The time has come. The alphabet soup boys who have made a mess of boxing have got to be sent packing.
The WBA and WBC, those two arbitrary, self-appointed "sanctioning bodies" that everyone loves to hate, finally seem to be on their way out, strangled by their own greed and arrogance. After a long period of tolerance--or boredom--on the part of the fans and the networks who have largely kept them in business, the time seems ripe for a housecleaning.
It became fashionable to hate the alphabets once again in the disgraceful aftermath of the Buster Douglas-Mike Tyson fight on Feb. 10. That one had everyone--even TV news commentators who don't know the IBF from UHF or VHF--calling for governmental intervention to clean up the mess.
But Douglas-Tyson was only the most visible and hyped of the alphabet abuses. Relatively minor abuses that are just as appalling happen all the time. One of them, going on right now, has inspired NBC boxing coordinator Kevin Monaghan to suggest to his bosses that the network sever its association with the WBA--not buy any more of its fights or pay any heed to its phony decrees. And his bosses--the supposedly news-conscious Terry O'Neil and the allegedly innovative Dick Ebersol--backed him up.
The incident in question involves Jesus "Hawaiian Punch" Salud, who won the WBA junior featherweight title by disqualification over Juan Jose Estrada in December. In January, NBC bought Salud's first defense, against Jesse Benavides in Corpus Christi, Texas, Benavides' hometown, on March 25. Not exactly the Thrilla in Manila, but not bad for a Sunday afternoon in March.
Enter the WBA, that wonderful little Venezuela-Panama social club run--out front anyway--by Gilberto Mendoza of Maracay and Dr. Elias Cordova of Panama City. Seems that the WBA's No. 1 junior featherweight contender is a Colombian named Louis Mendoza, who lost a clear-cut decision to Estrada last July. After that, he fought a draw against an undistinguished opponent. Still, Mendoza held on to his No. 1 ranking. Why?
Because, many believe, Mendoza's "adviser" is one Luis Spada, a Panamanian who once managed Roberto Duran and always has been buddy-buddy with Cordova. The WBA decreed that Salud must fight Mendoza, not Benavides, by March 31. The WBA called for a purse bid that somehow was attended only by Cedric Kushner, a native South African who was acting as an agent of Spada. Salud's people--manager Bob DePhillipis, adviser Stan Hoffman and the promoter, the L.A. Forum--apparently were advised too late to put in a bid. The result was that Kushner, acting as Spada's bagman, bought the rights to promote the fight with a bid of $71,000. The fight was to be held in a bullring in Cartagena, Colombia.
For the uninitiated, a purse bid pays the champion 75 percent and the challenger 25 percent. Thus, Salud was to receive $52,500, Mendoza $16,500. Salud, of course, was already signed to fight Benavides for about $55,000. More important, he wanted the network exposure and desperately did not want to fight in Colombia, where losing a hometown decision is the least of his worries.
"We'll fight that guy anywhere but in Colombia," DePhillipis said. "Why go down there and take the risk of getting killed?"
Plus, there was the matter of NBC, which had no interest in Salud-Mendoza but plenty in Salud-Benavides. NBC told Salud and Co. it would stick with the fight it bought, regardless of what the WBA did. "We don't care about the title," Monaghan said. "I bought Salud-Benavides because I think it's a good fight, in a good fight town."
Now, Salud and DePhillipis are faced with a dilemma--fight Benavides, get the network TV exposure they want and a good purse, and be stripped of the title. Or, cave in to the WBA, go to Colombia and probably get beat on a decision--Salud is not a great puncher and Mendoza has a good chin. Or, take a stand--give up the title voluntarily, fight Benavides, and hope public opinion is on his side.
"They're making it impossible for us to hold on to the title," DePhillipis said. "It's conspiracy and collusion and whatever else you want to call it."
If the WBA strips Salud, Mendoza and another Colombian, Ruben Palacios, will fight for the vacant crown, providing a windfall for Senor Spada and his cohorts.
"They want to steal this title from us," said DePhillipis, who will try to get an injunction against a WBA title strip next week. But the odds are Salud will be an ex-champion without being beaten in the ring.
Things like this happen all the time in the crooked worlds of the WBA and WBC. The IBF is hereby exonerated, not so much because it is U.S.-based, but because it and its president, Bob Lee, have shown fairness and good judgment in its actions. Remember the only organization to immediately recognize Douglas as its heavyweight champion?