|World Boxing Council President Mauricio Sulaiman works for change
By John J. Raspanti, Doghouse Boxing (March 6, 2015)
For the past forty years, Jose Sulaiman was the man a top of the World Boxing Council (WBC). In his position as president, he often stirred up controversy. But he also worked, often behind the scenes, to improve the sport of boxing.
After his death last January, Jose's son Mauricio was elected to replace him. One of his priorities in his new post is to continue his father's efforts in improving ring safety.
The senior Sulaiman's tenure was a mixed bag of ring improvements and accusations of corruption. He was successful in the push to protect boxers' safety, while at the same time supporting the funding of a neurological research program at the University of California at Los Angeles that studies the effects of continuous blows to the head.
Under his watch, the WBC introduced boxing gloves with the thumbs attached, therefore protecting a boxer's eyes.
Nevertheless, Sulaiman's reign also included rankings that favored fighters who were his friends and a doubling of the number of championship titles that often looked more frivolous than necessary.
His closeness with promoter Don King was also called into question, with critics accusing him of giving preference to King's boxers.
Despite some of the criticism surrounding his late father, Sulaiman prefers to focus on the positive aspects of his father's legacy.
The new 44-year-old WBC leader has definite ideas on how he wants to capitalize on existing improvements in the sport and move the organization into the 21st century.
This writer spoke with him after his recent trip to the Middle East.
"Last week we signed an agreement with the governor of Pakistan to start professional boxing there,"Sulaiman said. "My father went to Thailand in 1982. They had one world champion back then. Now they are very strong."
Helping professional boxers who have fallen on hard times is something that Sulaiman strongly supports. Last year, the WBC and NFC (Nevada Community Foundation) created a pension to help fighters who are struggling financially.
The concept was born two years ago during a meeting with representatives of Hublet, a watch manufacturer. They agreed to produce twelve watches representing the greatest boxers in WBC history. An auction held in Las Vegas raised one million dollars, with the proceeds deposited with an organization with no ties to the WBC.
"That way, the money is not in any way handled by the WBC,” Sulaiman said. “It is completely handled by the Nevada Community Foundation. We’re helping many different fighters from many countries. Not necessarily world champions from the WBC. Quite the contrary.
“Any fighter who has specific needs. It can also be used for housing, medicine, food, and many other things.”
Some of the former champions benefiting from the pension are Iran Barkley, Jeff Harding, John “The Beast” Mugabi,” Wilfred Benitiz, Pernell Whitaker, and Livingstone Bramble.
Sulaiman has launched another project teaming up wealthy donors with former boxers in need.
He calls it "Adopt a Champion."
“We have found that many people around the world who are wealthy, and who care very much for boxing, respect the fighters from the past,” Sulaiman said. “They want to help in some way. So, we’re matching fighters in need with people who have money and want to help.
Several years ago, one of the greatest fighters of his generation, former two-time welterweight champion, Jose “Mantequilla” Napoles, found himself in need of help, despite making a lot of money during his career.
“Napoles can’t work anymore,” Sulaiman said. “It’s very unfortunate that many of the heroes of the past live in this situation. We can’t close our eyes and make it go away. We cannot hide it either.
“It would be very easy to just concentrate on the fighter of today, but that is not what the WBC wants to do.”
On the drawing board is a plan that Sulaiman dubs a "Champions Box-off" that would pit titleholders from other organizations, like the IBF and WBA, against each other, ending with the crowning of a one world champion.
"The other boxing organizations are supportive,” said Sulaiman.
Judging has become a black eye on the sport, an area of boxing crying out for fixing.
Sulaiman believes one way to improve judging is to measure the judges themselves.
“We have a program we’re working on where every single official will be graded,” said Sulaiman. “Each federation has submitted the rating for their officials. We appointed a committee to work with them. The same thing goes for the referees. The committee will come together and discuss what was done right and wrong.
"We feel that year around-training will help. We will come out with a report, maybe by the middle of the year on this.”
The question that aggravates many is why the judging can be so appallingly bad.
Sulaiman, who’s been around the sport all of his life, has a definite opinion.
“The problem with judging is—it begins with officials who were appointed for the fights,” Sulaiman said. ”The officials appointed for a specific fight need to work the event for the right reasons, not because of friendships, or if they’re well known. You have to look into what fights they’ve judged in the past. Have they been officials for the same fighter before?
“You have to look at the nationality of the official versus the fighter," he continued. "Total research needs to be done before an appointment is made. That works very well in some jurisdictions. Others won’t allow this kind of input. The selection is so important.”
Mismatches have also been in the news lately. Sulaiman, with the help of www.boxrec.com, wants to create a tool for matchmakers and promoters. All fighters will be graded according to their skill level. An “A” fighter will only fight another boxer of equal skill, and so forth all the way down to ‘F.’
“There have been so many fights that, just by looking at the bout sheet, you know who’s going to win,” said Sulaiman.”It’s just a matter of how and what round. We think this is a very important tool to use for every aspect of the sport.”
In any endeavor, change is difficult.
In boxing, it’s nearly impossible, but Sulaiman feels he’s making progress.
“We want to keep taking solid steps,” he said.
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