The Big 4: Understanding Boxing’s Organizations

If you are not a hardcore boxing fan, chances are the abbreviations WBO, IBF, WBC, and WBA mean nothing. Even to the hardcore than the abbreviations of boxing’s four major organizations is still a very confusing topic to jump into. In this article we hope to explain a little bit and give a brief breakdown of each organization along with some of it’s champions.

A Brief History of the Sport

“The sweet science” as the art of boxing has been referred to, has been around for over 2,500 years. It was established as an Olympic sport in 688 BCE. The sport later evolved into “Prizefighting” in the early 16th century in England. In a couple hundred years, 1713, the first written rules for the sport of boxing would be developed. The next evolution in the sport’s history came in 1867 with the development of the Queensbury rules, written by English sportsman John Chambers.

On the state’s side, Louisiana actually held the first ever heavyweight championship bout under the Queensbury rules in New Orleans as “Gentleman” Jim Corbett defeated John L. Sullivan at the Pelican Athletic Club. Throughout the years since, boxing has development and reshaped its rules to become the sport we know it to be today. Over those years four major orgaizations have risen to the top to rule the sport of boxing. Here is each organization and what they mean to the sport right now.

Recognizing Champions Across Organizations

Each of the four organizations have their own champions in the multiple weight classes of boxing. Its is possible for a champion to hold the belt with multiple organizations. If a champion holds at least two of the four titles in their weight division among the Big 4, will recognize that champion as the “unified champion.” “Undisputed champion” is the term referred to a champion of three organizations in the same weight class while the term “super champion” is bestowed upon a fighter with all four major organization’s titles in a single weight class.


The WBA (World Boxing Association) began to sanction fights first of all the organizations in 1921 under the name National Boxing Association. The formerly NBA was created by thirteen state representatives who later changed the first word “National” to “World” after seeing a rise in the popularity of boxing world-wide. The current headquarters of the WBA is in Panama City, Panama along with Gilberto Mendoza Jr sitting at the organization’s president.

The WBA recognizes champions just a bit different than the way explained. The WBA will refer to any champion holding two or more titles in the same weight class as a “WBA Super World Champion” or “undisputed champion.” After defending the WBA title for five times, a champion will also earn the designation as being the WBA “super” champion. The “regular” title will become vacant and up for grabs. So the welterweight division, for example, could have a five-time defender earn the name WBA “super” welterweight title thus creating an opening for the “regular” WBA welterweight title. A couple examples of when a fighter earned the prefix “super” via the defend rule are Floyd Mayweather Jr, and Manny Pacquiao. The WBA also has guidelines that, which if are followed, will name a fighter the “WBA Super World Champion” and can be seen here.

Notable Current Champions

There are 17 weight classes with champions recognized by the WBA and some weight classes with interim champions as well. Arguably the sport’s pound for pound number one fighter, Vasyl Lomachenko, is considered an undisputed champion holding the WBA, WBO, WBC, and The Ring Magazine lightweight champion. Another current undisputed champion is in the heavyweight division, Andy Ruiz. Ruiz pulled off the upset defeating Anthony Joshua via round 7 TKO. With the victory, Ruiz became Mexico’s first heavyweight champion in the rich history of the sport in Mexico. The heavily anticipated rematch is set to take place in Saudi Arabia December 07, 2019.

Louisiana is represented in the WBA championship ranks with light welterweight champion Regis Prograis. On October 26, 2019 Prograis will battle Josh Taylor with multiple title implications between the two. One of the most popular boxers of this generation, Manny Pacquiao, at the age of 40 is a super champion and looks to face the winner of the upcoming Errol Spence Jr and Shawn Porter battle to hold all of the welterweight gold. Not to be left out, Canelo Alvarez is the current super middleweight champion. Alvarez is considered a pound for pound great and will challenge for the WBO light heavyweight title in November 2019.

Regis Prograis receiving his WBA in New York (image courtesy Marcelino Castillo)


The WBC (World Boxing Council) was established in 1963. Representatives from 11 countries met in Mexico City on invitation of President Adolfo Lopez Mateos. As of now the number of represented countries stands at 161. The current president of the WBC is Mauricio Sulaiman. As do the other top organizations, the WBC recognizes the legitimacy of the champions in the other Big 4 organizations.

Shawn Porter with the WBC welterweight title. (image courtesy @showtimeshawnp

Without a doubt the most iconic of the Big 4 title belts is the WBC green belt. The green belt had the flags of all 161 countries on it. It took some time but eventually WBC has allowed the green belt to be unified with other championship belts. WBC has been known to make specialty belt bouts. In 2017 the WBC reveled the “Money Belt” for the Floyd Mayweather Jr. vs Conor McGregor bout. The belt was made of Italian-made alligator leather with 3.3 pound of 24-karat gold, 3,360 diamonds, 600 sapphires, and 300 emeralds.

Floyd Mayweather Jr and Conor McGregor face-to-face on their world tour for the “one and done” WBC Money Belt (image courtesy Sporting News)

The WBC also has it’s own museum located in San Bernadino, California. The motto of the museum is, “Great fighters may retire, but their greatness lives on forever,” which was created by board member Eric Castillas. The free of charge entrance museum was created in 2008 and has memorbillia from fighters such as Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson, Roger Mayweather, and Lennox Lewis among many others.


The International Boxing Federation (IBF) was created in 1983 originally under the name of United States Boxing Association (USBA.) After Robert W. Lee lost the bid in 1983 to become the president of the WBA, Lee along with other members pulled out to organization the world’s third major boxing organization. The current president of the IBF is Daryl Peoples. Arguably, the IBF is the lowest regarded of the four major organizations due mostly to Lee’s arrest for racketeering among other crimes for taking bribes for higher rankings in 1999. The next year the charges of money laundering and tax evasion were added to Lee’s list of charges.

Errol Spence Jr. wearing the IBF welterweight championship. (image courtesy GMA Network)

Current Champions

The longest reigning of all the IBF champions is the junior bantamweight (115 lbs) champion Jerwin Ancajas. The Philapino striker won the title on September 03, 2016, over three years ago. In that time, he has defended the title seven times. The next longest raining champion is welterweight champion Errol Spence Jr who won his title on May 27, 2017.  Tevin Farmer, who is actually a right hander who boxes Southpaw, is the current IBF junior featherweight champion who won the title on August 03, 2018. In just a touch over a year in which he has held the title, Farmer has already defended the title four times.

Farmer (left) with the IBF title prior to the Farmer/Tennyson bout (image courtesy The Irish News)


The World Boxing Organization (WBO) is the youngest of the four major organizations, created in 1988. As with other organizations worldwide in the sport of boxing, a group of Dominican and Puerto Rican businessmen broke free from the WBA after disputes over potential rule changes at the annual meeting in Isla Margarita, Venezuela. Later that very same year, the WBO crowned their first champion in November 1988 in the form of Tommy Hearns who defeated James Kinchen in a majority decision.

Compared to the other newer organizations, the WBO struggled for recognition to be classified as a “big four.” Several times after a heavyweight won the WBO title, it would be vacated for other options. The smaller weight division are what really gave the WBO titles their recognition and clout. Naseem Hamed, for example, the WBO featherweight champion, defeated the reigning WBA, WBC, and IBF featherweight champion to unify all for organization’s title, adding serious consideration to the legitimacy of the WBO.

Current WBO welterweight champion and a pound for pound top 10 Terence Crawford with the WBO title (Image courtesy Mikey Williams/Top Rank)

A “Super Champion” in the World of WBO

All four organizations have slight variations in their wording for champions. In the WBO, the term “Super Champion” is granted to a fighter once they meet certain pre-set criteria. TH\he title of “Super Champion” cannot be lost to another fighter. The list can be seen here and many of the criteria set forth are very subjective, leaving it up to the committee to determine a fighter’s chance of being crowned a “Super Champion.” Some fighters who have earned this honor include current welterweight champion Terence Crawford, Manny Pacquaio, Timothy Bradley, and Vasilly Lomachenko among a handful of others.

Current Champions

The organization’s longest reigning champion is featherweight champion Oscar Valdez. Valdez won the title on July 23, 2016 by defeating Matia Rueda via second round TKO. Since then Valdez had defended the title six times including his most recent defense in July 2019 defeating American Jason Sanchez via unanimous decision. The aggressive undefeated fighter (26-0 19KOs) did not find out his bout with then undefeated fighter Rueda (26-0 23KOs) would be for the title until two days before the bout. Then champion Lomachenko vacated the title to stay at super featherweight. The WBO does not allow a fighter to be a simultaneous champion in two different weight classes. The fighter has 10 days to decided which weight class to stay in and must vacate the title of the other division.

WBO featherweight champion, Oscar Valdez (image courtesy Mikey Williams/Top Rank)

Arguably one of the best pound for pound fighters in the world, Terence Crawford, is the current WBO welterweight champion and has been since June 09, 2018. Crawford is currently undefeated (35-0 26KOs) winning his last four in a row by TKO/KO. Near the end of 2107, Crawford vacated the light welterweight title to move up in weight. The WBO named him the mandatory top contender for the welterweight title at the time held by Jeff Horn. The two met in June 2018 with Crawford winning via ninth round TKO.


Hopefully this very brief run-through of the boxing big 4 will serve as a learning piece to understand a bit when you hear all those acronyms thrown out the next time you watch a boxing bout. Make sure to tune into MMA Tribune because our boxing coverage will greatly pick up starting with the Errol Spence Jr and Shawn Porter welterweight title unification bout Saturday September 28, 2019.

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