Delegates sprang up all over the floor. Evans blinked, not knowing what to expect, but, remarkably enough, there was not one question about Liston's return to boxing. Indeed, Michigan's Davey, who has been to college, warned his colleagues: "Any state that suspends Liston or wants the WBA to suspend him should be certain that the transgression it bases its suspension on has occurred within that state's own domain and not somewhere else."
Liston seemed baffled. "I ain't suspended," he mumbled later. "I don't know why I come down here at all." He caught the noon plane back to Las Vegas.
Later that day, Evans appeared at a Q. and A. session at a Reno press club lunch. On the table before him was a small bust of Mark Twain; a black cowboy hat was perched on the sculpture. Under the rather casual traditions of the club, a guest's remarks are considered off the record if the hat is left on Twain's head, on the record if the bust is uncovered. Evans misunderstood and kept putting the cowboy hat on his own head when he wanted his remarks to be privileged. Once or twice he even donned the hat, which was ludicrously small for him, and snapped, "No comment." When he was asked if he thought Liston should now have a shot at the WBA's heavyweight championship, Evans remained bareheaded and replied, "Sure, he's a contender, but he will not become a rated fighter in our rankings until he has proved himself by fighting. He has to fight his way to the top of our ratings again."
However inept the WBA may be in governing boxing or boxers in general, it does have a fair amount of influence over the fame, fortune and box-office magnetism of fighters through its monthly rating of the top 10 contenders in each of the 11 weight divisions. The WBA's list and that of Nat Fleischer's The Ring magazine are the two major sources of boxers' ratings. There is a certain arbitrariness to both of them and a rather bitter rivalry between Fleischer and the WBA. Neither believes the other's ratings. "He just does his to sell magazines," says Evans. "But ours, ol' buddy, are a labor of love. A real labor of love."
The chairman of the WBA's ratings committee (a dozen men scattered around the world) is an Ohioan named Arch Hindman. He is a soft-spoken, gentle man who gives an impression of utter incorruptibility. In real life, Hindman, 56, is an advertising executive for an automotive parts manufacturer in Toledo, but his leisure hours are spent making fateful verdicts. Is Katsuyoshi Takayama of Japan really a better flyweight than Thailand's Puntip Keosuriya? Should Sandro Lopopolo be a fifth-ranked junior welterweight while Lennox Beckles of Ghana remains at sixth? Says Hindman: "It's a hobby with me. It's the only hobby I have."
Like the WBA itself, its ratings system is less than a magnificent machine. "The toughest thing is getting the results," says Hindman. "It just drives you berserk when you're all set to give out the ratings, and you can't get something about a fight between rated contenders." Generally, Hindman must depend on the mailman and daily delivery of the Toledo papers for selecting and categorizing the 121 best fighters in the world. "I get five, six letters a day from all over telling me who won what fights," says Hindman. "The local papers all use the fight results from AP now, too. I called them so often that they had to print them. I had a terrible time keeping up with things when the paper went on strike a while ago. I had to call The Chicago Tribune
all the time."
Hindman juggles his lists, sends out revised rankings to committee members and, when they have approved, he fires out a couple of dozen copies to a breathless waiting world. Hindman swears that he has never been offered a bribe to move a fighter up, but he does admit, "I get pressure sometimes from commissioners who want guys from their states to look better. The ratings aren't perfect, but I try to stick to logic."
Logic does not always prevail. For example, during the Reno convention, Hindman caught some heat from the Filipino delegation because he had dropped Junior Lightweight Flash Elorde from the ratings. "He hadn't been fighting much, and he probably should retire, anyway," mused Hindman, "but they got a big charity show coming up in Manila and it would help the gate if he was ranked. I was against it, but his father-in-law said Elorde would quit if he got beat, so he's in there again."
The heavyweight ratings went through an oddly magic shuffle in Reno, too. As everyone knew very well, the WBA's elimination tournament had been boycotted by Joe Frazier, the graceful Philadelphian who has been incorporated and split up in blue-chip shares for investors. When the tournament was announced early (his summer, Frazier's backers decided he should forgo the competition—even though he was rated the No. 2 contender by the WBA. Frazier beat up poor George Chuvalo in a bloody Madison Square Garden rout in mid-July (Chuvalo was then rated No. 10). The WBA's tournament went on without Frazier, and on August 5 Jimmy Ellis and Thad Spencer won the first quarterfinal fights in the eliminations.
Naturally, everyone at the convention was interested when Hindman handed out the fresh rating for mid-August. But when the delegates got a look at what the Hindman committee had wrought, hands flew up all over the floor. Evans called on a highly exercised delegate from Rhode Island, Anthony Maceroni, who is a former WBA president, too. "I see here that Joe Frazier is still No. 2 in our own ratings," blustered Maceroni. "Hey, that's not right! He should be dropped out. It's very embarrassing for us to have him rated that high."