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Articles of 2005

Has The Hall of Fame Become The Hall of Very Good?

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By the time this article goes to print, the International Boxing Hall of Fame will have wrapped up its annual enshrinement weekend at Canastota, New York. Each year, four modern-day retirees are voted into the Hall by members of the Boxing Writers Association of America, while a special committee selects four more old-timers, a pioneer fighter, and non-participants (trainers, managers, promoters, writers, historians, etc.).

Like other sports, one requirement for participant eligibility is that said athlete must complete five uninterrupted years of retirement. That is where the similarities end between boxing inductions and most other sports. Over the years, the IBHOF voting process has been the subject of scrutiny. The reason is because the modern day Fab Four seems to get progressively weaker each year. This year is certainly no exception, with Bobby Chacon, Duilio Loi, Barry McGuigan and Terry Norris leading the way in the modern-day category.

As is the case with too many aspects of the sport, there are so many things wrong with the voting process that it is hard to figure out where and how to start fixing it.

One part that sticks out the most is the Hall’s insistence of enshrining four modern-day fighters each year. Other sports set a maximum number of participants voted in, but no minimum. There are years where no players make their way to Cooperstown, NY (baseball), Canton, OH (American football) and Springfield, MA (basketball). There are years where several make it. Yet in boxing it has become as much of a tradition to vote in four modern-day fighters as it has to have the annual induction ceremony itself.

As a result, the modest-sized shrine overlooking the New York State Thruway threatens to become watered down, if it has not already. Through the years, many boxing fans wondered aloud over the selection of such fighters as Ken Norton, Ingemar Johansson, Jose Torres and several others fighters that had very good careers. The argument has long been that a Hall of Fame induction should punctuate an exceptionally great career, and its members should only consist of the crème de la crème. The aforementioned resemble worthwhile candidates compared to some of the selections made in the past few years.

This year’s class has received more criticism than any other in recent memory. Of the four elected, Duilio Loi is the most worthy. Yet even he is a borderline choice if you ask most fans. Bobby Chacon’s name never appeared on the ballot until 2004. The first year it appeared, he was voted in. Terry Norris made it in only his second year of eligibility. How Barry McGuigan made it in at all remains a mystery to most in the industry.

So how is it that so many borderline-great fighters are sneaking in through the front door? That takes us back to the IBHOF policy of four modern-day fighters per year. What makes the choices even more dubious is the fact that writers are asked to vote for up to ten fighters each election year, and that the four top vote-getters make it in.

As mentioned earlier, other sports are nowhere near as lenient. Yes, the voters can cast a vote for up to ten participants, but in each sport there is a minimum requirement before the Hall engraves your name on a plaque. The National Basketball Association requires a minimum of eighteen votes from a field of ninety-six. That is far more lenient than the requirements of Major League Baseball (seventy-five percent of the votes) and the National Football league (eighty-percent, among a field of thirty-nine electors).

The thirty-nine man panel in the NFL raises another concern with boxing’s voting process. All members of the Boxing Writers Association of America are eligible to vote – all 210 of them. The number of writers with the last name “S” is a list nearly as long as the entire list of the NFL panel.

That being said, it’s not uncommon to have a BWAA vote in the candidates, as other sports do the same. The difference is that other sports do have requirements for who is selected into such associations. In boxing, all you need to provide in order to gain membership is your affiliation (newspaper, magazine, website, etc.) and $35, and not necessarily in that order.

As a result, younger and/or less knowledgeable members (in a historical sense) will wind up voting for those names that are most familiar. If that doesn’t give them ten choices, then it’s simply the names that jump out at them the most. It would certainly help explain the choices of Norris, McGuigan, Daniel Zaragoza and Carlos Palomino in recent years. Zaragoza and Palomino perhaps belong, but the fact that either – never mind both – are first-ballot entries, leads many to believe that the voters just don’t get it.

This isn’t just to place the blame solely on the younger generation, or at least today’s younger generation. In years past, older members were accused of voting fighters for their association more so than their actual achievements. Nearly every very good – never mind great – middleweight from the Sugar Ray Robinson era has his picture and a plaque in Canastota. All Randy Turpin needed to do was to defeat the mighty Ray Robinson in order to make it into the Hall. That has to be it, because his career was otherwise ordinary. The same can be said for Carl “Bobo” Olson.

The same applies to the Muhammad Ali era. Many consider Ken Norton’s place in the Hall to be due to the time in which he fought. True, he broke Ali’s jaw in their first fight, and deserved the decision in at least two of their three bouts. Other than that, Norton’s name will always be affixed in heavyweight history for becoming the first ever to be awarded the world championship without winning the prize in the ring. The fact that he lost the title to Larry Holmes in his first title defense means that Norton is the only world champion in heavyweight history to have never left the ring as one. How that translates into a spot in the Hall is baffling, unless voters were further impressed with his tour-de-force performance in “Mandingo.”

As questionable as the aforementioned choices are, all can at least claim a career-defining win. Those looking to support their vote for McGuigan will turn to his title-winning effort against long-reigning featherweight king Eusebio Pedroza in 1985. Perhaps it can be ignored that Pedroza was past his prime; he was, in fact, at the end of his career (despite an ill-advised comeback a few years later). Even so, where voters fail to differentiate between very good, great, and all-time great has to be called into question when someone like McGuigan makes it into the HoF.

The Pedroza fight is a career-defining win in that it’s his only win of note. McGuigan had a respectable career, and also brings a great human interest story into the equation. So did James Braddock, who is not only a Hall of Fame inductee, but also the subject of Ron Howard’s “Cinderella Man.” McGuigan is more revered for reasons other than pulling off the impossible in the ring. Many admired his pleas to the feuding citizens of a long-split Ireland to “leave the fighting to me in the ring.” Further aiding his cause was that he, an Irish-Catholic, married the love of his life, who happened to be Protestant.

All that is touching and makes for a great screenplay, but not for a great career. Not only that, but his career did not even last a decade; he started in 1981 and was gone by 1989. He was actually gone by 1986, for all intent and purposes. His long-awaited stateside debut resulted in a points loss to Freddy Cruz, when McGuigan suffered from heat exhaustion and ran out of gas toward fight’s end. That takes us back to his win over Pedroza as the lone notable exception to a career that still only ranks as very good.

Terry Norris does not even have a career-defining win in any of his title reigns – not unless his string of wins against faded former greats is taken into consideration. Yes, names like John Mugabi, Sugar Ray Leonard, Donald Curry and Meldrick Taylor grace Norris’ resume.

The win over Leonard was considered an upset at the time, only because Leonard handpicked the newly crowned champ as an opponent. What Sugar Ray saw was a chinny kid with a title. What Leonard realized by the final bell was that Norris wasn’t as bad as he thought; he also realized he no longer had any business in the ring. Norris would prove the same to be true against Mugabi, Curry and Taylor.

But if those wins are taken into consideration, then so should unforgivable losses to Luis Santana and a faded Simon Brown. True, Norris avenged losses against both and went on to become the dominant junior middleweight champion of his generation, but his list of victims is an ordinary bunch, and the only unification match he participated in during his six years as champion was against former sparring partner Paul Vaden. Not even a showdown with faded WBA champ Julio Cesar Vasquez could ever be made, despite both being the property of King.

But he still makes it into the Hall in only his second year of eligibility.

Norris and McGuigan are both prime examples of how easy it is these days to make it into the Hall of Fame. Chacon has received an equal amount of criticism, though his win some/lose some career has come against some of the best fighters in the history of the lower weight classes. He was also on the winning end of two Fight of the Year contests, and scored major wins throughout his career. But he was never dominant in any particular weight class; nor did he reign as world champion for very long.

In the end, all exemplify the lack of a significant criteria involved in the annual voting process. Voters need to provide little more than a check and affiliation to cast a vote. Being an all-time great is no longer a mandate to receive a vote. Somewhere along the line, the bar was lowered to simply great. In recent years, it has been dumbed down to somewhere between great and very good. As is the case in most other walks of life, being well-known now outweighs being great.

Articles of 2005

In Boxing News: Floyd Mayweather An All-Time Great, Valuev & More

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A Shot of Boxing on the Last Day of the Year

The Guardian reports that talks have already taken place between Nicolay Valuev‘s co-promoters – Don King and Wilfried Sauerland – and Danny Williams‘ promoter Frank Warren for Nicolay Valuev to face Danny Williams. I’d suggest Danny Williams needs to worry about Matt Skelton (who Williams is reportedly scheduled to fight in February) before he entertains notions of facing the Beast From The East.

The Mirror in the UK looks forward to a big year in boxing for 2006. The Mirror considers what the future might bring for Joe Calzaghe, Amir Khan and Ricky Hatton, among others.

The Parksville Qualicum News has an interesting column on the travails of former Canadian Super Middleweight title holder Mark Woolnough. Woolnough’s career turned controversial – as widely reported in the Canadian press – at the beginning of this year when Woolnough and four other men were charged with manslaughter and assault after a fight outside a Parksville nightclub. The case returns to court next month. It’s an interesting read, as Woolnough is still looking to the future with hope.

Our own Marc Lichtenfeld provides plenty of food for thought with his Top Ten Wish List for boxing in the New Year. There’s plenty of good stuff here, but what really jumped out for me is Lichtenfeld’s opinion that a win over Zab Judah could have Floyd Mayweather knocking on the door of all-time great status. Seems to me this might be jumping the gun a little. Or is Marc right? Will it soon be time to call Floyd Mayweather Jr. an all-time great?

(More Boxing News Links at TheSweetScience.com)

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Articles of 2005

ShoBox Friday Night Fights

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Hot bantamweight prospect Raul “The Cobra” Martinez heads back to Chicago next Friday night as he is featured in the co-main event of SHOBOX “THE NEW GENERATION,” an action packed evening of professional boxing presented by Dominic Pesoli’s 8 Count Productions,’ HOME OF THE BEST IN CHICAGO BOXING, Kathy Duva’s Main Events Inc., along with Miller Lite and TCF Bank.

The two-time national amateur champion sporting a perfect 12-0 record with 9 knockouts, six of which have come in the first round,  will take on Colombian Andres “Andy Boy” Ledesma, 13-1 (8 KOs) in a scheduled eight round bout.

Speaking after a training session at his home gym in Georgetown, Texas, Martinez said, “I’m truly looking forward to returning to Chicago. The fans were terrific in September, they were very supportive from the start of the fight,” an internationally televised first round knockout of Miguel Martinez on September 16th at the Aragon Ballroom.

Regarding his upcoming fight with Ledesma, “The Cobra” said, “I haven’t seen him fight, although I understand he’s fought at higher weights and will be naturally bigger than me. I’ve had great training for this fight and feel very confident. I really haven’t left the gym in months, just taking off Sunday’s and even then I get my running in. My thinking is that fights are won in the gym and complete preparation is the key.”

When asked about his being mentioned by Dan Rafael, ESPN’s boxing writer as one of the top prospect’s in the boxing world the 23-year-old San Antonio native said, ‘It’s a great compliment, but I still have much work to do. I want to be a champion for Main Events like Fernando Vargas and Arturo Gatti. But like Fernando said while he was in town, ‘be patient, work hard and your time will come.’”

Finishing the conversation, Martinez said, “I’m looking forward to starting out this year with a bang. I might have a couple less fights than the seven I had in 2005, but I’m looking to stepping up the competition, move up to ten-rounders and climb in the rankings.”

Headlining the evening is a ten-round welterweight showdown between boxing’s hottest prospect, unbeaten Joel Julio of Monteria, Columbia, and Ugandan native Roberto “The Doctor” Kamya. Julio, turning 21 years old the day before the fight, is 25-0 with 22 knockouts, twelve of which have come in the first two rounds. Kamya, now fighting out of West Palm Beach, Florida is 15-5 with four knockouts.

Tickets, starting at $30, are on sale in advance by calling 312-226-5800. Cicero Stadium is located at 1909 S. Laramie, at the corner of 19th and Laramie, just ten minutes south of the Eisenhower Expressway and ten minutes north of the Stevenson Expressway. Doors for this evening will open at 6pm with the first bell at 7pm.

The full bout lineup for the evening is:

Joel Julio vs. Roberto Kamya, ten rounds, welterweights

Raul Martinez vs. Andres Ledesma, eight rounds, bantamweights

Miguel Hernandez vs. Butch Hajicek, eight rounds, middleweights

David Pareja vs. Derek Andrews, eight rounds, light heavyweights

Mike Gonzales vs. Tony Kinney, four rounds, lightweights

Omar Reyes vs. Luis Navarro, five rounds, featherweights

Reynaldo Reyes vs. Ricardo Swift, four rounds, middleweights

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Articles of 2005

Pick ‘Em: Plenty of Big Upcoming Fights in ’06

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Here’s the early call on many top matches scheduled for the first half of 2006: Happy New Year!

As the new calendar dawns, there are already a considerable amount of premium bouts on the horizon. Things don’t look to be bogged down by undetermined championships next year. In many cases the scheduled face-offs involve the best fighters in the division, or at least close enough for general bragging rights. If anybody else with proper qualifications signs up to force the issue, all the better.

It can be argued that some pairings could have taken place within a more optimal timeframe, or that some headliners carry distracting baggage, but there are certainly enough heavy hitters on deck. That nobody can deny.

It doesn’t matter whether one considers the proverbial glass half empty or half full; there’s still the same amount of juice in the vessel. It’s nice to know that even with a high number of cancellations, there will still be plenty of important contenders on tap.

With elite fighters in weight divisions from top to bottom on the agenda, it’s an equivalent to what fans in more mainstream sports expect in a consistent championship format.

Baseball fans can almost always count on a World Series. Some hoops fanatics say too much attention to playoffs distracts unmotivated NBA teams during their regular season. In college, they project Sweet Sixteens. Football fans know there’s always a Super Bowl ahead to raise advertising dollars and test the USA’s halftime morals.

So too, there is method in boxing’s current madness.

The midnight crystal ball hasn’t even been unveiled in Times Square and there are already a number of potential thrillers scheduled. Most feature contrasting personalities that almost guarantee going along for the ride will be worthwhile. Any subsequent drops will probably be cheered.

Don King jumps right out of the auld lang gate with a January 7th Showtime card featuring Zab Judah against Carlos Baldomir and Jean-Marc Mormeck in a cruiserweight unification against O’Neil Bell.

It will be the upset of the year, bar none, if Baldomir can tip the applecart before Judah gets to his scheduled super-showdown with Floyd Mayweather Jr. Meanwhile, Mormeck is emerging and should keep on rolling against Bell, who can expose him if he’s not for real.

The proverbial Big Bang starts with a January 21st rematch of one of the finest fights of ‘05, when Erik Morales goes against Manny Pacquaio for the second time on HBO pay per view. The fact that Morales was upset by Zahir Raheem after beating Pacquaio was no real loss in box-office luster. Artful Raheem will get a spot on the undercard and hope his patience is rewarded.

Everyone figures Morales and Pacquaio will pick up where they left off. Like the first time, the rematch is a pick’em contest. Management distractions and glove restrictions cited as Pacquaio’s previous problems won’t matter this time. The two are very evenly matched and their styles will make for another whapathon. It could come down to corners, where Freddie Roach gets the edge since Morales will have a new trainer for the first time since replacing his father after the Raheem lesson.

February features four of the game’s most enduring attractions, in a pair of crucial matchups.

First up, Showtime presents the Jose Luis Castillo – Diego Corrales tiebreaker from El Paso on Feb 4th. This is another pick ‘em pair, barring any sideshow. In boxing that disclaimer may be a stretch, since the sideshow is part of the act and the charm.

As far as action inside the strands goes, every round these guys have fought has been great. There’s no reason to think that pattern won’t continue. Regarding the result, Castillo keeps the pressure on as he did in the second fight, but he’ll walk into trouble from a more reserved Corrales. We still don’t know which coin to flip.

February also holds a better late than never affair between two perennial favorites as Shane Mosley collides with Fernando Vargas on the 25th.  This fight could lead to a winning ticket in the Golden Boy sweepstakes for a fall bonanza against Oscar De La Hoya.

Vargas has been in tougher recently, based on comparable strength of opposition stats, but he’s seen little action. What weight they enter the ring at may have a lot to do with the result. If Vargas has to struggle at the scale, Mosley might have the battle in the bag after round nine.

It’s hard to imagine Mosley getting stopped early, but Vargas doesn’t have to hurt him, he just has to knock him down three times. With natural size, he may be able to do just that, but Mosley would have to box uncharacteristically flat.

Unless Mosley decides to heed the crowd, the most likely scenario is that Shane plays it safe, picks a few shots, and stays away enough to capture a comfortable, dull decision. An unbowed Vargas maintains his fan base but not his bettors.

March both comes in and goes out as a lion.

On March 4th Joe Calzaghe welcomes Jeff Lacy to Manchester UK for what may be the biggest blowout of the headlining bunch. Calzaghe gets the chance to prove his considerable home-based reputation once and for all, but if Lacy creams him as we expect, that glossy record will be severely tarnished.

All Calzaghe has to do is make a respectable stand, but that’s no small task against the rising Lacy. A motivated Calzaghe, songs of England ringing in his ears, could pull a big surprise if he can exploit Lacy’s relatively limited technical development, but that’s a longshot indeed.

It looks like Lacy can get by on power alone. He could soon emerge as a pound-for-pound leader. Old Joe’s hometown advantage will last about two left hooks.

March 11th has the Ides of history to beware for at least one old lion, with farewell (we’ll see) fireworks featuring Roy Jones Jr. against Bernard Hopkins. Less than two years ago they were considered untouchable all time greats. Now between them they’ve lost five in a row.

This goodbye fight is contracted at light heavyweight, for what seems like an oldies night. Hopkins is the senior at age 41 to Jones’s 37, but Roy seems more the grandpa figure, last seen hanging on against Antonio Tarver. Youth, as it were here, will prevail.

This bout was signed quickly as each principal, usually sticklers for favorable contract clauses, agreed to parity in a demonstration of businessman first and fighter second. They may both expect easy marks. How much the boys have left by the time they get down to business remains to be seen. The history books will show this as a climactic career bout between Hall of Famers.

At 175 pounds, Hopkins may be in for rude awakening. Jones may have been more thoroughly outfought recently, but he was rumbling with bigger, tougher men than Jermain Taylor or Howard Eastman. Respectable as he is, Taylor still falls short of the level of Tarver, at least for now. The difference is still fifteen pounds less pop.

It will be quite a feat if Hopkins can stay in the fight, even at Jones’s advanced age. Our stars point to Jones winning in overwhelming fashion.

On March 18th, James Toney meets Hasim Rahman in another pairing of seasoned war-horses.

Toney and Rahman already had their introductions, when they brawled in Mexico during a WBC gathering to bestow Rahman’s new belt. Between formalities, Toney got married, which could bring up the old questions about carnal training.

Let’s hope when they meet in the ring, they restore some of the fire missing from the heavyweights in ‘05.  Toney might have an edge in recent form, but Rahman shows fine tuning he previously lacked. The winner might get newly “crowned’ Nicolai Valuev, an easy payday outside Germany.

Rahman could be the heavyweight that finally makes Toney look like a blown up middleweight. But anything less than a top effort will probably lead to embarrassing night for the Rock and give Toney solid claim to being the true heavyweight champ.

This might not be the most artful fight of the new season, but it could well be the most grueling, and the closest. He who’s faced the better big boys gets the nod. Advantage Rahman.

March 25 features Marco Antonio Barrera, probably the strongest overall claimant to 130 pound honors. The likely opponent is said to be always tough Jesus Chavez.

Chavez seemed rejuvenated when he met Leavander Johnson, but Johnson’s tragic death may have taken some of the steam out of thoughtful Chavez, said to have received Johnson’s family blessing to continue in Leavander’s name. That could mean a lot of inspiration. Either way, if he does meet Chavez, who hung tough with one arm against Erik Morales, Barrera won’t get any slack. The Fates say Chavez, whose wife recently served in Iraq, is a live, live underdog.

Another clash to be King of the Hill finds Floyd Mayweather Jr, arguably the game’s finest practitioner, bumping heads with Zab Judah, one of very few boxers who rivals Mayweather in speed, skills, and brashness.

Their hoedown, scheduled for April 8th, is one of the top pound-for-pound pairings in recent years. Judah will need a career best performance to have a chance of victory. That’s not to say he can’t pull it off, but currently Mayweather is in a different galaxy in terms of punching power. Slow-motion replays may be the only way to follow the flying fists once these two whirlwinds unload.

Mayweather should be around a 4-1 favorite. Judah is good enough to make taking the odds an attractive proposition, since that’s probably as good of odds as one is likely to see on Floyd for a while. Mayweather will stop Judah in his tracks.

The first half of next year is set to conclude with the star power of Oscar De La Hoya, probably against noteworthy foil Ricardo Mayorga on May 6. There could be some snags before a contract is finalized, but if it comes off count on Mayorga for promotional sound bite nastiness. One of the questions is whether or not he’ll be able to get under Oscar’s skin, and it might actually be entertaining to see the classy, model perfect De La Hoya show he’s human and freak out against the Nicaraguan maniac.

Mayorga may have burnt his best bridges already. De La Hoya has not only the boxing skill to negate Mayorga’s offense, but enough power to end it early. If Mayorga rushes in and causes a cut, De La Hoya might get ruffled enough to duck into defense and Mayorga could get a decision that goes to the cards after six rounds or so. It will be wild for as long as it lasts.

Pro boxing, like many sports, had its share of problems during 2005, but there were also many positives. Most notably, as usual, was superior and inspiring action inside the strands. Unless there’s a mass freeze-up at the top, early 2006 figures to see decisive interaction among many well-known fighters.

If even fifty per cent of the aforementioned pairings come to fruition, it’s a strong likelihood the upcoming year has at least one very positive half. Arturo Gatti, Miguel Cotto, Antonio Margarito, Brian Viloria, and Shannon Briggs, to name a few, are also on deck. No matter how you chose to look at or measure mass qualities, there’s still just as much good to be seen.

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