He failed to push it even half a kilometer away from being classified as the red-light district of sports, but it’s hard to imagine where professional boxing would’ve ended up without Don Jose Sulaiman.
Sulaiman, 82, lost his life last Friday in California. He had undergone heart surgery at the University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA) Ronald Reagan Medical Center last October.
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Veteran broadcaster Ronnie Nathanielsz, a great admirer and ally of Sulaiman, said there was an outpouring of grief and sympathy from world boxing greats and plain Mexican fans.
Sulaiman’s remains were scheduled for cremation at the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico, following a daytime Mass Monday.
Among the notables who extolled Sulaiman was the legendary Mexican warrior Julio Cesar Chavez, who swore “Mexico would not have had so many world champions and successful fighters without Don Jose.”
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Sulaiman was not, any way, a boxing trainer. He was a former amateur boxer who next worked as a referee.
But he will be fondly remembered as an innovative leader who had always sincerely strived for the technical development of boxing, working hard in order for the sport to be less dangerous and brutal.
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Sulaiman was mainly responsible for cutting the old 15-round title fight down to 12.
He also made it possible for official weigh-ins to be held at least 24 hours before the fight proper, not in the morning of the championship bout. He introduced in-between divisions—like junior featherweight, light welterweight, etc —to protect the health of less hefty fighters.
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Don Jose was in the Philippines in 1996 for the “Battle of Manila Bay” WBC featherweight championship at Rizal Park between Luisito Espinosa and Cesar Soto of Mexico.
Upon arriving in Manila, there were two persons he readily sought out: lawyer Rudy Salud and former world flyweight champion Erbito Salavarria.
Sulaiman had worked under Salud, who drafted the WBC constitution and crafted its rules and regulations.
Don Jose had always deferred to Salud as Rodrigo, his senior in the WBC ratings committee.
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“Salavarria is the finest Filipino boxer I’ve ever known,” Sulaiman confided to this reporter, who next searched for Erbito unsuccessfully.
Salavarria annexed the WBC flyweight title in December 1970 in Bangkok by stopping Thai hero Chartchai Chionoi in the second round, with King Adulyadeh Bhumibol in the audience.
It must’ve been that stoppage—sharp and neat, clinical and bloodless—which had readily endeared Salavarria to Sulaiman.
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Sulaiman was also an admirer of Manny Pacquiao, but he could not hide his hurt each time Pacquiao beat a Mexican warrior.
Born of Lebanese and Syrian parents, Sulaiman was Mexican as tequila and chili con carne when it came to boxing.
In fact, Don Jose was a leading petitioner who kept imploring Juan Manuel Marquez not to allow himself to be lured into a fifth bout with Pacquiao.
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No need to emphasize anymore how Marquez had fully restored Mexican honor—which for years had been slurred with Pacquiao’s sensational streak over Latino warriors—with that cold-blooded sixth-round stoppage of the Filipino hero in December 2012.
Sulaiman had fought and begged for that regained honor never to be squandered.
This could be one of the reasons Marquez had kept away from Pacquiao, despite the mouth-watering multimillion-dollar offers.