Joe Bruno on Boxing — Why Nobody Wants Honest Boxing Ratings

By Joe Bruno

Former vice president of the Boxing Writers Association and the International Boxing Writers Association

Watch out, corrupt boxing organizations, there’s a new kid on the block, and this kid seems to know what he’s doing.The new kid is the World Boxing League, and the WBL is seeking corporate sponsorship, in the same manner NASCAR has successfully operated in the past. (The NASCAR Winston Cup Series is an example) The WBL is the brainchild of the dynamic duo of Fred Levin and Terdema Ussery, who have worked together on the marketing of world light heavyweight champion Roy Jones for Nike.  Now Levin and Ussery have targeted Nike as the sponsor for their fledging sanctioning body, and you know what folks, this just might work.

The WBL plans to be a sanctioning body consisting of a corporation whose stockholders will be major figures in the world of business and sports. The WBL will operate in the same manner as professional baseball, basketball and football leagues. A commissioner will oversee professional boxing, and the WBL claims it will recruit the best people to govern boxing officials, establish rules and promote the sport throughout the media. Now here’s the part that I like. The WBL says it will contract the rankings to an independent ranking board and will be allowed no influence on the rankings. The ranking board will consist mainly of independent, knowledgeable sports media figures. It will operate much as the panel of sportswriters which determines the Associated Press college football rankings.This strategy has been tried before. I know. I was an integral part of it.

In 1981, there was two distinct Boxing Writers Groups; The Boxing Writers Association and the International Boxing Writers Association. I was the vice president of both. The Boxing Writers Association consisted almost entirely of New York city based boxing writers and former New York city boxing writers, who were then involved in public relations for various promoters. All members, even the press agents, were voting members, and the group voted each year for such boxing awards as Fighter of the Year, Manager of the Year, the James J. Walker Award—For Long and Meritorious Service to Boxing, etc. etc.  The conflicts of interest caused by press agents pushing their bosses’ fighters, and even their bosses themselves,  for various awards were obviously and brazenly undertaken. One year the late Murray Goodman, one of the nicest men ever in the business,  outwardly pushed his boss Don King for the Walker Award. Hey, even old Murray’s had bills to pay. Then Marc Maturo, a boxing writer for the Gannett papers in Westchester, started the International Boxing Writers Association. Marc actively recruited boxing writers from around the world to join this new group, and Marc’s main purpose for forming the group was to create the world’s first and only honest ratings system in the eight major weight classes. Certain members of the Boxing Writers joined the International Boxing Writers, but the old group treated the new group as treacherous traitors. I mean, who were we to actually think we could better the sports of boxing. I was told by staunch members of the old group that boxing writers exist only to report the news, not create news itself. Well excuse me.

Marc recruited Mike Katz, then of the New York Times, and Steve Farhood then of of KO Magazine to be the ratings chairmen. The ratings committee consisted of 30 boxing writers from around the world. We had voting members from such far away places as Japan, Australia,  Germany, England, Italy and France. The fighters were rated from one to ten; number one getting ten points and number ten getting one point. You get the idea Folks, this was 1981. There was no Internet and fax machines were far and few in between. So the ratings were done by mail, and by telephone where possible.

On the first of every month, the ratings came out and were published by the Associated Press Wire Services. They were  made available to every newspaper in the country that subscribed to the AP Wire Service. The problem was nobody cared, and almost nobody in the boxing world wanted honest ratings anyway. I’ll cite two examples: The International Boxing Federation, run by Bob Lee, held it’s first  annual convention in 1982. Promoters Dan Duva of Main Events and Mickey Duff  from England liked our ratings system so much, they pushed Bob Lee to use our ratings, thus giving his new organization some much-needed credibility. Guess what? Lee told us thanks, but no thanks. Lee said he had his own ratings committee. Right then I knew something was rotten in the IBF. The recent investigations of the IBF seventeen years later are centered on Lee’s  IBF ratings system. No surprise here.
The second incident involved HBO, and it’s weasel president, the Truman Capote-sounding Seth “The Shrimp” Abraham. Marc Maturo and I arranged for an appointment (an audience?) with Abraham in his offices overlooking Central Park. We were ushered into Abraham’s office, and Marc got down to pitching out ratings system. Before Marc got two sentences out of his mouth, Abraham excused himself and left the room. Minutes later, an HBO flunky came in and told us to vacate the premises immediately. We were told that Abraham thought the purpose of the meeting was to do a puff piece on his highness, and not to pitch our stupid ratings. This punk Abraham didn’t have the nerve to throw us out of his office himself.

So there you have it. We produced an honest ratings system for boxing, and we were treated like we had leprosy. The International Boxing Writers folded soon afterward. We were beaten to our knees by the big boys who knew the real score.

That reminds me of the time I interviewed the great Willie Pep in Madison Square Garden. The New York Boxing Commission was experimenting with the new thumb-less boxing gloves, created to decrease eye injuries. I asked Pep, “Willie, what do you think of the new thumb-less gloves?” Willie said, “They stink.” I said, “Why?” Willie said, “Because you can’t THUMB anyone.”Same thing with honest boxing ratings. If you have honest ratings, then you can’t cheat.
Not cheat in boxing? Fuhgeddaboudit.
Getting back to the newly launched World Boxing League. The whole idea of the WBL depends completely on establishing a ratings system beyond  reproach. If Levin and Ussery produce that ratings system, they’ve got a damn  good chance of knocking the WBA, the WBC, the IBF, the WBO and all the other alphabet cheats right out of the box, and off the boxing map. Good luck guys.  I’ll believe it when I see it.


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