How do you tell a champion he's a still a champ when he has some doubts himself?...
TUCSON, Ariz. -- The news didn't exactly come on the scroll at the bottom of the television. This was bigger than that. It was a below-the-belt blow to those who knew Jose Sulaiman.
One that hurt deeply. Of course it did. How do you pay homage to a man who was all things to a lot of people?
But that's what Sulaiman was: part promoter, past referee, trainer and, well, as they say in Mexico - El Presidente!
Those who know the sport of boxing and have been involved in it for years - decades in fact - know the
passing of Sulaiman was significant. Significant because, well, Sulaiman was exactly that - significant. To bold face or capitalize it would only sensationalize his importance but it should be … just for emphasis.
The former World Boxing Council (WBC) president was that important to the sport and had been all the way up until his death in mid-January. His impact on the sport was incredible.
"I thought he was a very smart and I was impressed by him," said Bobby Ferrara, a well-regarded boxing referee who has had his share of title fights. "I thought he was very intelligent. I remember being in a rules meeting for the (Julio Cesar) Chavez and Kostya Tszyu fight in Phoenix and he was very involved. He knew as much about boxing as anybody. I was impressed how he spoke."
That was the summer of 2000 when Sulaiman, who was born in Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas, Mexico, was 69. He passed away at age 82 in Los Angeles from a heart condition.
"I lived beside a great man," fight promoter Don King said on WBC's website. "Jose Sulaiman was a great man and a tremendous human being who fought for peace and humanity. That means more than anything and we must celebrate his life."
For nearly 40 years he gave all his heart to boxing, not long ago being named "president for life" at the annual WBC convention.
By all accounts, boxers/fighters loved him, some thinking of him as a father figure. After all, he was instrumental in their careers being what they were.
"He certainly treated all fighters as his sons and daughters," the WBC said in a statement released after his death. "He suffered from their problems and worked every single day of his life to try to make boxing better and safer."
Safer and better were huge. He was a pioneer or at least a paver of roads for those who lived on dirt ones.
He helped move title fights from 15 rounds to 12 rounds, helping with boxer safety more than three decades ago. Television coverage may have played a part, but Sulaiman was part of it.
He also spearheaded the move of the official weigh-in from the day of the fight to the day before, allowing fighters to regain some hydration.
"That helped a lot," said Nicky Perez, a former boxer turned referee based in southern Arizona. "You have to be a boxer to know and understand that and how it helps."
Perez remembers meeting Sulaiman in 1989 at a convention in Orlando. He came away impressed.
"I thought he was a very nice guy," Perez said. "He was always concerned about the fighters; had them in mind."
Perez didn't always agree with his decisions, he said, but he respected the decisions. He knew he was a smart, caring man.
"He did a lot of good things, especially for the Latin fighter," Perez said.
All of boxing is better for him.