IBHOF 2016 Redux – Mother Nature wasn’t kind to the folks in Canastota this past weekend, but the rain and the unseasonably cold weather couldn’t dampen the warm receptions accorded the new inductees into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. In addition to welcoming seven new members, the IBHOF paid homage to the 1976 United States Olympic boxing team. Sugar Ray Leonard, the Spinks brothers, Leo Randolph, Charles Moody, Louis Curtis and Chuck Walker were in attendance as was the widow of Howard Davis Jr.
Sugar Ray Leonard was selected from this group to say a few words to the audience. After referencing boxing’s great loss — the death of Muhammad Ali — Leonard nodded to his former Olympic teammates seated on the dais behind him and said that of all his achievements, he was most proud of being part of the 1976 U.S. Olympic team.
Frequent TSS contributor Bernard Fernandez, a New Orleans native, was called up to the podium next to accept the award on behalf of the late Ernest “Whitey” Esneault. Born in 1891, Esneault, a trainer and gym operator, was fixture on the New Orleans boxing scene for nearly 50 years. Working from scratch, he molded such notables as Willie Pastrano and Ralph Dupas into future title-holders.
Esneault’s name would not resonate with many boxing fans, even those well versed in the history of the sweet science. Addressing his obscurity, Fernandez invoked the old conundrum: If a tree falls in the forest and there’s no one there to hear it, does it make a sound? “Today,” said Fernandez, “it makes a sound. Whitey Esneault is getting his day.”
Through the miracle of “you tube,” the acceptance speeches of the inductees in the IBHOF Class of 2016 have been preserved for future generations.
Here are a few snippets from the speeches of the English-speaking honorees:
The long-time sports columnist for the Newark Star-Ledger, semi-retired and still sharp as a tack at age 85, was devastated by the death of Muhammad Ali whose career he had followed closely, almost from the very beginning. “He was one of the greatest if not the greatest, humanitarians,” said Izenberg.
Izenberg noted that although he had covered sporting events in Europe, Asia, Africa, and throughout the western hemisphere, this was his first visit to Canastota. Acknowledging the warm reception he received, Izenberg said: “As long as I can walk and as long as I can talk, I’ll be here, I’ll be back.”
COLONEL BOB SHERIDAN
The 71-year-old Sheridan brought a big delegation to Canastota, including members of his former military regiment. The lead announcer for the international broadcast team for hundreds of world title fights, Sheridan’s face and voice are more recognizable in English speaking countries outside the United States than in his native land.
Sheridan said that he considered his greatest legacy the fact that he protected the sport from those that were forever tearing it down. The promoters, referees, judges, sanctioning bodies and especially the fighters – he was always in their corner. He opened his talk by saying he was humbled to be there and closed it by quoting from Lou Gehrig’s famous farewell speech: “I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.”
A life-long boxing fan who served as the Executive Director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission from 1992 to 2006, the 71-year-old Ratner is currently the Vice President of Regulatory Affairs for the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). Those there to support him included members of both bodies.
Ratner thanked a long list of former colleagues, some now deceased, and noted that during his tenure with the Athletic Commission he got to work with three Hall of Fame referees – Mills Lane, Richard Steele, and Joe Cortez. In talking about the bizarre “Fan Man” fight, he referenced the outdoor arena at Caesars Palace as “the most iconic place to hold a fight.”
The “unofficial” ringside judge for the HBO boxing team, a position he has held since 1986, the 76-year-old Lederman spoke the longest but his talk never dragged because of his engaging personality and self-deprecating whimsicality. Many of the people that he thanked are cult figures within the boxing community. Reporter Jack Obermayer never wrote for a large-circulation paper, but Lederman called him “the greatest boxing writer in the world” while also acknowledging his frequent ringside companion at East Coast club fights, Jeff Jowett.
Lederman wasn’t the only one to acknowledge the people in the trenches. Sugar Ray Leonard thanked the unpaid volunteers that keep the annual IBHOF Hall of Fame Weekend running smoothly. Mark Ratner acknowledged the office workers at the Nevada State Athletic Commission, the nine-to-five employees whose efforts are seldom recognized.
This really came as no surprise. There are few stuffed shirts in the boxing fraternity.
IBHOF 2016 Redux