Henry Armstrong Enters the Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame; a Curious Pick

Last month, the Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame unveiled the names of the inductees in the Class of 2018. The newcomers will be formally enshrined at a gala banquet on Saturday, Aug. 18, at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. The banquet is the highlight of Hall of Fame Weekend, a three-day extravaganza.

Born in 2012, the NBHOF is the brainchild of Rich Marotta. A longtime Southern California broadcaster and TV and radio boxing personality who has resided in Reno, Nevada, since 2005, the well-liked Marotta remains involved with the organization, but ceded the heavy lifting to Michelle Corrales-Lewis in 2016. The widow of the late boxer Diego Corrales, Ms. Corrales-Lewis holds the title of CEO/President.

The NBHOF has been a work in progress. When the rules for eligibility were first set down, a boxer, whether living or dead, had to have fought 12 times in Nevada or had to have had at least eight title fights here. That rule, which locked out Muhammad Ali, was quickly loosened. Nowadays, a boxer needs to have had only one fight in Nevada to warrant consideration.

That brings us to 2018 inductee Henry Armstrong who qualified for admission under the revised criteria but was yet an awkward choice. Armstrong is one of nine boxers entering the Hall this year. Five non-boxers are joining him. What follows are thumbnail sketches of the 14 honorees.

Henry Armstrong

A true ring immortal, Armstrong appears second on many all-time pound-for-pound lists behind only the legendary Sugar Ray Robinson. Hammerin’ Henry won the featherweight, welterweight, and lightweight titles — in that order – in an era where there were only eight weight classes. For a brief time, he held all three belts simultaneously.

Armstrong, for all the accolades showered on him by boxing historians, is an odd pick for the NBHOF as only three of his 182 documented fights were staged in Nevada – this despite the fact that he was a West Coast fighter, domiciled in LA for most of his career.

Coming up the ladder, Armstrong had two fights in Reno. Toward the end of his career, he fought in Pittman. A federal reservation built around a big World War II magnesium plant, Pittman, which would be expunged from the map, straddled Las Vegas and the newly chartered Las Vegas border town of Henderson.

This reporter has written about the efforts undertaken by powerful people in Las Vegas to deter Armstrong from going through with his Labor Day 1942 fight in Pittman against third-rater Johnny Taylor and the bad press it received in the town’s only daily newspaper. Here’s the link.

Armstrong’s induction is thus something of a posthumous make-up call, an apology for the rude reception he received in 1942.

OTHER BOXERS, LISTED ALPHABETICALLY

Laila Ali

Perhaps the best female boxer ever (you’ll get an argument from admirers of Lucia Rijker and Cecilia Braekhus), Ali was yet another curious choice as she had only two fights in Nevada, those coming in 2002 at the Aladdin and Stratosphere in Las Vegas. Unbeaten in 24 fights with 21 knockouts, her signature win was a fourth round stoppage of Christie Martin in Biloxi, Mississippi. Laila’s legendary father was inducted into the Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame with the class of 2015.

Alexis Arguello

Named the best junior lightweight of the century in a 1999 Associated Press poll, Arguello was 6-2 in Nevada rings and 77-8 overall. His 1982 fight with WBA junior welterweight champion Aaron Pryor at Miami’s Orange Bowl was named the Fight of the Decade. The sequel the next year was staged in the outdoor arena at Caesars Palace.

One of Arguello’s best wins came late in his career when he stopped 31-1 Billy Costello, a former world titlist, in the fourth round at the Lawlor Events Center in Reno. The Nicaraguan Thin Man retired after that fight and was inactive for the next eight-and-a-half years before being drawn back to the ring. He was a shell of himself when he had his last pro fight, losing a 10-round decision to unheralded Scott Walker at Arizona Charlie’s, a neighborhood casino in Las Vegas.

Chris Byrd

A silver medalist at the Barcelona Olympics, Byrd weighed 169 pounds when he launched his pro career in 1993. One of his best wins came against David Tua at the Cox Pavilion on the campus of UNLV. He out-slicked Tua to earn a crack at Evander Holyfield and then out-slicked Evander to capture the IBF world heavyweight title. Byrd had only three fights in Nevada, but he lived in the city for much of his career and beyond, eventually training fighters in the large converted garage that sat deep in the backyard of his spacious home.

Byrd, always a gentleman, is one of the good guys in the sport. Few people in boxing are more respected by their peers.

Kevin Kelley

One of the great action fighters of the 1990s, the “Flushing Flash” built his reputation at boutique New York venues like the Felt Forum and the Paramount Theater, but became a world champion in Reno, snatching the WBC featherweight belt from Gregorio Vargas. Altogether, he had 11 fights in Nevada at 11 different locales.

Don Minor

Minor’s pro career, truncated by brittle hands, was here and gone in a flash. Fourteen of his 21 fights took place within a 48-week window in 1964. The first 13 were at the Castaways, where the Mirage now sits, and the last at the Hacienda, which gave way to Mandalay Bay. It was at the Hacienda where he scored his signature win, a 12-round decision over previously unbeaten Ernie “Indian Red” Lopez, a future two-time world title challenger. Described as a cool, calculating southpaw, the local fan favorite finished with a record of 19-2.

Shane Mosley

A world champion in three weight classes, Mosley was 33-0 when he made his Nevada debut in 2000 with a sixth round stoppage of Willy Wise at the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas. In the ensuing years, he became a fixture in the big rooms on the Las Vegas Strip, opposing such notables as Juan Manual Marquez, Oscar De La Hoya, Winky Wright (twice), Fernando Vargas (twice), Floyd Mayweather, Manny Pacquiao, and Canelo Alvarez.

Aaron Pryor

Widely considered the best junior welterweight ever, “The Hawk” made the first defense of his WBA 140-pound title at the Hacienda where he blasted out Lennox Blackmoore in the second round. His next Nevada appearance, and third overall, was his rematch with Alexis Arguello. The sequel wasn’t as epic as the first meeting but was another memorable scrap.

Earnie Shavers

Shavers, who competed during the Golden Era of Heavyweights, was recognized as the hardest puncher of them all. Of his 68 knockouts, 41 came in the first two rounds.

In 1971, his second full year as a pro, Shavers had nine of his 17 fights in Nevada. Overall, he had 15 fights in the Silver State, including two bouts with Larry Holmes at Caesars Palace. Between those fights he scored his signature win, a first round knockout of Ken Norton at the Las Vegas Hilton.

NON-BOXERS

Todd duBoef

Bob Arum remains the face (and voice) of Top Rank, but DuBoef, Arum’s 50-year-old stepson, is more involved in the day-to-day affairs. With the founder now an octogenarian and many key positions occupied by longtime employees, this is a company that could have easily become calcified, but DuBoef, who joined the company in 1993, brought fresh ideas that smoothed the transition into the digital age. When he assumed the presidency of Top Rank in 2005, DuBoef was committed to making the sport less marginalized. Top Rank’s deal with ESPN bears his thumbprint.

Jack “Doc” Kearns

Born John Leo McKernan, Doc Kearns is best remembered for resurrecting the career of tramp fighter Jack Dempsey who went on to win the world heavyweight title and become America’s most exalted athlete during the Golden Era of Sports. With an assist from the late Las Vegas Sun publisher Hank Greenspun, Kearns also had the distinction of manufacturing the first Las Vegas fight that caught the attention of hardcore fight fans around the world, the 1951 fight at the Cashman baseball park between Archie Moore and Nino Valdes.

In a career that spanned six decades, Kearns managed such notables as Dempsey, Moore, Mickey Walker and Joey Maxim, not to mention a slew of white hope heavyweights that never panned out, one of whom, Jefferson Davis, he discovered on a scouting trip to Las Vegas.

Bill Miller

Miller, who hailed Elmira, New York, acquired the Thoroughbred Lounge, a freestanding mid-Strip saloon that was a popular Las Vegas hangout for fans of the sweet science; it had a mini-boxing gym in the basement. During the 1960s, he took to arranging club fights, potting his shows at Circus Circus, the Castaways, the Hacienda, and eventually the Silver Slipper where Miller’s “Strip Fight of the Week” settled in for a long run.

A hugely important transitional figure in the history of boxing in Las Vegas, Miller was both a promoter and a manager, at various times handling the affairs of such notables as the Hernandez brothers, Ferd and Art, Denny Moyer, and Freddie Little, the latter of whom used Miller’s shows as a stepping stone to winning a world title.

Bill Miller died during open heart surgery in 1976 at age forty-nine. Although the Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame has been around for only six years, the induction of Miller is long overdue.

Harry Reid

Born in the fly-speck town of Searchlight, Nevada, Reid spent 30 years in the U.S. Senate, rising to the post of Senate Majority Leader. But don’t be misled; a lifelong boxing fan, his credentials for membership in this body are legit. During his days as Nevada’s Attorney General and beyond, he was often called upon to mediate disputes between boxing promoters and state regulators. In the mid-1960s, before he won his first political race, Reid moonlighted as a boxing judge, working dozens of club fights on the Las Vegas Strip.

Jerry Roth

Roth, a longtime Southern Nevada resident, retired in 2015 after a 35-year run as a ringside boxing judge. BoxRec credits him with working 715 fights (there were undoubtedly more), of which more than 200 bore the label of a title fight.

Eyebrows were raised when Roth landed the Holmes-Cooney blockbuster in 1980 when he was one of the newest kids on the block, but the scorecard that he submitted, which had Holmes comfortably ahead through the completed rounds, was considered the only sensible one of the three.

No mortal human works as a boxing judge for more than three decades without an occasional misstep and Roth was no exception, but what jumps out about his career is that when he was party to a brouhaha it was invariably his cohorts that brought about the controversy. For example, he alone of the three judges scored the first Pacquiao-Bradley fight for Pacquaio.

Jerry Roth’s induction comes on the heels of his induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame last year.

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The annual NBHOF Induction Weekend has blossomed into quite a shindig. Attendees invariably bump into well-known boxers, active and retired, and the informal encounters are invariably pleasant. Boxers as a group may be the most down-to-earth athletes in the entire spectrum of sports. In terms of scale, the three-day event in Las Vegas is surpassed only by Induction Weekend in June at the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, New York.

The Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame is a 501 (c) non-profit. The organization, to quote their web site, “(is) committed to helping boxing-related causes and community organizations making a difference in the lives of our youth.” Donations are tax-deductible. For more information, check out their web site at www.nvbhof.com.

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