Q&A: WBC president Mauricio Sulaiman
On January 16, World Boxing Council president Jose Sulaimán passed away at the age of 82, having been head of the WBC for 38 years.
It would be fair to say “Don Jose‘s” tenure had ups and downs. He was accused of favoritism and of making several curious choices, including implementing the much-maligned open scoring system.
However, it would be remiss not to mention that he also aided boxing for the better with other decisions, including campaigning tirelessly throughout the years for the health and safety of boxers as well being a leading advocate of moving title fights from 15 to 12 rounds.
In mid-February the WBC unanimously elected as its new president Jose’s son, Mauricio, who had previously held the position of WBC executive secretary for over a decade.
Sulaimán, 44, in many ways had already assumed the role, but is now officially involved in all aspects of the WBC’s business and has his own ideas about how to move forward.
Here’s what Sulaimán had to say in an exclusive interview with RingTV.com:
Mauricio Sulaimán – Well it’s been a very difficult time, a very difficult process. There were never quiet moments where we could as a family stay quietly together. It was very public. We spent four months in Los Angeles; my mother and all the kids were with him. By December we had great expectations that he was gonna be OK. It was a very tough process at the beginning, then we were very enthused, very happy, then he passed away.
So it was a very difficult blow, but then the world has shown us so much beautiful actions of respect, friendship, of love. We now understand that it was worth it, we live as a very close family and my mother supported my father for 55-years of marriage. He was always supported to go out and live his life in boxing. He left everything aside, his business, his passions, his family, his marriage to give everything to boxing. We had to share my father with thousands of people and it was worth it because what we have received is a testimony of his life is wonderful.
AW – You took over as the WBC president back in February. How have you found things in the opening couple of months? Has there been much difference for you in your general duties?
MS – It’s a very short time to tell. I was doing a lot of things [already] but my father was absolutely the one who was making the decisions. He was the one contacting the board of governors – ultimately the board of governors is the group that make the final decision on any case. The president is basically an administrator who runs the operation but the board of governors makes the final decision. I used to do a lot of administration, a lot of day to day PR. He would send me out and I would do all the hard work that, because of his age and limitations of the problems with his legs, he wouldn’t be able to go out and do.
Now I find myself doing both. It’s difficult. I’m gonna work to make a team of people I can rely on and make a good team to give boxing our best effort.
AW – Your father was criticized for some of his decisions – what would you say about that?
MS – You know I was born and I grew up reading harsh criticism and I was eventually learning how to understand the criticism when it is for the good, when it is productive. When it’s constructive to guide you to understand that you are not going in the right direction, it is good criticism. When it is a personal vendetta, when it is personal attacks, irresponsible, that’s when it hurts.
I grew up not understanding some things that I have seen, that I have read and now I understand every public person has that as a given. You are open to criticism good or bad, responsible, ethical. You have to deal with that. My father was an honorable man. Nobody has ever proved any wrongdoing as I have read many things, nothing is true, nothing has come out. Of course he made mistakes, we all make mistakes, but I take a balance and I put the changing from 15 to 12 rounds, from changing the weigh-in process, from changing three to four ropes on the ring. So many things that he helped the WBC change boxing for the better.
The rules, interpration about, lets say open scoring, it has been working for six years, more than 3,500 fights around the world with great success. I understand some people do not like it, I appreciate that.
AW – Do you not feel open scoring takes the drama out of a fight?
MS – Well, ever since we introduced the rule, there were speculations and assumptions, without data. People say it takes the drama, the fighter will start running if he’s ahead, there will be riots in the arena. So there were a lot of speculations, so we said let’s give it a try. Now six years, more than 3,500 fights and we have not had a riot, the fights with solid data prove how a fighter who is ahead continues doing what he is doing to be ahead on the scorecards, a fighter who is ahead finishes up the work and knocks the fighter out. The fighter who is behind picks up the action and modifies the strategy. The rule is designed to bring justice first of all, so the fighters know by the fourth round, by the eighth round how the judges are scoring the fight. More than often we see problems with scoring and then we see fighters saying if I knew I was behind I would have changed my strategy, or say if I knew it was so close it would have been different. So then you can not have that excuse.
Also, ring transparency. Boxing is always regarded as a dirty sport. There you have it, you have the scores after four and eight [rounds], it’s just another element. We understand those who don’t like it are traditional, some people don’t like to see instant replay in baseball but now it’s a fact. We have to do things that we think are better for the sport and make a difference. It has been very well taken in some countries, some not, but we truly believe it is a rule that can be more helpful than not.
AW – Is there anything that your father implemented that for you isn’t something you want to carry on? For instance, the silver, international belts etc.
AW – The problem is [what] we have now … to explain the rules or the championships is very limited. We have Twitter, Facebook and we have other things, but that gets to only those who want to read us … if you have the media group joined against one topic it will always be difficult to get out and explain or to get out to the media and explain.
Criticism about the championship has never been able to [be] explained. The silver champion, for example, is not a world championship, per se. It is not intended to confuse the people and say this is another world champion. It’s a division; it’s like in soccer you have the Premier League and then you have the second division and third division or the youth championship. In soccer you have the soft 15, soft 17, soft 20. UEFA, the championship from Europe, one from America, you have the World Cup. It’s a variety of components for sport. What we have with our regional championships is a championship structure so that fighters can be fighting under guidelines and rules and protection of those rules instead of just fighting in their local clubs in eight, ten rounds.
This has very profound structure, solid ground. It’s people working all over the world, very hard-working people doing this job. For example Manny Pacquiao, before anything he was unknown in the Philippines, he fought for the Oriental and Pacific Federation Championship (OPBF) – that’s a federation in that region – then he fights for the WBC International, then he fights for the world flyweight, then he becomes champion, then he moves up two divisions, same thing International, world champion, then he becomes a huge star. If you follow Timothy Bradley, two-time youth champion, Danny Garcia, youth champion, Continental Americas champion, it’s a process. It’s not to confuse. We cannot control what other organizations do, what others create and not create but our [system] is a structure process for the fighters. I understand confusion; it’s terrible to see so many championships. I wish there was a way to address it.
One of my purposes is to sit down and talk to other presidents to try to find ways to make boxing clearer to the fans and more interactive. Again we can control what we do, hopefully we can get agreements in place, but the general criticism is very harsh because it’s very mixed and confused as well.
AW – Often you don’t receive the credit you deserve for your good work. Tell us about some of the things you continually do that perhaps goes unnoticed.
MS – We do have a fund that now has been called Jose Sulaimán Boxers Fund. We raised $1 million with an auction with Hublot watches; it was a great event, 12 champions helped us to make that possible Sugar Ray Leonard, [Roberto] Duran, [Thomas] Hearns, [George] Foreman, [Julio Cesar] Chavez [Sr.], [Jeff] Fenech, Lennox Lewis and [Oscar] De La Hoya (Also Mike Tyson, Larry Holmes, Ken Norton and Azumah Nelson) … that money was deposited in the Nevada community foundation completely independent administration. The WBC does not handle the money and this money has been dispersed through a process. Now we have 17 fighters around the world that have received aid for their specific need, housing, medical, food. Each case is addressed and each case is attended for their specific need. We want to raise more money, one to help more boxers, two to make sure that fund does not dry up because if we only spend it there’s no money used for the boxers going there.
We have a proposal to do $1 per ticket so this promotion May 3, June 7 will do it also, Hublot watches have come out with a new watch that will bring around $100,000 for the fund. So all the money is going to the fund. On top of the fund we have the WBC Cares Foundation. We visit hospitals with champions, we have embassadors around the world, they bring toys, certificates and give them hope and joy.
We give independent help to so many boxing industry people, we do a lot of medical research, we do conventions. The conventions are not a trip, they’re not a fun expedition, we have people from around the world work all year around to meet and then go over what needs to be addressed in boxing. All those decisions – 15 to 12-rounds, 1 day before weigh in – all those came from the conventions decisions. There are so many things that we do, day after day, that sincerely go unnoticed but our joy and our honor is to see it working.
AW – Is there a particular area you’re looking to focus on going forward?
MS – Yes. We want to continue having the agreements to see people respect each other, to see promoters work with each other, TV networks work with each other and those fights that are being prevented. What we want is to continue. Boxing is a great sport and we need to reach out to the young generations. We try to have a good social media with Twitter, Gacebook, Instagram – champions have the opportunity to interact directly with the fans.
The WBC is a non-profit [organization], with 165 countries affiliated. All the money collected from sanctioning fees goes back to boxing and that is completely open, clean, clear.
AW – It’s been suggested that the WBC doesn‘t like a fighter to unify with the other major sanctioning bodies. The Mayweather-Maidana fight was a WBC/WBA fight, however last year it was suggested that Canelo was asked to vacate the WBA belt having unified the WBC title. What is your position on this?
MS – We have always worked with other organizations, we have participated in tournaments, in unifications when they are for a purpose of making a statement in boxing, when it’s positive for the sport. We participated in the heavyweight unification with Mike Tyson in the 80’s, [Bernard] Hopkins unified the middleweights, the Super Six. But [not] when there is a fight without reason.
AW – You mean like Canelo-Trout?
MS – When there is not a situation that can justify why there’s a unification, that’s a problem. When a unification is created to avoid a mandatory, when it is created to avoid or disrespect another organization or party, that’s a problem.
AW – Do you have an instance of this?
MS – Absolutely. Timothy Bradley, he was the WBC champion, he wins the WBC championship in England against Junior Witter. Makes title defenses, then he has a mandatory, Devon Alexander. He asks for permission for another defense, [we say] OK, then you have to fight Alaxander. then they say ‘No, I want to do one more fight against WBO champion Kendall Holt.’ We said, ‘We already let you make the defense, now you have the mandatory.’ [Bradley said], ‘Well, I need this, it’s a big fight for me.’ [We say], ‘OK.’ [Bradley said], ‘I’m going to make big money, I need the money,’ [we say], ‘OK, champ. 15 days after that fight you have to confirm you’re going to do the WBC mandatory.’ After that fight now he has another championship, he relinquishes the title. That’s a perfect example and there are more not only from us but other organizations.
Canelo-Trout was a fight, Canelo had always been with the WBC … and I believe Trout was the interim champion of the WBA. It confuses the fans. Then Mayweather was the WBA “Super” champion because he beat [Miguel] Cotto, so it’s a confusion we did not want to be part of.
We did not want to be a burden. At that time my father fell ill and that’s the way it unfolded. We do not favor hurting third parties, we favor making great things for boxing.
AW – Tell us the process of when a promoter asks you about making a fight.
MS – The process is 24 hours a day, 365 days a year we’re available, we never close. The process is the board of governors make the final decision on all the matters. There are certain matters which are required to go to the board and there are others that are daily business. For example, a voluntary defense – if the champion wants to fight a rated fighter (Top 15) and does not have a mandatory commitment then I don’t have to go to the board to do all those things.
AW – We are all prone to human error but sometimes some of the scorecards handed in by a judge has appeared out of sync from what most others watching see. If I give you an example: CJ Ross had the Mayweather-Canelo fight a draw. She caught a lot of heat for turning in that card. While not looking to pick on her in this instance, are the judges accountable in any way following a card that appears erroneous?
MS – Absolutely, we have a ring official committee which does several things. One of the things is evaluation after the fights and critique. We evaluate and give scoring of how they performed, we have feedback with them, we have extensive training, continuous training, training by internet, we have seminars, and then we have the yearly convention. There is absolutely a problem with judging and that’s a situation that has existed for a long time.
AW – It’s so subjective and everyone has their own opinions but sometimes there’s a card that’s handed in that is very questionable. Without throwing them under the bus is there scope where they get more training before receiving another big fight?
MS – That is one view, another is everybody has a bad night. Most of the outrage comes when you have a very close fight and then you see a very wide score. Even though you agree on the winner you don’t agree on the scoring, which is also a concern. The problem is, the ring officials have to be selected for a specific fight and that is a problem when the selection of ring officials is not accurate to the specific fight they’re going to work. Some officials have a style preference. I believe that all of them or most of them are honorable people that would never do anything unethical. I believe more in incompetence or a bad night than other things.
That’s another issue: If you are not the one appointing the officials then it’s difficult and there is only so much you can be accountable for. Most of the fights those things are being addressed and you can work a process and I think it’s moving forward. There are a couple of proposals of a new scoring system to widen the ten-point system – 94 percent of the rounds are 10-9, then why do you have 10 points? It’s an ongoing thing.
AW – Lets talk a little about you – we don’t know much about you personally. Tell us about yourself away from boxing.
MS – I went to school in Mexico and the USA, I did high school in Massachusetts, business administration In Mexico. I run our family company which is a manufacturer in Mexico. I love music, I play the drums, I play baseball, I’m a good goalkeeper … well, many kilos ago (laughs). I was a good goalkeeper. I like to respect people, I like meet people who respect others, I admire successful people who are humble – that’s my biggest thrill.
AW – In closing do you have anything you’d like to add?
MS – Instant replay is a great rule and we’ve been using it for 5 years all over the world, you have a referee who’s at a bad angle or the action is too fast, cannot see the cut – if he does not see the headbutt he’s got to rule a punch, and if it’s a punch and the fight is stopped it’s a TKO. If it’s a headbutt then you go to the scorecards, and we have seen so many times they have put the replay on the screens and millions of people watching the replay on their television at home … it’s different from the ruling and the only one standing there on top of the ring not being able to correct his ruling is the referee. We use it and we love that rule, we have made justice so many times.
Our intention is to keep working hard and make boxing better.