By Robert Kunz
While the boxing world still mourned the passing of Muhammad Ali, a new class of boxing hall of famers was enshrined to the International Boxing Hall of Fame over the June 9-12 weekend.
From the opening bell, to daily talks, to a five-minute montage at the annual Banquet of Champions, to a standing 10 count at the induction ceremony, Ali was remembered and was on the minds of boxing fans in Canastota that weekend. Many fans remembered Ali’s presence as a member of the very first Hall of Fame induction class in 1990. Ali would return to Upstate New York for the honoring of Don King as he entered the Hall of Fame and for his daughter’s, Laila Ali, debut fight at Turning Stone Resort in 1999. I will always feel a little empty as I never had the pleasure to meet “the greatest” in person.
Heading up the new class was three weight division champion Hector “Macho” Camacho, two weight division champions Lupe Pintor and Hilario Zapata, boxing judge and long-time HBO ringside judge Harold Lederman, Nevada State Athletic Commissioner Marc Ratner, journalist Jerry Izenberg and broadcaster Col. Bob Sheridan, who has called nearly 10,000 bouts, and who called an unbelievable 1,000th world title fight on July 23, when Oscar Valdez defeated Matias Adrian Rueda in two rounds for the featherweight belt.
Hector “Macho” Camacho who would win 79 fights in his career was honored posthumously after his death from a fatal gunshot wound in 2012.
Pintor, a former bantamweight and junior featherweight champion, would join the likes of Ruben Olivares, Julio Caesar Chavez, Ricardo Lopez, and Pipino Cuevas as Hall of Famers hailing from Mexico, while Zapata, a former flyweight and junior flyweight champion would join the likes of Roberto Duran, Ismael Laguna, and Eusebio Pedroza as Hall of Famers hailing from Panama.
Sheridan and Izenberg spoke of their decades-long friendship with Ali. Sheridan was present ringside for around 20 Ali fights, including the historic 1974 bout from Zaire, “Rumble in the Jungle,” against George Foreman. Lederman also had ties with Ali, and was a ringside judge for the third fight between Ali and Ken Norton in 1976 at Yankee Stadium. That fight was just one of the 333 fights judged by Lederman including fights by his fellow 2016 classmen Pintor and Zapata.
Ratner gave an interesting talk at the grounds of the Hall of Fame and pointed out three of his most memorable experiences as executive director of the Nevada commission. Those three events were the 1993 “Fan Man” seventh round paraglider landing at the Riddick Bowe-Evander Holyfield heavyweight title rematch at Caesars Place, the 1997 Mike Tyson-Evander Holyfield heavyweight title rematch at MGM Grand where Tyson twice bit a chunk out of Holyfield’s ears, and the 2006 Floyd Mayweather-Zab Judah welterweight title fight where a melee erupted during the 10th-round as trainers and the fighters’ camps entered the ring following a Judah low blow on Mayweather.
Lederman was seen many times interacting with fans and answering their questions about historic fights, fighters, and scoring decisions.
The Hall of Fame weekend events were attended by all six living members of the Class of 2016, as well as returning Hall of Famers Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Sugar Ray Leonard, Roberto Duran, Michael Spinks, Jake LaMotta, Carlos Ortiz, Ruben Olivares, Pipino Cuevas, and Pernell Whitaker. It was a nice surprise to see Roberto Duran in attendance as he was not a name that was pre-announced by the Hall of Fame.
There were rumors that Thomas Hearns might also be attending, but I think those rumors were just wishful thinking for those wanting to see the “Four Kings” together in Canastota. I was really looking forward to seeing 2003 inductee Mike McCallum return to the Hall for the first time since being inducted, but he as well as Ray Mancini and Julio Cesar Chavez were late cancellations.
Non-Hall of Famers who returned to the Hall of Fame were Micky Ward, Leon Spinks, Ray Mercer, Gerry Cooney, Julian Jackson, and Christy Martin. First-time guests (at least for me) were heavyweight Andrew Golota and flyweight Brian Viloria “Hawaiian Punch.”
In all, nearly 40 boxing greats in attendance were great signers. The new class went out of their way to make sure everyone received a signature. Both Pintor and Zapata signed on the Hall of Fame grounds right after the opening bell for nearly an hour. While the lines were fairly long, they signed long enough to be able to get through both of their respective lines. Despite being in a cast with a broken ankle, Pintor managed to sign several times over the course of the weekend.
Golata, upon arriving into town, signed for all those who were looking for his signature. Duran signed much more willingly than he did during his induction year.
The toughest autograph of the weekend was likely Jake LaMotta, but if you attended the cocktail party or the banquet, you probably were successful. At 94 years old, it is understandable that LaMotta cannot stand and sign for fans. But I have to say, LaMotta’s signature is still beautiful and every letter legible. LaMotta and Hagler have two of the nicest legible signatures you will see in any sport.
As expected, Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler, and Duran were fan favorites, and drew the biggest lines after the Saturday Night Banquet of Champions. Getting all three of these greats was not easy, but was in reach for many of those who attended the event. During the banquet, the Hall of Fame held an auction, and for two lucky fans who bid $4,000 each for an autograph lot of four Duran, Leonard, and Hagler items, also got to go up on-stage and have a picture taken with these three greats.
A Duran biopic, “Hands of Stone,” opened in theaters in August 2016, and was released on DVD in November. It follows the life of Duran from his boxing debut in 1968 to his retirement in 2002. The movie stars Edgar Ramirez as Duran, and features cast members Robert De Niro (as trainer Ray Arcel), Usher (as Sugar Ray Leonard), and Ellen Barkin.
40-year anniversary of the 1976 Olympic boxing team
During induction weekend, the Hall of Fame also paid tribute to the 40th anniversary of the 1976 Olympic boxing team. The 1976 team is considered by many to be the greatest USA Olympic boxing team ever. Only the 1984 USA team is a challenge to this title.
The 1976 team captured seven overall medals in Montreal, Canada that summer including five gold, one silver, and one bronze. The five gold medal winners were Leonard, Michael Spinks, Leon Spinks, Leo Randolph, and Howard Davis Jr. Charles Mooney would capture a silver medal, and John Tate would win the bronze medal.
Team members Leonard, Michael Spinks, Leon Spinks, Randolph, Mooney, Louis Curtis, and Charles Walker were on hand for this special reunion. Each member gave a short speech and was given an anniversary medal from the Hall during this year’s banquet. Unfortunately, the 1976 team lost Davis Jr. at the age of 59 to cancer earlier this year.
In 1976, Davis Jr. was awarded the Val Barker award as the 1976 Olympic Games most outstanding boxer. He had no easy path making the final Olympic team, as he had to beat Aaron Pryor in the Olympic Trials, and had to beat Thomas Hearns at the National AAU championship.
Tate, who lost that summer to Cuban boxing legend Teófilo Stevenson, passed away in 1998 as a result of an automobile accident.
After the Olympics, this team would produce five future world champions, as well as produce two International Boxing Hall of Fame members.
The 1984 USA boxing team would capture 11 medals including nine gold. Metal winners from that team included Paul Gonzales, Steve McCrory, Meldrick Taylor, Pernell Whitaker, Jerry Page, Mark Breland, Frank Tate, Henry Tillman, Tyrell Biggs, Virgil Hill and Evander Holyfield. This team would produce six future world champions, and likely up to four Hall of Fame members (Whitaker and Hill were already inducted).
Hurting the case for the 1984 team to be viewed as the best USA Team is the fact both the Soviet Union and Cuba teams boycotted the 1984 Olympics. Those traditionally strong teams could have eaten away at the USA medal total. In 1976, Team USA beat the Soviet and Cuban boxers for four of their five gold medals.
While the Hall of Fame has now honored the 30th anniversary in 2006 and the 40th anniversary this year of the 1976 USA team, I don’t know that the Hall of Fame has ever honored the 1984 team. Hopefully that is something that will take place in future years.
I set out to get a boxing glove signed by the five medal winners from the 1976 team. Certainly the key signature of that group, and the hardest to get would be Leonard. While Leonard was a difficult autograph a few years ago when he returned to the Hall of Fame, he did sign a couple dozen autographs at the Saturday night cocktail party, and he did sign for a long time after the Saturday night banquet. I was very happy to get all five of those medal winners on my glove. It is a nice piece of history, and now I want to start working on a 1984 team glove.
Fight of the Year?
A few miles down the road from Canastota, Showtime Boxing and Banner Productions had an intriguing main event bout scheduled for Saturday, June 11, at the Turning Stone Resort and Casino. While I decided to attend the Hall of Fame banquet rather than this fight, I did attend the fight press conference a few days prior.
The main event was an expected all out battle between 2013 Ring Magazine Fight of the Year boxer Ruslan Provodnikov, “The Siberian Rocky,” and 2014 Ring Magazine Fight of the Year boxer John Molina Jr. I had started a pair of boxing gloves featuring the Fight of the Year honorees a few years back, and both boxers were happy to sign a glove that already had Jake LaMotta, Leon Spinks, Marvin Hagler, Iran Barkley, Micky Ward, Erik Morales, Riddick Bowe, and a few others on them. Both Molina and Provodnikov signed for the handful of autograph fans who attended the press conference.
While I was not at the fight, I did learn that Molina Jr. scored a unanimous decision over Provodnikov. Molina used his height and reach advantage to score the win in what was an exciting fight, but one that did not live up to what many were hoping would be a 2016 Fight of the Year candidate.
When the weekend was over, I had heard a lot of great stories, talked with many boxing greats, got a few nice autographs, and was so sorry that Hector Camacho Sr., Howard Davis Jr., Bob Foster, and Muhammed Ali could only be in Canastota in spirit.
(Robert Kunz is a freelance contributor to SCD.)