June 8, 2001 – SecondsOut.com correspondent Larry Tornambe reports on the opening day of the annual Boxing Hall of Fame weekend in Canastota, New York.
By Larry Tornambe: All roads lead to Canastota, New York each year on the second weekend of June. It is the induction weekend when thousands of fans attend four days of festivities to meet and celebrate the careers their favorite fighters, trainers and managers.
The bright shining sun smiled upon this small village on the southern tier of New York State. More than 50 boxing celebrities are expected to attend the activities and meet their supporters. Former kings of the ring made grand entrances throughout the afternoon. Events organized for the weekend include ringside talks, which allow fans and media the opportunity to ask about particular fights and workouts from today's boxers.
Alexis Arguello and Ruben Olivares were speaking of their lightweight title fight when I arrived. Any barriers between the "star" and "regular person" are demolished during the annual cookout, autograph session, collectibles show, golf games, cocktail party, banquets and more. Fighters roam freely throughout the grounds and happily sign items and pose for photos.
Saad Muhammad and I talked about some recent fights and Arthur Mercante marveled at the photograph I had of him leading Joe Frazier away from the prone Muhammad Ali in their first bout in 1971. Mercante, a Hall of Fame inductee in 1995, has refereed over 115 world title fights and said "I have been involved with lots of great fights, but that (first Ali vs. Frazier fight) was the greatest sporting event."
Travel problems stopped Thursday's public workout of Paul Spadafora, the IBF Lightweight champion. Christy Martin and Eddie Mustafa Muhammad stepped up and invited questions from the gathering. Hasim Rahman is also expected to perform for the crowd in addition to Spadafora.
Martin, the world's most accomplished female fighter, was asked about Tonight’s Laila Ali vs. Jacqui Frazier "event" and scoffed "I am glad you called it an event and not a fight. They are boxing off their family names and I don't blame them. But I think people will think this thing is a joke and it'll be bad for boxing, not only women's boxing." Martin elaborated that neither Ali nor Frazier can fight, "but on the business side, if Laila wants to step up in the ring with me, I am all for it," she added.
George Benton will be officially inducted on Sunday. He was on the grounds early and said "oh man, it's wonderful" when I asked his feeling about the Hall of Fame honor. George was a fine middleweight boxer in the early 1960s, however he is immortalized here as a trainer. Benton will forever be remembered as the trainer for most of the 1984 US Olympic team when they turned professional.
Ken Buchanan, the Scottish former lightweight king who was enshrined in 2000, said his induction weekend was "brilliant. Way beyond my dreams, brilliant, smashing" and he was smiling all the way through. Just like the fans, grabbing autographs and conversation from equally appreciative boxers.
2001 Hall of Fame inductees include:Ismael Laguna, Laslo Papp, Willie Pastrano, Ultiminio "sugar" Ramos, Randy Turpin, Paul Berlenbach, Jim Braddock, Billy Papke, Midget Wlogast, Barney Aaron, George Benton,Promoter Don Chargin, Sam Ichinose, Lester Bromberg, Recordkeeper and cutman Ralph Citro and writer/cartoonist Bill Gallo.