In 2003, there was an effort by a group of prominent Israelis and Palestinians to come up with a peace accord on their own, outside of normal governmental and political channels. Known as the Geneva Accord, its authors included Israeli politician Yossi Beilin, who had held ministerial positions in the governments of Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, and Ehud Barak, and is now a member of Israel’s Knesset, and Yasser Abed Rabbo, former Minister of Culture and Information in the Palestinian National Authority and a member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) since 1971.
The proposal, although not finished, would have had Israel agree to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and the Palestinians recognize the state of Israel as a sovereign Jewish state. The borders were similar to those which existed before the 1967 war, and a means would be found to deal with the thorny issue of the Palestinian refugees, including repatriating some and possibly compensating others.
The problem with this proposal was not that all of its details were not spelled out. Clearly the final dots could easily be connected. The problem was that when presented to both Israelis and Palestinians, few supported its general outlines. One poll put Israeli support at only about 30 percent, while another showed a majority of Palestinians opposed the general idea of recognizing Israel and everything related to that. The minds of the people are just not ready for such a rational and peaceful settlement, so the bloodshed goes on, the politicians and the arms industry stay rich and happy, and the average people, whether opposed to or supportive of peace, continue to suffer and die.
The sport of fighting has its own internal blood wars, although the ideologies trying to rationalize them do not invoke dueling religious authorities. Boxing, like all sports, aims at crowning champions in its quest to entertain the fans. The absence of undisputed champions damages the credibility of the sport, and helps its continued marginalization in an age of rapidly increasing media, sports, and entertainment choices.
One solution proposed to the absurd proliferation of alphabet soup sanctioning bodies was by The Ring. This magazine is now again awarding their own championship belts. However, even they have handed out just eight such belts in boxing’s 17 weight classes.
There are problems with many of them. O’Neil Bell holds their belt at cruiserweight, but he has talked of going up to heavyweight for the proposed Superfighter tournament, should that actually take place.
Bernard Hopkins is their light heavyweight champion, but he has repeatedly said that he is now retired as an active fighter.
Joe Calzaghe is their super middleweight champion, although the plans for his next fight, and at what weight, are now unclear.
Jermain Taylor is their middleweight champion. Since he won it by defeating Hopkins, who had gained the undisputed middleweight championship in that famous 2001 tournament, there is little argument here, except by some of these useless sanctioning bodies. However, even the awarding of these belts by The Ring has encouraged no one to set up unification tournaments in other weight classes.
Carlos Baldomir is their welterweight champion. He won it by defeating unified champion Zab Judah in January, yet many do not regard him as being the best fighter in his division. Baldomir fights Arturo Gatti July 22 in Atlantic City. If Gatti wins, he will get this title. But just a year ago Gatti was badly battered en route to a TKO loss to Floyd Mayweather. Although that fight was at junior welterweight, both are now welterweights. Would awarding Gatti such a title with this recent loss to Mayweather so fresh in the public’s mind add to the credibility of their titles?
Ricky Hatton is their champion at junior welterweight, a weight class in which he no longer competes.
The last two champions are Diego Corrales at lightweight and Israel Vazquez at junior featherweight. Both are regarded as the tops in their divisions, even despite the latest fiasco involving Jose Luis Castillo’s failure to make weight for a second straight time in the rubber match with Corrales.
Even with these champions named by The Ring, this doesn’t exactly turn the sport on its ear and have the fans marching in the streets in celebration. The Ring has no heavyweight champion, following the highly controversial awarding of their belt last year to Vitali Klitschko, who subsequently retired. That is still the division with the most marketing potential, even with its always-noted limited talent base.
Another problem of having The Ring as the sole arbiter of championships is that this can work only if competing media mention and recognize their titles. Some of the American television networks have been doing so, but they themselves also have their own quite transparent corporate agendas and, thus, quite limited credibility. Others, and with good reason, do not want to cede such authority to an outside corporate body over which they have no control or influence, and no one else does either except their corporate owners.
Another solution was floated several years ago to start a rankings poll among the general boxing media. This was called the Boxing Writers' Rankings Poll (BWRP) and was started by Boxingranks.com, where I was editor, a writer, and Internet radio producer and host in 2004 and 2005.
From about 2000 on, there were actually three incarnations of this poll. The most recent, begun in early 2005, had signed up over 100 registered voters. Most came from the U.S., with most of those being members of the Boxing Writers Association of America, but there were also a number of voters from Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Germany, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, South Africa, Sweden, Thailand, Uganda, and the United Kingdom. Several of them still write for this web site. In each poll, approximately 30 of the registered voters actually cast ballots.
For a while, Boxingranks.com achieved success, both editorially and in attracting traffic. Ironically, just as it was preparing to close down, it achieved some if its highest rankings according to the independent web rankings site, Alexa.com. On Sept. 17, 2005, its daily traffic ranking was 39,597. Its weekly ranking was 65,708. Its three-month average then was 83,857, an increase of 275,998 in the previous three months. That made it one of the top trafficked boxing sites in the world, and its influence was growing.
But its financial situation was not good. It was seeking investors, but to no avail. On Oct. 1, 2005, it stopped posting original material, and by that time all the writers and editors, including myself, had been let go. It was just a matter of time until the whole project collapsed, unless of course some financial angel descended from the heavens to save those trying to save this hell of a business.
That end was finally announced this past Wed., June 14, in an e-mail sent by its founder, Howie Sirota, to BWRP voters:
Subject: Boxingranks.com & BWRP to CLOSE
I sincerely regret to inform you that we are no longer running the Boxing Writers' Rankings Poll (BWRP) and that Boxingranks.com will cease to exist online after June 30, 2006.
I want to thank each of you for helping us attempt to achieve the vision of Jack Newfield and Pete Hamill and other members of the boxing writers' poll. Your participation was essential and is very much appreciated. Unfortunately, we could not obtain a sponsor or investors to permit us to continue to conduct the monthly online poll and maintain the website.
Again, thank you all.
The BWRP and Boxingranks.com were not without their own problems. The site was horribly designed, long outmoded, and not user-friendly. The results of the BWRP were fairly good and always credible, but sometimes changed from month to month depending on who decided to vote, rather than just who won in the ring. Although there were no championships awarded, the number one spot was most closely looked at, with sometimes Vitali Klitschko and Chris Byrd trading the top spot at heavyweight based solely on the composition of that month’s list of voters. Also, some voters took a month or more to take into account some results, especially in fights in the lower weight classes and in Asia or Latin America. Voters from those regions were actively recruited, with varying degrees of success.
None of these problems, however, were key to the eventual failure of both the BWRP and Boxingranks.com. A major part was a poor business plan for securing financing and even poorer implementation of it. But even here there was a deeper problem.
The list of voters included writers for virtually every major American boxing web site, numerous major newspapers, several major sports and boxing magazines, and many other media outlets around the world (since the poll’s home site of Boxingranks.com is shutting down, I can send or post this list if people want to see it).
However, almost none of these media outlets reported on the results of the BWRP. Since the BWRP was sponsored and run by a rival and independent media outlet, Boxingranks.com, the poll went unmentioned, despite the participation of so many of their journalists.
In other words, the other media businesses were loath to report on a project undertaken by a rival media business. Or, as the mob is quoted as saying, it’s just business.
In boxing, as in so many other areas of life, you can hang together, or hang separately. Not only are the rival promoters and networks not ready for a peaceful settlement to end boxing’s splintered and anarchic state, but the boxing media is not ready, either.
Just as in the Middle East, the existence of a pretty good if unfinished plan for peace and normal relations will not matter much if the two sides are just not ready and willing to live in peace and have normal relations with one another.
In fact, at the rate boxing is going, it looks like there actually will be peace in the Middle East before there is a unified structure in boxing – assuming that boxing even survives that long.