By the time this article goes to print, the International Boxing Hall of Fame will have wrapped up its annual enshrinement weekend at Canastota, New York. Each year, four modern-day retirees are voted into the Hall by members of the Boxing Writers Association of America, while a special committee selects four more old-timers, a pioneer fighter, and non-participants (trainers, managers, promoters, writers, historians, etc.).
Like other sports, one requirement for participant eligibility is that said athlete must complete five uninterrupted years of retirement. That is where the similarities end between boxing inductions and most other sports. Over the years, the IBHOF voting process has been the subject of scrutiny. The reason is because the modern day Fab Four seems to get progressively weaker each year. This year is certainly no exception, with Bobby Chacon, Duilio Loi, Barry McGuigan and Terry Norris leading the way in the modern-day category.
As is the case with too many aspects of the sport, there are so many things wrong with the voting process that it is hard to figure out where and how to start fixing it.
One part that sticks out the most is the Hall’s insistence of enshrining four modern-day fighters each year. Other sports set a maximum number of participants voted in, but no minimum. There are years where no players make their way to Cooperstown, NY (baseball), Canton, OH (American football) and Springfield, MA (basketball). There are years where several make it. Yet in boxing it has become as much of a tradition to vote in four modern-day fighters as it has to have the annual induction ceremony itself.
As a result, the modest-sized shrine overlooking the New York State Thruway threatens to become watered down, if it has not already. Through the years, many boxing fans wondered aloud over the selection of such fighters as Ken Norton, Ingemar Johansson, Jose Torres and several others fighters that had very good careers. The argument has long been that a Hall of Fame induction should punctuate an exceptionally great career, and its members should only consist of the crème de la crème. The aforementioned resemble worthwhile candidates compared to some of the selections made in the past few years.
This year’s class has received more criticism than any other in recent memory. Of the four elected, Duilio Loi is the most worthy. Yet even he is a borderline choice if you ask most fans. Bobby Chacon’s name never appeared on the ballot until 2004. The first year it appeared, he was voted in. Terry Norris made it in only his second year of eligibility. How Barry McGuigan made it in at all remains a mystery to most in the industry.
So how is it that so many borderline-great fighters are sneaking in through the front door? That takes us back to the IBHOF policy of four modern-day fighters per year. What makes the choices even more dubious is the fact that writers are asked to vote for up to ten fighters each election year, and that the four top vote-getters make it in.
As mentioned earlier, other sports are nowhere near as lenient. Yes, the voters can cast a vote for up to ten participants, but in each sport there is a minimum requirement before the Hall engraves your name on a plaque. The National Basketball Association requires a minimum of eighteen votes from a field of ninety-six. That is far more lenient than the requirements of Major League Baseball (seventy-five percent of the votes) and the National Football league (eighty-percent, among a field of thirty-nine electors).
The thirty-nine man panel in the NFL raises another concern with boxing’s voting process. All members of the Boxing Writers Association of America are eligible to vote – all 210 of them. The number of writers with the last name “S” is a list nearly as long as the entire list of the NFL panel.
That being said, it’s not uncommon to have a BWAA vote in the candidates, as other sports do the same. The difference is that other sports do have requirements for who is selected into such associations. In boxing, all you need to provide in order to gain membership is your affiliation (newspaper, magazine, website, etc.) and $35, and not necessarily in that order.
As a result, younger and/or less knowledgeable members (in a historical sense) will wind up voting for those names that are most familiar. If that doesn’t give them ten choices, then it’s simply the names that jump out at them the most. It would certainly help explain the choices of Norris, McGuigan, Daniel Zaragoza and Carlos Palomino in recent years. Zaragoza and Palomino perhaps belong, but the fact that either – never mind both – are first-ballot entries, leads many to believe that the voters just don’t get it.
This isn’t just to place the blame solely on the younger generation, or at least today’s younger generation. In years past, older members were accused of voting fighters for their association more so than their actual achievements. Nearly every very good – never mind great – middleweight from the Sugar Ray Robinson era has his picture and a plaque in Canastota. All Randy Turpin needed to do was to defeat the mighty Ray Robinson in order to make it into the Hall. That has to be it, because his career was otherwise ordinary. The same can be said for Carl “Bobo” Olson.
The same applies to the Muhammad Ali era. Many consider Ken Norton’s place in the Hall to be due to the time in which he fought. True, he broke Ali’s jaw in their first fight, and deserved the decision in at least two of their three bouts. Other than that, Norton’s name will always be affixed in heavyweight history for becoming the first ever to be awarded the world championship without winning the prize in the ring. The fact that he lost the title to Larry Holmes in his first title defense means that Norton is the only world champion in heavyweight history to have never left the ring as one. How that translates into a spot in the Hall is baffling, unless voters were further impressed with his tour-de-force performance in “Mandingo.”
As questionable as the aforementioned choices are, all can at least claim a career-defining win. Those looking to support their vote for McGuigan will turn to his title-winning effort against long-reigning featherweight king Eusebio Pedroza in 1985. Perhaps it can be ignored that Pedroza was past his prime; he was, in fact, at the end of his career (despite an ill-advised comeback a few years later). Even so, where voters fail to differentiate between very good, great, and all-time great has to be called into question when someone like McGuigan makes it into the HoF.
The Pedroza fight is a career-defining win in that it’s his only win of note. McGuigan had a respectable career, and also brings a great human interest story into the equation. So did James Braddock, who is not only a Hall of Fame inductee, but also the subject of Ron Howard’s “Cinderella Man.” McGuigan is more revered for reasons other than pulling off the impossible in the ring. Many admired his pleas to the feuding citizens of a long-split Ireland to “leave the fighting to me in the ring.” Further aiding his cause was that he, an Irish-Catholic, married the love of his life, who happened to be Protestant.
All that is touching and makes for a great screenplay, but not for a great career. Not only that, but his career did not even last a decade; he started in 1981 and was gone by 1989. He was actually gone by 1986, for all intent and purposes. His long-awaited stateside debut resulted in a points loss to Freddy Cruz, when McGuigan suffered from heat exhaustion and ran out of gas toward fight’s end. That takes us back to his win over Pedroza as the lone notable exception to a career that still only ranks as very good.
Terry Norris does not even have a career-defining win in any of his title reigns – not unless his string of wins against faded former greats is taken into consideration. Yes, names like John Mugabi, Sugar Ray Leonard, Donald Curry and Meldrick Taylor grace Norris’ resume.
The win over Leonard was considered an upset at the time, only because Leonard handpicked the newly crowned champ as an opponent. What Sugar Ray saw was a chinny kid with a title. What Leonard realized by the final bell was that Norris wasn’t as bad as he thought; he also realized he no longer had any business in the ring. Norris would prove the same to be true against Mugabi, Curry and Taylor.
But if those wins are taken into consideration, then so should unforgivable losses to Luis Santana and a faded Simon Brown. True, Norris avenged losses against both and went on to become the dominant junior middleweight champion of his generation, but his list of victims is an ordinary bunch, and the only unification match he participated in during his six years as champion was against former sparring partner Paul Vaden. Not even a showdown with faded WBA champ Julio Cesar Vasquez could ever be made, despite both being the property of King.
But he still makes it into the Hall in only his second year of eligibility.
Norris and McGuigan are both prime examples of how easy it is these days to make it into the Hall of Fame. Chacon has received an equal amount of criticism, though his win some/lose some career has come against some of the best fighters in the history of the lower weight classes. He was also on the winning end of two Fight of the Year contests, and scored major wins throughout his career. But he was never dominant in any particular weight class; nor did he reign as world champion for very long.
In the end, all exemplify the lack of a significant criteria involved in the annual voting process. Voters need to provide little more than a check and affiliation to cast a vote. Being an all-time great is no longer a mandate to receive a vote. Somewhere along the line, the bar was lowered to simply great. In recent years, it has been dumbed down to somewhere between great and very good. As is the case in most other walks of life, being well-known now outweighs being great.