Like Tim, I wholeheartedly support the use of the Ring championship policy to determine who the true champions in boxing are. However, that doesn’t mean I universally agree with the Ring rankings, or the decisions of the Ring rankings panel.
(Just because News of the World wasn’t quite the masterpiece that A Night at the Opera was, would the Ring have dropped Queen in the rankings and disputed their claim to the championship?)
I am excited that next weekend’s Chad Dawson-Jean Pascal bout will officially crown a light heavyweight champion, and the fact that Tavoris Cloud’s decision over Glen Johnson bumped Pascal up to second in the rankings from third means that the fight now meets the Ring’s most stringent standard of its championship policy (the ratings board must make an exception to crown a champion between fighters ranked first and third in the division). This is a good thing. Filling a Ring championship vacancy means that the very best, most meaningful fights are being made in that division, which can only be good for boxing.
However, in the same article on Ringtv.com that explains the movement in the light heavyweight division, in which the fighter ranked second dropped because of a loss (Glen Johnson), there is further explanation of why a fighter ranked second in his division dropped in the rankings, despite a win, and another fighter was elevated, despite a loss.
Devon Alexander may not have turned in the scintillating performance that he did against Juan Urango in his previous fight, but he earned a unanimous decision against Andriy Kotelnik (whose first name I have misspelled about a thousand times in the past, so my apologies to Andriy). Observers were split in their opinions of who won the fight (despite the identical scorecards from the judges in Alexander’s favor), with some preferring Kotelnik’s more accurate, more jarring punches and ring generalship and others giving Alexander credit for his voluminous work rate, power punches and slick movement.
At the end of the day, Alexander won the fight, beating a top-ten junior welterweight for the third fight in a row. Talks are underway for a dream matchup for fight fans against Timothy Bradley, the top-ranked fighter at 140 pounds, for January of next year. Hardcore fight fans knew that, if Alexander did his part and won his fight, the Bradley-Alexander matchup would crown the true champion at junior welterweight.
Fortunately for fight fans eager for the top young lions at 140 pounds to square off, Alexander won. Unfortunately, thanks to a rather arbitrary ruling by the Ring ratings panel, that fight will probably no longer decide the champion at junior welterweight.
First, let me get the part of the Ring panels’ decision about the junior welterweights that I don’t disagree with: the elevating of Kotelnik following the loss. Kotelnik was impressive and proved that his victory over Marcos Maidana was no fluke, and he deserved to be ranked higher than seventh in the division. I have no issues with elevating a fighter following a loss. In fact, I applaud the Ring’s decision regarding Kotelnik, since it shows they are putting serious thought into their decisions.
However, some decisions may be receiving the wrong kind of thought. In dropping Alexander one spot and elevating Amir Khan to the second spot, the Ring is falling victim to a fallacy akin to the transitive property in boxing. It seems clear that the ratings panel took a look at Alexander’s performance against Kotelnik, compared it to Khan’s performance against Kotelnik (Khan won a lopsided decision), and decided that Khan was the better fighter, based on their performance against a common opponent. In fact, that’s exactly what happened: ‘”While it is unusual for the winner of a fight to drop down in the rankings and the loser to advance, that’s what happened this week in the 140-pound weight class,” said Nigel Collins, Editor-in-Chief of THE RING. “Amir Khan overtook Devon Alexander because his decision victory over Andreas Kotelnik was far more emphatic than Alexander’s questionable nod over the Ukrainian boxer.”’ This is not quite the transitive property (which states that if Fighter A beats Fighter B and Fighter B beats Fighter C, Fighter A will beat Fighter C; there are countless examples that highlight the deep flaws in this thinking), but it is a cousin to the transitive property and employs the same kind of faulty logic. Kotelnik’s style (fights behind his jab, not a lot of movement, little power) was tailor-made for Khan, who used his great height advantage throughout the fight, and was far less perfectly suited for Alexander, who likes to mix it up much more.
Disappointingly, the Ring panel is falling into the type of knee-jerk reactionary thinking that dominates far too much of our culture today. Divisional rankings are not supposed to be about knee-jerk reactions (save those for the far more subjective pound-for-pound list, where I would not bat an eyelash if Alexander plummeted, were some idiot to have ranked him in the first place).
Divisional rankings are supposed to be about a body of work in a division, and the fact remains that Alexander’s body of work at 140 pounds is still stronger than Khan’s. Khan has three wins in three fights at junior welterweight – Kotelnik, Dmitry Salita, and Paulie Malignaggi. Of these, Kotelnik is the best win and netted him a title at the weight, Maliganggi represents a very solid win over a respected vet, and Salita means nothing.
Now, let’s look at Alexander’s junior welterweight credentials. Alexander has spent his entire career at 140 pounds, although before his last fight, his only notable win came against DeMarcus “Chop Chop” Corley. In his last three fights, he has beaten Junior Witter, Juan Urango, and Kotelnik. While he struggled with Kotelnik, he dominated and became the first to stop Witter when Witter retired due to a shoulder injury, then he became the first to stop iron-chinned Juan Urango with a sensational uppercut to unify belts. Since stepping up to world-class competition, Alexander has fought fighters with diverse styles and backgrounds and done things against them that nobody previously had done. He faced an awkward, tricky veteran titlist, a mammoth puncher with a reputation for having an iron chin, and a solid prime contender and former titlist.
Khan, meanwhile, was more impressive against Kotelnik, but should get no credit for wiping the mat with undeserving challenger Dmitry Salita. He does deserve credit for definitively beating Malignaggi in New York in May, but his resume still falls short of Alexander, due to the styles of his opponents. Khan’s weakness is, until he proves otherwise, his chin. Neither Kotelnik nor Malignaggi were equipped to challenge his vulnerability, and until he faces a legitimate opponent at the weight class who is capable of testing that vulnerability (like Marcos Maidana or Urango), I struggle with ranking him that highly.
Alexander showed vulnerability against Kotelnik, but still did enough to win. Like the decision or not, you have to credit the mental toughness of a kid who responds to adversity by basically saying, “OK, I’m just going to wing as many punches as possible your way, good luck.” When faced with adversity, he fought. That’s what we ask for in our fighters, and we see it too rarely to demote a fighter for demonstrating that type of grit. When Khan faced adversity, he was knocked out cold by Breidis Prescott at lightweight and has been moved very carefully since, fighting good, credible opponents who nonetheless pose little threat to his chin. If Khan fights Urango next and dances his way to a lackluster decision (unrealistic, but bear with me), would Alexander be re-elevated based on his more impressive win over a common opponent? If Tavoris Cloud had shut out or knocked out Glen Johnson on Saturday, rather than winning a close decision, would he have been elevated over Chad Dawson, who struggled in his first encounter with Johnson and still didn’t shut him out in the second? Why is Timothy Bradley, who struggled more with Junior Witter than Alexander did and also had a close, tough fight against Kendall Holt, still ranked atop the division, if Alexander is dropped for struggling? And one more question, one that doesn’t bother me but will no doubt throw some boxing conspiracy theorists into frenzy – does Khan’s affiliation with Golden Boy Promotions, who own The Ring Magazine, have anything to do with his elevation in the rankings over a fighter who is promoted by Don King?
By swapping Alexander and Khan in the rankings, the Ring ratings panel is sending an unfortunate, all-too-common message: it’s not what you’ve done, it’s what you’ve done for me lately. In doing so, they are likely denying the fans the opportunity to crown a champion in one of the hottest divisions in boxing, while doing a disservice to themselves by opening the door to unnecessary criticism. It just goes to show that, even when the “best” championship policy going today is involved, nobody’s perfect. Although Devon Alexander’s record still is.
(The Ring ratings panel has plenty of company in New England…)