered entirely. The rivalry may have helped pave the way for NASCAR's rise, as both competing organizations struggle for control over the sport's available pot of money. In 2003 CART declared bankruptcy, and its assets were liquidated and put up for sale. A group of CART car owners bought the company and opened the 2004 season under the new name Champ Car Series. Since 2005 Champ Car ran both the Champ Car World Series and the Champ Car Atlantic Championship, which functions as a developmental circuit for drivers trying to get into Champ Car. The Champ Car series (2007, http://www.champcarworldseries.com/Event/EventSchedule.asp?Year=2007) included sixteen races in 2007, which took place between April and December.
Boxing is unique among professional sports in that there is no nationwide commission that oversees it, no regular schedules, no seasons, and few universal rules. Every set of matches (called a card) is set up separately, usually by one of a handful of top-level boxing promoters. Each state has its own boxing commission with its own set of rules. Some state boxing commissions regulate the sport more rigorously than others, and the different governing organizations establish their own regulations. For example, variations exist regarding whether a boxer who has been knocked down can be "saved by the bell," whether a referee or a ringside physician has the authority to stop a match, and whether a match should automatically be stopped if a fighter is knocked down three times within one round.
Boxing matches in the United States consist of a maximum of twelve three-minute rounds with one minute of rest between rounds. Opponents in a fight must belong to the same weight class, with competitors being weighed before the fight to ensure that neither holds an unfair weight advantage. The three judges at ringside score the fight according to a ten-point must system; that is, each judge must award ten points to the winner of the round and fewer points to the loser of the round. Matches end in one of five ways:
- Knockout—one fighter is unable to return to his feet within ten seconds of a knockdown
- Technical knockout—a decision is made to stop the fight because one fighter is clearly losing
- Decision—the fight ends without a knockout or technical knockout and is won based on the scoring of the three judges at ringside
- Draw—the fight ends without a knockout or technical knockout, and the scorecards award each fighter the same number of points
- Disqualification—the fight is stopped because of a rule infraction on the part of one of the fighters
Unlike other professional sports, boxing does not use a playoff series or point system to name a champion. In fact, there is not necessarily even a consensus about who is the champion of any given weight class. Different champions are recognized by several competing boxing organizations. The most prominent boxing organizations are the World Boxing Association, the World Boxing Council, the World Boxing Organization, and the International Boxing Federation. A fighter may be recognized as champion in his weight class by more than one of these organizations at a time, or each may have a different champion at any given time. Some of the biggest boxing matches are unification bouts between champions recognized by two different sanctioning organizations, the winner walking away with both titles.
Because boxing competitions are often international in nature, it is difficult to gauge the size of the boxing industry in the United States. In "The Shame of Boxing" (Nation, November 12, 2001), Jack Newfield estimates professional boxing to be a $500-million-a-year business. Much of the money comes from cable television, where championship fights are usually broadcast on a pay-per-view basis.
Boxing has a long history of both glamour and corruption. It has inspired famous writers such as Norman Mailer (1923–2007), Albert Camus (1913–1960), Ernest Hemingway (1899–1961), and Joyce Carol Oates (1938–), and landmark films such as The Champ (1931), Body and Soul (1947), On the Waterfront (1954), Requiem for a Heavyweight (1962), Raging Bull (1980), Million Dollar Baby (2004), and the Rocky series (1976–2006). However, because the scoring system is complex and because the overall rankings often appear somewhat arbitrary, the sport has long been a tempting target for organized crime and others seeking illicit financial gain. Even in the twenty-first century bribery is thought to be rampant. Mysterious judging decisions and bizarre rankings are not at all rare. Boxing's reputation also suffers because of the sheer brutality of the sport. Fighters have sometimes died or suffered disabling brain trauma as a result of a particularly violent bout. Mike Tyson (1966–), a former heavyweight champ and convict, once bit off part of an opponent's ear in the ring. Newfield cites several cases of fixed fights, rigged rankings, cronyism, and instances of money being prioritized over safety.
World Boxing Association
The World Boxing Association (WBA; 2005, http://www.wbaonline.com/wba/History/wbahistory.asp) was the first sanctioning body of professional boxing. It was formed as the National Boxing Association (NBA) in 1921. The first NBA-sanctioned match was a heavyweight championship fight between Jack Dempsey (1895–1983) and Georges Carpentier (1894–1975). Brilliant and colorful champions such as Joe Louis (1914–1981) carried the WBA through the World War II (1939–1945) era. The dawn of television boosted the popularity of professional boxing in the 1950s. The sport's globalization during this period led the organization to change its name to the World Boxing Association in 1962.
World Boxing Council
The World Boxing Council (WBC; 2005, http://www.wbcboxing.com/WBCboxing/Portal/cfpages/contentmgr.cfm?docId=22&docTipo=1) was formed in 1963 by representatives of eleven countries (United States, Mexico, Venezuela, Panama, Peru, Brazil, Japan, Argentina, Spain, Great Britain, and the Philippines) and Puerto Rico. Its purpose, according to WBC founders, was to improve the standards of professional boxing, including the safety of fighters. Among the WBC's innovations was the 1983 shortening of world championship fights from fifteen to twelve rounds, a move that was eventually adopted by the other sanctioning organizations. In 2003 the WBC filed for bankruptcy in an attempt to avoid paying $30 million in damages from a lawsuit over questionable handling of title fight eligibility. The following year, the lawsuit was settled for a lesser amount, allowing the WBC to avoid having to disband and liquidate its assets.
International Boxing Federation
Herb Goldman, in "Boxing Bodies: A Brief Chronology and Rundown" (January 1998, http://www.ibroresearch.com/Boxing%20History/BOXING%20BODIES.htm), explains that the International Boxing Federation (IBF) was formed in 1983 by a group of WBA representatives upset with political machinations within that agency. Its creation was spearheaded by Robert W. Lee, the president of a smaller regional organization called the U.S. Boxing Association (USBA). The new group was originally called the IBFUSBA. In its first year of operation, the IBF remained fairly obscure. In 1984, however, the IBF decided to recognize as champions a number of high-profile fighters who were already established as other organizations' title holders, including Larry Holmes (1949–) and Marvin Hagler (1952–). When Holmes opted to relinquish his WBC title to accept the IBF's, it instantly gave the IBF the credibility it had previously lacked. The IBF's reputation took a major hit in 1999, when Lee was convicted on racketeering and other charges. It nevertheless remains one of professional boxing's major sanctioning bodies.
World Boxing Organization
The World Boxing Organization (WBO) was formed in 1988 by a group of Puerto Rican and Dominican businessmen disenchanted with what they perceived as illegitimate rules and rating systems within the WBA. The WBO's first championship fight was a junior welter-weight championship match between Héctor Camacho (1962–) and Ray Mancini (1961–). The WBO achieved a level of legitimacy comparable to that of the WBA, the WBC, and the IBF, largely thanks to its recognition as champions of many of the sport's best-known competitors. The WBO has also tended at times to provide more opportunities for non-U.S.-based fighters than the other organizations. Even though the WBO was formed out of protest against allegedly corrupt practices, it has certainly exhibited its share of inexplicable decisions that raise questions about the organization's integrity. In "New WBO Division: Dead Weight" (February 20, 2001, http://espn.go.com/boxing/columns/graham/1097210.html), Tim Graham notes that a particularly embarrassing example took place in 2001, when the WBO twice moved Darrin Morris (1966–2000) up in its super-middleweight rankings, even though he had fought only once in the past three years, and, more important, was dead.