WBC president Jose Sulaiman isn’t backing down on his commitment to support minimumweight champion Xiong Zhao Zhong of China at the expense of No. 1 contender Denver Cuello who has waited two years for a title crack as the mandatory challenger.
Cuello’s manager Aljoe Jaro is up in arms after the WBC reneged on its promise to sanction a title fight for the Iloilo southpaw against the winner of the Xiong-Javier Martinez duel for the vacant 105-pound throne in Kunming, China, last November. After Xiong won the crown, the WBC allowed him to make a voluntary defense in March, leaving Cuello out in the cold. The decision to allow a voluntary defense came at the WBC convention in Cancun, Mexico, last month.
Jaro flew to Cancun for the WBC convention but was absent when a vote was taken to decide on Xiong’s first defense. Jaro said he left because he had been assured there would be no hitch in sanctioning a title fight for Cuello. Now, his absence has been raised by the WBC as a reason for allowing the voluntary defense. Naturally, Jaro is crying foul especially since he has a written assurance from Sulaiman’s son Mauricio, the WBC executive director, that Cuello would fight the Xiong-Martinez winner within 90 days.
But Sulaiman has turned the tables on Jaro, virtually calling him an ingrate after he negotiated a $25,000 step-aside fee for Cuello to postpone his title crack for the WBC to make a breakthrough in the Chinese market. Cuello said the issue isn’t about gratitude. “This is about making good on your promise,” said Jaro. “Rules are rules and they should be followed. Denver was promised a title shot after the Xiong-Martinez fight. It’s true we accepted the step-aside fee because under the rules, Denver was supposed to fight for the vacant title as the No. 1 contender. We agreed because the WBC asked us to. But to miss another turn is unfair. This is discrimination. Denver has waited two long years. We asked the WBC for permission to fight for the IBF title while waiting but they wanted us to stay loyal so we declined the offer. I think we are being abused.”
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There is no doubt that Cuello will defeat Xiong whenever and wherever they meet. Even Sulaiman has admitted it. Xiong, 30, is a 4-11 stylist with a 20-4-1 record, including 11 KOs. One of his losses was dealt by Filipino Julius Alcos in 2008. Angeles City-based New Zealand referee Bruce McTavish has worked seven of Xiong’s fights and is familiar with his style. Cuello, 26, has a 32-4-6 record, with 21 KOs. He has won his last 11 bouts, 10 by KO, since losing to Juan Hernandez on a highly-disputed disqualification in Mexico City two years ago. Hernandez was bloodied and battered when he dropped to the canvas in the third round. As he fell, Cuello threw a glancing shot to the side of the body by instinct. The punch had no effect but referee Gerardo Venzor took the opportunity to save Hernandez from defeat by disqualifying Cuello.
Sulaiman recently sent an e-mail to Jaro reacting to newspaper reports quoting the Filipino taking the WBC to task. “I was sad and shocked when I received news that you were attacking the WBC and myself,” said Sulaiman. “I find it difficult to believe as we have always been friends and we have never done any damage to you. The step-aside fee of $25,000 is very seldom seen and that proves that whatever step was taken, we did not leave Denver without protection.”
Sulaiman has appealed to Jaro to wait another three months after Xiong’s voluntary defense which was approved in the WBC convention by a unanimous vote.
“I have no authority to modify the convention decision,” said Sulaiman. “When there was the request from the champion, there was no one representing Denver, not one single person who would oppose the request. For that reason, a vote was taken which was favored unanimously but with a definite and absolute resolution that the winner will meet Denver next. The voluntary fight will take place in March with the free negotiations with Denver starting the next day of the fight with whomever might be the winner.”
Sulaiman waxed poetic when he told Jaro “I would not ever hurt you even with the petal of a rose.” He added, “You can continue attacking me if that is your wish. The convention had more than 1,500 people, the greatest ever, but there was not one single person representing you, nor anyone that would have objected for the taking of the vote of the Board of Governors. I was informed that you were in Las Vegas for (Manny) Pacquiao’s fight. Shouldn’t you have been at the convention objecting to the voluntary defense? I am not a president to review ratings and sanction title bouts. I am a president, contrary to others, who acts to reform boxing, to bring safety measures for boxers, regardless of opposition, to bring unity and mutual agreements, to take and support opportunities to bring boxing countries into the WBC and to set historical events like the first professional fight in history ever in China. As president, I also see always that a third party who might be affected in time – in your case, it will be about three months – is absolutely supported to assure his fighting for the title.”
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Sulaiman’s son Mauricio said he is “very sad and disappointed” that Jaro has publicly criticized the WBC. “I can’t understand my good friend Jaro’s position,” he said. “He has been sending me three or four e-mails every day for many days. All we have always done is support him and his fighters. I have explained to him that the convention voted on the request and he never showed up in the meeting to make his point. I saw him every day with (Chinese promoter) Liu Gang and (Asian Boxing Council secretary-general) Patrick Cusick (of Thailand) talking and enjoying so I’m surprised of his actions and attacks.”
Jaro, for his part, said he left Cancun with the assurance that Cuello would be Xiong’s next challenger. “There was nothing to be discussed about Denver’s title shot,” he said. “It was a done deal. I didn’t even need to go to Cancun but I went anyway, spending to fly over to show loyalty to the WBC. Then, they betrayed me. Patrick mentioned Denver could fight in the undercard of Xiong’s voluntary defense in Las Vegas in March but I told him that’s not right. Liu left Cancun even before me to go to Las Vegas and we were supposed to meet but I never saw him again.”
Jaro said he sent an offer to Liu for Xiong to stake the crown against Cuello in Manila but never got a reply. “I’m only asking for justice, to do what is right,” he said. “I’m fighting for Denver’s rights. I follow the rules, that’s all. It’s not right to bend the rules. When Kazuto Ioka was the WBC minimumweight champion, he avoided fighting Denver and chose to move up to lightflyweight. Denver was supposed to fight for the vacant throne but the WBC asked us to step aside for the chance to stage the first professional world championship bout in China. Xiong wasn’t even rated in the minimumweight division, he was No. 8 in the lightflyweight division. But the WBC suddenly made him No. 7 in the minimumweight division. Is that in the rules? Martinez wasn’t even in the top 10. I kept quiet because the WBC assured me Denver would fight the winner. But now, they’re changing the rules again for personal interest, for money.”
Jaro is facing the WBC giants in his lonely Quixotic battle for justice. Is it worth fighting City Hall? Where will this lead to? Will Cuello ever get his chance to fight for the world title? Who will come to Cuello’s rescue and protect his rights?