You have recently been elected as President of the WBC following the death of your father. What are your immediate priorities?
Continuity is our thinking. This has been a very strange and difficult time to go from a family situation to an organisation situation. It’s a confusing time but I will always be the son of Jose Sulaiman and my main goal is to keep the name of my father alive and to carry out the same methods to make boxing better, and safer.
He had a great ability to adjust to the times. He would look for rules that made the most of the advancing technology, with replays, and open scoring. He left a variety of programmes running, and over the coming years we will follow that path.
You mention the video replay that you currently use, during a fight, to review the cause of cuts, and fouls. It is not a new concept, but it is still seen as experimental within the boxing world. How will this progress?
It is being used all over the world but there are some jurisdictions that do not allow it. Other sports use video replays – football, tennis, cricket, baseball – so boxing should too. When an event is broadcast, the viewer has the best view – because they can see the replays. Officials in other sports get this view too so why not boxing? You cannot hide from the millions who watch on television. For us, it has been working very well. It has changed the outcome of many fights. It allows the officials to see if a cut has been caused by a punch or a headbutt – and that can be the difference between the right man winning or losing.
I realise the Carl Froch-George Groves fight was not a WBC-sanctioned bout, but it had a highly controversial finish. Can you foresee a situation where a referee’s decision to stop a fight is reversed when replays suggest a fighter is fit to continue?
It’s a difficult area. When the referee makes a call based on their criteria, it is different to making a call based on action. If there’s a punch after the bell, a low blow, a headbutt, you can review it. But when you are evaluating a referee’s judgement on stopping a fight, it becomes difficult. I don’t think you can reverse a referee’s decision because it will open a whole world of new problems.
One of the biggest problems in boxing is the amount of ‘world’ champions per division from various governing bodies. Can the WBC, from their perceived platform as the most powerful governing body in the sport, do more to ensure titles are unified?
We support unification matches when there is a good reason for unification matches, when they are for the good of the sport. We do not support them when they are done with an agenda. There have been cases when a fighter, or a promoter, will engineer a unification match-up because they want to avoid a mandatory contender.
We have participated in several tournaments to unify divisions. The problem is that each organisation has their own rules regarding mandatory commitments, regarding unification. That can get in the way. You also have to consider the fighter. If he has unified titles he then has to pay sanctioning fees to three or four organisations. It is a lot of money and they are not always willing to do that.
But we have discussed having a champion’s tournament, where one world champion per division is crowned after beating all other organisation’s champions. The governing bodies would retain their champions through all that, but only the winner of the tournament could be called ‘world’ champion – the rest would then just be called ‘XYZ’ [ie WBC or WBA] champion. However, that would take all organisations to work together. We are willing to do so.
There was recently a situation when Vitali Klitschko relinquished his WBC heavyweight title. Even though it goes against your policies, this would have been a wonderful opportunity for you to make a statement and let Wladimir – who is clearly the leader in the division – fight for the vacant title. Did you consider this?
Yes. But the issue here is the same. He has three other titles [WBA, IBF, WBO] and he is committed to three straight mandatory defences, and for a vacant championship, we cannot have a champion be a challenger. Also, there was already a process in place for Bermane Stiverne to fight Vitali. But there was a situation with Vitali’s country [Ukraine], which we support, and he was named as our ‘Champion Emeritus’ which means that at any time he wants to return, he can immediately fight for our championship. So if we put Wladimir as champion we would be betraying Vitali because he said he wants to be in a position to fight for the title in the future. Obviously, he would not fight his brother. So there are two things here – one is our loyalty to Vitali, and the other is Wladimir’s commitments to the other organisations.
Moving forward, though, surely the WBC would want the best fighter in the heavyweight division, the sport’s banner division, wearing their belt. Without question that fighter is Wladimir. Are you saying the situation with his brother rules Wladimir out of fighting for the WBC title in the future?
We are open to this in the future. We admire Wladimir and we want to honour him. We spoke to him and Vitali because, truthfully, Wladimir has expressed a desire to wear the green belt and the only the reason that has not happened is because of his brother. We have a special honorary belt that we intend to give to Wladimir because of what he has achieved. And one day, of course, we would love to see Wladimir as WBC champion. We will support Wladimir in any way we can, and we will discuss things with Vitali should a situation arise where his brother can fight for our belt.
Another criticism of the WBC is the amount of titles you award. Perhaps the WBA are the worst offender with three champions per division, but the WBC’s silver title adds confusion too. What was wrong with the old system of just having eliminators, as opposed to silver title fights?
The silver championship needs to be clarified. It is not intended to be a world championship. In other sports, like football and baseball, there are separate leagues that allow teams to work their way up to the top league. The silver title is intended for fighters who are not yet at that highest level, but are fighting to prove they belong there.
We cannot hide the power that comes from TV networks and that power can mean that certain fighters have to wait for a long period of time for their opportunities. The silver title is used by fighters to become well known in their region, and for them to prove they are ready for championship status. It’s part of a process – Julio Cesar Chavez Jnr was a silver champion, Canelo Alvarez, Abner Mares. James DeGale is a silver champion. Tony Bellew’s silver title allowed him to move upwards and fight for our world title. We believe it is stepping stone, not a world championship. It merely says they are one division lower than the world champion.
But don’t the world rankings identify the level of a contender? If a fighter is ranked at No.3 or 4, for example, surely they don’t need a silver title to indicate where they stand. The likes of Chavez and Alvarez would have gone on to fight for the world title, whether the silver title was around or not.
They took that title and they made three or four defences in 12-round fights that prepared them for the higher stage. It’s like the Champions League in football – teams have to qualify for that and it makes the sport greater.
I understand why people criticise but we do not want the silver championship to be confused with our world championship. It is called the ‘world silver championship’ because anyone in the world – unlike our regional titles – can compete for it.
AIBA are making huge steps in the boxing world. Are they a concern to an organisation like the WBC?
It’s a huge concern because they are threatening the integrity of the sport, worldwide. We have a lot of information that leads us to believe they are a threat to the sport in many countries. They took away the word ‘amateur’, so they are effectively saying there is no more amateur boxing. How can they say that? What about all the amateur programmes in the world? They use the Olympics as the only thing to grab and they are monopolising who can be selected for the Olympics: Only those signed with AIBA can compete in the Olympics. It’s a whole terrible mess.
Boxing should be about opportunities for all, and AIBA’s policies do not seem to support this.
The WBC has financially helped retired fighters in the past. How will this move forward? Are there any plans to create a retirement fund for all?
We have a fund. We raised $1million that was deposited in the Nevada Community Foundation – independent from the WBC – and they handle that money. Every month fighters from around the world are getting that money to help with food, rent, aid. But a generic mandatory fund for all boxers is far more complex situation.
You have fighters that compete for a year and then retire. You have fighters that compete for 20 years, there are fighters that compete for very little money, fighters that compete for fortunes. We have tried to get fighters to put money away in funds for the future and none have proved successful. Too often, fighters that are making money do not want to save. They listen before they make money, and then they listen after they’ve spent it all, but while they are making money, they do not want to hear about being responsible.
But we are going to implement a mandatory course for all fighters – and it will take time – that will educate fighters about nutrition, dangers of making weight, drug and alcohol awareness, future employment, and financial advice. The courses will be led by former fighters who have experienced all these negatives. It’s an ambitious plan, but we see it as a must. If fighters do not take this course, they will not be allowed to fight. We want to ensure that fighters have bright futures.
Suggestions of corruption have always been rife in boxing. To your knowledge, have the WBC ever accepted money to improve a fighter’s ranking or control the outcome of a fight?
Absolutely never, never, whatsoever. Anyone who says that knows nothing about the WBC, their members, or their president. My father had 38 years as president and that was for a reason. No one has ever been able to say that my father owes a cup of coffee to anybody. The integrity that he had is all proven by facts, and testimonies. We recently were on the receiving end of a horrible statement by Tyson Fury and we addressed it immediately – You prove it. You prove what you’re saying or you apologise publicly and retract it, otherwise we will look into it. Anyone that says we have favouritism in our rankings, in our fights, or any kind of situation, then they should put it forward. It’s impossible. We fight against this kind of thing. We fight against the common belief that there is still a darkness in boxing – those dark smoke filled rooms of the 1940s and 1950s of the Mafia. We no longer want to hear that boxing is corrupt or boxing is fixed. I have never in my life seen anyone be offered money to fix a fight.
There are still a lot of people who believe this is how things are, and I don’t see anybody, anybody, doing that.