By Diego Morilla
October 31st was the last day for boxing scribes, observers and historians worldwide to cast their ballots to choose the 2017 inductees of the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, New York. As usual, some of them are no-brainers and a few others are no-hopers, but nonetheless 30 participants had their names on the checklist mailed by the IBHOF in early October, hoping to have their legacies immortalized.
It is always useful to review the rules for this yearly election. Every fighter who has been retired for five or more years becomes eligible, but their inclusion in the ballot is determined by a panel of historians appointed by the IBHOF. As usual, some will be elected in their first year of eligibility, while others will appear on the list year after year only to serve as mere fillers in an increasingly tough field of candidates.
With this in mind, let’s delve into this year’s choices and their likelihood of being chosen to have their names engraved in the marble of boxing’s most revered shrine:
The Three Shoo-Ins
This year, the consensus among boxing connoisseurs indicates that this trio of formidable practitioners of the manly art will undoubtedly make the grade. They are:
Evander Holyfield: There is almost no need to make the case for The Real Deal, even if you are a casual boxing fan. For the best part of the late 20th century, Holyfield defined both boxing and fame, being one of the most successful pay-per-view sellers of all time. His rivalry with Mike Tyson alone should guarantee him a spot, but his impeccable record as an Olympic bronze medalist followed by his world titles at cruiserweight (being the division’s first unified titlist to boot) were mere preludes for his dominant and exciting run as heavyweight champion of the world. His list of vanquished foes includes several Hall of Famers such as George Foreman, Larry Holmes, Mike Tyson and others. As Jimmy Lennon Jr. would put it, he needs no introduction to fight fans around the world, and his induction into the IBHOF was only a matter of time.
Marco Antonio Barrera: Mexican fighters are supposed to be barrel-chested brawlers with penitentiary-yard ring manners, but Barrera (pictured) broke those molds with the destructive power of a Chavez hook to the body. An articulate college graduate with terrific boxing technique and killer instinct to top it all off, Barrera tore through the ranks since his debut at the age of 15 and proceeded to terrorize three divisions during the course of a 22-year career that included titles at super bantamweight (the division in which he excelled), featherweight and super featherweight. His memorable bout against Naseem Hamed, his mega-fights against Manny Pacquiao, and his unforgettable rivalry with fellow-future Hall-of-Famer Erik Morales are more than enough to secure him a spot on this list, with only his back-to-back losses to Junior Jones in his prime counting against him in this otherwise extraordinary ledger.
Johnny Tapia: What’s NOT to love about Tapia, both inside and out of the ring? A lovable character haunted by a Breaking Bad-esque back-story, “Mi Vida Loca” personified the agony and the ecstasy that every fighter goes through during his lifetime. Multiple championships in three divisions, multiple retirements, comebacks and relapses into his bad habits, and a ring style that appealed to both hardcore and casual fans, Tapia’s life was the stuff Hollywood is made of. But his main trait was looking great in every fight, win or lose, and all while appearing to have fun while doing it. As it is the case with many other fighters, he appeared to feel safer and happier within the dangerous confines of the ring than in the lawless streets in which he found so much danger and despair.
The Almost-There Three:
Some fighters have more than enough accomplishments to be enshrined in Canastota, but they depend heavily on the level of competition for each particular year. Here are my personal favorites in that category:
Dariusz Michalczewski: If there is a stain on Roy Jones Jr.’s record that will never be removed, it is his refusal to face this Polish-German nightmare of a fighter. How did a guy with 23 title defenses in 50 career bouts manage to never make it to the US to fight the best fighter of his era is still a mystery, but he did manage to beat the “other” great fighters of his generation, many of them twice, before his final career-ending back-to-back losses in 2005. It is not hard to argue that he would definitely be a favorite this year if the pool of candidates were a tad weaker.
Nigel Benn: The Dark Destroyer has always been a favorite of mine, even after he ended his career with back-to-back losses against a not-as-exciting fighter as Steve Collins. His destruction (in more ways than one…) of Gerald McClellan will always count against him in the emotional department, and his inability to go beyond 0-1-1 against the insufferably cocky Chris Eubank will definitely be a factor in his legacy, but his impressive run at 168 and his brief reign at 160 including a victory against Iran Barkley should warrant him at least a chance.
Donald Curry: The Lone Star Cobra was a boxing manual in motion, a boxer-puncher who had a great run at 147 but an uneven one at 154 later in his career. The latter will hurt him more than all the good he did in the earlier part of his career, but he may end up being benefited with a vote in his favor someday, if the field of competitors thins out just enough for him to squeeze by. Not a safe bet, but it’s possible.
Great fighters? Indeed. Professional achievements? Plenty. Victories over other champions and even other Hall of Famers? Check. And yet, these guys are routinely overlooked when the time comes to cast ballots. Here are the most outstanding ones in my list:
Santos Laciar: “Falucho” is one of only a handful of Argentines with multiple titles in multiple divisions, beating fellow perennial candidate Gilberto Roman as well as Betulio Gonzalez and Hilario Zapata in a distinguished run marked by his superb skills and his extraordinary resilience in the ring. His low profile and his lack of marketability as a fighter will surely keep him from being elected, but he belongs up there in the Argentine pantheon right next to Galindez, Monzon, Locche and the rest of them.
Rocky Lockridge: If you believe that Roger Mayweather can be the judge of who knows or doesn’t know shit about boxing, then you must admit that Rocky knows his stuff even better than him. Lockridge not only famously KO’d Uncle Roger back in his heyday, but he also defeated the super tough Cornelius Boza-Edwards and went the distance against both Wilfredo Gomez and Julio Cesar Chavez, which should definitely account for something especially since he only lost by majority decisions that were widely considered stinky at best. His back-to-back defeats at the hands of Tony Lopez and his two final losses against Rafael Ruelas and Sharmba Mitchell will hurt his chances, but his newly-found fame as a You Tube sensation after knocking out an obnoxious thug on a parking lot with a picture-perfect one-two may endear him with IBHOF voters just enough to get him elected on a slow year.
WIlfredo Vazquez: The fact that being one of the six Puerto Rican fighters to win titles in three different divisions hardly warrants him a spot in the top 10 of Puerto Rican fighters of all time is a testimony of the depth of talent that the Enchanted Island has to offer. Vazquez was as talented and tough as they come, but his career transpired under the shadows of the great championship run of fellow multiple titlist Felix Trinidad, and Vazquez may need all the mojo he could muster if he ever wants to convince IBHOF voters that he belongs in Canastota.