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Likely No Landslides in IBHOF Class of 2019, But Honorees Happy to Make the Cut

Bernard Fernandez

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Halls of Fame ostensibly exist to honor exceptionally high achievers, but some would say their secondary purpose is to at least occasionally generate debate. And the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, N.Y., is no different.

Given the IBHOF’s requirement that three new inductees be enshrined every year, there is no guarantee that there are three annual slam-dunks in the most prestigious Modern category for fighters. Sometimes the field of candidates in a given year appears to offer no sure things. When someone who has been on the ballot for several years finally makes the cut, and even if a certain candidate’s election – the voting pool consists of full members of the Boxing Writers Association of America and an international panel of boxing historians — comes in his first year of eligibility (fighters must not have fought for five years to be considered for induction), there is apt to be some grumbling from naysayers who say a hall of fame should be the exclusive preserve of the indisputably great, not merely the very good. Among the Hall of Famers whose election met with some resistance are Ingemar Johansson, Arturo Gatti and Ray Mancini.

But as is the case with politics and, really, boxing matches that go to the scorecards as well, it really doesn’t matter if a winner is swept into office by landslide or the thinnest of margins. The difference with halls of fame is that once you’re in, you’re in forever; you can’t ever be voted out of office. How close, or not, the latest tabulations were in a crowded field of 32 Modern candidates was not revealed as the IBHOF, as is its policy, does not announce vote totals.

So all hail to the Class of 2019, the headliners, announced on Dec. 5, being Donald Curry, Julian Jackson and James “Buddy” McGirt. All of the former world champions had been bypassed in previous elections, snubs that didn’t seem to matter to any of them once they received word of their call to the hall from the IBHOF’s executive director, Ed Brophy. Sometimes all good things really do come to those who wait.

In addition to the Big Three, other members of the nine-member induction class include Old-Timer Tony DeMarco, Non-Participants Don Elbaum, Lee Samuels and Guy Jutras, and Observers Teddy Atlas and the late Mario Rivera Martino.

The 57-year-old Curry (34-6, 25 KOs), a native of Fort Worth, Texas, known as “The Lone Star Cobra,” arguably is the most talented of the Modern inductees. At his peak, he was a classic boxer-puncher who did not so much defeat his opponents as to overwhelm them with a compendium of ring skills that seemingly preordained him for all-time great status. The puzzle pieces fit perfectly for Curry on Dec. 6, 1985, in a welterweight unification showdown with Milton McCrory at the Las Vegas Hilton. Before Curry, who went in as the WBA and IBF champion, snatched McCrory’s WBC title in two one-sided rounds, HBO analyst Larry Merchant foresaw the outcome. “McCrory is regarded as a good fighter,” Merchant opined. “Curry is regarded as possibly a great fighter.”

Curry was then 24, and there were those who were ready to proclaim him as the finest pound-for-pound fighter on the planet. He was 26-0-1 with 21 KOs at the time, and while he did not know it then, his prime would soon be shortened by the kind of arrogance that comes when a fighter – really, any inordinately gifted athlete – begins to believe in the myth of his own invincibility and thus takes shortcuts. The first crack in that glittering veneer appeared on Sept. 27, 1986, when the heavily favored Curry did not come out for the seventh round for his title defense against England’s Lloyd Honeyghan.

“All I know is that he was named Honey something,” Curry – who was so dismissive of the challenger that he had to lose 11 pounds in three days just to make weight — told me for a TSS story that appeared in February of this year. “I didn’t really know who he was. I wasn’t mentally prepared that night. If I had been, beating that Honey guy would have been no problem.”

Although Curry regrouped enough to take the WBC super welterweight belt from Italy’s Gianfranco Rosi, he relinquished that title on an even bigger upset than had come against Honeyghan when he traveled to France and dropped a listless unanimous decision to Rene Jacquot.

But memories of the Curry that once had been compared to the likes of Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns and Aaron Pryor apparently were enough to convince enough IBHOF voters to finally reward him for his abbreviated prime, which was clearly Hall of Fame-worthy if lacking the sort of longevity that would have made him a no-brainer.

“All right! Now we’re talking!” an ecstatic Curry said upon getting the call he had begun to think he might never receive from Brophy. “What an honor. This is the greatest day of my life. I’m overwhelmed to get the call from the Hall of Fame. It’s a dream come true.”

Jackson (55-6, 49 KOs) was known as “The Hawk,” and the former junior middleweight and middleweight champion from the U.S. Virgin Islands, now 58, was certainly a bird of prey inside the ropes. He was a consummate knockout artist, capable of getting his man out of there with a single shot. In 2003 The Ring magazine had him at No. 25 on its list of the “100 Greatest Punchers of All time,” but that formidable power came with a caveat. He was nearly as susceptible of being the starchee as the starcher, as evidenced by the fact that all six of his losses also came inside the distance.

“He’s got to be one of the top 10 punchers ever, at least in his weight class,” said former IBF super welterweight champ Buster Drayton, who didn’t make it out of the second round against Jackson in their July 30, 1988, title bout in Atlantic City, adding that Jackson’s fragile chin was no secret to those bold enough to stand in there and trade haymakers with him. “I knew (he could be knocked out). He knew it, too.”

“I tell you, I’m speechless,” Jackson said upon being informed of that he would enshrined by the IBHOF. “This is a tremendous honor. Thank God for His grace and mercy. Wow! It’s amazing! I really don’t have words for this, but eventually they will come.”

McGirt (73-6-1, 48), from Brentwood, N.Y., is the youngster of the group at 54, a former junior welterweight and welterweight titlist who fashioned a long and distinguished career despite being hampered by chronic shoulder injuries. After stepping away from the ring as an active fighter in 1997, he fashioned an exemplary second career as a trainer, and was the winner of the 2002 Eddie Futch Trainer of the Year Award from the Boxing Writers Association of America, primarily for his work in transforming Arturo Gatti from a one-dimensional brawler into a somewhat more well-rounded version of his former self. He also worked the corner for, among others, Vernon Forrest, Antonio Tarver and Laila Ali, and has recently taken on the assignment of preparing two-time former light heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev for his rematch against Eleider Alvarez.

“To be honest, I can’t even talk right now,” McGirt said when informed of his selection by the IBHOF electorate. “This shows you’re appreciated by the boxing world and that all the hard work and dedication pay off.”

DeMarco (58-12-1, 33 KOs) is 86 and the former welterweight champ, a Boston resident, can be excused for believing that call from the hall would never come. Maybe that’s because DeMarco, for all his successes, is best known for his two classic but losing wars with Carmen Basilio, the second of which, a 12th-round knockout in 1955, was named Fight of the Year by The Ring.

With no mortal locks slated to make first appearances on the IBHOF ballot for the Class of 2020, several holdovers whose credentials for ring immortality, or what passes for it, were vying for the three available slots that were just filled by Curry, Jackson and McGirt. Presumably at or near that magic threshold are Michael Moorer, Nigel Benn, Ivan Calderon, Vinny Pazienza, Ricky Hatton, Meldrick Taylor, Fernando Vargas, Darius Michalczewski, Sven Ottke and the late Genaro Hernandez, among others. Taylor, another special fighter who did not enjoy the benefit of longevity, might be move up in the pecking order in light of the consideration given to Curry for being truly exceptional for even a relatively short period.

But whoever does not get the nod in 2020 will face even stiffer competition in succeeding years, with gimmes like Bernard Hopkins (2021), Wladimir Klitschko, Shane Mosley, James Toney, Miguel Cotto and Juan Manuel Marquez (2022) and Roy Jones Jr., Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Andre Ward (2023) all edging closer to their first appearances on the ballot.

While the Moderns always command the most attention during the four-day induction festivities, other honorees will be celebrated for their long and meritorious service to the sport. It immensely pleases me to be a friend of three of them.

Atlas, 62, will be inducted in the Observer category, a nod toward his long tenure as an analyst for ESPN and for NBC, for whom he worked four Olympiads . But Atlas, whose distinctive Staten Island inflections are as familiar to viewers as the late Howard Cosell’s nasal pomposity, always thought he would be recognized for his work as a trainer, which he considers his first calling. He added another world champion to the list of upper-tier fighters he has worked with when, on Dec. 1 in Quebec City, he was the chief second for Ukraine’s Oleksandr Gvozdyk, who dethroned WBC titlist Adonis Stevenson on an 11th-round knockout.

“I thought I’d go in as a trainer, to be honest,” Atlas said. “But that wasn’t my decision. I’m grateful and appreciative to be considered either way by the Hall of Fame. It’s definitely a privilege.”

As a trainer, Atlas has always been a my-way-or-the-highway kind of guy and he has walked away from more than a few successful fighters who did not hew to his dictums. One was Michael Moorer, whom an exasperated Atlas did not feel was giving his all in what proved to be his majority-decision victory over WBA/IBF heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield on April 22, 1994, in Las Vegas. After the eighth round, Atlas told Moorer, “If you don’t want to do what it takes to become champion, let me go out there. We could trade places.” I made him answer me. I said, `Do you want to do that?’ And he said, `No, I don’t.’

“The thing that bothered me is that there were times when it seemed like he was letting Evander back into the fight. That’s why I stayed on him and I didn’t want him to be satisfied that he was doing well.” A reinvigorated Moorer won the 12th round to become the first southpaw to win a heavyweight title; had he lost that round he would have also lost a split decision.

Of Gvozdyk, with whom he was working for the first time, Atlas said, “It feels good to have another world champion. You feel like you’re still able to accomplish your goals and to help somebody get to the next level. I feel like I lived up to his trust and took care of my responsibility.”

Elbaum, whose age is a carefully guarded secret, is affectionately known as “The Bum” to those who know and like him. He jokes that he was the matchmaker for Cain vs. Abel, which might be a slight exaggeration. He also notes that he is the person who introduced another Don, last name King, to the fight game, something for which he is uncertain whether he should take credit or blame.

But Elbaum, who has worked the sport’s trenches in nearly every capacity, including as a fill-in fighter a couple of times in his younger days, takes only credit for being involved in a fight card he promoted that took place on Oct. 1, 1965, in Johnstown, Pa., and featured aging all-time greats Sugar Ray Robinson and Willie Pep in separate bouts.

“Ray Robinson was my idol,” Elbaum said. “He was the greatest fighter that ever lived, in my opinion. And he fought his last three fights for me, which is something no one can ever take away from me. I was operating out of Pittsburgh when Ray called me to come to New York. He asked me, `Don, who can you get me who you think I can beat to get another crack at a world title?’ I immediately said, `Joey Archer.’ He asked me if I could make that fight. I said, `Absolutely.’

I made the fight for Pittsburgh. I told him I really wanted to build it up by first putting him in Johnstown, two months before the fight in Pittsburgh and then in Steubenville, Ohio, one month before. I was promoting the Johnstown fight as the biggest event in that town since the flood, and I was getting great press. About 10 days before the fight I got a call from Willie Pep. Willie said, `Don, I need a fight. I need money desperately.’ I said, `Willie, why?’ And – this is one of the great lines of all time – Willie said, `Don I got five ex-wives.’

“So now I got Ray Robinson (then 45) and Willie Pep (42), two of the greatest fighters ever, on the same card. That always stuck with me.”

Alas, the grand scheme hatched by Elbaum came a cropper when Robinson lost a 10-round unanimous decision to Archer on Nov. 10, 1965, and immediately retired.

Samuels, 71, came to boxing first as a sports writer, covering a couple of Muhammad Ali fights for the now-defunct Philadelphia Bulletin, which shut down in 1983. It was a relatively easy transition into the next phase of his journey, as a publicist for Bob Arum’s Top Rank, a three-decade association that is ongoing. Samuels is known for his unflappability and inexhaustible patience under pressurized conditions that would drive many sane individuals bonkers. He insists that he has never met anyone in the sport he hasn’t liked, which for most people would be a stretch but fits the personable nature of someone widely considered to be the nicest person not only in boxing, but maybe anywhere.

“It’s great to be reunited with Irving Rudd,” Samuels said of his becoming a Hall of Famer alongside his legendary mentor at Top Rank, who was 82 when he passed away on June 2, 2000. And it was Rudd, Samuels said, who taught him the value of getting writers what they need, which is a little one-on-one face time with fighters whenever possible instead of group scrums where  harried reporters shout questions in the hope of getting a usable quote or two.

“When you work for a newspaper, you have to get a story that day,” Samuels said. “I remember getting off a plane (when he was at The Bulletin) and telling Irving, “I have to speak to Ali. I’m on deadline.’ He said, `He wants to speak to you, too. He knows you’re here. Oh, and Angelo (Dundee) is with him.’”

Jutras is a Canadian judge and referee who has been involved in boxing for 30 years, and the late Rivera Martino, a Puerto Rican journalist who covered boxing for a number of publications, including The Ring, for nearly 60 years, beginning in the 1940s.

Bernard Fernandez is the retired boxing writer for the Philadelphia Daily News. He is a five-term former president of the Boxing Writers Association of America, an inductee into the Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Atlantic City Boxing Halls of Fame and the recipient of the Nat Fleischer Award for Excellence in Boxing Journalism and the Barney Nagler Award for Long and Meritorious Service to Boxing.

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Pico Rivera Summer Fights See Cruz, Vega and Flores Win

David A. Avila

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Pico-Rivera-Summer-Fights-See-Cruz-Vega-and-Flores Win

PICO RIVERA, Ca.-Along the San Gabriel River on a soft summer evening, Red Boxing Promotions brought another slew of hot local prospects to the forefront on Saturday.

Chino’s Daniel “Cuetito” Cruz (3-0) burst into the fight like an energy bomb and simply overwhelmed southpaw Phillip Bounds (0-4) with lightning combinations to win by unanimous decision. More than 700 fans saw the Red Boxing fight card.

Though it was only his third pro fight, the high intensity prizefighter Cruz (pictured on the left) exhibited a level of confidence that allowed him to attack with impunity for the first two rounds.

Cruz switched to southpaw and had even more success against the lefty Bounds. The speed of Cruz proved too much to overcome for Bounds who tried different approaches but couldn’t find an antidote for Cruz who won by unanimous decision 40-36 on all three cards in the super lightweight match.

“I’m excited, I wanted to put on a good show,” said Cruz, 20. “I’m coming for all of the big names. Cuetito is here.”

Andre Marquez (2-1) overwhelmed the much taller Alvin Brown (0-8) from Louisiana with a whirlwind style that ended in a knockout in the fourth and final round of their super featherweight match. A left hook caught Brown flush and Marquez followed up with four more blows, forcing Brown to take a knee at 1:41 of the fourth round. Marquez was ruled the winner by knockout by referee Sharon Sands.

“My plan was to work his body,” said Marquez. “It worked out perfectly.”

Welterweights Bradley Pena (0-0-1) and Ed Nunez (0-0-1) blasted each other for four rounds, with Pena starting fast and Nunez ending strong. No knockdowns were scored in the fight that started the night and ended in a draw.

Main Bouts

A light flyweight clash saw Axel Vega (13-2-1, 8 KOs) of Ensenada, Mexico knock out Tijuana’s Giovanni Noriega (2-5-2) with a triple left hook in the second round. Vega, 19, trained out of Compton for this fight.

Welterweight prospect Steven Rodriguez (8-0) suffered a cut on his forehead due to a clash of heads but still managed to out-perform Las Vegas fighter Ryan Picou (3-12-1) after four rounds. All three judges scored the fight 40-36 in favor of Rodriguez. But Picou gave a stubborn defense against the constant rushes of Rodriguez and was able to score on occasion.

Santa Barbara’s Angel Flores (6-0, 4 KOs) defeated Mexico’s Roberto Almazan (9-12) by unanimous decision after six rounds in a super lightweight contest. Flores knocked down Almazan twice in the last round to clinch the win and get the victory by a landslide.

In the audience was former world champion Arturo Frias of East Los Angeles who won the WBA world lightweight title in 1982 and fought numerous times at LA’s  fabled Olympic Auditorium. Also in attendance was current super flyweight contender Adelaida “La Cobra” Ruiz of Los Angeles who is scheduled to fight on October 12 at the same Pico Rivera Sports Arena. Red Boxing Promotions will be staging the event.

Photo credit: Al Applerose

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Fast Results from Russia: Kovalev KOs Yarde in the 11th

Arne K. Lang

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The consensus of opinion regarding tonight’s fight at Chelyabinsk between Sergey Kovalev and Anthony Yarde was that….well, there was no consensus, save that it would not bode well for Yarde if both fighters were still standing at the final bell. Fighting in his hometown, and with a monster payday reportedly looming against Canelo Alvarez should he win, “Krusher” was unlikely to get the worst of it if the fight went to the scorecards. But there would be no controversial decision. In a fight that started slowly and then shifted Yarde’s way, Kovalev stemmed the momentum, took charge in the 10th, and then closed the show in the next round with a scorching left hand that left Yarde flat on his back, gasping for air.

In handicapping the fight, Kovalev certainly had more check marks in the plus column. A former three belt champion and the reigning WBO 175-pound title-holder, Kovalev would be appearing in his 16th world title fight, his second with Hall of Fame trainer Buddy McGirt, with whom he had great rapport. By contrast, Yarde, although undefeated (18-0), had answered the bell for only 51 rounds and had defeated only nine fighters with winning records. Moreover, the Englishman had fought only 12 amateur fights before turning pro.

However, at age 36, Kovalev was getting long in the tooth and in some of his more recent fights he had stamina issues. Moreover, there was a school of thought that Yarde was a beast. In his 30 fights, amateur and pro, he had scored 28 knockouts.

Yarde’s first good round was the seventh and he followed that up with a very strong eighth in which he hurt Kovalev and had the Krusher looking tired. But the assumption that he had paced himself brilliantly proved to be a mirage. As the bout moved into the home stretch, it was the younger man that was more fatigued.

Kovalev backed Yarde against the ropes and hurt him in the 10th. The Russian repeatedly had success with his hard left jab (shades of Larry Holmes) and it was a jab that ended it. Yarde was too exhausted to make it to his feet and was counted out.

Kovalev reportedly has already agreed to meet Canelo in November or December. Tonight he may have added an extra zero to his purse.

Kovalev vs. Canelo, likely at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, will be a blockbuster. Let the hype begin.

Co-Feature

The co-feature between knockout artists Aleksei Papin and Ilunga Makabu wasn’t expected to last the distance, but it went the full 12 and was a highly entertaining affair climaxed by a great 12th round. When the smoke cleared, Ilunga, who went to post a slight favorite, improved to 26-2 (24) by dint of winning a majority decision. It was the second straight win on Russian soil for the Congolese southpaw who fights out of Johannesburg. In his previous go, he stopped Dmitry Kudryashov in the fifth round at Ekaterinburg.

Papin was 11-0 going in with 10 knockouts but the 31-year-old Russian, a former kickboxing champion, was moving up in class against Makabu, a former world title challenger. In the 12th, Makabu scored a knockdown with a straight left after buzzing Papin with a left-right combination, but Papin wasn’t badly hurt and came back to rock him in the final seconds. The knockdown seemingly spelled the difference as two judges had it 115-113 with the third scoring it even (113-113).

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Tanaka and Hatanaka Stay Undefeated in Nagoya

Arne K. Lang

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Kiyoshi Hatanaka, the former world super bantamweight champion, now runs a boxing gym and promotes fights in his hometown of Nagoya. The top fighters in his gym are 24-year-old Kosei Tanaka, who has already won world titles in three weight classes, and Kento Hatanaka, Kyoshi’s 21-year-old son. Both were in action today and both were victorious, but not without anxious moments.

Tanaka, the reigning WBO 112-pound champion, improved to 14-0 (8 KOs) with a seventh-round TKO of Jonathan Gonzalez (22-3-1) in an action-packed bout. There were five knockdowns in all, four by Tanaka, before the referee waved it off with merely a second remaining in the seventh stanza.

Gonzalez took a knee after being hurt by a body punch in round three. But he returned the favor, knocking Tanaka down with a counterpunch in the next stanza, and seemingly had the fight in hand when he dominated the fifth. But Tanaka regained the momentum and scored three knockdowns in Round 7 to close the show.

Kosei Tanaka is overshadowed as a sports personality by countryman Naoya “Monster” Inoue, but is carving out quite a legacy. At age 19, in only his fifth pro fight, he defeated WBO minimumweight (105 pound) champion Julian Yadras of Mexico. He then gathered in titles at 108 and 112, accomplishing the hat trick in only his 12th pro fight, tying Vasiliy Lomachenko’s record.

With only a few pounds separating each of the lowest weight classes, Tanaka likely isn’t done jumping up in weight. There’s already talk of a showdown with 115-pound title-holder Kazuto Ioka. But Tanaka has indicated that he wants to expand his opportunities overseas, following the example of Inoue. There are still holes in his defense, but that makes for exciting fights and a match between him and someone like “Chocolatito” Gonzalez would be worth the price of admission.

Jonathan Gonzalez, a southpaw with a good amateur pedigree, had fought his previous three fights in Kissimmee, Florida. When in his native Puerto Rico, he trains in the same gym as former super bantamweight and featherweight champion Juan Manuel Lopez. We certainly haven’t seen the last of him.

The 10-round co-feature between super flyweights Kento Hatanaka and Jaysever Abcede was also a crowd pleaser that saw both combatants score knockdowns. Hatanaka improved to 10-0 but was extended the distance for the first time in his pro career. Abcede, a noted spoiler from the Philippines, saw his winning streak end at four and fell to 19-9. The scores were 95-93, 96-93, and 96-92.

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