by Paul Magno
When Ring Magazine decided to re-start their magazine championships awhile back I was happy for any alternative to the alphabet soup sanctioning bodies. Anything would’ve been better than the system that was in place, but when you take a closer look at the impact the Ring titles have had on the sport, it can be safely assumed that nothing good has really come from adding yet another title belt to Boxing. As a matter of fact, despite the good intentions behind the Ring Championships, these magazine titles may very well put another nail into Boxing’s coffin.
At this point the Ring titles have gone from a novel magazine gimmick to being recognized as legit World Titles around which entire shows and Pay Per Views are built. Ring Magazine has pushed itself into the fuzzy area between editorial opinion and established championships. And let’s not even delve into the conflicts of interest brought about by the fact that a wanabe-sanctioning body which awards “world” title belts and claims legitimacy is owned by Golden Boy, a very active promoter with many horses in the proverbial race.
The Ring’s Championship rankings are decided by their editorial board-so there is no legal bite behind their bark and, therefore, no way to force their recognized belt holders to fight mandatory #1 challengers, or anyone else for that matter. How can a title be treated as legit when there is absolutely no mechanism built in for discipline and enforcement of by-laws? How would you even go about stripping a fighter of a non-sanctioned belt awarded to him by a magazine?
The lack of real discipline and rules has created several vanity fights for the so-called world title featuring fighters with big name recognition, but questionable legit title credentials. Since established veteran Ring champs are under no pressure to fight any young guns or top prospects, they are free to choose bouts with more recognizable, but much lesser fighters- and nothing can be done to stop them from doing so. More and more of these low-risk, high-buy rate fights will come about in the future, significantly watering-down the sport and making it even harder for young fighters to fight their way to the top.
The perfect example of this is Joe Calzaghe, who currently owns both the 168 and 175 Ring Titles. He became a “world” champ at Lightheavyweight by beating Bernard Hopkins who held no recognized world title other than Ring Magazine’s belt. Now, Calzaghe is set to defend against Roy Jones next- a fighter who hasn’t beaten a ranked 175 pounder in over 5 years. Calzaghe has no plans to fight anyone among the Ring’s top Lightheavies and has no intention of defending his 168 lb Ring title anytime soon either. However, there is nothing that can be done to discipline him and no grounds by which they could strip him. Calzaghe is living up to the rules of the magazine’s editorial board; Rules that would be just as useful if they didn’t exist.
Ring Magazine’s championship policy states: “The only three occasions when a fighter will lose his championship status are when he retires, moves to another weight division, or is defeated in a championship bout.” So, with no obligation in place as to who the champ fights, the title holder can hold on to his status for as long as he likes, provided he doesn’t lose or officially retire or officially declare that he is abandoning his weight division. In other words, all Joe Calzaghe has to do is not officially retire while he keeps beating the dregs of the sport and Ring Magazine will continue to recognize him as the best Lightheavyweight in the world- Even if guys like Tarver, Dawson and Johnson continue to win and make a case for themselves as the best at 175 lbs.
Don’t think that veteran, “name” fighters haven’t already picked up on the trend established by guys like Hopkins, Calzaghe and Joel Casamayor- Win one big fight against the defending Ring champ or #1 challenger and you will get your hands on a title you can hold on to forever, defend against whomever you like and never have to pay a sanctioning fee while, at the same time, still being called a “world” champion.
Pretty sweet deal, huh? Well not for us fans.
Unless changes are made in the championship rules or the magazine itself goes low-profile with their awards, we will be forced to watch nostalgia fights between past-their-primes fighters passed off as real world championship bouts. Young fighters will have an even tougher time to make a name for themselves since there is no way to ever force the reiging champ to fight them. Therefore, while the Ring Magazine titles exist, the sport desperately needs the so-called legit sanctioning bodies to work the yin to Ring Magazine’s yang and balance things out. Kinda like hoping one bank robber comes in while another bank robber is holding up your bank- Sometimes two evils will cancel each other out.
So, if all parties are wrong and nobody is doing a good job at actually sanctioning the sport, then what can Boxing do? Well, my long-standing suggestion has been to adopt a system similar to the NCAA’s college football rankings where a good number of sportswriters are polled to come up with a consensus ranking of the top teams.
In Boxing’s case, neutral boxing writers without ties to any promoter or fighter, would be asked to rate the top fighters in each division. A sample of writers from around the globe could be used to ensure all worthy fighters are equally represented. Then, get the athletic commissions of each state in the US and around the world to acknowledge these rankings as standard and legit. The key would be to get the United States and Western Europe behind the plan and the rest of the athletic commissions and countries would have to fall in line if they wanted access to the money fights.
I’m sure this plan has its drawbacks as well, but it sure beats the heck out of taking a magazine award and pretending that it has any substance at all.