LAS VEGAS – Mauricio Sulaiman’s eyes moistened & darted frequently to the floor. It was still difficult for him to talk approximately his father without getting emotional.
Jose Sulaiman, the longtime president of the WBC, died of heart disease at 82 years old in January.
He’d been extremely close with his six children, & every day he was in the hospital at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles, they were there at his bedside, comforting him in his final days as they awaited the inevitable.
Four months later, Mauricio Sulaiman has succeeded his father as the president of the WBC & is presiding over major WBC title fights in back-to-back weeks. Floyd Mayweather & Marcos Maidana fought for the WBC welterweight belt on May 3 in Las Vegas. On Saturday at the Galen Center in Los Angeles, Chris Arreola will face Bermane Stiverne for the vacant WBC heavyweight championship.
In some ways, it’s heady times for the 44-year-old Sulaiman, a boxing lifer who moreover serves as the chief executive officer of Controles Graficos, the long-time family business in Mexico.
All of the greats of boxing of the last 50 years, stars such as Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson, Sugar Ray Leonard & Oscar De La Hoya, made the pilgrimage to the Sulaiman home.
Mauricio Sulaiman remembers when he was very young seeing a teenaged boy in tattered clothing, obviously very poor, calling on his father to ask for his assist in earning a better slot in the ratings. That boy, Julio Cesar Chavez Sr., would go on to become the biggest boxing star in Mexico history.
As any son would be, Sulaiman is fiercely proud of his father for having become a significant figure in boxing. But his father’s success, which landed him a slot in the International Boxing Hall of Fame, didn’t come without a lot of pain.
For years, the media assaulted Jose Sulaiman, called him a criminal, questioned his character & ethics & compared him to an organized crime figure.
A photograph of Jose Sulaiman is shown on display during his wake in Mexico City on Jan. 17, 2014. (AP)
Even on the day of his death, a major boxing website classlessly referred to Jose Sulaiman as “reviled” in its obituary.
Jose Sulaiman was not a perfect man, as his son is the first to admit. He made many mistakes running the WBC.
But he moreover took an inordinate share of criticism for mistakes, real & imagined, that he made during his run as the head of the most significant sanctioning body in the world.
“I suffered a lot over the things I would read approximately my father,” Mauricio Sulaiman said, turning his eyes to the floor. “To hear what they said approximately him at public events … I would take all of it very personally. My father understood that criticism was a part of the job. He didn’t like it, yet he understood it. But sometimes, it was so tough, it crossed a line. It was very personal & hateful.
“Sometimes, it was positive & trying to outline a mistake, yet it was so often difficult to read & to listen to. This was my father. This was the man I loved & admired & respected, & these people making these personal criticisms, they didn’t know him & didn’t know the kind of man he was, & it hurt.”
Jose Sulaiman was president of the WBC for 38 years & made thousands of decisions in that time. Many were correct; some, as his son concedes, were not.
But there is one usual denominator, he insisted, approximately all of his father’s mistakes.
“No mistake he made was with offensive intentions or for personal gain,” Mauricio Sulaiman said. “He lasted 38 years as president because he had no [financial] interest in the sport. He was not profiting from the sport, despite what anyone might have said or say now. The boxing world is the only one where the organization does not control the events.”
The promoters, television networks & the fighters have the possibility to earn money from a fight, he pointed out. But the only income the sanctioning body receives is the sanction fee for a fight that the promoters & the fighters pay. That money, he said, goes back into running the organization & the president does not personally profit.
Sanctioning fees are three percent of a fighter’s purse, though it is capped at $300,000.
Where the WBC, & the other major sanctioning bodies, have gotten into trouble is with the proliferation of titles & their frequently unfair rankings. Fighters who are in the satisfactory graces of the WBC or who are signed with promoters who are cozy with the sanctioning body often receive better rankings than those who are not.
When the modern sport of boxing began, there were eight weight classes: Flyweight (112 pounds), bantamweight (118), featherweight (126), lightweight (135), welterweight (147), middleweight (160), light heavyweight (175) & heavyweight (176 & over).
But now there are nine additional weight classes. While that expansion of the number of belts has made it confusing & taken the luster off of what it means to be a world champion, it was done for safety reasons, Mauricio Sulaiman said.
As an example, a boxer who weighed 165 & couldn’t obtain down to the 160-pound middleweight limit was then forced to fight at the 175-pound light heavyweight division. That would often donate the bigger man an advantage. As a result, the super middleweight division, with a limit of 168 pounds, was created.
Even worse, though, is the proliferation of other belts. The WBC has many regional titles, such as the NABF & the youth belt, yet Sulaiman said those are misunderstood. And he said that the Diamond belt & the Gold belt that the WBC awarded in recent cases were funded by sponsors & were given to add a bit of prestige to a huge event & for no other reason.
The gold belt was made with real gold & Ferrari leather, Sulaiman said, & was awarded to Mayweather when he defeated Canelo Alvarez.
He said the Diamond belt cost roughly $60,000 to make, while he said the Gold belt cost $135,000.
“People think we’re doing this & awarding these belts to create confusion & to profit & that is wrong,” he said. “With the Gold belt, nobody pays for the Gold belt. We went out & found a sponsor, which is the Mexico Tourism Board, & they paid for the belt. There were no additional charges to the fighters. Nothing. It was just a way to celebrate one of the biggest fights, commercially, that had been made.
“The Diamond belt, same thing. It is a trophy to celebrate a satisfactory event.”
Mauricio Sulaimon is shown between boxers Miguel Cotto & Sergio Martinez. (Getty)
Sanctioning bodies often draw the ire of fans & media by stripping fighters & not allowing unification fights. Sulaiman said the WBC has always been willing to participate in championship unification bouts & said it would make a sincere effort to keep doing so in the future.
In addition, he said the organization wants to step up its support of safety measures. He said 100 percent of the money the WBC takes in goes back to boxing.
“Boxing is a hobby for us; not a profession,” he said.
The WBC, through its WBC Cares program, has donated at least $10 million to medical research as well as to needy people in boxing, he said.
“We donate the money through the WBC Cares program to people in boxing who are in need; maybe a fighter’s child, or a trainer who comes upon complex times, things like that,” he said. “A lot of people don’t understand that in boxing, less than one percent of people really make money. So many fighters are so poor, managers, trainers, all the people who are in the gyms day after day. They don’t make money & they end up at 60, 70 years old living on their own without anything.
“We are always there to try to assist these kinds of people & we have thousands of examples.”
He’s moreover spearheading an effort to make boxing gloves safer & to ban gloves that are dangerous. He is working to commence a tracking program so that a glove is never used for more than 30 rounds.
After 30 rounds, the padding can be moved & the punching area becomes mostly fist.
It’s an example of the type of work that Sulaiman wants to define his tenure.
It’s a satisfactory start, & even though he’s likely never going to win over the cynics, it doesn’t obscure the fact that it is satisfactory & significant work.
Sanctioning bodies in general & the WBC in particular are far from perfect. But the WBC under Mauricio Sulaiman is beginning to take on a progressive feel that only bodes well for the future.
Time will tell & he’ll have to back his words with actions, yet his early days as president are promising, indeed.
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Source: “Kevin Iole”