By James Blears

Right now, on this very Valentine`s Day, the World Boxing Council is celebrating its fifty fifth anniversary.

Some of the greatest champions of all time have fought, won and been so very proud to wear the famous Green and Gold Belt including: Muhammad Ali, George Foreman, Mike Tyson, Sugar Ray Leonard, Roberto Duran, Julio Cesar Chavez, Evander Holyfield, Salvador Sanchez, Carlos Monzon, Ricardo Lopez, Alexis Arguello, Marvin Hagler, Larry Holmes, Lennox Lewis, Laila Ali, Christy Martin, Ana Maria Torres, Mariana Juarez and bringing us right up to date, Floyd Mayweather Jr, Manny Pacquiao, Juan Manuel Marquez, Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez, Saul “Canelo” Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin.

This is to name, but an outstanding few, because the WBC has almost reached the two thousand championship fights milestone.

The World Boxing Council was established at 1pm on February 14th 1963 at the Prado Alffer Hotel, in the heart of Mexico City, as an initiative of then Mexican President Adolfo Lopez Mateos. The Hotel crumpled and crumbled, struck down to the ground by the massive 1985 earthquake. But the foundations of the WBC built that day, have strengthened and grown to skyscraper dimensions.

The WBC started with eleven affiliate nations. Today, it`s the largest and most prestigious of Boxing organization of them all, spanning one hundred and sixty six member countries which form a huge and close knit family.

WBC Historian and Statistics Expert, the beloved and respected Professor Victor Cota, is only one of two people still with us, who witnessed that day which made sporting history. The other is journalist, manager, trainer and Boxing Guru Rafael “Cobrita” Mendoza.

Dapper, suave, kindly and urbane, Don Victor recalls that event half a century and five ago saying: “It was a day like no other, and from its inception, the World Boxing Council has improved the sport of punches throughout the World.

“It`s transformed Boxing, but it all really started when Don Jose Sulaiman became WBC President in 1975. Don Jose was involved in all of the many vital changes that formed Boxing as we now know it today. It`s now a different and safer sport, so much for the better.

“The World Boxing Council is the finest organization which has existed in the history of Boxing, establishing the best rules for the protection of boxers.

“These include reducing championship fights from fifteen to twelve rounds, a fourth rope, attaching the thumb to the glove preventing so many injuries to the retina, thorough medical procedures and a special medical committee, donating funds for brain research, the thirty day, seven day and twenty four hours weigh ins before the bout, to allow graduated and safe weight loss. And a special independently administered Fund to help retired boxers who`ve fallen on hard times. All of this reforms combine to form part of the essential protection of the boxer.

“Don Jose Sulaiman is the Father of modern Boxing. He brought about all of these changes with enthusiasm, passion, determination and such dedication in his thirty eight years as our President.”

A few grizzled die hards have argued that all of these innovations and reforms have made Boxing soft. It isn`t like it used to be in the good old days, when fighters were fighters and they weren`t mollycoddled. Poppycock…or as Foster Brooks so aptly exclaimed: “Cockipoppy!”

The great Harry Greb who was middleweight champion of the World and the only boxer to defeat Gene Tunney in a light heavyweight marathon, fought two hundred and ninety eight bouts.

In 1917, Harry fought thirty seven times. In 1919, he fought forty five times. His right eye had to be surgically removed, he was going blind in the left and he couldn`t breathe properly through a battered, shattered nose. Harry died on the operating table, never waking up from the anesthetic. He was just thirty two years old.

Back in those good old days, head butting, palming, spinning, lacing, gouging, rabbit punching, hitting on the break and other horrendous fouls were blithely and callously condoned.

Don Jose was absolutely determined to prevent these sort of tragedies repeating themselves. And he told us he couldn`t and he wouldn`t abandon boxers to the pitiful fate of: “Talking to walls and flinching from the memories of punch after punch, punch drunk in their old age.”

Don Jose`s example truly inspired. His youngest Son Mauricio also fell in love with Boxing from an early age, and like his Father, he`s devoting his life to the Sport.

Today is the fourth anniversary of Mauricio Sulaiman`s Presidency of the World Boxing Council. Also unanimously elected, he`s working tirelessly and caringly to improve and further evolve the sport, helping to encourage and aiming for great title fights, developing women`s boxing, widening the scope of WBC Cares which helps and inspires seriously ill children, orphans and youngsters from modest as well as challenging circumstances. Also courageously defending the corner of amateur boxing which has been radically altered by AIBA.

During these fifty five years, there have been such a wondrous crown jewels set of forever memorable title fights.

Muhammad Ali knocking out the seemingly invincible George Foreman, in then Zaire. Larry Holmes dredging up his last reserves of determination and resolve in the fifteenth and final round of the fight against Ken Norton, to win a last gasp victory.

Larry, wearing his cherished Green and Gold Belt, who jumped into a swimming pool to cool off afterwards told me years later: “What a fight it was. It took my absolute everything to win it. After the final bell rang, Kenny came across and patted me gently on the side of my boxing trunks. What a man, what a friend and how I miss him, since his passing!”

It was this gruelling and sometimes harrowing contest of fiercely clashing, stubborn, ask no quarter, give no quarter willpower on that night in Las Vegas, which convinced Don Jose Sulaiman to reduce Championship fights from fifteen to twelve rounds to prevent boxers from having to go beyond the limits of human endurance. Howls of protest from the other organizations, who then followed where the WBC led.

Sugar Ray Leonard`s epics. The first incredible fight against Tommy Hearns. Ray went into overdrive after the great Angelo Dundee admonished and scolded him with the sage, stern and timely warning: “You`re blowing it son!”

The first fight against ferocious Roberto “Manos de Piedra” Duran, in which Ray unwisely chose to stay flat footed, trade, get hurt and then brilliantly fight back to lose an absorbing contest.

Ray returning from retirement to confront and defeat Marvellous Marvin Hagler, in a fight which continues to divide opinions to this very day. Ray says his Father in Law questioned his sanity, after seeing a selection of Marvin`s demolition derby highlights. When Ray told him just how much he`d be getting, without batting an eyelid, Pops murmured: “When do you start?”

Twenty year old “Iron” Mike Tyson blasting Trevor Berbick from pillar to post, to become the youngest heavyweight champion of the World…so far.

Julio Cesar Chavez stopping Greg Haugen, roared on by one hundred and thirty six thousand fans at the giant Azteca Stadium, shattering the old attendance record of Dempsey Vs Tunney.

The trilogy of Erik Morales Vs Marco Antonio Barrera. The four boxed epics between Juan Manuel Marquez against Manny Pacquiao, with Juan KO`ing Manny in spectacular style to conclude it.

Another titanic fight and historic victory. The World Boxing Council was the first sporting organization to ban South Africa, until the hateful system of apartheid was overcome. President Nelson Mandela himself invited the WBC to hold its Convention in a free country where a person is valued for merit, decency, humanity and hard working contribution, rather than the colour of their skin.

It`s been an incredible roller coaster ride for fifty five vivid, fantastic and brilliant years, yet… there`s so much more in store, leading up to the WBC`s sixtieth anniversary…and beyond.



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