By Jeff Jowett in New York: The New York State Boxing Hall of Fame held its 3rd Annual Induction & Awards Dinner on the afternoon of March 30 at their established location, the friendly and agreeable surroundings of Russo’s on the Bay in the Howard Beach section of Queens. A full house of over 500 attendees enjoyed a fine event, hosted by Ring #8 President (and boxing promoter) Bob Duffy, and BWA President Jack “Mantequilla” Hirsch. The Program was emceed by rising-star “Diamond Dave” Diamante (until he had to leave for the Barclay Center and his job as PA announcer for the Brooklyn Nets).
This organization sets tougher criteria than many similar Halls, and why shouldn’t they? Consider the talent pool they have to draw on, with Madison Square Garden the unchallenged Mecca of Boxing for most of the sport’s existence, until the sanctioning bodies ruined boxing in recent decades. These affairs keep the memory alive, while bringing the past and present together in a pleasant and engaging manner. Renowned Historian, Memorabilia Collector and board member Mustafa Terens got to meet his slugging ‘70s middleweight namesake, Mustafa Hamsho. The latter was singularly unimpressed.
Other living boxers inducted (all in attendance!) were Howard Davis, Juan LaPorte, Gerry Cooney, Tracy Harris-Patterson, Billy Backus and Kevin Kelley. Non-participants (don’t tell Teddy THAT!) comprised a lively and controversial group made up of Teddy Atlas, Lou DiBella, Steve Farhood, Gene Moore and Angelo Prospero. Only Angelo could not attend.
Doing double duty, Farhood served to introduce his fellow honoree DiBella. “Lou DiBella went to Harvard Law School, and you didn’t,” was how Stevie set the lofty tone for his description of the promoter’s career. Citing numerous accomplishments in film-making to add to Lou’s boxing resume, Farhood quipped, “It was clearly a case of Hollywood bias that the Academy Awards passed you by.” Members of the boxing fraternity who’ve been skinned alive by him at the negotiating table might be stunned to witness a choked-up DiBella. But so he was. Alluding to Lou Reed’s “New York City Men”, the overwhelmed honoree observed, “I know so many people in this room, I could go table to table and hug practically all of you.” He also conceded, “It’s also a sport that sometimes we shouldn’t be so proud of,” while alluding to a need for a “moral compass”.
If a moral compass exists, a good candidate might be trainer Teddy Atlas. He doesn’t pull any punches describing the game’s ills while doubling as commentator for ESPN. After daughter Nicole’s heartfelt recounting of Atlas’ difficult but successful balancing act between boxing, his charitable activities, and family, Teddy opened, “I don’t know how to follow my daughter.” But he continued, concentrating on his dedication to youth work. Not only learning how to handle themselves in the sport, the famed trainer explained, but “They learn how to protect themselves against other things”…like the lack of security, the urge to not go to school, the problems of the streets. Teddy concluded, “You can’t win a fight without a good corner. My family gave me the best corner that has ever been.”
When Farhood’s turn came, he was introduced by ShoBox’s Gordon Hall. Calling him the “quintessential New Yorker…He doesn’t have a driver’s license”…Hall stated, “Steve is that person who makes everyone around him better.” The honoree concurred at least with the New York part of the description. “You can’t get more New York than me,” Steve averred, while elaborating that fresh air makes him cough and he can’t sleep without the sound of police sirens. “Why would anyone want to live anywhere else?”
Boxing Writers of America President Hirsch introduced Juan LaPorte by reviewing the close losses he’d had to the best of his weight and era. “I won that fight!” the boxer agreed on numerous counts. “Pedroza mistook Juan’s groin for his chin,” Hirsch observed of one of LaPorte’s controversial title losses. Citing the narrow margins of defeat that separate Juan from boxing’s household names, Hirsch concluded fittingly, “He closes the gap today.”
Bobby Cassidy Jr. introduced Cooney by describing his impact on the sports community on his native Long Island. “Gerry Cooney was our sports franchise,” Cassidy proclaimed. Reflecting on going into the Norton fight, Cooney admitted, “I remember thinking, ‘this guy’s gonna kill me!’” When Duffy offered him the distinctive Ring 8 belt, Gerry quipped, “Can I put the belt on? I need TWO of them!” Farhood did the honors for the other Mustafa by stating, “In 35 years of covering boxing, I’ve never seen a fighter tougher than Mustafa Hamsho.” One of boxing’s time-worn bromides has to do with how they “stole” the fight from Napoles when he went to Syracuse to fight Billy Backus. But truth is that it was a furious battle while it lasted, in which Backus gave as well as he took while the panic in Mantequilla’s corner was visible from the rafters. After being introduced with a glowing description of his accomplishments in the ring, the relatively obscure former welterweight champion (as in “champion”, not one of five split title holders) Backus observed, “Very nice…but it was the truth.” And long-time NYC matchmaker Gene Moore, with a nod to the big names sharing the dais, commented, “Who the Hell is Gene Moore?
Nobody knows, but I’m here anyway. I’ve been doing this for 40 years and I’ve had a great time.”
Deceased inductees were headed by Floyd Patterson, with several family members there for the award. President of the New Jersey Hall, Henry Hascup, did the honors for the remaining boxers with a stirring description of the careers of Lou Ambers, Jack Britton and “Terrible Terry” McGovern, even going so far as to include McGovern’s generally thought to be fixed “win” over Joe Gans.
The posthumously inducted Non-Participants were Cus D’Amato, Whitey Bimstein, and ancients William Muldoon and Tom O’Rourke. Muldoon was the first NY state commissioner after the Walker Law legalized boxing, while O’Rourke was a manager and promoter through the early part of the 20th century.
Typically, boxing journalist Jack Obermayer headed for the door on a dead run, but everyone else left talking about what to expect next year.