By David Finger
It seems hard to imagine now, but there was a time back in 1988 when many boxing insiders were predicting that the newly formed World Boxing Organization would fall flat on its face before the end of the decade. Founded when a group of WBA members bolted from that organization citing anger at how that company was run, the WBO seemed at first like so many other start up sanctioning bodies: rudderless and with less credibility than the big three of the WBA, WBC, and IBF. In fact it seemed that most of these start up sanctioning organizations had one simple philosophy: to copy the IBF and hope that a highly recognizable champion would dump his belt and claim theirs, thus giving them instant credibility. But it became clear almost immediately that the WBO was different. For one thing, they put on better fights, and the champions were all very credible. But although the fighters were the foundation of the success of the WBO over the years, much credit has to be given to the leadership of men like Francisco “Paco” Valcarcel, the current WBO president.
After all, in those early years it would have been easy to sanction anything and collect as many fees as possible. But the WBO, and its leadership, never sold out their credibility and it paid off. Soon the WBO was reluctantly regarded by many boxing journalist and fans (who were loath to see another sanctioning body emerge) as a distant fourth to the IBF, WBA, and WBC. Not at that level, but clearly the crème of the crop of all the rest. Soon the “distant” was dropped from that title, and as it stands today, it is nearly unanimous that the WBO is not only on par with the IBF, WBA, and WBC, but in some ways may even exceed them. President Valcarcel took some time to talk to Fightnews about the past, present, and future of the World Boxing Organization.
Thank you for taking the time to talk with us, I wanted to start off by congratulating you on this congress. How do you feel as the WBO wraps up this annual congress here in Budapest?
I feel great, I feel happy. I feel very satisfied; people at the convention are of the opinion that this was the greatest convention ever.
One of items that you discussed at the convention was the situation with Miguel Cotto. Would you care to elaborate?
We decide to sanction that fight as a title bout. I have been in contact with the promoter; in fact I am going to be in New York for the press conference on September 10. It is important that people know our champion has to defend his title.
Another issue that has come up in the convention is the WBO’s relationship with the EBU. Would you care to comment on that?
The EBU was always great. But the EBU is losing control. As an independent boxing entity they should be independent and fair towards everybody and make decisions based on fairness. Nobody should control EBU. Once one of the sanctioning bodies has control of the WBU the EBU will be less effective and less respected.
Do you think that’s happening right now?
It could be happening. They are always identified with one of the sanctioning organizations. That’s clear. You have people there whose interest is with the sanctioning organization and not EBU.
Let’s go into your background a bit. I know you were once former champion Wilfredo Gomez’s attorney. Is that how you started in boxing?
Yeah, I started in 1980 when I was a young lawyer representing Gomez to the year 2000. Gomez was one of the greatest fighters ever. I started with Gomez, I was a promoter, I was a manager, and I was in the commission in Puerto Rico. In fact a leading case in Puerto Rico (on the power of the boxing commissions) was a case I won.
In the early years of the WBO, it was not considered to be on par with the WBA, WBC or IBF. Slowly it gained ground and right now it is widely seen as on par with any sanctioning organization in the world. What do you attribute the growth of WBO to?
I think my contribution to WBO is to find the right people. If you check out executive committee we have people from five continents and china. We have boxing people and we have honest people. I can leave the WBO tomorrow and it will continue growing and working with the same success as now.
At what point do you think the WBO finally emerged as one of the major organizations in boxing?
I think De La Hoya was momentous. Barrera, Johnny Tapia, Klitschko brothers…Michalczewski, Joe Calzaghe, Freitas, Cotto, Chris Eubank in the old days, Steve Collins. I can mention a hundred fighters, top fighters in any division. I think the contribution of those fighters and the support of people like Frank Warren in the UK, Peter Kohl in Germany, Top Rank in America, and lately Oscar De La Hoya have been the turning point that made the WBO the #1 organization in the world.
What is the WBO’s greatest strength?
That we can operate and be successful with Paco Valcarcel! (laughing)
What is next for the WBO?
We would like to have more social work. Involve our champion and our people with kids in the street, with poor people anywhere. We have been doing that in more than twenty different countries, and we would like to double that. If we can put one kid out of the streets and make him a great citizen, we have been successful.