I wish that this was not so one-sided a post. But current and former officials with The Ring -- a publication I revere, have worked for and am affiliated with, in a manner of speaking -- haven't provided their explanation.
What we have is this: On Thursday, Eric Raskin and William Dettloff, contributing editor for the publication and senior writer for the publication, respectively, announced on their Ring Theory podcast that editor-in-chief Nigel Collins and managing editor Joseph Santoliquito had been fired by Golden Boy Promotions, the boxing promoter that owns Ring Magazine. They said that the offices of Ring Magazine in Blue Bell, Pa. will be shuttered, and the magazine offices will now be centered in Los Angeles, where GBP and the editors of RingTV, the magazine's website with previously separate leadership, are located. Dettloff and Raskin sounded alarm bells about what this entails for Ring Magazine's independence, and, consequently, its championship policy and the credibility of its rankings.
That was all eyebrow-raising. What the pair said specifically about what the changes mean, beyond that, was troubling. Dettloff indicated that Collins was the last safeguard against GBP meddling and Ring: "Nigel has now duly paid the price for having backbone." On Twitter, Raskin harkened back to the days of Ring's notorious rigged ratings scandal: "It might prove to be even worse than the '70s scandal. We'll see."
It's nothing new for GBP's ownership of Ring to pose conflict-of-interest problems for the so-called "Bible of Boxing." Even before I had a thing to do with the magazine, I wrote about how GBP's purchase of Ring was problematic. But to date, Ring's rankings have shown integrity, and I know from having looked at them systematically not so long ago. The proof, as it was, was in the pudding. The magazine, by my skeptical evaluation, had appeared untainted by GBP's ownership.
That remains the case today, so far as I know. But following the GBP maneuvering of personnel -- not disputed by anyone I've contacted, to date -- there are new questions about whether GBP has interfered too much into the day-to-day operations of the publication.
GBP's Oscar De La Hoya had promised the following upon the purchase of the magazine (along with Pro Wrestling Illustrated):
"These magazines will be held in an editorial trust where they will be operating totally independent of any influence from me or others from the Golden Boy Companies as it relates to editorial direction or content."
On one level, GBP is entitled to make personnel moves at the businesses it owns. And there are no indicators, as of now, that GBP is influencing "content" at Ring Magazine. But by changing leadership at the magazine, it could be said that GBP is affecting Ring's "editorial direction."
It must be noted that I have several different degrees of conflict of interest here. I have long been an advocate of Ring's ratings and championship policy; just look to the column on your left. I have worked for Nigel and Joe directly, and consider Eric a friend, one who has, incidentally, helped my mini-boxing writing career. And I recently joined the Ring Ratings Panel. Raskin and Dettloff have their own personal stake in what is happening, in that both were removed from RingTV and haven't hidden their dissatisfaction about that on Twitter or in columns at The Sweet Science, and both stand to lose money not writing for Ring Magazine.
On the other hand, in their podcast, despite their notes of alarm, both Raskin and Dettloff encouraged readers of Ring Magazine not to cancel their subscriptions, to see how it plays out. As I've said many times before, there are few boxing publications today that are free from conflicts of interest; for instance, ESPN airs boxing programming for profit and simultaneously pays a journalist to cover boxing who often writes about ESPN boxing programming. Absent proof of any GBP corruption of the rankings in the near future, it wouldn't be prudent to assume that the rankings are instantly tainted, or that the magazine will now be a hopeless GBP shill.
But more GBP involvement raises deeper doubts, is all. And I've already raised questions periodically in the past about whether the current writers and editors at the website, despite their own considerable good qualities -- Michael Rosenthal, Doug Fischer and Lem Satterfield -- have behaved in ways that are opposite the philosophy of Ring Magazine and/or in accordance with GBP.
As I mentioned at the start, I wish I had more perspective. Collins and Santoliquito did not respond to requests for comment. Rosenthal said Thursday that he could not comment yet. When there's more information about what all this means, I'll communicate it.
I'm withholding final judgment on all of this, and what it means for the magazine, until I know more. All I know is that, based on what I've heard so far, I'm worried. Very, very worried.
I'm sorry to see Collins go but his professionalism suffered because he was a Bernard Hopkins fan. He insisted that Hopkins held the record for most defenses of the world middleweight title, even though Hopkins didn't become the true champ until he won the vacant title in his fight with Felix Trinidad. He recognized Hopkins early defenses as being for the true title which is contradictory. The Ring doesn't award titles retroactively, how can they award title defenses retroactively. He did this because Bernard is from Philly.
Two things I would quickly throw out: why can't HBO do it's own rankings? HBO is the biggest player in the game, part of a media conglomerate that makes Top Rank and Golden Boy look like mom-and-pop grocery stores. How difficult would it be for them to sanction a panel of distinguised boxing experts and compile their own rankings, based on the same formula culminating in lineal champions. I know HBO's been accused of being in everyone's pocket from Al Haymon to Don King but with a new regime soon to be installed, I'd have no problem with HBO ranking fighters in an open, honest way with the intention of creating matchups based on those rankings. Otherwise, why doesn't the BWAA just start doing rankings like the AP in college sports?
And I hope I'm wrong. If GB/RING comes out and says "nothing will change with the rankings" and provides a list of credible jurists to do so then I will continue to give them the respect as the best and most accurate ones out there.
@JFoley Somebody else could do rankings. The risk for HBO would be how they rated fighters who don't appear on their network, but there's a parallel in the chance that GBP could've rigged the ratings for non-GBP fighters. So, as with GBP rankings, the proof would be in the pudding.
Andre Berto would be ranked the No. 3 welterweight in the world in the HBO rankings. 'Nuff said.
I'm really past the point of rankings. I just want to see good fights and could care less about some arbitrary number hung on a boxer's skillset.
The superb Delvin Rodriguez-Pawel Wolak fight has been praised to the point of mythology this year, but the brilliance of that bout had nothing to do with rankings. It had everything to do with styles.
I'd rather see two well-regarded fighters with meshing styles in the ring than two highly-rated fighters who produce nothing but tedium inside the ropes, such as Alexander-Bradley.
Boxing doesn't need ratings; it needs competitive, action fights.
But thanks to Bill James, the AP, Billy Beane, USA TODAY, OPTA and others, the sports world has been consumed by statistics. People simply can't discuss a sport -- even one that's judged arbitrarily like boxing -- without tossing around numbers like an actuary have an orgasm at the prospect of auditing the next Enron.
@tstarks You have odd friends. :)
Seriously, I sell my fight parties with Pacquiao and Mayweather in much the same way. My buddies still are magnetized to the big names because that's what sells sport -- and any product -- these days.
Plus I offer copious amounts of beer and scotch, which always helps.
I only wish the action would match the star power of the names some day.
@PaulKelly But you can't have championships in boxing without rankings!
Also, while many tennis players play each other, it's not like the only way you can rank a tennis player is based on their head to head competition with that person. You can rank an athlete next to another in any sport, regardless of whether they fight one another.
I know that fights like Rodriguez-Wolak can create new boxing fans. Totally.
But I think it's interesting that Mayweather and Pacquiao still do good PPV #s despite not producing much great action in their last several fights. I think it speaks to two things: Casual and non-boxing fans care about who is the best; and casual and non-boxing fans care about personalities. A couple different times, I apologized for the dearth of action in some Mayweather and Pacquiao PPVs... only to have my pals answer, "I enjoyed it! It was a pleasure to see someone who's the best at what they do ply their craft." And I can tell you that, when I have boxing nights, I sell people on why they should come over... and a big name/best fighter gets more asses in the seats than "hey this fight is going to be a classic!"
@tstarks Ratings should be VERY relevant in boxing because there are no annual "majors" or world championships to establish a pecking order in the field of play. But ratings are less relevant in the sweet science because there are political and financial forces that prevent regular matchups between top-rated fighters.
In most other individual sports, it's fun to say that some computerized or objective system rates Usain Bolt as the best 100-meter sprinter in the world or Novak Djokovic is the best men's tennis player on Earth. But we don't need those numbers. We see it with our own eyes every year. Bolt never loses at the Worlds or Olympics against the best in the world unless he false starts, and Djokovic tonight is on the cusp of his third Grand Slam victory of the year.
People can argue all they want about the merits of individual players in team games, but at its heart, they are "team" games. Championships matter more than individual performances. I know this better than most, as a lifelong Buffalo Bills' fan. I still have morons seriously argue to me that Trent Dilfer and Mark Rypien are better quarterbacks than Jim Kelly because "they have a ring."
Can you imagine college basketball without the NCAA Tournament to validate the rankings throughout the season? Can you imagine the same in college football? Oh, wait ... :)
Seriously, ratings need to be regularly validated in the crucible of competition. And boxing simply doesn't do that enough due to greedy promoters, horrible TV packaging deals, inane sanctioning body executives, etc.
I would rather see more single-elimination or even round-robin tournaments to determine the best. Both Showtime tourneys have been so much fun, even if the Super 6 has been drawn out for too long. American sports fans love tournament formats, especially single elimination like March Madness and the NFL Playoffs.
I still think great fights among fighters that aren't among the stratosphere of the ratings can attract as many fans to boxing as the "superfights" among the stars.
The Rodriguez-Wolak scrap turned on quite a few of my friends and relatives who have either left boxing or never followed it.
I'd rather have my buddies over for Rios-Acosta II or ANY fight with Michael Katsidis than another lopsided PPV with Mayweather or Pacquiao, and the accompanying underwhelming undercard. I'm getting sick of apologizing to buddies for the dearth of action that boxing is presenting in so many of its "super fights."
@PaulKelly You're certainly entitled to care more about whatever you choose to care more about than other things.
But there are a lot of boxing fans -- myself included -- who DO care about rankings. They care about them for one of the main reasons sports fans have ALWAYS cared about rankings: We want to know who's best.
Only in the boxing world is there any significant segment of the fan base where people dismiss ratings. It is a major preoccupation of every sport (and it was before Billy Beane even if that preoccupation has deepened). Every sport that I can think of, even the ones where there is a high degree of subjectivity, has this.
If boxing wants fans outside of the hardcore fan base that ONLY cares about exciting fights, then a system aimed at determining who's best is the kind of thing that can make the sport more accessible to them. I'm not talking about you here, but it's amazing that there are any boxing people who would say in one breath that A. boxing needs to grow its fan base beyond the hardcore and B. ratings are stupid! Well, those people don't understand what it means to be a fan of sports other than boxing, I suspect. (Although, for some reason, I've witnessed them go on at length on Twitter rating the best quarterbacks of all time.)
Furthermore, there's nothing ARBITRARY about Ring's ratings. They're pretty regimented in how they apply those ratings. If you want arbitrary ratings, check out the WBA or WBO rankings. Don't pretend these two things are anything alike.
Lastly, I care about exciting fights, too. But if all you care about is an exciting fight, why not abandon boxing for Toughman Contests? I bet there's a part of you that cares about how good someone is, and there's some internal logic to that estimation that is a rough rankings system. At any rate, there's room for more than one kind of fight -- not every fight has to be a life-or-death slugfest and not every fight can be; not every fight has to be a meaningful contest between the two best fighters in a division and not every fight can be.
I think the main issue of concern here is that these were the most respected, reputable rankings around. A Ring championship was the sport's greatest prize in the eyes of the hardcore fans. There's plenty of places to get quality boxing writing from Espn, sweet science, the very site we're on, etc...even the much-maligned Dougie Fish (er) is a pretty competent and insightful scribe now unfortunately even more tainted by Golden Boy's machinations. The magazine did feature great pieces, no doubt, but it did suffer from coming out seemingly months after the events it covered and Lords Rafael, Hauser, Greisman, Mulvaney, Starks, and others were dominating on the internet with more timeliness and equal quality. The writing is not the major casualty, the cherished rankings are and they appear to be severely compromised, don't ya think?
Even if GBP doesn't directly ask the staff to write this or that story with this or that angle, how can any of the writers let their minds wander to story ideas critical of GBP knowing that senior execs there are will to axe employees they disagree with? And, absent a baseline mainstream outlet that is (1) untainted and (2) not The Ring...how would any of us ever know? Take for example PhilS's quote comment about article-length excerpt of ODH's book. That's fairly common practice in other magazines, to run excerpts of larger works with a nod to "check it out." Had The Ring ever done anything like that before it a GBP company? Have they ever done it since with a non GBP-backed fighter? If the answer to either is yes, it's at least debatable if that is an example of bias. But we all don't have time to do a statistical recalculation of every article The Ring has ever run and whether there will, in the future, be ample evidence to dismiss the magazine. Whether it actually affects the magazine's validity or not, it certainly calls it's integrity into question, and absent proof of tampering, I can't help but think this was a pretty horrible decision in an industry rife with horrible decisions.
@JimPavlik The thing about axing for disagreeing is one of the most worrisome aspects of all this. Since we only have one side of the story -- albeit from very credible people in Eric and Bill -- I'm holding out hope that wasn't the reason Nigel was canned. It will remain, though, deeply suspicious.
I believe the answers to both your questions is "yes," but don't have the capability to dig back through the archives where I am.
And I'm with you very much on the final sentence you wrote.
The magazine was untainted? Maybe the RANKINGS were untainted, but the magazine became tainted very fast. In one of the first issues, they ran a book excerpt from Oscar's book as a story, and that was it for me. There were many more examples of coverage, but it was very tainted. And, in this day and age of internet, it was wildly outdated by the time one received it.
This ship sailed long ago. About as unbiased a publication you can find is in the UK--Boxing Monthly with some top writers of the sport writing. That's where I went, and will continue to stay. If you want top-notch writing, and an unbiased look at fighters and fights, look no further. Well worth the price.
@PhilS Hey PhilS.
I don't have that much of an issue with them running the Oscar excerpts. It was legit news. I wasn't so crazy about his giant face being on the cover, though. Still, I understand why you would question it.
The other day someone mentioned that the magazine also published a GBP letter -- as an ad that they presumably didn't pay for -- rebutting the fishnets allegations. I didn't see that myself; not saying it didn't happen, and if it did, it would be uncool.
I have been reading Ring every month for years and I can't say anything else comes to mind, as far as even a hint of bias. Maybe I've overlooked it.
It's true that Ring is often wildly outdated. That's why the best stuff they do is stuff that doesn't really have a time element -- State of the Game, or the investigation into Malignaggi-Diaz, etc. They also have pretty good takes on all the fights, even after the fact, and often come up with provocative angles.
I hear good things about Boxing Monthly.
@HitDog I agree. I can't see how the "new look" Ring can remain independent of GBP influence with its change in location and new editorial leadership.
Sounds to me like The Ring's office will be right down the hall, or at least within the same building, as the legendary Eric Gomez and his "I love Russell Mora" passion for objective tweeting.
That breeds little confidence for unbiased editorial.
@HitDog I'm not as convinced as you that it's done for! Although referencing Douglas Adams IS convincing...
Troubling stuff, this. My readership of Ringtv.com has significantly decreased in the past year+ due to what I perceived as a degradation of quality and especially objectivity at the site (plus most of the draws for me in the past are now former writers). I'd hate to see the same happen at the mag...