Reform or Revolution?

By Robert Ecksel on October 12, 2012
Reform or Revolution?
Will a concept carry the same weight as a championship belt, no matter how redundant?

One needn’t be a rocket scientist to know that something’s gotta give. As great as boxing has been in the past, and can still be…

“As much as I love boxing, I hate it. And as much as I hate it, I love it.”—Budd Schulberg

One needn’t be a rocket scientist to know that something’s gotta give. As great as boxing has been in the past, and can still be in its finest moments, a toxic blend of greed, disdain and disinformation has crippled the game’s credibility and chased its fan base to other sports. Wringing one’s hands has accomplished nothing. Boxing’s dark side is as dark as ever. We can either accept things as they are—the grin and bear it proposition—or recognize the problems that plague our sport, call them for what they are, and take a stand in an attempt to bring about some order.

In that spirit, the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board has been created.

A press release to announce their existence and objectives begins with a well aimed jab at Golden Boy Promotions.

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.

The Ring was the standard bearer forever. But its credibility was questioned long before Golden Boy purchased the one-time “Bible of Boxing.” Look no further than Don King’s United States Boxing Championships, the fiasco of a tournament that ABC, to its chagrin, broadcast in the mid-‘70s and which would not have been possible without the connivance of Johnny Ort, Associate Editor of Ring Magazine at the time, and his cooked up rankings. “I needed their reputation and their ratings and their sanction,” King told Sports Illustrated, “to give validity and authority to the tournament.”

That sorry chapter in boxing’s history revealed many things, not least of which is that no man is immune to the blandishments of corruption.

But that was then and this is now. Three members of The Ring’s ratings advisory panel resigned to protest Golden Boy’s machinations. Springs Toledo, Tim Stark and Cliff Rold wrote about their disenchantment, which sounded a death knell for a magazine on life support.

The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board has twenty-five members who recognize the serious issues in boxing, its consequential decline as a major sport, and where the problems are. According to the press release, the Board is a truly global rankings board—unbeholden and unanswerable to sanctioning bodies, promoters, or any for-profit enterprise.

That sounds good and we wish them well, but we habitually root for the underdog, especially when the top dog always gets the bone.

The press release details the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board’s three-point plan, before getting down to business.

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.

No doubt the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board has its heart in the right place. But what gives those acronyms authority is their willingness, or perhaps overeagerness, to dispense belts, and by default bestow “greatness.” Lest we forget, to be called champion is what every fighter wants. Having impartial ratings will be a huge improvement over the current situation, but will a concept, however well-intentioned, carry the same weight as a championship belt, no matter how tacky or redundant?

And lastly, one must take into account that old saying, “If you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas,” especially when the subject is boxing.

For more information on the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board visit their website at www.tbrb.org or contact Cliff Rold at roldboxing@hotmail.com, Tim Starks at tstarks2@gmail.com, or Springs Toledo at scalinatella@hotmail.com.

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  1. Rob 06:22am, 10/12/2012

    I’m glad at least someone is attempting this. At some point we all have to be part of it to make it work. I wish them luck, it is something truly needed in the sport. I know a LOT of boxing fanatics (since I’m from Puerto Rico where boxing is still THE sport) but I also know a lot of casual fans that like the sport on it’s face but end up not following it because “I never know how they have so many champs” or “Who is this guy and why is he fighting for a belt?”. That kind of comment (I can go on forever) is exactly why the sport is only relevant to the true boxing hardcore fans but not to the casual sports fan. It has become too hard to follow. And I’m not even mentioning the stupid promoters and the bogus fights (and lies, and pretty much any thing they can) they try and sell to the public. Hopefully this is successful, it is very much needed at least to educate casual fans that due to all the misinformation and nonsense have lost some interest in this great sport. Even if it doesn’t work I would like to thank the people involved for attempting it, as a true fan of the sport I thank you gentlemen.

  2. Kelsey M. 05:53am, 10/12/2012

    Truly an exciting endeavor. I am really glad to see it being embraced by almost all facets of the boxing community.

  3. McGrain 02:22am, 10/12/2012

    Well the will is there.  If it doesn’t work out as we hope it won’t be for want of trying.  Speaking from a purely personal perspective, I see this as boxing’s internet connunities first serious push at seriously ranking fighters in a sensible, cohesive way.  That’s why the contirbution of sites like boxing.com is so crucial.  IF we get to where we want to be, it’s only going to be one way: Together.  We have no title to bequeath in the sense that we present a belt, so our target isn’t to be fighters but the most forgotten of all components in boxing - The Fans.  The first pit-stop on the road to success, perhaps the last pit-stop is going to be having fans google our rankings to find out what the stae of play is in divisional boxing, not the WBA’s or The Ring’s, but ours.  That calls for transparency and community.

    I’m hopeful.

  4. Mike Casey 12:08am, 10/12/2012

    Good and fair assessment, Robert. I’m giving these fellas a chance because I think they’ve got courage and commitment. The names on their Board - our own Springs Toledo and Matt McGrain being among them - are the names of men who care passionately about the old game and share my frustration about how these self-serving alphabet groups have ripped it apart. Something of an irony there, as TBRB is unavoidably another alphabet combo! But they are non-profitable, their intentions are good and noble and they will gain weight and respect if enough of us fellow writers recognize their rankings as a true and unbiased guide to boxing form. I have already made that commitment by giving them recognition on my own ALL TIME BOXING website. I’m quietly confident that they will live up to my expectations. We’ve got to stand up and make a statement instead of just moaning about it and crying into our beer.

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