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WBC President DR. Jose Sulaiman Goes on the Record with RSR

Exclusive Interview by “Bad” Brad Berkwitt

“People, who know me, know that there has never been anyone who has been able to dictate my doings. If there is anyone in the world who could accuse me of anything that I intentionally did wrong, I ask them to step forward. My head is high and proud. As the human being that I am, I have made many mistakes, but not one has been  in bad faith.” – DR. Jose Sulaiman

Doctor Jose Sulaiman has been the President of the World Boxing Council (WBC) since 1975 and, interestingly, the same year I fell in love with our beloved sport of boxing. His lists of awards are extensive and one that truly stands out is a Citation from the United Nations back in 1988, where he was cited for his Leadership in the world against Apartheid and racial discrimination.

Sulaiman has rubbed shoulders with a countless number of US Presidents along with Foreign Presidents and even a meeting with Pope John Paul II. Through those meetings and the years, the WBC has been attacked and though I am not qualified to say if they were guilty or innocent of the charges/accusations, I can say unequivocally that Jose has remained as the President for this now, his 35th year and must be doing something right to stay in power.

Many things have been written about Jose both good and bad, but in this Exclusive Interview with RSR, I found him to be forthcoming even in the face of some very tough questions. For the naysayers, I will let you be your own judge and jury.

BB: What is the main focal point today for the WBC?

The focal point of the WBC is to stand as a solid boxing council to struggle for safety, good rule, order, fairness and opportunities for all without distinction. With hope in making the great TV Corporations and promoters that if they want the top of the cream, they should understand that it is not fair to try to break the international organizations, most of which are those that open the doors to all boxers; which rate them according to their performances and give them the opportunities to become the top of the cream, that would not happen without all of us.

BB: The WBC has a pension fund in place and I read the information on it. What are three points you would really like to get out about it?

The WBC has had a modest pension fund since 1976 and we have had many ex-boxers living in poverty, who we have tried to support with food and medicines, names that we have kept within ourselves to respect the dignity of those who were great as champions. I will give you three names. Alphonse Halimi, former Bantamweight Champion to who we paid more than 10 years in a hospital retirement home until his death; Emile Griffith, one of the greatest Welterweight and Middleweight Champions, due to his extreme limitations in life. The WBC covered one full year in the Alcohol and Drug rehabilitation of former Bantamweight great Champion Carlos Zárate, who is back in life as an example for others to follow. There is no boxer in the world without help and need for surgeries of any kind that the WBC would not try to take care of.

We also try always to bring them out of the obscurity that retirement sometimes makes, to bring them into the limelight again, to enforce their pride and dignity.

Unfortunately, the WBC as been forced to reduce or eliminate many support programs, because of a debt that we have on an old case with a European boxer, coming from a ruling that we all believe that is one of the great injustices done by justice.

BB: Have you ever tried to work with the WBA, IBF and WBO to get them to institute a Mandatory Retirement Fund for their champions as well?

Yes, we have, and we are trying again at this time; the only matter of concern is our agreement for the standardization of rule and actions for the improving of safety as well some order among ourselves for the improvement of the sport of boxing. Unfortunately, there are people who know nothing about boxing nor have any love for it. Case in point Attorney Elliot Spitzer, who is the legal counsel for the ABC, promptly jumped to accuse these very positive meetings as actions against “Free Enterprise” or words to that affect.

BB: In all your years of boxing, who do you think were the top three WBC Champions in any weight class that really reflected highly on the WBC?

Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson and Sugar Ray Leonard. But I have to name more… Roberto Duran, Julio Cesar Chavez, Marvin Hagler, Tommy Hearns, Lennox Lewis, Larry Holmes, George Foreman, Joe Frazier, Floyd Mayweather, JR., Oscar De La Hoya, and Manny Pacquiao amongst a list of others who rate very high.

BB: What is the greatest WBC Championship fight you have ever seen and why?

There have been many great WBC fights, but the one that I will never forget for the rest of my life is the first one between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier back in 197. Frank Sinatra pushed the wheel chair of Joe Louis into the MSG with all fans giving them a very long standing ovation and the announcer saying that he would not introduce any one because all were there. Celebrities such as Jackie Kennedy with Burt Bacharach. MSG that night shined with all kinds of colors of the biggest celebrity attendance ever. For me, it was the greatest all around boxing match in my 60 years in boxing.

BB: My late Friend David Chung was a referee out of South Korea that worked for the WBC up until his untimely death in 2004. What are your memories of him?

David Chung was one of the very best human beings that I have met in my life in the sport. He was not only a very good referee of integrity and excellence, but someone who was caring and compassionate. He was a great human being, and I have never been able to forget him. I sincerely keep him always in my heart.

BB: Do you find it hard to work with the other three major sanctioning bodies and if so, why?

The only reason for finding it difficult to work with them on unified title matches, is because we all lose our authority, or rules and our participation. When ring officials are picked on in what I believe not to be in a responsible way, as well as us becoming simple observers, practically with little to do; that is very important when someone is using your trade mark officially registered as exclusive, as well as our strict participation with our official championship accolade. There is not one single country of the 164 affiliated to the WBC that does not participate with absolute respect to our rights, but not so in the USA, where we have many good friends, and where there are many excellent commissioners. However, there are some whose arrogance and superiority complex (it is really inferiority) make them believe that they own the world and who are sitting at the side of God, the night of a particular fight.

BB: People have said that you were in Don King’s pocket when he was at the top of his career. How do you respond to that and how much pressure do you get from promoters to get their fighters into your top rankings?

Don King is the greatest promoter in the history of the sport, without putting aside Bob Arum, who has been also simply great. If the people who accuse me of being in the pocket of King do not consider that I am too big to fill in a pocket. People, who know me, know that there has never been anyone who has been able to dictate my doings. If there is anyone in the world who could accuse me of anything that I intentionally did wrong, I ask them to step forward. My head is high and proud. As the human being that I am, I have made many mistakes, but not one has been in bad faith.

I don’t know yet one single promoter who will not fight the best that they can for their fighters, as that is the way boxing is. We have a highly respectable ratings committee and a Board of Governors of integrity that would not accept injustices. My personal style of administration is to help everybody without exception. When we don’t hurt a third party, because boxing without a positive position would not be boxing, but if there is one supposedly hurt, the only rule in the WBC is precisely its boxing rules and nothing else.

We respect and like all promoters. Boxers are boxing, but there would be no fights without promoters.

BB: Why do the same fighters continue to circulate, like Ray Austin?

I would prefer not to answer this question very respectfully, as we are in Court with Mr. Austin, who I always thought was a nice person. Boxers circulate always when there is a promoter to support them. Without them, they would not be boxers.

BB: Do you think that the Ring Rankings have hurt boxing?

I don’t think that the Ring ratings are hurting boxing. There are so many who like to rate boxers that one more is not important at all. Just like I don’t believe that there are many Ring readers any more.

BB: If you had to pick one fighter since the day you started following boxing, who do you feel moved the sport ahead the most and why?

Muhammad Ali, just because he is Muhammad Ali, the Greatest of All Time.

BB: Do you feel the sport of boxing has moved ahead or backwards since you first started following it?

Boxing is far ahead today, because of the great impact of the phenomenon of television; even when I don’t doubt that boxers of the past were the greatest. That was a time when boxing was about pride, honor and being a champion. Today the Bohemian Days, the romance of boxing is gone. Today the only hero is money! Which at the end of the day, they will all spend, to come back to their origins, unfortunately.

BB: What is your favorite boxing movie of all-time and why?

I have seen so many boxing movies in my life. Some have made me cry; but my very favorite is Rocky, as it is the real life of all boxers coming from the lowest and poorest levels of society to struggle from the bottom and become heroes of their countries and the world. Rocky rightfully so won an Oscar. Now the greatest movie of all time, next to Rocky, is “The Champion” with Kirk Douglas, because it made me cry.

BB: Finally, what is the saying you live your life by?

“He who does not live to serve, does not serve to live”.

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