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The IBHOF class of 2017: A list of Shoo-ins, Contenders and Also-rans

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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.

The Overachievers:

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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aNMJN7n6I_g

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.

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The BWAA Shames Veteran Referee Laurence Cole and Two Nebraska Judges

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In an unprecedented development, the Boxing Writers Association of America has started a “watch list” to lift the curtain on ring officials who have “screwed up.” Veteran Texas referee Laurence Cole and Nebraska judges Mike Contreras and Jeff Sinnett have the unwelcome distinction of being the first “honorees.”

“Boxing is a sport where judges and referees are rarely held accountable for poor performances that unfairly change the course of a fighter’s career and, in some instances, endanger lives,” says the BWAA in a preamble to the new feature. Hence the watch list, which is designed to “call attention to ‘egregious’ errors in scoring by judges and unacceptable conduct by referees.”

Contreras and Sinnett, residents of Omaha, were singled out for their scorecards in the match between lightweights Thomas Mattice and Zhora Hamazaryan, an eight round contest staged at the WinnaVegas Casino in Sloan, Iowa on July 20. They both scored the fight 76-75 for Mattice, enabling the Ohio fighter to keep his undefeated record intact via a split decision.

Although Mattice vs. Hamazaryan was a supporting bout, it aired live on ShoBox. Analyst Steve Farhood, who was been with ShoBox since the inception of the series in 2001, called it one of the worst decisions he had ever seen. Lead announcer Barry Tompkins went further, calling it the worst decision he has seen in his 40 years of covering the sport.

Laurence Cole (pictured alongside his father) was singled out for his behavior as the third man in the ring for the fight between Regis Prograis and Juan Jose Velasco at the Lakefront Arena in New Orleans on July 14. The bout was televised live on ESPN.

In his rationale for calling out Cole, BWAA prexy Joseph Santoliquito leaned heavily on Thomas Hauser’s critique of Cole’s performance in The Sweet Science. “Velasco fought courageously and as well as he could,” noted Hauser. “But at the end of round seven he was a thoroughly beaten fighter.”

His chief second bullied him into coming out for another round. Forty-five seconds into round eight, after being knocked down for a third time, Velasco spit out his mouthpiece and indicated to Cole that he was finished. But Cole insisted that the match continue and then, after another knockdown that he ruled a slip, let it continue for another 35 seconds before Velasco’s corner mercifully threw in the towel.

Controversy has dogged Laurence Cole for well over a decade.

Cole was the third man in the ring for the Nov. 25, 2006 bout in Hildalgo, Texas, between Juan Manuel Marquez and Jimrex Jaca. In the fifth round, Marquez sustained a cut on his forehead from an accidental head butt. In round eight, another accidental head butt widened and deepened the gash. As Marquez was being examined by the ring doctor, Cole informed Marquez that he was ahead on the scorecards, volunteering this information while holding his hand over his HBO wireless mike. The inference was that Marquez was free to quit right then without tarnishing his record. (Marquez elected to continue and stopped Jaca in the next round.)

This was improper. For this indiscretion, Cole was prohibited from working a significant fight in Texas for the next six months.

More recently, Cole worked the 2014 fight between Vasyl Lomachenko and Orlando Salido at the San Antonio Alamodome. During the fight, Salido made a mockery of the Queensberry rules for which he received no point deductions and only one warning. Cole’s performance, said Matt McGrain, was “astonishingly bad,” an opinion echoed by many other boxing writers. And one could site numerous other incidents where Cole’s performance came under scrutiny.

Laurence Cole is the son of Richard “Dickie” Cole. The elder Cole, now 87 years old, served 21 years as head of the Texas Department of Combat Sports Regulation before stepping down on April 30, 2014. At various times during his tenure, Dickie Cole held high executive posts with the World Boxing Council and North American Boxing Federation. He was the first and only inductee into the inaugural class of the Texas Boxing Hall of Fame, an organization founded by El Paso promoter Lester Bedford in 2015.

From an administrative standpoint, boxing in Texas during the reign of Dickie Cole was frequently described in terms befitting a banana republic. Whenever there was a big fight in the Lone Star State, his son was the favorite to draw the coveted refereeing assignment.

Boxing is a sideline for Laurence Cole who runs an independent insurance agency in Dallas. By law in Texas (and in most other states), a boxing promoter must purchase insurance to cover medical costs in the event that one or more of the fighters on his show is seriously injured. Cole’s agency is purportedly in the top two nationally in writing these policies. Make of that what you will.

Complaints of ineptitude, says the WBAA, will be evaluated by a “rotating committee of select BWAA members and respected boxing experts.” In subsequent years, says the press release, the watch list will be published quarterly in the months of April, August, and December (must be the new math).

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Popo vs. “La Hiena”: Blast From the Past – Episode Two

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Freitas

When WBA/WBO super featherweight champion Acelino “Popo” Freitas met Jorge Rodrigo “Il Hiena” Barrios in Miami on August 8, 2003, there was more on the line than just the titles. This was a roughhousing 39-1-1 Argentinian fighting an equally tough 33-0 Brazilian. The crowd was divided between Brazilian fans and those from Argentina. To them this was a Mega-Fight; this was BIG.

When Acelino Freitas turned professional in 1995, he streaked from the gate with 29 straight KOs, one of the longest knockout win streaks in boxing history. He was fan-friendly and idolized in Brazil. Barrios turned professional in 1996 and went 14-0 before a DQ loss after which he went 25-0-1 with 1 no decision.

The Fight

The wild swinging “Hyena” literally turned into one as he attacked from the beginning and did not let up until the last second of the eleventh round. Barrios wanted to turn the fight into a street fight and was reasonably successful with that strategy. It became a case of brawler vs. boxer/puncher and when the brawler caught the more athletic Popo—who could slip and duck skillfully—and decked him with a straight left in the eighth, the title suddenly was up for grabs.

The Brazilian fans urged their hero on but to no avail as Barrios rendered a pure beat down on Popo during virtually the entirety of the 11th round—one of the most exciting in boxing history. Freitas went down early from a straight right. He was hurt, and at this point it looked like it might be over. Barrios was like a madman pounding Popo with a variety of wild shots, but with exactly one half of one second to go before the bell ending the round, Freitas caught La Hiena with a monster right hand that caused the Hyena to do the South American version of the chicken dance before he went down with his face horribly bloodied. When he got up, he had no idea where he was but his corner worked furiously to get him ready for the final round. All he had to do was hang in there and the title would change hands on points.

The anonymous architect of “In Boxing We Trust,” a web site that went dormant in 2010, wrote this description:

“Near the end of round 11, about a milli-second before the bell rang, Freitas landed a ROCK HARD right hand shot flush on Barrios’ chin. Barrios stood dazed for a moment, frozen in time, and then down he went, WOW WOW WOW!!!! Barrios got up at the count of 4, he didn’t know where he was as he looked around towards the crowd like a kid separated from his family at a theme park, but Barrios turned to the ref at the count of 8 and signaled that he was okay, SAVED BY THE BELL. It was panic time in the Barrios corner, as the blood continued to flow like lava, and he was bleeding from his ear (due to a ruptured ear drum). In the beginning of round 12, Freitas was able to score an early knockdown, and as Barrios stood up on wobbly legs and Freitas went straight at him and with a couple more shots, Barrios was clearly in bad shape and badly discombobulated and the fight was stopped. Freitas had won a TKO victory in round 12, amazing!!!!”

Later, Freitas tarnished his image with a “No Mas” against Diego Corrales, but he had gone down three times and knew there was no way out. He went on to claim the WBO world lightweight title with a split decision over Zahir Raheem, but that fight was a snoozefest and he lost the title in his first defense against Juan “Baby Bull” Diaz.

Freitas looked out of shape coming in to the Diaz fight and that proved to be the case as he was so gassed at the end of the eighth round that he quit on his stool. This was yet another shocker, but others (including Kostya Tszyu, Mike Tyson, Oscar De La Hoya and even Ali) had done so and the criticism this time seemed disproportionate.

Popo had grown old. It happens. Yet, against Barrios, he had proven without a doubt that he possessed the heart of a warrior.

The Brazilian boxing hero retired in 2007, but came back in 2012 and schooled and KOd the cocky Michael “The Brazilian Rocky” Oliveira. He won another fight in 2015 and though by now he was visibly paunchy, he still managed to go 10 rounds to beat Gabriel Martinez in 2017 with occasional flashes of his old explosive volleys. These later wins, though against lower level opposition, somewhat softened the memories of the Corrales and Diaz fights, both of which this writer attended at the Foxwoods Resort in Mashantucket, Connecticut. They would be his only defeats in 43 pro bouts.

Like Manny Pacquiao, Freitas had a difficult childhood but was determined to make a better life for himself and his family. And, like Manny, he did and he also pursued a career in politics. Whether he makes it into the Hall will depend on how much a ‘No Mas’ can count against one, but he warrants serious consideration when he becomes eligible.

As for the Hyena, on April 8, 2005, he won the WBO junior lightweight title with a fourth round stoppage of undefeated but overweight Mike Anchondo. In January 2010 he was involved in a hit and run accident in which a 20-year-old pregnant woman was killed. On April 4, 2012 Barrios was declared guilty of culpable homicide and sentenced to four years in prison. He served 27 months and never fought again, retiring with a record of 50-4-1.

Ted Sares is one of the oldest active full power lifters in the world. A member of Ring 10, and Ring 4’s Boxing Hall of Fame, he was recently cited by Hannibal Boxing as one of three “Must-Read” boxing writers.

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The Avila Perspective Chapter 6: Munguia, Cruiserweights and Pacman

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Adjoining states

Adjoining states in the west host a number of boxing cards including a world title contest that features a newcomer who, before knocking out a world champion, was erroneously categorized by a Nevada official as unworthy of a title challenge.

Welcome to the world of Mexico’s Jaime Munguia (29-0, 25 KOs) the WBO super welterweight world titlist who meets England’s Liam Smith (26-1-1, 14 KOs) at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas on Saturday, July 21. HBO will televise

Back in April when middleweight titan Gennady “GGG” Golovkin was seeking an opponent to replace Saul “Canelo” Alvarez who was facing suspension for performance enhancement drug use, it was the 21-year-old from Tijuana who volunteered his services for a May 5th date in Las Vegas.

Bob Bennett, the Executive Director for Nevada State Athletic Commission, denied allowing Munguia an opportunity to fight Golovkin for the middleweight titles. Bennett claimed that the slender Mexican fighter had not proven worthy of contesting for the championship though the tall Mexican wielded an undefeated record of 28 wins with 24 coming by knockout.

To be fair, Bennett has seen many fighters in the past with undefeated records who were not up to challenges, especially against the likes of Golovkin. But on the other hand, how can an official involved in prizefighting deny any fighter the right to make a million dollar payday if both parties are willing?

That is the bigger question.

Munguia stopped by Los Angeles to meet with the media last week and spoke about Bennett and his upcoming first world title defense. He admitted to being in the middle of a whirlwind that is spinning beyond his expectations. But he likes it.

“I’ve never won any kind of award before in my life,” said Munguia at the Westside Boxing Club in the western portion of Los Angeles. “I’ve always wanted to be a world champion since I was old enough to fight.”

When asked how he felt about Nevada’s denying him an attempt to fight Golovkin, a wide grin appeared on the Mexican youngster.

“I would like to thank him,” said Munguia about Bennett’s refusal to allow him to fight Golovkin. “Everything happens for a reason.”

That reason is clear now.

Two months ago Munguia put on a frightening display of raw power in knocking down then WBO super welterweight titlist Sadam Ali numerous times in front of New York fans. It reminded me of George Foreman’s obliteration of Joe Frazier back in the 1970s. World champions are not supposed get battered like that but when someone packs that kind of power those can be the terrifying results.

Still beaming over his newfound recognition, Munguia has grand plans for his future including challenging all of the other champions in his weight category and the next weight division.

“I want to be a great champion,” said Munguia. “I want to make history.”

The first step toward history begins on Saturday when he faces former world champion Smith who was dethroned by another Mexican named Canelo.

Cruiserweight championship

It’s not getting a large amount of attention in my neighborhood but this unification clash between WBA and IBF cruiserweight titlist Murat Gassiev (26-0, 19 KOs) and WBC and WBO cruiserweight titlist Oleksandr Usyk (14-0, 11 KOs) has historic ramifications tagged all over it.

The first time I ever saw Russia’s 24-year-old Gassiev was three years ago when he made his American debut at the Quiet Cannon in Montebello. It’s a small venue near East L.A. and the fight was attended by numerous boxing celebrities such as James “Lights Out” Toney, Mauricio “El Maestro” Herrera and Gennady “GGG” Golovkin. One entire section was filled by Russian supporters and Gassiev did not disappoint in winning by stoppage that night. His opponent hung on for dear life.

Ukraine’s Usyk, 31, made his American debut in late 2016 on a Golden Boy Promotions card that staged boxing great Bernard Hopkins’ final prizefight. That night the cruiserweight southpaw Usyk bored audiences with his slap happy style until lowering the boom on South Africa’s Thabiso Mchunu in round nine at the Inglewood Forum. The sudden result stunned the audience.

Now it’s Gassiev versus Usyk and four world titles are at stake. The unification fight takes place in Moscow, Russia and will be streamed via Klowd TV at 12 p.m. PT/ 3 p.m. ET.

Seldom are cruiserweight matchups as enticing to watch as this one.

Another Look

A couple of significant fights took place last weekend, but Manny Pacquiao’s knockout win over Lucas Matthysse for the WBO welterweight world title heads the list.

Neither fighter looked good in their fight in Malaysia but when Pacquiao floored Matthysse several times during the fight, it raised some red flags.

The last time Pacquiao knocked out a welterweight was in 2009 against Miguel Cotto in Las Vegas. Since then he had not stopped an opponent. What changed?

In this age of PEDs there was no mention of testing for the Pacquiao/Matthysse fight. For the curiosity of the media and the fans, someone should come forward with proof of testing. Otherwise any future fights for the Philippine great will not be forthcoming.

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