WBC Convention Comes To South Florida
By: Ron Scarfone
The 54th annual World Boxing Council (WBC) Convention began on December 11, 2016 at the Diplomat Resort & Spa in Hollywood, Florida. Art for the convention was created by artist Romero Britto and showed the black outlines and bright colors that his artwork is known for. This artwork was displayed at the convention and also on WBC official merchandise which is sold at the convention. One of the products for sale was an extra large sized Cleto Reyes boxing glove which showed the art made by Britto. Clothing and bags with the WBC logo were also for sale at the convention and The Ring Magazine was selling shirts with The Ring logo. According to WBC officials, 1,000 people from about 165 countries are expected to attend the convention and this includes officials such as supervisors, judges, and referees as well as promoters, journalists, fans, and world champions from the past and present. Banners were displayed throughout the convention featuring current and former WBC world champions. In the afternoon on December 11, Evander Holyfield was seen walking in the lobby of the resort. Holyfield was gracious with everyone and allowed people to take photos with him. I met him too. I shook his hand and said “I’m Ron Scarfone, boxing writer. Nice to meet you.” “Okay,” Holyfield said. That was the end of our brief conversation.
A cocktail party in the evening on December 11 welcomed the delegates from countries around the world. The party was also attended by former WBC champions Ronald “Winky” Wright and Evander Holyfield. International Boxing Organization (IBO) cruiserweight champion Marco Huck was also at the party. Huck was previously the World Boxing Organization (WBO) cruiserweight champion. At the party, I met WBC and WBO female middleweight champion Christina Hammer. Hammer previously was the World Boxing Federation (WBF) female middleweight champion. Hammer was born in Kazakhstan and now resides in Germany.
Hammer won the WBC title about a month ago when she defeated Kali Reis by unanimous decision. Hammer was accompanied by her manager. When asked about the possibility of Hammer fighting in the United States, her manager said that he is trying to make that happen. Hammer said that she would like to have a fight in America. In her professional career so far, Hammer has only fought in Europe. Because of the dearth of talent in the female middleweight division, Hammer’s opponents have mostly come from other weight classes and her opponents either have to move up or down in weight to be in the middleweight division.
Hammer mentioned Maricela Cornejo as a possible opponent. Cornejo was a super middleweight in her last fight, but fought for the vacant WBC female middleweight title in April 2016. Cornejo lost by split decision to Kali Reis. Reis lost her WBC title to Hammer last month.
The official opening of the convention was the morning of December 12. The resort provided breakfast for the convention. I sat at a table where former junior welterweight and welterweight world champion Paul Malignaggi was sitting at. I would have said hello to him, but I was too busy stuffing my face with scrambled eggs and potatoes. Malignaggi was the host of the opening ceremony. The opening ceremony was in another room. The WBC belt was displayed in front of the stage. A very large screen television was in back of the stage. I sat in the area that I thought was reserved for the media, but it was actually reserved for current and former world champions. Apparently, an elderly man thought I was a boxer. He approached me and shook my hand without saying a word and walked away. A woman from the WBC then asked me if I was a champion. I said no and that I am with the media. She said that the WBC had a section for the media to sit at previous conventions, but not this year. There were plenty of chairs and I moved to a row farther back.
The opening ceremony began with a video on the large screen about the history of boxing. The video stated that archaeological findings provide evidence that boxing began as a sport in Ethiopia 8,000 years before Christ. It was depicted on Egyptian hieroglyphics 5,000 years before Christ. Boxing was one of the founding sports at the first Olympic Games in Ancient Greece. Boxing was also popular in Ancient Rome. During the Middle Ages, there were wars and plagues. Boxing faded into obscurity during this time and was replaced by athletic activities such as archery and jousting.
Boxing finally reappeared in England and became popular during the 1700s. The first world champion was James Figg in 1719. Figg is considered to be the first heavyweight champion of boxing. In 1867, the Marquess of Queensberry rules were created. These were a set of basic rules that modern boxing is based on which includes requiring the use of gloves instead of bare knuckles and a 10-second count for a knockdown. Boxing eventually became popular in the United States and the rest of the world, but the sport still lacked unity around the world.
In 1963, representatives from 11 countries met in Mexico City to form the World Boxing Council with goals such as unity, reciprocity, and protection of the boxer. Jose Sulaiman was elected president of the WBC in 1975. A tribute to Sulaiman who died in 2014 was shown on the large screen. Sulaiman is credited with reducing championship fights from 15 rounds to 12 rounds, mandating that the official weigh-in take place 24 hours before the fight, having the thumb attached to the glove, and the creation of intermediate weight divisions. The video also showed that Sulaiman approved female boxing which seemed to imply that he was the first to do this. Barbara Buttrick of the Women’s International Boxing Federation (WIBF) began sanctioning women’s boxing in the 1990s. The WBC began sanctioning women’s boxing in 2005. Another video on the large screen showed the current WBC world champions and highlights of their fights, but the video only showed the men and not the women. If the WBC wants to provide equal publicity for the women, then they should have been shown in the video.
Many male and female world champions from the past and present attended the convention. WBC middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin spoke at the podium and then former WBC middleweight champion Marvin Hagler gave Golovkin a trophy. Malignaggi commented what a fight that would have been if Hagler and Golovkin fought against each other in their primes. Vitali Klitschko also talked at the podium about his life and how he was inspired to become the WBC heavyweight champion when he was young by watching Mike Tyson fight on television. Roy Jones Jr. then gave Klitschko a trophy. Klitschko was named Eternal World Heavyweight Champion by the WBC.
The WBC dedicated the convention to Muhammad Ali who they have dubbed “King of Boxing.” Laila Ali spoke at the convention about her father Muhammad Ali who passed away in June 2016. Laila Ali won the first WBC female super middleweight championship in 2005. A wax statue of Muhammad Ali was put on the stage for everyone to see. Although Don King did not attend the opening ceremony, he wrote a statement which was included in the convention program book. “I loved the man. He was my friend for life. But, Ali will never die. I think we want to celebrate Ali’s life for being the man he was: A fighter for the people and a champion of the people. He demonstrated the type of character, the intestinal fortitude, the inspiration, the motivation to stand up for what he believed in and say what he means and mean what he says and was willing to take the consequences of his actions. Like Martin Luther King, his spirit will live on, he stood for the world.”
The WBC announced that the WBC super featherweight title fight of Francisco Vargas vs. Orlando Salido which resulted in a majority draw was chosen as the WBC Fight of the Year. Vargas was the defending champion and Salido was the challenger. It was a slugfest and the judges’ scores reflected the back-and-forth battle that took place. Two judges scored it 114-114 while the other judge scored it 115-113 in favor of Vargas, but the overall result is still a draw and Vargas retained his title. Vargas also won WBC Fight of the Year honors last year when he won the title over Takashi Miura.
Having the convention in South Florida does not mean it is all sun and fun. There are meetings, workshops, and seminars on the agenda and schedule. The Medical Committee was scheduled to meet in the afternoon on December 12. Maybe the committee discussed whether women can fight for the same amount and duration of rounds as the men, but I doubt it. There are other official meetings scheduled for Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday at the WBC Convention. Another major sanctioning body is having their upcoming convention in Florida. The 2017 International Boxing Federation (IBF) Convention will take place in St. Petersburg, Florida from May 21 to May 25.