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Mauricio Sulaiman talks WBC changes and outlook for the near future

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The WBC President is looking forward after the organization’s annual convention.

Mauricio Sulaiman, President of the World Boxing Council (... Photo by Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Taking shots at sanctioning bodies is a popular past-time for boxing writers and I get why.

They are low hanging fruit, and pretty easy to hit with that sling shot.

All those titles. That penchant for creatively interpreting their own rules and regulations. And the fact that writers too often go for the path of least resistance, and find it easier to look tough by talking smack about the WBC, WBA, IBF and WBO. There’s not so much push back from a sanctioning body, as there is a promoter, or A-side fighter.

I get it, it’s sort of fun to take shots, and Lord knows, boxing needs critiquing, because there’s always plenty of holes to patch. But maybe we can do a national reset, in boxing and outside, too, and concentrate on finding the positive a wee bit more? I don’t know about you, but the constancy of the negativity I see and hear from people entrusted to leadership positions is tiring to take in. We can do better, and I think must do better to change the tone of discourse, to steer towards a place of positivity.

In that vein, I reached out to Mauricio Sulaiman, the President of the World Boxing Council. He got re-elected, for another four years of service — and no, I haven’t dove in to see about any opposition he may have faced — during the WBC convention last week. St. Petersburg, Russia, nominally played host, but by and large the itinerary was comprised of remote appearances by boxing dignitaries, ring generals, tutors, matchmakers, etc.

What, I asked, were Mauricio’s favorite moments of the virtual gathering?

“The emotions were there,” Sulaiman said, via email. “There were tears and chills and goosebumps, and we succeeded in making the audience ‘FEEL.’ The top moments for this category were: ‘We are the World,’ sung by champions.”

(That song is sort of the theme song for the WBC, it kicks in at 1:43:57. What, you didn’t know Franchon Crews-Dezurn can belt? Or that Jesse Vargas deserves credit for trying to? Or that next year, we think Badou Jack could benefit from some karaoke training and that’ll make his cameo go smoother? Or that Larry Holmes does a passable Steve Perry imitation when he speak-sings, “There’s a choice we’re making?”)

“Also, Bridger Walker greeted by Mike Tyson and Jose Ramirez,” the WBC boss said. He referenced Tyson, on video, wearing a “Tyson Ranch” shirt, shouting out to the kid who saved his sis from a mean dog that attacked her.

“We’re all fighters, our whole aspect in what we do is overcoming fear, that’s what fighters do,” Tyson said. “I’m not talking about physical fighters, I’m talking about spiritual fighters. For him to take the stand he did, to sacrifice himself for his sister, that was spiritual fighting. Really ordained stuff from God. Because it’s really hard to overcome your fear, especially at that age, you have no idea what fear is, you have no idea where it came from. People normally get frozen by fear, even adults, they get frozen. You see in fights, grown men, they get frozen in fear. But to do that at such a young age, and establish so much self control, that was brilliant!”

Six-year-old Bridger, living in Wyoming, took on a German Shepherd in July, and the dog bit up his face as he shielded his four-year-old sibling.

Sulaiman said he felt deep-seated emotion when a “Champion of Life” award went to Jose Santa Cruz, father of Leo who went tooth and nail with cancer, and then had to fend of COVID-19, as well. Nancy Rodriguez of the WBC went to visit Leo and his pop, and gave Jose the award as Leo looked on, proudly.

Sulaiman also said that he was moved by the bestowal of the 2020 Humanitarian Award to Rosendo Alvarez, the WBC Cares Ambassador in Nicaragua.

“He decisively and humanely took the necessary step to admit former champion Ricardo Mayorga to a rehabilitation clinic,” Sulaiman said. “They will fly to Culiacán, as Julio César Chávez is ready to receive and help Ricardo at his Baja del Sol clinic.”

Beyond emotional high points, Sulaiman said, he believes some positive actions were taken over the course of four days.

“The meetings were absolutely successful, we got a lot of work done, all the members from all around the world were dedicated, with passion, to fulfill our obligations,” he said.

“Mandatory fights for 2021 — all divisions were reviewed and there are great fights on the horizon. Also, ratings. The committee held the meeting in which more than 40 promoters participated and we have ratings finalized. Plus, the ring officials training, we had sensational seminars presented to judges and then referees.”

Sulaiman also wanted to spotlight the session that focused on women’s boxing and the power of women in the sport.

“The WBC belt for men and women is now exactly the same,” he said. “Also, the Clean Boxing Program has great innovations and is stronger than ever.”

Sulaiman does indeed bring something to the table, in trying to come up with some tweaks to existing systems. Hey, at least he tries. Too much of the time, too many of us bitch and critique, but as far as actually getting some forward movement in pushing for concrete improvements? Too many people in boxing talk a better game than they play.

“We talked about the probability of having a new weight category, between cruiserweight and heavyweight,” he said.

Me, I’d rather we add a “super heavyweight class,” if we are going to be adding a division on that upper end of the weight spectrum.

“The proposal is to create one from 200 to 225, with the heavyweight division starting at 225. Former champ Tony Bellew was put in charge of the committee for this thorough consultation process,” Sulaiman said.

A couple other points of interest — promoter Lou DiBella and fighter Alicia Napoloeon Espinosa took part in a chat with Jill Diamond during the convention. DiBella said that “if Alicia were a man she’d be right back on TV,” after a loss, but there simply isn’t the buy in with the female fighters that there is with the men. “Something needs to break, and something needs to give for the ladies in the next 12 months,” DiBella asserted.

Diamond said that in Mexico, there has been a warm embrace of females fighting. The US, not quite as much. DiBella said he thinks that programmers are missing the boat, because a slightly larger investment in the women would pay fat dividends. But there isn’t much of a willingness for platformers to do that, he shared. “We need to make a fairer playing field.” That’s so the sport can hold the attraction of women, who won’t be looking to commit to pro boxing if there is but a super slim chance it is economically viable for them.

Napoleon Espinosa spoke, and touched on the current difficulty, the lack of dates for women’s fighters. The men are getting first dibs on the dates that are out there, and the ladies have to wait in line. DiBella said that he has spoken to Al Haymon about women’s boxing, because he thinks that could be part of a branch out of the PBC brand. Overall, he said he’d keep pushing, but he is telling ladies in the fray to be brutally honest with themselves regarding the fairly weak economy in women’s boxing. Claressa Shields is making a nice living, but the list beyond her is not impressive.

Also, Sergio Martinez, the 45-year-old ex-champ is on the calendar to glove up again. He last fought in 2014, losing to Miguel Cotto.

“If I don’t feel well, I will retire,” he told Nancy Rodriguez and Cynthia Conte during a convention Q and A. For the last 19 years, the Argentina-born athlete has lived in Spain. He looks very fresh, but we shall see how his body holds up against Jose Miguel Fandino in Spain on Aug. 21.

“It could be the beginning of something really good, or the end of something really good,” he admitted.

For the record, the 59th WBC convention is slated to unfold in Thailand. Fingers are mightily crossed that the next one will be back to the regular format, in person.