The 82nd Round

If you were following us toward the end of “Operation Cleanup: A Blueprint for Boxing Reform”, you're familiar with our media poll for world rankings, designed to be set up independently, but which was to take on a different dimension with its incorporation into a formula that would determination what the World Boxing Association ratings would be.

Since the first “Operation Cleanup” book was finished before the matter was fully resolved, I thought readers were entitled to be kept apprised as to what is happening with this project.

So let me start off by saying that the poll will forge on, only it will not, as was hoped, be a “joint ratings project” with the WBA.

The original proposal was for the poll to count for 75% of the ratings formula, with the output of the WBA's ratings committee counting for 25%. That dynamic became a subject of negotiation. In the initial stages a compromise was discussed that might have brought the figure on our end down to 60-65%, with an additional oversight committee of a few of our voting members who would actually monitor the WBA's implementation of its own points system – the one you saw described a couple of chapters ago.

But nothing was ever nailed down. Later it was communicated to me through my contact on this deal, executive committee member Guy Jutras, that the WBA was looking for no less than 50% of the equity in this formula. And it probably was not going to come off that position.

Not that it made me angry or anything. The WBA wanted to protect the importance of its own ratings committee, and the impact of its own process. Of course, the other side of the coin was that in order to achieve the perception of enhanced credibility in its ratings – something they were badly seeking in the wake of the heavyweight ratings debacle of late 2002 – there were compromises that certainly had to be made.

I actually may have been amenable to going 50-50 on a trial basis, but if the trial didn't work out, it might risk alienating the membership in the event of a future opportunity. And enough of the writers I talked to were lukewarm to the 50-50 split that it got me a little concerned.

I didn't want to begin this project with the voters being suspicious. And I certainly didn't want to scare people away.

The WBA, to their credit, has never really been opposed to me being rather open with my readers about this process, since I have made it clear that, among other things, I'm trying to serve an instructional purpose here.

And so I'm able to share this letter with you, detailing the problem on the 50-50 split, along with the other objections that made it impractical to go forward with the “joint ratings project” under the parameters that had been laid out for us. The letter was sent to Guy Jutras of the WBA on April 4:

Guy,

Let me thank you for your spirit of cooperation. I'd be happy to communicate to your colleagues that you have been an ideal “point man” for these proceedings. Thank George Martinez for his input as well.

I have not only given your letters a tremendous amount of thought, but have also solicited considerable input from sources both inside and outside the scope of the prospective poll membership.

The general consensus – and I should add, this is a STRONG consensus – is that the 50% participation in the ratings formula, though a move forward in democratizing the process, is not a big enough move. The preference is more toward the 75% that was proposed in my original letter sent to the WBA. That would provide enough assurance that so-called “influences”, and their effect on ratings, would be minimal.

I can illustrate something to you – and this is not an unreasonable scenario in light of developments we have seen across ALL sanctioning bodies, of how this can work in a way in which it can actually DEFEAT its purpose.

For example, let us say that the “Experts Poll” gives a fighter no votes. But then he is established as #1 through the process of the WBA Ratings Committee. Using the 50-50 formula, he could very easily be #4 or #5 in the final rating. Then the wheels start turning. If a #1 contender is somehow committed to another title fight, the #2 and #3 are fighting each other for some other title, or in an elimination, somebody is hurt, or one of the top two spots is vacant for some reason, that #4 or #5 contender – who got no votes from writers – can find himself in a position to be next in line for a title shot, as the “highest available contender”. Needless to say, he is also eligible for someone's optional title defense simply by virtue of his status in the Top 15.

Clearly, this would not be in the spirit of what the writers intend. And I'm wondering how the media participants – collectively – would feel about seeing someone in the Top 10, in a position to fight for a championship, who they have ascribed absolutely no credibility to. An example might be Hakkar, who just fought Hopkins, albeit for the WBC title, or even Callist, who is your #1 lightweight.

This is by no means the only thing that is problematic. The concept of the “Super Champion”, “Unified Champion”, or whatever term ultimately is used, is very hard to get around, particularly for members of the media. While I understand the rationale behind it as you have explained it to me, I don't think writers are too interested in explaining that rationale to their readers, because they don't necessarily agree or identify with the idea of having a “Super Champion” AND “World Champion” in the same division, with the same sanctioning body. Indeed, instead of alleviating confusion, it actually CREATES more confusion. And they're not too anxious to explain why they're associated with that kind of thing, even if it is strictly in a tangential manner.

I think you'll agree that in this day and age, depth in most divisions is a non-existent thing. It logically follows that there could be quite a disparity between the #1, #2, and #3 contenders in most divisions. So the position of mandatory challenger becomes even more critical – it's very important that this be the right man. To me, this is one of the more crucial functions of the poll, because the only guy the WBA is going to ORDER a champ to fight is the #1 contender, or the #1 available. To leave room for any manipulation between the first, second, and third-rated contenders could also counteract the purpose of the poll, in a sense.

In the way we were attempting to deal with the “minor champions”, i.e., WBA-Int, NABA, FedeLatino, etc., I figured my own concept was the most prudent, in that they could be eligible to fight for titles, whether they were in the Top 10 or not. I don't know whether there was a final determination on that from your end. But I can visualize that because of the way the WBA's points system works, these champions are gathering points for activity within these “sister” or subordinate organizations, which would give them disproportionate weight within the overall formula.

Your points system is your business, but within the context of this formula, there is the possibility – indeed, the likelihood – that fighters, and several of them, in the ratings are going to be those who were known, but not even considered viable, by the writers. While that may indeed be the natural product of this formula, I can see it bringing an unsatisfactory reaction in the end.

Unfortunately Guy, the general feeling about what has become customary behavior on the part of the sanctioning bodies is working against you here. With some rather highly-publicized episodes involving the WBC, IBF, and lately, the WBO, it does not endear ANYONE to the concept of independent sanctioning bodies.

I think it's readily apparent that sanctioning bodies are private organizations that are in the business of BEING in business, and in many instances, private, commercial concerns take priority over everything else. Frankly, this is an issue I'm going to touch upon in a future column in “Operation Cleanup 2”.

When the WBC puts someone like Eddie Croft into a title fight; when the IBF develops a conflict over jumping Arturo Gatti into the #1 spot; when the WBO disqualifies a #1 contender (David Tua) from fighting for its title, in favor of a decidedly inferior alternative (Lamon Brewster), ridicule is both invited and deserved. And these things have an effect which makes it embarrassing for members of the media to be involved in it – especially those who are answerable to superiors.

The WBA is not immune either. One disparity I didn't watch closely at the time, but which has been brought to my attention by several people, is that which centered around Gabriel Ruelas, who showed up in the WBA ratings apparently for the express purpose of fighting Acelino Freitas for the 130-pound title, then, when he was rejected by Showtime, disappeared from the ratings. The clear perception is that this was “rating by convenience”. It's the kind of thing many people are wary of being associated with. And I would lose credibility if I drew them into a situation where they would, or could, be associated with something like that.

Also, there's just no escaping the incident last year with the manipulation of the heavyweight ratings. That left a bad taste in enough mouths to the extent that it has become a very difficult obstacle to overcome.

And we haven't even talked about the danger involved if the independent voters in this poll are perceived to be “co-opting” any behavior that might be determined to be illegal somewhere down the line. Nor does anyone want to expose himself to liability in legal actions that might take place as a result of the implementation of regulations that may or may not have anything to do with the poll itself.

You have put forth the idea of a 50-50 apportionment in terms of the weight each component – the poll and the WBA Ratings Committee – would have in the ratings. My original proposal was 75%. The overwhelming opinion is that the 50-50 deal is just enough to serve a public relations purpose, but not enough to make a true impact. In fact, from the public relations standpoint, it can, in the end, have a deleterious effect on the writers. Truth be known, there is no reason, in the minds of many, why an independent poll couldn't account for 100% of the ratings of a sanctioning body that desired that its process be “transparent”. A process such as that would have passed all reasonable scrutiny, provided the championship rules were subsequently adhered to. This has indeed been discussed with me by various fledgling organizations from time to time.

To rationalize giving up 25% of the share of a process is one thing. To explain relinquishing 50% is quite another. Respectfully, I feel that doing that would leave us, in effect, with less than “half a loaf”, and as a direct result, attrition rates in the poll would turn this into an embarrassment. I'm sure you'd agree, neither side necessarily wants that.

I do thank you for your efforts, and certainly welcome your comments and questions.

Sincerely,

Charles Jay
TotalAction.com

There's a post-script: a couple of months after this letter was sent, the WBA, which talked about bringing at least one member of the media onto its ratings committee at its “emergency meeting” in New York in October, did indeed name Sebastian Contursi, a writer from South America who also works for ESPN Deportes, to the committee. As mentioned in a previous chapter, I had politely turned the invitation down.

However, it's quite possible there might be some interesting developments regarding this poll that I can relay to you before we close out “Operation Cleanup 2”.

As always, I promise to keep you posted.

fightpage@totalaction.com

Copyright 2003 Total Action Inc.