Movers and shakers gather in Florida
Rian Scalia reports for Boxing Monthly from the WBC's annual convention in Hollywood, Florida as boxers, promoters, officials and other movers and shakers gather and a tribute is paid to Muhammad Ali ...
As a man who has just come from frozen tundra-esque conditions in Canada, the humid heat and cool breezes of southern Florida are a welcome change, and that's where the Diplomat Resort in Hollywood has become boxing central for a week.
The World Boxing Council (WBC) is holding their 54th annual convention, and just about anyone and everyone involved in boxing is here.
Upon first walking into the hotel, the lobby is immediately overtaken by boxing everywhere you look: there is WBC apparel left and right while fighters, officials, movers and shakers are all over the place. I spot the likes of Marco Huck, Mairis Briedis, Avni Yildirim, Eddie Mustafa Muhammad and more upon first glance.
One great thing about boxing is that it's one of the most accessible sports for fans and media alike. A good chunk of the athletes and business people are very open with their time to just about anyone. Evander Holyfield, for example, is swarmed for photos anywhere he goes and is still kind enough to pause for a second, even if he gets a little bit annoyed at times.
Sunday sees the opening cocktail party, basically a free for all social event for a few hours on the third floor. It's a networking extravaganza. The 18-year-old Japanese prospect and WBC Youth bantamweight champion Hinata Maruta is on one side with a few of his handlers, eventually taking a picture with the Tecate girls and having a good laugh about it.
Bringing fighters to the convention of any sanctioning body is a good way to get their names established within the boxing business and get them in high regard with the organisations. It's also where handlers will state their cause at the ratings meeting to try and get their fighters a higher ranking.
Many young prospects are here for their first convention. Golden Boy prospect Niko Valdes takes in the scene on Sunday and at the opening ceremony, while undefeated and up and coming Australian super middleweight contender Zac Dunn stops for a quick chat on his way to breakfast with his dad and his manager Barry Michael.
The opening ceremony lasts about three hours with a number of touching tributes to founder Jose Sulaiman as well as fighters, officials and others that passed away this year. Last but not least, it culminates in a series of tributes to Muhammad Ali. Laila Ali speaks alongside WBC president Mauricio Sulaiman after a tribute video. After Sulaiman gives the word for another tribute package to commence she jokes: "You're trying to make me cry."
A statue of 'The Greatest' is brought up onto the stage during the final video package whereby everyone on stage as well as additional fighters and officials come up to take a huge group photo.
Vitali Klitschko, named "the eternal WBC heavyweight champion," gives a speech and details his dream to bring the convention to Kiev, where he is the current mayor. Evander Holyfield is presented with two WBC belts - for his second fight with Riddick Bowe and contests with Mike Tyson - matches where the WBC belt was not at stake.
Gennady Golovkin, assuming the role of captain of the WBC champions, gives a short speech and those sitting around me remark at how much his English has improved.
Some ventures and social causes supported by the WBC are outlined by president Mauricio Sulaiman. One in particular is the battle against AIBA and the WBC's efforts in amateur boxing, something the president was very vocal about in the lead-up to the Olympics in August.
Another subject on the agenda is anti-doping. The WBC requires all champions and top 15 rated fighters to be enrolled in their joint year-round testing program with VADA. They're the only boxing organisation that requires year-round testing and the slogan is "you use, you lose," in references to PEDs. Things still remain in question with the recent Alexander Povetkin and Bermane Stiverne test failures, however.
Another interesting topic doing the rounds is the WBC's partnership with Telmex and the Ring Telmex program. It provides monthly support to fighters as well as a pension plan for them after retirement. Some of the fighters enrolled include Francisco Vargas and Carlos Cuadras. Retired former champions are also benefiting from the venture: Paulie Malignaggi – who co-hosted the event – says that "the fighters are the most important part of boxing," and he's absolutely right. In such a brutal sport, any compensation to the fighters that put their bodies on the line is a meaningful gesture.
After the opening ceremony and lunch, the Tecate Fan Fest opens up, with booths and merchandise laid out throughout the hall. Equipment companies Grant, Everlast, Cleto Reyes and Rival have an array of gloves and other merchandise on display. Over in another room Sergio Martinez's venture Brooklyn Fitbox has some heavy bags out with an opportunity to train, as do Everlast on the other side. A ring lies in the middle of it all, with interactive events involving fighters and trainers taking place.
Writing this article on Monday afternoon before the dinner gala and award ceremony at night, we're two days into the convention, with many more meetings and moves still to come.