Answering Questions And Complaints About The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, Year One

One year and one month ago, the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board sprang into existence as an alternative to the belt-sanctioning organizations that have polluted the sport and made it more difficult to recognize the true champions of each weight class. Upon its creation, some fans and writers had some questions and criticisms, and I took the occasion as a chair of the Board to answer them here

Now, one year in, the Board has built up significant support and recognition. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. But some people still have questions. Some have criticisms, most of which fall into two categories about A. the need for or value of the Board's work and B. its processes. Here are answers to the most common of those questions and criticisms during year one.

Aren't these just "fantasy" rankings?

There are two answers for this.

One is to look at the Board's rankings and its champions, then look at the alphabet rankings and their "champions," and tell me which one looks more like reality and which one looks more like fantasy. I'll give you one division.

The TBRB welterweight top 10:  1. Floyd Mayweather; 2. Timothy Bradley; 3. Juan Manuel Marquez; 4. Manny Pacquiao; 5. Robert Guerrero; 6. Devon Alexander; 7. Marcos Maidana; 8. Adrien Broner; 9. Kell Brook; 10. Paulie Malignaggi

The WBC welterweight rankings: beltholder, Floyd Mayweather; 1. Luis Carlos Abregu; 2. Amir Khan; 3. Ed Paredes; 4. Leonard Bundu; 5. Shane Mosley; 6; Ionut Dan Ion; 7. Zab Judah; 8. Robert Guerrero; 9. Jessie Vargas; 10. Kell Brook

But: Unlike the alphabet belt organizations, the Board isn't mandating fights; our rankings and champions are more theoretical in that way. And, therefore, the argument goes, they don't matter.

It's true we're not making fighters fight each other. One of the things that point misses, though, is that the alphabets aren't, either. Nobody with the WBC belt has to do anything they don't want to, and I don't even mean that in the way where the belt organizations are pretty selective about what they expect their "champions" to do — Vitali Klitschko hasn't made a mandatory defense since 2011 and won't until 2014 if at all. If the guy with the WBC belt wants to drop it rather than face the opponent the WBC picked, he can and will. And if he's a fighter of any consequence or marketability, he'll be greeted with open arms by the WBO, WBA or IBF to contend for one of their belts. In so far as the belt gang has an influence, it's because the fighters and promoters and anyone who gives them creedence chooses to. For instance, some people mock pound-for-pound lists, but many fighters care about them and they're motivated to be on them. And p4p lists are far more nebulous on the scale of fantasy to reality.

Which is to say: The belts of the alphabet gang are tangible, physical things, but what they represent is a concept. We're dealing with levels of abstraction here, though, and I'll concede that on the continuum of a concept and what is "real" about a concept, we've got a ways to go. But the Board has only been around for a year, you know? And it's not like it's not had a considerable impact. And, to circle back to the intro to this question: I think the concept we represent is founded on a more reality-based set of rankings and champions, which is a much better start. Give it some time.

What difference are you making? Why do we need these rankings?

The Board has only been around a year and a month. It has not made as much difference as it can, or as much difference as I expect it will after year two or three and so on. It took Ring's revived championship policy a long time to build its cachet – years and years and years.

For an accounting of where the Board has made an impact, where its message has gotten out to, I'd defer to Springs Toledo's one-year anniversary essay here. Overall, the Board is ahead of my expectations on this count.

I can tell you the difference we hope to make is to bring clarity to the sport for the serious fans and historians who appreciate knowing who the real champions of a division are, and to offer an entry point to those who have abandoned the sport or who find it too confusing to follow because there are too many belts clouding the picture. For some hardcore boxing fans, this isn't necessary — they enjoy boxing regardless of rankings or belts or lineal championships or any such thing. They're welcome to that point of view. If you are one of those hardcore fans, then our rankings and champions might not be of any use to you — but that doesn't mean they're meaningless or purposeless or unnecessary overall.

Don't the alphabet belts help boxers? Why would we want to get rid of them?

The briefest answer to that is: Sometimes, in the short-term, but they also hurt the boxers in the short-term sometimes, too. And in the long-term, we would want to get rid of them because they definitely (in our view) hurt the sport more than they help. For an extended meditation on that, read these two  articles and substitute out the reference to Ring for the Board.

Why do this instead of addressing boxing's other ills?

There is nothing preventing anyone affiliated with the Board from addressing boxing's other's ills. The time commitment to working on a credible set of boxing rankings and championships is small. Many of the writers affiliated with the Board write about a whole host of boxing's problems, from performance-enhancing drugs and overall fighter safety to poor refereeing and judging. It's a fallacy to suggest that one can only work on fixing one of boxing's problems at a time.

Why does the Board debate in a private forum/how much influence do Board chairs have?

There are good reasons to debate away from public discussion and no real reasons to hold those debates in public. On the good reasons tip, for instance, as other Board chairs have pointed out, we want people to be able to express their views in private if they so choose, without fear of reprisal in social media. This is a volunteer Board. Anyone on the Board who wants to share their views publicly is not prohibited from doing so at all; many of them have openly voiced their disagreement with the Board's decisions and policies.

We get the value of transparency, generally speaking. We answer every question we're asked on our "feedback" page. We respond to every complaint and question in various outside forums, most especially Twitter and Eastside Boxing. We've answered questions from friendly and hostile media alike. I'm writing this now, in the spirit of transparency. We like and embrace transparency, more extensively than the alphabets or anyone else doing rankings.

But what would making our deliberations public prove, exactly? What's the theory? One argument to make our discussions public, loosely, seems to be that somehow some kind of corruption could happen during deliberations in the forum unless those deliberations are public. This is absurd. I'm not very experienced in corruption, but I know a few things about it from my writing during my day job about politics. If some manager or promoter or fighter wanted to corrupt our rankings, I'm guessing we wouldn't have a meet and greet in our private forums that could be maintained as a record of that corruption. Is it like this, or something?: "Hey, everybody. This week, the Board chairs are taking paybacks for ranking Glass Joe at #2 at heavyweight. Here, to explain in the form of a permanent transcript, is Glass Joe's manager to explain how you'll be paid and how you'll lie about it."

But let's say it's subtler than that, that opening the Board deliberations to the public would somehow show how much in control the Board chairs are and how little the Board membership itself has sway and is mere cover for the narrow agenda of three or four individuals. This, too, is absurd. It requires the following to be true: no one on the Board speaking out, ever, about how frequently their will is rolled. It would require more than 30 total patsies, willing to be frauds to advance the agenda of a small group. And for what? Money? The Board is all volunteer. There's no money. For status? Nobody feels good about being a fraudulent patsy, and it's not like there's any evidence that being a member of the Board has turned some schlubby writer into a superstar of boxing journalism if he/she wasn't already. Also, if you know many members of the Board, you also know they're a strong-willed group that wouldn't take kindly to being punked by three or four dudes.

The individual Board chairs and the Oversight position each only have one vote, and they never get the exact rankings they want. Never. If you need evidence of that, look at my pound-for-pound list. Look at Cliff Rold's pound-for-pound list. Look at the Board's pound-for-pound list. The variances are enormous. Every week, the chairs get together and come up with a set of proposals on Sunday to give to the Board. During that process, almost every single time, one or more chairs has his recommendations stymied. Then, once the recommendations go to the Board, almost every single time the Board chairs' recommendations are again modified by the suggestions of the Board. During the most recently completed ratings period, just to give you one example, the chairs agreed to put forward in our recommendations that Mikey Garcia debut at #2 at junior lightweight after beating Rocky Martinez.  If you doubt that is true, ask any member of the Board if that's the proposal they received. After some feedback from the Board membership, Garcia was docked to #3.  If you doubt this is true, look at the most recent rankings we adopted. There are legions of similar and more dramatic examples of suggested proposals getting overruled by the membership at-large. If you think there's some conspiracy afoot to conceal the truth and that I'm lying about everything I just wrote… at a certain point, don't you have to present some proof for your conspiracy theory, if you're going to advance it? You can argue, if you like, that absolute transparency would alleviate the need to ask. But absolute transparency has its downsides, to refer back to how the discussion started. To get comparitive about it, I'm not going to give you my Social Security number to prove to you that I am who I say I am, unless there's a cause for doubting it. Transparency is a good thing, overall. But there are valid circumstances to limit even good things.

I can personally go through the rankings and point out my individual disagreement with various calls. So can the other chairs. For instance, and this is just one example, I'm all bent out of shape about us having Rances Barthelemy at #10 at featherweight. You might ask, "Why do you support what the Board does if you disagree with so many of its rankings, Starks?" Well, because there's a difference between disagreeing with a specific ranking and the credibility of those overall rankings. I'll touch on that at greater length later. 

Isn't this just an opinion poll?

First off, I'm not opposed to opinion polls for the purposes of assessing rankings in sports. The AP poll for NCAA basketball ranking usually get it right, as far as I'm concerned, so the "subjectivity" element of an opinion poll we'll discuss a little later is not inherently flawed, to me.

But the answer to the question: Not exactly. It certainly has elements of opinion poll, albeit a poll of knowledgeable boxing writers and record keepers who are immersed to their eyeballs in boxing. It might be more like a deliberative body, like a legislature, where people vote after arriving at a proposal through compromise and the vote carries. On any given week, the chairs will put forward a recommendation for rankings as a result of action the past week. Those recommendations are altered after input by the Board. Sometimes, the chairs, seeing a logjam, will offer a compromise based on the divisions within the Board. Sometimes people who had been on one side or the other will support the compromise proposal, sometimes it'll just be a strict vote on the original recommendations.

That's why it's difficult to put together a "final vote tally" that could be released publicly, as some have suggested we might, even if we could get over the issues discussed above involving making deliberations public: The accounting would be difficult. Sometimes people start out opposed to a proposal and change their mind through the deliberations. (I do regularly. This past week, I leaned toward Hozumi Hasegawa to enter the #10 spot at featherweight; I was convinced by arguments from Board members that Nicholas Walters was a better choice.) Usually a second proposal is put forward after the initial proposal is picked apart, and sometimes that reflects the Board consensus more than it reflects a hard vote on who should be #8 or #10. For instance, maybe 10 Board members like Fighter A at #8 and 10 Board members like Fighter A at #10. The chairs will then put forward a proposal to put Fighter A at #9. This kind of compromise is often accepted by the Board even though everyone voted how they did originally — say, five members from each side will insist on their original vote but the remaining 10 will say "I can live with Fighter A at #9." So, in this way, you can see how the Board is both not a strict opinion poll and how there's no easy tally sheet on the votes.

That said, the chairs have never gone against the will of the Board, ever. There have been times where the votes were tied and the Board chairs have to make a call on what ranking to go with, because somebody must. The overall consensus of the Board rules, and nothing is posted without their say-so.

Why not computerized rankings?

This is a very, very long debate, because computerized rankings can work in sports where points are strictly scored, and because some people like the idea for boxing in an attempt to make rankings more subjective. But there are two major points against it:

1. One of the ideas of a rankings system in sports, generally speaking, is to sort out who's best. In sports where teams or players regularly meet one another, that is easier to do; your record against all that competition speaks for itself. In boxing, in most divisions, the top fighters fight at most four times a year, more often like two. What's more, while every sport has some subjectivity in its officiating, in boxing it's fairly extreme — bad decisions where the wrong fighter is given the victory are endemic, rather than a missed call here or there at the end of an NBA game swaying the results one way or another. Because of those two conditions, determining who deserves to be ranked above whom can't rely only on a mathematical formula. For one, there is no accounting for out-and-out robberies in that mathematical formula, so we have a robbery clause to ignore the worst of the worst decisions. From a common sense standpoint, who would have taken a rankings system seriously that had Timothy Bradley over Manny Pacquaio immediately after that terrible decision? Also, a purely mathematical formula where victories are measured in numbers fails to take into account a strong showing in a loss that proves an unranked or lower-ranked fighter is on a nearly even level with a higher-ranked fighter. That kind of showing can say more about that losing fighter than a series of lesser wins.

2. Computerized rankings have a track record of not working very well in boxing. Maybe they can work, but there's no evidence that they do. We're about to talk about the tipping point for when a ranking system's individual fighter rankings can be credibility-damaging, so I'll go through a few with the IBO, which has computerized rankings. They have Amir Khan at #5 at welterweight, and even if you take into account that they leave out other alphabet gang "champions" from their rankings — in and of itself a credibility- challenging maneuver, since it takes Adrien Broner, Devon Alexander and Bradley off the table — Khan has no business being near the top 10 of the welterweight division based on his one appearance in the division, a shaky win over Julio Diaz. Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. being ranked #6 at light heavyweight is bizarre as well; he has one accidental fight in the division because he couldn't make weight, and did nothing against traditional middleweight Brian Vera to warrant being ranked in the division with that questionable victory. At middleweight, Anthony Mundine is ranked above Andy Lee, Martin Murray, Matthew Macklin and others whom no one but a computer would have below Mundine. I could do this all night with basically any set of computerized rankings. 

Why do chairs propose rankings to start?

I'll defer to Springs, who wrote on the Board's "feedback" tab: "We have found that it works well to facilitate discussion. It provides a focal point that also allows us to attach notes to the proposals for informational purposes ('[contender x] exits for inactivity”; “[contender y] exits after second consecutive bout in a higher weight division'; etc.) If, instead of 3 facilitators providing a focal point (which is, again, written in sand), we had 35 guys offering 35 focal points, what do we have? We have guys talking past each other, we invite factionalism, and we’ll need a lot more than two days to figure out what’s what for the week’s changes. In sum, we’ll have something that is neither efficient nor sensible."

And as Cliff added: "It’s also worth pointing out that there aren’t that many moves required week to week most of the time. When Bradley beat Marquez, we said 'here’s where we think he should move up in the Welter ratings…agree or disagree?' That sort of question doesn’t require 30 people to chime in all at once. This isn’t rocket science. It’s results based. This is about facilitating debate in an orderly fashion. Not controlling the minds of the board or whatever."

Why is X Fighter ranked so and so?

Occasionally someone will say, "I can't take any rankings seriously that has X Fighter ranked there!" That's it; a solitary disagreement, and the rankings are bunk. Thing is, I think you should expect to disagree with a number of rankings in any ranking system — there's no way you'll be able to agree with every single proposal unless they're your exact rankings. The key question should be, "Is this one ranking (or a handful) so egregious that the rankings are not credible?"

So let's address a couple of the ones we get criticized for the most, and see whether they're egregious.

Vic Darchinyan, #7, junior featherweight: I argued against Darchinyan's inclusion in the junior featherweight top 10 from the start, but I see the argument. Basically, the argument is that the division is shallow at the bottom end and not much separates anyone or makes them stand out. From #5 to #10, you have a series of people coming off so-so performances and/or losses, with few marquee wins on their resume in the division. Scott Quigg might've leapfrogged Darchinyan if he'd beaten Yordanis Salinas, but instead they fought to a draw. Fernando Montiel has no real high quality wins at 122 and has a loss to Victor Terrazas. Kiko Martinez is coming off an impressive win, but until he beat #8 Jhonatan Romero, he had lost to every single contender-quality fighter in the division he has faced since 2008. Given that the rankings are a mix of resume and "current form," under the charter, I think you can make the case that Darchinyan's win over prospect/borderline contender Luis Orlando Del Valle was impressive and thorough enough to warrant Darchinyan's inclusion under a mix of resume and current form, but with an emphasis on current form. It's not the case I'd make, personally. But it's an argument and ranking I consider credible.

The usual knock on Darchinyan's inclusion there is accompanied by the suspicion that the Board is susceptible to favoring more visible fighters over less well-known fighters, and that's the only way Darchinyan could be ranked at all. But if this were true, Darchinyan would be ranked even higher, no? Terrazas is less well-known than Darchinyan, but he's ranked above Darchinyan. Jeffrey Mathebula has been on bigtime U.S. network television exactly once to Darchinyan's long list, yet Mathebula is ranked above Darchinyan. You can go through the rankings and find a dozens and dozens of examples of more "famous" fighters, relatively speaking, being listed below less famous ones. There's no upside for the Board to arbitrarily listing more well-known fighters above less well-known fighters, in terms of any esteem we might get from it — rather, we're more likely to be criticized for such a move. And the Board members are from all over the world and pretty smart about what's happening in countries that are not their own. They're not dummies who just blindly accept what's forced down their throats, and besides, what's forced down their throats varies from country to country. Darchinyan, for instance, might be on U.S. television all the time, but he's probably not on U.K. television as often. With a global Board, "visibility" is relative, and that mitigates any bias that might even conceivably, accidentally creep in toward fighters who merely appear more often on U.S. TV.

Adrien Broner, #1 lightweight: The opposition here doesn't seem to be so much about whether Broner deserves the #1 spot at lightweight based on resume; Broner beat our then-#1 Antonio DeMarco, and while maybe Miguel Vazquez or Ricky Burns had a claim for the top spot, I think most people would acknowledge that the quality of Broner's performance in that bout and the fact that he took out the then-#1 was good enough to make his #1 ranking credible. Rather, the question is why Broner is still ranked at lightweight at all. This goes to the provision of our charter related to inactivity within a division. When Broner moved up to face Paulie Malignaggi at welterweight in his last fight, he explicitly did not rule out a return to lightweight, and still hasn't even though he has another bout scheduled at welterweight. Thus: "In those instances where a fighter announces his intention of competing in a new division, he will be removed from his former division’s rankings only after he competes in the new division and his intention remains." The charter provision I referred to means that after that bout occurs, the Board will have a decision to make about whether Broner should be ranked still at 135: "Contenders active in two or more divisions may be removed from a division’s rankings – after two consecutive bouts in another division; or – after eighteen months of inactivity in a division with no scheduled bout on the horizon."

Yuriorkis Gamboa #7 junior lightweight, #10 lightweight: Here's another one where I disagree with him being ranked in either division, but understand the argument. It's actually pretty similar to the argument for Darchinyan. First off, I don't have a problem with him being ranked in two divisions in principle; he hasn't made his intentions clear and the Board as a whole has no problem ranking someone in two divisions if he's active in both. But as much as I wouldn't have him there, it's not like there are some standouts being ignored. Below him at 130 are two fighters who recently suffered losses and have yet to do anything to warrant lofty placement, and one fighter who has no wins of note. I'm not sure who definitely deserves to replace him at #10 at 135.  

Various people pound-for-pound: Some people think we shouldn't have Carl Froch that high, or should have Guillermo Rigondeaux and/or Wladimir Klitschko higher. As previously mentioned, p4p lists are more nebulous than divisional rankings; it's harder to say who should be above whom because we can't compare common resumes as easily. There's an argument for each man to be higher or lower. Froch has beaten the deepest list of quality contenders in his grueling schedule; Klitschko has dominated his weak division for forever; Rigo has beaten the best fighter of any of the three, Nonito Donaire. This list merely reflects the overall opinion of the Board as best as it could be captured. I don't think any of those individual rankings are at all ridiculous, and I wouldn't think they were too ridiculous if their order was mixed and matched, either.

How does the inactivity clause work?

This one has tripped up a couple writers. The main thing to understand here is that there are two different kinds of inactivity — overall, and within a division — and two different kinds of rules for each. And those rules only apply to contenders, not champions.

"Inactivity" means, a fighter hasn't fought in a year, anywhere, in any division.

"Inactivity within a division" means 18 months not fighting in a division where a contender is ranked. By definition, the fact that there is a rule for "inactivity in a division" means that the rule on "inactivity" is simply inactivity in the ring at all.

Both of these rules are spelled out clearly in the charter.

This is why Mayweather was never removed from the junior middleweight rankings despite having not fought in the division for a year. He had fought overall in a year, and he never hit the 18 month mark for inactivity within the junior middleweight division. This is why Andre Ward was never removed as super middleweight champion despite being inactive for a year; he is a champion, and not a contender, so the inactivity clause doesn't apply to him.

Now, the Board tries not to use the inactivity clause if a fighter gives us an excuse to avoid exercising it. There are sometimes exemptions for medical issues, for instance, or if a fighter is nearing an inactivity mark but has a bout scheduled. It's why David Haye wasn't evicted from the heavyweight rankings in July of 2013 despite hitting the inactivity mark — he had a bout scheduled with Tyson Fury for two months later. Only when he pulled out of that September bout did the Board exercise the inactivity clause, amid uncertainty about whether the bout would be rescheduled and the likelihood that he would be out of the ring for a great many months beyond the one-year inactive mark.

How can a champion lose his designation?

By losing in the ring, retiring or by leaving his division.

There are some who think the Board should somehow strip champions if they don't face the top contender. That's a slippery slope toward alphabet belt-like behavior — how many times have the alphabet gang stripped a champion for the slightest reason?

Rather, the best way to make sure the champions fight their top contender is public pressure. You've already seen it start to build with middleweight champion Sergio Martinez to face Gennady Golovkin. If he averts an eventual showdown with Golovkin, the criticisms he has encountered so far will magnify to claims of cowardice and an allegation that he's not behaving like the true champion should.

In the days of boxing where the championship picture was clearer, this tactic had some success. Eventually, after being frozen out due to racism for years, Jack Johnson got a shot at the heavyweight championship, for example. There's no guarantee it will work 100 percent of the time, but it's better than the alternative of willy-nilly championship-stripping. And let's not act like the alphabets are a panacea on this front. Most of the time, their mandatories are not the people anyone would consider the true top contender to a "champion" — it's not like they're making Martinez, with his alphabet belt, face Golovkin (instead, they've installed Marco Antonio Rubio as his #1 contender, when he's a borderline top-10 fighter in the view of most).

Why allow only #1 vs. #2 bouts for vacant championships?

Springs had the most eloquent answer to this here. The topic of that essay — the heavyweight championship picture — has since been resolved, with Wladimir Klitschko ascending to the throne owing to his #2-ranked brother Vitali Klitschko's inactivity and the similar inactivity of #3, Haye, making way for Alexander Povetkin to climb to the #2 spot whereupon Wladimir beat him. I suspect we'll see less concern about the strict #1 vs. #2 policy now that the most controversial implementation of it is out of the way, but Springs' essay is still worth reading should it again arise.

Basically, for a vacant championship to be filled, the best must face the best. That's more common sense than anything that requires any justification, I'd say.

How are Board members chosen?

When we started out, we decided we wanted 25 members representing a wide range of countries and regions of the world. The only qualification for individual members was that they be uncompromised by sanctioning bodies, promoters, boxers or managers; they be knowledgeable about the sport; contributing regularly; and that they have a reputation for or demonstrable ability to debate collegially.

A small handful of critics have alleged that Board members are something like patronage jobs for the pals of the chairs (albeit, remember, for volunteer "jobs"). The truth is, I didn't even personally know the majority of the members we recruited originally, and the percentage of recruits I don't know has only gotten bigger over time. Each of the chairs drew initially on a bank of candidates who we knew could meet the above standard, so there was some overlap with people we knew personally. But once we extended our search to foreign countries, the three U.S. co-founders were more reliant on reaching out blindly at times, and sometimes by consulting boxing enthusiasts and historians we knew who lived in those countries about which writers in those countries might make good candidates. And, now, the Board has gotten members via other means beyond the original reach-out of the chairs. Board members might suggest other candidates whom none of the chairs knew or knew of. Some people we didn't know reached out to us expressing interest. 

Isn't there a conflict of interest in TBRB members writing about Board?

Sure. But as long as it's disclosed, then the reader has all the information he or she needs to decide whether the writing Board members offer about the TBRB is valuable information or a product tainted by the affiliation. Furthermore, this is not a unique phenomenon to TBRB for writers or publications to tout the rankings systems they favor and are affiliated with or the creator of.

Will you have belts?

We get asked this a lot. We have no plans to do so. It's something we've mulled before but have decided not to for the time being. There are pros and cons to having a belt, and so far we've come down on the side of con.

About Tim Starks

Tim is the founder of The Queensberry Rules and co-founder of The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board (http://www.tbrb.org). He lives in Washington, D.C., where he is a staff writer for CQ Roll Call.