By James Blears
Victor Cota Leon, the vintage and admired toast of the World Boxing Council, has written a fascinating, much anticipated and eagerly greeted book entitled: Boxing: Know What…?
A living legend in the boxing World, Don Victor who’s eighty-eight has spent his entire life gathering, gleaning, gaining, accumulating, assessing and disseminating knowledge about the Noble Art.
He’s the only person still around, who attended the fabled meeting at the Prado Alffer in Mexico City on February 14th 1963 at the behest and request of then President Adolfo Lopez Mateos, which established the World Boxing Council. The devastating 19th September 1985 earthquake flattened the hotel, reducing it to heaps of rubble and piles of dust. But Don Victor is still standing, hale and hearty, sturdy as an oak, sartorially, elegantly and immaculately attired. He was The Star Guest and received a special award at the WBC’s Sixtieth Anniversary Celebrations.
A multi award winning journalist, and the doyen of sports scribes, Victor Cota has been the WBC’s Director of History and Statistics since 1975. His knowledge of Boxing is extensive, encyclopedic, varied, subtle and sometimes even whimsical as well as lyrical.
Fellow boxing buffs who know him well, are lucky and privileged participants in a long running game, exactingly testing their knowledge of the sport. Don Victor terms the brain teasers: “Tu tarea- your homework.” Often as not, attempts at cribbing from the Internet just don’t work, and you have to delve deep, then still deeper into the history of boxing. Don Victor’s poignant questions delivered with the probing, salient accuracy of a trained lawyer, are designed and intended not only to test your knowledge of boxing or often the lack of it, but also to patiently and expertly extend it. As Soren Kierkegaard said: “Life must be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.”
Victor Cota’s book of two hundred and four pages, is clearly and cleverly written with an aim to explain and nurture without cossetting the reader: “The dog ate my homework” lame excuse, is greeted with a tolerant yet slightly wan smile. On initially turning over its first page, you assume you’re a bit of a know it all brainbox concerning and regarding boxing, By the end of it, you will be not sadder and wiser, rather considerably more knowledgeable, better informed and happier. There’s much to smile about, wonder at and appreciate. Boxing is a sport crammed, jammed and packed with fascinating larger than life characters plus their extraordinary achievements. Victor Cota vividly brings them to life and captures their vital essence.
The autographed book Don Victor gave me, smelled of cellulose, fresh and crisp to the grasp. It contains an extensive appendix, so seek and you will find.
He guides us through the mists of time dating as far back as 3000BC to which we can trace the origin birth pangs of boxing. It spread all around the world, because the competitive spirit tightly wraps its arms around us globally. Its relatively modern version/form, dates back three hundred years to the era of James Figg.
Don Victor encourages us to remember the sometimes forgotten greats of boxing. A prime example is Hungarian Lazlo Papp. Thrice Olympic middleweight champion whose pro career was delayed, hampered, held back and stymied by the dictates of communism. The minute of silence on June 26th 1972 for a giant of boxing , prior to the Ken Buchanan Vs Roberto Duran classic in one of the chameleon incarnations of Madison Square Garden. Longevity of boxers, trainers, managers… and even journalists. Some by no means all, lived the max factor to reach their max capacity.
Trilogies in Boxing. So far in world championship fights, there have been thirty six. Why do boxers fight each other three times? Because styles make boxing and in the lyrics of Phil Galdston, Wendy Waldman and Jon Lind, just when I thought our chance had past, you go and leave the best to last!
The WBC changed world championship fights from fifteen rounds to twelve rounds to decrease the risks to boxers who were often dredging up their final vestige reserves of stamina, edging and teetering upon exhaustion. Staggering and frightening to read about the longest ever boxing match. Sometimes the good old days were really the bad old days.
One of Don Victor’s idols is the trail blazing Jack Dempsey, but he also extols the extraordinary achievements of Joe Louis and Muhammad Ali. There’s the extraordinary career of Henry “Homicide Hank” Armstrong. The only fighter to simultaneously hold world titles in three divisions and drew contesting a fourth!
An “Ageless Mongoose” with the record for the most KO wins. What pause and a round of applause for thought. The first ever Golden Boy, Then Benjamin Leiner, alias Benny Leonard, who was an all- time great lightweight champion. He fearfully concealed his boxing from his parents, who were shocked to their core and to their roots when they found out his guilty secret . But when the saw all his banknotes earnings lightly flipping and flapping on his bed in the early evening breeze, they eagerly asked when he was going to fight again?!
The photos and illustrations are excellent defining beacons in Don Victor’s book, which pays a handsome tribute to the magnificent and pioneering life’s work, achievements and triumphs of Don Jose Sulaiman, who broke the Guinness record for four decades at the helm of a global sporting organization adorned by Green and Gold. Don Victor’s list of fifty all- time greats is a brilliantly thought out and cogently cataloged as a logical treatise. No wonder I don’t agree with some of it! When I beg to differ, he momentarily looks stern, pauses admonishingly, and then dissolves into his famous chuckle, slowly shaking his head.
What a book this is, and what a man wrote it! Hopefully there will soon be a version in English to compliment the Spanish language masterpiece. We are so proud and honored to be his friends. This genius of brainpower runs in the family. Don Victor’s daughter Claudia has landed a top managerial job in Abu Dhabi, the Capital of the United Arab Emirates, Don Victor has already joined her, his son in law and his two grandchildren there.
Our palpable loss in Mexico will be WBC Middle East’s tangible gain.