In the summer of its 42nd year the National Boxing Association, a loosely knit collection of pompous amateurs, elected to balloon itself into the World Boxing Assocation. The year was 1962. Despite the change in logo from NBA to WBA, it remained the same old clique of feuding U.S. boxing commissioners—good ol' boys whose loyalties, after those accorded themselves, were to the red, white and blue, and the rest of the world could just tag along or move to Saturn.
No one had ever taken the NBA too seriously: the NBA people actually thought pro wrestling was a sport. And so no one expected the rest of the planet to react any differently to the group's broadening of its territorial claims. There were, of course, a set of rules with a robust ring, but they were followed only at moments of convenience. Member state and local commissions bolted at whim and were welcomed back at will.
Abe Greene, formerly the NBA president, now the WBA "international commissioner." saw the WBA "as the only game in town. A pretty bad game, but still the only one."
The infant WBA issued monthly ratings, but they were mostly ignored for those put out by Nat Fleischer, who had been rating lighters and recognizing champions in The Ring magazine since the early '30s (he died in 1972). In 1941 Fleischer published the first edition of The Ring Record Book. Fleischer's ratings and records were considered authoritative.
Rumblings of discontent with the U.S.-dominated WBA, mostly from Latin America, were heard early on. In 1963, bankrolled mainly by a California promoter, the late George Parnassus, the World Boxing Council was created. Parnassus, who loaded his shows with Mexican and Mexican-American fighters of the lighter weight divisions, was tired of seeing his star attractions ignored by the pro-U.S. rating systems. The WBC promised Parnassus all the ratings he could use.
Spearheaded mainly by Mexican nationals, the WBC, unlike the WBA, was worldly in more than name. It was divided into seven federations, representing North America, Europe, Africa, Great Britain, South America. Central America/Caribbean and the Orient.
On paper the WBA is ruled democratically by majority vote of its entire membership. In the WBC, each of the seven federations has two votes. Because it shares the North America votes with Mexico and Canada, the U.S. controls only two-thirds of one vote. The power of the WBC is clearly in the hands of Third World countries. "We are very democratic," boasts Josè Sulaimàn, who has run the WBC almost single-handedly since 1975 and will continue to preside for at least another four years. "Sometimes we make the people in the United States unhappy, but our way is the only fair way."
Fair for whom? Two-thirds of one vote is hardly a just representation for the nation that generates 80% of boxing's revenues as well as the majority (no matter how the ratings read) of world-class fighters.
The U.S. establishment has had its fraction of input into the WBC, but because of its curious addiction to self-destruction, it has been shut out of any voice in the WBA since 1974. That was the year two gentlemen from Panama, Dr. Elias Cordova and Rodrigo Sanchez, discovered the simplicity of winning WBA presidential elections.
Since that time, the organization's reins have been held tightly by Latin hands: from 1974 through 1977 by Cordova; for the next two years by Mandry Galindez of Venezuela; and now, until his second term expires late this year, by Sanchez. They found one key to presidential power under Article III of the WBA's rules and regulations:
"The athletic commission, or any other duly authorized body legally organized to regulate...boxing in any country, territorial or political subdivision, province or city...shall be eligible for membership...and shall be entitled to one vote."
They discovered another key in a seemingly innocent regulation specifying that only delegates actually present at a convention are eligible to vote. The Latins began importing "delegates" from such countries as Panama (four registered commissions), Venezuela (six), Nicaragua (four) and El Salvador (four).
That many of the WBA's delegates since 1974 have been shipped in prepaid, or have been outright phonies, never seems to have had an impact on the credentials committee. At the 1979 convention in Miami Beach, as an example, there were three delegates from the Virgin Islands, and all voted for Sanchez.
If the credentials committee had bothered to check, it would have discovered that there has never been an official boxing commission in the Virgin Islands. Boxing there comes under the control of the Department of Conservation and Cultural Affairs. Fighters aren't licensed, they're merely taxed.
Raul Ruiz promotes fights in the Virgin Islands. "There's no law, no rules," he says. "No one even asks for record. At fights there's no inspectors and no commissioners because there's no commission."
While the WBA's grasp of political science is excellent, it does fall, short in geography. On the chart of accredited members, one of the three Virgin Islands commissions is listed as representing Sint Maarten, which is in the Netherlands Antilles.