|Thursday, December 2
How to get ranked in boxing
By Tim Graham
Special to ESPN.com
If only we had known how it really worked.
Now we have details, and I'm kicking myself.
All I had to do, it seems, is train for a couple months and convince a club-fight promoter to put me on a few undercards. I could have rounded up some guys off the street and told them I'd give them a hundred bucks and a six pack to fall down real pretty. Then I would have been ready for the final phase of the plan: cash in my 401(k) and buy myself a spot in the IBF's top 10.
As funny as that sounds, especially to those who have seen me in person, that's not a joke. That scenario really could have happened -- inside a year, no less.
And if I had known sooner, I could have used any leftover money to buy my brother a ranking as a Christmas present.
Then the feds had to screw it up.
Of course, that was only the IBF -- the Illicit Boxing Federation -- federal prosecutors assailed last month with charges of widespread abuses. IBF president Bob Lee and three of his henchmen were indicted on charges of taking at least $338,000 in bribes from promoters and managers to mandate fights and rig rankings in 10 of the 15 weight classes. The accusations -- rooted in conspiracy, racketeering and money laundering -- date back to 1985.
The WBC and WBA still are in operation, but with both offices located outside the U.S. and only a handful of shopping days left before Christmas, it looks like my brother and I are out of luck.
By the time the holidays roll around next year, however, those organizations may have started crumbling as well.
That's the way the boxing world is turning right now. Before the IBF trial is over, the trail of corruption might circle the globe a few times over. Prominent names, including -- and especially -- Don King, appear certain to surface.
"The WBC and WBA are just as corrupt, if not more so, than the IBF," one top boxing source told me. "But the IBF is in the United States. The government can get to them easily. The others are harder to touch."
All have pleaded not guilty, and one can assume Lee's defense will consist of a conspiracy theory. Lee plays the race card more than a blackjack player doubles down on 11.
The names of all 23 listed fighters are easy to figure out by cross-referencing the information provided in the indictment with the IBF's rankings. Many of the fighters purportedly involved are Colombians, a nationality with which the IBF long has been accused of inordinately loading its rankings. The rankings for these fighters, including coveted No. 1 spots, were allegedly purchased for as little as $2,000 in the lower weight classes.
There are notable names on the list. According to the cross-reference, Lee solicited Main Events last year for $25,000 to give current champion Fernando Vargas the No. 1 junior middleweight ranking. Main Events chief executive officer Kathy Duva admitted she paid the amount, claiming extortion. But one must wonder: If Vargas, an Olympic gold medal winner in 1996, is so good, why not tell Lee to stick it?
That's what Oscar De La Hoya did when the IBF ordered he defend his newly won lightweight title against Miguel Julio, a fighter who allegedly had five increasing ranks bought for him. The mandated bout also was purchased, according to the indictment.
"They wanted Oscar to pay step-aside money to avoid Julio," De La Hoya's promoter, Bob Arum, admitted in a national teleconference two weeks ago. "But Oscar refused and gave up the belt."
Two other alleged scenarios involved George Foreman and Axel Schulz. According to the documents, Foreman's people paid Lee $100,000 for an exemption to defend his heavyweight title against the unranked Schulz. Big George got more than he bargained for and sweated out a majority decision. Then Schulz's management allegedly paid Lee $100,000 to order a rematch. He did, but the fight never came off.
U.S. District Judge John W. Bissell stated this week that the government's case was strong enough for him to place restrictions on the IBF's spending and bar officials from destroying records. Bissell set a hearing for Dec. 22 to consider a prosecutor's request to remove the indicted officials from the IBF and appoint an independent monitor to reform the organization.
Such a move appears likely, and it would be a move long overdue.
Many boxing observers have long wondered how favorably the sport would respond to federal control. An appointed monitor would be the closest we could come without having an actual Boxing Czar. The prosecutor has requested former U.S. attorney Zachary W. Carter be handed the IBF reins.
Lee's attorney, Gerald Krovatin, has tried to figure out why the government would like to keep the IBF afloat. "If the IBF disappeared tomorrow," Krovatin was quoted as saying, "boxing would survive."
The reason that is, Gerry, is because the IBF as it stands now is worthless because your client made it so.
Boxing could thrive with a legitimate sanctioning body, one that could lead by example and possibly influence the other organizations to clean up.
If the IBF doesn't create that model, there are some who have another candidate in mind.
There has been a quiet movement among boxing's brass to support the IBA to supplant the IBF in boxing's troika. The IBA, run by former Cy Young Award winner Dean Chance, is considered by those in the know to be incorruptible. Chance has all the money he needs and, as a result, refuses to charge the exorbitant sanctioning fees his acronymic counterparts do.
It will take time for the IBA to become a major player, even though one manager who handles multiple IBF champions has seriously considered moving all his guys to Chance's group. Promoters will be cautious in suddenly throwing their support behind the IBA because they don't want to create the image of an unethical alliance, something King has been unable to avoid with both Lee and the WBC's Jose Sulaiman.
Despite the trumpeting headlines the IBF scandal was "another black eye" for boxing, so much good can come from it. The indictment was hardly embarrassing because everyone knew there was corruption in boxing. This allows us to expunge at least some of that from the sport's fabric.
The process also could lead to widespread reform and an added awareness among everyone from the most casual fan to the guy who carries the spit bucket. Instead of merely turning on the light and watching the cockroaches scatter, maybe some of them will get squashed now.
I just wish I had been given enough forewarning to execute my little plan before the clamps were put on the IBF. I could have had everything it takes to line up my shot: immorality, connections, bum opponents, money.
I coulda been a contenda ... a real IBF contenda.
Tim Graham is based in Las Vegas and covers boxing for ESPN.com. His column will appear bi-weekly.