NEVADA’S BOXING HERITAGE — On Wednesday, Feb. 15, the Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame announced the inductees for the class of 2017. The 14-member class, headed by Thomas “Hit Man” Hearns, is divided into three categories: Nevada resident boxers, non-Nevada resident boxers, and non-boxers.
Longtime Los Angeles sportscaster Rich Marotta is the guiding spirit behind the Nevada Hall of Fame which rolled out their first class in 2013. Marotta recalls that when he moved to Reno in 2005, he was surprised to learn that no one had yet established a body to celebrate Nevada’s fistic heritage. While Marotta remains actively involved in the non-profit organization that he founded, he recently ceded the post of CEO/president to Michelle Corrales-Lewis. She is the widow of Diego Corrales who was inducted posthumously with the inaugural class. A former two-division world champion who died at age 29 in a motorcycle accident, Diego Corrales is remembered for his 2005 war in Las Vegas with Jose Luis Castillo, the “Fight of the Decade.”
The inductees in the class of 2017 are:
NON-NEVADA RESIDENT BOXERS
THOMAS HEARNS — The “Hit Man” was 12-4-1 in Nevada rings. He was on the losing end of two fabled fights – his first meeting with Sugar Ray Leonard and his tussle with Marvin Hagler – but scored a smashing knockout of Roberto Duran and upset reigning WBA light heavyweight champion Virgil Hill. All four of those fights were contested at Caesars Palace.
MICHAEL CARBAJAL – The pride of Phoenix, “Little Hands of Stone” (pictured) fought all over Nevada, winning 14 of his 16 Silver State engagements. His 1993 flyweight title unification match at the Hilton with his great rival Humberto Gonzalez was the first flyweight bout in history to command pay-per-view. The bout was named The Ring magazine Fight of the Year. Carbajal felt so honored to be accorded this honor that he motored in from Phoenix to participate in Tuesday’s press conference, a four-and-a half-hour drive.
MICHAEL SPINKS – Spinks made his pro debut in Las Vegas and was 8-0 in Las Vegas rings. His Las Vegas fights were held at the Aladdin (2), at the Imperial Palace, where he won his first title, dethroning WBA light heavyweight champion Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, at the Riviera (2) and at the Hilton (3). None of those properties exists anymore, at least not under those names. Spinks retired with a record of 31-1. His conquest of reigning world heavyweight champion Larry Holmes at the Riviera stands as one of the most memorable upsets in boxing history. Holmes was 48-0 going in.
ERIC MORALES — A title-holder in four weight divisions, Tijuana’s “El Terrible” was 15-5 in Las Vegas rings. All six installments of his trilogies with Manny Pacquiao and Marco Antonio Barrera played out in Sin City. Rick Marotta and his colleagues at the Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame hope to induce Barrera to introduce Morales at the official induction ceremony in August.
LUCIA RIJKER – Although many consider “The Dutch Destroyer” the top female boxer of all time, the unbeaten Rijker was yet an odd choice as she had only three fights in Nevada rings. Her 2005 match at Mandalay Bay with Christy Martin, labeled “Million Dollar Lady,” was cancelled when Rijker suffered a ruptured tendon. Martin was inducted into Nevada’s Hall of Fame last year, the first female boxer to receive this laurel.
SALVADOR SANCHEZ – The fabled Sanchez was only 23 years old when he died after crashing his sports car not far from his home in Tianguistenco, Mexico. At the time of his death, he was 44-1-1 and the lineal featherweight champion. He made three successful title defenses at the Caesars Palace Sports Pavilion, stopping 42-4 Danny “Little Red” Lopez, 43-1 Roberto Castanon, and 32-0-1 Wilfredo Gomez.
NEVADA RESIDENT BOXERS
KEN NORTON — Norton resided in the Las Vegas suburb of Henderson when he died in 2013 at age 70. He had seven fights in Las Vegas rings. His razor-thin loss to Larry Holmes at the Caesars Palace Sports Pavilion in 1978 is remembered for producing the best 15th round in the annals of heavyweight championship boxing.
LEON SPINKS – An Olympic gold medalist like his younger brother and fellow 2017 NBHOF inductee Michael Spinks, Neon Leon shocked the world in 1978 when he out-pointed Muhammad Ali across 15 rounds at the Las Vegas Hilton in what was only his eighth professional fight. A Las Vegas resident, he gets around town nowadays with the help of a guide dog and personal assistant.
RICHIE SANDOVAL – Denied the opportunity to compete in the 1980 Olympics as a result of a U.S. boycott, Sandoval turned pro under the Top Rank banner and had his first 14 pro fights in Las Vegas. His lone defeat came at the hands of Gaby Canizales at Caesars Palace in the third defense of his WBA bantamweight title. Rushed to the hospital with a life-threatening brain injury, Sandoval beat the odds. In the wake of the near-tragedy, Top Rank honcho Bob Arum promised Sandoval a lifetime job and proved to be a man of his word.
Three inductees in this category will be inducted posthumously. They are:
MEL GREB – An important transitional figure, Greb, a Newark transplant, co-promoted Nevada’s first nationally televised fights at the Las Vegas Convention Center and was Bob Arum’s point man for Arum’s first Las Vegas promotions. He is credited with introducing the boxer then known as Cassius Clay to the wrestler “Gorgeous” George. Lore has it that Clay/Ali kicked up his act after consorting with the Gorgeous one.
ELIAS GHANEM – A physician with many famous show biz clients and a man with considerable political clout, Ghanem served 14 years on the Nevada Athletic Commission, seven as chairman.
DAVEY PEARL – A handball champion turned Las Vegas tavern owner and boxing referee, Pearl worked more than 70 world title fights including Leonard-Hearns I.
The living inductees in the non-boxing category are:
RAFAEL GARCIA – Now 87 years old, Garcia has been a fixture on the Las Vegas boxing scene for decades. A trainer, cut man, hand wrapper, etc., he retired after a 16-year run with Floyd Mayweather Jr. Prior to that, he worked with such notables as Roberto Duran and Alexis Arguello.
DEBBIE MUNCH – Munch has had a long career at Caesars Palace where she currently holds the title of Regional Vice President of Public Relations. During the glory days of boxing at her property, she worked directly with local and out-of-town boxing journalists who found her an invaluable helpmate.
The inductees in the 2017 class will be formally enshrined at a gala dinner at Caesars Palace on Saturday, Aug. 12. For more details, check the organization’s web site: NVBHOF.com
Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel.