By James Blears
The life`s work of Jose Sulaiman Chagnon changed Boxing and transformed it into a more humane sport, where its hands on participants can and do enjoy healthy, productive lives after they retire, not having to leave everything in the ring.
A specter which concerned and even haunted Don Jose, was the destitute, burned out shell of an ex fighter: “Talking to walls, and ducking imaginary blows.” Throughout his life Don Jose was determined to remove as many risks as possible, and also the gnawing and parched suffering, which was a cloying, clawing part of boxing. He recalled boxers telling him of their ravenous hunger pangs and raging thirst, preventing sleep before the same day weigh in.
He remembered and lamented the drastically terrible weight loss that led to the death of Jimmy Garcia. The creation of the graduated weigh in, which now extends to the very day of the fight, has helped boxers shed weight and rehydrate the proper and healthy way.
Still more work has to be done to convince some boxers that they must step up to the next division instead of coming to the scales appreciably overweight and then trying to financially compensate and placate their opponent for the fight to go on. This is both wrong and it`s highly dangerous.
Don Jose used to chuckle when he remembered how as a young fan, he himself took part in the “Snack” bouts at the beginning of a fight night, in order to gain his access ticket. He related one occasion when he probably lost on points, but won hands down after the contest to collect coins of appreciation. A smart and astute businessman, he created an independent fund which was anchored by the Hublot Watch Auction.
This was essential, because advising and urging some famous boxers to create a nest egg, for post retirement life, often fell on stony ground. So Don Jose and the WBC, along with Carlos Slim, created a pension program, which feeds, clothes and shelters his heroes in their third age.
The WBC led the way in reducing championship rounds from fifteen to twelve. The fight between Ken Norton and Larry Holmes convinced Don Jose of its imperative necessity. Present at the bout, Don Jose was interviewed after the final bell and said it was one of the greatest fights he`d ever seen. But he also had the eyes, perception and guts to realize that the two boxers were utterly exhausted and relying on courage and instinct rather than skills. It was bordering on a fight to the death and this had to be stopped.
Harsh criticism ensued with experts insisting the WBC decision would result in multiple diluted stalemate draws. Unfazed, Don Jose pointed out that the vast majority of championship bouts don`t go the distance and safety must come first. So others who`s failed to understand the visionary foresight, grudgingly fell into line and copied the policy. The imitation game!
Jose Sulaiman could also identify fledgling boxing potential. He championed the cause of the then very young Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, telling then unconvinced television networks that they had a superstar on their hands. Time proved him correct.
Many boxing fans in Mexico can`t afford to pay to see boxing championships on the television. Don Jose fought a protracted and titanic battle to convince TV here to screen many big bouts free of charge and bring back Saturday fight night to the screens. In so doing he kept Boxing within the realms of ordinary working people. Because boxing is a sport of the people.
The first time I met Jose Sulaiman was December 5th 1992, on the occasion of the Miguel Angel Gonzalez Vs Darryl Tyson fight at El Toreo, Cuatro Caminos. I`d been stuck up in the rafters, so for me the match had assumed ant like proportions. Afterwards I met Don Jose ringside and when he asked me what I thought, I explained my restricted perspective. He told me that from now on, I`d always have a better seat, and so it was. Being Don Jose, he walked his talk. I also told him that I thought there was an appearance similarity between Miguel Angel and Roberto Duran, to which he disagreed in the kindest, but firmest way. A man who invariably kept his word, but would give you a frank and forthright opinion without fear or favor.
An educated man, Don Jose also had a PHD in people. He found a fragmented World Boxing Council and built it into a global alliance of real and lasting worth. He did this through strength of character and trust but also through warmth and kindness. For him loyalty was essential. For more than twenty years he breakfasted every Saturday morning with his idol Raul “Raton” Macias.
Many of the people he chose back then, still work for the WBC. The qualities of a global family bonds the World Boxing Council as a worldwide organization.
The word Unification used to irritate Don Jose. He succinctly pointed out that WBC champions are the greatest of all, and this fact still holds true. However champions of four different major organizations means that the general public and even fans of the sport, have identification difficulties.
Mauricio Sulaiman who was unanimously voted President, has devoted his entire life to the Sport of Boxing, and is working to unite agreement with those other organizations so that there can be one undisputed champion per division. A very welcome development, in the presence of Paco Valcarcel who`s the President of the World Boxing Organization, at the most recent World Boxing Council Convention in Cancun. Gilberto Mendoza and Daryl Peoples respectively of the World Boxing Association and the International Boxing Federation are already close allies. This advancement is absolutely essential for the future of Boxing.
Mauricio has also led the Clean Boxing Program, random testing the champion and leading contenders. Performance enhancing drugs or PEDS, have already tainted and soiled cycling and athletics. Boxing is still in time to avoid going down the same via dolorosa. Credibility but more importantly long term health are the guiding headlights and the shining highlights.
The son of immigrants, Don Jose fought the evil of racism his entire life. The WBC was the first sporting organization to ban Apartheid South Africa and the first to welcome it back with open arms when Nelson Mandela, who`d given the best years of his life to free it, became President.
How thrilled he would have been to see Mauricio, Sylvester Stallone and the greatest living heavyweight champions secure a well overdue US Presidential Pardon for Jack Johnson. No matter how long the time lapse, righting a wrong represents fundamental justice.
The association with Pope Francisco`s Scholas Occurents and the creation of BoxVal, has made the sport accessible to a new generation of young people. A truly visionary development which Mauricio has spearheaded.
Don Jose would be very proud of today`s World Boxing Council. From cradle, to youth and adulthood Mauricio has learned, earned and developed the essential job of its leadership from the best Father and finest teacher.
It just doesn`t seem like six years since Don Jose died. At his last press conference before going to UCLA for heart surgery he said he was hoping to gain another ten years of active working life, but it was not to be. The legacy which he left, is beyond estimation and worth. It`s much more than a pearl of great price. Every year when we give thanks to God for his life, there`s a packed congregation from all corners of the World at the Old Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City.
Seeing his photograph always brings a smile, while recalling the resounding joy of his laugh and his gift of his unique friendship means more than everything.