By J.R.Jowett: The International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, NY, held their 26th Induction weekend over June 7th to 10th. As always, it was a stellar event. And although there were boxing shows running all over the globe, for the real hardcore fan, this was the place to be. The weather was beautiful. In the Mid-Atlantic region, it’s been raining nearly every day for months and the greenery is nothing short of spectacular. Canastota is a quite pleasant and friendly little town. Nearly half the people are named Ackerman of Rapasadi. “It’s like going back to the 19th Century,” wisecracked Metro New Yorker and boxing historian Mustafa Terens. Boxing regalia festoon the downtown area during Induction Week. Everything’s boxing. But this year presented a logistic nightmare. The only remaining hotel is off limits to all but the Chosen. Graziano’s Inn, the refuge of the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to meet an Inductee, has closed, leaving the masses huddling at least a Thruway exit away and pointedly cutting down the options. The rinky dink and so convenient little quick stop store opposite the exit is gone. The Oneida Nation has reportedly bought the ground and goodness knows what they’ll do with it. The future is dicey. But for now it’s still better than anywhere else in the world of boxing on this weekend.
The headline boxers in this year’s class were Vitali Klitschko, Erik Morales, and “Winky” Wright. For the uninitiated, Klitschko, from Kyrgyzstan and now a Ukrainian, held versions of the heavyweight title on three separate stints. From Mexico, Morales won belts at super bantam, featherweight, jr lightweight and jr welter. Winky, a victim of one of the worst decisions in boxing history versus Fernando Vargas, boxed out of St Petersburg, FL, and held the world title at jr middleweight.
The only Old Timer inducted was lightweight Sid Terris, who did nearly all of his boxing around the Met NY area throughout the 1920s, compiling a 93-13-4 while unable to break an egg with only 12 KOs. Yet he came off the canvas to knock out Ruby Goldstein in one round at the Polo Grounds in 1927. Ironically, Sid never held a world title, while today he probably would have a half dozen of them…at least. Terris passed away in 1974.
The Non-Participants were led by two posthumous inductions, Johnny Addie and Lorraine Chargin. Addie (Giovanni Addonizio) is still well remembered by the generation of fans who broke in on the old Gillette Cavalcade of Sports Friday Night Fights. Starting at Brooklyn’s Ft Hamilton Arena in 1942 (before there was television) , Johnny hit the big time with Madison Square Garden in 1948. His thick New York accent became synonymous with boxing lingo as he ring announced nearly every MSG card until the time of his death in ’71. These included the iconic and legendary first Frazier-Ali showdown. He also announced at St Nick’s, Sunnyside, Broadway Arena and Jamaica Arena and appeared in unquestionably the Greatest Boxing Movie of All Time (forget Raging Bull!), Requiem for a Heavyweight.
Lorraine Chargin, wife of Don (the first husband-wife team in the Hall?) was involved in the promotion of thousands of boxing shows, centering on the Sacramento area while for two decades working with Aileen Eaton at the Olympic Auditorium in LA. Her career began with the Fullmer-Tiger bout in San Francisco in 1962. Lorraine concentrated on the business side of the promotions, handling the financials and myriad details like ticketing, credentials, building management, and holding off the freeloaders. The Chargins were key figures in the career of Bobby Chacon. Lorraine passed away in 2010. The only living Non-Participant is German promoter Klaus-Peter Kohl, who started as a timekeeper! After losing money on his first promotion, involving the Rocchigiani brothers in ’84, Klaus-Peter opted for administration in the EBU. Not likely to become a Hall of Famer that way, he returned to promoting under the Universum Box Promotion banner and has gone on to promote nearly 300 events, as well as operating Universum gyms in Berlin and Hamburg. His promotions have extended beyond Germany to Hungary, Croatia, Austria, Poland, Ukraine, Switzerland, and the US. Among those he’s promoted are this year’s Inductee Vitali Klitschko!
The Observer category was represented by broadcasters Jim Gray and Steve Albert. Gray began his career in 1977 in his hometown of Denver, going on to become a reporter for ESPN SportsCenter. In 1979, he began boxing broadcasting with closed circuit telecasts (remember them?) for Top Rank and KingVision. He has been a fixture with Showtime since ’94 and won numerous Emmys, highlighted by the 1997 National Sports Emmy for Journalism and Individual Achievement for having the cojones to interview Tyson after his ear-biting loss to Holyfield! Not always popular with blue-collar fans for his stiff and pedantic style, Gray nonetheless earned good grades for affability from the HOF fans at this year’s induction.
Joining Gray was yet another Showtime favorite, Steve Albert. A four-letter man in sports broadcasting, the New Yorker began in boxing in mid-‘80s with syndicated Super Fight of the Month. His first assignment with Showtime was Holyfield-Qawi II in ’87. He remained with them until 2011. Neither of his equally famous broadcasting brothers, Al and the notorious Marv, were on hand in Canastota.
Always a fun event is the Nate Race, a 5k run held in memory of Nate Holdridge, local high school track star who was killed in a car accident. This was the race’s 23rd year. Boxers participate and provide savvy fans with a rare opportunity to not only meet them but even compete against them. Marvin Hagler was at the starting line, looking very fit and schmoozing with runners and fans. He rode a bicycle, though, encouraging the participants onward. Kelly Pavlik and Mike McCallum were there, but didn’t compete. This year’s winner among the boxers was Robert Guerrero, placing 84th of over 400 runners, with a time of 25:34! A finisher listed as “Nicholas” Barrera was presumably Marc Antonio. He came in 103rd in 26:46. Micky Ward is a constant in this event, and this year had a battle with John Stracey. Micky finished 250th in 34:44 while John was 251st at 34:43? This is obviously wrong. So much for electronic timing! They obviously finished virtually neck-and-neck. NY referee Charlie Fitch was the winning boxing official in 29:22, finishing 151st. And tops among boxing writers was the fearless Jack “Mantequilla” Hirsch in a splendid 34:46, 260th overall.
A fan favorite is the memorabilia show, held in the high school gym. This is like walking through a museum and worth it even with no intentions of buying anything. One could have met Hall of Famers Russell Peltz and matchmaker Eric Bottjer, hawking their wares. The items available run a gamut of things to admire, read, eat, drink, wear, watch, display and goodness knows what else. A poster of a Roberto Duran non-title fight in Buffalo against a guy named Tony Biglen. A newly minted bio of Terry Daniels (really?) by his brother. 8 mm fight films, for crying out loud! How are you going to watch them? A wall-sized framed photo of a famous fight, with Trump highly visible at ringside and dead center (no pun). A comic book of Ali vs Super Man. Printed in Alabama? And while speaking of Ali, Wheaties boxes with Muhammad on the front. Possibly still containing the cereal? Plus Evander Holyfield Coca Cola, with the soda still in there. Box after box after box of The Ring magazines dating back to 1930. And bobbleheads, bobbleheads, bobbleheads… The memorabilia show is an absolute must for anyone even vaguely interested in the history, culture and color of the sport, even if you only look.
Every year there’s carping by disappointed fans about the crowd control. But the goons (and goonettes), viewed fairly, do a pretty good job of keeping order and preventing the chaos that would erupt when excited fans and collectors lose control of their better selves. Many security people have actually helped deserving fans get to their goals. And there will always be the chance encounter that contributes immeasurably to the memory and recollections of the weekend; Winky Wright with his posse surrounding him in a corner of the Dunkin’ Donuts; Antonio Tarver outside along the path from the hotel, chatting with four of five fans; Bonecrusher with a table set up in a parking lot to promote his own Hall. Now in its third year…”We took a couple years to get the kinks out. Now it’s time to get serious”…the next induction class will consist of all the champions who fought Bonecrusher! Nothing like a Concept Induction! It’s in Magnolia, NC: magnoliatomadisonsquaregarder.com. Bonecrusher was quite affable and witty, but seated in a wheel chair. Hope he’s ok!
The International Boxing Hall of Fame is a great place and deserves to be visited by all fans who can conceivably get there. But to paraphrase Joe E. Brown: “Nothing’s perfect.” The Hall continues to have one glaring and unconscionable omission: Don Elbaum. There isn’t a boxing fan worth his or her salt who wouldn’t agree that the 80-something promoter is one of the most colorful and quintessential personae in the history of the game. One of boxing’s greatest charms and allures is that it is a frontier sport, wide open. And no one exemplifies that better than Don. Maybe someday…soon?