by Tim Harrison
The New Jersey-based International Boxing Federation (IBF) organized in 1983, following Robert Lee’s failed bid to win the Presidency of the WBA. Lee, then President of the USBA (formed in 1976), took several partners and took the USBA to the international level, forming at first the USBA-International, before finally changing the name of the organization to the IBF.
Like the WBC before it, Lee and his cohorts of the IBF promised integrity and fairness in its ranking systems. While the IBF’s rankings are far from perfect, they should get credit for being the only major sanctioning body that crowns only 1 world champion. Unfortunately, the positive is outweighed by a legacy tarnished from its beginnings. Testimony in a racketeering scandal uncovered in 1999 revealed that any promised integrity quickly went out the window, as extortion allegations dated back to 1985 – only 2 years after the IBF’s inception.
Robert Lee as forced to resign from his position after his indictment on 32 different counts of racketeering. Several prominent boxing promoters were revealed to have been complicit in the IBF’s corruption. Bob Arum of Top Rank Promotions, Cedric Kushner, Don King, and New Jersey-based Main Events Promotions were all revealed to have been complicit in the IBF’s corrupt “rankings for sale” scandal.
In one instance revealed following a 2-year federal grand jury investigation, Fernando Vargas, promoted by Main Events and rated number 5 by the IBF in May 1998, was boosted to the number 1 spot for the price of $25,000. Vargas beat Yory Boy Campas to win the IBF jr. middleweight title, and held the title for nearly 2 years. Furthermore, Bob Arum testified that he paid $100,000 for the sanctioning of George Foreman’s 1995 title defense against unranked Alex Schultz, rather than have Foreman fight his IBF mandatory.
In total, 7 promoters and 23 boxers were implicated in the IBF’s rankings-fixing scandal. When the dust settled, Robert Lee, the alleged beneficiary of over $338,000 (reported) bribes, escaped conviction on any racketeering charges, but was convicted on 6 counts of money laundering and tax evasion. He was sentenced to 22 months in prison, slapped with a $25,000 fine and given a lifetime ban from boxing.
The IBF remained under federal supervision until 2004, and have been operating unfettered since sanctions were lifted. Is it possible that they have remained free from corruption since the watchful eye of the U.S. Government turned its gaze from its central headquarters in New Jersey? Yes, it is. Is it possible that things never changed, and dirty business carried on as usual? Yes, it is.
And therein lays the danger inherent. The IBF was exposed as completely corrupt almost from its beginnings. Are we to assume that 4 years under the watch of (inept) federal supervisors would deter an organization utterly corrupt from the ground up?
If you pay attention to the sport today, you can still see the bending of rules and the rapid movement of fighters up the rankings. According to IBF rules, WBC and WBA champions are prohibited from being ranked in their top 15, while WBO champions, due to the fact that the IBF does not recognize the WBO as a major entity, can be ranked in the top 15.
Most recently former WBC welterweight champion Andre Berto made a surprise appearance in the IBF’s welterweight top 15 rankings for the month of May. Berto was unranked through the month of April, and only appeared as the number 10-ranked welterweight after talks of taking on IBF welterweight titlist Jan Zaveck surfaced.
Lou DiBella, Berto’s promoter, told Boxingscene, “Berto possibly came up [as a potential Zaveck opponent] but a lot of things would have to be satisfied for something like that to happen.”
The IBF’s ratings changes gives “Former World Champion, added to the rankings”, as the reason for Berto’s appearance at the number 10 spot. Looking for a little consistency in their policies, I searched the mini flyweight (105 lbs) and jr. flyweight (108 lbs) for the re-appearance of Ivan Calderon, long-time WBO titlist in both divisions, who lost his 108-pound title to Giovani Segura in August 2010. My search produced no results. I scoured the ratings changes for every division for each month of this year, and Berto is the only former world champion given preferential ratings treatment.
Furthermore, being a former world champion for another sanctioning body is not listed as a pre-requisite for being ranked by the IBF. What conclusions is one, capable of critical and independent thought, to draw from the IBF’s sudden ranking of Andre Berto? At the very least, the IBF has chosen to gift a spot amongst its ranking to allow a young, high profile (more profitable) boxer to challenge an unheralded (and less profitable) champion, and possibly take 3 percent of Berto’s fight purses for the foreseeable future.
As illustrated by the IBF-Andre Berto connection, and as we have seen throughout history, the parties that benefit from the current power structure in boxing are the promoters and sanctioning bodies. The fighters and fans are the ones left in the cold. The opportunities presented to a fighter are based on rankings of the corrupt WBA, WBC, WBO, and IBF. A large portion of misinformed boxing fans and figures rely on the Golden Boy Promotions-owned Ring Magazine as a gauge of the best in boxing. But as we’ve seen throughout history, and revisited in the archives of The Boxing Tribune , Ring Magazine, like the sanctioning bodies it thumbs its nose at, has a history of corruption.
Sanctioning bodies exist for one sole purpose – to line their pockets with the hard-earned money of professional boxers. When fairness and objectivity are supposed to be a major part of what goes in to the rankings that determine the opportunities presented to the athletes that risk their health for the entertainment of us all, self-interest and greed have always proven the more powerful force that drives the major sanctioning bodies and Ring Magazine, the self-proclaimed “Bible of Boxing”. From bribery, to extortion, to multiple titles that exist only to open up another revenue stream, to under-handed dealings that exist almost out in the open today, the crimes of the power elite have been swept under the rug and forgotten.
Complete change overnight is not expected here. It is unrealistic and the power vacuum would leave opportunities for major sanctioning body-wannabes such as the IBO to come in and pick up where their predecessors left off. Change begins with education and awareness, and has to happen gradually. Those that are tired of seeing weathered old men in empty suits taking money hand-over-fist have to call for change. Let us hope the whispers become loud enough that boxing’s power brokers take notice.
If you missed parts 1 – 3, detailing the shady, under-handed dealings of the WBC, WBA, and WBO, you can read them here:
You can e-mail Tim with questions or comments at: firstname.lastname@example.org, follow him on twitter at: www.twitter.com/TheTimHarrison, or find him on Facebook at: http://www.facebook.com/officialtimharrison.
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About the Author: Paul has been in and around the sport of boxing for more than thirty years. You can read his work on Fox Sports, Yahoo Sports, or on his own website, The Boxing Tribune. In the past, he has done work for Inside Fights, The Queensberry Rules and Eastside Boxing. Paul currently resides in Michoacan, Mexico, where he has worked as a licensed boxing official as well as co-trainer at Ruben Olivares' gym.