IBO's Levine Strikes a Blow for Integrity
(By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Sports Network
The Sports Network)
Somewhere between reality and Valhalla... there lies the IBO.
Or, for those alphabet-fatigued, the International Boxing Organization.
Created in 1993, but more recently an idealistic vehicle of retired real estate attorney Ed Levine, the Florida-based outfit has faced all the predictable resistance while attempting to defend its self-proclaimed title as "Champion of Integrity."
Still, Levine, who earned a law degree from Syracuse University in 1967 and went down south to practice for 40 years before handing the reins to his son, seems determined to fight the good fight for as long as it takes to reach his goal of sanctioning body relevance.
"It is frustrating and I do get angry sometimes, but I'm not near a point yet where I'd want to give it up," he said in a recent FitzHitz interview, while preparing to head home from a vacation in the mountains of North Carolina.
"Our mission is to promote honesty, transparency and doing things the right way, and I'm going to continue doing that because it's still enjoyable to me."
Enjoyable, maybe... but never easy.
Staffed by just one full-time employee in its suburban Miami office, the comparatively fledgling operation pales in comparison to its larger and more established counterparts throughout Latin America and, in one U.S. instance, further north on the East Coast.
The World Boxing Association was founded as the National Boxing Association in 1921 and is now based in Panama, while the World Boxing Council originated in 1963 and works out of Mexico.
The International Boxing Federation, with headquarters in New Jersey, sprang from the regional United States Boxing Association in 1983, and the World Boxing Organization, a product of Puerto Rico, was spawned in 1988.
A former ringside judge and official with the WBO and WBU, Levine acquired a financial stake in the IBO in 1999 and, upon taking over as its president, optimistically assumed the collective scorn and mistrust of existing sanctioning apparatus would lead to his groups rapid acclaim.
Instead, the fanfare has been limited through the years to an occasional consensus world champion and something less than universal recognition for its signature device - a computerized rankings system that dubiously slots some IBO belt-holders outside the top 15 or 20 in their respective divisions.
In October's ratings, Wladimir Klitschko and Ricky Hatton are the only two incumbent claimants to also hold the top spots in their given weight class. Antonio Tarver was No. 2 to Joe Calzaghe at 175 pounds before losing to Chad Dawson and reigning two-defense champion Silence Mabuza is ranked second at 118 behind WBC title-holder Hozumi Hasegawa.
Meanwhile, cruiserweight champion Johnathon Banks is ranked 13th, middleweight Daniel Geale is 17th, featherweight Fernando Beltran is 18th and super flyweight Zolile Mbityi is 23rd.
Not the most ideal traction for a tangible uphill climb.
"It's been much more difficult than I expected," Levine said.
"I thought, perhaps naively, that if you brought to the table something that addressed the ills of the sport, you'd be embraced. But the reality is that boxing thrives at its highest levels. It works for the big players in the game, so it's hard to change things."
Nevertheless, as he totes the banner of independent rankings, financial transparency and unflagging support for local commissions, Levine's trek continues.
The rankings package has been used via exclusive license agreement by the IBO since shortly after Levine's arrival. It arranges every active boxer in a given division by a scoring system that factors in wins, losses and quality of opposition among hundreds of other variables.
Lists are generated daily and published monthly, and, according to Levine, are used by several entities on a behind-the-scenes basis to make and approve matches, as well as by fighters and their handlers to help them determine who they'd need to face in order to make a significant jump in points.
"There are TV networks in Europe, for example, who won't buy a fight unless a fighter's opponent is ranked in the top 50 or the top 100 on the computer," he said. "And we get calls from fighters asking what they'd need to do in terms of their next match in order to get into the top 35 of our rankings."
Despite that utility, however, the IBO still gets second-class treatment in the media in terms of recognition, a problem exacerbated, Levine said, when writers and commentators dismiss the group and its motives because of its relative newcomer status and without what he sees as a proper amount of research.
The point was mentioned in a recent editorial on the IBO's Web site - iboboxing.com.
"When we recently asked a Web site why they rewrote a media press release sent to them to exclude a previously included reference to a prominent IBO champion, their answer was, 'We only include credible sanctioning bodies,'" the editorial said. "Well, with that criteria and a definition of credible such as 'worthy of belief' or 'deserving of credit,' we wondered what the word credible really means in boxing as it relates to sanctioning bodies.
"From what we can gather, it's been based solely upon the length of time a sanctioning body has been in business. Does this make sense? Our rapid rise in recognition has been based upon what we believe should be the real criteria for a sanctioning bodies' credibility - honest ratings, operating with integrity, truthfulness, and, ultimately, the quality of our champions.
"We will continue to earn respect and credibility through our actions and hope that those with the power to label sanctioning bodies as credible or not will base their conclusion on those attributes, not merely by the length of time we have been in existence."
All told, it's hard to argue the nobility of Levine's cause or his logic in advancing it.
And given its shorter track record, the IBO surely hasn't poisoned itself among fans and media with the sorts of questionable financial decisions and convenient suspensions of rules that have relegated competitors to loathsome status.
But the ultimate tipping point will always be the legitimacy of its champions, which suffers especially now with Geale and Isaac Hlatshwayo possessing belts in divisions where Kelly Pavlik and Antonio Margarito reign nearly everywhere else by mandate.
Of course, it wasn't all that long ago when the WBO was on the outside looking in, too, with a roster of incumbents that included an uncelebrated Margarito in 2002 and a European-only novelty in Calzaghe half a decade earlier in 1997.
Time and circumstance allowed both to strengthen the WBO's status through the years; a scenario Levine hopes will repeat itself with his group, which has a spotlight opportunity when Hatton defends the IBO laurels against Paul Malignaggi next month.
That fight is generally considered the best available at 140 pounds.
So, five years from now - who knows?
"As time goes by, our champions will fight better fighters and we'll have better quality champions across the board for the IBO," Levine said. "What we need most of all to succeed are more marquee champions who don't want to be used for political mandatory title defenses.
"That and some help from a powerful player in the sport - be it a respected writer or a commentator on a major network - who sees what we're doing and isn't afraid to speak out against the establishment and say that we're a viable alternative."
Lyle Fitzsimmons is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He provides 'In The Ring' commentary for Cold Hard Sports on MVN (coldhardsports.com), is a periodic contributor to 'The Drive with Dave Smith' on KLAA radio (am830klaa.com) and can be contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.