Exclusive Interview: IBO
Boss Ed Levine On
Rankings And Integrity In Boxing
(MARCH 28th, 2006. By Mike Casey with SaddoBoxing.com)
Ed Levine, president of the IBO, has spoken
out on the organization's pioneering world ranking system and other
issues currently concerning boxing fans. The IBO is the only
sanctioning body to offer an unbiased, computerized ranking of
fighters, for which it has received much praise. However, critics have
pointed to what they believe are politically motivated
inconsistencies, such as the apparent irrelevance of the rankings when
the IBO appoints champions or decides matches for vacant
In a recent conversation with this writer, Ed
Levine conceded that the IBO hasn't clarified such issues as well as
it might have done in the past. "You have to remember that the
original idea was way out of the mainstream," Levine says. "We went
with computerized rankings to be as fair as we possibly could to all
fighters, but computers can't read circumstances like human beings.
Such a system can never be perfect, which means that you have to
constantly review it and make adjustments.
"We want the IBO champions to be the best in
their class and we are confident we will get to that point. Gauging
the quality of fighters is so important and an ongoing issue for us.
The difference in quality between, say, the number one and number
fifty contenders in each weight class may differ radically.
"When we first introduced the rankings, a
fighter had to be in the top hundred to compete for our title. We then
cut that to fifty and now the qualifying mark is thirty-five. Many
would argue that is still too generous, but we conduct regular studies
in order to ascertain the correct qualifying mark.
"In general, we have found that the top thirty
five fighters are invariably world class. We will probably narrow the
field to twenty, but I don't see us going any further than that.
"Computers can't read bad decisions or close
decisions. If the first ranked contender gets a disputed split
decision over the fighter ranked twentieth, does that merit a
difference of nineteen places between them in the rankings? Once you
begin to get to the top of the rankings, a great many fighters are
bunched together in terms of quality. We see evidence of that all the
time in different fights."
As for the IBO rankings appearing to go AWOL
at such times when they should be setting an example to other
sanctioning bodies, Ed Levine refutes the suggestion. "Take the
situation of a vacant championship," he says. "Ideally, we would like
the top two contenders to be fighting for our title, but we know that
cannot always be the case due to various circumstances. Several years
ago, we caught a lot of criticism for simply appointing Roy Jones as
our light heavyweight champion, but I think that was a brave and
positive move on our part. It went against the grain with me
personally, because I am a traditionalist who believes that a vacant
championship should be contested. But the circumstances were special
in Roy's case, because he was so far ahead of the rest at that stage
in his career. He was the top fighter in the division and we
recognized him as such. There is no official world champion in golf,
for example, but we know that Tiger Woods is the best out there
because he is the runaway leader at the top of the rankings.
"We don't just give titles to people. We
turned down a request from Lennox Lewis' people to appoint him as our
world champion, because Lennox's dominance of the heavyweights wasn't
so clear cut at the time. The circumstances have to be truly
exceptional for a champion to be appointed without fighting for our
When people accuse the IBO of being dishonest
in this area, Levine points to the rankings as evidence of the
contrary. "Some of our champions are not number one in our own
rankings, and surely you can't get more honest than that. We don't
massage the figures or tamper with the standings to show our lower
ranked champions in a more positive light.
"The greatest strength of computerized
rankings is that they offer uniformity and consistency, whatever
people's opinions on how the standings come out. They are honest and
we won't budge on honesty. Our rankings are not up for sale or
"We are talking boxing here and I'm sure it
won't surprise you to know that I get managers coming on to me all the
time to request that we promote their fighters in the rankings. We
don't do that and we never will."
Ed Levine sympathizes with frustrated boxing
fans on many issues, from the proliferation of titles at world and
continental level to the often crude and unacceptable behavior of
boxers when they are in the public eye. "There are too many titles
now," he concedes, "but it's the usual problem you get in boxing where
a fundamentally good idea is inevitably abused. For example, there is
nothing wrong with intercontinental titles per se, because they offer
a sensibly tiered structure of graduation for young boxers. But the
system has been predictably fractionalized and cheapened. I can
understand those fans who get the impression that any two boxers can
fight for an intercontinental title. At the IBO, we insist that our
contestants are ranked in the top hundred of the computerized
rankings, a status that isn't easy to attain."
Ed Levine also insists that IBO
representatives set an example in dress code and demeanor in the
public domain at a time when boxing's public image isn't the greatest.
"We endeavor to create the right impression to fighters and their
trainers and everybody involved in boxing. We promote good and
responsible behavior all the way down the line, but of course you
cannot actually tell a boxer what to say or how to lead his life.
"Too many fighters behave badly and use
unacceptable language before the cameras, yet I know them to be nice
guys and gentlemen in their private lives. I think the sad thing now
is that many boxers and boxing people have it in their heads that they
won't be sufficiently noticed unless they behave outrageously."
MIKE CASEY is a boxing journalist and
historian, a member of the International Boxing Research Organization
and founder and editor of The Grand Slam Premium Boxing Service for
boxing historians and fans. (www.grandslampage.net)