The WBA In New York: A Hole the Size of a Quarter

By Thomas Hauser
Rats are adept at squeezing through small openings.

I once saw a rat trying to squeeze through a hole the size of a quarter. It got its head through, which is usually the determining factor. But it was a fat rat; and for whatever reason, the rest of it couldn't get through. It squeezed and pulled and grunted and tugged, but the hole was too small.

The WBA officials who assembled in New York on October 16 for an open hearing on the WBA's heavyweight ratings resembled rats trying to squeeze through a hole the size of a quarter. Some of them might have been well intentioned. But overall, the hearing was a transparent effort at damage control.

Boxing's world sanctioning bodies aren't known for integrity. Indeed, Craig Hamilton, who once went to a WBA hearing in an effort to keep Lennox Lewis from being stripped of the title for fighting Michael Grant) said at the time, "Dealing with the WBA is like dealing with a drug cartel, not a legitimate ratings organization." But when the WBA released its most recent ratings in September, there was a firestorm of protest.

Larry Donald moved up three slots to No.3 despite the fact that he hadn't won since a 10-round decision over James Stanton 15 weeks earlier and Stanton had lost six of his previous seven bouts. Hasim Rahman moved up five places to No.5 despite not having fought since a June loss to Evander Holyfield. The untested unskilled Nikolay Valuev was ranked No.6. Fres Oquendo was elevated four slots to No.7 despite the fact that his previous fight had been an April knockout loss to David Tua. Jameel McCline, undefeated in his past 28 fights, dropped from N0. 7 to No.8. David Tua was demoted to No.9. Kirk Johnson slipped from
No.5 to No.10. And British heavyweight champion Danny Williams fell five places to No.14 despite having won his previous 11 fights.

Donald, Rahman, and Oquendo are all promoted by Don King. Williams had been promoted by King but left DKP for Lion Promotions shortly before his demotion.

Ratings are at the heart of controlling which fighters get to fight for championships. Normally, the WBA and its brethren slough off complaints, but this time there was a twist. John McCain (the ranking Republican on the Senate Commerce Committee) sent a letter to Attorney General John Ashcroft questioning whether the WBA is violating the ratings provisions of the Professional Boxing Safety Act. The California Athletic Commission withheld the WBA's sanctioning fee for the flyweight title fight between Eric Morel and Denkaosaen Kaowitchit. And the recent $31,000,000 judgment in favor of Graciano Rocchigiani against the WBC made the powers that be at the WBA a bit skittish.

Thus, Wednesday's open hearing. WBA president Gilberto Mendoza and legal advisor James Binns (widely regarded as the WBA's controlling powers) were not present. The hearing was chaired by Gilberto Mendoza Jr. (international coordinator for the WBA Executive Committee). Also in attendance were Renzo Bagnariol (chairman of the World Championships Committee), Bolvar Icaza (chairman of the Ratings Committee), ratings committee members Jose Oliver Gomez, Stanley Christodolou, George Martinez, and Guy Jutras, and attorney Robert Mack.

Mendoza thanked the media for its constructive criticism. There was a discourse on the fact that Oliver McCall was unranked because he had gone to Yale ("yale" being the Spanish pronunciation of jail). Gary Shaw said that a fighter like Fres Oquendo shouldn't be allowed to move up in the ratings by not fighting after a loss to which Mendoza responded, "That's your personal opinion and you're entitled to it." Then Mendoza announced that there had been some "technical problems" with the WBA's computers and that, on top of that, certain relevant information hadn't been fed into the computers. "We are all human beings," he explained before declaring that the WBA's most recent heavyweight ratings had been vacated in favor of a points system.

The points system is the WBA's fallback position when the Executive Committee determines that an officially-designated "controversy" exists. Or as Dino Duva put it, "The points system is a different set of rules that the WBA turns to when it can't justify its ratings."

The points system is idiotic on its face. For example, a fighter gets more points for successfully defending a regional championship than he does for successfully defending a world title. A fighter who is knocked out in the third round of a great fight (for example, Thomas Hearns against Marvin Hagler) loses more points than a fighter who runs for 12 rounds and is beaten by a mediocre opponent). But it's a moot point because the WBA doesn't follow the points system when it doesn't feel like following it.

During the course of the hearing, Dino Duva, Pat English (sans mustache), Butch Lewis, Gary Shaw, Don Majeski, Joe DeGuardia, Tony Cardinale, Norman Stone, Bobby Goodman, and Don King all had their say on behalf of various fighters. King was the day's most entertaining speaker. Among the points he made were, "The WBA should be applauded for its integrity in holding an open hearing on its ratings . . . Ratings are subjective . . . It's a promoter's obligation to lobby for his fighters to get the best rating possible. The day that lobbying is cut out is the end of boxing."

Then Mendoza announced the WBA's new heavyweight rankings (point totals in parenthesis):

1 Evander Holyfield (40)
2 Vacant
3 Vitali Klitschko (43)
4 David Tua (40)
5 Hasim Rahman (36)
6 Mike Tyson (35)
7 Jameel McCline (31)
8 Kirk Johnson (24)
9 Fres Oquendo (26)
10 Larry Donald (23)
11 Nikolay Valuev (29)
12 Faruq Saleem (21)
13 Lamon Brewster (20)
14 Joe Mesi (18)
15 Danny Williams (17)

Holyfield was granted the top slot despite having fewer points than Klitschko because of his victory over Rahman in an elimination bout. It was decreed that the winner of the scheduled November 23 fight between Klitschko and Donald would be ranked second. No one could explain why Fres Oquendo and Nikolay Valuev were ranked behind fighters who had fewer points. And more significantly, no one could explain why Chris Byrd (who had 36 points and has beaten both Klitschko and Tua) was absent from the ratings.

If this is what the WBA does with its heavyweight ratings, think what the other divisions are like. For example, Shane Mosley does not appear in the WBA ratings.

Louis Brandeis once wrote, "Sunlight is the best disinfectant." In the case of the world sanctioning organizations, stronger remedies are necessary.
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