Second-Guessing the Boxing Hall of Fame Selections
Officials at the International Boxing Hall of Fame and Museum in Canastota, New York recently announced their selections for inclusion into their august environs for 2005. In what has become an annual rite, said selections have met with a fair share of second-guessing, incredulity and otherwise ill-tempered reactions from some in the boxing world.
Not wishing to rock that particular boat, and cognizant of the fact that no one ever wrote a column extolling the judgment of the electors for the IBHOF, I’d like to use a little of TheSweetScience.com’s bandwidth to critique their choices and otherwise break some balls.
Among the living fighters and non-participants being honored are junior middie boss Terry Norris, junior welter champ of the early ‘60s Duilio Loi, featherweight kingpin Barry Mc Guigan, featherweight and super feather champion Bobby Chacon, legendary California matchmaker/promoter Don Fraser and the ubiquitous boxing writer and editor Bert Randolph Sugar.
Some of the most dearly departed in the fistic fraternity have been posthumously selected this year, with featherweight champ of the 1920s Eugene Criqui, old-time bantamweight rulers Joe Lynch and Charles “Bud” Taylor, and middleweight champ Marcel Thil being chosen in the Old-Timer Category. The Non-Participant Category sees boxing manager/boxing film guru Bill Cayton and legendary Filipino promoter Lope Surreal honored, while the Observer Category includes writer Jersey Jones and Boxing News editor Harry Mullan. The Pioneer Category sees Jack Randall, a real crowd-pleasing scrapper from the Roaring ‘20s…well, the Roaring 1820’s, somehow allowed onto the Wall of Fame by electors with w-a-a-y too much time on their hands for research.
Recent selections by the voting bloc, made up of boxing historians, writers and other self-appointed experts have pointed out some serious lapses in standards for inclusion into the IBHOF. Ingemar Johansson, Carlos Palomino, Daniel Zaragoza, Pipino Cuevas and Curtis Cokes have all made it in as of late and, while all were fine fighters in their day, one wonders why they are sharing the same wall space with the likes of ring immortals Joe Louis, Henry Armstrong, Willie Pep, Barney Ross or Tony Canzoneri. Should they be accorded the lofty honor of entrance into the repository of ring greatness while others, such as Jeff Smith, Kid Norfolk and (featherweight champion) Davey Moore - just to name three - are continually kicked to the curb?
At first blush it would seem that the selectors weren’t too picky with the living inductees this year. We start with the streaky Terry Norris, who largely made his reputation meeting and beating shot fighters (Ray Leonard, John Mugabi and Donald Curry among them), while avoiding big time bouts with contemporaries such as McLellan, Quartey and a youngish Trinidad, and end with Duilio Loi, who - outstanding 115-3-8 (26 KO’s) record aside - amassed the majority of those wins over scores of Euro-Stiffs during his long, insular career. In between we have Barry McGuigan, whose brief reign as WBA featherweight champ in the mid-1980s became more conspicuous for the truce-inducing effect it had on the Catholic and Protestant fight fans in his native Ireland than for its contribution to boxing history. We save Bobby “Schoolboy” Chacon for last, as he represents our only agreement with the voters in this category. Chacon was an all-action, heavy-fisted, face first crowd exciter who made up for his lack of polish with a surfeit of testosterone. His titanic battles with fellow West Coast idols Danny “Little Red” Lopez, Chucho Castillo, Ruben Olivares and “Bazooka” Limon energized the California fight scene and made it possible for “Fabulous Forum” promoter Don Fraser to carpool with him to Canastota this coming June, if he so desires. Besides, how many other pugs have had their names immortalized in song by Warren Zevon (within the lyrics to “Boom Boom Mancini”)?
Look up the word “boxing” in the dictionary and you are quite likely to see a photo of a chapeau-wearing, stogie-puffing Bert Sugar next to it. Sugar has been as much a figure in popular sports and entertainment culture as he has been a creative force in the boxing world. A prolific and supremely entertaining writer who has postulated on any number of sports other than boxing, Sugar is nonetheless the “face” of current day pugilism as a result of his many appearances on television and radio, as well as for his ability to deliver a witty sound bite whenever the occasion calls for it. For instance, who can forget his bon mot regarding Chuck Wepner’s propensity for dispensing claret?
“Chuck starts bleeding somewhere between ‘Oh say’ and ‘can you see’,” Sugar wrote of the Bayonne Bleeder. Priceless.
Don Fraser was the distaff coast’s latter day Teddy Brenner and Harry Markson rolled up into one. Of course, having guys like the aforementioned Lopez, Chacon, Castillo, et al. at his disposal made for some decent bouts in Cali. Knowing when and with whom to match them is what allows him his rightful place in Canastota.
Among the posthumous honorees, Eugene Criqui stands out as much for his personal courage as for his ring acumen. A decorated French war hero of WWI, Criqui had half of his jaw shot off and then replaced with a jerry-rigged, wire and metal contraption sewn under his skin and muscle. He miraculously resumed his successful ring career upon the end of hostilities, eventually knocking out longtime featherweight ruler Johnny Kilbane to gain the 126-pound diadem. He held it less than two months before losing it to Johnny Dundee - no slouch, by the way - but met a bunch of good European fighters of the first quarter of the 20th century, usually walking away with a “W”.
By the time former bantamweight champ Joe Lynch called it quits - following a pair of insipid draws against Pal Moore in 1926, the “Blond Terror from Terra Haute” - Charles “Bud” Taylor, was just starting his upwards trajectory in the bantam ranks, handing a pre-championship Jimmy McLarnin a ten round loss in Vernon, California. He would go on to lift the vacant N.B.A. (yes, there were alphabet titles even back then) bantam title from Tony Canzoneri the next year. It can be argued that the Canzoneri win represented the apogee of Taylor’s career, as he went 11-13 from 1928 until his retirement in 1931. As for the New York City-born Lynch, he and every other lighter weight fighter enjoyed perhaps the most halcyon of eras in the early to mid-part of the century. Neighborhood and ethnic rivalries abounded in New York, Philadelphia, Harford, Boston and all points north, south and west. Lynch, a spindly though freakishly strong 118-pounder, took the title from Pete Herman in 1920. He held for less than a year before Herman reacquired the bauble. Lynch took it off of Herman’s eventual conqueror, Johnny Buff, in 1922 and defended it only one time - against Midget Smith later that year - before losing it for the last time against Abe Goldstein in 1924. Both Lynch and Taylor were big time boys back in the ‘20s, but HOFers? No way.
Some eleven years after his business partner, Jimmy Jacobs, was posthumously inducted into the Hall of Fame, and a year and a half after his own passing, Bill Cayton finally gets the call to Canastota. Aside from the fact that he single-handedly bankrolled and facilitated the preservation of the filmed history of boxing, co-managed fighters such as Wilfred Benitez, Edwin Rosario, Tommy Morrison and Omar Sheika, and re-wrote the book on creating and marketing a fighter with his stewardship of Mike Tyson, Bill Cayton deserved enshrinement in somebody’s Hall of Fame for his bare-knuckles-tough, though scrupulously honest business acumen. His Big Fights, Inc. boxing film and video library was a veritable monopoly, and represented over 90% of all of the available moving images of the sport extant in the world. He created lucrative marketing opportunities and negotiated television and video rights contracts for Tyson that were heretofore unknown within the sport. Finally, a major oversight corrected by the electors.
I grew up reading old RING magazines, so naturally I was familiar with Jersey Jones’ work. Mostly, he flakked for a number of New York/New Jersey metropolitan area pugs, and had a proprietary interest in some of them. For this fact alone I do not think he merits inclusion into the HOF.
Harry Mullan was one of boxing’s treasures. The longtime editor of the estimable Boxing News, Mullan was the punch fraternity’s Man For All Seasons, authoring a score of entertaining boxing tomes as well as performing as a ringside commentator for numerous television, closed circuit and radio broadcasts of British and international fights. Mullan passed away in 1999, and was yet another victim of the HOF’s finger-twiddling on voting in deserving candidates.
Regardless of my feelings on this year’s selections - or non-selections as the case may be - wild horses could not keep me from being in Canastota this coming June. I’ll be the one wearing a t-shirt bearing the likeness of my own, personal dark horse candidate for future Hall of Fame inclusion, the incomparable Don Elbaum.