Thomas Hauser

New WBC handwraps policy: For safety or profit?

Kelly Pavlik sat on a folding chair in his dressing room late Saturday night at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J. Blood seeped from ugly cuts above both eyes. Twenty minutes earlier, he’d lost a hotly-contested battle to Sergio Martinez and, with it, the middleweight championship of the world.

Kelly was physically and emotionally spent. Leaning forward on his chair, he spat a gob of bloody saliva onto the floor.

World Boxing Council executive secretary Mauricio Sulaiman, the son of WBC president Jose Sulaiman, and Ed Pearson, the WBC’s on-site supervisor for Pavlik-Martinez, entered the dressing room.

“The handwraps,” Mauricio said.

Over the years, the WBC has industriously collected boxing memorabilia. Much of this memorabilia, according to Mauricio, has been joyously given by fighters as a sign of respect for his father.

On occasion, fighters have been less joyful about it. On the night that Pavlik won the middleweight championship from Jermain Taylor thirty months ago, Mauricio left Kelly’s dressing room with the new champion’s trunks.

Pavlik was not pleased.

“It was a misunderstanding,” Mauricio later explained. “I was led to believe that Kelly wanted the trunks to be presented as a gift to my father because of his respect for my father and the WBC. When it was brought to my attention that Kelly wished to have the trunks back, I arranged quickly to return them.”

As was pointed out to Mauricio that night, federal law provides, “No officer or employee of a sanctioning organization may receive any compensation, gift, or benefit, directly or indirectly, from a boxer [other than a sanctioning fee].” Violation of this law is a crime punishable by up to one year in prison and a fine of $20,000.

Earlier this year, the WBC added a new wrinkle to its way of doing business. It instituted a rule requiring that the on-site supervisor at a WBC-sanctioned fight inspect each fighter’s handwraps after the fight for evidence of wrongdoing.

This was done in response to the much-publicized incident in which Antonio Margarito’s hands were found to have been improperly wrapped, according to Joe Dwyer, a member of the WBC Board of Governors.

Well and good.

Then things get not so good.

According to Dwyer, “After the on-site supervisor inspects the handwraps, he sends them to WBC headquarters in Mexico City for further inspection. Then, if necessary, they’re sent to the lab for further study.”

To Dwyer’s knowledge, there has never been a need for the WBC to send any of the handwraps to the lab for further study.

The WBC policy only makes sense if one believes that the opposing fighter’s camp (which observes the handwrapping process), the governing state athletic commission (which regulates the handwrapping process) and the on-site WBC representative (who examines the handwraps after the fight) are all incapable of doing their job.

Of course, there’s another factor to be considered. The handwraps that are sent to WBC headquarters in Mexico City are important pieces of boxing memorabilia. They have sentimental value and are sometimes worth a lot of money.

Craig Hamilton is the foremost expert on boxing memorabilia in the United States. How much does he think the handwraps from Pavlik-Martinez are worth?

“They’re nice pieces,” Hamilton answers. “With proper authentication, which you have here, I could sell the Martinez and Pavlik handwraps together for a minimum of a thousand dollars. And they might bring considerably more.”

When asked what the WBC does with the handwraps after they’re inspected in Mexico City, Dwyer answered, “I would assume they’re discarded.”

It’s hard to imagine Jose Sulaiman throwing a thousand dollars worth of boxing memorabilia in the garbage.

Thomas Hauser can be reached by e-mail at thauser@rcn.com. His most recent book (“An Unforgiving Sport”) was published by the University of Arkansas Press.

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