DailySport exclusive with WBC President Mauricio Sulaiman

0
91

 

PZ:      The last time we crossed paths was at the funeral service for your father in East London, which was attended by some of the past and present greats within boxing including Ricky Hatton, Barry McGuigan, John H Stracey, John Conteh – to name a few. The support paid tribute to the impact your father made on the sport.

 

How has it been taking over the helm as president for the WBC since your father’s passing and what have you been up to?

 

MS:     The last year has been full of mixed emotions. Moments when I felt very lonely and very sad, yet at the same time, attending events such as the funeral service for my father, provided me and my family with a huge motivation to want to continue with his dreams and vision.

 

The number of hands which have been extended to my family, by those involved within the WBC has been incredible. That at the time was very humbling and special and gave me the strength I needed to continue with this journey. I could have easily got stuck on the emotions and personal feelings I was going through at that time, but the boxing community helped move me on – with gusto.

 

I spent most of my life right next to my father and I believe I learned his core priorities in life. How to be honourable, how to be fair, but as far as the WBC was concerned, how to always make it safe and improve the state of the sport. No matter how good things were going with the WBC, he always wanted it to be better.

 

We’ve now started several initiatives and have a great working plan for 2015. One of the big focuses we are concentrating at the moment is trying to get the various sanctioning bodies to work in unison to provide a brighter outlook in boxing. The starting platform for this is going to be the ‘Tournament of Champions’. We intend to host a tournament made up from the best of the best from the various sanctioning bodies, in an attempt to give boxing fans exactly what they want – unification fights with one recognised champion, many of whom will lose their unbeaten records. It’s always a tough question to answer, ‘Who is the world champion?’, simply because the answer can be as long as the number of sanctioning bodies. The ideal is one champion, one weight. A tournament such as this is a step in the right direction.

 

We’ve spoken with the WBA and IBF and have had some very encouraging and positive conversations. Everything from ring officials, through to ring administration has been discussed and if everything continues to progress, there’s no reason why the tournament should not happen.

 

PZ:      Are the WBO not interested in joining forces?

 

MS:     We have invited them to the two summit meetings which have taken place and at this point in time, it seems that they are not interested.

 

PZ:      What’s WBC’s outlook on the amateur side of boxing?

 

MS:     We are addressing a number of issues with the WBC amateur programme.  Worldwide there is a tremendous problem in boxing. AIBA has a different outlook on boxing, which is sending out a mixed message to a great number of individuals who simply want to box. I often have many people saying to me, ‘Are they promoting amateur?…or is it semi-pro?’.  They are signing fighters with a commercial contract and only those who sign with AIBA can participate in the Olympics and those countries who do not accept AIBA as a sole ruler of boxing would not be allowed to participate from competing within the Olympics. It’s a very complex situation and as a result, some countries are suffering the consequences of these barriers. It seems their (AIBA) motives are financial, with little regard for the sport of boxing itself.

 

At the WBC, we intend to create efficient create pathways to allow amateur fighters from an early age to reach their goals. Fighters who dream of winning a medal at the Olympics for their country and then perhaps turn professional and be a world champion. We don’t want to leave these guys alone without structure – which is unfortunately what is happening to many at the moment.

 

We are not going into this without knowledge or experience. We have already held amateur tournaments in countries such as Canada, Mexico and have further tournaments in Spain, Nicaragua and Panama on the horizon. We want those individuals who want to practice boxing and excel in their passion to have that opportunity to do so. Whilst AIBA is trying to sort themselves out, at least the WBC is able to offer a functioning platform.

 

PZ:      At a time where many are saying the shine has come off boxing, do you believe there is still hope?

 

MS:     Absolutely. Boxing has always been great, but hopefully with initiatives such as the Tournament of Champions, we will grow back the confidence of many fans worldwide.

 

Growing up in the 1970’s, I was born into watching fighters such as Jose Napoles, John H Stracey, Roberto Duran and Sugar Ray Leonard. Then the 80’s came with (Julio Cesar) Chavez, Mike Tyson and the unforgettable battles between, Leonard, Hagler, Duran and Hearns. The 90’s then brought us Oscar De La Hoya, Floyd Mayweather, Manny  Pacquiao and many others. Boxing is a constantly evolving sport. There will be great future fighters, icons and eras ahead.

 

Today, Mayweather and Pacquiao are probably the best two fighters considered by many as elite. However, there are many others close behind. There are a great number of fighters with great talent who have the ability to be elite. What needs to happen, is for those fighters to make stories inside the ring as opposed to all the hype outside of it. Without great fights and excitement, boxing goes nowhere.

 

This sport cannot live forever with Manny and Floyd leading. The likes of GGG, Deontay Wilder, Cotto, Danny Garcia, Kovalev, Anthony Joshua and Tyson Fury all bring excitement to the sport. It’s essential to get these guys and many more into the big fights, in order for them to fulfil their goals and the fans to get to see the best in boxing battle it out. That’s how new eras will be made. The problem is getting the fighters into the ring and that’s a totally different issue, and one which does not come with a quick answer!

 

Social media has certainly made a difference in recent years. Fans are able to express themselves far easier, and are a positive influence in terms of helping moving the sport of boxing through the 21st century. Exciting times lay ahead.

 

PZ:      Stepping outside of the ring now, WBC does an incredible amount within society, using the medium of sport to help those less fortunate and to inspire future generations, via the World Boxing Cares arm of the organisation. Can you expand please.

 

MS:     It’s my passion. It’s my driving force. I was born into a very warm family oriented environment, where my parents were extremely kind and loving to me and my siblings. I always knew that if anything went wrong, there was always someone to rely on.

 

Throughout my childhood I always saw how my parents reached out to help the underprivileged. Not only in boxing, but in society, other sports such as baseball and in the family business (a manufacturing facility). My father would take anything he had and shared it. To give you an example – on Christmas Eve, we would gather and have our family dinner and before we would open our presents, my father would say, ‘I’ll be right back.’ He would make a big plate of food and drive to our factory to see the security guard, to make sure he had his Christmas dinner.

 

I have many memories of members of the boxing community over the years, coming to our home to reach out to my father for emergencies such paying for medical treatment, funerals or even just to have food on the table. My father had seen how these fighters had given the public so many happy moments in the ring and were now on hard times and in some cases, critical conditions. That’s when he decided to create the Friendly Hand Foundation.

 

The WBC has shared millions of dollars over the years trying to assists those in need. Before my father passed away, he had the opportunity to do something special. Alongside Hublot Watches, and auction was organised, with 12 watches being auctioned, in honour of 12 great fighters, including the likes of Sugar Ray Leonard, Mike Tyson and Lennox Lewis. The auction raised $1 million.

 

We want to make sure fighters on hard times will always have something to fall back on. This is the second year we are into this programme and we are currently helping over 30 fighters per month to receive money for rent, mortgage payments, medical bills and food. Fighters include great champions such as Pernell Whitaker, Wilfredo Benitez, Leon Spinks and Gerald McClellan.

 

There are many fighters out there who had millions and have now fallen on hard times. Many are now broke out of ignorance, some through injury and some out of abuse from the entourage and fake friends looking to cash in on them. Those friends soon disappear when the money and fame runs out.

 

We have a new programme which has recently evolved from our recent activity, called ‘Adopt a Champion’. Around the world, there are many people who live comfortably and are fortunate to have money, but also have an underlying passion for boxing. As a result, we have taken these individuals and matched them with a boxer who has a specific need – almost like a philanthropic matchmaking service! For example – There was a fighter called (Amada) Ursua, who was a light Flyweight world champion in the 70’s, who didn’t make much money, but lived his life clean and was a great ambassador.  Last year he was involved in a hit and run car accident and was left unconscious and with several other injuries. We were able to match him with a willing sponsor, who took care of the bills and is giving him support on a monthly basis also.  There’s many others who are also finding it difficult to pay their bills, so that’s where the WBC jumps in. It’s a real passion for me to be involved with this side of the sport – it’s equally as important, if not more than what happens in the ring.

 

PZ:      WBC’s World Boxing Cares in the UK, is currently trying to address the issue of mental health with boxers. How important do you see this in terms of before, during and after a fighter’s career?

 

MS:     It’s a massive priority. In the US we have united with the Congress and are participating with a mental health awareness programme, but have also started a big push in many other countries around the world.

 

In terms of the UK, I have been working with David Walker and his UK team of World Boxing Cares, to create a mental health programme, using ambassadors that can be helpful and active, by way of visiting schools and gyms, educating the current young crop of fighters of what can lead to mental health issues and the signs. Nobody teaches you how to handle success, fame and money – but also, it’s just as important, if not more, knowing how to handle failure and what to do once you are no longer in the limelight. The latter is probably the hardest thing to deal with. One day they are walking along the street and everyone is asking them for photos and autographs and the next they don’t even look at them. They look at the new guy. The new guy with success and fame – and the cycle starts again…

 

It’s a matter of finding the resources and correct people to make these programmes work. We’ve spoken with Scott Welch, Ricky Hatton, John H Stracey, John Conteh and a number of others, who will no doubt be an integral part of the programme’s success moving forward.

 

PZ:      Thank you for your time and safe travels.

 

MS:     My sincere pleasure – and thank you for taking the time to come and see me.

20150210_134756

 

 

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here