SOMEWHERE IN TUSCANY — Word travels slowly, even on the internet, to this part of Italy, hence my delay in responding to Nigel Collins’ attack on myself and colleague Ron Borges posted on the website the other day.

I frankly don’t think readers much care about these internecine squabbles, and I have no intention of engaging in a protracted online food-fight with Nigel Collins or anybody else, so while I do feel obliged to respond, rest assured that this is the last you’re going to hear from me on the subject of what the magazine’s editor described as “anti-Ring magazine articles on”

The column to which Collins objects dealt with three separate but not entirely dissimilar issues – (a) the growing obsession with pound-for-pound lists, a trend this corner perceives as not entirely healthy for boxing; (b) the attempt of Ring to cast itself as a fifth sanctioning body; and (c) the increasing tendency of network announcers to treat inconsequential International Boxing Organization titles as the real McCoy, disturbing, in our view, because it might legitimize the IBO in the eyes of some viewers.

Since Ring wasn’t even the first of these topics brought under scrutiny, and in connection with the third, my story said that “an IBO title… is even more ridiculous than the Ring version,” it strikes me that characterizing the entire column as an “anti-Ring magazine article” reeks more than slightly of paranoia.

Similarly, Borges’ column deplored the circumstances which had led Dawson to relinquish a legitimate light-heavyweight title for the second time in barely a year. His reference to the Ring belt, or the absence thereof, was merely tangential to that point, and only the seriously deluded could interpret it as “an anti-Ring magazine article.”

Like Collins, I am a First Amendment advocate. I am also an advocate of freedom of religion, but I have little patience with those zealots – and the world is full of them – who hold up their beliefs to be the one and only true religion to the exclusion of all others. And it strikes me that there is more than a messianic zeal to the fervor with which Ring, and its defenders like Tim Starks of,* not only defend its imperfections, but attempt to proselytize the rest of us by holding up its ratings (sometimes with the assistance of their friends at HBO) as the One True Church of Boxing, consigning all the nonbelievers to eternal damnation.

Starks composed his critique of story even before Collins posted his. Since Starks’ position is somewhat more eloquent, and a good bit less hysterical than Nigel’s, I’ll attempt to address points raised in both.

To one valid complaint voiced by both Collins and Starks – my description of Ring’s voting panel as “cloaked in anonymity” – I hereby plead guilty as charged. The makeup of the panel is indeed posted on the magazine’s website.

Back in New York last month I’d contacted several people I thought would know and they were also of the belief that there was no public list of Ring voters, and my attempts to find one via an online search didn’t turn them up. Maybe Ring could make it easier to find, but quite certainly I need to upgrade my online searching technique.

So I was dead wrong about that, and apologize – but not, as Collins claims, for “rephrasing the same accusation three times, clearly believing if you repeat a lie often enough it will be accepted as the truth.”

If Collins thinks I was “rephrasing” the aforementioned accusation when I said that any journalist writing about Ring’s ratings or Ring’s titles who also participates in their compilation should acknowledge as much, he is mistaken. Accountability is an entirely separate issue, and one with which even Starks agrees, to wit:

“If I was on the Ring board, I’d mention it every time I wrote an article or made a speech in public where I mentioned the magazine. Some writers (like Cliff Rold of BoxingScene) include it at the end of everything they write, period.”

Collins’ response to my noting that “the conflict of interest inherent in a publication owned by a major promoter is so evident that it shouldn’t even require mention” was to provide a laundry list of magazine cover subjects that is supposed to demonstrate that Golden Boy boxers have not been the beneficiaries of favoritism. (In his cited examples, by the way, Floyd Mayweather Jr., whose last three fights have been promoted by Golden Boy, is listed as “independent.”)

Perhaps Collins should have read more carefully. I never said that Ring had showed favoritism to Golden Boy boxers. My point was that the appearance of impropriety was so overwhelming that it would not be tolerated in any other sphere I can think of — although’s Dan Rafael did send an email asking “How is this any different  than UFC owning its belt and fighters and making the matches?”

Answer: It isn’t, which is precisely the point.

Even Starks concedes the validity of the conflict-of-interest angle, and adds that “it requires everyone in the boxing press to monitor Ring’s ratings closely,” but Collins refuses to even acknowledge the problematical nature of the arrangement.

In his purported attempt to correct what he labeled “blatant falsehoods,” Collins didn’t bother responding to what I described as his magazine’s “sordid history of corruption,” and Starks dismisses it as “really, just one incident.” Since Ring’s culpability in the ratings scandals of the 1970s involved many boxers and numerous instances of falsified records, nonexistent fights, and fabricated ratings, and warranted investigation by a Federal grand jury, it seems rather cavalier to describe it as “one incident.” And what about the Bert Sugar era of Ring? Some boxing writers are still waiting to be paid for work published by the magazine more than a quarter-century ago, and several more have died since without ever having been compensated by Ring for their work.

I never said the magazine had actually recognized in its pages the Hopkins-Winky Wright winner as its “170-pound champion,” but at a press conference held on May 15, 2007 at the ESPN Zone in New York, Golden Boy publicists distributed a press kit including the information that Hopkins’ July fight against Winky Wright would be for “the Ring Magazine 170-pound championship,” and when queried about this previously nonexistent title that day, Richard Schaefer confirmed that information.  If Collins wants to label that a “lie,” then it’s his bosses at Golden Boy he should be addressing, not me.

Both Collins (“he informed The Ring that he would return to junior welter to defend the 140-pound championship”) and Starks (“each fighter insisted that the move to another division was not permanent”) claim that the magazine did not violate its stated policy by continuing to recognize Hatton at junior welterweight once he moved up to fight Luis Collazo for the welterweight title in May of 2006.

I covered the Hatton-Collazo fight in Boston. What I remember hearing Hatton talk about in the days leading up to that bout was how much stronger Ricky felt at 147 and his insistence that his speed had not been affected.

But making the Hatton-Collazo fight was enormously complicated by the attendant obligations of both participants. Hatton was under a federal court order not to engage in a fight against anyone other than Souleymane M’baye, the mandatory challenger for the WBA portion of his 140-pound title. Collazo had been ordered to defend his WBA welterweight title against German-based Oktay Urkal.

The matchup was further complicated by a Boston Globe story reporting that “(Urkal’s) people in Germany were informed that Hatton would fight the mandatory next if he wins the title… along with that promise, the story goes, went a small envelope to the contender-in-waiting (Urkal) and his management team.” The latter revelation sparked a flurry of paranoia in the house of Universum when the promised envelope failed to materialize.

In any case, Hatton’s representatives had to appear before a federal judge in New York, where they successfully argued that the injunction should be modified on the grounds that Hatton intended to campaign as a full-fledged welterweight.

His performance in narrowly defeating Collazo obviously caused Ricky to subsequently rethink his career path, but since going into that fight Hatton both assured a federal judge that his future lay at welterweight and promised the Germans that if he beat Collazo he would defend the 147-pound belt against Urkal, I find it difficult to see that this makes me the one guilty of what Collins labels “a blatant falsehood.”

If Nigel is in possession of evidence that Ricky Hatton committed perjury in this instance, perhaps he should pass it along to the appropriate authorities at the First US District Court for New York instead of ranting about it on his website.

Collins’ and Starks’ logic in their point-by-point defense of other Ring titles is so convoluted that it ought to serve as Exhibit A for the prosecution, but there are a couple of instances that probably merit specific comment.

In citing examples of “mistakes” he attributes to me, Starks notes that Ring was actually being consistent with its stated guidelines when it anointed Vitali Klitschko, by virtue of his win over Corrie Sanders, whom the magazine listed as No. 3, as its “world champion.”  At the time Sanders was 1-1 against Top Ten heavyweights (Hasim Rahman, Wladimir Klitschko) and well over twenty of his wins had come in South Africa, many of them against the usual collection of bums.

If Ring actually believed Corrie Sanders was the third-best heavyweight in the world, is that my “mistake,” or theirs?

I guess some of my digs were too subtle for Collins and Starks, but no, I wasn’t seriously suggesting that Ring should emulate the real sanctioning bodies by adopting a “champion in recess” title for Israel Vazquez, though the intended humor apparently escaped them both.

Nor did I ever write that the Ring lightweight title should be on the line in next month’s Mayweather-Marquez fight. What I did suggest was that since Marquez was the lightweight champion, if Floyd wanted to return from exile and fight for an immediate title, he should have challenged himself to get down to 135 and fought for the one Marquez already owned instead of forcing an opponent who has barely fought as a lightweight to meet him at 144.

(And that, according to ESPN’s Rafael, is the actual limit. “The Ring is dead wrong about the weight,” he told us in an email.)

Likewise, my observation that “It’s probably just a coincidence, but did you happen to notice that The Ring presently lists its welterweight title as ‘vacant?’” was intended as irony, a humorous way of wondering whether an underlying reason for Ring’s refusal to sanction Mosley-Margarito as a title fight might have been a desire to keep the seat warm for Floyd’s eventual return.

The half-serious implication was that sometime between now and July 18 Ring might convene an emergency session of its voting panel to proclaim Mayweather-Marquez a welterweight title fight.

Of course, after this latest flap there’s no way they’d dare do that now.

Or would they?

EDITOR NOTE: Starks touched on the Ring/Kimball flap last week, after he deconstructed George’s original piece. From my perspective, I always stand behind my writers, and stand behind George and Ron 100% in this case. I talked to Nigel on the phone last week, and listened as he laid out his take on what he perceives as inaccuracies. We were both cordial.

It goes without saying, but let me say it anyway, we always strive to be totally accurate and fair here, and can always be counted on to listen to anyone who feels we’ve mischaracterized something, and to rectify a wrong. To me, there’s no need to start slinging accusations about lying or a deliberate lack of candidness. We are all pros here, let’s act like it; what say our default setting be one of mutual respect, rather than accusatory broadsides? Too often these days, and this holds true outside our fightwriter circle as well, instead of agreeing to disagree, two parties in conflict resort to overblown, inappropriately bilious rhetoric, or threats of siccing rabid lawyers on retainer on the case—whatever happened to spirited debate, with an underlying degree of respect and decorum?

In short: George has a 30-plus year track record of excellence in journalism, and to react to a flub with flaming retorts, to me, is not appropriate.

Moving forward, there will certainly be times when TSS critiques power players in this industry, with an eye on leveling the playing field, and giving a voice to the voiceless. Certainly, being owned by Oscar De La Hoya, if not being a subsidiary of Golden Boy Promotions, leaves Ring open to intense scrutiny. To my eye, I think Collins and company have put together a superior batch of ratings, and have bent over backwards–certainly with cover choices– of not favoring their employer. They are to be commended, as I don’t envy the difficult position they are in, and can identify with any man or woman looking to hold on to a full-time position in two industries (boxing, written-word media) that have seen better days. To me, the Ring crew has negotiated the minefield of potential conflict of interest skillfully, and believe that will continue moving forward. The power of the internet, in giving a platform to virtually all, helps insure that all of us do our job in a competent, equitable manner, so there will be no shortage of watchdogs barkin’ if they, or we, mess up. Nigel or Tim, feel free to leave a comment in our comment section in response if you like. And Damon Feldman, if this continues—which I don’t think it will—care to carve us out a TSS vs. Ring date on your Celebrity Boxing series calendar? Sincerely, Michael Woods, Editor