November 5, 1999
Bruno On Boxing
By Joe Bruno
Former vice president of the Boxing Writers Association and the International
Boxing Writers Association
The headline read: IBF officials indicted in corruption probe.
The only question I have is "What took them so long?"
The 32-count indictment, handed up on November 3 by a federal grand jury
includes charges of conspiracy and racketeering. IBF president Robert W. Lee
Sr., 65, was indicted along with his son, Robert Lee Jr., 38, who is liaison
to the president. Also Indicted were former Virginia boxing commissioner
Donald William Brennan, 86, a past president of the U.S. Boxing Association,
a group which became the IBF; and Francisco Fernandez of Colombia, also known
as "Pancho" or "Pacho," an international commissioner of the IBF who served
as the South American representative of the IBF. The indictment said seven
promoters and managers were involved, as well as 23 boxers.
"The defendants completely corrupted the IBF ranking system," Robert F.
Cleary, first assistant U.S. attorney for New Jersey. He also said the
scheme began almost with the IBF's inception in 1982.
That statement I can definitely vouch for.
The IBF was started in 1982 by Bob Lee Sr. The premise of the New
Jersey-based IBF was that the American public was tired of rigged fights and
rigged ratings perpetrated by the foreign based WBA and WBC. So the
All-American IBF was going to be the knight-in-shining-armour dashing to the
scene to save the sport of boxing from those corrupt organizations.
I believed that right up until the first annual IBF Convention.
The International Boxing Writers Association, founded by Marc Maturo of
the Gannett-owned Westchester/Rockland Newspapers (I was the vice President),
had been formed with the intention of assembling a sports writer ratings
system similar to the one used by the Associated Press to rank the NCAA
college football teams. The IBWA had fifty boxing writers from all around the
world, including Asia and South Africa. The co-chairman of the IBWA ratings
committee were Mike Katz, then of the New York Times, and Steve Farhood, then
of Kayo Magazine.
This was 1982. There was no Internet, and a scarcity of fax machines.
Katz and Farhood sent out ratings forms to all the writers to be mailed in at
the end of each month. Sometimes, in a pinch, the telephone was used to call
in the ratings. Katz and Farhood compiled the votes, and at the beginning of
each month the IBWA Ratings were sent out to the Associated Press for all the
world to see.
The problem was, nobody cared. Not even a little bit.
The WBA and WBC ignored the IBWA Ratings completely. HBO head-honcho Seth
"The Shrimp" Abraham threw Maturo and me out of his office when we were so
insolent enough to try to pitch the IBWA rating to his short majesty. Hey, no
big deal. Iíve been thrown out of better places, but not by smaller creeps
Then I received a phone call from Dan Duva of Main Events, and another
one from Mickey Duff, who was Frank Warren in Great Britain before anyone
knew who Frank Warren was. Both men insisted that Maturo and I attend the
First Annual IBF Convention in the New Jersey, for the purpose of pitching
the IBWA Ratings to Bob Lee, who was considered by them to be the savior of
the sport of boxing, with his newly-founded, sparkling-clean International
Boxing Federation of the good old U.S of A.
Maturo and I showed up, and with the assistance of Duva and Duff, we
offered Lee the IBWA ratings as a way of showing the world that the IBF was
going to be starkly different from the WBA and WBC. That is, actually honest.
Lee listened quietly, smiled, then shook his head. "Sorry gentlemen," he
said. "But we have our own ratings committee."
I looked at Maturo. He looked at me. We both shook our heads. It was deja
vu all over again.
Surprise. Surprise. Itís now almost 18 years later, and Lee is arrested
for cooking up the IBF ratings.
Like I said before. What took them so long?