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27 APRIL 2018

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International Boxing Hall Of Weekend

By Jeff Jowett in Canastota: It rained nearly the whole time of the 24th annual International Boxing Hall of Fame Induction Weekend, June 6-9, 2013. But a bad day at the Hall of Fame Induction is still better than a good day anywhere else…at least if you’re a fight fan.


The Hall resides in the quaint and pleasant little town of Canastota, just off the Thruway exit in Upstate New York. It is presided over by the Brophy Boyz…”Good King” Ed, Mike, and Jeff…so that Manny, Moe & Jack, or Moe, Larry & Curley have nothing on the Lake Oneida Valley. Don’t confuse Upstate with Metropolitan New York! The people are nice; a local fight fan bragged he doesn’t lock his doors; a valuable unused Mayweather fight ticket left in a hotel drawer was returned. The opening ceremony was a touching memorial to recently departed Carmen Basilio, who of course is to this area like Ali to Louisville or Holmes to Easton, with the announcer singing “Amazing Grace.” Inductee Mills Lane was in attendance, able to walk but not speaking, while his son assisted (and reportedly sounds just like him). Jake La Motta was there, not cracking any jokes but resorting to physical humor instead, pretending to hit the announcer in the cojones. Others included both Spinks’, “Moochie” Starling, Bonecrusher, Manfredy, McCrory, Juan LaPorte, Shavers, Cuevas, Backus, Micky Ward, both Ortegas, father and son, and Jimmy Lennon Jr. Julian Jackson said, “I’d like to introduce the real Hawk,” to graciously acknowledge Aaron Pryor.


This year’s class wasn’t a real banner attraction, and crowds seemed a bit down. Compounding the situation was the sad fact that the leading entrant could not be there. He’s no longer living. That would be Arturo Gatti. The hard-hitting sensation is controversial on another front as well. Does he deserve to be in the Hall? The issue revolves around definition. As the name states, this is a hall of “fame”. On that criterion, there is no question. Arturo could sell out the cavernous Atlantic City Convention Hall in a heartbeat, and his TV ratings and “fight of the year” nominations are legend. But the very name “hall of fame” also implies a level of greatness over and above pure fame. Otherwise, Butterbean would be a shoo-in.


Of course, the decision depends on where one fixes the bar, and nearly every fan might have a slightly different conception of that. In a 40-9 (31) career in which he was stopped five time, many of the losses affected by cuts, Gatti won two more-or-less “legitimate” titles, plus a third somewhat contrived. He took the IBF super feather crown from Tracy Harris Patterson and defended it against him, as well as KOing Wilson Rodriguez and stopping Gabriel Ruelas. He won the vacant WBC light welter title against the vaunted Gianluca Branco, ended the brief career of Leonard Dorin with a KO, and halted a used-up Jesse James Leija. He caught otherwise good fighters like Calvin Grove and Joey Gamache at the ends of their careers. His truly iconic battles were with Micky Ward and Ivan Robinson, where he went 2-3. Angel Manfredy and Oscar De La Hoya stopped him, and in a Megafight against Mayweather, he couldn’t lay a glove on Floyd. A Hall of Famer???


Other inductees among moderns were Virgil Hill and Myung-Woo Yuh. The WBA light fly titlist had only 39 fights, but look what he did! After taking the title on a split decision from Joey Olivo (15 rounds, no less!), Yuh rolled up 17 straight defenses! All were in his native Korea, so maybe the judges should share the HOF honors? At last venturing to Japan, he lost his crown in his only defeat, a split decision to Hiroki Ioka. But assuring his HOF credential, he came back to regain the title on a majority verdict over Ioka…in Japan! One more defense and Myung-Woo called it a career. Hill, of course, was a fixture atop the light heavies and cruisers for 20 years! In a 50-7 career with 23 KOs (seems like a small number considering how long he fought), Virgil won the WBA light heavy title stopping Leslie Stewart, and defended it 10 times before losing to Thomas Hearns. Yes, some of those defenses were jokes (David Vedder, 12-8-3; Mike Peak, 9-3-2), but he also defeated James Kinchen and Bobby Czyz. And he wasn’t done! He rewon the now-vacant title against Frank Tate and defended it nine more times, including Fabrice Tiozzo, Saul Montana, Drake Thadzi, Lou Del Valle and Tate again before a unification victory over Henry Maske. He quickly lost the titles to Dariusz Michalcsewski and got demolished by Roy Jones. But Virgil still wasn’t finished! He moved up to WBA Cruiser to stop old foe Tiozzo in one round, but then immediately lost it when he couldn’t answer the bell against Jean Marc Mormeck. He tried again unsuccessfully against Mormeck, but when the title became vacant, Hill won it once more against Valery Brudov. In his final two fights, he lost again to Maske and then dropped the title for the last time, to Firat Arslan. Now that’s a Hall of Fame career!


Old Timers were Wesley Ramey and Jeff Smith, who racked up careers of 158-26-11 and 149-31-5!!! Do the Moderns compare to THESE guys??? Better ask historian Don Majeski. The smooth-boxing but no-punch-whatsoever Ramey was a lightweight out of Grand Rapids who scored only 9 knockouts while defeating all-time greats like Benny Bass, Johnny Jadick, Tony Canzoneri, Cocoa Kid, Lew Jenkins and Leo Rodak in the 1930s. The NY middleweight Smith fought early in the last century and defeated George Chip, Eddie McGoorty, Jimmy Clabby and Les Darcy, while meeting Harry Greb seven times. He had quite a bit more “pop” than Ramey, with 52 KOs, but even so, it would seem these guys weren’t being fed many stiffs or pushovers. In the Pioneer category, 190lber Joe Coburn. Born in Ireland and fighting out of NYC, the bare knuckler went undefeated through his career, but as was common under London Prize Ring rules, which demanded essentially a “fight to the finish”, the record is speckled with draws. His first fight, versus Ned Price, went 160 rounds to a stalemate! How’s that for a lot of effort for little gain? He also twice drew with Jem Mace. ‘Nough said.

Non-Participants were Mills Lane, who certainly needs no introduction, and another guy who needs none, but certainly COULD introduce Lane, Jimmy Lennon Jr. Unfortunately posthumous was the induction of Mexican manager/trainer “Cuyo” Hernandez, who guided the careers of greats Carlos Zarate, Ricardo Lopez and Ruben Olivares, among many others. Inducted as Observers were Ted Carroll and Colin Hart. Ever heard of Carroll? No wonder, they couldn’t even find a picture of him! But for 50 years, the New Yorker’s cartoons and writings graced The Ring. Born in England, Hart’s career as a boxing journalist began in 1964 and includes such classics as Ali-Frazier I, The Thrilla in Manila, Ali-Foreman, and Leonard-Hearns I. Hart was in attendance but Carroll is deceased.


A focal event every year is the collectors’ show which takes place in the local high school. Even for those who don’t collect memorabilia, this event is worth the small price of admission. Some of the great names of present-day boxing can be found manning the tables. This would include a Hall of Famer himself, Russell Peltz. A great opportunity to talk boxing…just don’t interfere with the paying customers! Iran Barkley was signing autographs, the recent reports of his “heart attack” evidently a bit over-stated. You can also meet descendants and family members of famous fighters. This year’s inclusions were the families of Joey Giardello and “Jersey” Joe Walcott. But the sheer volume and variety of “stuff” is mind-boggling! Countless posters: Archie Moore-Willie Pastrano, Emile Griffith-Ralph Dupas, and so on. Even more books: Jackie “Kid” Berg, “The Bite Fight”, an entire book on Tyson biting Holyfield’s ear! A doll of Mike in prison stripes was a popular item, and you could get a “Cassius Clay” hand puppet. There were Muhammad Ali Wheaties boxes, with the Wheaties removed. Also a Rocky Marciano commemorative whisky bottle…sorry, no contents. A half pint bottle of John L. Sullivan booze was also sadly empty. And let’s not forget Holyfield barbecue sauce; this might possibly have been full.


A photo of a 1915 Jack Dempsey, taken in Oakland, sold for $400. Yikes! And who’d have thought this guy would in a few years become a legendary heavyweight champion; he looks like a punk! And there’s a picture of Firpo…Henry Firpo, that is. Claims 144 fights; fought Jack Britton; $20, for comparison. How do we know this stuff is authentic? Well, some of the tables advertised DNA certification, whatever that is. Sounds scary. For those of modern vintage, there was a whole table full of DVDs and VHFs. Can that be legal? Regardless, the memorabilia show is like walking through a vast boxing museum…with the proviso that if you like something enough, you can take it with you. Famed collector Mustafa Terens, whose collection is to go on display at Brooklyn College, spent a couple grand on photos and beamed, “It was worth every penny.”



Another unusual event, not for the faint-hearted, is the annual 5k race, open to all comers. The Hall sponsors any boxers who want to run, adding an extra dimension for the fans. The run provides a rare…maybe once in a lifetime…opportunity to compete against your favorite boxer; fortunately for the fan, not in the ring. The boxers typically hang around at the finish to schmooze, affording another opportunity to interact with the heroes on a level plane. This year was the 18th running of the Nate Race. Although roadwork is essential training, boxers can’t normally compete with runners on the road any more than the reverse in the ring. This year was an exception! Local light heavy prospect Ryon McKenzie ran what must have been the best time ever for a boxer, traversing the 3.1 mile course in 19 minutes 8 seconds while finishing an astounding 11th overall! He even went to the awards ceremony to proudly claim his medal. Other boxers, in order of finish: Julius Jackson (less than a minute off McKenzie!), his dad Julian, Virgil Hill (father and son, running together), Milt McCrory, Angel Manfredy (in his dotage coming to resemble boxing writer John Scheinman), Tracy Harris Patterson, Marlon Starling, Micky Ward, and Marvin Hagler. From Hill to Ward, they were tightly bunched between 29:01 and 29:38, so you can bet the competition was furious in the stretch. Leading the officials was referee Charlie Fitch, who managed an eye-caching 28:12 despite a late night and a physically tough assignment in the Brinson-Melendez melee the night before at nearby Turning Stone Casino. Christy Martin, a consistent entrant in recent years, missed this time, but thought so much of the event that she still sent for a T-shirt.


Much of Induction Weekend is orchestrated, with planned activities and lines of demarcation. Like many things in life, this is a double-edged sword. The Hall must maintain structure, and the fans want access to the celebs. This is a source of much carping, but also can be a lot of fun. Dodging security and making chance encounters with favorites can highlight the experience. One fan went into Graziano’s bar on Thursday afternoon and ended up conviviating with Aaron Pryor and Earnie Shavers. Another struck a deal with the vendors of a book, The Future of Boxing, which was being extensively hawked all over Canastota. The deal was to take a poster for the book, which was the back of a round card, and cover it with autographs. Then a promotional photo would be taken and the fan would get the book, valued up to $100 depending on who you dealt with, for free. By Saturday afternoon, he’d almost succeeded.


Much of the fun for the autograph seekers, and some frustration too, revolves around the Days Inn, where the fighters and important people stay. It’s strictly off limits, well cordoned by goons. It’s not hard to see the rationale for this. Yes, the fans want access. But the Hall can’t have zealots running up and down the corridors all night knocking on doors. So it becomes a Valhalla; you can see it, but you can’t go there. Fans hang outside at all hours, secured behind barriers. It’s up to the boxers and celebs to come over…or not. And this can be an interesting exercise, separating the wheat from the chaff, as it were. One time when everyone comes marching out is for the cocktail reception on Saturday evening. Arriving early, Leon Spinks is outside signing, and he’s cordial to everyone. A smiling Larry Hazzard came by, and he too signed cordially. Aaron Pryor came back from wherever, and without hesitation came over and greeted everyone. A fan asked who was better, Hagler or Leonard, and Aaron quickly replied “Leonard”. But when someone asked him what time it was, he looked at his watch. Must be slipping a tad. One-time welterweight Dickie DiVeronica, a local fixture, required no coaxing to stop and chat.


Then the parade began, onto the bus and vans that would take them to the reception. In fairness to the dignitaries, “Good King” Brophy was managing this with a tight rein. Danny Lopez, Carlos Palomino, Manfredy, Cooney, Michael Spinks, Peltz, Jimmy Lennon Jr. , Randy “Too Sweet” Gordon, Shavers, Woo, Simon Brown, Barkley, Julian Jackson, Hagler, Starling, Mosely, Mia St. John, Billy Backus, Sergio Martinez all passed by, some with a smile and wave, some with a few words of jest. Sometimes it was the fans’ turn. When Bonecrusher squeezed into the front seat of a mini-van, one of the staff was heard asking, “Anyone else?” To which a fan called out, “Not in the front seat!” But others were clearly torn and obviously wanted to meet their admirers; Carlos Ortiz, always one of the most congenial, and Virgil Hill notably. Micky Ward started to go over to an autograph seeker and was cut off by security. Leon came back out and was obviously torn, as new fans had arrived, standing in indecision as a chant of “Le-on! Le-on!” went up. Finally, he acquiesced to the organizers. And finally, Pipino Cuevas defied all protocol, broke ranks and came over, signing autograph after autograph while staff insistently called and called him to get on the van. Julius Jackson did likewise. What a pleasure!


While dinners and receptions require a ticket, many totally free events take place on the grounds. One of these is the fisting. No, not what you think. This is where the boxers’ fists are cast for display in the museum. Mills Lane (also a collegiate boxing champion in addition to referee), Mike Weaver, Yuh, McCrory, Julian Jackson and Zab Judah were all so honored this year. And not just boxers…Jimmy Lennon Jr. was fisted, with a clenched dowel so that a microphone can be added. The collection was actually started long ago by one Dr. Kaplan, a New York dentist, using the casting material employed for dentures. The fists aren’t metal; they’re bronzed and painted to look that way. No one has gotten stuck during the process, but there have been some  close calls. And no one trying to sell one of the casts for memorabilia can be trusted; they are destroyed after the final product is complete. Lectures and informal talks go on around the grounds all day. Recently retired Mia St. John blamed MMA for siphoning off fans and the decline of boxing. When asked about Don King, she hesitated and replied, “Yeah, he ripped me off, too.”


Conspicuous absences: Gene Fullmer; Ruben Olivares, always one of the most friendly and accessible boxers, reportedly from high blood pressure; Dr. Sorrel Feldman; Lucia Rijker and Terry Norris (because of St. John and Jackson, quipped some wags).


Conspicuous presences: George Chuvalo, Harold Lederman, Gaspar Ortega, Tony DeMarco, parade Grand Marshall Rosie Perez, who got good marks from photographer “Baltimore” Mike Greenhill.

Egregious omissions: Don Elbaum.


Inside or outside, paying customer or moocher, Hall of Fame weekend is a splendid event that every serious fight fan must experience.

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