This week’s Rant will be a bit different. I’m writing this preface in anticipation of receiving email responses for questions I sent to the three founders of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board (TBRB) on Thursday. For those who don’t yet know, The TBRB is a boxing rankings board made up of various bloggers and writers drawn together because of Ring Magazine’s change in championship policy last year. Hardly a revolutionary group, their formation was more due to Ring Magazine not being Ring Magazine enough anymore. This month they celebrate their one year anniversary and I celebrate one year of vehemently disliking the idea.
I am not a fan of The TBRB for many reasons, above and beyond the folly of using anything as subjective as an opinion poll in a sport where it’s so easy to fudge facts, give in to bias, and ride agendas.
The biggest problem I’ve had, though, is with the way the organization leveraged itself into a push for instant credibility by taking advantage of their members’ reach as writers.
To this day, there seems to be no room for dissent or a critical eye in their campaign. There is almost no transparency as to the actual methodology of the rankings process. Instead, members write glowingly positive accounts of their own organization, reminiscent of Gabe Montoya from a few weeks back, who did similarly with his “undercover” consulting gig, raining praise on his own efforts. Except, this time, the conflict is right out in the open. It makes you understand a little bit better why, maybe, these same “indie” bloggers were so reluctant to call Montoya on his conflict of interest. From personal experience with at least one of the founders, any attempts at criticizing or satirizing any aspect of the group has been met with angry words and social media blocking.
And, as the TBRB membership grows, it adds new websites and blogs to its ranks, essentially bartering membership for assured positive press from those entrusted with setting the narrative for the sport.
At least, this is my take on the self-anointed ringers of the “first bell of a new era.” Are they better than the alphabet organizations? Anything is better than that. Are they better than Ring Magazine or any of the other rankings out there. I don’t know, maybe. A dirt sandwich is tastier than a shit sandwich, but you wouldn’t want to eat either. Why should boxing fans always be forced to chose the least horrible option instead of one that actually suits the sport and its needs?
As someone with a background in boxing and an active hand in designing anti-corruption programs for charitable organizations, I see this group as one rife with possibilities for instant and total corruption. Right now, as an informal group with no real power, the potential for danger is limited. But what happens if, one day, they do get some power and just about every media source has been bought off with membership? Even the WBC, once upon a time, was allegedly founded on good intentions. Does boxing need another organization destined to be rotten to the core? Does the boxing media, already greatly compromised on so many levels, need one more brotherhood/fraternal order designed to stifle the critical voice and marginalize dissent?
But, I will put this aside and wait for the responses to my questions. When dealing with fellow writers, I’ve learned that there’s always the possibility of getting bogged down in semantics and double talk. I’m hoping for straight answers, but not counting on them.
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OK, they just came in…Let it be known that founder, Tim Starks, answered and on several occasions, changed the flow and order of my questions, I assume to attack each point individually. [Magno’s Note: A correction. I was mistaken in saying that Starks had changed the order of my questions. He did, however separate the questions into smaller parts, again, presumably to answer each allegation and/or question individually.] I’ve restored the original order when I felt it necessary and attached my own notes, also when necessary:
“From my understanding of the TBRB, your rankings are assembled by only three people: [Springs] Toledo, [Cliff] Rold, and [Tim] Starks. When one hears of your board, 30 members strong, one assumes that this is a true group effort, maybe a popular consensus of what the board thinks as a whole. This isn’t the case.
“One of your members, Eric Raskin, recently wrote an article about your organization and included a never-disclosed tidbit of information that makes things even more dubious, at least in my eyes. This is what he wrote: ‘Every Sunday, the three founders put their heads together and update the rankings to reflect the past week’s results; the updates are posted on a message board accessible only to members; the TBRB board members weigh in with disagreements and suggestions; the founders take the suggestions into account and finalize the ratings.’
So, how is this a fair set of rankings based on the expertise of this mass of alleged experts? The rankings are made by three people and, at the end of the day, finalized by those same three.”
A: Incorrect. The rankings are the result of the Board consensus, pure and simple. The updates offered by three people are only suggestions to start debate. They are proposals only. The Board’s will is predominant. If the popular consensus goes against the chairs’ suggestions, they are changed. And the fact is that the chairs often disagree among themselves before reaching a consensus for proposals. That Mr. Raskin’s piece laid bare the very rankings procedure you consider so damning is evidence enough of how open we are with how our rankings are assembled, rather than evidence of some kind of cover-up.
[Magno’s Note: Independent questioning of three board members confirmed my original understanding of the rankings process. Each would also vouch for their own group’s fairness. What remains vague is how much the board actually contributes to this weekly process, how many of the board members exercise their voice, and to what extent do the 3-man panel’s “suggestions” become confirmed by their own ultimate authority. Again, the actual back and forth is behind a member-only wall of secrecy, so there will be no independent confirmation of anything regarding the nuts and bolts of the actual ranking process.]
And why be secretive? Why not deliver some transparency? Could it be to hide just how much everything depends on only three voices? I don’t know. We don’t know.
A: The Board makes very clear in its regular site updates and on Twitter when the rankings have been arrived at by a close or controversial margin. Anyone who wants to ask us about the deliberative process at any time is welcome to do so, and will receive an honest answer. There is no prohibition on individual members expressing their disagreement publicly with the decisions of the Board, and the examples of them doing so are numerous. We can provide some at request. Every chair and Toledo have seen their preferences thwarted by the will of the Board numerous times.
[Magno’s Note: There seems to be lots of stuff “available upon request.” 99% of fans won’t (and shouldn’t have to) take that extra step when trying to inform themselves. Ideally, everything should be already out in the open.]
“In a recent article penned by your board’s very own Springs Toledo, it was mentioned that your charter ‘rejects shortcuts and appointments to the top of the division.’ Apparently, this is one of your big selling points in terms of being an alternative to the Ring Rankings and all the others. The idea, I assume, is to rank fighters according to their actual achievements in the ring– or, at the very least, to sell yourself as an organization that does so.
However, Floyd Mayweather made his debut at no. 1 in the junior middleweight division off the weight of one win in the division (against Miguel Cotto). Yes, it was a significant win, but doesn’t this seem to go against the very concept you claim to uphold– fair, unbiased rankings that rejects shortcuts and appointments? Wasn’t Mayweather’s immediate rise to no. 1 a result of his fame and past level of accomplishment in other divisions? ”
A: Cotto was ranked #1 in the division at the time Mayweather defeated him, for reasons explained here: http://www.queensberry-rules.
[Magno’s Note: Starks asserts that Cotto was ranked no. 1 when Mayweather beat him. Actually, Mayweather’s win over Cotto predates the existence of the TBRB. Cotto’s no. 1 ranking was only Starks’ singular opinion, as he stated in the above linked article: “When Mayweather beat Miguel Cotto at junior middleweight, he beat the man ranked #1 in my book at the weight.” (emphasis added) Frankly, this is as subjective as subjective can be and all subsequent rankings have been built on this tenuous premise. ]
“Boxing Tribune writer Tim Harrison originally brought this up, but if Michael Medina had been the one to beat Cotto, would he have shot up to no. 1? Austin Trout beat Cotto and had a long history in the division, but he couldn’t surpass Mayweather, with only one win at 154 since 2007. Isn’t this a clear case of bias in favor of those fighters with bigger names and greater levels of exposure?”
A: It is not. Trout beat Cotto when he had dropped in the rankings as a result of the Mayweather loss — beating the #2 fighter is worth less than beating the #1 fighter in a division in any rankings system. Additionally, the charter accounts for “current form” factoring into the rankings. The Cotto who fought Trout was not the same Cotto who fought Mayweather, by the consensus of the Board and most observers. And lastly, there were a number of members who argued very strongly to remove Mayweather from the #1 spot at 154 at various intervals during the time when he held the ranking. Eventually, those members won out after Alvarez defeated Trout, resulting in Alvarez taking the #1 spot over Mayweather. As for the Medina scenario: “current form” can extend to losses that reflect especially poorly on a fighter. Although it is impossible to foretell the will of the Board, it would be very conceivable that a loss to Medina would have been considered a poor representation of the current form of Cotto, worse than the loss Cotto had suffered at the hands of Mayweather. As such, had Medina beaten Cotto it is possible that Medina would not have taken the #1 spot, based on the standard set forth in the charter.
[Magno’s Note: Please note that Mayweather remained a ranked contender despite more than 16 months between junior middleweight fights. This goes against the TBRB charter (quoted by Starks a few questions down), which forces a contender to be removed from rankings if he’s inactive in the division for more than a year. By their own charter, Mayweather should not have been even no. 2 and in a position to fight for their “championship.”]
“These opinion-based rankings all seem to fall into a pattern of favoring those with bigger names and more TV exposure…and there are several cases of this happening already with your rankings, actually dating back to your initial listings.
Case in point is Vic Darchinyan, who has been ranked in the top ten of the junior featherweight division for a full year with only one fight in the division (against an unranked opponent). There are other examples of this. How is this not a case of a more well-known fighter getting preferential placement over other, more deserving fighters?”
A: The examples of more well-known fighters being placed below less well-known fighters in our rankings are legion. Manny Pacquiao is more popular than Juan Manuel Marquez, but is ranked beneath him. Vic Darchinyan is less well-known than Victor Terrazas, but ranked beneath him. Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. is more well-known than almost every other boxer in the world, but is not ranked at all. If you choose to cherry-pick the examples of more popular fighters ranked above less popular fighters, while ignoring a great number of occasions where lesser-known fighters are ranked above more well-known fighters, you are ignoring the totality of the rankings for the purposes of making a point that suits your agenda.
[Magno’s Note: …and, so, what about Darchinyan? Blame this Ring around the Rosie answer on me. I should’ve stated that these discrepancies usually happen in the lower weight classes and with those fighters away from the Western fight market. Everybody from Boston to Bangkok knows the plights of Pacquiao, Marquez, Chavez, etc…it’s the smaller fighters who tend to suffer– you know, like the ones not being ranked because Darchinyan fights on Showtime/HBO and they don’t?]
“If you’re to be believed and trusted, why the selective enforcement of your own bylaws? By your own charter, Andre Ward, inactive for over a year, should be stripped of his title.”
A: You are misreading the charter. The charter states, “In those instances where a contender is inactive for one year or more, he will be removed from the rankings until such time as he fights and earns back a place in the top ten.” Contenders and champions are by definition not the same. Any attempt to suggest that we selectively enforced our own charter in this instance is based on a wholesale misunderstanding of our charter.
[Magno’s Note: So, champions are under less stringent requirements than contenders? And what about Mayweather? He was a ‘contender,’ inactive for 16 months, yet positioned for a “title” bout.]
“Sure, he [Ward] has a fight scheduled now…but on September 9 (when he should’ve been stripped), he had no fight planned and nothing even strongly rumored. In the meantime, Vitali Klitschko and David Haye were removed from their rankings positions in order to position a ‘title’ fight between Wladimir Klitschko and Alexander Povetkin?”
A: The Board has no clairvoyant abilities so as to “position” anything. First off, the charter has a clear option for keeping one-year inactive contenders in the rankings in the case of injury. Vitali Klitschko was removed from the rankings only when it was established that he would be inactive indefinitely. The Haye example explicitly disproves this “positioning” argument. He should have been ruled inactive in July under a strict enforcement of the rules, but was granted an exemption due to his prior injury history (under the charter, optional) and his scheduled September bout. He was not ruled inactive until after the September bout was postponed indefinitely (and, subsequent to our ruling, rescheduled for February). Had the Board wanted to engineer a title fight, it could have been to our advantage to have rendered Haye inactive in July. We had no foreknowledge that he would pull out of the fight the weekend before the bout. It took a second injury for us to rule Haye inactive for contender status. Had the Haye-Fury fight gone forward as planned just a handful of days later, we would have been left with no alternative but to defend our strict #1 vs. #2 rule, and were prepared to do so even though our heavyweight lineage has been one of the more disputed individual decisions of our Board.
[Magno’s Note: …….. ]
“Why the convenient flexibility in the enforcement of your own rules? Based on the narrative you want to sell, sometimes you choose to enforce them, sometimes not? Are champions held to lower standards than their contenders?”
A: There is no “convenient flexibility in the enforcement of” our own rules — that assertion is based on the aforementioned misreading of our charter. It is the strong belief of the Board that championship status is an honored position that demands a divisional king lose that designation in the ring, when he retires or when he makes clear his decision to abandon a division. Stripping champions arbitrarily is the province of the alphabets, and a firm indication of what is wrong with the belt sanctioning outfits.
[Magno’s Note: So, there’s no provision for stripping a “champion” who no longer fights or no longer chooses to face any top opposition? Kings for life?]
“From the very beginning, you guys leveraged your voices as writers into giving your own organization an instant thumbs up. You crow about 8 boxing sites using your rankings, but how much of this is because your own members are writing up the organization and actually anointing it as credible before ever earning any level of trust or respectability? Is this not a conflict of interest? By bringing in these board members from different sites and blogs, aren’t you just bartering for exposure…you know, their inclusion for access to their readers and immediate respectability without having to answer any tough questions about your organization or how things are handled?”
A: Individual fans and writers are more than welcome to exercise their own judgment in ascertaining the credibility of our organization and its rankings. Naturally, members of the Board are inclined to view the organization and its rankings as credible, and there should be no ban on those writers expressing their views and arguing on our behalf. Anyone evaluating their arguments should feel free to consider whether the arguments are diminished in any way by that person being a member of the organization, and because our membership list is public, there are no secrets about Board members’ allegiances. Numerous websites with members on the Board feature other writers with critical opinions of the Board, so if we are “bartering for exposure” we have failed. We regularly address questions about our rankings on our Twitter feed (http://www.twitter.com/
[Magno’s Note: Fans shouldn’t have to do their research and investigate who is or isn’t a member of the board before being able to make informed opinions on the sites they’ve come to trust. And if there are “Numerous websites with members on the Board [which] feature other writers with critical opinions of the Board,” I’ve yet to see them (Maybe one small case can be made for Max Boxing’s Steve Kim and Gabe Montoya, who bash the board on social media while occasional Max Boxing columnist, Matthew Paras, functions as a member of the board). On many occasions, though, the TBRB targets a site’s owner or editor for membership, instantly muzzling any potential dissent from those working under him. Actually, this is the case with nearly all of the websites in which their rankings are being sold as THE rankings.]
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So, there you have it. A little longer Rant than normal, but worth a read. Dwelling on the position by position details of ranking spots would prove to be a pointless endeavor. Rather, one should focus on the organization, itself, and what its behavior tells us about how it might handle itself when/if it becomes anything more than fantasy league fodder because, as we all know, in boxing, anything than can be corrupted, will be corrupted. Half-informed approval from non-boxing people or a similarly half-informed thumbs up from Teddy Atlas don’t really mean a damn thing.
The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board’s arrival was more coup d’état than democratic initiative. They immediately declared themselves THE rankings before the first fan ever had a chance to read anything about them. Their actual rankings decisions are made behind a wall of “members only” secrecy, and if I hadn’t pushed the issue, not a single critical word about their group would have been published by any website. The board members may be well-intentioned, but this doesn’t sound like a group interested in delving beyond the ego-rush of fraternal order membership. And we know how much boxing writers LOVE to be members of secret orders and fraternal brotherhoods.
Still, at the very least an effort was made to answer these tough questions. Unlike some in this business, who choose to blacklist dissenters and critics, I would actually encourage you to take this interview to heart, check things out, and formulate your own opinion. Personally, I have nothing to lose or gain from any of this. I’m a member of no fraternal orders.
So, what could be a viable alternative to the TBRB and all opinion-based rankings? Perhaps something along the lines of college football’s BCS rankings, which use both cold, hard facts as well as the human touch to determine team rankings. But I’m not here to sell any ideas or propose any alternatives. And even if I did, they would go nowhere without the bartered support of clumps of media voices.
But don’t go by my word and don’t go by theirs. Last week, the internet was papered with “we’re awesome” TBRB press releases posted on sites where TBRB members have editorial control. Ignore all of that as well. Boxing fans need to have a critical eye. And more and more, this is proving to be an absolute necessity.
UPDATE: 4:04 AM: Tim Starks took to Twitter after reading this article and posted this angry response: http://www.twitlonger.com/show/n_1rppnv9
To clarify things and because, gee, Twitter seems to be the only place where Starks can be Starks these days, I responded to his angry, dismissive attempt at cyber bullying: http://www.twitlonger.com/show/n_1rppoba
You can email Paul at firstname.lastname@example.org or watch as frat boy bloggers mock his inability to Tweet properly. You can also buy his book, Notes from the Boxing Underground! Paul is a full member of the Burger King Kids’ Club, a born iconoclast, and an ordained minister in the Universal Life Church.