The World Boxing Council’s 54th annual convention opened this morning at the spectacular Diplomat Resort & Spa in Hollywood, Florida. It was an impressive gathering of the WBC family – boxers, referees, judges, ringside physicians, managers, trainers, and promoters – and a truly incredible group of some of the greatest world champions of all time.
A wide range of topics were addressed and several videos were shown, including a history of boxing from its first days to the present, and a history of the WBC from its beginning in 1963. A video history of the life of José Sulaiman produced by his son, Pepe Sulaiman, was also presented, as well as a tribute to of members of the world boxing family who passed away in 2016, which included three revered WBC officers – Treasurer Juan Sanchez, Dr. Francisco Massa, and Carlos Rodriguez – and the King of Thailand Bhumibol Adulyadej, who was a great supporter of the WBC for many years.
A number of video histories were also shown about the man to whom this convention is dedicated – The Greatest, The King of Boxing Muhammad Ali – that detailed his life not only as a boxer, but also a family man and humanitarian.
The masters of ceremony were former two-division world champion Paulie Malignaggi, sports commentator Claudia Trejos, and WBC Chief Legal Counsel Alberto Leon.
In his opening speech, WBC President Mauricio Sulaiman said, “Good morning everybody. It’s been an emotional opening of the convention. I’m thrilled and I am so happy to see the WBC family come together, as we always do for the annual convention. It was always the best time for my father to see his friends from all over the world, and especially his champions, the fighters and female fighters who are here.
“I have mixed emotions, because the videos are a moment that brings back the past and it is difficult to hold on to so many feelings. Today, we don’t see Juanito, we don’t see Carlos, we don’t see some of the great members of this organization who made it what it is today. What we see – we see former champions, we see current champions, we see future champions. This is the time of year the WBC gets together and plans how to make boxing better and how to make boxing safer.
“I’d like to express my deepest gratitude to my wife Christian. She has been a wonderful woman who has given me the opportunity to go out every day, to travel, to come back late and leave early in the morning, and to take away so much time from my kids. I know that it’s a difficult sacrifice, but she’s standing next to me and I am very grateful to my beautiful wife.
“I am, and I will always be WBC. To see my father’s words in the videos, to listen to how he invites us all to continue making boxing better and to be proud of the WBC and the green and gold, that’s my motivation. And I know that many of you share that same feeling. We are not in competition with anybody. We’re not to be compared with anybody, because we are the WBC.
“This year has been tremendous. The action in the ring has been unbelievable and what we have accomplished as a team – worldwide, outside of the ring – has been memorable. We’re going to do the female convention next year, and we will dedicate our full attention, as we did earlier this year. We’re just very, very proud of all of our champions.
“The WBC has worked very hard with VADA to create the Clean Boxing Program. This is a program that is mandatory for the WBC champions and the Top 15 rated fighters. We have an awareness campaign – we need to teach each of the fighters of the dangers of substances that go into your body. Many trainers, many friends, or even anyone in the sport, can give you a recommendation to use a supplement, but if you do not check what it contains, that’s a problem. You can put your body in danger, you have to be very careful. We have the mandatory testing, random testing, and the protocol for some fights. And we are leading in this matter in the world of sports.
“We are going to continue working in the amateur field. We’re going to continue to battle AIBA. They’re trying to have professional fighters compete against amateurs in the Olympics. They have taken the headgear out, putting in danger the health of the young kids and making the competition during the Olympics and the international games very dangerous. Some fighters who would have won a medal were left out of the Olympics due to their cuts.
“Our amateur program has been wonderful. We did some work in California. You see Carlos Balderas, who is now a professional, he participated in the WBC amateur program in California. Uruguay, with Sampson Lewkowicz, has been a tremendous success. We have done work in Spain, Mexico City with the police, with the universities. The amateur program has been a great success.
“The medical field will always be the WBC’s top priority. I am very happy to introduce Dr. David Hovda, who is here with me, sharing the stage that he once shared with my father for so many years in relentless medical research to change the rules in boxing. So I kindly ask Dr. Hovda to please tell us a little bit of what those years in the 80s and 90s were like when you worked with my father to change the world of boxing.”
Dr. Hovda addressed the assembly and said, “I met the Sulaiman family in the the 1980s, and José introduced me to a fight. Not a fight of boxing, not a fight of integrity, but a fight of safety for the fighters and the athletes that participate in this sport.
“At that time, we started what we call the SPAR program at UCLA. We’re the only university in the United States that was going to dedicate itself to understand the biology – the neurobiology – of what happens inside the brain of the boxer, the mild and traumatic brain injury, and how we could change it, how we could change the rules, how we could make it a safer place. Mr. Sulaiman and his family fostered this, supported this in an environment where it was hostile. It was not believed that things happen, and we were able to show pictures and finally do the research we so desperately needed.
“We changed the rules. We discovered the neurochemistry of the brain, and were able to image it. We were able to make it so that an individual knew what their risks were. You know boxing and mild and traumatic brain injury involves the fighter, but it involves the entire family. The whole family gets involved in this.
“I was so blessed to be introduced at that time. We discovered how the brain responds to each blow. The future now is to understand how we can protect fighters better, how we can train fighters better, how we can alter the rules better, without taking the excitement and the spirit, and what is so much heart in boxing that we all love.
“This can be done, but this is a fight that José introduced me to in 1989 and has no end. It has no bell. There are no rounds. This is something that we dedicated our career to, and will continue to do so.
“Today, we’re able to start to talk about how many hits can we count. What is the exact amount of energy that each blow gives? When should a fighter be concerned about sparring? When should a fighter consider retiring? What is the difference between a female fighter and a male fighter when it comes to blows to the head. We discovered that this year. I can take a picture of this. I can show you this. This is science – we should not be afraid of science, but embrace it.
“The future holds a great deal of promise. The young people that we have trained are now looking at the long-term consequences, and we will make this an even better sport with the help of the World Boxing Council and the SPAR program that José had a vision of so many years ago.
“I congratulate all of you for coming. I congratulate you, Mauricio, for continuing what your father started. José is here, he’s watching over us today, and I pray for all of the family and all of us, that we continue to work as a family, we continue to work with integrity and respect for humanity, and cherish this particular athletic endeavor that we so love.”
The WBC Vice Presidents were introduced: Mauro Betti of Italy, Kovid Bhakdibhumi of Thailand, Charles Giles of Great Britain, Alberto Guerra of Panama, Houcine Houichi of Tunisia, Bob Logist of Belgium, and Rex Walker of the United States.
A number of world champions addressed the assembly, including Gennady Golovkin, Vitali Klitschko, and Jeff Fenech.
Roy Jones Jr. also addressed the assembly meeting and said, “Through sports, we learn to recognize each other as brothers and sisters. Through sports, we learn to recognize the different races as brothers and sisters. That’s what the WBC stands for. I am so proud to say that I’m a former WBC champion.
Paulie Malignaggi read the incredible list of world champions and contenders who were in attendance – in no particular order, and with apologies to any that might have been missed: Evander Holyfield, Lennox Lewis, Riddick Bowe, Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Gennady Golovkin, Vitali Klitschko, Roy Jones Jr., Iran Barkley, Terry Norris, Pernell Whitaker, Milton McCrory, Montell Griffin, Robert Duran, Julio Cesar Chavez, Erik Morales, Lupe Pintor, Humberto Gonzalez, Carlos Zarate, Pipino Cuevas, Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, Vinny Paz, Gerry Cooney, Carlos Cuadras, Hozumi Hasegawa, Shinsuke Yamanaka, Ilunga Makaba, Rafael Marquez, Jorge Linares, Roman Gonzalez, Antonio Tarver, Cory Spinks, Juan LaPorte, Ruben Castillo, Jessie Vargas, Marco Huck, Winky Wright, Miguel Cotto, Francisco Vargas, Orlando Salido, Amir Khan, Callum Smith, Daniel Zaragoza, Fres Oquendo, Demetrius Andrade, Manuel Charr, Barry McGuigan, Laila Ali, Cristina Hammer, Maureen Shea, Claressa Shields, Alicia Ashley, Jelena Mrjdenovich, George Chuvalo, Francisco Vargas, Thomas Hearns, Gary Russell Jr., Christy Martin, and Mia St. John.
The Tecate award for 2016 Fight of the Year was announced – Francisco Vargas vs. Orlando Salido.