Have you ever been truly wrong about something? Have you ever walked past someone, judged them and then watched them shatter your preconceptions?
I called IBO President Ed Levine at their offices in Florida, fully expecting to dissect their operation and pick holes in Ed’s logic. That was not the case. The IBO have found themselves much criticised since their inception in 1988, never fully joining the other four sanctioning bodies as ‘established’ in the eyes of boxing fans. Yet, they have drawn praise and respect from boxing media regarding their computerised rankings system and their fair handling of fighters across the globe.
Ed joined them a decade after their formation, “Actually, I was not too involved in boxing in the late nineties, but as you probably know once you stop with boxing it’s erm, I call it a disease because once you get it you can’t get out of it! It becomes something that stays with you the rest of your life. I decided I wanted to get back into boxing and, at that point, I had heard that there might be an opportunity with the IBO. So, I bought a controlling interest in the IBO & became the President.”
One thing the IBO became renowned for was their computerised rankings. The idea behind this being that any political element in ranking a top-fifteen would be removed. Human selection completely withdrawn. Ed explained to me how this has continued their commitment to a level playing field amongst boxers globally, “Our rankings are completely straight forward and based on wins, losses, how you won the fight, how you lost the fight, how many rounds the fight was and the scoring of the fight.” Initially partnering with the IWBR (Independent World Boxing Rankings), they have now established an interesting link responsible for their current system. “We entered into a contractual arrangement with BoxRec. The rankings from both sources were completely computerised. So there is no human input in the rankings. We have a different business model than other sanctioning bodies, we felt that we wanted to take the human element out of ranking boxers. There is something to be said for adding the human element, but we wanted to remove all doubt.” A positive, surely?
Something I had wondered myself about the IBO, was how and if they imposed mandatory defences of their titles? I had never in memory witnessed Gennady Golovkin solely defend his IBO title. At first, Ed confused me, “The actual facts are; we have the right to impose a mandatory for a new champion, we have the right to impose a mandatory every nine months, we have the right to impose a mandatory against our inter-continental champion. However, the other side of that coin… our feeling and the reason we haven’t done it on more occasions is we’d like to let the promotional side of boxing dictate what fights are made.” Basing title defences on commerciality and the desire of TV networks seemed to go against their mantra, no? “Well, the dilemma, or the catch with this for the IBO is; you have to understand that with a computerised rankings system, let’s say you have a top ten of the system. A majority of that top ten may be under commercial constraints because of their relationships with other sanctioning bodies.” Levine continued to break down the intricacies of business relationships between promoters and sanctioning bodies in a way that made perfect sense, “If the champion from that division is avoiding that fighter and fighting lesser ranked fighters we will impose a mandatory. But it’s not a cut-and-dry world. In a perfect world, you would have them only having to fight the No. 1 – truly. But it’s not a perfect world. Boxing is certainly not that!” The laugh that follows his closing sentence is merely a reminder of how well schooled the Florida-based Levine is in all things boxing.
So, to recap, the IBO campaign for fair and independent rankings that are free from human interference. Also, their focus is to allow title fights that networks, fans and fighters want to see. I was beginning to wonder why there had been such scrutiny for the recent IBO title fight between Chris Eubank Jr and Renold Quinlan.
“The reward is, to see the best fighters in the world hold an IBO title. You know, when I hear someone say, ‘Oh, the IBO is not respected’ and then I say, ‘What a silly thing to say!’. When you have a Lennox Lewis or Klitschko. A Gennady Golovkin. They’re proud to hold that IBO title and they recognise the IBO title.” The point Ed raises is a fair one, why would promoters fork out sanctioning fees in a time where some fighters drop world titles like bad habits? “They know the IBO is synonomous with integrity. They know they have got there and won it for a reason! Why do their promoters want the IBO title? Why do their managers want it? Those are the questions some of the fans should ask. We are very proud of these fighters!”
One criticism of the IBO has been their lower-ranked, lesser profiled fighters becoming world champions. Challengers in the past have been ranked outside the top twenty and I wondered if Levine thought this could have impacted the perception of the organisation? “We can’t limit ourselves to a top fifteen. That’s why to be eligible to fight for a world title, you have to be ranked in the top thirty-five. We consider the top thirty-five where we draw the line. If you’re in the top thirty-five, we consider that fighter world class. That gives you eligibility to fight for our world title. Doesn’t mean you’ll be sanctioned. If you’re in the top thirty-five, but coming off three losses, or you don’t have a positive record… we’re not gonna sanction that. But, the top thirty-five is the criteria for eligibility. You can be sure that if you are in that top thirty-five, you got there by winning fights, or your record. Not by your business relationship or you winning certain national titles with a criteria not purely based on ability.” One of Ed’s points was that some fighters can be ranked outside the top fifty with one sanctioning body, but fighting for a title with another. A fair point without argument.
The IBO have previously been on record to state they would like to be judged ‘ultimately, by the quality of their champions.’ I asked their President, based on the current crop of champions (including unknown fighters such as Emmanuel Tagoe or Gideon Bulthezi), how would he judge his own organisation?
“Someone such as Emmanuel Tagoe, would never get a high ranking of say No. 5 or No. 3 in the world because he’s fighting only in Ghana. Well here you have a situation where he was in our top thirty five. I don’t know where he is on BoxRec, but it gave him the chance to fight for our title. It gave him the exposure to get that recognition, to get that title and to go on to the next step which is to get some recognition around the world and to be able to market himself. This happened with (Julius) Indongo. Indongo first won our title, only our title and then he went on to win the IBF title of course and Indongo only fighting in Namibia would have gotten no recognition.” Ed continued, “It serves the undefeated young fighter. The IBO serves the fighters fighting in a geographic location where he gets no attention. If we allow him to fight for our world title, he has to have the criteria, the background and the ability to go for it. That’s where people think we sanction anything. The IBO could be sanctioning three times the number of fights we do if we gave up quality for quantity but we won’t do that. It has to be quality!”
Whilst it may play a back seat to other sanctioning bodies, the IBO and its importance to boxing shouldn’t be ignored. They are merely attempting to create the fairest version of the sport. Removing any political or commercial engagement means they are unshackled when arranging contests but importantly, still want the best to fight the best. Do they want to be the WBC? Not at all. Ed Levine is a man who oozes class and intelligence. He knows the road ahead will be long, but the integrity he carries with him is unquestionable. All they are trying to do, is retain their honesty in boxing. What else is the Sweet Science if not honest?