By James Blears
This January 16th is the seventh anniversary of Jose Sulaiman`s death, and due to the pandemic, we won`t be able to go to the Old Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City, to honor him and his eternal memory, with the annual ceremony.
But the symbolic aspect doesn`t matter as much as what each and every one of us feels. When faced with a difficult issue or a problem, Don Jose invariably used to shrug, smile wistfully, then almost immediatly brighten, pause for thought and suggest we`d have to find a different route to arrive at a conclusion, and via it a solvable solution. We`d just have to try a little bit harder.
No problem for him was insoluble and he never gave up on himself or the people in his team to overcome it. He absolutely and assuredly knew he could rely on them, because they were one hundred percent loyal to him. Trust was implicit.
I`d dare say that during his lifetime Don Jose wasn`t a great church goer, but that didn`t mean he wasn`t devout. Don Jose quite often mentioned God in a positive, apt and respectful way. Occasionally over the years, when a person had been thoroughly unpleasant, uncooperative, exasperating, utterly impossible and totally unreachable, he`d throw up his arms, sigh and murmur: “Well… may God bless him,” only to later relent, forgive and welcome back the rascal into the fold with open arms. That was just who he was.
Naturally Don Jose wouldn`t be exactly overjoyed that his very own memorial was the reason for this homage, but he certainly would have approved of the get together, where people could laugh, chat, network and do a touch of business, all at the same time.
All those attending have a personal story of Don Jose, and how he had made a difference in their lives. Each is perpetually proud to have earned the title: “My dear friend,” bestowed by him with a pat on the shoulder. Once that was done, each and every one knew they were a friend for life, and he would go to the ends of the Earth for them. Jose Sulaiman Chagnon had a PHD in people.
He would have also appreciated that often as not, the Master of Ceremonies is his friend Bishop Georges Abi Younes, who knows him well and always comes up with a vignette anecdote…or two.
After one of these events I was talking to Hector Sulaiman and he said: “My Dad was more than a man. He lived several lifetimes into which he packed so many achievements.”
At the last press conference before he went to UCLA for heart surgery, Don Jose was characteristically upbeat, brave, confident and optimistic, saying that the surgery would hopefully give him an extra ten years of life, because there was so much more to do, and he was determined to accomplish it. That famous winning smile of confidence with not a hint of fear of trepidation. I so wanted to believe this and yeaned to be convinced beyond doubt, but that`s the last time I ever saw him and talked to him.
The grand trio of Jose Sulaiman, Don King and Bob Arum were born in 1931. They went on to achieve extraordinary triumphs in the years to come. This year, Don King will celebrate his ninetieth birthday on August 20th, followed by Bob Arum on December 8th. There`s a gnawing sadness that Don Jose isn`t here to celebrate his very own birthday on May 30th.
On August 20th 2013, we were in Miami, Florida, when its Mayor Tomas Regalado presented the keys of the City to Don Jose. The great man nudged me and suggested: “Have a word with Don King, as it`s his eighty second birthday today.”
The great promoter was in sparkling, effervescent form and didn`t disappoint. He gushed: “I`ve never been here before at this age, and I never thought I`d get here. In the vernacular of the ghetto…SKD…something kind of different!
“My task now is to clothe people in dignity and constrain negativity to its narrowest form. Jose Sulaiman has always been here helping people and he spreads the joy. Jose brings people together, then he motivates and inspires them!”
Jose Sulaiman really cared for Boxing as well as Boxing Folk. He transformed Boxing into a safer sport. So many pioneering achievements. Perhaps the greatest was reducing championship bouts from fifteen to twelve rounds. A monumental, controversial against the mainstream current attitude back then, it`s since prevented countless serious injuries and deaths.
He decided to change the rule, after watching Ken Norton and Larry Holmes go way beyond the limits of human endurance, teetering on the precipice of exhaustion to fight themselves almost to a standstill. It was an awesome yet also frightening spectacle and Don Jose knew plus decided it must be forever changed.
During his thirty eight years as the President of the World Boxing Council, Don Jose was always willing to help and teach people about boxing and why it had to be constantly improved, so it would survive, improve and flourish. Don Jose`s most avid and devoted pupil was his youngest Son Mauricio, who`s lived and breathed boxing his entire life.
Mauricio`s recalls that one of his earliest memories was Don King and Muhammad Ali in the family living room, laughing and chatting with his Dad.
Thanks to all of this and so much more, Mauricio has been able to utilize all of the wisdom and the lifelong experiences of his Father, who encouraged and urged him to develop his own ongoing strategies. Mauricio is now working as the President of the World Boxing Council, charting a destiny in a new and different era with its own set and array of challenges.
Jose Sulaiman didn`t live to reach ninety and beyond, like his own father Don Elias. But the changes he dreamed of, worked towards and brought about, will still be benefitting boxing, a century after his birth…and then some.
What a legacy for the ages!