In the second of a six-part guide to boxing utopia, we focus on the implementation of an independent rankings body. 

In part one, the dream of one champion per weight class was described but steps must obviously be taken to get there. As was proved when the 25-year wait for an undisputed heavyweight champion was quickly followed with the championship being in a state of dispute yet again, we can’t rely on the sanctioning bodies to work together for long enough for that dream to become a reality.


In June 1981, the brilliant but now defunct KO Magazine reported the New York Post creating their own boxing ratings with derision. “We have ratings. Other boxing magazines have ratings. The WBA and WBC have ratings. And now, the New York Post is threatening to issue a complete set of boxing ratings all its own,” the report read. “Boxing is inundated with ratings. It doesn’t need any more.”

If that was the case in 1981, before the sanctioning body explosion multiplied the number of rankings and the internet and social media came along to generate even more, one could reasonably argue it’s a point that’s even more pertinent today.

However, given that the ‘official’ rankings of the four sanctioning bodies rarely represent reality, perhaps it’s time to implement one set of independent rankings that the entire industry can use as a source of valuable clarity in the short term and, longer term, install as the solitary means of ranking boxers. Boxing is crying out for that context. Furthermore, it might buck up – or at least expose – the ideas of the sanctioning bodies who persist in rating boxers who should not merit inclusion among the world’s best. If ever a sport needed to be held accountable when mismatches at the top level are made, it’s boxing.

The current rankings of the sanctioning bodies do not guarantee such quality control. As was pointed out in Part I, because they fail to rank champions (including ‘interim’ titlists and sometimes even those in mandatory positions) from their rival organizations they essentially discourage the best from fighting the best – which is truly absurd. 

The WBC, which is the most front-footed of organizations when it comes to peddling change and arguably the least guilty when it comes to making mismatches at the highest level, have promised to discuss the possibility of ranking titlists from rival organizations at the end of the year. Yet at the same convention they will also listen to pleas from fighters’ representatives as to why those fighters should be higher in their ratings. The process of ranking fighters need not be so complicated. Rankings, surely, should be based solely on accomplishment, irrespective of what their promoter, manager or housemate may have to say.

When they’re all privy to the same results and form, how can one organization place Fighter A at number two yet the other organizations don’t rank Fighter A at all?   

By creating various ‘intercontinental’ titles and the equivalent – which allow fighters to rise through certain rankings if they win one regardless of the quality of opposition – certain sanctioning bodies invite accusations of corruption by charging fees for the privilege. 

In short, boxers ‘buy’ a higher ranking by fighting for a bogus title. Next time you’re perplexed as to why a fighter you’re not familiar with is occupying an exceptionally lofty position in one set of rankings, go and check their record – nine times out of 10 they will have won bouts involving the equivalent of an ‘intercontinental’ title. And even to fight for those belts, which mean very little, sanctioning fees are charged. Win two or three of those, while paying two or three sets of sanctioning fees to the sanctioning body in the process, and – hey presto – the ‘world’ ranking improves dramatically. What’s perhaps worse is how those intercontinental straps have affected the genuine national and continental championships – once crucial building blocks to world titles.   

Though it’s presumed that all promoters are in bed with the sanctioning bodies – whether remaining faithful to one for special favours or shamelessly rolling around with all four – most are acutely aware that a solitary set of rankings would make the sport a more appealing prospect to the public.

“You create something that is bigger than the sanctioning bodies,” Eddie Hearn told me in 2021. “I’m the only person capable of doing that. I am the only one that has the balls; the energy; the vision to do it.

“There has got to be less focus on the belts moving forward. I’ve been guilty of not doing that. I’ve promoted WBA ‘regular’ titles when they’re not real world titles. But we’re not at a point – yet – where we can say just say, ‘Let’s get rid of the belts’.”

Are we now at that point?

One of the key powerbrokers in the sport, who preferred not to be named within this article, doesn’t believe so. “What would help is if the sanctioning bodies changed their rules and worked alongside each other so that the rules were in line with each other and brought up to date,” he said. “It’s difficult to work to so many different rules.” For example, the IBF demand that mandatories occur every nine months, which is hard to implement every time – particularly when some of those mandatories are clearly not the most deserving or marketable contenders, and nearly always threatens the status of undisputed championships.

“But the sanctioning bodies are ultimately responsible for making the right fights happen,” he continued. “If belts were not on the line, the fights would not get made.”

That is undeniable for as long as everyone accepts that the four sanctioning bodies, and all their conflicting rules and rankings, are here to stay. He did agree, however, that a completely independent rankings system could help the sport and provide fans with a greater understanding of where the fighters really stand. 

Turki Alalshikh of the General Entertainment Authority is reportedly plotting an alternative to the current system. The Saudi Arabian paymaster is widely regarded as the most influential individual in the entire sport – certainly one with the balls, energy and vision to rival Hearn’s and, crucially, one with even more money at his disposal. Anyone who has discussed boxing with Alalshikh will tell you how much he yearns for a simpler and fairer rankings system – one that will take the sport back to its glory days.

“In the 70s and in the beginning of the 1980s, the number one sport in the world was boxing,” he said in an interview with DAZN five months ago. “Now, I am very sad. The last result I have… boxing was 14th. There is a lot of reason. Some of it is there is not a lot of fighters that are charismatic and character now, there is a lot of problem with the promoter – they don’t want to do the strongest fight because it costs a lot. Some fighter doesn’t want to do the strongest fight. And there is four companies; four belts.”

One by one, Alalshikh is addressing each of those problems. Since that interview was conducted, Oleksandr Usyk fought Tyson Fury in Saudi Arabia to (oh so briefly) clear up the longstanding mess at heavyweight and he oversaw a terrifically matched bill promoted by both Hearn and Frank Warren. What next, we wonder? Ideas for tournaments and new championships are no longer mere whispers.

Completely independent, justifiable and explainable rankings are the obvious starting point. They already exist in the form of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board (TBRB), which is made up of more than 50 completely independent journalists and experts from all over the world. Even though one may disagree with certain placements – like, let’s say, Fighter B really should be third and not fifth – at least the thought process can be outlined to the public, and boxers cannot suddenly be airlifted into the rankings on request (Jonathan Guidry, anyone?). In short, the decision-making process for each ranking is completely transparent. 

On the surface, the implementation of these or similar rankings would appear a no-brainer.  Yet broadcasters and promoters might resist because of those issues with the sanctioning body rankings; consistently marketing contests between champions and those who are not deemed worthy of inclusion in the independent rankings is not the best look for their businesses, after all.

Should anyone be trying to take over the sport, however, one set of independent rankings – which can spawn tournaments and provide insight on the quality of matchups – would make an immediate impact.

When fights take place between fighters in the top 10, their ranking will be known and the significance understood. The number five versus the number eight, for example, is far more appealing – and easier to digest – than a nonsensical international belt, and provides fans with the context of which they’ve been starved during the current ‘four-belt era’.

Implementing these rankings would ensure that better fights are occurring almost overnight. The desire from boxers to get into the Top 10 and climb the ladder towards a lucrative and authentic world championship would put pressure on the promotional and broadcast boundaries that have for too long existed and cut out so many of the mismatches that occur all too frequently. And those mismatches are happening in world-title fights – nearly always between the belt-holder and the aforementioned Fighter A with the unjust and paid-for ranking.

Should the WBC, WBA, IBF and WBO want to retain relevancy it wouldn’t take long before obscure fighters were removed from their own ratings and their current policies were addressed. Their survival would depend on it.

Part I can be read here.

Part III will be published on July 10