Mauricio Sulaiman column: The Jose Sulaiman Champion´s Fund
My father, Jose Sulaiman, a son of an immigrant Lebanese father and an immigrant Syrian mother, grew up in Ciudad Valles, a small town in San Luis Potosi State in Mexico.
He worked with grandpa Elias as his “gofer” since he was nine, and some of his friends were boxers. One memorable day he went to the boxing arena, The Palenque, mostly used for cockfight tournaments, and as he tried to enter the man stopped him and asked him to present his ticket. Since he didn´t have a ticket nor money to buy one, he was offered to participate in the “hors d’oeuvres” challenge. He accepted without knowing what it meant. Once inside they put him inside the ring, took off his shirt and put boxing gloves on him, and he was there having to punch another kid who had done nothing wrong to him. Don Jose always said that the fight was even, but he definitively won in collecting the pennies thrown into the ring because he took off his gloves and the other kid didn´t.
That night his passion for boxing was born and would stay with him until the day he passed away at the age of 82. His best friends in his childhood were boxers, so he learned first hand what being a boxer meant: the sacrifice, the abuse, the dangers. He eventually retired after a broken jaw and nose and served in the boxing commission doing everything possible in boxing, even as a ring announcer, referee and assistant ring doctor .
As a teenager he boarded a Greyhound bus in a journey that also marked his life, going from Brownsville, Texas, to Boston, Massachusetts. It was then that he learned about racism. He was surprised to see bus, bathroom, and restaurant sections marked with the words “COLORED,” and the so many instances and actions against those who were not white. In the late 1960s he was appointed supervisor by the WBC for a fight in South Africa. He flew from New York to Johannesburg and on the same flight was one of the fighters who was going to compete, a black fighter. They spoke the whole flight. Upon arriving in South Africa, the fighter was taken and for the rest of the trip was isolated going to different hotel sections and different restaurants. The night of the fight he was awarded a certificate as “honorary white” in order to climb into the ring and perform.
The first action Don Jose took after being elected WBC President in 1975 was to expel South Africa from boxing and began a ban on any fighter, promoter, manager or entity who supported Apartheid. This action led to having the United Nations present a citation to Jose Sulaiman, and to have Nelson Mandela open the WBC Annual Convention in Johannesburg in 1998.
My father dedicated his life to boxing and gave up everything to serve the sport of his love. All boxers were like his sons and daughters, and he suffered constantly to see the drama inside the ring, but most importantly what happens outside of it. To see such great heroes of the ring who consistently fall into hard times, suffering depression, poverty, and living in misery, but keeping their pride until the last day .
Destiny brought him together with another dreamer. My friend, Salvador Briman, arranged a meeting between my father and the president of the luxury watch company Hublot. After five minutes of conversation and a handshake, a great friendship was born and Hublot created 12 unique pieces to celebrate 12 of the greatest fighters in history. With most of them present at the Bellagio Hotel, the auction generated the dream figure of 1 millon dollars !!!! Yes, Foreman, Tyson, Leonard, Duran, Chavez, Lennox, Fenech, Azumah, Holmes, Hearns, de la Hoya, and Norton joined the WBC and Hublot to generate the million dollars seed money which was deposited at the Nevada Community Foundation in its entirety.
My father described this accomplishment as his dream come true. Now, the Jose Sulaiman Champions Fund has been helping many fighters from all around the world in specific needs of housing, medical, rehab, and other necessities.
Telmex – the Telcel Foundation through Don Carlos Slim has joined the efforts to have ways of helping fighters who have fallen on hard times. A $750,000 grant over five years is committed, and many referees and local boxing commissions have supported the program. In the United States, California, Texas, Alabama, New Mexico, New York, Illinois, Washington, Colorado, and Puerto Rico have participated. Ironically, Nevada does not, and it is precisely in Nevada where the fund is hosted.
Many people and companies have also supported the fund, and the WBC will continue to raise as many funds as possible in order to be able to provide aid to as many as possible .
The yearly application process in now taking place. We encourage anyone who knows a boxer who is in need to reach out and apply. Simply contact the Nevada Community Foundation or Alberto Leon, who has run the program on behalf of the WBC with exemplary dedication.
I have just arrived in Boston – not on a Greyhound, but at Logan Airport. My son Jose is starting high school in Massachusetts and he will certainly begin to dream as his search for destiny starts the day we say goodbye and see him walk on his own looking for the path of success.