The 78th Round

Since the beginning of “Operation Cleanup”, the only organization that ever asked me for my input on its ratings system has been the World Boxing Association.

Part of it stemmed from my criticism of the way the WBA handled the situation surrounding Kirk Johnson's protest of his disqualification loss to John Ruiz – touching off a chain of events that led to embarrassment suffered as a result of the organization's manipulation of the heavyweight ratings.

Ultimately, I was asked to serve on the WBA Ratings Committee. I politely turned them down, for several reasons, not the least of which was the fact that as a commercial website publisher who is open to accepting advertising from certain promotional or managerial interests, I felt extremely uncomfortable being one vote out of just seven or eight on a panel.

That would be much less of a problem than being one vote out of 40 or more people, as was the design of the independent media poll (if I even would choose to vote in it), which, if you're familiar with “Operation Cleanup: A Blueprint for Boxing Reform”, was something actively discussed with the WBA as well. Talks aimed at integrating this independent poll with the WBA ratings process eventually fell through, though that's another story for another chapter.

One thing I did agree to do, at the request of WBA officials George Martinez and Guy Jutras (acting, in turn, at the request of Gilberto Mendoza, I suppose), was to “audit” the WBA ratings process and formula. That critique is contained below. I should mention that it was specified on my part that this review might wind up in an “Operation Cleanup” chapter one day, because it serves an educational purpose.

To understand what it is that I wrote to them, it's necessary to have a little background on the system itself. So here it is, extracted directly from the WBA's “Norms and Procedures for Ratings”:

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III. GUIDELINES FOR THE RATINGS

1. ENTRANCE IN THE RATINGS

The following requirements shall be taken into account for the entrance of a boxer in the WBA ratings:

a) Obtain a victory over a rated boxer. According to the result of the fight, and taking into consideration the rating, caliber, hierarchy and record of the defeated boxer, and according to the application of the “Point System for Ratings Evaluation”, the Rating Committee will determine the position that the winner shall occupy.

b) Obtain a Regional Championship (FEDELATIN, PABA, WBAI, NABA and WBANA). The Position of these champions in the WBA ratings will be determined according to their particular record, taking into consideration the rating, caliber, hierarchy and record of the defeated boxer, and according to the application of the “Point System for Ratings Evaluation”, the Ratings Committee shall determine the position of the winner.

This way the WBA is contributing to evaluate and give duly importance to a title at a regional level, and definitely help to make more attractive the aspiration to obtain the titles if this category, that today, unfortunately, have not been bestowed the proper importance.

c) Through a request of a Boxing Commission affiliated to the WBA, and duly justified, based on the record and credentials of the boxer and following the parameters of the Point System for Ratings Evaluation.

d) Whenever there are important and powerful reasons for the WBA, which in accordance to the judgment of the Ratings Committee justify the entrance of the boxer in the ratings.

2. PROMOTIONS IN THE RATINGS

Promotion of rated boxers will be governed according to what is established in the TABLE OF PROMOTIONS which will be taken into account as a fundamental basis to determine the betterment of the boxer in the rating, in the following aspects:

a. Position of the boxers.
b. Type of the decision that caused the victory.

3. DEMOTIONS IN THE RATINGS

The demotions of rated boxers will be produced according to what is established in the TABLE OF DEMOTIONS, which will be taken into account as a fundamental basis to determine the demotion of a boxer in the ratings in the following aspects:

a. Position of the boxer.
b. Type of decision that caused the defeat.
c. Disqualifications:

(And now for the new “Kirk Johnson Rule”):

In those cases when a boxer is object of a disqualification, the Ratings Committee, according to the current position of the boxer and the gravity of the foul or fouls committed, will determine the position of the boxer to whom this disciplinary measure was applied, that could even carry his retirement of the ratings. For such cases the Ratings Committee will have to observe that the boxer who has been object of a disqualification will be able to occupy none of the positions between the first five positions of the ratings.

There is a Table of Promotions and Table of Demotions outlined in the WBA Rules, which takes various outcomes into account: Split Decision, Unanimous Decision, Technical Knockout, and Knockout. The tables are too extensive to list here, but if you want to view them, you can simply go to (http://www.wbaonline.com/legal/LegalStatements/normprocrat2.pdf).

The Table of Demotions is based on defeats a fighter may suffer in (a) world title fights, (b) against higher rated fighters, (c) lower rated fighters, and (d) non-rated fighters.

According to the WBA, when a fighter gets beat by someone with a lower rating, that fighter “will be automatically demoted to the position occupied by the boxer who defeated him, provided the result of the fight has been Split Decision or Unanimous Decision. In those cases when the result of the fight is TKO or KO, the defeated boxer will automatically be demoted to the position immediately below to that occupied by the boxer who defeated him.”

Those fighters who are beaten by someone who is unrated “will automatically be withdrawn from the ratings”, although there would a consideration given to the circumstances of the defeat that could facilitate a demotion, rather than removal.

The WBA also utilizes a “100-Point System for Ratings Position Evaluation”, based on five evaluation factors:

– Record
– Activity
– Caliber of contenders
– Regional recognition (WBA-recognized minor titles)
– WBA Achievement

Values are attributed to fighters according to what level they attain according to the WBA's own pre-determined standards; here are the tables documenting those standards:

RECORD

# of Victories Points
15 3
16-21 6
22-27 9
28-33 12
34-39 15
40+ 18

 

# of Defeats

1-2 -1
3-4 -2
5-6 -3
7+ -6

ACTIVITY

# Fights/Year Points
1 3
2 6
3 9
4 12
5 15
6+ 18

CALIBER OF CONTENDERS
Wins over rated contenders

# of wins Points
1 3
2 6
3 9
4 12
5 15
6 18
7 21
8 24
9+ 27

** Losses against rated boxers: Allowance of one point for each loss to a rated fighter up to a maximum of three points.

INTERNATIONAL RECOGNITION
Championship milestones
(WORLD, NABA, PABA, WBAI, FEDELATIN, WBANA)

Milestone Points
WINNING REGIONAL TITLE 2
1st Regional defense 2
2nd Regional defense 2
3rd Regional defense 2
WORLD TITLES (WBA-WBC-WBO-IBF) 4
1st World Title defense 1
2nd World Title defense 1
3rd World Title defense 1
WORLD TITLE UNIFICATION 5

WBA ACHIEVEMENT
(Specifically within WBA and subsidiaries)

Achievement Points
1st Regional title defense 1
2nd Regional title defense 1
3rd Regional title defense 1
WBA Title or WBA Regional Unification 2
TWO WBA titles 4
THREE WBA titles 5

 

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Now that you are armed with this information, here is my straightforward evaluation, submitted to WBA officials, on November 2, 2002:

PART I

TABLES OF PROMOTION AND DEMOTION

The first issue that immediately pops out at me about the WBA ratings system, as it is described in its ratings “manual”, is that the organization has become attached to the system to the point where it is considered sacred, which would be fine if:

a) the system were consistently followed throughout the years, which it HAS not;
b) it could be implemented without a multitude of logistical conflicts, which it CAN not.

There is nothing wrong with promoting fighters on the basis of performance – in fact, that is the purest ideal of compiling world rankings. However, at some point in time these promotions, and conversely, the demotions, have to be reflective of the more important factors, which, in the opinion of myself and most people, includes head-to-head competition. But look at the conflict we can find ourselves in when adhering strictly to this system:

Example — the #5 contender defeats the #1 contender by a split decision. By the WBA formula, that fighter would automatically be elevated to the #1 position in the ratings. But if he had lost his previous fight, or a fight in the last year or 18 months – decisively – to the #2 or #3 contender, would it be justifiable for that fighter, previously #5, to leapfrog fighters he has lost to? Or would it make more sense to elevate the other fighter on the basis of his win over the previous #5?

Also, if #15 KO's the #1 contender, is he automatically #1? Should this rule be so hard and fast? Shouldn't we take into consideration any of the fighters previously rated above #15 who have defeated him? These are questions well worth pondering.

DEMOTIONS – to gauge it according to how many points a fighter has been defeated by, is getting a bit too esoteric.

Example — the #1 contender loses by one point – he goes to #3. If he loses by three points, he goes to #5. Well, first of all, whose scorecard are we going by? Are we taking an aggregate of the three scorecards? It is unclear what criteria is being used.

Also, if a #15 loses a split decision to the champion in a title fight, does he really deserve to be dropped from the ratings, as would be prescribed by the “Table of Demotions”, or should he in fact merit a rise in the ratings, based on his surprising and unexpected performance? You see – there's no flexibility there.

* None of this contemplates that even a loss by TKO may represent a much more competitive effort than losing a decision, whether it be of the split, majority, or unanimous variety. In case like that, what would be the justification for the fighter dropping more for the TKO loss?

It's no secret that a fighter can be less competitive losing on a 9th-round TKO than on a 4th-round TKO. Many times, it's just a matter of whether a fighter chose to engage with his opponent sooner. if a “runner” got on his bicycle for six or seven rounds before settling down to fight, should he be rewarded for that? In the WBA system, he will, because he'll drop less places due to the fact that he hung around longer. If a fighter and/or his corner knows your system cold, that could lead to some very interesting – and I might add, unwanted – strategy decisions.

BOTTOM LINE: there are a lot of tables, but close scrutiny would most likely reveal that they have not been adhered to correctly, and that the strict implementation of them might bring less “genuine” evaluation of fighters, relative to each other, than might otherwise follow logically.

PART II

HOW DOES THE “POINTS SYSTEM” RECONCILE OR CONFLICT WITH THE TABLES?
And why is there a points system?

— THE 100-POINT SYSTEM

I) RECORD — This component can reward what I would call “gratuitous wins”, i.e., wins that do nothing to advance the fighter's career, or offer us a basis on which to judge the fighter's ability or worthiness. Example – beating 28 stiffs can get a fighter farther than compiling a 20-fight record which actually has some competitive opponents on it. Why? Likewise, do the fighter's losses take quality foes into account? What you have here is a system which may just discourage managers/promoters from taking chances with their fighters. And this industry is already filled with managers/promoters who are afraid to take chances with their fighters. If you reversed that somehow, you could be adding something to the overall quality of competition.

II) ACTIVITY — Overrated. And potentially deceptive. When the better fighters get to a certain level, will naturally fight less, primarily because they're getting paid more. Yet, they have the potential to be penalized through this system. Example – someone like Joe Mesi fights five times in a year, and gathers 15 points – does he deserve to gain NINE points on a guy like David Tua, who may have fought only twice? Of course not. But once again, in this category, gratuitous wins get rewarded, and in fact get counted AGAIN. Within those parameters, it's very easy for unworthy fighters to get into the ratings above those who deserve it more.

III) CALIBER OF CONTENDERS — This is the category that should be “weighted” more than anything else, merely because it is BY FAR the most important. It may be bigger than all the other components combined, in fact. What you're saying by valuing this criteria is that if you want to BE somebody, BEAT somebody. You may want to consider awarding more points for fighting guys rated higher. But what might be an improvement would be to reward wins over contenders on a graduating scale over the course of a three-year period – in other words, the more recent the win, the more credit a fighter would receive.

IV) INTERNATIONAL RECOGNITION — There's nothing wrong with rewarding the “B” titles, in principle. But there's something a little uneven with rewarding a defense of an NABA or PABA title with more points than a defense of a world title. This incongruity multiplies itself when you consider that because of economics, television factors, etc., the WBA heavyweight champion won't be able to defend his title as much as the PABA champion will. Two regional defenses are as valuable in the points system as winning a world title? Does that make sense? Another consideration – you have to take into account a fighter's point total when he no longer holds the title as well. is that reflected properly?

V) WBA ACHIEVEMENT — Unless I'm misinterpreting this, aren't the same things counted here that are already counted in the “International Recognition” category?

WHAT'S MISSING — The concept of HEAD-TO-HEAD COMPETITION is VERY important. In fact, that should be the ultimate determinant. I understand that in the system of tables, this factor comes into play. But as illustrated before, it can bring up conflicts. It is a fact that the head-to-head concept is what brought forward much of the outcry. For example, people asked how Larry Donald could be rated ahead of Kirk Johnson when he had lost to him, how could Oquendo be above Tua, etc.

And when you have competitors from outside your ratings, there is not an accurate way to gauge who should be in the ratings. That subject is brought up below.

PART III

ENTERING THE RATINGS
Is this where the points system is supposed to come into play?

Criteria:

* BEATING A RATED FIGHTER — Except in cases of a regional title and/or VERY extraneous circumstances, this should be the overriding criteria. Remember – BE someone, BEAT someone.

* REGIONAL TITLE — No problem at all with rewarding people who want to compete for, win, and defend the NABA, PABA, WBAI, EBA titles, as long as those fights and the competitors are legitimate.

* REQUEST FROM A BOXING COMMISSION — This should hold carry no weight whatsoever. If your ratings people are on top of things, what difference would a request from ANYONE make? You are rating the BEST fighters, ideally, or at least the ones that could be fighting for your titles. This kind of lobbying takes credibility away from the process.

* DISCRETION OF THE RATINGS COMMITTEE — this leaves a lot of room for maneuvering. And it's what has led to the problems the organization recently experienced. Don't know what this means. But people are going to interpret this in different ways, depending on what level of skepticism they have.

With all of this criteria, there is nothing that explains how Faruq Saleem or Joe Mesi are – or rather, SHOULD be – in the world ratings. They are a product, I'm guessing, of counting all those “gratuitous” wins that I spoke of, and perhaps the “discretion of the ratings committee”, and that is what brings most of the criticism.

Mesi, for example, hasn't beaten anyone who could conservatively be placed in the WBA's Top 30; he does not hold a regional title, and what could any request from the NY State Athletic Commission, even if it had come, done for him? I can't think of any logic that would place him in the world's Top 15.

Look at the case of Lamon Brewster – he lost to Clifford Etienne, who is not in the ratings. He lost to Charles Shufford, who is NOT in the ratings. Where is Francois Botha, who has drawn with Etienne? How can an organization explain itself to the public as long as these discrepancies are present?

This is also a reason why I have asked for a certain percentage of “weight” (75%, as in original proposal) to be placed on the “Experts Poll” – because if my participants vote earnestly for their rankings, they are afraid it will be undone by having a Brewster, Mesi, or Saleem placed in there by the Ratings Committee, where it is not merited. And they will become discouraged if they see that – enough to where they won't want to be involved. Does anyone want to see that?

BOTTOM LINE OVERALL: If the system can't be implemented completely and consistently, the best thing to do is remove it. And there might be some components of this thing that make it impossible to work consistently.

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