By Ricardo Castillo Original Print Publication: July, 2008
Despite the fact that he's a Mexican celebrity and has spent thirty-three years as president of the World Boxing Council, where he’s sanctioned over one thousand world championship fights, José Sulaimán still cracks a fresh, simple smile at the slightest provocation.
His memories would fill several volumes, but he is not writing them down. He prefers to live one day at a time as head of an organization that boasts 164 member nations.
How did a gentle person--and gentleman --like Sulaimán become involved with pugilism’s largest and most influential sanctioning body? Since he was a child, he says he has loved boxing. He even became an amateur puncher in his native city of Valles, Tamaulipas, but when he got his nose and jaw busted in a couple of bouts, he retired.
Sulaimán comes from a notable family of Lebanese descent. Not surprisingly, his parents opposed his ambitions in the ring, so instead he became a boxing judge at age sixteen. He moved to Mexico City where he immediately got involved with the bustling boxing scene. In 1963, he helped found the World Boxing Council, a body created by eleven nations fed up with “the absolute monopoly” of the US National Boxing Association, which at the time controlled the sanctioning of world championship matches.
In 1975, Sulaimán, who makes his living manufacturing electronic gauges for labs and hospitals, became the WBC's fifth president. The first was a Brit who resigned within a week, followed by famous Mexican novelist Luis Spota. Spota, says Sulaimán, liked boxing but did not know much about organization. Justiniano Montano from the Philippines came next. After him, Sulaimán´s mentor and teacher Ramón Velázquez assumed the post. When Velázquez passed away, Sulaimán took over and that is really the beginning of the story.
"Velázquez was a great Mexican boxing man: most of what I know in boxing I learned from Mr. Velázquez," says Sulaiman.
The relevance of the WBC lies in its impressive history of championship fights, beginning with its glory days when it sanctioned the two controversial bouts between Cassius Clay (who would become Mohammed Ali) and Sonny Liston, up to the marquee matchups between Oscar de la Hoya and Floyd Mayweather.
Between these extravaganzas, there have been fights in all divisions all over the world. For the record, Sulaimán always sits ringside. In Mexico City last June 17 he attended the Edgar Sosa- Takaishi Kunishige mini-flyweight world championship fight, which Sosa won in eight rounds.
But at his advanced age, which Don José won’t reveal but must be way over seventy, the question is whether he’s ready to throw in the towel.
“Well, maybe,” he says.
There will be another convention of the World Boxing Council next November when Sulaimán may or may not be re-elected.
“I have until then to think about it.”