By Luigi Marcadella
EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH MAURICIO SULAIMAN, president of the World Boxing Council (WBC): the most important man in boxing talks about how this sport is changing. Thanks to television and digital platforms, boxing has never been followed like now, during the pandemic – “Our main concern was safety because money is important but our most precious resource are athletes: unfortunately many champions who have had Covid manifest permanent physical problems” – “Saul” Canelo “Alvarez is the highest paid boxer of this boxing era “and Ryan Garcia could become a big star – The relationship between boxing and mixed martial arts and programs for next few years
President Sulaiman, great boxing is stronger than the pandemic. The matches of the big names in the WBC represent one of the most important businesses in world sport.
«I start answering your question, by explaining that concerning the pandemic our first concern remains safety. We have helped develop a comprehensive safety protocol involving the medical testing of all boxers and ring officials, commissioners and everyone involved in the event. Another aspect is quarantine of all involved, the wearing of masks until the bout starts and very strict hygiene of all areas, especially the ring and its surroundings. Gradually the situation improves but we cannot for one moment or an instant let down our guard. These are important ways to combat the virus, which by its nature spreads like wildfire, if given the slightest opportunity or lapse. Due to meticulous prudence, shows are coming back, even huge spectaculars. The economics comes from the television and digital platforms that have found in boxing a leader in live sporting events. Fights began to take place at “bubbles” without fans but with much audience for the millions at home needing entertainment. Then fights had limited fans and today many cards are with full arenas and stadiums. Showtime, Fox, Espn, Dazn, Sky, Espnko, and any others have been broadcasting boxing more than ever».
The pandemic, however, has deeply affected the world and the sports economy. In the near future where and how will the WBC invest more to support its organizers?
«The key to this is communication and organization. We are in constant touch with promoters, boxers and their teams. When there have been cases of positive Covid tests, we have settled on different dates, or there is an alternative of finding another opponent. Several champions who contracted Covid and thought they had recovered, showed lingering effects and their performances were noticeably affected. We are investing in even more comprehensive medical advice and expertise to assess recovery rates. We have also used remote scoring system for fights and have performed much training and certification on line. We have utilized technology in many ways to minimize expenses and maximise productivity. We have provided all support and flexibility for promoters to have as much activity as possible considering the so many variables and limitations that this era has caused, such as travel restrictions, infections, availability of fighters and cost effective officiating».
The potential of boxing is still unattainable for building big events and attracting capital. What are the strategies you have to spread the great boxing in the different continents?
«WBC is a family of one hundred and seventy nations and it continues to grow. WBC looks forward in the direction of the future. we are establishing offices in various nations utilizing home grown expertise combined guided by our headquarters. India, Pakistan, the Middle east, Ukraine, China and South Africa are new horizons we have reached and are involved with. New WBC offices have been established there. Our WBC cares program in which champions visit hospitals, orphanages and sports centers with toys, love and inspiration is celebrating its fifteenth anniversary. WBC is a professional organization, but we are helping amateur organizations. We organized a global petition to save boxing in the Olympics. There can be no professional boxing without the foundation of amateur boxing. All time great Manny Pacquiao from the Philippines has just retired, but i predict that in the coming years there will new superstars, from India, China and other countries, providing we do the ground work and lay the foundations now. Our annual conventions are held in many diverse countries. This is an invaluable investment in the future. Money is one factor , but our most precious resource will always be our people, particularly young people».
Will boxing, with its main international organizers, sooner or later also enter the mixed martial arts business? Is there room for another big name besides the american U fc?
«The rules of boxing and mma are not the same. They are essentially different sports. With the Mayweather-McGregor fight which was fought under boxing rules, we clearly saw this. We respect other sports and we can learn from them as they can learn from us. Boxing dates back almost to the beginning of time. Its modern form is more than three hundred years old. Boxing is here to stay. Ufc is a new phenomenon, I am confident it will pass the test of time. Muay Thai which the WBC is helping to develop is growing steadily and will be a force to reason with in the coming years. Watch this space!».
The face of boxing today is portrayed by super star Saul “Canelo” Alvarez. his is a brand that is worth more than a big company. How is a sports figure of this kind built?
«The essential factor is brilliant ability. my dear father spotted Saul Canelo Alvarez at a very young age. Back then few believed in the potential of a slim, freckled youth. Several television and promotional companies who had not spotted Canelos great potential doubted my fathers conviction and bluntly asked him, why he was convinced. He replied that more than sixty years involvement, commitment and love of boxing had gifted him with the foresight to recognize and give a timely opportunity to god given talent. another factor is charisma which like ko punching power is a natural asset, which can be further developed. Some say its indefinable. Nothing fuels success like success. In the case of Canelo, he has won championships in 4 different weight categories and opponents have testified about how his talents which have continued to develop and flourish. Let me also explain that its not just about boxing ability. Some of our greatest boxers are champions in and outside the ring. They help charities and often privately donate money to children who are very ill, to help with life saving operations. Boxing is a sport of the people. Most boxing superstars come from modest means, its essentially and fundamentally in their heart to give back by helping those in need, primarily the disadvantaged. Manny Pacquiao is now entering a new phase of his life in a quest to become President of his country. For part of his childhood he was on the streets. Manny knows what this is like, and he wants to bring about humane change. Some people try to quantify a boxing superstar as one in a million. In reality they are one in many millions».
How will boxing change in the next 10 years?
«Nothing stays exactly the same in life and boxing is no exception. My father worked his entire life to make boxing safer and i continue his legacy inspired by his love, wisdom and guidance. Today serious injuries and deaths are rare in boxing, but one is one too many. We at the WBC continue to pioneer safety protocols, more complete medical medical examinations, lead the way in anti doping testing and help retired boxers who have fallen on hard times. The WBC has teamed up with vive Tv to create a boxing channel. I am convinced its scope and quality will continue to grow and improve and be a great platform for those local and regional promoters who do not have big television or media contracts. We also have to standardize boxing gloves, improve nutrition and more carefully follow what happens in gyms. If there is a knockdown in sparring or an accident during training it must be promptly reported to us. My father pioneered reducing world championship fights from fifteen to twelve rounds. Now all other championship bouts are ten rounds. We continue to look at the number of rounds in each fight. Womens boxing has made great strides in the last twenty years. I see even greater progress in the next ten years. One issue for promoters to consider is greater party of pay. Women are now top of the bill in an increasing number of boxing shows and are increasingly often the stars of cards. They need more bank notes! Greater purse party across the board and across the genders».
What approach does the WBC have and will have with the world of social networks? I ask him because even the youtubers, like the very famous Logan Paul, who approach boxing create millions of fans and views. How will “noble art” relate to these hybrid events between sport and entertainment?
«Matchmaking is an important part of boxing. This involves bringing together comparable talents, but at the selfsame time avoiding mismatches. Logan and Jake Paul have been boxing for many years, they really care for the sport and respect it . They are bringing new fans to boxing. others such as influencers, athletes from other sports and celebrities are coming into boxing as well but it must be recognized that a few months or even a year of training, can never bridge the gulf of a lifetime of experience. Most of our champions started at a young age and have devoted their every waking minute and their working life to boxing. Getting fit is different than from being fighting fit. In celebrity fights its important to limit the rounds fought, their duration and match opponents who have reached similar talent levels. It is also essential to define what is an exhibition and fight. Number and duration of rounds, size of globes, safety protocols, awareness of referee. We must also look at the age factor». Who could become the new Mike Tyson? «There will never be another Mike Tyson, Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard, Floyd Mayweather, Nino Benvenuti, Marvin Hagler or Manny Pacquiao, they are unique. The heavyweight division is growing in leaps and bounds. As the years pass they are getting bigger and bigger. But a giant frame must also be matched with a huge personality. One good indicator for future talent is to keep an eye on the Olympics. Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Sugar Ray Leonard, Floyd Mayweather, Lennox Lewis, Evander Holyfield, Gennady Golovkin and Oscar De la Hoya emerged with gold medals. Yet Manny Pacquiao, Julio Cesar Chavez and Carlos Monzon reached the top via another even harder route. A superstar heavyweight needs ko power, an iron chin, an unquenchable will to win and a sparkling personality to capture and enthralled hearts and minds. Lets keep our eyes open!».
Is there a boxer who could become a boxing super star in a few years?
«When potential, hard work, destiny and a slice of good luck combine, a winning formula is achieved. Then the hardest next stage is maintaining and building upon that success. Ryan Garcia is a young boxer who has already gained a lot of success and seeks even higher levels. But the pressures involved are greater than they have ever been. Ryan had to courage to take a break from boxing to deal with tensions and concerns which had built up. He has now faced and dealt with this and he is back. It’s important that we must not prematurely build up expectations and load them on to the shoulders of young fighters. It is the responsibility of coaches, promoters and us to give young boxers the time and opportunity to develop and flourish, in order to fully realize their potential. The WBC spends a lot of time and care through its experts with the ratings system. Fight by fight young boxers climb this ever steepening ladder. Patience produces dividends».
Muay thai has been in the WBC for over 15 years, a discipline originating from Asia that has had an amazing development in every corner of the world. Could it be an increasingly important partner even in the great settings of the stellar meetings of WBC champions?
«We include muay thai in major championships to give fans a taste and savor for this wonderful sport. The King of Thailand personally requested my father Don Jose to undertake this task which transformed into a labor of love. Don Jose gave his word to his majesty, and throughout his life my father strived to keep his promises. So many champions bear testify to this with everlasting gratitude. We continue to work towards the goal with determination, encouraged by the advice of experts in the sport. Believe me we will get there and sooner than many people think».