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WBA working to reduce number of titles

The WBA stripped Floyd Mayweather of his welterweight and junior middleweight titles. Esther Lin/Showtime

Can it be? Might it be? Is the WBA actually going to do the right thing? Going to do something that makes sense? Going to do something -- gulp -- that is good for boxing?

Now I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself, but at the moment it seems as though the answer is yes. I say that very gently.

Anyone who has read my work will know that I have had issues with the WBA for years -- the organization that recently had a deceased boxer in its rankings for several months.

My main issue has been that the WBA crowns up to four titleholders in the same weight class -- super, regular, unified and interim -- seemingly only for the sake of generating more sanction fees. Some fighters and promoters are all too happy to go along with it too.

It’s enough to drive me, and others, crazy because whatever short-term gain there might be for the few individuals who benefit from all the extra belts, I’ve never thought it was worth the long-term damage to whatever credibility was left in the sport. It just smacked of stupidity to have more than one titleholder in the same organization in the same division.

Over the years, I have had many arguments with WBA president Gilberto Mendoza Jr., whom I like personally, even if we probably couldn’t agree that grass is green and the sky is blue.

But maybe, just maybe, we are entering a new era with the WBA. I said maybe, but in the spirit of being a good sport, I will give Mendoza -- who was recently promoted to WBA president because his father, longtime president Gilberto Mendoza Sr., is terminally ill and stepped down -- the benefit of the doubt and say it looks as though we are.

The elimination of multiple world titles in the same division will not happen overnight. I get that but Mendoza has told me personally that he is going to reduce the number of titles. I will take him at his word until proven otherwise.

“I am working to reduce the titles,” Mendoza told me on Tuesday. “At first some promoters [might] complain. I just tell them it is my final decision. They would have to live with it.”

So far, so good. When the new WBA ratings came out this week, Floyd Mayweather, the WBA’s “super champion” at junior middleweight and welterweight, had finally been removed from the list of titleholders and his belts vacated. It’s about time, considering he retired more than four months ago.

With Mayweather out of the title picture -- although he can have a crack at either belt right away should he return, and I have no problem with that -- that means Keith Thurman is the organization’s top welterweight titlist and Erislandy Lara is the top junior middleweight titleholder.

There are still interim titleholders in both divisions (Jack Culcay at 154 and David Avanesyan at147), but Mendoza told me Thurman and Lara will not be “elevated” to “super champion” status and the interim titleholders will not be reclassified as “regular” titleholders.

Further, Mendoza said he would eventually order Thurman and Lara to fight the interim titleholders in mandatory defenses, which would reduce the number of titleholders in those two weight classes to one each. Amazing.

Mendoza also laid out plans to get down to one titleholder in the heavyweight division, in which the WBA currently recognizes three.

Tyson Fury is the “super champion” (and the lineal champ) based on his Nov. 28 upset of Wladimir Klitschko, Ruslan Chagaev is the “regular” titleholder and big puncher Luis Ortiz is the interim titlist.

Chagaev is already scheduled to face Lucas Browne in a defense on March 5. The winner must next face Fres Oquendo, as ordered by the outcome of Oquendo’s lawsuit in United States federal court. That is one side of the so-called bracket.

On the other side, Fury and Klitschko will meet again in the late spring or summer.

“When Klitschko and Fury met the first time, there was a contract approved by the WBA that had a rematch clause that we intend to respect,” Mendoza said.

Meanwhile, Ortiz must face Alexander Ustinov on or before June 19. While Ortiz is likely to fight on HBO against somebody else on March 5, Ustinov would come next. Mendoza said the Fury-Klitschko II winner will have to fight the Ortiz-Ustinov winner, which would get rid of the interim title.

Whoever emerges from Fury/Klitschko/Ortiz/Ustinov will be mandated to face whoever emerges from the Chagaev/Browne/Oquendo bouts, thus eliminating yet another belt.

“The winners of the two groups will fight for the world championship,” Mendoza said. “And the WBA will have only one champion, as everybody expects.”

Of course, if a unification fight -- say, Fury versus Deontay Wilder -- presented itself I would be fine with a delay in the WBA’s road to one belt. But the plan is in place and I ask: What was so hard about that?