Wanted: Legitimate Ranking for Boxers

13.10.03 – By Ron Widelec: There is little doubt that boxing is in need of some drastic changes. Speaking to a boxing fan will almost always lead into a conversation of complaint and venting about what is wrong in the sport. While everyone has a different opinion about the ills in the sport, there is usually at least one common complaint: the ranking of fighters by the sanctioning bodies is atrocious.

Sanctioning body rankings have a tremendous effect on what fights will actually take place. Many title bouts are required defenses against ranked mandatory contenders. Rankings are often used to justify bouts that may seem like mismatches to fans, and fighters are sometimes forced into terrible fights keep their titles. A glaring example of this was the last title defense of Bernard Hopkins, in which Hopkins was forced to chase his mandatory ‘contender’ across the ring as he ran for dear life.

The other side of the spectrum is a sport in which many deserving contenders are denied a title shot because of political reasons, or just out of fear that they might actually win. This is why these ranking systems were developed; to make sure that champions defend their titles often enough and more importantly, do so against quality, deserving opponents. However, the immense imperfection of these ranking systems has seriously damaged the sport and tainted the meaning of the ‘champion’.

No ranking system can ever be perfect, but many of the ranking systems used today are highly flawed. There are many aspects of ranking that are completely subjective, such as opinions about a fighter’s heart, ability, and toughness. Thus a completely computerized system can be flawed, as they are based on statistics. There is no easy away around these problems. And these are only the problems with the system when it functions correctly. Let us not forget how much money and political force can also influence a sanctioning body’s ranking. Keep in mind, the more money a fighter makes, the larger the sanctioning fees will be.

These are considerable hurdles to overcome in the development of a ranking system. There is, however, an alternative. An alternative system is being developed at this time by Charles Jay, who runs Totalaction.com. Jay was once a manger, promoter, and held several inside positions in boxing organizations as well. He is probably best know among boxing fans for his two book Operation Clean 1 and 2, which outline some of the most serious problems in boxing today as well as possible steps that can be taken to remedy these problems. Jay has an intimate knowledge of the sport and the laws, rules, and regulations that run it that can make any boxing ‘expert’ jealous.

Jay has spent a considerable amount of time trying to deal with the issue of fighter rankings. He plans to start a media poll in which boxing experts would rank fighters through an open ballot vote. The will bring together a wide range of people from the boxing world; writers, researches, ex-fighters, and commentators. This body of voters, which will ideally number between fifty and one hundred, will hold a monthly ballot in order to establish a top ten ranking. All votes would be made public, and any member who makes votes that cannot be justified within a reasonable level would be easily exposed.

Imperative to this poll is that idea that all voting members will be experts. In this case an expert is someone who covers boxing on a regular basis, so do not expect to see writer that only mention boxing when someone gets an ear bitten off. Each member must be knowledgeable, creditable and respected in the sport. Names that have been mentioned include the ‘big names’, such as Max Kellerman (ESPN) and Larry Merchant (HBO), top writers like Dan Rafael (USA Today), as well as several internet writers.

As stated before, no ranking system can ever be perfect. Many of the experts on this poll have considerable ties with certain fighters and promoters through their TV networks. However, the affect of this will be minimal, as no one individual will have more than two percent of the voting power (assuming a group of fifty voters). Thus, individual influences will play a very small role in the rankings, and will likely be countered by other members from other organizations.

For the time being, this media poll would be independent of the sanctioning bodies, similar to the Ring Magazine rankings. However, unlike the Ring Rankings, this poll will not be naming champions. The poll will merely rank fighters in a top 10, to give fans a credible alternative for sensible rankings.

The WBA had expresses a willingness to get involved with this poll, no doubt in the hopes that it would raise its credibility with fans over its rival sanctioning bodies. However, a snag was reached over how much of an influence the poll’s rankings would have on their official rankings. The WBA wanted to use the poll’s rankings to control 50% or the WBA rankings, but Jay would not go for less than 75%. Jay explained that if the WBA ranked a fighter #1, while the poll did not rank him at all, he would still be ranked, by average, in the top 10, with the possibility of a title shot. At this point it appears that the poll will be completely independent of any of these organizations.

While basic recommended criteria will be used to rank fighters, poll members would have complete independence to rank as they please, keeping in mind that the votes will be open. Member’s names will be made public so that voters can be ‘lobbied’ in order to hear all sided before making any decisions.

The system is still in the nascent stages, but is being worked on diligently. While not perfect, it certainly sounds better then the current rankings. So for anyone that has ever dropped their jaw at the sight of the alphabet rankings, there may be hope on the horizon. If the right people get behind this new ranking poll, and the fans make their voices heard, this bright idea can help move boxing in the right direction.

Any questions, comments, or suggestions about this poll… Email me at Beowolf88@aol.com.