International Boxing Hall of Fame event was again unforgettable and touching
By Jeff Jowett
The weekend of June 6 to 9 was the milestone 30th Induction Weekend of the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, NY. As always, “Good King” Brophy and his trusty sidekicks Mike and Jeff, along with hundreds of community volunteers, put together a memorable event while enjoying great weather. As expected, there were marquee names among champion boxers. But this year was a bonus for true insider and hardcore fans. I
t marked the long-overdue induction of promoter/matchmaker and Greatest Man in the World Don Elbaum! A little-known organization under the aegis of the late HOF boxing writer Jack “K.O.J.O.” Obermayer…The Don Elbaum Adoration Society… had campaigned year after year to get Don into the Hall and was at last vindicated when he made it on the first ballot!
Yet no one better exemplified boxing as a “sport” as opposed to a “business”, as the Fat Cats like to boast, than Elbaum. Yes, he has a nose for the money, and ringside is rife with comical stories. “Are you getting 30% of this?” he kidded Jeff Brophy while looking over the packed house at the banquet. Told no, he quipped, “I’ll take care of that.” But Elbaum is a throwback to the days when The Mob ran boxing while respecting the bedrock upon which it was built, the concept of Championship…before corporate promoters who respect nothing but the bottom line. His freewheeling style has become legend. He’s promoted everything from rinky-dink club shows…where he fought on his own cards and allegedly overpaid himself so as to report a loss to the taxman…to championship fights. At one time, he ran an incredible string of weekly Monday-night shows at Atlantic City’s Tropicana. Always a trendsetter, the other promoters looked to him each week to see which way the wind blew.
No one was more spritely and ebullient than the ecstatic and ageless Elbaum, who appeared for his induction speech with four pages of notes. He opened with a riddle: which came first, the chicken or the egg? Always innovative, he morphed that into who came first, himself or Russell Peltz (an HOFer in his own right and present on the stage). The answer: “He was at my circumcision.” After that, all that now remains is the book and movie.
The modern boxers were Donald Curry, Julian Jackson, and James “Buddy” McGirt. No introduction is necessary for even the casual TV fan. Curry gave a short but impassioned acceptance speech that focused on gratitude for the support from his training and management team. Julian took it higher and credited Grace of God. Buddy was supported by a huge extended “family” wearing McGirt T-shirts, including a brother who looks so much like him that he was plagued for autographs.
Topping the living boxers was Tony DeMarco, welterweight champion…as in “champion”, not one-fourth title holder…out of Boston in the ‘50s. Looking understandably a bit frail at 87, the beaming ex-champ has visited the Hall on numerous previous Induction Weekends and gave a short and moving speech on his delight at being now front and center.
Most prominent among Non-Participants (it may be a stretch to call him an NP) was trainer, author, broadcaster, philanthropist, you-name-it Teddy Atlas. A Voice in the Wilderness, he’s never been afraid to speak out against the ills perpetrated by the Powers That Be or backed down to them despite setbacks. Fittingly, who should champion him but Elbaum, who vehemently advocated Teddy’s rightful place among boxing’s spokesmen. Also among the NPs was Canadian referee and judge Guy Jutras. Guy focused not on his own career but the general state of boxing, all the way from the infamous LaMotta-Fox dive to the present, extolling the Hall for their contributions to the welfare of the sport.
And also in the NP category was publicist Lee Samuels, who began as a Philadelphia newspaper sports writer and developed into the leading PR man during Atlantic City’s halcyon days, when his “Bonecracklers” battled rival Jim Taylor (“Les Hair”) and his “Mofax” for top boxing press releases. With Top Rank now for over 35 years and out of Las Vegas, the humble Leroy took no credit for himself but cited the organization as the source of his success. And also deserving of mention is the late Mario Rivera Martino, journalist and long-time Puerto Rican correspondent for The Ring.
Always worth note is the Memorabilia Show conducted at the local HS gym. This is an absolute Wonderland for the collector, although it could provoke a seizure of envy. Of course there are endless items on Ali, Frazier, Duran, Tyson, et al. But this is more than matched by interesting and novel items. A poster of a fight at the Monroe County (NY) Dome featuring popular upstate NYer Rocky Fratto, with a paste-over that Fratto was out and his opponent was now pasted into the co-feature. A hard-bound copy of Victory Over Myself sporting an autograph by Floyd Patterson, only $250. Numerous bottles, boxes and other packages of foodstuffs named after or endorsed by celebrity boxers, possibly with the food still inside? Muhammad Ali roach traps sold for $5.
And many of the authors and other celebs are there to sign books or just chat, including the redoubtable Springs Toledo, Hall of Famer Russell Peltz, and lovable Randy “Too Sweet” Gordon. “Sugar” Ray Seales, once a darling of the ban-boxing lobby, was there, looking fit, sharp and agile. For any collector, this show alone is worth the trip. But beware, you may collapse of over-saturation!
The 5k Nate the Great Race as usual attracted an enormous crowd of over 400 runners, and included a welcome seasoning of celebrity boxers. Mike Brophy introduces them, and the boxers are quite accessible for pics…up until crunch time. There was Tarver, who seemed to enjoy himself immensely over the whole weekend, recording selfies for the start! But David Benitez took the top spot among the boxers, placing an excellent 86th overall against tough competition, with a time of 26:58. Next came a life & death battle between Paulie Ayala and Micky Ward for 2nd place, with Paulie edging Micky by one second in 28 minutes flat. They were 109th & 110th. Micky is always in this run and is consistently a competitor. Orlando Canizales and Teddy Atlas also competed, while actor Holt McCallany won the Grand Marshall category (he was the only one) finishing 286th in 39:34. Charlie Fitch was first among referees in 30:32 and 159th place.
Finally, a review of the boxers and celebs riding in the parade, in no particular order: Marvin Hagler, Junior Jones, Antonio Tarver, Orlando Canizales, Erik Morales, Michael Spinks, Marlon Starling, Russell Peltz, Mark Breland, Micky & Dickie, Larry Hazzard, Dickie DiVeronica, Iran Barkley, “Chiquita” Gonzalez (pardon me, but doesn’t that translate “Little Girl”? Maybe he likes bananas), David Benavidez, Paulie Ayala, Earnie Shavers, Carlos Ortiz, Vinny Pazienza, Billy Backus, Michael Moorer, Jorge Arce, and more…
And sadly, a ten count was given for those we’ve lost, Eusebio Pedroza, Don Chargin, Hugh McIlvanney, Dave Anderson, and Harold Lederman.
But in another year, like Brigadoon, The Hall’s big Induction Weekend will rise again. Don’t miss it!