By Jeff Jowett: The New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame held its 44th Annual Induction Dinner on Nov. 14, at the usual haunt, The Venetian in Garfield. Also as usual, President Henry Hascup did an outstanding job as Emcee. “When I was elected 25 years ago,” Henry declared, “a guy told me I wouldn’t be elected again in two years. ‘Why?’ I asked him. ‘Is somebody going to beat me?’ He answered, ‘No, this is a dying organization.’ Well, that was 25 years ago and he’s the only one who’s dead.” Indeed, the event attracted a near sell-out of over 500, larger than some fight crowds. Henry proclaimed it a “huge success.” Chaplain Pierre Benoist opened with the invocation and Danielle Weisfeld sang the National Anthem.
The major attraction was Mike Tyson. Although he’s more associated with NY and Vegas, much of Mike’s development fights as well as several major title contests were held in Atlantic City. And, of course, he resided in New Jersey for much of that time. It wasn’t expected that Tyson could make it, so it surprised and delighted the crowd when “Iron” Mike walked in and took his place on the dais, looking as he did when in fighting trim. “Having Tyson show up is like getting Lebron James on your team,” observed Boxing Writers’ Ass’n president Jack Hirsch. But Hascup had been honest and indicated prominently in promotions that Tyson would not be there.
Between the competition from the excited buzz in the crowd and the inability to properly hold a microphone, many of the acceptances were difficult to hear. Most recipients thanked God, their coach and family, usually in that order. It didn’t matter; seeing the celebs duly honored for their contributions was what it was all about. The honors fittingly included the amateurs, who beamed at being able to pose with Tyson as well as their awards. Leroy Davila, Michael Hilton and Ayesha Green got Amateur Boxer of the Year awards while Shakur Stevenson took home Jr Olympic Boxer of the Year. Shakur was certainly in the running for happiest person in the place, though there was no award for that. Wali Moses earned Amateur Coach of the Year and Barry Hyman did same for Amateur Official. Cited for his work in youth development, Irvin “Poochie” Hill was Man of the Year. Poochie also had amateur career of 31 bouts before going into law enforcement.
Professionals in addition to Tyson included Ray Mercer, Joe Gatti, Sal Lopez and Frank Savannah, plus another Tyson…Otha. The Paterson lightweight of the ‘70s campaigned largely in the great little clubs in North Jersey at the time, including Plaza Arena in Secaucus and Embassy Hall in N. Bergen. Mercer, Gatti, Lopez and Savannah were present, but another honoree, Marvin Hagler, didn’t make it. Glen Tapia was designated NJ Professional Boxer of the Year.
Honored for their contributions outside the ropes were Bernard Fernandez, judges Julie Elizabeth Lederman and Barbara Perez, Carl “Oglethorpe” Moretti, and promoter Gabe LaConte. Barbara was introduced by her famous husband, also a Hall of Famer, referee Tony. And of course Julie Elizabeth by her well-known father, the affable Harold, who delayed his departure to the Ward-Rodriguez fight for this more important event. The matchmaker and Man-Who-Can-Do-Everything Moretti was given the name “Oglethorpe” out of fondness by the late Madison Square Garden publicist Tommy Kenville when he was a beginner out of college in the Garden boxing department. Oogie of course continued to make his mark with Main Events and now with Top Rank. Moretti revealed the little-known information that he had three amateur bouts before getting knocked out in the fourth. And, of course, he hyped the upcoming Rigondeaux fight.
The biggest stir occurred with the induction of legendary New Orleans street fighter and boxing writer Bernard Fernandez. Bernard was intro’d by another Bernard…Hopkins. Almost as good an orator as he is a fighter, Bernard…Hopkins, that is…held forth clearly and at length on how Bernard…Fernandez, that is…had supported him through 90% of his career, and how they had “agreed to disagree.” When requested to fill in as a late substitute to give the introduction, he was quick to reply, “I’m there!” And so he was! Fernandez dedicated most of his acceptance to his “favorite fighter”…no, not Bernard…Jack Fernandez, his dad. The elder Fernandez had been a professional and once had fought on the undercard to an Archie Moore fight in San Diego. About this time, well into the evening, someone in the Tyson entourage decided it was time to leave. “Iron” Mike had to be in California for the Ward-Rodriguez blockbuster. Upon descending from the dais, admirers surrounded him and set up their own separate event. Hopkins then took the microphone from Fernandez and stalked to the end of the platform, above the sideshow, and sharply harangued Tyson for the discourtesy, although it may not have been entirely Mike’s fault. “Iron” Mike then proceeded on out.
One sobering note in the otherwise gala evening was the absence of long-time North Jersey promoter LaConte, sidetracked by serious illness. His acceptance was made by Vinnie LaManna, who paid a moving and heartfelt tribute to his mentor.
Posthumous awards were also made, to cruiser and heavyweight Carlos Hernandez, who faced George Foreman on the latter’s comeback but unfortunately passed away of illness at only 36, and ‘20s referee Harry Ertle. Family members were present to accept the awards, including Ertle’s son…at 102!
And let’s hope he can make it back next year…at 103. The Hall and Hascup will still be there.