With the president trapped, the executive committee tried to bail him out. Said Bill Miller, the executive secretary, "Look, the reality is that men are human and make mistakes. Let's let the two parties talk until Friday, and if they haven't reached a solution by then—then we'll make it for them." Faced with that ultimatum, the Japanese had no choice but to let Kalule fight Kudo. The bout took place on Oct. 29, 1979. With Kudo running and Kalule chasing, it was no contest. Kalule won a very easy 15-round decision. And Sanchez won the election by four votes. So the sharks had retaken command.
Cordova was a highly respected general surgeon in Panama City, now retired. Sanchez is a minor employee of the Panama government. In April last year Sugar Ray Leonard, after negotiations for his first WBC welterweight title fight with Panama's Roberto Duran were stalled, offered to first fight Pipino Cuevas of Mexico, then the WBA's welterweight champion. The Panamanians were less than happy with the thought that their beloved Duran was about to be bypassed for a Mexican under their control.
Just after nightfall on April 10 last year the telephone rang in the Mexico City home of Lupe Sanchez, manager of Cuevas. The caller identified himself as Colonel Ruben Parede, commander of the Panama National Guard, one of the most powerful men in the country. Colonel Parede has no official connection with the WBA. Still, he told Sanchez that there would be no Cuevas-Leonard fight. "If you fight him and even if you win," he warned, "it will mean nothing, because we will strip you of your WBA title." A few days later Sanchez announced that, because of cuts suffered by Cuevas in his last fight, he would be unavailable for Leonard. With a single stroke a Panamanian colonel had effectively killed a legitimate fight between an American and a Mexican that would have been promoted by an American (Arum), televised by an American network (ABC) and fought in an American city.
York Van Nixon, the chairman of the Washington, D.C. boxing commission, sits on the WBA executive committee. As a member of the committee, he was assigned to go to Houston and act as the official observer at WBA featherweight champion Eusebio Pedroza's defense against Ruben Olivares on July 21, 1979. Pedroza is a Panamanian. Once one of the world's great bantamweights, Olivares, a Mexican, was nearing 33 and reduced to fighting journeymen. The WBA had Olivares ranked as No. 8.
In the final hour before the fight Pedroza's people suddenly demanded that they be paid their purse of $110,000 in cash—in advance. After a lot of arguing, Van Nixon finally got the money from the promoter, who had gotten it from the box office. Under police escort, Van Nixon rushed six blocks to the Ramada Inn where Pedroza was staying.
"I didn't realize until after I got to the hotel that Dr. Cordova and Sanchez were the spearheads behind the whole thing," Van Nixon says. "I told them it was one hell of a time to demand $110,000 in cash. There is nothing in our regulations that requires a fighter to be paid in advance." Seeing the money, Pedroza left for the arena and an easy victory. Now there was a problem of what to do with that much cash. The Ramada desk clerk refused responsibility. At Sanchez' suggestion, the money was placed in a hotel safety deposit box, with Van Nixon to hold the key until the next morning. Sanchez hired a guard to stay at the hotel all night. "I couldn't believe it," says Van Nixon. "Here was the president of the WBA hiring a guard to protect somebody else's money."
At seven the next morning Van Nixon returned to the hotel, where, he says, Sanchez demanded the key to the safety-deposit box. "No," Van Nixon says he told him. "The money belongs to the fighter, and I'll only give the money to him or his manager."
According to Van Nixon, Sanchez continued to demand the key. Van Nixon telephoned Bob Busse, chairman of the Texas Boxing Commission. Rushing to the hotel, Busse called Santiago del Rio, Pedroza's manager, from his room and fined him $1,000 for the prefight demand for the purse. Van Nixon says he handed Del Rio the key, and Del Rio in turn gave it to Sanchez. The WBA president went off to collect the money. After retrieving the $110,000 in cash, Van Nixon says, Sanchez peeled off $1,000 and gave it to Busse. He said it was to pay the fine.
Van Nixon says he recalls thinking. "Something stinks."
Not long afterward, in his role as head of the D.C. commission, Van Nixon was faced with another WBA pretitle-fight purse demand. This time he balked.