After vowing I would not buy the fight, there I was last Saturday night plunking down $40 to watch the HBO pay-for-view version of The Titanic, with Marco Antonio Barrera starring as The Iceberg. I knew it was going to be a disaster; with zero optimism, I hoped I was wrong. I forgot with whom I was dealing.
“In January of 1975, the World Boxing Council ordered Rafael Lovera of Lambare, Paraguay to fight Luis Estaba of Venezuela for the vacated light flyweight championship. At the time, the president of the WBC was Ramon Valesquez, a playground director in Mexico City who liked to be called “doctor.” (A year before, a stunned American fight official claimed to have witnessed Valesquez collect $20,000 in cash from a Bangkok promoter; the “doctor” blithely passed it off as a combination of sanction fees and fines.)
“Although no one in South America had ever heard of a Rafael Lovera, his record was cited by the WBC as 20-1-1. The WBC champion had been Franco Udella, a mediocre Italian boxer. When Valesques ordered Udella to defend his title again the cabalistic Lovera, he had refused, pleading illness. Valesquez stripped him.
“That’s when the “doctor” ordered the Lovera-Estabra fight for the vacated crown. Lovera was knocked out in the second round. That came as no surprise. It was the Paraguayan cab driver’s first pro fight. He never fought a second.”
I wrote those words in March of 1981. I was angry then; I am angry now. Nothing has changed, except the name of the president of the WBC. Today that office is held by Jose Sulaiman Chagnon, who is a master of the alphabet bandits’ Big Rule, the universal but unwritten rubric that states that no world boxing organization is required to follow any of its published rules when they get in the way of making a dollar.
As for the real regulations, the ones they are supposed to be following, forget about it. The various three-lettered cartels long ago stopped passing those out, even to their own members. In the fall of 2003, Lord Brooks of Tremorfa, Wales withdrew the British Boxing Board’s representative to the WBC (while still affiliated, the Brits are no longer connected to any of the main sanctioning bodies) on the grounds that there were too many difficulties in obtaining a copy of its rules, and because of Sulaiman’s insistence that the office of president carries with it the entitlement of autonomy.
In other words, Sulaiman feels that he can make things up as he goes along, something he does frequently, as in 1990 when, under pressure from a semi-hysterical King, he suspended James Douglas’ knockout of Mike Tyson in Tokyo until media outrage quickly forced him to back away from his untenable position. When King screams, Jose panics, and when King panics, Jose screams.
After watching Barrera dismantle Mzonke Fana in four minutes and 48 seconds, leaving the sorely equipped South African twitching on the deck from a right hand that almost decapitated him, I made a list of the folks who should be led away from the Don Haskins Center in chimerical cuffs and shackles. At the top, of course, was Sulaiman, El Presidente Para la Vida Más Un Día, with his pudgy puppet master’s hands on the strings of the WBC ratings committee, setting up an easy victim for his new best friend Barrera. Then in no particular order, came the HBO suits, who were aware enough of this fistic farce to withdraw their No. 1 telecast team of Larry, Moe and Curly; the Golden Boy, Oscar De La Hoya, who apparently needed a toothless, chinless opponent for the star of his Mexican Night in El Paso, and got one; and finally and equally as culpable, the incompetent clowns that run the boxing department for the Texas Department of Labor.
They took a human being, a father of two who had never fought anybody in the top 40, who was conned into thinking that he had a chance to win a world title, and put him in harm’s way, and except for Laurence Cole, a referee who had the good sense to stop what was becoming a stark and senseless beating, Mzonke Fana might have gone home to South Africa in a box. What price greed?
(Those who claim Fana should have been given a chance to get up should check the HBO rerun. After the stunning knockdown, the only things moving on Fana were his quivering hands held just above his thighs. Unlike the Romans in the Coliseum, we do not turn thumbs down on today’s gladiators. They might also take a look at Fana’s face during the minute’s rest after the first round; Private Eddie Slovik, executed for desertion to avoid hazardous duty in 1945, had the same look while U.S. Army MPs were tying him to a post in a woods near Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines, France.)
The whole El Paso scam was aimed at protecting a lucrative fourth fight between Barrera and Eric Morales, which Sulaiman will happily sanction; HBO Pay-Per-View will happily telecast; the Golden Boy (Barrera’s promoter) will happily promote; and the idiots from the Texas Dept. of Labor will happily watch on TV, which is about as close to a boxing match as they should be allowed anyway.
As insurance, although with Barerra one wonders why, they needed a soft touch as a mandatory and Sulaiman provided Fana, last year’s South African fighter of the year with a 22-2 record that proved as phony as a three-Rand bill. The last time Fana fought, before Barrera, he was dropped twice by Randy Suico, who was ranked 41st among the world’s super featherweights. Still, Fana, who comes armed with a jab and nothing else, survived to win a split-decision. He took 11 months to get over that beating before he fought again.
Suico was undefeated before losing to Fana, but his record had more potholes than a street in the Bronx. Three of the four guys he beat just before his loss to Fana had records of 0-1, 0-2 and 0-3. The fourth was Kazunori Fujita, who had won 16 of 19; Fujita’s victories came against guys who arrived in the ring on sushi plates.
Before Suico, Fana stopped Cristian Paz, an Argentine import whose 14-4 record was built on losing to the guys that could fight, and beating the ones that couldn’t. Paz was rated 112 in the world. Before Paz, there was Elvis Makama (10-1), a six-round fighter ranked 173rd in the world; Yuri Voronin (14-2-1), who fought 12 guys with no record, and is ranked No. 191; and Lazlo Bognar, who was 4-4 in his eight previous fights to Fana, and the four guys he defeated were 0-5, 2-2, 3-12-3 and 0-0. For some ungodly reason, Bognar is rated all the way up to (or down to) 69th. The guy that picked Fana’s opponents must have a day job in a cemetery.
Apparently, Sulaiman and the others also neglected to look at tapes of Fana, or they might have discovered that the son of a Khaleyetsha Township cop has never heard of lateral movement; his defense is as impregnable as was the Maginot Line; and if how to throw a jab was covered in the opening chapter of the boxing textbook that he studied, he obviously neglected to read any of the chapters that followed. Two jabs, or three, a combination do not make.
Other than a Shirley Cloete-designed jaw, I spotted no additional faults, but then there was not that much time. This is the opponent they found to put in with someone quite properly named the Baby Faced Assassin; a cruel puncher who had knocked out 41 of the 64 men he had faced; a four-time world champion who was shy just one title fight (21) of matching the 31-year-old Fana’s total victories. As Joe Leibling once wrote about Rocky Marciano: “He has the look of a Great Dane that has just heard the word bone.”
I remember an April night in 1981 when I sat drinking with Jose in the lounge in the lobby of the Hilton Hotel in New York City. We were both staying at the hotel, me because I was covering the late Teddy Brenner’s multi-million dollar suit against the WBC, Jose because he was the defendant.
Jose was drinking white wine; I was drinking Dewars neat. Several times during the evening, while Jose was defending himself against Brenner’s charges of continued WBC abuse, he repeated a phrase I have heard him use dozens of times over the years that I have known him: “No one has ever bought me so much as a cup of coffee.”
I recall he said that for the last time just before I paid the check for our drinks.
In fairness to Jose, he won that case against Brenner. I remember telling the former Madison Square Garden matchmaker later that if his lawyer had been any dumber they would have to water her twice a day. No matter. It was Jose and the WBC that got United States District Court Judge Charles Metzner’s judicial nod, and from the way the trial in Manhattan went, rightly so.
The worst part was Jose’s victory oration – a pontification of innocence that ended with his own beautification and seemed to last longer than the trial, which took 16 days. To paraphrase the queen in Hamlet, he doth protest too much, methinks.
And there was the June day in 1981, a day or so before Ray Leonard knocked out Ayub Kalule in Houston, when Jose and I met on the sidewalk outside of the Astrodome. Two months earlier, I had written a story on the machinations of the WBC, which you can read in a minute. After protesting his innocence in all matters illegal, Sulaiman told me that if I thought any boxer was in the ratings that did not belong, he would remove him. And if there were any fighter that I thought belonged in the ratings, he would add him.
I remembered that Kenny Jones, a wee Welshman who still writes for the Independent of London, had told me about a friend of his who was in Saudi Arabia coaching one of the royal princes, a 135-pounder, in the fine art of self-defense.
“Jesus, Jose,” I said, “I can tell you right now that there is an undefeated lightweight fighting out of Saudi Arabia that you guys have totally ignored.”
“What’s his name?” said Jose. “Where should we rank him, number three?”
I told Sulaiman that I would have to get his name, and that three was a little high. “Perhaps eight or nine,” I said.
Returning to the hotel, I called Jones in his room. I told him of my conversation with Sulaiman. “Get the name of the prince,” I said. “Hell, let’s get him ranked.”
Laughing, Jones said he would call his friend the next day. At breakfast the next morning, Jones arrived in the hotel coffee shop with a dour look. “Whatever you do,” he said, “do not get the prince ranked. My friend said you would get him killed. The prince has never had a fight, not even as an amateur, because my friend is afraid he will get hurt. He’s horrible. If we get him ranked, the Saudi’s will want him to fight, he’ll get murdered, and my friend said his head will wind up in a basket.”
I told Jose the guy had retired.
* * *
The WBC has, without a doubt, the most prestigious ratings in the boxing world. Over 20 people from 16 countries around the world form the Ratings Committee in order to have world representation. WBC title fights have proven to be at a high standard of quality and competition and this proves that the ratings of the WBC are Number One. (World Boxing Council website, April 2005)