By Mauricio Sulaiman
Son of Jose Sulaiman / President of the WBC
This last Friday, June 11, a historic event was held in Aguascalientes, Mexico, as the Cuban Olympic boxing team, which has done its preparations there in recent years, held a friendly meet with a variety of Mexican professional fighters at the San Marcos Fair arena.
There were eight exhibition bouts sanctioned by the Aguascalientes Boxing Commission, with its president Christian Garduño Ortiz. The general coordination of all sports was in the hands of Dr. Manuel Aceves, and the event was organized by Gerardo Saldívar. The president of FECOMBOX, Juan Carlos Pelayo, as well as myself as president of the WBC, were invited as honorary witnesses of this historic meeting.
The governor, Martín Orozco Sandoval, was present, and he sat with the rest of the fans, showing an example of humbleness and love for sport.
Cuba has not permitted professional boxing since 1959, when the Fidel Castro regime banned professional sports. Cubans have dominated amateur boxing for decades, earning countless medals at the Olympics. The legendary, three-time Olympic champion, Teófilo Stevenson, was considered on many occasions to fight the then professional boxing champion: Muhammad Ali.
Cuba has generated 19 world champions in total. Kid Chocolate being considered the greatest of all, with a record of 136-10-6.
Mexico received with open arms and welcoming hearts a small group of boxers who made legendary careers in our country. The great Cuban promoter, Cuco Conde, dedicated himself to try his luck here and arrived with coach Kid Rapidez, and fighters José Mantequilla Napoles, Ultiminio Ramos, Luis Manuel Rodríguez and the only one who is still alive: José Legra, who now lives in Spain.
Subsequently and, through the years, we have seen Cuban boxers who migrated to seek their fortune mainly to the United States, with several important champions emerging, among them: Joel Casamayor, Yuriorkis Gamboa, Diosbelys Hurtado, Guillermo Rigondeaux and Yordenis Ugas.
What happened in Aguascalientes was a visionary experiment orchestrated by a great boxing enthusiast: Fernando Barbosa, who is a top executive in the world of television, a certified judge by the WBC, and who has led the ESPN Knock Out program, a leader in broadcasting boxing, as this chain has transmitted elite cards regardless of country every single weekend; simply wonderful cards with the narration of Salvador Rodríguez and Renato Bermúdez, and a variety of special guests.
Cuba showed a great technical, refined level, while the Mexicans sought short-range and aggressive boxing. It was wonderful to see the discipline and strategy that each fighter followed to the letter; the corner brilliantly communicated and there is a perfect balance plus coordination in all movement. The famous director of Cuban national boxing, Alberto Puig, was present and was very satisfied with this binational event. The public greatly enjoyed this card and always kept an interest in the actions of the ring.
We gladly witnessed all the care that the boxing commission and the organizers carried out: medical examinations, weigh-ins, 10, 12 and 14-ounce gloves; two ambulances, with paramedics always ready, and medical service ringside. The officials in the ring were all neutral to assure a fair competition, and with qualified referees for any eventuality.
David Sutherland from Oklahoma, Steve Morrow and Edward Anthony Collantes from California, and Héctor Afu from Panama, gave wonderful performances as referees and judges. The scorecards were only a reference as being exhibition matches. At the end of each fight, both fighters received an the well-deserved applause of the public and a commemorative medal of the historic event.
DID YOU KNOW…?
Jack Johnson, who was the African American world champion, and who has just been commemorated 75 years after his passing, lost his title in Cuba.
Johnson had to leave the United States, being prosecuted by law for crimes of a racial nature. He fought and defended his title in Paris, Madrid and even fought in Mexico. He lost the title in Havana, Cuba, to Jess Willard in a fight that he claimed he threw to finally succumb.
Mantequilla Napoles and Ultiminio Ramos were very close to my father and, therefore, to my entire family. It was usual to see them at the Miguel Aleman park, because they attended to enjoy the Vagabundos baseball games, where Don José was the manager and his four children played every Sunday.
On one occasion there was a great breakfast at home, before going out to an event where many champions joined my dad. My mom was in a rush, serving the more than 60 who were hungry; at that, Ultiminio told her: “Doña, I can ask you for two starry eggs, because I’m on a diet and everything looks delicious.”
Time passed and none of the eggs came, because my mother forgot it… By the time Doña Martha came by, Ultiminio commented: “Doña, do you think the hen will have laid the eggs?,” followed by laughter of everyone present …
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