Boxing Hall of Fame a Smashing Success

BY Robert Mladinich ON June 14, 2005
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Amid much fanfare, as well as a torrential downpour, the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, New York, held its 16th annual induction ceremony on July 12.

Among the living champions inducted in the Moderns category (none participated in bouts earlier than 1943), were former WBC featherweight and super featherweight champion Bobby “Schoolboy” Chacon, two-time junior welterweight champion Duilio Loi, former WBA featherweight champion Barry McGuigan, and “Terrible” Terry Norris, who held the WBC and IBF junior middleweight titles.

The two other living inductees were the charismatic publisher, editor and author Bert Randolph Sugar (in the Observers category), and longtime California publicist and matchmaker Don Fraser (in the Non-Participant category), both of whom were on hand for the weekend-long extravaganza.

Also inducted, in the Pioneer category, was Jack Randall, an Englishman who fought from 1809-21. Nicknamed “The Original NonPareil,” he is credited with being the originator of the one-two combination.

Inducted in the Old-Timers category, whose last bout had to be no earlier than 1893 or later than 1942, were former bantamweight champion Joe Lynch, featherweight titlist Eugene Criqui, NBA bantamweight champion Charles “Bud” Taylor, and middleweight champion Marcel Thil.

Also inducted in the Observers category was Jersey Jones, a longtime writer and columnist, and Harry Mullan, the former editor of Britain’s “Boxing News.”

Other Non-Participant inductees were Bill Cayton, the former manager of Edwin Rosario Wilfred Benitez, Vinny Paz, Tommy Morrison and Mike Tyson, and founder of Big Fights, Inc., and Lope Sarreal, a manager and promoter from the Philippines.

Nobody seemed happier to be in Canastota than Chacon, who smiled like a schoolboy and shadowboxed like a dervish throughout the weekend. Although he currently has trouble with his verbal skills, some of his words were loud and clear as he held his Hall of Fame ring aloft for the entire world to see. “I can still fight better than I can talk,” he said. “I fought the best. It was a long road, but a good road.”

While accepting his honor, McGuigan could barely hold back tears as he thanked his mother, his wife, to whom he has been married for 24 years, sons Jake and Shane, actor Daniel Day-Lewis, all of whom accompanied him to the Hall, and a slew of other family members and friends. He also spoke eloquently of Chacon, whom he described as being one of his boyhood idols, which prompted Chacon to leap from his seat and embrace him.

Later, McGuigan’s wife spoke of how the jubilance of the day was, in fact, bittersweet. McGuigan’s father, who was instrumental in his son’s career, had passed away shortly after his title reign, and his brother Dermot, who acted as McGuigan’s camp coordinator and confidant, had taken his own life about a decade ago. Mrs. McGuigan said she knew her husband would “lose it” if he mentioned their names, so he opted to touch his heart so his family would know he was acknowledging them.

As his adorable six-year-old daughter Diamond screamed “That’s my daddy” from the second row, Norris read a pre-written poem, and thanked his late father Orlin Sr. for his strong arms of support throughout his career. “My dad wanted me to be a world champion. Though he passed I know he’s watching. I love you, man,” he said as he gazed toward the heavens.

Accepting Loi’s award was his daughter Bonaria, who traveled from Italy for the occasion. She explained that her father is afflicted with Alzheimer’s, but thanked everyone in attendance for being there. “My father is not here physically, but his heart is here,” she said. “He would want to say hello to all of his old friends, particularly Carlos Ortiz who was my father’s adversary in the ring but his great friend in life.”

Fraser said he was thrilled to be inducted, especially because he would be enshrined alongside so many fighters he represented, including Alexis Arguello, Ruben Olivares and Chacon, all of whom were in attendance. “This is the highest honor I ever received,” he said.

Sugar was customarily charming and self-deprecating, though it was obvious that, having recently turned 68, he was thrilled to be inducted. “When [Hall of Fame founder] Ed Brophy called and said something about being inducted or indicted, I said why,” explained Sugar. “But it is truly an honor to stand shoulder to shoulder with so many great writers and boxers.”

Jessie Mullan, who was married to her husband Harry for 30 years, recounted his often colorful career that, for all intents and purposes, began when he listened to a Sugar Ray Robinson-Randy Turpin broadcast at the age of five in 1951. “He vowed to become editor of ‘Boxing News,’ and he did that,” she said. “Everything he set out to do in boxing, he accomplished. One time he was broadcasting a fight from Sun City, South Africa. Five minutes before airtime he was told the broadcast would be in Swahili, which Harry didn’t speak. But he was an improviser, and he got through it. He had a thousand stories like that, and never tired of telling them.”

Cayton’s son Brian read a letter that had been written to his father on his 75th birthday by none other than Muhammad Ali. He thanked Cayton for not abandoning him when so many others had after he was banned from boxing for draft evasion, as well as for “preserving boxing’s heritage,” and always “going the extra mile to represent boxers.”

A ten-count was also tolled for three previous inductees who passed away during the past year: champions Max Schmeling and Jimmy McLarnin, and Ralph Citro, the founder of Fight Fax. Actor Ryan O’Neal, who was nominated for an Academy Award for his lead role in the 1970 film “Love Story,” and also managed welterweight boxer Hedgemon Lewis, who challenged Canastota’s own Billy Backus for the title 35 year’s ago, served as the grand marshal for the parade through downtown Canastota.

The parade not only pays homage to fighters of all eras, it also commemorates the unpretentious glory of small town America, a notion that is often forgotten in today’s high-tech, fast-paced and constantly evolving world.

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