By Mauricio Sulaimán – Son of José Sulaimán – President of the WBC
“2021- The Year of Boxing,” program has begun and this weekend the World Boxing Council celebrated the 15th anniversary of one of the most important, significant and fabulous events in the history of our sport, “The Night of Champions.”
It was held in Cancun in January 2006. My father was determined to have a gathering
of champions to pay a great and fitting tribute to them. Everything was ready and it was poised to take place in November 2005, when the passage of Hurricane Wylma, sought and wrought to intervene, willfully devastating large segments of this paradise destination. Mother Nature at her cruelest!
Cancun was climatically mauled and critically wounded. The easiest thing in the world, would have been to change the venue and take the event to any other city or country that wanted to organize it. Don Jose was adamant and undaunted. We would go ahead with Cancun and in so doing, clearly show the world that it had weathered the absolute worst that the elements could throw at it. And that it was steadfastly ready to rebuild.
The world boxing community got together, reinforced with the support of boxing promoters, the boxers themselves and the community of businessmen in the region. Everything was ready so that, by the end of January 2006, ninety eight world champions created a gem from the storm of history, out of which many stories remain in collective memory, right up to the present day.
This column recounts some of those wondrous stories that came from this unique festivity, which began with a great boxing card, before a sold out crowd in the bullring, in which Jorge Arce, Jackie Nava and Rudy Lopez defended their world championships.
A parade of classic and convertible cars through the hotel strip, progressing in a stately manner into the city, then a golf tournament at Palace Resorts, autograph signing in the streets of Playa del Carmen, welcome cocktail with a spectacular talent night, day at the beach and pool, culminating with the gala dinner at Xcaret.
A constellation of greatness emerging from genius and steadfast, rock, solid confidence. That in spite of all the structural wreckage and logistical rubble to overcome, that it could be done…and it would be done!
Looking back even further into history with pride, A legendary night to remember, involving Mantequilla Napoles and John Stracey – On December 6, 1975 John H. Stracey knocked out the legendary Mantequilla Napoles in the Plaza de Toros, snatching the WBC welterweight world championship. The last time they saw each other was in the ring.
Then…31 years later, in the lobby of the Riu Palace hotel, they spotted each other and ran from one corner of the cavernous marble reception area to another, to each other, hugging in a brotherly embrace for eternity. From fighting ferocity to fraternal friendship. The spirit of boxing at its most magnificent!
With Alacran Torres and Chatchai Chionoi, something similar happened, because after the last of their three fights, which are remembered for their sheer uncompromising greatness, Chionoi arrived at the Cocktail and when he saw his ex arch enemy from the ring, he ran towards him and threw himself at his feet hugging him. He bowed to him kneeling with his hands on his face as they do in Thailand. This meeting and unique emotional bonding, which can only be formed from the most intense warrior mode code, was far beyond highly emotional. Tears flowed copiously for all who witnessed it, because greatness was generated. Rivalry, respect and reverence, which surpasses words and transcends the ebb and flow of everyday life.
Chavez and “El Macho” Camacho – This was one of the keenest edged rivalries, a battle royal longed for for more than 6 years which culminated in a majestic ring war, in which the Mexican neutralized the Puerto Rican’s verbose brash bravado, with an unrelenting onslaught, during those extraordinary twelve rounds of hot pursuit in 1993. They meet again in Cancun, to smile, embrace and laugh, with all competitive animosity sated.
it was one of the most “Funtastic” fiestas that anyone can remember. Greats, having a great time. The level of “party” reached such a crescendo, that Chavez took Camacho to Culiacan, where they partied on…for another week! Julio does not hesitate to tell what happened, today being 12 years sober, he uses that anecdote as part of his talks about raising awareness against addictions.
Puas Olivares and Alexis Argüello – Alexis, the greatest fighter in Nicaragua, snatched the WBC featherweight world championship from the idol of the Mexican people, by knocking him out in round 14. There a great was born, taking the baton from the king of the ring. I remember how they spent more than four hours sitting in the lobby of the hotel talking, in their own world, without even turning to see, or notice any of the dozens of champions who strolled through the vast corridors of the majestic hotel.
La Plaza de Toros – Pepe Gomez was the ingenious promoter of the card, and what a spectacular it was! There had never been a full house like that night in the Cancun Bullring. Many people crowded and congregated outside. The whole arena was packed with the presence of champions, promoters, officials and also attendees to the Night of Champions. Fans prized their tickets like gold dust! It was the only time in my life that I have seen people walking around with their folding chairs, trying to find a vantage point.
The photo on the beach – The champions were summoned to be in the pool area to take a photo with the background of the beautiful turquoise sea of the Mexican Caribbean. Lennox Lewis, Floyd Mayweather, Laila Ali, Holyfield, Chavez, Duran, Raton Macias, Ken Norton and dozens more were there, ready for the taking, all with their Reyes glove. A manifestation of magnificence and unity.
suddenly we heard a clarion shout from the balcony of a room far, far above. It was the Macho Camacho “Stop, I’m missing out! Here I go!” Immediately afterwards, we marveled at how the champion descended, surprising all with his urgent vitality, until with a leap and a bound he positioned himself in the epicenter of the photo. Where else?
XCARET – Don King arrived, ambling to the cave where dinner was held at XCARET, joining the mystical tradition of Mayan gods who celebrated the traditional ritual with the dance of fire, the perfectly choreographed ceremony, to entertain almost 100 champions at their tables, in the electrifying atmosphere and manner reserved for the warrior class.
Felix Gonzalez Canto, the former governor, accompanied by the current governor Carlos Joaquin Gonzalez and Francisco Alor, officially inaugurated the event and then Don Jose proceeded to call the champions to the stage to take the official photo.
Afterwards, awards were made in groups, culminating in the grand finale, as it was logistically impossible to accommodate 98 champions on the receiving end simultaneously. The beloved a admired, recently deceased, Dr Alfonso Morales was the master of ceremony, and it was then that a series of memorable photographs were taken by uniting and complimenting legendary champions from different eras.
Did you know…. The Night of Champions received the Guinness certificate as the event where more world champions of any sport have congregated, and from that event Cancun became the most important square mile for the WBC, celebrating multiple events of global relevance, such as: Three world Conventions of them WBC, the first World Convention of women’s boxing, the second World Medical Congress, the only world heavyweight championship fight in Mexico, and dozens of boxing cards with the presence of HBO, Showtime, ESPN, FOX, TV Azteca, Televisa, etc….
The days spent in Cancun were intense in celebrating this marvel. My father, who created it, stuck with it and presided over it, every step of the way, was exhausted, after transforming hurricane disaster into the brilliance of triumph. We stayed one more day, to be able to say goodbye and sincerely thank the hosts as well as each and every departing visitor. Then, to also take advantage of an oasis of deep, serene tranquillity that descends, when watching and contemplating a calming sea in silence, listening to the whisper of the waves.
“How incredible everything was, it was so supremely great Don Jose,”I told him, and he replied:
“Mijito, Mexico is the best country in the world. Traditional Mexican hospitality manages to put an enticing and irresistible smile on the face of all of us. They visited, and it was our obligation to anchor the event here. Now more than ever, the most important and fundamental thing, is to act and act decisively when you are truly needed, in the hour of greatest need. This event had never been done before and perhaps…it will never be done again.”
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