By Robert Kunz
The International Boxing Hall of Fame celebrated its 30th anniversary (1989-2019) June 6-9.
It did not take me very long to find some boxing fans who have attended every induction since 1990. The Boxing Hall of Fame opened its doors with a ribbon cutting ceremony in 1989, and inducted its first class in 1990.
I wish I would have attended the early years, and especially that first induction when stories of seeing Muhammad Ali walking around town were common.
There were 53 inductees (46 boxers) inducted in that first class. The 15 living boxers inducted in 1990 were Ali, Carmen Basilio, Billy Conn, Bob Foster, Joe Frazier, Kid Gavilan, Emile Griffith, Jake LaMotta, Archie Moore, Jose Napoles, Willie Pep, Sandy Saddler, Jersey Joe Walcott, and Ike Williams. Looking back in the archives from 1990, then and still Executive Director Ed Brophy was close to securing attendance of 14 of those 15 living honorees.
I believe my first year attending events at the Boxing Hall of Fame was in 1997, and I never did have the good fortune to meet Conn, Napoles, Walcott, Williams, or Ali from that first induction class. Some of the fondest moments of my 20-plus years have been meeting Sylvester Stallone, Floyd Patterson, Archie Moore, Sugar Ray Leonard, George Foreman, Marvin Hagler, Tommy Hearns, Ken Norton, Joe Frazier, and Oscar De La Hoya.
If I look back at my recap from 2018, I was totally wrong in any predictions for the Class of 2019. I predicted the class would contain one or two modern boxers from a list that included Michael Moore, Ricky Hatton, and Ivan Calderon.
The three modern boxers selected for the Class of 2019 were Donald Curry, Julian Jackson, and James “Buddy” McGirt.
Curry is a former amateur standout and 1980 United States Olympic Boxing Team member. In 1980, the United States boycotted the Moscow Summer Olympics, so Curry did not get a chance to compete for a medal. He finished his career with a 34-6 record, and held a number of welterweight and light middleweight belts.
Curry was co-honored as Ring Magazine’s 1985 “Fighter of the Year” (Hagler the other).
Jackson started his career at 29-0 before his first loss in 1986 to fellow Hall of Famer Mike McCullum. Jackson didn’t suffer a second defeat until 1993, and he accumulated 46 victories leading up to that bout. Jackson held multiple light middleweight and middleweight belts during his career, and finished with a record of 55-6.
Jackson was known to have great one punch power, and 49 of his 55 victories were by knockout.
McGirt finished his career with a 73-6-1 record, and held light welterweight and welterweight belts. Two of McGirt’s losses were 12-round decisions to Pernell Whitaker. McGirt entered the first fight with Whitaker in 1993 at 59-2-1. It would not be surprising to see McGirt honored a second time in the future by the Boxing Hall of Fame as a trainer.
Honored in the Old Timers category was Tony DeMarco. In 2005, the Hall of Fame changed the criteria for the Old Timer category from “no bout later than 1942” to “no fight later than 1988.” At the same time, the Modern criteria was also changed from “last bout no earlier than 1943” to “last bout no earlier than 1989.” With this rule change, it is easier to elect a boxer who fought in the 1950s to the 1970s and still maintain the limit of three boxers elected per year in the Modern Category.
DeMarco retired in 1962 with a record of 58-12-1. He was selected by Ring Magazine in 1955 for the “Fight of the Year.” It really strikes you as to DeMarco’s longevity when you see him sign a Ring Magazine cover published back in 1955.
In 1955, DeMarco won a world championship from Johnny Saxton and in the same year had two thrilling bouts against Carmen Basilio. He would fight five times that year, a drop off in his rate of eight bouts per year in 1952 and 1953, and seven bouts in 1954. It is hard to imagine a boxer taking eight fights in a year or the three of five championship caliber fights in 1955. DeMarco was inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame at the age of 87.
Guy Jutras was inducted as a referee, and beat DeMarco as being the oldest living member of the Class of 2019. In March, Jutras turned 88 years old. As a judge and referee, Jutras was part of more than 75 championship bouts. Bouts included those of Marvin Hagler, Roberto Duran, Vinny Paz, Pernell Whitaker, Johnny Tapia, Micheal Spinks and Manny Pacquiao just to name a few.
Rounding out the Class of 2019 were matchmaker Don Elbaum, broadcaster Teddy Atlas, and journalist Lee Samuels. Elbaum promoted fights featuring greats such as Ali, Floyd Patterson, Willie Pep, and Sonny Liston. Atlas, who once trained under Cus D’Amato, worked as a commentator for boxing matches aired by ESPN, ABC Wide World of Sports, and NBC Olympic Sports. Samuels was the chief publicist for Top Rank for 38 years. A break out assignment for Samuels was his coverage of Marvin Hagler as he prepared for his 1987 fight with Sugar Ray Leonard. Samuels has traveled the globe covering the super bouts for the past four decades.
All eight living members were in attendance, and all were very accessible to fans. It was one of the easier years to complete a Hall of Fame induction program. I was thinking it would be difficult — especially with eight members being inducted and the ages of DeMarco and Jutrus. I would say the least accessible was Jutrus, but after the Friday afternoon fist casting on the Hall of Fame grounds, he did sit down inside a small tent and signed for fans. I was surprised at the time of submission of this article that only one signed induction program was for sale on eBay for $99.99.
Returning Hall of Famers included Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Erik Morales, Orlando Canizales, Carlos Ortiz, Michael Spinks, Humberto Gonzalez, Stanley Christodoulou, and Steve Smoger. Expectations were high for a strong returning group of boxers for this, the 30th anniversary celebration, and I am surprised each year that there isn’t more support by the younger, more recent inductees.
The returning boxer’s star power was also hurt by the cancellations of Pernell Whitaker and Marco Antonio Barrera. It was nice to see Carlos Ortiz return after an absence of a couple of years. This was the first time back for Canizales since his induction in 2009.
Morales, Spinks, and Gonzalez all signed at multiple events during the weekend. Ortiz and Canizales were a bit more difficult to find and were tougher autographs. The only time I did encounter Canizales was when he was walking to a local McDonald’s. He stopped and graciously signed a couple of items for me. Access to Marvin Hagler was more limited than a typical year since he did not arrive in Canastota until after 6 p.m. on Saturday night. Hagler did attend the Saturday Night Banquet of Champions, the Sunday Parade, and the Sunday induction ceremony.
A total of 20 non-Hall of Fame guests appeared at a number of the weekend events. The Hall of Fame usually brings out a couple of big names in the world of boxing each year. Past non-Hall of Fame guests have included Amir Khan, Andre Ward, James Toney, Deontay Wilder, and Wladimir Klitschko (as brother Vitali was inducted last year).
I look forward to these guests, as they normally are boxers who I have never seen before, and I always like getting a first autograph from someone on my wish list. The biggest named guests for me this year were Paulie Ayala and Vinny Paz (formerly Vinny Pazienza).
Ayala (35-3) held super bantamweight and bantamweight titles, and in 1999 was selected by Ring Magazine as “Fighter of the Year” and his bout that same year against Johnny Tapia was selected as “Fight of the Year.”
Paz, The Tazmanian Devil, was a five-time world champion who has fought Roy Jones Jr., Roberto Duran, Greg Haugen, Hector Camacho, and Roger Mayweather. In 1991, Paz, then middleweight champion, sustained a broken neck in a car accident. Despite a recovery that included a halo screwed to his skull, Paz would train and return to the ring a little more than one year after the accident. He might have never walked again much less fought again.
There are a number of iconic photos of Paz working out with that attached halo. The 1996 film “Bleed for This” is based on Paz’s accident and his miraculous return to boxing. It is easy to notice that Paz proudly wore a “5X” embroidered hat and bears a “5X” tattoo on one hand signifying his five-time world champion accomplishment.
Micky Ward, Earnie Shavers, Mark Breland, Antonio Tarver, David Benavidez, Micheal Moorer, Iran Barkley, Jesse James Leija, Jorge Arce, Junior Jones, Marvin Johnson, Marlin Starling, Billy Backus, and Sugar Shane Mosley were the special guests for 2019. First time guests were David Benadiez and Jorge Arce.
Benadiez has a current record of 21-0 and is a former super middleweight champion. He is back training again after a drug related suspension, and held two public workloads on the grounds of the Hall of Fame.
Arce is only the second Mexican boxer to win a world title in four weight divisions (Erik Molares was the first). Arce held titles as a light flyweight, a super flyweight, a featherweight, and a bantamweight. He retired in 2014 with a record of 64-8.
Arce and fellow Mexican boxer Juan Manuel Marquez are two future Hall of Fame candidates as the only top 10 boxers from Mexico not yet in the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
Unfortunately, for me, Arce was announced at the last minute (along with Sugar Shane Mosley) and I was not prepared for his appearance. And to be honest, I was not that familiar with his resumé. I missed out on getting some quality items signed by Arce. I hope for a future induction and his return to Canastota.
Rumors were that the Hall of Fame was trying to get just-crowned heavyweight champion Andy Ruiz Jr. to attend, as well. That would have been a nice addition, but I never did see Ruiz.
Actor Holt McCallany, who had roles in “Fight Club” and in the HBO production of “Tyson,” where he played real-life trainer Teddy Atlas, was this year’s parade Grand Marshal.
This year, I spent a majority of my time at events at the Hall of Fame grounds, the boxing events at the Turning Stone Casino, and the Golf Tournament at Casolwood Golf Course. I decided against picking up some late tickets to the Saturday night cocktail reception and Banquet of Champions, since I put my time and money into other events. And I really had nothing else with me to get signed. I made that decision around 3 p.m. Saturday when there was still no sign of Marvin Hagler. I made the assumption he had cancelled, as well. (There were the previously mentioned cancellations by Whitaker and Barrera, but also Clarissa Shields and Ricky Hatton were guest cancellations.)
Fans who only attended the free events on the Hall of Fame grounds on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday would have made out well. There were talks, signings, workouts, and the always popular fist casting. Boxers who signed on the Hall of Fame grounds were Benadiez, Arce, Breland, Moorer, Marvin Johnson, Ayala, Paz, and I believe each member of the Class of 2019.
When Paz was assigned to a tent, the crowd quickly grew to 80 to 100 people. While Paz signed for 10 to 15 minutes, he took so much time with each fan that he likely got to only 15 to 20 fans. I was about 35th to 40th in line, and I swear I only moved three feet. I have to give a nod to Michael Moorer as the best signer of the weekend, with Buddy McGirt coming in a close second. Seems like wherever you turned, those two were out signing for fans.
This year I decided to focus my attention on two paid events during the induction weekend: the boxing card and pre-fight VIP party at Turning Stone Casino, and the Hall of Fame Golf Tournament. Both events cost $85 each. While the VIP party price was only $50, you also had to purchase a fight ticket. Prices for the fight started at $35.
The VIP party was attended by inductees Julian Jackson, Buddy McGirt, Donald Curry, Lee Samuels, and Teddy Atlas. Hall of Fame members attending were Erik Morales, Michael Spinks, and Humberto Gonzalez. Non-Hall of Fame guests were Iran Barkley, Ernie Shavers, and Antonio Tarver.
The boxer with the longest autograph (or meet and greet if you did not want an autograph) line was by far 2019 inductee Donald Curry. Curry signed for a long time and his line stretched across one side of the room for nearly 30 minutes. All the guests signed a good amount, so even getting two signatures for many of the guests was possible. It was a pretty good value for meeting and getting signatures from 11 guests.
Fans also got to enjoy a night of live boxing as Cletus Seldin stopped Zab Judah in the 11th round in the second co-main event. Seldin would improve his record to 24-1 with the win over the six-time world champion. In the first co-main event, David Papot (22-0-1) and James McGirt Jr. (27-3-1) battled for 12 rounds with two middleweight title belts on the line only for the bout to be scored a split decision draw.
In one undercard, Alciblade Duran Galvan (Robert Duran Jr.) remained undefeated (3-0) after a four round decision over Jonathan Pierre. There was high anticipation that Roberto Duran might be in attendance for the Hall of Fame weekend, but regrettably that was not the case. Vinny Paz worked the corner for Duran Jr. I had forgotten he was part of the Duran Jr. team, and that explained why he did not attend the VIP event.
The golf tournament has an option for golfers as well as an option for a clubhouse pass. During the day, fans are treated to an all-you-can-eat chicken barbeque, and the boxing guests come in and out from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. Some of the boxing greats sit under a tent and sign for fans while others just come for a barbeque lunch (but sign a few as they come and go). In past years special guests such as Sugar Ray Leonard, Oscar De La Hoya, and Gerry Cooney have also participated as golfers.
Since there were no celebrity golfers this year, many of the greats rode around in golf carts and met with golfers on the course. Signing this year at the golf event were 2019 inductees Tony DeMarco, Buddy McGirt, Donald Curry, Lee Samuels, and Teddy Atlas. Hall of Fame members attending golf were Erik Morales, Humberto Gonzalez and Michael Spinks. Non-Hall of Fame guests were Paulie Ayala, Vinnie Panzinnza, Michael Moorer, Mark Breland, and Micky Ward. The most popular guest for this event was by far Paz. He did sign under the tent, and his line stretched to the clubhouse. Paz again spent a lot of time with each guest, and would generally personalize most items. Only a few items did I see him not personalize. He would also add “Stay Strong,” “5X,” or “5X World Champion.” Since he did spend a lot of time with each fan, he did not get through the entire line before he had to leave.
I had tried to have Paulie Ayala sign both multi-signed “Fighter of the Year” and “Fight of the Year” gloves that I have been working on for a number of years. On Thursday and Friday, when I asked him, he would only offer to sign if he also personalized the gloves. I might not normally mind the personalization, but there is limited space when there are so many boxers honored by Ring Magazine with these yearly titles. At the golf event, he was not personalizing, so I was happy to add him to my gloves. I was able to meet and get signatures from 13 guests.
Reflecting back I am not sure which event I would pick if I had to choose just one. Generally, the guests were quite common between the two. When you add in the live boxing, I would have to lean towards that event as a not to miss event in future years.
The Boxing Hall of Fame induction weekend still sits as a highlight of the year, no other major sports enshrinement comes close to holding so many public events. The opportunity for autographs, getting your photo with or having a lengthy conversation with a boxing great, asking a question during a talk, or maybe even sitting down next to a legend over a chicken barbeque lunch are far greater than you would find at baseball, basketball, hockey or football induction events. For fan interaction, there is no comparison.
After my poor performance at predicting the three boxers for the Class of 2019, I almost hate to make a prediction for 2020; however, Sergio Martinez and Juan Manual Marquez should be locks. As for the third, that will be a tough call. I would like to see Ricky Hatton, and if not, hopefully Hatton will make the trip to Canastota anyway.
Robet Kunz is a freelance contributor to Sports Collectors Digest. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.