Ranking The Rankings In Boxing

Recently, ESPN’s Dan Rafael hit some of the low lights of the WBC’s boxing rankings. And from time to time, I hear people say that Ring magazine’s rankings are terrible, too.

My own view is fairly well-established. I think the alphabet sanctioning gang has terrible rankings and that Ring’s are about as good as it gets. But I thought I’d endeavor to set aside my pre-existing opinions (and, keeping in mind, I’ve written for Ring before) and examine the best and worst of those rankings of all four major sanctioning bodies and Ring.

I examined the rankings in each division based, most of all, on whether they were reasonable in a common sense way. But I also examined them for bias. Some have made the case that Ring can’t be trusted to accurately rank fighters because they are owned by promoter Golden Boy. The sanctioning outfits have their own conflicts of interest, such as where they’re headquartered. They also take percentages of purses from fighters who contend for their titles as sanctioning fees. Therefore, it’s important to scrutinize whether they boost the rankings of fighters who, by virtue of big fan followings, are more likely to generate bigger purses.

I could have included Rafael’s own rankings, or some of the others who rank fighters, like the IBO or BoxRec, but I had to draw the line somewhere.

We’ll go division by division, focusing on the top 10. At the end, I give my conclusions. And I invite you to tell me where I’m wrong.


WBC: Well, we’re getting off to quite a bad start. Somehow, Ray Austin is ranked #1 behind titlist Wladimir Klitschko. Since getting plastered by Klitschko in 2007, Austin has beaten faded vets Andrew Golota and DaVarryl Williamson. How’s that get you to #1? Especially when Vitali Klitschko and David Haye aren’t even ranked? Which is one of the problems with the sanctioning organizations — they don’t usually rank fighters who have titles elsewhere. I’d evaluate the WBC’s heavyweight rankings for bias but I honestly can’t understand how anyone would consider Austin the #1 heavyweight in the world. At least the next five people beneath Austin all should be ranked above him: Denis Boytstov, Tomasz Adamek, Nicolay Valuev and Chris Arreola, although they probably shouldn’t be in that order in the WBC’s rankings, either. Derric Rossy is at #7, then Johnathon Banks, Shannon Briggs and Alexander Povetkin rounds out the rest of the top 10. Banks and Briggs don’t belong in the top 10 at all, in any universe; #11 Tony Thompson and #12 Juan Carlos Gomez have far better records.

WBA: Mentally, going from the WBC to the WBA is a big improvement. But Wladimir and Vitali aren’t ranked here at all, and it’s hard to take any rankings seriously where the two obvious, clear best heavyweights in the world aren’t in the top 15. Beyond that, things are overall less ridiculous than the WBA, but I can’t figure out how Alexander Ustinov is ranked #4. Ustinov’s best win is over Monte Barrett, who was 3-5 coming into that fight. I’m also not sure why Kali Meehan would be ranked above Adamek, since Meehan this year got easily beaten by Ruslan Chagaev and hasn’t done much else of note. By the way, Chagaev is ranked #1, and I don’t see much advantage in that for the WBA.

WBO: I really think starting off with the WBC ranking Austin at #1 made everyone else look better. No Haye, no Vitali, but Adamek at #1 isn’t crazy, and he’d bring a nice purse to the WBO with his Polish fan base. Ah, but then… at #2… David Tua? Other than that — two of the best heavyweights in the world not ranked, Tua ranked at #2, so, only three completely lame choices out of 10 — the rest of the top 10 is basically reasonable.

IBF: Maybe it seems petty to harp on what is a serial issue with the sanctioning organizations not ranking titlists from rival organizations, but it’s hard for me to take any rankings system seriously when two members of the clear top three in the division don’t appear at all. That’s what the IBF does, too. At least they leave #1 and #2 vacant, as if in silent acquiescence to their own foolishness about not ranking Vitali or Haye; they tend to do this in every division, in fact. Except for that, the rankings are basically reasonable. I think Odlanier Solis or Alexander Povetkin should be in the top 10 instead of Jean Marc Mormeck, but they’re not far behind Mormeck according to the IBF.

Ring: Of the organizations, this is the one that is closest to how I’d rank the division. Wladimir as champion, Vitali #1, Haye #2. Most of the organizations have Ring’s #3 Povetkin lower, which I can deal with because Povetkin hasn’t had a particularly impressive win since 2008. After that, Ring ranks the division ideally, as far as I’m concerned. The others’ rankings might have moments of reasonableness, but Ring only has one moment of POSSIBLE unreasonableness. There are no Golden Boy heavyweights in the division’s top 10 other than co-promoted Haye, and if you think Haye isn’t at least arguably deserving of #3, I don’t know what to tell you.

Ranking the Rankings: Ring #1; IBF #2; WBO #3; WBA #4; WBC #5


WBC:  Francisco Palacios at #1? Someone help me on this one. Since 2005, here’s the record of his opponents in their most recent bouts: 22-43-4, with one no contest. Somehow, Palacios manages to be a worse #1 here than Austin was at heavy for the WBC. I’m all right with five of the men in this division being in the top 10, but Steve Cunningham — the clear #1 if you ask me — isn’t anywhere to be found because of his belt coming from another organization, and Marco Huck, clear top three, isn’t here either for the same reason. The worst of the remaining top 10 is Jason Robinson, who so far as I can tell was only put into the top 10 so that the WBC could sanction him as an opponent for titlist Krzysztof Wlodarczyk this past weekend.

WBA: Seriously, what’s the deal with Palacios? He’s #5 here. There’s no Troy Ross (#4 in my book) or Danny Green (belongs in the top 10), and, of course, no Wlodarczyk, Cunningham or Huck. Guillermo Jones is their titlist, and I’m not sure how — he’s talented, but he’s been inactive for two full years, and usually the organizations kick someone out of their belt-holder slot by then.

WBO: No Cunningham, Wlodarczyk or Ross. Other than that, it gets a lot of “meh,” with some names in here I’m not very familiar with, despite writing about boxing every day for the past several years of my life.

IBF: Other than failing to include Wlodarczyk or Huck, the IBF rankings here border on actively good. I’m not sure about Felix Cora at #10, though.

Ring: The only question I have here is whether Zsolt Erdei should be ranked at cruiser or light heavy or neither. In a month and a half, he will have been inactive for a year, and while beating Giacobbe Fragomeni was good enough to get him to #5 in his cruiser debut, he’s also suggested he will move down to 175. I don’t have a problem with Jones not being ranked at all, since two years of inactivity is a long time to be inactive. If he wins his October return bout, I would hope he’d be reinserted somewhere in the top 10, since his opponent Valery Brudov isn’t a total pushover. Golden Boy doesn’t have a cruiserweight in its stable.

Ranking the Rankings: Ring #1; IBF #2; WBO #3; WBA #4; WBC #5


WBC: This is starting to get repetitive already, but at least the WBC doesn’t have another ridiculous #1 here, with Chad Dawson holding the spot behind titlist Jean Pascal. There are at least three people who have no real claim to top 10 status and the rest are mostly prospects, but the WBC wins a “comparison round” as they say in boxing judging. Still, no Beibut Shumenov, Tavoris Cloud or Juergen Braehmer because they hold titles in other divisions.

WBA: David Kostecki is the Francisco Palacios of the light heavyweight division, ranked as he is by multiple organizations for reasons that I can’t exactly understand. At least his opponents have winning records, but they’re just as anonymous or more anonymous as anybody Palacios has fought. I’m not sure how Glen Johnson doesn’t appear at all in the WBC and WBA rankings, but he doesn’t. Also: Joe Spina at #6? With no Pascal, Cloud or Braehmer? And a bunch of other chaps with whom I’m not familiar?

WBO: After this division, I’m just going to point out the worst call of each organization. But for now, the division’s top four is pretty decent — minus the obligatory absence of Pascal and Cloud, of course — although Dawson isn’t ranked by either the WBA, WBO or IBF at all. Say what you will about Chad but if you have him any lower than #3 I think you’re mistaken. I wonder if Dawson’s tendency to drop belts for better fights hasn’t hurt him with these guys.

IBF: If you have Roy Jones, Jr. in your top 10 still, as the IBF does, you’re merely sentimental. This might be the first break in our pattern — the IBF’s rankings here aren’t tremendously worse than any of the other organizations so far, but maybe they aren’t so much better than them like they have been for heavy and cruiser.

Ring: I’ve always thought Ring ranked Hopkins — a Golden Boy fighter — too high in this division, but they have begun slowly downgrading him. He has only beaten one top-notch light heavy, Antonio Tarver, and most of his other wins in the division are against people moving up in weight, plus he had a very long stretch of inactivity. I don’t think you HAVE to be biased in favor of Golden Boy to have Hopkins at #4, though. It’s a bad call in my view, but not flat crazy. He’s still beaten a lot of good fighters at the light heavyweight limit. Other than that, I might have found a spot for Braehmer and put Gabriel Campillo above Chris Henry and dropped Karo Murat more off his loss to Nathan Cleverly. The thing is, I think I’m picking more nits with Ring here because there are more bad decisions here than in the previous divisions, but Ring’s rankings at 175 are clearly far superior to the others. They have the right top three — Pascal, Dawson and Cloud — and nobody named Vikapita Morero who’s beaten nobody of note at #5, the way the WBO does.

Ranking the Rankings: Ring #1; WBO #2; IBF #3; WBC #4; WBA #5


WBC: One through three, the WBC’s doing borderline OK — Andre Dirrell, Carl Froch, Arthur Abraham — but no ranking for Andre Ward or Lucian Bute for having belts elsewhere is a huge mistake, as they’re arguably the top two. Here’s the real puzzler: What’s with Kelly Pavlik at #4? He won a total of one fight at super middleweight (save a couple early career bouts against no-names, back in 2008), against Jermain Taylor, who had the exact same number. Gotta be the purse thing. Mikkel Kessler should be here, too, but isn’t.

WBA: Again with Pavlik, this time at #3? Baffling. Also, no Bute, Kessler or Ward, and Froch is at #8. And Brian Magee at #1. That’s a funny joke, WBA! I didn’t know you had such a sense of humor.

WBO: Pavlik at #4. This is getting silly. And no Ward, Bute or Kessler.

IBF: What did Ward, Bute, Froch and Kessler do to these guys? Abraham and Dirrell are the only Super Six participants who seem to have any friends among the sanctioning organizations, and they’re not ranked as highly here as they should be. They have Jean Paul Mendy ranked as their #1, but that’s as much to do with the misfortune of Sakio Bika getting DQ’d against him as anything, not that Mendy should have been in any eliminator bout at all, and at least they don’t have Pavlik in there.

Ring: I honestly don’t think Bute should be #1, and I think it would be defensible to place him as low as #5. he has beaten a grand total of one top-5 super middle, Librado Andrade, and a bunch of borderline top-10 guys besides. Otherwise, ideal. (Andrade, the only Golden Boy fighter ranked, is ranked appropriately at #9 here — in fact, since he once beat #8 Robert Stieglitz, you could make an argument that he’s too low.)

Ranking the Rankings: Ring #1; WBO, #2; WBC, #3; IBF, #4; WBA #5


WBC: I’m not sure you could come up with a better parody of the WBC’s historical favoritism of Mexican fighters than putting Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. at #1 at middleweight. Paul Williams, the man ranked #2, beat the WBC’s titlist Sergio Martinez, as well as Winky Wright. Chavez’s best win at 160 is over… John Duddy? And that makes Chavez better than Williams? I know I’m a Williams cheerleader but gimme a break. Also, Felix Sturm — no worse than the fourth-best fighter at 160 — doesn’t appear at all because his belt is elsewhere.

WBA: This is just a mess. No Martinez, no Sturm, no Sebastian Sylvester… and Hassan N’Dam N’Jikam is your highest-ranked name? I could spend all day picking this top 10 apart. I’ll leave you with Hassan N’Dam N’Jikam.

WBO: And is it possible, somehow, that the WBO has UNDER-ranked Hassan N’Dam N’Jikam? They have Gennady Martirosyan ranked higher at #1, even though he lost to #4 Hassan N’Dam N’Jikam a year ago and has beaten three opponents since who in their most recent six bouts each were 5-11-2. Also, no Martinez (they stripped him of their belt, actually) and no Sturm and no Sylvester. It’s going to be hard to pick which organization’s middleweight rankings suck hardest.

IBF: No Martinez, no Sturm. Roman Karmazin, who may not even deserve to be in the top 10, is their top-ranked name. And Cory Spinks at #6? WTF? Since 2002, Spinks has fought at 160 once and lost, to Jermain Taylor.

Ring: Now that they’ve dropped Anthony Mundine, who hadn’t beaten a quality middleweight in forever and has been fighting at 154 lately, I have no complaints. I suppose you could question whether Williams should be ranked at 160, 154 or both — I’d pick both — but if you’ve got him at 160 he’s in the rightish place at #2, behind champ Martinez and Sturm.

Ranking the Rankings: Ring #1; tie for #2, WBC, WBA, WBO and IBF


WBC: Antonio Margarito at #1 is just a clear “no way.” It somehow might eclipse ranking Chavez #1 at middle for sheer no wayness. It’s got the Mexican bias thing going for it. It’s also got the “doesn’t have a quality win at 154 at all” thing going for it. And most importantly, it’s got the “we have a vacant belt and we want to make tons of money off sanctioning the Manny Pacquiao-Margarito fight” thing going for it. Mexican prospect Saul Alvarez has started to make a case for himself as a 154-pound contender after being prematurely inserted in the top 10 by Ring, but no way he’s #2 like the WBC has him ahead of Miguel Cotto, Alfredo Angulo, Williams if you rank him here rather than junior middle, etc. etc. Also, Floyd Mayweather is their “emeritus champion,” despite having not fought at 154 since 2007, not that it matters in any evaluation of the rankings.

WBA: Hey, what a coincidence! Margarito, who heats up the Mexican fan base, is ranked #1 here, too. I know I’ve been highly critical of Margarito for his glove-loading scandal. But if someone decided to rank him at 147, it would be borderline defensible. Margarito has accomplished things at 147, even if I believe them to be via cheating. At 154, he’s done nothing. Nothing. Beating Roberto Garcia in his last bout, a pure journeyman, is about the only win he has at 154. Margarito lost to the only quality 154-pounder he faced, Daniel Santos, the previous time he fought at 154 in 2004.

WBO: The WBO is getting closer. Sergiy Dzinziruk is their titlist, and their top four — Angulo, Williams, Vanes Martirosyan and Kermit Cintron — is acceptable. Except there’s no Cotto, since he has a title elsewhere, and the rest of the division’s rankings by the WBO are mysterious at best.

IBF: Cornelius Bundrage is their titlist and Sechew Powell is ranked #1. That’s a double knockdown similar to the double knockdown Bundrage and Powell scored against one another in a 2005 bout.

Ring: If you think Dzinziruk deserves to be ranked higher than #9, you have a case, but remember that he’d been inactive for a year and a half and when he returned he beat a journeyman-level opponent. I think Williams should be ranked here, too. He beat #2-ranked Cintron in his last bout, however inconclusively, so maybe Cintron should be a bit lower, too. No Golden Boy fighters are ranked.

Ranking the Rankings: Ring #1; WBO #2; WBC #3; IBF #4; WBA #5


WBC: No Pacquiao at 147 is just foolish, and again, the tendency of sanctioning bodies not to rank those who have belts via rival organizations has a tendency to make them look really, really foolish. After Pacquiao, Mayweather (ranked #1 here) and Andre Berto (their titlist), the division is a bit of a muddle these days. Cotto is fighting at 154, Shane Mosley just fought at 154 and there’s nobody else much of note. As such, whether you have Selcuk Aydin ranked #2 like the WBC does just doesn’t bother me that much, even if it’s not what I’d do.

WBA: No Pacquiao, no Mayweather, no Berto. But Said Ouali at #3? Of course!

WBO: Mayweather doesn’t have a belt at 147 so I’m not sure why he wouldn’t be ranked by the WBA, WBO or IBF unless they hold it against him that he says he doesn’t need or care about belts. That condition lays bare the real goal of these organizations: They don’t want to crown legitimate champions or rank fighters honestly — they want to make money. Mayweather won’t pay their sanctioning fees, so he doesn’t make them any money, so he isn’t ranked. In that regard, it’s a surprise the WBC even ranks him at all. Also, I know nobody likes Joshua Clottey (he doesn’t appear in some of these spots either) but I don’t see what Vitaliy Demyanenko did to deserve to be ranked above Clottey by the WBO.

IBF: Jan Zaveck: titlist. #1: not ranked. #2: Randall Bailey. #3: Alfonso Gomez. I’m sure if you asked any boxing fan on the street, “Hey, give me the top three welterweights in the world,” it would come back unanimous: “Obviously, it’s Jan Zaveck, Randall Bailey and Alfonso Gomez. Duh.”

Ring: There’s been some debate about whether Mayweather should be ranked #1 by Ring at welter above Pacquiao, but I think it’s defensible. He has the longer record and recently beat the highest-ranked fighter in the division either of them have beaten, Mosley. It’s where I’d put Mayweather (who’s affiliated with Golden Boy), even though I consider Pacquiao the better pound-for-pound fighter. Some also have questioned Berto at #3, given the records of Mosley and Cotto, but again, both of them have been exploring at 154 and Mosley and Cotto both lost their last 147-pound bouts, while Berto has built up a respectable record against top-10 and borderline top-10 opponents in the division. Other than that, no complaints. On the other Golden Boy tip, Mosley’s ranking here is just fine.

Ranking the Rankings: Ring #1; WBC #2; WBO #3; WBA #4; IBF #5


WBC: Junior welterweight is one of the deepest divisions in boxing, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at the WBC’s rankings. Devon Alexander has the belt; there is no mention of Timothy Bradley, Amir Khan or Marcos Maidana. The #1 contender, instead, is Ajose Olusegun, and the #2 contender is Erik Morales. ERIK MORALES HAS NEVER FOUGHT IN THE DIVISION, but according to the WBC, he’s a better 140-pounder than Timothy Bradley, Amir Khan, Marcos Maidana, Andriy Kotelnik, Lamont Peterson and Victor Ortiz. At this point, it’s a real struggle to keep up this exercise. I actually had to stop for a day because the obviousness of the lameness of the sanctioning organization should be so clear that even the biggest defenders should recognize how ridiculous they are. But I will soldier on.

WBA: The WBA appears to be trying to get the most countries represented in its rankings, most of the time. If you know who Alberto Mosquera (#3) of Panama is, or Brunet Zamora (#4) of Italy is, then you’re just a better boxing fan than I am. I hate to use my own ignorance about a fighter as an excuse to dismiss him, but I’m just conceding the point.

WBO: The WBO is also into world music. Cesar Rene Cuenca (#2) of Argentina, anyone other than an Argentine? Lance Gostelow (#7) of Australia, anyone other than an Aussie?

IBF: Not a total junk show, with nine full fighters who are at least defensible choices for the top 10, but like all the other silly divisions, anyone who doesn’t have Bradley, Alexander, Khan and Maidana in their top four just isn’t credible.

Ring: Khan and Maidana, Golden Boy fighters, are #3 and #4 and should be. They could rank another of their fighters, Ortiz, and be on fair ground. This is another case of Ring arguably underrating a Golden Boy fighter.

Ranking the Rankings: Ring #1; IBF #2; #WBO #3; WBA #4; WBC #5


WBC: No, I don’t think I can do this anymore. I’m just devoting one sentence each from now on to the stupidest stuff. The WBC has no Juan Manuel Marquez, no Michael Katsidis, no Miguel Acosta, no Miguel Vazquez, no Brandon Rios, no Ali Funeka.

WBA: Oscar Jesus Pereyba, who fought at junior middleweight in his last fight and has only beaten one name that I recognize, serial prospect victim Adailton DeJesus, is ranked #3.

WBO: From Oct. 7, 2006 until yesterday, #3-ranked Matt Zegan of Poland was 5-4-1 against competition of no note save a loss to Nate Campbell on Oct. 7, 2006, and that doesn’t include his loss yesterday to a 3-0 fighter, since presumably the WBO rankings haven’t adjusted for that yet — not that it should be the straw that broke the camel’s back on Zegan.

IBF: Ji Hoon Kim, coming of a one-sided loss, is ranked #3, while Marquez, Acosta, Katsidis, Rios and Funeka aren’t ranked at all.

Ring: Humberto Soto doesn’t have much of a record at lightweight unless you count beating up spent David Diaz and Jesus Chavez, yet Ring promoted him last week to #3 after his win against Fidel Monterrosa Munoz even though he barely beat that nobody. This is nowhere near equivalent to having Pereyba or Zegan at #3, as stupidity goes. Ring also recently dumped Golden Boy fighter Robert Guerrero, and maybe they shouldn’t have, but if you don’t think Marquez is the clear champion and Katsidis the clear #1 challenger, two Golden Boy fighters, I simply can’t convince you of anything.

Ranking the Rankings: Ring #1; WBA #2; IBF #3; WBO #4; WBC #5


I can’t even do this anymore.

The rest of the stupidity, all in one fell swoop.

WBC: Hozumi Hasegawa, who hasn’t fought at featherweight in his whole life, and hasn’t even fought at junior featherweight since 2003, is ranked #2 at 126. At bantamweight, one of the most loaded divisions in the sport, approximately eight of their top 10 are people I’ve never heard of or just don’t know jack about.

WBA, WBO, IBF: There’s nothing here that totally pisses me off.

Ring: Maybe Chris John shouldn’t be #1 anymore at featherweight, but it’s defensible — not something Golden Boy wold have to be corrupt to do. And even that doesn’t compare to even the lowest-grade sins of the WBA, WBO and IBF that I’ve left out.


I came in trying to give the sanctioning organizations the benefit of the doubt, and trying to give Ring a more skeptical take.

I think I did a disservice to Ring, to be honest.

By haggling over whether Ring should have Soto at #3 at lightweight or, instead, lower, I might have given the impression that any of Ring’s questionable judgments were even in the same ballpark as the questionable judgments of the sanctioning organizations. I don’t think Soto is the #3 lightweight in the world, although I bet other reasonable people besides Ring’s ranking team do. But compared to the sanctioning organizations, I KNOW Margarito isn’t the #1 junior middleweight in the world; I KNOW the top three welterweights in the world aren’t Zaveck, Bailey and Gomez; and I KNOW you shouldn’t be ranked #1 or #2 in the division if you have never fought in the division in your whole life, or if for five years your opponents’ recent records collectively add up to 22-43-4.

I try to be counter-intuitive; we all do. But sometimes, the counter-intuitive angle just ain’t there. Many people, myself amongst them, are hard on the alphabet gang. There are counter-intuitive arguments about how, occasionally, the alphabet gang is good for boxing in this way or the other, and I don’t think they’re all totally wrong.

But if you think Ring’s ratings suck, you just haven’t been paying attention to the other most prominent organizations that rank boxers. These simply can’t be defended. They are beyond awful. And it erodes some of the arguments in favor of the sanctioning organizations, because totally, completely undeserving fighters get title shots that far more deserving fighters don’t.

Upon evaluating Ring’s rankings, I only had three serious objections (Hopkins at #4 at light heavyweight, Soto at #3 at lightweight, and Williams’ absence from the 154-pound rankings) and a handful of “maybe I would have done it differently”s. I found three occasions where a Golden Boy fighter was arguably overrated — key word is arguably — and I found four occasions where a Golden Boy fighter was arguably UNDERrated. If I held the sanctioning organizations to the same standard, this article never would have ended. As it is, I’m lucky to still be alive.

I understand and respect the skepticism some have about Ring and its ownership. It’s important to keep a watchful eye on that. But if you dismiss Ring’s rankings out of hand because of its ownership, I’d challenge you to tell me where there’s some kind of bias I missed. I think you’ll come up sorely lacking. And that, truly, is the standard — the only standard — that should be used when judging Ring’s rankings: Are they any good? And they are. Far, far better than the other most prominent rankings.

Oh! And I discovered that, overall, other than Ring, the IBF’s rankings suck the least. But any organization that considers Zaveck, Bailey and Gomez the top three welterweights in a division that includes Pacquiao, Mayweather, Berto, Cotto and Mosley still sucks way too much for me to be terribly impressed.

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. He has written for the Guardian, Economist, New Republic, Chicago Tribune and more.