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The Day Which Changed Boxing

Glax0r's Photo Glax0r 05 Dec 2014

By James Blears

December 5th 1975 is just shy of 40 years ago, and that key moment in history forever changed boxing, improving so many boxers’ lives.

On that day, half a lifetime ago, Jose Sulaiman was unanimously elected President of the World Boxing Council, which was urgently seeking decisive leadership to guide a cohesive way forward into the modern era.  

Don Jose was confonted by what he’s described as a sport which was often savage. Serious injuries and deaths were far more commonplace than they are today. Also, the spectre of elderly former boxers: “Talking to walls,” was not uncommon.

Anyone who knew Jose Sulaiman well appreciated that he was a compassionate man who deeply loved boxing, and was absolutely determined to improve its safety, decade by decade, year by year and fight by fight.

Safety for Don Jose was absolutely paramount. Years ago on a trip to Hidalgo State in Mexico, he witnessed a boxing match in which a virtual novice was being handed a real pasting by a much more experienced boxer. Don Jose passionately urged a hesitant referee to halt the action, to prevent serious injury. Backing up his verbal entreaties and showing his urgent concern he banged loudly on the ring apron with his right hand. After the belated stoppage, he went straight over to the badly shaken youngster to insure he was OK.

In Don Jose’s era as President, championship fights were reduced from 15 rounds to 12, and all other organizations followed that lead. Anyone who yet doubts the wisdom of this should see the recording of the final round of Larry Holmes against Ken Norton in 1978. Both men were way beyond exhaustion, and were fighting on the dregs of pure instinct and gasping plus grasping at straws of utter raw courage. It was a so brave but frighteningly disturbing sight to see.

Three years earlier Muhammad Ali described his final fight against Joe Frazier as the nearest thing to death he’d experieced. Joe, who’s both eyes were almost swollen shut, wasn’t allowed to come out for round fifteen by coach Eddie Futch. Shortly after wearily raising his right arm in victory, Ali briefly collapsed on to the canvass in the searing humidity.

These, and many other fights like them, had come within a hair’s breadth of tragedy. Other scheduled 15-rounders resulted in far worse.

Someone needed to grasp the nettle and to have the mettle to reduce the rounds. In spite of the welter of criticism and the inevitable fallout, Jose Sulaiman had the guts to do just that. 15 became 12!

The Jimmy Garcia tragedy in 1995 crystalized the urgent need to change the entire system of weigh-ins. The weigh-in on the day of the fight meant that many boxers were starving themselves and then further dehydrating by not drinking liquids in a desperate attempt to somehow reach the weight. Not only has the WBC ruled that the weigh-in is 24 hours before the bout, but it’s established a 30-day and a seven day weigh-in, to insure that boxers gradually shed the required weight in a proper, safe, graduated and regulated way.

Jimmy Garcia shed too much too late, and it greatly weakened him. On May 6th of that year, his lost his WBC featherweight fight to Gabriel Ruelas after collapsing in his corner in the 11th round. Although a neurosurgeon operated within 35 minutes, it wasn’t possible for Jimmy to be saved and his ventalator was disconnected thirteen days later. The WBC has moved to try and prevent any such scenario like this ever happening again.

Great champion Daniel Zaragoza summed it up by saying to Don Jose that the 24-hour rule had allowed him to go to bed and sleep the night before a fight, whereas in the past he’d been sleepless and tormented by a raging thirst.

Many eye injuries have been averted since the WBC insisted that the thumb be attached to the main part of the boxing glove.

Concussions caused by a felled fighter banging his/her head on the canvas have been prevented by the inclusion of the fourth ring rope.

Life insurance is now the norm for WBC Championship fights, and Don Jose was a pioneer of a fund for retired boxers who’ve fallen on hard times. Many more in dire need have also been helped.

The WBC established a Medical Committee, and Congresses have been held. It’s also funded medical research at UCLA into sports related injuries. Drug testing has been established and is being developed as well as refined.

Instant replay using broadcast technology is an important innovation, as is announced scores after four and eight rounds, and computerized scoring, which is constantly being improved.

The WBC also championed Women’s Boxing and this year organized the first ever Women’s Boxing Convention, which was in Playa Del Carmen.

Scoring a fight was taken out of the hands of a referee, to insure that he/she can fully concentrate on the fight at hand, rather than be totting up the fighters’ perforance round by round.

Seminars for referees, judges, ringside doctors, supervisors and other officials are constantly ongoing for the sake of vigilence, alertness and professional standards, which must be maintained and further improved.  

Even a man who packed three lifetimes into 82 years wasn’t able to bring all of his many ambitions to fruition. Don Jose dreamed of a Boxing World Cup to develop the fledgling talent which is the very future of our Sport. It will become a reality!

The Jose Sulaiman I knew was a dynamo and the very hub and epicenter of ongoing change. He was never content to sit back and relax in the glow of his achievments. He never stopped thinking of ways in which he could develop and improve boxing.

The Don Jose I knew also inspired the deepest and most widespread loyalty, worldwide. In 1963, the WBC was founded with just 11 affiliate nations. Today that number has increased to 164. Jose Sulaiman himself termed loyalty: “As a sacred human quality.”

The Don Jose I knew took a lead and a constant stance against the utter bankrupt evil of apartheid in South Africa and wherever else racism reared its ugly, obscene head.

When I think of Jose Sulaiman Chagnon on this landmark of an anniversary, I and many others say a prayer to thank God for his life and to respect his memory, to honor his immense and lasting contribution to boxing, which has come so very far since December 5th, but still has yet further to go.

The Prayer of St Francis of Assisi is so apt. Part of it says:
“Lord makes us the instruments of your peace,
Where there is hatred let us sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is discord, union,
Where there is doubt, faith,
Where there is despair, hope,
Where there is darkness, light,
Where there is sadness, joy.”

Vatoloco's Photo Vatoloco 05 Dec 2014

Thats great but he was also at fault for all the idiotic sanctioning fees and different versions of titles.

philrudd's Photo philrudd 06 Dec 2014

Ask Joey Gamache how he likes the 24-hour weigh-in rule.

rayajr's Photo rayajr 06 Dec 2014

View Postphilrudd, on 06 December 2014 - 12:23 PM, said:

Ask Joey Gamache how he likes the 24-hour weigh-in rule.
Did he win his lawsuit?

The Akbar One's Photo The Akbar One 06 Dec 2014

Sulaimon was also extremely crooked.

philrudd's Photo philrudd 08 Dec 2014

View Postrayajr, on 06 December 2014 - 04:48 PM, said:

Did he win his lawsuit?

He did - though to be fair, the lawsuit was regarding improper conduct at the weigh-in, not the weigh-in rule itself: