Meandering through Canastota, ‘06

BY Robert Cassidy Jr. ON June 14, 2006
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Canastota, New York – At its best, boxing is a celebration of skill, courage and athleticism. It is drama played out on the world’s grandest stages.

At its worst, boxing is a cutthroat rat race. It is deceit played out in backrooms where politics, not talent, can dictate the fate of a fighter. It is sport in which too often crass supplants class.

To find boxing at its purest, one need only to visit Canastota, New York for the annual Hall of Fame induction ceremony. It is where not just fighters are celebrated, but the nobility of their courage, skill and athleticism as well. The only backroom deals going on here are the negotiations on how much to pay for a glove autographed by Alexis Arguello and Aaron Pryor.

Welcome Home. The annual five-plus hour journey to Central New York is always worth the trip. Joining me this year is producer friend Fred and my brother filmmaker Chris. Upon arrival, the hall’s executive director Ed Brophy greets us by saying, “Welcome home.” In fact, that is how he greets all arrivals. And it fits.

Welcome Back. Bob Foster and Wilfredo Gomez returned to Canastota after a missing the last several inductions.

Congratulations to the Class of 2006. Humberto Gonzalez, Michael Carbajal, Hank Kaplan, Jarvis Astaire, Edwin Rosario, Lou Brouillard, Jimmy Slattery, Teddy Yarosz, Whitey Bimstein, Rodolfo Sabbatini, Stanley Weston and Jem Carney.

And a tip of the cap to …. TheSweetScience.com’s Hank Kaplan. He is boxing’s foremost historian and is now enshrined with many of the fighters that he has documented over the years. I asked Hank how it feels to be inducted and he said, “Speechless.” However, that was not entirely the case. Watch the induction video on this website for a pair of humorous stories Hank told during the induction ceremony.

El Chapo. I did not vote for Edwin Rosario but I won’t complain about his enshrinement. He certainly fought better fighters who closer to their prime than ’05 inductee Terry Norris. For the record, Rosario beat Jose Luis Ramirez, Howard Davis Jr., Livingston Bramble and Frankie Randall and many felt he beat Hector Camacho. In fact, there are those who believe that Camacho forever altered his style after that grueling 12-round battle.

Beers with … The Showtime crew. Me and the filmmaker crashed the Showtime table at Graziano’s and talked boxing with fight announcers Steve Farhood and Nick Charles and publicist Ivy Moon. OK, since Farhood was present, it wasn’t all boxing. We did talk a little horse racing. What was more refreshing than the beverages was that Steve and Nick care about all fights, not just the ones on their network. Steve was my first boss in this business and I’ve long marveled at his passion for boxing and boxing journalism. I’m officially adding Nick Charles to that short list. These guys do care about the sport. And while Pinklon Thomas and the tandem of Bert Sugar and Howard Davis Jr. provided interesting “Ringside Lectures” on the museum’s grounds, it was Showtime’s dynamic duo that gave fans the best balance of fact, humor and honesty.

Shame … on Tony Graziano for not having ONE of the pay-per-view fights televised in his bar on Saturday night. Unless there was some technical reason in which he could not order the telecast that was not made public, I can only assume he didn’t want to pay the commercial fee to have the fight. Tony, boxing fans are very kind to your establishment during Hall of Fame weekend. Next time, return the favor.

Modern technology. If there was some kind of technical glitch at Graziano’s, thank God for the cell phone, the blackberry and the art of text messaging as updates from the Cotto-Malignaggi and Tarver-Hopkins fights were pouring in all night.

Funny Man. Canastota is usually sweltering during Hall of Fame weekend. This year it was cloudy, raining and the temperature barely eclipsed 60 degrees. The WBC’s Chuck Williams said, “Usually the first thing I do when I wake up is check the alarm clock. Today, I got up and checked the calendar. I said to myself, When did Brophy move this to November?”

All-nighter. I give credit to Bob Arum and Angelo Dundee for arriving in Canastota on Sunday after working at the Garden on Saturday night. Arum promoted the Cotto-Malignaggi fight and Dundee worked the undercard bout of Notre Dame football star, Tommy Zbikowski. Arum was on hand for the induction of Rodolfo Sabbatini and Dundee for Hank Kaplan.

The Damn Red Sox. I arrived in Canastota and the Yankees were a game in front of the Red Sox in the AL East. When I left, they were a game behind. This made Mike Brophy very happy. To let you know the kind of guy Brophy is, despite this, I still consider him a friend.

V is for Vito. It was good to see Vito Antuofermo on hand for the weekend. He told me that these days more people ask him about getting rubbed out in “The Godfather III” than his fights with Marvin Hagler. “That’s OK,” he said. “Getting whacked hurt a lot less.”

Funny Man, Part 2. Pinklon Thomas recalled a story during a press tour leading up to his bout against Mike Tyson. This was when Tyson was at his meanest, baddest and perhaps richest. His teeth, if you recall, were capped in gold. “The first time I hit you with a jab,” Thomas told Tyson, “I’m going to reach in and snatch some of that gold off your teeth.” A great line, but I’m sure it cost Pink once that bell rang.

The best for last. It’s still Sunday’s parade. I can’t imagine a World Series parade being any better. Dozens of fighters are escorted through the streets of Canastota as the residents stand along the sidewalk and cheer the entire time. There aren’t a group of athletes more worthy of such an honor.

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