The often maligned World Boxing Council celebrated the first year of its acclaimed WBCares program at the Gotham Comedy Club in Manhattan on Tuesday, October 9.
The concept for WBCares was brought to the attention of WBC president Jose Sulaiman by the inimitable Jill Diamond, who conceived it and serves as its chairperson.
“The WBCares program is about bringing happiness to kids by giving them hope and strength through our champions,” said Diamond, whose heart is as big as her smile. “We will continue to work towards a better world.”
What began as a national effort to bring members of the boxing community to shelters, orphanages and hospitals, is now global in scope. Over 160 countries are currently involved in this lofty altruistic endeavor.
The WBCares mission statement reads: “Boxing has no borders; we don’t care about skin colors, religions, politics, flags or languages. We all speak the same language. We all understand perfectly its universal voice. We all chat with our fists, with our hearts, with our souls. That’s what boxing is all about.”
Scores of boxing prospects, contenders and champions, including Wayne McCullough, John Stracey, Genaro Hernandez, Alex Ramos, Gerry Cooney, Vitali Klitschko, Lennox Lewis, Kostya Tszyu, Erik Morales, Floyd Mayweather Jr., Azumah Nelson, Richie Woodhall, Luisito Espinosa, Jeff Fenech, Felix Trinidad, John Duddy, Oscar De La Hoya, Junior Jones, Iran Barkley, Maureen Shea, Emile Griffith, Juan LaPorte, Sharon Anyos, Bernard Hopkins and Suszannah Warner have served as goodwill ambassadors on WBCares excursions.
Among the boxing luminaries in attendance for the anniversary celebration, which included live entertainment by world class comedians, were Sulaiman, Diamond, Warner, Barkley, LaPorte, Butch Lewis, Michael Spinks, Lou DiBella, Eileen Olszewski, Pete Spanakos, Junior Jones, Arthur Mercante Sr., Matt Godfrey, Andrey Tsurkan, Omar Sheika, Dmitriy Salita, Delvin Rodriguez, David Vasquez, Dennis Milton, Monte Barrett, Brian Adams, Elvir Muriqi, Giovanni Lorenzo, Jill Emery, Melissa “Hurricane” Hernandez, Belinda Laracuente, Alicia Ashley, Chika Nakamura, Meldrick Taylor, trainer Nelson Cuevas, referees Mike Ortega and Benjy Esteves Jr., cutman “Big” George Mitchell, actor Chuck Zito, and Grant Philips, the owner of Grant boxing gear.
Those being honored were Sulaiman, the honorary chairman, as well as white collar legend and philanthropist John E. Oden; Alan Shatz of New York Foundling; Sean Connelly, the director of sports for the New York Police Athletic League (PAL); Pat Russo, the citywide director of boxing for the PAL; Chris Mazzilli, the owner and founder of the Gotham Comedy Club; Gary Stretch, a former WBC international super welterweight champion who is now an actor; photographer Shraddha Borawake; and Barkley and Warner, neither of whom have missed one event they were asked to attend in the New York area.
“I’ll always do something for the kids, I’ll never say no,” said a visibly nervous Warner who is extremely comfortable in the ring but freely admits to “trembling” and “shaking” when forced to speak publicly.
It is amazing that someone as elegant and talented as she is would be fearful of anything.
“I remember when I was young, I looked up to all the stars in the neighborhood,” said the likeable Barkley, who always seems to be in a good mood.
“When you grow up you know the only stars are in the sky….. and they ain’t coming down. So it’s a blessing for me to be there for the children.”
Oden, the principal of Alliance Bernstein, L.P., a global management and research firm, is the ultimate white collar success story. The Texas native began boxing in middle age in order to offset the stress of his immensely challenging day job.
Fighting as “The Pecos Kid” in deference to his Lone Star State roots, he won many titles and much acclaim in the ring.
Not only did he regain his physical well-being, he is the author of “White Collar Boxing” and founder of the John E. Oden Boxing Academy.
He has also been instrumental in bringing boxing to the public school system in the Bronx, and his philanthropic efforts on behalf of disenfranchised youngsters are a worldwide prototype.
“Parents should let their kids’ box,” he said. “It combines athletics and academics, which is a very powerful combination.”
Shatz has been associated with the New York Foundling for eight years, and in his current position as the Manager of Volunteers and Community Relations for the past four. The Foundling is a non-profit organization whose sole purpose is to provide assistance to poor families and children.
Shatz has generated more than $1 million in donations and worked with Sulaiman and Diamond to bring WBCares to The Foundling, where the boxing ambassadors were welcomed with open arms by scores of people in desperate need of a lift.
Shatz’s message to families and children in need is clear, and he realizes the importance of that message coming from fighters because of the tremendous personal sacrifices and commitment they are forced to make to be successful.
Moreover, many of the most successful boxers have come from equally inauspicious beginnings.
“No matter what you want to be, even a pro athlete, finish your education,” he said. “Take care of your bodies and stay away from crime and gangs.”
That is the same message implored by Connelly and Russo. “The PAL shows kids that they have a choice, an option of what to do with their lives,” said Connelly. “And WBCares reinforces that for them. Meeting all these great boxers also creates a lifetime of memories for them.”
Fighting professionally from 1985-93, Stretch, a native of England, won the WBC International light middleweight title while compiling a career record of 23-2 (14 KOs). He unsuccessfully challenged then-undefeated Chris Eubank for the WBO middleweight title, losing by sixth round TKO in April 1991.
He later found success as an actor, as well as the boyfriend of ageless Hollywood starlet Raquel Welch. At one point he had lent his championship belt to a promoter, and never got it back. The WBC replaced his missing belt at this grand event.
Presenting him with the new belt was Mercante Sr., who served as the referee when Stretch won the original from Ramon Angel Alegre in London in February 1990.
Borawake is a 24-year-old native of India who has developed an affinity for boxing. She has done lots of work for the WBC, mainly photographing female boxers in glorious black and white.
She has also launched an accessory line called “Devils May Care” with Jamie Greenberg, a classmate from the International Center of Photography, from which Borawake graduated in 2006.
Sulaiman, a septuagenarian cancer survivor, was absolutely gleeful throughout the entire evening. “Many people call boxing violent and bloody,” he said. “I see it as a friendly hand extended to the poor people of the world; those with no opportunities, those rejected by society. Boxers have always been my heroes, my idols.”
Those feelings were somewhat reiterated by nationwide radio host Joey Reynolds, who emceed part of the evening before heading off to host his live show on WOR.
“Many people say that God helps those who help themselves, but God also helps those who help others who help themselves,” said Reynolds. “That’s what’s going on here tonight.”