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19 DECEMBER 2014

 

Oscar, Tito And Joe At The Hall Of Fame


All the 2014 inductees (All pics Mike Greenhill)
All the 2014 inductees (All pics Mike Greenhill)

By Jeff Jowett: This year, the International Boxing Hall of Fame had some difficulty taking center stage in the boxing world against the Big Fight in Madison Square Garden! Even so, many of the faithful, including Bob Arum and matchmaker Bruce Trampler made the pilgrimage upstate to Canastota, NY, once the Cotto-Martinez show was over, thereby rebalancing the axis of the fistic orb. The Hall has banner years and off years, so far as fan interest goes. This, their 22nd induction, was an example of the former. Headliners Oscar De La Hoya, Felix Trinidad, and Joe Calzaghe need no introduction to even the least committed of boxing fans. The Old Timer category featured George “KO” Chaney, Charles Ledoux, and Mike O’Dowd. This year’s Pioneer entry was Tom Allen. Among non-boxers, Richard Steele, Barry Hearn, Eugene Corri, Neil Leifer, and Graham Houston were immortalized.

 

Baltimore’s “KO” Chaney was a featherweight early in the 20th Century, losing title shots against Johnny Kilbane and Johnny Dundee. His nickname was acquired the hard way, by proving it, not the brainchild of some press agent. The Hall actually found a grandson to come and represent KO. Mike O’Dowd, out of St. Paul, was a contemporary of Chaney and won the middleweight title. Charles Ledoux…not Scott Ledoux!...was a French bantam who, despite a career interruption from WWI, dominated the European and French titles, and lost one world title shot in the US. Tom Allen was a light heavy who began fighting in England but moved to the US where he campaigned primarily during the bare knuckle era but also had some bouts under Queensbury rules. He claimed several “American” titles. Could these guys really fight? How would they stand up against De La Hoya, Trinidad and Calzaghe? There’s no better place or time than the Hall of Fame Weekend to find lively and scholarly debate on such subjects.

 

Among the non-participants, referee Richard Steele, of course, needs no introduction, having been the architect of the never-to-be-resolved endless debate over the Chavez-Taylor classic. Eugene Corri began refereeing at the Turn of the Century (20th, that is!) and for many years was house ref at London’s renowned National Sporting Club. He refereed legends such as Sam Langford, Mickey Walker, Jimmy Wilde, Ted “Kid” Lewis, Tommy Burns, Eugene Criqui, Freddie Welsh, Sam McVey, Willie Ritchie, Georges Carpentier, and the legendary “Gunboat” Smith! Barry Hearn…Hearn, not Thomas Hearns!...is a present-day British promoter and was in attendance. He described the atmosphere as “surreal”, which is pretty typical of boxing fans, and called the day of the induction the most memorable day of his life. Also attending were the two inductees in the “Observer” category. Graham Houston is a British expat who began his illustrious career as a boxing journalist in England, later relocating to Vancouver, BC. He served as editor of British Boxing News and is now editor of Boxing Monthly. Houston commented, “I can say I truly felt honored and for me the induction brought a feeling of humility, to be in the same Observer category as giants of the written word such as Reg Gutteridge and Barney Nagler…and Damon Runyon. I never in a million years thought I would have my name mentioned in the same breath (so to speak) as Damon Runyon!” The perpetually-grinning Neil Leifer appeared to be the most delighted of the inductees. The New Yorker served as photographer for the celebrated Sports Illustrated and his many famous photos include the one of an enraged Ali standing over the reclining Liston in their rematch.

 

The game of trying to make contact with the celebs is the principle attraction, and is both frustrating and fun. Every year, numerous fans carp about lack of access and being run off by goons (a/k/a Security). And every year, they share stories about outwitting Security, boxers who graciously break ranks, and serendipity encounters at the Dunkin’ Donuts. Oscar was expected to be difficult to corral, but he did reportedly come up huge at the golf outing, where he was accessible for an extended “signing” before disappearing into the clubhouse, from which no one ever emerges. A fan at the cocktail hour found Gerry Cooney volunteering to stand over him in a recreation of Leifer’s famed pic. At the dinner, it was announced that the State of NY is offering a 1-for-2 matching grant for expansion of the already palatial Hall. Oscar immediately pledged $50k, as did Andre Ward, after already having spent $3200 on auctioned items. Juan LaPorte did a fine job singing the Puerto Rican National Anthem. Micky Ward, after being preceded with a clip of one of the Gatti fights, quipped, “I’m glad THAT’s over.” And Don King observed that America is the only country “that people are trying to break INTO.”

 

It’s not ALL about collecting money, though. In fact, there are many FREE events, and a cheapskate can actually have a marquee weekend. Outdoor events go on continuously at the museum grounds and are open to the public. Among the best were a series of instructional sessions in the ring with various boxers working out with “Smitty” Smith. Dwight Qawi, while explaining how a short, stocky boxer like himself can use the jab to work inside, said that when he first went to Frazier’s Gym, “they laughed at me.” Not for long, as he demonstrated on Smitty; the jab, “hello”, the right cross, “goodbye”. Smitty stated tongue-in-cheek, “ASSUME I’m hurt”, meaning don’t make it a FACT! Qawi talked about the body attack, taking away the legs and power. “When I fought Holyfield, they said he hit me a lot. I don’t remember any of it because there was nothing on it.” The now roly-poly ex-champ was puffing by the end of the vigorous and entertaining workout. Another was Lucia Rijker, who did a yeoman job of demonstrating technique, to the extent that Smitty was coaxing a comeback. She put the lie to Neanderthal writers who left it in the ‘60s and discount women’s boxing with glib and fatuous quips. Calzaghe also participated in a workout session, as did a couple others. These provide excellent instruction on the difference between boxing and a street fight, a phenomenon not understood by most pro judges. They are available at inthiscornertv.com.

 

 


Calzaghe and Trinidad pose for photos
Calzaghe and Trinidad pose for photos
Trinidad show off his fist plaster cast
Trinidad show off his fist plaster cast

The annual memorabilia show is a feature worth indulging. Every year, the vendors complain that the business is slow. And every year, they’re all back. It isn’t necessary to purchase; it’s like a stroll through a museum. Fight posters, anyone? Harold Gomes-Lalo Guerrero, Ruben Navarro-Rey Bautista; you can reconstruct any era. Books on everything one can imagine. “Joe Louis – A Credit to  His Race” (famed historian/collector Mustafa Terens already has it!) points up what Black boxers were up against in the first half of the sport’s history. How about a photo of a wistful Don King, on a rare occasion when evidently not thinking up a scheme? An elaborate framed cartoon of the Tyson-Holmes fight takes longer than the fight did. A Peter McNeely button, Kelly Pavlik bobblehead, an ancient bottle of some sort of liniment bearing the imprimatur of one Bobby “Kid” Barra, with a trace of the elixir still in it, as well as Rocky Marciano bourbon, sadly empty…

 

A few hours before the Belmont Stakes, the town of Canastota and the Boxing Hall of Fame played host to the 19th running of the Nate Race, a 5k event open to humans, not horses. The Hall of Fame sponsors numerous boxers, and their welcome participation makes this a truly fun event as well as an added opportunity for fans to mix if not actually compete. The race on Saturday morning was run in cool, breezy and comfortable weather, and runners unknowingly dodged a bullet, as Sunday turned out to be a scorcher. The opportunity wasn’t missed on winning boxer Andre Ward, who evidently took this seriously and smoked to an impressive 37th place finish overall (among 564 runners) in a time of 20:29. No other boxer came close. Another Ward, that being Micky, ran well, as he always does, finishing 255th overall in 28:03. Fellow New Englander John Ruiz is shown edging Micky by a mere 1 second. However, another John Ruiz is also listed as a boxer, finishing 351st. The Hall has been requested to provide a ruling on this discrepancy. Mavis Waugh was first among women boxers, tying Glencoffie Johnson at 336th, in 31:12.

 

Other boxers competing were Marlon “Moochie” Starling, as he always does, Frank Tate, and Diana Prazak. An eye-opener was the fine effort by…get this…Enzo Calzaghe, in 31:03, tying with Joe. But it wasn’t Joe the boxer; it was Joe Jr. One Felix Trinidad, at 15 years old, ran an impressive 23:32 to finish 119th, and was bested by Juan Trinidad, 73rd in 21:58. Relatives of Tito, no doubt? An unofficial first among boxing writers was BWA President Jack “Mantequilla” Hirsch in a spectacular 30:39 with a 322nd place finish. And rounding out the celeb field while winning the unofficial Officials’ category was NYSAC referee Charlie Fitch. Coming off a notable international showing in the Froch-Groves fight, Fitch exhibited a unique warmup regime, sitting under a tree while listening to music. It must have worked, as Charlie came in a fine 202nd place in 26:02.

 

Boxers and other celebrities included George Foreman, Aaron Pryor, Rosie Perez, George Chuvalo, Carlos Ortiz, Russell Peltz, Carlos De Leon, Leon Spinks, Dickie DiVeronica, Billy Backus, Vito Antuofermo, Ivan Calderon, Randy “Too Sweet” Gordon, Kevin McBride, Wilfredo Vasquez, Larry Hazzard, Al Bernstein, Tracy Harris Patterson, John Stracey, Joe Cortez, Iran Barkley, Felix Verdejo and many others. Happily returning after a year miss due to eye problems was the affable and accessible Ruben Olivares.

 

Egregious Omission – Don Elbaum

 

Conspicuous Absences- “Big Bob” Mladanich, Bobby Cassidy Jr., Gaspar Ortega, Tony DeMarco, Harold Lederman, Steve Farhood, Eric Armit

 

Good Guy Citation– Pipino Cuevas

 

Surprise Good Guy Citation– Zab Judah

 

Next year looks like a “weak” year, with the proposed additions of Bowe and Moorer. All the

 

more reason to come…

 

June 11, 2014

Oscar enjoys the attention
Oscar enjoys the attention
Oscar de la Hoya
Oscar de la Hoya


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