The New Championship Vacancy

After the Ring announced changes to their championship policy, the response from the boxing community was swift and unilateral – people hated it.

Tim detailed his contentions with the new policy here and announced that TQBR will no longer recognize the Ring championship and ratings anymore. Dan Rafael also announced that he would be abandoning his recognition of the Ring championship in his weekly chat. Twitter has been abuzz with writers, bloggers, and fans expressing their distaste for the new championship policy and vows to ignore the Ring championship as they generally ignore the reviled sanctioning body titles.

In all this outraged chatter, one element appears to be curiously absent – a solution.


Then again, maybe it’s not so curious. Solutions are harder than opinions. Opinions are relatively easy to formulate and express because they are reactionary. I see/hear something, I react to it positively or negatively, I express my reaction. It’s a simple equation.

Solutions are far more difficult. Where opinions are reactive, solutions are proactive. They require analysis, dissection, creativity, decision making, and real thought. There are no simple equations. Every problem contains any number of solutions, and any one solution has the potential to unleash a storm of new problems, as the Ring has surely discovered in the wake of the recent announcement.

Opinions are ephemeral and ultimately, by themselves, impotent. Solutions are tangible, potent forces of change, though not always for the best.

Opinions rarely impact anything – solutions do. It’s easy to share our opinions; in this age of the Internet and social media, doing so is easier than ever. Everyone has a voice and a medium through which they can share it.

Solutions are not so readily available, but they are exponentially more valuable. Solutions always generate opinions, but opinions rarely create solutions.

The Ring determined that they had a problem with too many championship vacancies and proffered a solution. Opinions of that solution range from negative to apocalyptic.

Now, we have a new problem – nobody in the boxing media seems interested in recognizing the Ring champions anymore. Which means that few in the boxing media seems particularly interested in recognizing any champions in boxing anymore.

This problem is substantial.

Acknowledging champions is essential to every sport. Every great athlete is in some way associated with championships. Michael Jordan and the double three-peat. Tiger Woods’ dominance of the Masters. Roger Federer’s 16 Grand Slam titles. Babe Ruth and the 1927 “Murderer’s Row” New York Yankees. The World Cup heroics of Pele and Diego Maradona. You can go back to the Ancient Olympic Games and find recognition of championship achievement.

For as long as sports have existed, so too have sports championships.

Boxing is no different. Muhammad Ali’s epic world title fights with Joe Frazier. The era-defining battles for the welterweight and middleweight championships in the 1980s among Sugar Ray Leonard, Tommy Hearns, Marvin Hagler, and Roberto Duran. Mike Tyson’s dominant destruction of the heavyweight division as the “baddest man on the planet.” Jack Dempsey. Sugar Ray Robinson. Championships have been integral to boxing throughout its history.

If the boxing media opts not to recognize championships of any sort, that is a problem. The networks, which were already hesitant to abandon the sanctioning body titles, will eventually fall completely back in line with those corrupt institutions because they have a vested financial interest in marketing championship fights and they will have no other options.

Tim notes in his analysis that one of the main reasons he hears for a lack of interest in boxing is that casual observers can’t keep track of the champions. How could their potential interest in the sport possibly be awakened if those of us who follow it most closely counter that dismissal with, “Well, I don’t really recognize any champions anymore,” and leave it at that? It won’t.

So what’s the solution? It may be worse than the last one I offered, which appears to have influenced the Ring’s updated policy in some small way (although the similarities could just be coincidental). I offer my apologies to the outraged boxing community if my post last year somehow happened to plant the seed of an idea for the new policy, while meekly pointing out that the new Ring policy is even more lenient than my suggestion as I duck the various objects you are no doubt hurling my way.

Of course, the easiest solution would be for the Ring to revert to their previous policy, which would simply require their quickly admitting to making a mistake. In my experience with human beings, spanning my entire life, those who make mistakes are usually the most reticent to admit to them, and those who expect such an admittance are generally the most foolish of all.

Nonetheless, I will offer a solution for our new problem that I haven’t heard yet. Maybe I’m not reading the right columns. Maybe it’s a terrible idea. At the least, it’s worth putting out there because, until people start putting out solutions, the problem as it stands will not be going anywhere.

My suggestion is that the disgruntled writers who are abandoning the Ring ratings panel join forces with prominent bloggers and any credible boxing media they can rally to the cause to form a coalition to compile fighter rankings and determine champions. If we truly feel that the Ring decision destroyed the last remaining credible championship body, a new one will need to be formed to fill the vacuum.

This could be done through the BWAA, which already determines the best fights and fighters and knockouts and trainers of each year through a vote among its panel. This could be done through an independent board headed by prominent boxing writers and bloggers. This could be done in some other way my limited intellect cannot yet imagine. I’m certainly open to suggestions.

This could mirror the previous Ring policy, only without the name and brand equity that Ring Magazine (the Bible of Boxing still, even with concerns about its recent management) provides. Or it could establish a new policy for ranking fighters, determining champions, and filling vacancies. It could attempt to maintain the established championship lineage or it could create a new one.

This solution is vague and logistically demanding. It would be a tremendous undertaking requiring huge commitment and tireless work by all those who choose to be involved. It would require someone motivated, organized, and powerful enough to spearhead it. It would be mocked and criticized and derided by those who do not participate or those who remain loyal to the status quo. In short, it would not be easy.

But if the new Ring policy is so detested (and I have yet to hear any voices of note outside the Ring staff defend it, and I haven’t even seen much of that), and if championships are so essential to the health of a sport (which is cost of entry for this debate), then it seems clear that something needs to be done.

It might be up to those of us who raise our voices the loudest in protest to be the agents of change that bring about the solution.

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.