Round 12: Boxing in Stadiums

03/21/2023 - No comments

By Mauricio Sulaimán – WBC President – Son of José Sulaimán

I begin this column by asking for your prayers for the health of my dear uncle Antonio Esper, who is in a delicate health situation. He was my father’s soul brother since childhood in Ciudad Valles, and he married his sister, my aunt Nelly. He was his constant and devoted travel companion in the beginnings of Don José in the WBC.

Our sport is one of the most popular in the world and has been for over 100 years. In its modern form, it began in England. People would gather to watch two individuals fight and would gamble on such fights; there were no rules, it was a brutal, savage and cruel spectacle, even inhuman.

Believe it or not, in this 2023, there are splinter groups that are presenting something similar to what boxing was in the late 1800s with bare-knuckle fights, slap competitions and others, regressing to brutality and gore that only unscrupulous, bloodthirsty people like to watch.

Well, going back to boxing, it eventually became a sport of nobility and thus gained the attention of royals who somehow started the process of establishing rules, the first known as the Marquess of Queensberry.

Arenas were packed, stadiums were built specifically for boxing matches, and it was that way for decades until television came along, a transformation of thousands of fans to millions, and eventually became the main source of income for promoters, TV rights, and eventually pay-per-view area far more important than box office ticket sales.

That is why stadium events are now a true luxury for fans, both for those who attend and for those who can see the event on the small screen.

This coming May 6th will be the first stadium boxing card in our country in the last 30 years. Saúl “Canelo” Álvarez will defend his four super-middleweight belts against Englishman John Ryder at the Akron Stadium, home of Chivas de Guadalajara. An event keenly anticipated by all of Mexico, El King returns home after 12 years of not fighting in his country, the land where he was born, and where he developed his career from the beginning, fighting in all kinds of arenas, from small ones, even doing so in ranches (it is a fact that Canelo has some 8 bouts not registered in Boxrec). A red-headed, freckled boy who started under the guidance of his brother Rigoberto until the day that Don Chepo Reynoso and his son Eddy Reynoso took him onward to achieve one of the most important careers in boxing history.

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All of Mexico will join in a great celebration, the Cinco de Mayo Fiesta in Zapopan and Guadalajara, Jalisco. The Governor, Enrique Alfaro, was present at the official announcement of the Billboard Bonanza and will be fully involved in promoting this historic boxing event. The Mayors Pablo Lemus from Guadalajara, and Juan José Frangie from Zapopan, have also joined in making this a great celebration of the 200 years of freedom, independence, and sovereignty of the state of Jalisco.

Let’s look back at some of the great venues and stadium fights in boxing history:

Jack Johnson vs. James Jeffries, held on July 4, 1910, in a stadium built exclusively for that fight in Reno, Nevada. Johnson became the first African-American heavyweight champion in history.

The great Mexican idol, Raúl Ratón Macías, packed the Plaza de Toros México with fifty-five thousand fans, defeating the American Nate Brooks in 1955.

Other fights that were held in that building include Julio César Chávez vs. Miguel Ángel González, Ricardo López vs. Rosendo Álvarez and Humberto “Chiquita” González against Michael Carbajal.

Olympia Stadium in Detroit presented great cards in the 50s, and it was there that Jake Lamotta gave his greatest performances.

Cassius Clay vs. Henry Cooper, held in 1963, at Wembley Stadium, controversial because the later called Muhammad Ali fell to the canvas, stunned by “Enry’s Hammer,” at the end of the fourth round, but during the minute of rest, they proceeded to change the glove which was damaged. Clay recovered and tore into Cooper, causing a deep cut, pouring blood, that obliged the referee Tommy Little to stop the fight.

The Rumble in the Jungle took place at the National Stadium in Zaire (now Congo) when Muhammad Ali upset and shocked George Foreman by removing his WBC world heavyweight championship in 1974 with an eighth-round KO.

Sugar Ray Leonard regained his world welterweight championship in the famous rematch called “No Más” bout against Roberto Durán, at the Superdome in New Orleans.

Mike Tyson lost his undefeated and his world titles when he was knocked out by Buster Douglas at the Tokyo Dome in Japan in 1991.

Other large stadiums witnessed boxing matches, such as the New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers, and many more, especially in England and the United States. The legendary Caesars Palace even built its stadium in the hotel parking lot to stage the big fights there, like those of Leonard, Hagler, Hearns, Durán and many others.

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Saúl “Canelo” Álvarez has extensive experience fighting in stadiums. He has accomplished this in Houston and San Antonio, Texas, in Miami, Florida, and that record number of fans for boxing matches in closed stadiums in the United States, when he drew 73,126 souls in Cowboys Stadium in Dallas, when he defeated the talkative and loquacious British Billy Joe Saunders, with a spectacular TKO in eight rounds, checking the cheek.

It is now the time for Mexico. Jalisco will be the boxing capital of the world, and I am sure it will be a memorable event, Canelo vs. Ryder, with the great production of Televisión Azteca “La Casa del Boxeo” and Ocesa, leader in massive events in our country.

Did you know…?

1993 was the year in which the highest stadium attendance in history happened, when Julio César Chavez crammed the Azteca against Greg Haugen, attracting more than 136,000 fans. Chávez also fought that year at the Alamodome, tying with Pernell Whitaker. It was attended by more than 70,000 people. Lennox Lewis vs. Frank Bruno in Cardiff, this being the first time that two Englishmen fought for the world heavyweight championship, and Nigel Benn sought to unify super middleweight against his arch-rival Chris Eubank in Manchester, with the result of the fight being a draw.

Today’s anecdote

I was walking with my dad and arriving at the New Orleans Superdome. At the entrance there was a food stand, and I asked him if he wanted something to eat or drink, “Mijito, I am going to give you some advice. When you go to fights in big stadiums, try not to eat or drink anything, because going to the bathroom is a major problem. Another thing, when you are sitting at ringside, I advise you the following – if you have a glass of water, put a piece of paper on it, cover it, because you can be splashed with blood, sweat and other things. Never have your mouth open for the same reason, and never look at the ring card girls when they are announcing the rounds, because your girlfriend or wife is surely watching you.”

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