Report/Photos: Boxing Bob Newman
The 55th annual WBC convention officially got underway in Baku, Azerbaijan today at 10:00 (AZT) with the opening ceremony. As per usual, in typical WBC style, no amount of pomp and circumstance was spared, local culture and music were implemented and an array of champions old and new, near and far were on hand to behold was has become quite the spectacle in the ceremonial boxing world.
Paulie Malignaggi once again assumed the role of master-of-ceremonies with his well-rounded and articulate speaking style. Assisting Paulie throughout was WBC legal counsel Alberto Leon.
A local youth choir performed the Azerbaijan national anthem and would later perform what has become the WBC convention theme song, “We Are The World.”
After welcoming the delegates from around the world, the WBC board of directors and officers were introduced, including special guest and man who made this convention possible, Azad Rahim- Azerbaijan Minister of Youth and Sport. Mr. Rahim took the microphone to officially welcome the convention to the city of Baku and tout the growth of all sporting culture in the country in recent years.
After a video detailing the birth of the Marquis of Queensbury Rules which govern boxing today, a commemorative print, celebrating 150 years of these rules was presented to board member Charlie Giles of Great Britain, the birthplace of modern boxing.
A roll call of champions was then conducted starting at the dais- Evander Holyfield, Bernard Hopkins, Nino Benvenuti, Erik Morales, Azumah Nelson, Jelena Mrdjenovich, Yuri Arbachakov, Javier Castillejo, Viktor Postol, Michael Spinks, Kostya Tszyu, Scott Welch, Carlos Zarate, Raja Amasheh, Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, Vitali Klitschko, Christina Hammer and Naseem Hamed topped the list. WBC Middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin who was to fly into Baku from Kazakhstan, decided to return home to the USA to be with his wife and newborn child, a decision which WBC president Mauricio Sulaiman commended.
After a short video highlight of the life of former heavyweight champion Vitali Klitschko, the man himself took to the microphone. Klitschko praised the support he received from the WBC throughout his career, as well as his brother, fellow heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko. Viltali reminded the attendees that Wladimir won all the other belts except the WBC, “Because we promised our mother we would never fight each other!” Klitschko then reiterated that he is officially extending the invitation to the WBC to hold their 56th annual convention in the city of which he is currently mayor- Kiev, Ukraine.
The ceremonial parade of flags from the federations that make up the WBC was then conducted, accompanied by an Azerbaijani drum corps, each flag carried by a world champion.
Four-time heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield officially declared the 55th WBC convention opened.
With that WBC president Mauricio Sulaiman delivered his welcoming speech. Sulaiman touched on many topics, starting with the two Huichol commemorative belts for the winners of fights held on or around the Mexican national holidays of May 5th and September 16th. He then discussed the WBC’s role in the Clean Boxing program (drug testing), The World Boxing Super Series, the battle for combat sports supremacy between Floyd Mayweather and UFC superstar Conor McGregor, the BoxVal program supported by Pope Francis, mismatch prevention, officiating aids such as noise reducing or cancelling headphones, instant replay, open scoring, amateur boxing and female boxing.
Sulaiman then called former Nevada State commission official James Nave to receive the WBC Lifetime Achievement Award.
To emphasize the blending of cultures, an all-Azerbaijani band of elite musicians performed a couple of traditional Mariachi tunes, authentically dressed and singing in Spanish, all learned in a matter of two months.
The official WBC green and gold belt was presented to Youth and Sport Minister Azad Rahimov by all the assembled champions on stage.
After lunch, the judges seminar was conducted by head of ring officials Hubert Minn with the help of Barry Lindenman and Craig Metcalfe. Metcalf opened with a talk on judging ethics, to be practiced not only at ringside during the fight, but also before and after bouts, as well as during the time between assignments. Lindenman focused on judging criteria and responsibilities. Lindenman looked at the “3D” approach: Damage, Domination, Disruption. If a fighter hurts the opponent, the judge scores the damage. If a fighter controls the opponent, the judge scores the domination. Finally if the fighter prevents the opponent, the judges scores disruption.
The opening awards banquet was held at 7 p.m. (AZT) with a packed house of easily 500+ guests on hand. As is customary, local music and dance entertainment was provided for entertainment. The local cuisine was served over the course of three hours, including a variety of lamb dishes, local style vegetables, salads, pate’, seafood and for dessert- a mix of fruits, dates, nuts and for the more decadent tastes- chocolate mousse cake! Awards and acknowledgements were bestowed throughout the night to several champions on hand. Special awards of the WBC belt were given to Naseem Hamed and an Emeritus version to Kostya Tszyu.