The World Boxing Organisation, abbreviated to ‘WBO’ is one of the four major organizations that sanction world championship boxing fights. This organization came about in 1988, when a group of Puerto Rican and Dominican business people who were originally part of the WBA, decided to break away and form their own group. This detachment was due to having disputes inside the WBA over what rules should apply inside the organization.
A former WBA vice president, Ramon Pina Acevedo was chosen as the first president of the organization, with its first headquarters located in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Right after its formation, the organization started setting up world title bouts around the world. Relative to the other major sanctioning bodies, the WBO quickly rose to power as the ‘fourth’ governing body in boxing.
After Acevedo, next in line for the presidency came Puerto Rican Jose Torres, a former world light heavyweight champion. This move was widely seen as a way for the organization to gain its much-needed credibility. After Torres left the post in 1996, fellow Puerto Rican Francisco Varcarcel took over at the helm of the organization and has been president ever since. Under Varcarcel, the organization signed unification bout deals with all the other three major sanctioning bodies: the WBA, IBF and the WBC. The WBC was the last organization to cooperate with the WBO, because of a long-lasting feud between WBC president Sulaiman and Varcarcel.
The first championship bout sanctioned by the WBO was between Thomas Hearns and James Kinchen for the vacant super middleweight title on 4th November 1988. Hearns won the fight by majority decision, thus becoming the first WBO champion in boxing history. The first heavyweight title bout sanctioned by the WBO was between two relative unknowns, Italian Francesco Damiani who was a former Olympic silver medalist and South African boxer Johnny DuPlooy. Damiani won the first WBO heavyweight title by way of knockout. Having two low profile boxers fight for their first heavyweight title didn’t help the organization in gaining credibility as a significant sanctioning body.
This image was especially true at heavyweight since all the other sanctioning bodies at that time recognized Mike Tyson as the undisputed world heavyweight champion. Future WBO champions like Michael Moorer, Henry Akinwande, and Riddick Bowe even vacated their WBO titles to chase other titles. Moreover, famed boxing publication The Ring did not recognize the WBO belts. In the lighter weight divisions, however, entertaining and world famous champions such as Chris Eubank and Naseem Hamed gave the WBO international recognition. Unlike in the US, in the 1990's the WBO title was more accepted in Europe.
As years passed by, WBO champions always fared well in unification bouts with WBC, WBA and IBF champions. WBO featherweight champion Naseem Hamed defeated the WBC, WBA and IBF champions in his weight class. Another WBO champion, heavyweight Dariusz Michalczewski defeated Virgil Hill to unify his belt with the WBA and IBF belts. By the beginning of the 21st century, the WBO was starting to get officially recognized by the other three major sanctioning bodies in boxing.
In 2000, the WBA started identifying WBO champions on the same level as it did WBC and IBF champions. In 2004, the WBC began mentioning WBO champions on its ranking lists. The IBF was the last major organization to recognize the WBO, doing so for the first time in February 2007. The WBO on the other hand always fully recognized the other three sanctioning bodies and named their champions on its ranking lists.
Japanese boxers were not permitted to fight for WBO belts for a long time. However, the Japan Boxing Commission decided to join the WBO along with the IBF on 1 April 2013, thus finally giving Japanese boxers the option to fight for the WBO and IBF world titles.
To gain better control of professional boxing throughout the world, the WBO has established championships for the following geographical regions:
- WBO Intercontinental and the WBO Europe for Europe, NABO for North America (Canada, United States, Mexico and Puerto Rico), WBO Latino for the Latin American region (South America, Central America, and the Caribbean), WBO Asia Pacific for the countries of Asia and Oceania, WBO Africa for Africa. A championship is rumored to be in the works for the Chinese region.
- The WBO awards its champions in all 17 weight classes their recognizable burgundy belt. Since the early 2000s, the WBO has granted the honorary title of ‘Super Champion’ to boxers who meet a distinct set of criteria.
- Having multiple bout contracts with a major TV network
- Having ten successful title defenses or even less, if versus distinguished opponents
- Having a quality record against quality opponents throughout his professional and amateur career
Unlike the WBA’s super titles, the WBO's are more in line with lifetime achievement awards and are not titles that can be put on the line in a title bout. A WBO Super Champion retains his status even when moving to a different weight class.
These are some of the boxers who have been awarded the WBO Super Champion belt throughout the years: Joe Calzaghe, Oscar De La Hoya, Bernard Hopkins, Jermain Taylor, Kelly Pavlik, Wladimir Klitschko, Juan Manuel Márquez, Juan Díaz, Manny Pacquiao, Timothy Bradley Jr., Fernando Montiel, Jorge Arce, Omar Narváez, Donnie Nietes, Iván Calderón, Marco Huck, Sergey Kovalev, and Vasyl Lomachenko.
Some notable boxers throughout history that have been recognized as WBO world champions:
- Ray Mercer, Vitali Klitschko, Wladimir Klitschko
- David Haye, Marco Huck
- Andre Ward, Sergey Kovalev
- Thomas Hearns, Chris Eubank (also at Middleweight), Joe Calzaghe
- Bernard Hopkins, Nigel Benn, Canelo Alvarez, Oscar De La Hoya (also at Lightweight & Super Featherweight)
- Miguel Cotto (also at Welterweight & Super Lightweight), Canelo Alvarez
- Manny Pacquiao, Floyd Mayweather Jr
- Hector Camacho
- Artur Grigorian
- Vasyl Lomachenko (also at Featherweight)
- Naseem Hamed
- Marco Antonio Barrera