By David Finger
The World Boxing Organization 22nd Annual Congress kicked off today at the Sofitel Hotel in Budapest, Hungary where numerous boxing insiders, WBO officials, and a handful of boxing celebrities paid tribute to the passing of three legends of boxing. As WBO president Francisco “Paco” Valcarcel began the general assembly in the morning, a tribute was paid to recently deceased former Puerto Rican champion Jose Torres, legendary Hungarian contender Lazlo Papp, and former WBO vice resident Stan Gallup (who, like Torres, passed away earlier this year). The touching memorial featured a short video of Torres, as well as one of Gallup (whose charm and quick wit could be felt in the brief video tribute), and prompted a round of applause from both the audience and the members of the WBO.
After the tributes, the first order of business was discussing some of the recent events at the Association of Boxing Commissioners (ABC) annual convention earlier in the year. The WBO often adopt ABC rules, however one of the recently suggested rules at the ABC convention did prompt the WBO to express its concern through a written response. The WBO and the ABC both adopted an 18 month time limit for its ranked fighters to fight a “qualifying fight” (a fight against another ranked fighter). The WBO also requires any challenger for a world title to have fought in a qualifying fight. However, the ABC formed an exploratory committee to consider dropping the time limit from 18 months to 12 months. The WBO, which opposed the move, stated so in its written response.
After the floor took a moment to recognize boxing dignitaries in attendance such as Eric Gomez (of Golden Boy Promotions) and Bobby Goodman, John Duggan kicked off the reports from the WBO regional championships such as the NABO, the Intercontinental Championship, and the Asia-Pacific Championship.
Mark Reels, director of the Intercontinental Championship committee, discussed the recent events in that organization. Although the I/C has continued to thrive in many ways, the world wide economic recession has taken its toll nonetheless. In regards to the number of championship fights held by the WBO Intercontinental organization, that number remains high, with twenty-two championship fights thus far this year. Reels commented that t appears as if last years mark of twenty-five will be met by years end.
“The economy is really strenuous on all of the organizations besides our self,” commented Reels on the recession.
Also discussed was the role of the Youth title, and the desire to develop the Youth titles further. The Asia Pacific Youth title was dropped from 10 rounds to 8 rounds, a move that was embraced by the other regional organizations. The Youth title was presented as an economical way to promote the WBO and benefit both younger fighters and promoters. WBO Youth championships tend to be considerably less expensive then other championship fights; at a cost of around $3000 for a youth championship ($750 is for the belt, the rest coming from the cost of the supervisor since the WBO allows promoters to use local officials). Youth championships are championship fights for fighters between 17-21 years old and require the use of larger gloves (10 ounce gloves).
From there Itsvan “Koko” Kovacs discussed the situation with the European Intercontinental championship organization. Kovacs made it clear that the WBO’s presence and prestige is growing and thriving in Europe, in particular with its new WBO European office opening in Budapest Hungary. But the impact of the economic recession is clearly felt in the continent. So far there are eleven championship fights in the continent, down from nineteen at this time last year. Several other incidents emerged over the year, including an unfortunate run in with the WBC on a card in Europe over sanctioning of a WBO regional title. As the WBC was also sanctioning the fight as a WBC regional title the WBC issued an ultimatum to the promoter shortly before the fight, citing a refusal to sanction the fight if the WBO was going to sanction the fight for one of their own titles. In other instances, Kovacs cited some difficulties between interactions between the WBO and the European Boxing Union (EBU).
The Eastern European Kovacs compared some of the actions of the EBU to the former regime in his home country, “It’s dictatorial,” commented Kovacs, “It compares to (the) toughest, communist socialist time.”
The recent inroads of the WBO Asia Pacific championship, which thus far saw five fights in Eastern Europe, was also cited for the drop in championship fights in the region.
From there Leon P. Panoncillo, Vice President of the Asia Pacific region, discussed the progress of the WBO Intercontinental Asia Pacific Championship. For the Asia Pacific title the economic downturn has had less impact than some of the other regions. In fact, it appears as if there will be an increase in fights in the region. Whereas last year saw 21 championship fights, this year has had 20 with ten more tentatively planned to finish out the year. Panoncillo commented on the growth of the WBO in Australia and the Philippines, where boxing is thriving in part thanks to the success of Manny Pacquiao. Panoncillo also discussed how the organizations integrity has helped the WBO dominate the region.
“The impact in Australia, Philippines, it is really having other organizations regional titles disappearing (in the region),” commented Panoncillo. So far nine promoters from countries as diverse as Kazakhstan, Australia, Russia, and the Philippines, all have held WBO Asia Pacific championship fights. Australia WBO representative Danny Lee earned a round of applause when it was announced that he worked 17 title fights alone.
Panoncillo also cited the growth and popularity of the Oriental title, which is in competition with the WBC’s OPPF title. In 2008 there were eleven Oriental titles, so far this year there are twenty-two. The Asia Pacific region also held four Youth title fights and discussed the role they play in the WBO African championship.
From there WBO President Francisco Valcarcel introduced the newest Vice President of the WBO, naming Andrew Smale Vice President of the WBO African Region. Small had just unveiled the new WBO African championship belt and he also discussed the strong foundation the WBO has established in the WBO through its strong working relationship with regional promoters and its four champions who have emerged recently.
Zhang Tao, Vice President of the China region, then discussed the progress of the WBO in making inroads in the worlds most populist country, Although Tao discussed the difficulties of developing boxing in China, citing the government and its regulations as one major reason, he remained optimistic due to the recent progress of breaking into the Chinese market. With Tao discussing his desire to create a new sub region (the China Zone), coupled with the recent emergence of Chinese boxers, many neutral observers were wondering if this investment into the future of China’s boxing program may in turn produce huge dividends in the near future for the WBO.
Rafael Lopez then discussed the progress of the WBO in enemy territory when he discussed recent inroads into Mexico made by the WBO. Lopez cited the difficulty in establishing a bigger presence in Mexico (where the WBC is based). “We cannot take over Mexico because the roots are different,” commented Lopez, “not all country’s can be Democrats, some have to be Republicans.” However, despite the difficulties of the task, Lopez and the WBO have proven quite effective in forcing there way into the Mexican market.
“I think our presence is quite good,” added Lopez, “we have a strong presence in Mexico.”
Jorge Molina, Vice President of the Latino region, then presented his report. Whereas other regions were in conflict with other organizations and commissions, the Latino region has thrived, with Molina citing the good relations he has established with the WBA and WBC. So far there were thirty-one Latino title fights (compared to thirty-nine last year) and in 2009 seven countries hosted WBO Latino championships. With six championships at junior featherweight and four at welterweight, lightweight, and junior lightweight, the WBO Latino is also making its presence felt in the lighter weight classes.
“Everything is on track,” commented Molina at the close of his report.
From there a video was presented highlighting some of the WBO’s charitable activities with NGO’s in Latin America, with discussions as to the possibility of Colombia hosting next years convention. A plague to Edu Melo Peixoto was presented, followed by a discussion on rankings by Dr. Antonio Roman, who also discussed the renewal of the registration of the WBO trademark.
After lunch the congress resumed with the Championship Committee report. With over 169 championships fights, one of the trends discussed was the growth of the WBO in Europe. For the first time there were more European championships held than those in the United States. The WBO was confident that this was something that will continue to evolve. From there arguments were heard to amend two of the rules of the WBO. The first proposed Amendment was in regards to the appeal process. John Duggan proposed amending Rule 35(e) so that the WBO has one, uniformed rule as to the time limit upon which a fighter must file an appeal to challenge a result with the WBO. The proposed time limit was set at ten days, and was unanimously approved without “closing the door” on the issue to permit several legal members to review the role of the WBO in an arbitration. Several members, including Valcarcel, expressed concern over the structure and the role of the WBO in the appeal process as an arbitrator and if that would cause any issues in regards to compliance with the Muhammad Ali Act.
The second amendment was in regards to the corporate structure for the regional organization. Since the NABO and other regional organizations are “for profit” organization, discussions were started on the specifics of the structure. Duggan also proposed increasing the charter to create four legal entitles for the regional championships (at this time there are only two, the NABO and the WBO Intercontinental). This proposal was not adopted at this time.
At this time a short recess was called to present European matchmaker Hans Doering with a plaque commemorating his service to the WBO. Another plaque was subsequently presented to Ricardo Rizzo.
John Duggan then presented his report from the grievance committee, and it proved to be a short report as only two grievances were filed thus far this year (although he did talk about a grievance from late last year). John Duggan first discussed the a appeal application of a particular contender who filed an appeal to fight for a title, which in turn had been ruled premature. He then discussed an Intercontinental championship fight grievance filed by Marco Antonio Barrera complaining about the stoppage of his fight with Amir Kahn. Barrera, who had argued that the referee erred in stopping the fight in the fifth, where it was, ruled a technical decision, and not earlier when it would not counted as a loss on his record. But Duggan discussed the rejection of that appeal.
“He told the referee he could see,” commented Duggan on the decision, “the official could not be blamed for taking Barrera and his corner at their word.”
Duggan also discussed the Kendall Holt protest from last year, and the finding by the jury of referees who declared the conduct of the referee was appropriate, which resulted in the WBO sustaining that finding in the grievance order.
From there the discussions turned to legal matters as Dr. Jose Cuevas discuss a recent court case involving the WBO. The case, which involves a lawsuit filed by the WBO regarding events that occurred in Arizona, appears closer to a resolution, although Dr. Cuevas did discuss concern that the WBO may have difficulty collecting money from the offending party, citing a lack of assets in possession of the offending party.
Closing out the first day, the WBO treasurers report indicated that the organization was in strong financial shape despite the economic downturn with over $324,000 in cash in the bank right now.