The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board
An Opening Bell for Reform
The purchase of THE RING by Golden Boy Promotions in 2007 provoked immediate questions about its independence. The dismissal of Nigel Collins and several editorial staff in 2011 and a series of questionable ratings decisions by the new editors were followed by an overhaul of the championship policy on May 3rd. At the center of the controversy was the provision allowing first and second-ranked contenders to face third, fourth, and even fifth-ranked contenders for vacant championships. A hue and cry was raised in the red-light district of sports. THE RING, which had led the way for clarity and reform in boxing for the better part of eighty-four years, appeared to relinquish its mission.
Three members of its ratings advisory panel resigned in protest.
They didn’t go quietly.
Tim Starks of The Queensberry Rules published “The Horrible New Ring Magazine Championship Policy” on May 4th. Springs Toledo published “Occupy the Ring” on May 9th in The Sweet Science and the next day Cliff Rold weighed in with “‘The Ring Changes the Rules, Further Clouds Title Scene” in Boxing Scene. It wasn’t just hand-wringing. “Today, boxing writers, bloggers, commentators, and fans mime a ten count over a magazine that landed a left hook on itself. We’re good at that.” Toledo wrote. “We need to do more.”
We are pleased to announce the formation of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. Over the past four months, twenty-five respected boxing writers and record keepers have been recruited into the membership. They hail from the biggest boxing websites including ESPN, MaxBoxing, and Boxeringweb.net, top blogs like Bad Left Hook and The Cruelest Sport, as well as Boxing News and international newspapers Milenio and Bangkok Post. All of them recognize the serious issues in boxing, its consequential decline as a major sport, and where the problems are. Few hesitated to join, despite the challenges ahead. The Board represents many different countries including the United States, Mexico, Canada, England, Scotland, Ireland, Australia, Sweden, Norway, Italy, Thailand, and Japan and begin with the assertion that a truly global rankings board —unbeholden and unanswerable to sanctioning bodies, promoters, or any for-profit enterprise— is essential to reforming the sport we love.
We are prepared to improve upon past attempts to bring good sense and clarity to boxing.
First, we will share authority under a charter and not any one individual. The Transnational Boxing Rankings (TBR) will be generated every month by an exchange of members’ ideas, persuasive argument, and consensus-building. Three chairs will be responsible for facilitating discussion, preventing factionalism, and weighing arguments. They too are members.
Second, it is a not-for-profit enterprise. We are not in the business of selling a product any more than we are in the business of selling influence. Our members, formidable though they are, are volunteers.
Thirdly, our championship policy will identify who holds the true crown in each weight division. At this time we recognize light heavyweight Chad Dawson, super middleweight Andre Ward, middleweight Sergio Martinez, and flyweight Toshiyuki Igarashi. Saturday night will see another seize a true crown when junior featherweights Toshiaki Nishioka, the TBR’s first contender, faces Nonito Donaire, the TBR’s second contender. Common sense tells us that a division’s true crown can only be seized by combat between the two best in a singular ring before a singular world. The third, fourth, and fifth-ranked contenders neither belong nor fit in that ring. We too see the stark evidence that the top two contenders are rarely matched in the modern era, but we will not capitulate to the status quo, we will change it.
It begins with language. Words and phrases like “undisputed,” “title holder,” “belt holder,” “slice/piece of a title,” and “unification bout,” are the stuff of delusion. We recognize who is behind the delusion and resolve to respect neither the alphabet organizations nor their belts. We will ignore them. But we will not ignore history.
For most of the first half of the twentieth century, boxing was among the most popular sports in the world. Its decline coincided with the rise of the racketeer-influenced International Boxing Club which was described by a U.S. Senator as “a closed corporation which governs and controls the professional boxing business… and has a nearly wide-open field in the handling of championship bouts.” The governor of California said it better: “Boxing smells to high heaven.” After a federal grand jury handed down indictments and the organization was outlawed in 1959, the now-public stench had sports fans pinching their noses.
Then the flies came in.
The old National Boxing Association was reorganized and renamed the World Boxing Association (WBA) in 1962, the year after Frankie Carbo was sent to Alcatraz. The World Boxing Council (WBC) was formed six months later. By 1964, the WBA was demonstrating the tendencies that would mark all of the so-called sanctioning bodies: It stripped heavyweight king Muhammad Ali for agreeing to face Sonny Liston in a rematch. The WBC, not to be outdone, suspended both Ali and Liston for the same. Meanwhile, Paul Pender had already retired as middleweight champion, fed up with the “practically impossible situation of trying to solve the dual claims to the middleweight title.” In 1974, light heavyweight champion Bob Foster threw in the towel for the same reason as Pender. “It’s too much of a mental thing to fight the WBA and the WBC too,” he said.
It wasn’t always so bad. In 1949, there were nine divisions with nine champions at the top of each one. As of this writing, the WBA, WBC, IBF, and WBO are putting the squeeze on seventeen divisions. They list over eighty-eight different title belts and seventy-four current champions. A once-regal concept has long-since lost its luster.
Boxing is the greatest sport in the world. It deserves better.
Together, the members of the Board will ring an opening bell for boxing’s reform. We are no longer willing to stand by.
We hope to see you in the corner.
The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board membership is currently as follows:
Adam Abramowitz, US
Ramon Aranda, US
Jim Black, Scotland
Sidney Boquiren, Japan
Jake Donovan, US
Oliver Fennell, Thailand
Andrew Fruman, Canada
Stewart Howe, England
Jason Karp, Canada
Ronan Keenan, Ireland
Kelsey McCarson, US
Alex McClintock, Australia
Matt McGrain, Scotland
Erika Montoya, Mexico
Alister Ottesen, Norway
Vittorio Parisi, Italy
Matthew Paras, US
Per Ake Persson, Sweden
Eric Raskin, US
Salvador Rodriguez, Mexico
Cliff Rold, US
Tim Starks, US
Springs Toledo, US
Michael Woods, US
Steve Zemach, US