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The WBC bite back

WBC
Matt Christie voices his concerns about the new bridgerweight division and the multiple world championships to a passionate Mauricio Sulaiman

THE WORLD BOXING COUNCIL is never afraid of making changes to the sport of boxing nor of the stick that comes their way as a consequence.

They were the sanctioning body who reduced 15-rounders to 12. They demanded that weigh-ins take place the day before major bouts. They introduced the strawweight, super-middleweight and cruiserweight divisions, among others.

Arguably the most recognisable and authoritative of all sanctioning bodies, the WBC certainly try to lead by example. It would be unfair to not give them their due, too: They are perhaps the most safety-conscious of the ‘big four’ and though it can’t be deemed a complete success, their Clean Boxing Program – spearheaded by president Mauricio Sulaiman – was the biggest step taken by anyone holding a position of power in the sport towards solving boxing’s (probably unsolvable) problem with performance enhancing drugs.

They take pride in being transparent yet even with a window on what they do, some of the procedures they put in place, and proposals they make, baffle both industry insiders and fans.

Three months ago, at their virtual Convention, the WBC announced they would be introducing a new weight class. One that would sit between the cruiserweight and heavyweight divisions with a weight limit of 224lbs. Initial plans to change the existing cruiserweight limit from 200 to 190lbs have been shelved after they recognised the short-term chaos that would cause. The plan remains to eventually bring down the cruiserweight ceiling to 190lbs in an effort to shorten the admittedly big jump from 175. That was little consolation to the many fans who opposed a ‘super-cruiserweight’ division.

Critics fear the new weight class will simply allow the WBC to generate more income from sanctioning fees while messing with the rich history of the heavyweight division and diluting a cruiserweight class that has at last found its feet after being invented in 1980. Boxing News’ view on the weight class isn’t quite as harsh as that but we do worry that there are far more pressing issues the WBC should be focusing on. One only has to glance at the infuriating situation at lightweight – which has three WBC ‘world’ championships in play – as evidence of that.

But the sanctioning body will carry on regardless with plans for the new weight class. It will be called, bizarrely, bridgerweight (named after six-year-old Bridger Walker who saved his younger sister from a dog attack in Wyoming).

In truth, the name of the division is the least of fans’ concerns. They want answers on the policies and thought processes, on the multiple championships and why on earth a bridgerweight division is required right now.

One can criticise the WBC and Sulaiman for all manner of things but, at least in Boxing News’ recent experience, he’s always been on hand to respond to difficult questions – even if we don’t always like, or understand, the answers.

WBC Sulaiman

Why are you introducing this weight class now when throughout history there have been huge weight discrepancies in the heavyweight division and examples of ‘smaller’ fighters winning the title there?

This topic has been presented to the WBC on numerous occasions by different parties. I remember Kathy Duva presenting a paper at the NABF convention about how the heavyweights were changing due to the natural human growth.

If you look at the heavyweight champion in 1909, Tommy Burns, he weighed at 168lbs. You look at Jack Dempsey and Joe Louis, and great heavyweight champions, and 85 per cent were below 224lbs. In the 21st century, only one [WBC] champion has been below 224 and that is Deontay Wilder. Several people have looked into it and we made one change, 10 years ago, when we increased the cruiserweight limit from 190 to 200lbs. We have since carried out a lot more research and the numbers are proof that something that can be done. The heavyweight division is the ultimate division and shouldn’t be touched but there is an area below which we believe will create great activity.

Have any fighters actually said they wanted this weight division?

Yes of course. I don’t know if you can say there was a petition to create this weight division but there have been many situations and quotes from fighters that lead to this decision. We’re sure that when time moves on that we will see great fights in this division. I feel strong representing the WBC with this. This is not my decision, or my voice, this is the voice of the whole world and the decision the board of governors have taken after looking at the requests and the data.

You say it’s the whole world but the reaction to this decision is unquestionably a negative one. I know how much you care for the sport. How bothersome is it for you to be subjected to these levels of criticism and do you listen to it?

I am used this. When my father [Jose Sulaiman] changed 15-round fights to 12 in 1982, he was booed at Caesars Palace. Our position is not to be a celebrity or to be popular. Our position is to look at the sport and make the changes, the adjustments, the protocols and the procedures that provide safety and make changes for the better.

Any change, any new procedure, that we implement is going to get resistance. That’s human nature, nobody likes change. I accept it. It’s part of the process. I ignore any attacks on a personal level or those who do so without any reasoning. I do not care for them. But I have received many comments from people I respect, we always take them on board. We are only trying to do something good. We are not trying to hurt anyone. There is no motives other than creating fair competition.

How will you populate the bridgerweight rankings?

We’re going to come up with the rankings in December. We may do a reduced number of 20 or 30. We’re talking to a number of cruiserweights and heavyweights.

The critics will say that the bridgerweight division provides yet another belt in a sport that already has far too many. Presuming that Luke Campbell vs Ryan Garcia gets rescheduled, the WBC will recognise three world champions at lightweight. Isn’t that a more pressing concern than introducing another weight class?

That has nothing to do with this. It’s a different topic. I have extensively explained how we came to that situation at lightweight and, if you allow me, I will do so again. Mikey Garcia was the champion. There were mandatory fights ordered that didn’t take place involving Luke Campbell, Javier Fortuna, Devin Haney. Then Vasiliy Lomachenko petitioned to fight for the title and he did that against Campbell. Haney fought for an Interim title as a solution to the process. When Haney got injured, a fight was ordered between Campbell and Fortuna. Then the pandemic came. They demanded that they fight for a title because it had already been agreed. So we said we’d do it for the Interim title. It’s part of a whole resolution of many actions that took place over a two or three year span.

We are not having Interim titles in every division. We are not having Franchise champions in every division, it is one concept for very specific reasons. I will continue to answer any questions and try to clarify what we are doing. I am very proud of the lightweight division. We got Lopez-Lomachenko, Haney-Gamboa, we’ve got Campbell-Garcia. These are great matches, it’s like a tournament that will lead to other great matches.
If you’re having to repeatedly explain something that’s probably because it doesn’t make sense to the people you’re trying to explain it to. It is a little confusing.

It is not clear because the people don’t want it to be clear. They want to keep attacking and say we’re doing this for money. That’s not true. The facts should speak for themselves but nobody looks at the facts. We have great fights happening. ­­Due to the Franchise championship, we were able to do Lomachenko-Lopez otherwise it would not have been made. Due to the Franchise championship, Haney fought Gamboa, he made $1.2m for himself. Due to this whole scenario we will see Campbell-Garcia. People should be looking forward to the fights instead. If people want to blame and crucify me, okay. But look at the fights and enjoy the fights. See how boxing is generating interest in several areas of the world when we are having such a horrible time with the pandemic. People are always so pessimistic. But we have been active and we’ve had great fights and we have great fights ahead. I am excited about it.

Back to the bridgerweight division. It is going ahead regardless of what the critics say…

Tell me why not. Tell me why there shouldn’t be this division.

I can understand the logic behind it. But the jump to heavyweight has always been a big one, whether it’s from light-heavy or cruiser. My point is there’s more pressing concerns in the sport to deal with right now.

I appreciate that. But help me. Why not? The cruiserweight has fed the heavyweight division with great fighters in the past like Holyfield and Usyk. What is wrong with creating a weight class that allows fighters to compete safely? It’s an area of competition. Fighters at bridgerweight are eligible to fight at heavyweight as well. We have some heavyweights who fight at under 224lbs and they have said, ‘No, I want to remain in the heavyweight rankings.’

How many fighters have said they’re happy to be taken out of the heavyweight rankings and would rather fight in the bridgerweight division?

We are in the process. You will see the rankings in December. I don’t want to anticipate anything yet. There are heavyweights, like Usyk, who want to stay in the division, he wants that big fight with Anthony Joshua. Of course, he wants that, he deserves that. Wilder wants Fury [again]. That is doable, that’s okay. We know that smaller heavyweights can beat bigger heavyweights. We are simply creating a comfort zone and I’m very sure it’s going to be attractive. But we will see.

That’s true. The reaction to this is similar to the reaction when the WBC created the super-middleweight division and the cruiserweight division. Both weight classes took a long time to generate respect but eventually they did. So I accept we might be wrong about this division too.

I appreciate that position. I just want that open-mindedness. Of course we have made mistakes and we recognise that. But it is a fact that any change we put forward is met with resistance from the ‘line’. Nobody said one word since we announced it at the convention. Nobody contacted the WBC to object, we put it out in the news, nobody whatsoever had one single negative comment or counter-proposal to it.

I understand that. Perhaps the reason for the criticism now is that nobody has been calling for this division but they have been calling for other things – like one champion per weight class – for a long time and there hasn’t been much progress.

It’s very romantic to want one champion per weight class. We’re open to that. Let’s do a tournament, all the champions fight, then there’s one champion and it’s controlled by a Board or whatever. We are open to that but it’s not reality. It’s the WBC, the WBA, the IBF and the WBO who have recognition worldwide. But then you have the IBO, the WBU, the WBF, it’s endless. The WBC can only do what the WBC can do…

That’s the crux of my point. The WBC can only do what they’re responsible for and a start would be just having one WBC champion per division. I know from the many conversations we’ve had – and I must stress the respect I have for you – that you don’t like what the WBA do with ‘Super’ and ‘Regular’ titles but with the introduction of the Franchise championship, the WBC are in danger of going down that road.

No. We do not have multiple champions in each division. We have a situation at lightweight which I have thoroughly explained. We have a champion in recess, we only have an Interim championship at lightweight. We only have Franchise championships at lightweight and super-middleweight with Canelo. That’s it. But you get one case and it explodes. They grab that one case and everything is bad. It’s not like that. I am happy to talk to you about every division, I will give you all the time you want and I will explain every single thing in every division. I am open to any scrutiny but when you take one thing and generalise, that’s when it’s wrong. We do not have multiple champions in the WBC. We have a great tool to promote the good things in the sport. Look at the unique belts we do. They’re artwork. The Cinco de Mayo belt, that is a celebration, it’s not a championship. What is wrong with that? We promote boxing and if while doing that, we get grandmas and kids to see boxing, that’s good.

But there is a continual resistance to what we do. I don’t care. I have never taken one penny from boxing. I have never taken or done a wrong thing. I have never hurt anyone intentionally with a decision. I sleep very well at night.

That’s good to hear. The reason I always put difficult questions to you is because I know you will always respond. It’s appreciated.

I appreciate those difficult questions otherwise I cannot express our situation and policies. Otherwise the generalisations and negativity will continue.

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