By Jeff Zimmerman
Fightnews caught up with WBC President Mauricio Sulaiman this past weekend as he was in Las Vegas to support the 4th annual Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame Induction Weekend. The two day event was held at Caesars Palace, where many of boxing’s legendary fights took place, including The Fan Man fight that included one of this year’s inductees, Riddick “Big Daddy” BFowe, in the second fight of his classic trilogy with Evander Holyfield. Also inducted was woman’s boxing pioneer Christy “The Coal Miner’s Daughter” Martin, the electric Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini, Pernell “Sweet Pea” Whitaker who is arguably the greatest defensive fighter of all time, Nevada’s first world champion Freddie Little and Mexican great Ricardo “Finito” Lopez who made 22 title defenses at strawweight plus several other contributors to the sweet science in the state of Nevada.
Photo: Jeff Zimmerman
Sulaiman gave insight on his association with the Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame and shared his thoughts on the inductees, many of which won WBC titles during their career. He discussed the role Muhammad Ali played in shaping the WBC and meeting his idol Sugar Ray Leonard as a child at his home. Leonard was on hand to pay tribute to The Greatest during the ceremony. Sulaiman shared fond memories of Caesars Palace as an iconic boxing venue, the greatness of Lonnie Ali and the importance of boxing hall of fames to preserve the legacy of the fighters.
Your thoughts on being here as President of the WBC in Las Vegas at Caesars Palace supporting some of your former champions being inducted such as Ricardo Lopez and Pernell “Sweet Pea” Whitaker into the Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame?
I’m very, very happy, honored and excited for this event. When people are recognized for what they did and honored for their legacy for eternity for the Hall of Fame, that’s the dream of anyone who does any particular activity in their life. For these boxers, the honorees to be inducted has to be one of the most important days of their life and just to be here with Sugar Ray Leonard to see so many champions that are around getting recognized and inducted is very special for them.
How did the WBC get associated with the Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame and what makes this one special among several others out there?
I believe it was 4 or 5 years ago when it all began and we said since the first moment we knew about it and the first moment we sat down to have a cup of coffee we offered full support. We believe in the people that formed the Hall of Fame, they’re honorable, hardworking boxing people and to transcend in life I say it has to be one of the greatest acknowledgements and recognition to an individual and Nevada and especially Las Vegas is one of the most important cities of boxing in the whole history of the sport. Not recently, but the whole history of the sport since the beginning of the 1900’s and the greatest champions, the greatest fights have taken place in this city, this state and the Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame has a special ingredient. It has that special feeling to what boxing is all about. And we fully support the Hall of Fame, what they do, how they do it and we just like to be helpful and supportive.
What can you share about this year’s class of inductees such as Lopez, Whitaker and Christy Martin and their relationship with the WBC after the first few years they inducted some of the biggest names in the sport such as Sugar Ray Robinson, Sugar Ray Leonard and Muhammad Ali?
Well I am honored, so proud to see all of them were WBC champions. Christy Martin is an icon. She opened the doors to woman’s boxing and she did it the hard way, the difficult way. At the time she was fighting on the undercard of Mike Tyson, she was a semi-final of Mike Tyson, same with Ricardo Lopez. A Mexican, he did 22 WBC title defenses at strawweight which is a record. Pernell Whitaker, one of the great champions in the welterweight divisions, lightweights, welterweights and Riddick Bowe, one of the power champions in the heavyweight division, the trilogy with Holyfield is clearly one of the greatest in the sport and it is special. I like this year’s induction because it is a new wave, a new era coming into this hall of fame.
This is the Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame’s 2nd year hosting their induction weekend at Caesars Palace where many legendary fights took place. It is also the hotel’s 50 year anniversary. What is your memory of fights at Caesars Palace?
Well you can go back and remember they used to have an indoor pavilion, Salvador Sanchez against Wilfredo Gomez, Hagler vs. Antuofermo and they started doing the fights at the parking lot and tennis courts. Chavez, Larry Holmes, Hagler, Hearns, Leonard, and Duran so many great fights. Fan Man happened here at Caesars Palace and it is without a doubt, Caesars Palace joins Madison Square Garden, joins the LA Forum, the Sports Arena, Wembley, the Arena Colosseum as one of those really, really iconic places in boxing.
The last couple of years we lost some of the giants of the sport, first your father and now The Greatest, Muhammad Ali which your organization anointed King of Boxing. What did Muhammad Ali mean to the WBC?
Muhammad Ali was the foundation of the WBC. He was inspiration to my father and to his peers, to the WBC Board Members, because the WBC has tried to do what Ali did, fight against the abuse of power, fight against discrimination, fight to dignify the boxer. As you know, Ali, it is easy to see his history now, now that it happened. When he was growing up he had to overcome so many obstacles. He had to battle and fight as nobody else as done and he beat everything. He beat the system. From being hated and treated as a traitor, he became the role model on how to fight for your principles and your values. The WBC took all those, we fought against apartheid and Nelson Mandela opened the WBC Convention. We have introduced the rules that have changed the sport to make it safer, to make it better and it is the WBC’s only priority the boxer. So he has been and will always be the WBC’s inspiration.
What are your thoughts on Sugar Ray Leonard who paid tribute to Ali, took the torch from Ali in the 1980s as boxing’s biggest star and won Olympic gold 40 years ago in Montreal?
Well Sugar Ray was my hero. He was the first real champion that had captured me. I grew up with Napoles, but Sugar Ray was my first real hero. I respect him and admire him so much. He was a tremendous boxer, great fighter. He’s a great human being and just every time I have the opportunity to see him in person, I feel like a kid. It brings me back to the best memories of my life. He was in my house when I was 8 years old and I was looking at him as if he was a god and I will always remember Sugar Ray with the highest respect and admiration. And there is nobody that could take that place of honoring Ali then Sugar Ray Leonard because he took that banner, he took that place that Ali left in the era where Ali faded, Sugar Ray came in and filled that gap.
Lonnie Ali was originally slated to attend the Hall of Fame ceremony but had to cancel as her grandson had his own boxing event in California at the same time. John Ramsey, longtime family friend of the Ali Family attended the ceremony on her behalf. How is Lonnie Ali doing?
Lonnie is very sensitive right now. It’s not easy. She took 33 years of her life, gave her best to give Ali a dignified life, to live with dignity in such difficult circumstances. And for me, Lonnie Ali is the First Lady of Boxing. She an exemplary woman who never cared for fame, she never cared for anything else than taking care of her husband and giving him so much love throughout the years. I truly respect her.
How important is the Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame and all others to preserve the history of boxing?
It is very important. The International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota is like the champion. It’s a hall of fame that was founded, it was small, a very small house that has been growing and to be recognized in that hall of fame is special. But any hall of fame, even if it’s a hometown, just to transcend, when your kid you are #1, it’s special and you get a small medal. When you win a tournament in baseball or you win the batting average trophy, just to be that #1, to be special, to be recognized, to get a trophy changes a life. It shapes your life. When you are in boxing or in any sport the dream or the ultimate goal is to enter the hall of fame, because that means you were one of the best in the whole era, not just at that moment. So to be recognized in a hall of fame is something that any person must be praised, to make the difference. To be inducted into the hall of fame sounds easy, but if you count the numbers, it is something that is very, very special.
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