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4513928931_b503dd8d7bIf the International Boxing Hall of Fame wanted to induct an actor Sunday shouldn’t it have been Robert DeNiro? Or maybe Luis Santana?

It’s bad enough that the sport’s Hall of Fame (one of two, of course, this being boxing) has degenerated into the Hall of Very Good over the years with the election of far too many fighters with less than stellar credentials but with the induction of Sylvester Stallone the newly opened actor’s wing isn’t even that.

If the people who run the place in Canastota wanted to make a politically correct statement with Hollywood affiliations they could have opted for Hillary Swank, who won the Oscar for Best Actress a few years back for the job she did in “Million Dollar Baby’’ playing Maggie Fitzgerald, a struggling waitress turned female fighter trying to make it in the world’s toughest sport while coming from the same hard scrabble background of most of her male counterparts.

They could have honored Robert Ryan, who played a broken down has-been in the classic 1949 film “The Set Up’’ or John Huston, who directed the film version of “Fat City,’’ the great boxing novel written by Leonard Gardner. They could even have inducted Humphrey Bogart for the final role of his career, the shady down-on-his-luck sportswriter Eddie Willis in “The Harder They Fall.’’

Frankly, that wouldn’t have made much sense either, this being the Boxing Hall of Fame, not the Acting Hall of Fame but at least Swank, Ryan, Bogart and DeNiro could act. Stallone? Not so much.

To be fair about it, Stallone wrote and starred in “Rocky,’’ the Academy Award winning rags-to-bandages 1976 hit that was nominated for 10 Oscars and won three. An entire generation was inspired to become fighters or fight fans because of it and for that the he deserves the sport’s gratitude to be sure. But it’s highest honor? Why?

Stallone went on to turn “Rocky’’ into five sequels, each a bit lamer than its predecessor. Sort of like what happened in Godfather III or with Roberto Duran, who made more comebacks than Rocky Balboa.

Stallone also helped create “The Contender’’ reality TV series that sadly drew a larger audience during its brief television run a few years ago than most real boxing matches do these days. That is not Stallone’s fault. He was trying to help the sport and did again but it was not hall of Fame TV, to be frank. (EDITOR NOTE: Thought maybe RB would insert a little FRANK Stallone crack here…) Certainly it was no “Jersey Shore.’’

How that resume put Rambo into the Boxing Hall of Fame is beyond me, but then so was the election of Mike Tyson, who lost badly to three of the top four fighters he faced (Evander Holyfield, Lennox Lewis and Buster Douglas, while defeating former light heavyweight champion Michael Spinks in 91 seconds in the final fight of Spinks’ career) and never once got off the floor to win a fight.

Certainly Tyson was the youngest fighter to win the heavyweight title, which gives him historical significance but then again he was also the youngest fighter to lose the heavyweight title so there you have it. His was a story of promise never fulfilled, a story more of what might have been than what actually occurred. A story the opposite of Rocky, actually.
But at least he was once a unified heavyweight champion and a cultural icon big enough that, like Ali, one name was enough to identify him. Like Tyson, Stallone was a mythmaker and a phenomenon who made millions from boxing. What he was not was a Hall of Fame actor like DeNiro, whose portrayal of Jake LaMotta in “Raging Bull’’ is considered one of the cinema’s great performances.

“Raging Bull’’ is on every list of greatest films ever made. Rocky? Like Stallone, Hall of Very Good.

If the International Boxing Hall of Fame wants to one day reach the same level of respect as the baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown or the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio it needs to re-think what its doing. The Hall needs to be a place difficult to attain, a place where you can argue long and loud about why this guy or that isn’t in instead of the other way around.

A long parade of convertibles filled with names that will attract a crowd on a Sunday afternoon in June is all well and good but the people in the cars need to be people who qualify for more than the Hall of Very Good. People like Robert DeNiro, if you must, not Sylvester Stallone.

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