-- As Takoma Park's Sharmba Mitchell prepared for his bout tonight with Carlos Vilches, his management team was strategizing for a different fight -- one with the International Boxing Federation over Mitchell's ranking.

If Mitchell wins (the fight ended too late to be included in this edition), he is expected to move into the vacant No. 2 spot in the IBF. But that does not necessarily shorten his wait for unified 140-pound champion Kostya Tszyu, as the IBF announced this week that Arturo Gatti had moved into the vacant No. 1 spot, in an apparent contradiction of the sanctioning body's own regulations.

Gatti's rise prompted Gary Shaw, Mitchell's promoter, to allege malfeasance at the IBF.

"It's corrupt," Shaw said. "That's the only word I can think of for it."

Lindsey Tucker, the IBF official overseeing tonight's Mitchell-Vilches fight, declined to comment on Shaw's allegation.

According to the IBF's ratings criteria, to be rated first or second, a fighter must be ranked in the top five and beat another top-five opponent in a 12-round bout at the prescribed weight limit. In November, Gatti -- then ranked fourth -- won a unanimous decision over then-No. 3 Micky Ward here, but the fight was scheduled for 10 rounds. Both fighters also came in over junior welterweight limit of 140 pounds.

Shaw said that Gatti's elevation was the result of "back-room dealings," suggesting that the ratings committee circumvented Joe Dwyer, its championship committee chairman.

"Joe Dwyer is a stand-up guy, I don't fault him at all," Shaw said. "I believe they went around the agreements he has made."

Even Mitchell's chance at the No. 2 ranking did not come without conditions. The top five, according to Tucker, runs from third to seventh, and though Vilches is ranked 10th, he was the best available fighter.

According to Shaw, the winner will be forced to fight a top-five fighter as well before getting a title shot.

"We knew this wasn't a one-fight deal leading to Kostya Tszyu," said Shaw, the former president of Main Events before leaving last fall to start Gary Shaw Promotions. "Sharmba has, in effect, agreed to two tough fights before Tszyu. I didn't ask for any special favors or doing anything other than call up Joe and ask what Sharmba had to do to get the ranking. He said certain conditions must be met, and we're meeting them."

Both Shaw and Jeff Fried, Mitchell's adviser, said that they would be satisfied if the IBF mandated an eliminator between Gatti and the Mitchell-Vilches winner, but there has been no communication between the groups as of tonight.

The IBF is no stranger to ratings controversy. Two years ago, its founder and former president, Robert W. Lee, was convicted in New Jersey federal court of conspiracy to launder money, tax evasion and interstate travel in aid of racketeering. Prosecutors had accused Lee of accepting $338,000 in bribes to rig the ratings of the boxers, thereby qualifying many of them for big-money fights. According to testimony during the five-month trial, most of the bribes ranged from $1,000 to $25,000.

Lee was sentenced to 22 months in prison.

Boxing Note: On the Mitchell-Vilches card's co-feature event, former IBF 130-pound champion Diego Corrales (34-1) stopped Michael Davis (24-14) in the fifth round in his first fight back after a one-year incarceration and two-year layoff.

On the eve of a big fight for Sharmba Mitchell, above, his management team took issue with the IBF's handling of its rankings.