Answering Questions And Complaints About The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board

It’s been one week since the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board sprung to life, and it’s been an eventful debut for that new enterprise I helped co-found to clarify boxing’s championship picture. We got a mention on the Wall Street Journal’s website; I did an interview here with The Classical, a terrific sports blog; East Side Boxing, one of the biggest boxing sites on the Internet, adopted our rankings as theirs, as have others; boxing sites as far flung as The Ring and The Boxing Tribune have weighed in on what we’re doing; and there isn’t a boxing message board that hasn’t debated our value or wisdom.

One week out seems like a good time to answer some common questions and complaints.

Why Do We Need The Opinions Of A New Bunch Of People To Tell Us Who The Champ Is?

One of the similar rejoinders I’ve seen from time to time is that A. Boxing fans can think for themselves and decide who the champion is and B. Our effort is no better than previous efforts.

Boxing fans can and absolutely should think for themselves. I never expected that everything we do will be swallowed unthinkingly and uncritically. We don’t expect people to just blindly accept what we do – over time, I think we will have to establish a track record of credibility, and as we do, hopefully more people will move from the category of “This is promising, I’ll be watching what they do” or “I’m totally skeptical of this” to “They’ve proven themselves worthy of my acceptance.”

If boxing fans can think for themselves, then, what’s the need for what we’re doing? My view is that the championship lineage needs to have a rigorous, battle-tested process leading up to it – everyone could, if they wanted, declare so-and-so the champion because that’s who they think the champion is. But the idea is to arrive at something like a universal view of the true champions, and I think it will take a body like ours to arrive at that. For some boxing fans, one set of champions has inherent value. For non-boxing fans – those that the sport has driven off by confusing them about who the real champions are – it’s more like essential. And that’s a group of people we want to reach.

There’s nothing incompatible about thinking for one’s self and concluding that you agree with someone else in so doing.

But why THIS group? What are we doing that’s any different or better?

A few things. One, we are not profiting from this, and we are not financially tied to anyone in the industry. No one is making their salaries off of doing this, like at the WBC, IBF and the rest of the alphabet gang where exorbitant sanctioning fees are the norm. We have no financial gain at stake, so our decisions are uncompromised by that. Nor are do we report to a promoter as our boss, as they do at Ring Magazine, the previous custodians of championship lineage. It is my view that Ring’s rankings as they currently stand are untainted by Golden Boy bias, but there's no guarantee with their ownership situation that it stays that way, plus a pair of decisions they made on their championship belts – allowing Bernard Hopkins to keep his light heavyweight belt when he was challenging his loss to Chad Dawson, and deciding to allow #2 junior welterweight Amir Khan to fight #5 Danny Garcia for a championship when Hopkins, Khan and Garcia were Golden Boy fighters and all of those actions were unprecedented – were worrisome enough that their credibility became a point of contention for me.

Two, we are more international in nature than many other rankings efforts. I’ve seen people critique our membership for being too U.S.-centric, but U.S. members are less than half of our panel. We have 12 countries represented in all. Are there some areas that are under-represented? Certainly. I fully expect you’ll see that change soon, however. The charter allows for there to be more than 25 members. But this was our initial offering, and I would contend that although there is room for improvement, it is a strongly global venture.

Thee, we have some different policies than some of the others. Among them is the topic we’ll discuss next, namely that we only allow #1 and #2 to fight for a vacant championship. But look over our charter and you’ll see we have some other different rules and policies besides.

And four, our process of deciding the rankings, though similar in some ways to how Ring does it, differs in that I think we are a bit more democratic about our Board’s recommendations. It is not strictly an opinion poll; the chairs are still making the final decisions. But having been a member of Ring’s board, it is my view that we were more receptive to feedback on what was wrong with our first batch of rankings than Ring’s leadership was from week to week, and I think Board members will tell you that they were listened to on their suggestions, even if they didn’t get every one of them that they wanted adopted. (That's not to say Ring ignored their board or any such thing, just that I think we're a notch better on this count so far.)

In short, we are trying to change both the players and the game. I don’t think we’re “just another organization” in the way that the sanctioning outfits proliferated in response to the shortcomings of the other sanctioning organizations, because we are fundamentally different in nature. We will succeed or fail on the merits, and if someone else comes along because we fail, then such is the natural order of things.

Why Isn’t Wladimir Klitschko The TBR Heavyweight Champion?

This is one of the most common placement questions, so it warrants special attention.

The simple answer is in our charter. To fill a championship vacancy, the #1 contender must beat the #2 contender. Wladimir is the top heavyweight, but since Lennox Lewis retired and abdicated his heavyweight championship, Wlad has not beaten the current second best heavyweight, his brother Vitali. He’s never beaten any #2 contender, not even when his brother was semi-retired.

That begs the question, naturally, of why we chose that standard. There was some debate among the founders, and later among the Board members, about whether that standard was too strict. But we settled on #1 vs. #2, and I think it’s a perfectly valid standard for a lot of reasons.

One, it just makes a certain amount of common sense. The best should fight the best to claim the championship. That’s the way it works in every sport. Simply because Wlad doesn’t want to fight his brother isn’t any rock solid argument for subverting that basic principle.

Two, for those who acknowledge Wlad as champion, they derive that conclusion from Ring’s decision to allow Wlad to fight #3 Ruslan Chagaev for their vacant championship. At the time, Ring had a rule allowing a #1 to fight a #3 for a vacant championship. I don’t recall a time where it applied that #1 vs. #3 exception and it wasn’t criticized. My own view at the time was that it was less-than-ideal. When people criticize Ring’s stewardship of lineal championships, one of the top complaints if not the top complaint was that they allowed then-#1 Vitali to fight for a vacant heavyweight belt against then-#3 Corrie Sanders.

Nor could we simply ignore our charter to jury-rig Wlad into the championship spot. One of the other stiffest criticisms of Ring’s championship policy is that they just kinda sorta declared Roy Jones, Jr. the light heavyweight champion even though there was a preexisting claim of lineage elsewhere. That debate would continue for years and years, until eventually circumstances aligned to clear the path for one undisputed lineal light heavyweight champion.

Furthermore, that wiggle room that Ring gave itself on #1 vs. #3 was recently expanded by Ring to allow various fighters in the top five to battle for a vacant championship, leading to near-fatal damage to the credibility of their championship policy over there, and prompting the formation of our Board. There’s a slippery slope here where wiggle room can become an untethered free-for-all.

So, while for a lot of people Wlad is the heavyweight champion, he didn’t earn it the way he would need to so as to qualify for the championship lineage rules we set forth, and for reasons that have subsequently become clear, the higher standard on this is the better standard.

Why Did You Rank Fighter X Above Fighter Y?

There’s simply no chance that we were going to please every one with every one of our individual rankings, and we never will. People are going to disagree with our specific placement of fighters. It is inevitable. The broader question I’d like people to ask themselves when reviewing the rankings is this: Are they credible on the whole? Does the disagreement with one ranking or another somehow tarnish the entire body of work? Or can you look at our rankings, disagree with some of the individual decisions and still say, “I can at least see where they’re coming from, and their position is not indefensible.”

With that in mind, I’d like to defend some of the individual decisions that have drawn attention. I’m not speaking on behalf of the board here – I’m sharing my own personal views about the credibility of those rankings.

No Jean Pascal at light heavyweight, no Andre Berto at welterweight: These two were merely casualties of the rule we have that one year of inactivity without a fight scheduled means a fighter isn’t ranked. The one year period is a fairly arbitrary number, and we contemplated alternatives on the length of time, but the gist of the rule is solid: If you aren’t fighting at all for a very long stretch, why should you be ranked? You’ll see situations where a fighter remains half-retired or otherwise undecided on his future but sitting on a rating for months going on years that he earned with a great resume built up over time, so at a certain point a rankings organization needs to draw a line.

As of this week, Berto now has a fight scheduled, and if he wins it, he’ll surely return to the rankings, most likely at a high spot. Pascal’s situation is more fluid, but the same goes for him.

Floyd Mayweather ranked #1 at welterweight and junior middleweight simultaneously: This is two separate questions in one, first why Mayweather is in two divisions at once and whether he deserves the #1 spot at either. (It has nothing to do with him being a “name” and us being biased in his favor because of it, as some of the next cases after this one will show.)

On the first question, boxing history is just loaded up with fighters who are active in multiple divisions simultaneously, even serving as champion in multiple divisions (see: Henry Armstrong) and I don’t see a problem in ranking someone in multiple divisions if they're active in both. Mayweather is coming off a fight at junior middleweight, and he beat a top junior middleweight in that fight, but he also has an outstanding welterweight resume. He has not made his intentions clear about the division in which he will fight next, and until that situation is clarified by the actions he takes, he deserves to be ranked in both divisions. The charter mentions a guideline on when a fighter should be ranked in one division over another.

There are arguments for ranking Mayweather second at welterweight behind Manny Pacquiao, but I disagree with them. Mayweather has beaten a longer roster of top welterweights than has Pacquiao, and Pacquiao is coming off an official loss in his last fight as well as a consensus loss in the fight before. The charter says that a “bad win” will be taken into account for rankings purposes.

When Mayweather beat Miguel Cotto at junior middleweight, he beat the man ranked #1 in my book at the weight, and only in the rarest of circumstances should Fighter X beating Fighter Y not lead to Fighter X being ranked above Fighter Y. Did Cotto deserve his #1 ranking at junior middleweight? I think so, but for those who disagree, is there anyone who’s resume is leaps and bounds better? Whatever people think of Yuri Foreman nowadays, he was ranked fairly highly in the junior middleweight ranks when Cotto beat him (Foreman had beaten Daniel Santos, himself a top junior middleweight until then, and an array of borderline contenders). Cotto also had decent wins over Antonio Margarito and Ricardo Mayorga. Cotto ascended the rankings from the time he entered them with his win over Foreman as those ahead of him lost or moved out of the division. As for those just beneath him in our rankings…

Erislandy Lara over Saul Alvarez at junior middleweight: I could’ve gone either way on this, and think my vote is for Alvarez over Lara. But this was a big point of discussion for the Board, and we went with the consensus there. I can, however, defend the notion of Lara over Alvarez.

The charter acknowledges that “good losses” can count for something in the rankings, and if ever there was a “good loss,” it was Lara’s disputed loss to Paul Williams. At the time, Williams was a better junior middleweight than anyone Alvarez has ever defeated at junior middleweight. Lara also has a draw with another top-10 junior middleweight, Carlos Molina, and has beaten a very long list of borderline contenders (like Grady Brewer) and tough 154-pounders, often with ease. Final results ultimately matter most, but sometimes we take into account how a fighter wins when deciding a ranking. And, lastly, if all we cared about was who had the bigger name, this ranking would NOT be this way. Lara is a fighter known well to hardcore fans, sure. But Alvarez is one of the biggest boxing stars in the Western Hemisphere.

Gennady Golovkin over Felix Sturm at middleweight: I could see flip-flopping them, for sure, but I support this decision. Sturm has a longer resume but is coming off an official loss, and in fact there are people who would argue he’s lost three in a row but the judges screwed over his would-be conquerors. Remember, “bad wins” count for something per our charter. Golovkin recently beat a top-10 middleweight, Grzegorz Proksa, in spectacular fashion, and like so many of these ranked fighters I’m defending, he also has an array of borderline contenders or steady middleweights on his record. Many of the rest of the people below Golovkin are coming off losses or don’t have a single win as good as Golovkin’s defeat of Proksa. P.S. Sturm is a bigger “name” than Golovkin, by far. He’s ranked below the smaller name, again demonstrating that name recognition has nothing to do with it.

Marco Huck over Yoan Pablo Hernandez at cruiserweight: Huck simply has the deeper and better resume. I could see ranking Hernandez over Huck based on more recent wins, but in a pair of those wins (Troy Ross ,Steve Cunningham I) Hernandez squeaked by in controversial fashion. This, too, was debated by the Board, and we settled on Huck.

Abner Mares at #3, Vic Darchinyan #10 at junior featherweight: There was a time on the Ring board where I was very opposed to ranking Mares highly at 122 and Golovkin highly at 160 because neither had beaten a top-notch man in their divisions, but things have changed – Golovkin now has such a win, and Mares has benefited from a divisional top 10 where after the top couple men, everyone’s either coming off a loss or hasn’t much proven himself either. By the same standard, Darchinyan benefits with his placement in the top 10 at all. I feel like you could mix and match a lot of the guys at the bottom of the 122 pound rankings and come up with one order that’s as defensible as the next. By the way, by way of contrast, you’ll note that Devon Alexander – himself with no wins over a top welterweight, but a big name in the division – isn’t ranked at all. That’s because his division has a stronger bottom top 10.

David Haye #3 at heavyweight: This one is super-defensible, in my view. His last win is a clear destruction of a top-10 heavy, Dereck Chisora, and he’s also defeated top-10 heavies like Nicolay Valuev and, arguably, John Ruiz. Haye lost to Wladimir but gave him his hardest fight in years. #4 Alexander Povetkin has a disputed win over a blown-up cruiserweight in Huck, a win over legit top 10 Eddie Chambers and a win over borderline top 10 Chagaev. I dunno, that one’s easy for me, but the Board did debate it some, although the majority favored a high ranking for Haye.

Rafael Marquez #8 at featherweight: OK, here’s one where I agree with the criticism, and I’m surprised there wasn’t much debate about this by the Board. There’s sort of an argument for Marquez being ranked at featherweight – “good loss” to Juan Manuel Lopez, who at the time was the top man in the division – and he has beaten a couple other featherweights who weren’t total pushovers. In retrospect, I should’ve argued more forcefully for his removal or at least dropping him some. I personally will be looking for an opportunity to argue for a switch, and perhaps that moment could come as soon as this month, as it looks like Marquez is going to fight at junior featherweight in his next bout and therefore he would be eligible to be removed from the featherweight rankings under some circumstances.

I welcome all critiques of our rankings, because it’ll make us think them through even better. We have a great Board, sure, but that doesn’t mean our ears are closed to everyone outside of them. Just review everything I’ve mentioned here and ask yourself: Are the rankings credible, even when I disagree with them? My answer is “yes,” but then, I was part of the group putting them together.

Got more questions/complaints about anything we’re doing? Keep ‘em coming.

About Tim Starks

Tim is the founder of The Queensberry Rules and co-founder of The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board ( He lives in Washington, D.C. He has written for the Guardian, Economist, New Republic, Chicago Tribune and more.