On June 9, 10, 11 and 12, possibly the biggest event in boxing outside of the fights themselves took place in the pleasant little upstate NY town of Canastota…the International Boxing Hall of Fame Induction Weekend. This year was a one-time event that should never be repeated, a three-in-one combo that covered the classes of 2020, 2021 and 2022.
The Hall had been closed the previous years, of course, because of the corona virus epidemic. So this year had to make up for lost time. The voting had continued as always and so the return of on-site activity included all three induction classes in one.
Quite a challenge, but the indomitable HOF staff, led by the three Brophy Boyz, “Good King” Ed, Mike and Jeff, was up to the task. With dedication and perseverance, the HOF staff hit what the Good King described as a “moving target”; the ever-changing conditions brought on by the pandemic. Everything went off and it was like a rebirth of Spring after a long winter.
But wait! No gain without pain, and a lot had happened in the Dead Zone. To the uninitiated, this was Brave New World. But to veteran fans of the event, there was irretrievable loss. Graziano’s Restaurant, the after-hours social center, had not only closed but was completely razed. The dance floor where Alexis Arguello once tripped the fantastic light is just an undistinguished piece of vacant lot. The hotel behind it is gone too. It had for all these years provided a handy gathering place for autograph seekers looking for targets and collectors exchanging treasures.
But in the spirit of boxing, a phoenix that has arisen from its own ashes numerous times, Tony himself is alive and well, at 100! A throwback to the Old Days when Upstate NY was an extension of Madison Square Garden, Tony was heavily involved with the great fights and fighters of that era, right down to the flagship, Carmen Basilio. Fittingly, Tony was Grand Marshall of the IBHOF Parade of Champions.
The Days Inn at the other end of the HOF domain was also eclipsed. Unable to accommodate three classes, it was supplanted by the massive Turning Stone Casino one thruway exit away. The Days Inn, forebodingly defended by a goon squad, had been a daylight hangout for autograph seekers hoping that their favorites would break ranks when entering or leaving and come over to engage in their camaraderie. Many of them did. But this year, the Turning Stone stepped up and provided many conveniences unknown to previous year’s fans who remained in Canastota. Overall attendance was up to speed, and continued mounting as the event drew closer and hence more magnetic.
On to the Classes: 2020 was highlighted by Bernard Hopkins, Juan Manuel Marquez, Shane Mosley, Christy Martin, Lucia Rijker and Barbara Buttrick as modern boxers. Old Timer Frank Erne and Pioneer bare knuckles Paddy Ryan. Among non-combatants were promoters Kathy Duva, Lou DiBella and Dan Goossen, and scribes Thomas Hauser and Bernard Fernandez.
Honorees in 2021 are Floyd Mayweather, Wladimir Klitschko, Andre Ward, Davey Moore, Laila Ali, Ann Wolfe, “Tiger” Trimiar, and women’s pioneer Jackie Tonawanda. Manager Jackie McCoy, trainer Freddie Brown, commission physician Dr. Margaret Goodman, SHOWTIME Exec Jay Larkin and writer George Kimball rounded out the class.
This year’s class was made up of Roy Jones, James Toney, Miguel Cotto, Holly Holm and Regina Halmich, Old Timer Tod Morgan, writer Ron Borges, publicist Bill Caplan, historian Bob Yalen and ring announcer Chuck Hull.
The induction ceremony has traditionally been held on the grounds, but because of the size of the class, had to be moved to the 5000-seat arena at the Turning Stone. It wasn’t completely filled, but a large crowd was on hand. And they got all they wanted and more! The speeches were entertaining, stirring and informative. Lou DiBella observed, “We’re more of a reflection of the real world than any other sport.” And he added philosophically that despite all success and fortune, “If you’ve lost your humanity, you have nothing.” Christy Martin opined that while there were people more famous and successful on the day, “…none of them love their job more than I love mine.” And she earmarked the first class of women boxers by describing how earlier years she had seen the dais occupied by only men but now “… Here’s your sister.” Laila Ali quipped, “I got big hands. I need a size 9,” referring to the ring she was about to be presented. She cited her father’s confidence in her as a critical factor in her own success. Shane Mosley similarly emphasized the support of his “family” of him, extended to include his fans of him. “It wasn’t just me in there.”
Juan Manuel Marquez dedicated his induction “…especially to Mexican and Latino fans.” Miguel Cotto went a step further and delivered his thanks to him in Spanish, while Roy Jones concluded with a rap performance to canned music. Dr. Margaret Goodman emphasized the greater need for drug testing to protect the boxers, a sentiment echoed by Mayweather while emphasizing his own clean record of him. Thomas Hauser’s acceptance of him was remarkable for its almost total lack of reference to himself. Wladimr Klitschko could not be present because of the war in Ukraine but he addressed the assemblage remotely. “Boxing made me a better person, period.” While praising the other inductees, I have criticized Roy Jones for visiting Crimea, a point of bitter contention between Ukraine and Russia. “I respect you as a fighter, but I really question your moral compass.” And he continued into the politics of boxing by condemning the organizations and the resultant territoriality that diminishes the sport, and for deserting the welfare of the boxers once no longer participants. “Life after boxing is much longer than you think.”
Perhaps the most riveting acceptances were delivered by Ward, Hopkins and Mayweather. Andre’s talk was somber, emphasizing his triumph over negative influences common in boxing that can, “… rob fighters of their money, their legacy and their faculties.” This was partially alluding to attempts to lure him back out of retirement with lavish promises. He called the world of boxing, “…a cold, treacherous place sometimes”, but praised the support of family and friends. “I didn’t want to see their faces if I lost.” And he never did. I have praised the contributions of Jones, Mayweather and Hopkins. “I got more from these three than they’ll ever know.” And he applauded the IBHOF for making “…a small town feel like a big town.” Well put.
The most spectacular performance was that of Mayweather. Do not surprise there. In a tour de force, Floyd careened precipitously between humility and grandiose self-promotion. He captured the audience quickly by engaging them in a call-and-response chant. He then praised Floyd Sr… ”I will always put him first”… described his mother as a “queen”, and concluded that if you “… put them together, this is what you get.” And he stepped away from the dais with arms extended in a flourish. He then lauded her sister for investment acumen, adding, “It’s not about what you make; it’s what you do with the money.” Proclaiming with mounting fervor, “I put the heavyweights out of business”, he then claimed to be earning 300 million dollars a month.
Floyd illustrated his monetary power with a story of buying his way out of a contract that he didn’t want. “I never let the sport of boxing [bleep] over me I’m gonna pop my [bleep]. I deserve to.” With a nod to Dr. Margaret Goodman, he cited his own role as a pioneer in drug testing. He concluded rather confidently, “I’m the best. I’ll always be the best.”
As spectacular as Floyd’s performance was, the most dramatic acceptance went to Bernard Hopkins. He rather surprisingly called up referee and Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission director Rudy Battle to share the dais, along with his own son. Hopkins talked about his youth from him in a tough part of Philadelphia and of the street dangers that landed him in prison. At this point, Battle, who knew him from his old ‘hood, entered his life to offer a long train of support, advice and guidance for which Bernard was notably appreciative. He concluded an impassioned and riveting discourse by giving his son the HOF ring, to hold for only a day because, “Things are earned, not given.”
An added fun event has always been the Nate Race 5k, where brave boxers get to try their hand at another sport. In previous years, this had worked out about as expected. The boxers put up valiant and commendable showings but were no match for the most dedicated runners. Not this year! Super middle prospect Sebastian Fundora, a/k/a “The Towering Inferno”, turned in a phenomenal performance in 18 minutes and 12 seconds and finished 4th overall. This was the first time a boxer has effectively threatened to win the race.
Another challenge was met by a woman fan who managed to fit herself and the 6′ 6” boxer into a selfie! Among other boxers, Shawn Porter finished 83rf in 27:19, a fixture in this event, Marlon Starling, was here as always and finished a good 114th in 29:04; and an intrepid Sean O’Grady determinedly represented the senior class in a time of 50:26, finishing 328th.
A can’t-miss event is always the memorabilia show at the high school gym. This isn’t just for collectors. It’s a gathering of the boxing community as well as a movable museum. The number of exhibitors was noticeably down this year, but it was still well worth attending.
Russell Peltz, a Hall of Famer himself, was there selling his book, $30 and A Cut Eye, an absolute must. Matchmaker Eric Bottjer was hawking press passes from major events. There was a John L. Sullivan whiskey bottle, empty, unfortunately, and Muhammad Ali popcorn, contents unspecified.
Of course, there are gloves, trunks, punching bags, and other paraphernalia, many autographed items. And naturally posters, books, magazines, photos…you name it. There’s history to be learned too; plenty on old fighters or local heroes who’ve been largely forgotten amidst Pac, Canelo, Floyd and the modern Superstars. An old worn and tattered poster from a jerkwater town showed ticket prices of 75 cents!
And a marquee fight at Madison Square Garden between Rocky Castellani and Ernie Durando, both major factors in the middleweight division of the early ’50s, had tickets up to $8. The price tag for the poster covered the high end, but this appeared to be the 2na-highest price. Now you pay $75 for a herky-jerk show in a hotel ballroom between preliminary fighters and setups! The memorabilia show provides a sharp focus for those who take notice.
World events are turning over with increasing rapidity, so that the grand return of IBHOF Induction Weekend didn’t so much end as pause…like a 1930s movie serial cliffhanger.
To be continued…