Paco Valcarcel: The Klitschko's, Hamed, Benn, Calzaghe, Michalczewski and Eubank forced the WBO to be accepted by the media in the 1990's

The WBO became the fourth and, for now, the last recognised legitimate world title to join the WBA, WBC and IBF in the so-called four belt era. 

Last week ProBox TV attended the 36th Annual WBO Congress in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic to report on the governing bodies most recent decisions regarding the brown coloured world belt. 

The WBO was created in 1988 following a disagreement between Dominican and Puerto Rican boxing representatives with the WBA at its convention that year in Venezuela over the rules applied to fights, beginning the process that created boxing’s fourth world title. 

The current WBO president has been Francisco Valcarcel since 1996. The Puerto Rican lawyer spoke exclusively to ProBox TV at the convention to discuss the rise of his organisation. 

“The fighters were very very important.” Valcarcel said. “Chris Eubank was very good for TV. He was unique, he was a character. The way he dressed, the quality of a fighter he was. I remember when he fought Carl Thompson and showed his muscles. He was a hell of a fighter. Him and Micheal Watson fought for the WBO title too. I remember the case in court, the WBO and the British board were sued by Watson’s relative because he became handicapped after the fight. The case was dismissed against the WBO.

“Nigel Benn, I saw him fight twice against Steve Collins for the WBO title. Steve Collins beat Eubank twice before, I was at the last one in Cork. It was the first time I saw 10,000 guys booing Eubank in front of the brewery there. It was amazing, but I remember it was raining, we had thousands of people coming to the arena. Eubank came to the ring in a big truck! It was an amazing time; Collins, Eubank, Watson and Nigel Benn. It was the golden age of British boxing.”

The period Valcarcel was describing spanned between 1991 to 1998, an era that saw the WBO gain serious legitimacy.

“The time was very influential for us.” Valcarcel explained. “At the time HBO was against us, and all the media was against us everyday. They said we were Mickey Mouse, they said we were a European organisation. We had Naseem Hamed, Joe Calzaghe, The Celtic Warrior [Steve Collins]. In a way they were right, the UK has been the best nation for boxing to this day. When Hamed fought [Tom] Boom Boom Johnson, I invited Harold Lederman, then Harold then invited Larry Merchant, then Merchant invited all the other commentators because we were all at Wimbledon. We had Herbie Hide fighting Vitali Klitschko in London. They all saw the two guys looking very strong and professional. They all said ‘wow’ and American promoters started signing them, Di Bella was looking at Arthur Abraham. People then discovered we were for real, then we had the media talking about the four rankings, not three. I remember Jay Larkin at Showtime, he was very good for boxing and helped us. Frank Warren did some great shows with Showtime, we had Joe Calzaghe fighting in Cardiff Castle, there was a dungeon and stuff. Because we were doing shows in America, they were forced to accept us. Now we have all the magazines accepting us, they all have the four rankings. With HBO, they had to accept it when Hamed beat Kevin Kelley in New York. This all happened because we were very strong in Europe, the WBO became stronger because of it. 

“The heavyweights! We had two Klitschko brothers, both educated in medicine. Then Calzaghe we also had Calzaghe, he was a nice guy and a great fighter. Then Hamed [Valcarcel stretched his arms open wide], he used to fill arenas, he had real charisma, he came to America to fight Kevin Kelley. Kelley put him down and then Hamed knocked him out, Kelley was considered the better fighter for TV and for ratings but Hamed came and knocked him out. Then boom everyone is asking ‘who is this?’ Well, it’s the WBO champ from England. From then they all had to talk about four belts. We were very strong in Germany too with the Klitschko’s and Dariusz Michalczewski. Arthur Grigorian was fighting in Germany at the time too, he was the first professional from Uzbekistan to become world champion.”