By Robert Kunz
Boxing greats from yesterday and today once again descended upon the small town of Canastota, N.Y., for the 2015 International Boxing Hall of Fame induction weekend, held this year from June 11-14.
The Boxing Hall of Fame’s Class of 2015 honored four living boxing champions: Riddick “Big Daddy” Bowe, Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini, “Prince” Naseem Hamed and Yoko Gushiken. Other living class members included referee Steve Smoger, broadcaster Jim Lampley, manager Rafael Mendoza and journalist Nigel Collins. All members were in attendance at Sunday’s ceremony, except for Naseem Hamed, who could not travel due to a family illness.
Besides the new class members, more than 30 boxing greats took part in the weekend celebration. Nine current boxing Hall of Fame members were in attendance: Jake LaMotta, Nino Benvenuti, Michael Spinks, Terry Norris, Pipino Cuevas, Ruben Olivares, Aaron Pryor, Carlos Palomino and Jeff Chandler. Joining these boxers were Hall of Fame referees Joe Cortez and Richard Steele.
The Hall of Fame did a tremendous job as usual of attracting many other past and current boxing champions and boxing greats. This was the first time I had a chance to meet Winky Wright, Fernando Vargas, Amir Khan, Hasim Rahman, Montell Griffin, Claressa Shields and William Joppy. Also returning back to the HOF for the weekend were Sergio Martinez, Leon Spinks, Ray Mercer, George Chuvalo, Micky Ward, Michael Moorer and many others.
Greats of the weekend
While at first I was a bit disappointed that there was no plans for Marvin Hagler, Sugar Ray Leonard or George Foreman to be present this year, I started seeing the great potentials there were in front of me. There were six heavyweight champions in Bowe, Mercer, Moorer, Rahman and the Spinks brothers. I was happy to leave Canastota with each of these heavyweight champs on one signed boxing glove.
There was also an abundance of past Olympians in Bowe, Benvenuti (Italy), Michael and Leon Spinks, Khan (UK), Mercer, Vargas and 2012 women’s gold medalist Claressa Shields. Shields is the first American woman to win a boxing gold medal, winning the middleweight division at just 17 years old. Amir Khan who won a silver medal in 2004 at age 17 as well, is the youngest British Olympic boxing medalist. While Khan is a current WBC welterweight champion and former two-time WBA and IBF champion, Shields plans on participating in the 2016 Olympic Games. With only one amateur loss to date and still only 21 years old in 2016, she has a good chance of bringing back a second medal.
Earlier in the year, the HOF had planned a “Night of the Middleweights,” with the company of middleweights in LaMotta, Benvenuti, Wright, Vargas, Joppy and Martinez. I wonder why they scrapped this event in favor of a “Night of the 15 Rounders” themed event. If anyone knows, clue me in.
More on the Class of 2015
Riddick Bowe started his career with an amateur record of 104-18, was a 1985 Junior World Champion, a 1987 Pan-American Games Bronze Medalist and the 1988 Olympic Super Heavyweight Silver Medalist. Bowe would lose to future HOF heavyweight Lennox Lewis for the gold medal.
In November 1992, he defeated reigning champ Evander Holyfield for the undisputed heavyweight title. The 10th round of this match was listed as Ring Magazine’s “Round of the Year” and is still considered one of the greatest heavyweight rounds in boxing history. After a couple of successful title defenses, Bowe would lose to Holyfield in a rematch of their first fight, and that would be the only defeat of Bowe’s pro career (43-1).
Ray Mancini fought for the WBA Light Flyweight crown after just nine professional fights and held the championship for more than four years. In 13 defenses, he won eight by knockout. Ray Mancini held WBC and WBA lightweight championships between 1981-84. Mancini would inherit his “Boom Boom” nickname from his father, Lenny Mancini.
After an impressive amateur record of 62-3, Yoko Gushiken would turn professional at just 18 years old, going on to become one of the most popular Asian boxers of all time. Gushiken would become a world champion in just his ninth professional fight and would go on to win 13 title defenses. After having suffered his first loss (23-1), Gushiken retired at age of 25 rather than risk tarnishing his legacy.
Naseem Hamed, Prince Naseem, is considered one of the top British boxers of all time. He held WBO, WBC and IBF featherweight champion belts and was an European bantamweight champion. Hamed was also known for his showmanship in the ring, for his entertaining ring entrances, his hands-down style of boxing and his front somersault over the top rope into the ring. Hamed retired with a 36-1 record with his only loss to Marco Antonio Barrera, a certain future Hall of Famer.
Steve Smoger refereed more than 200 title bouts and holds the distinction of officiating in more states and countries than any other boxing referee in the history of the sport.
Jim Lampley is a long-time HBO boxing commentator and has called some of boxing’s most famous moments, such as the 1990 James “Buster” Douglas upset of Mike Tyson.
Rafael Mendoza is a manager and agent who has worked with 26 champions, including Alexis Arguello, Pipino Cuevas, Humberto Gonzalez and Miguel Canto.
The Class of 2015 turned out to be great signers. Riddick Bowe signed for a huge line of fans at the Saturday golf tournament and signed for the entire hour at the Saturday cocktail party.
At the cocktail party, I saw him sign a number of gloves with his boxing record and “Big Daddy” nickname. I wish I had waited until that event, as an earlier signature I had gotten was nowhere near this nice. I had one last glove in the car, and I should have ran out and got it. Riddick, however, signed sparingly at the Saturday Night Banquet, and if you were able to catch him at other times throughout the weekend, sometimes he looked for a donation for a signature ($10-$20).
With Bowe being a heavyweight champ, a Ring Magazine “Fight of the Year” and “Fighter of the Year” honoree, on an array of magazine covers, an USA Olympian and a new inductee, I had my work cut out for me to get all my items signed. I was very happy to get most of them completed by “Big Daddy.”
Mancini did his best to accommodate every fan in attendance. He signed for long periods of time all weekend, and seemingly hating to turn anyone away. His was a fan favorite, and everyone was happy to get a Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini on their item.
Mancini showed great character by not signing any copies of his Sports Illustrated cover with Duk Koo Kim. I know I left my copies at home, as I would not want to display a copy of this tragic event. (Kim was a South Korean boxer who died following a world championship boxing match against Mancini in 1982.)
Gushiken also signed at the golf tournament and banquet events, but did not attend the cocktail party.
Surprisingly, there was not a long line for Gushiken’s signature at the golf event, but he was one of the boxers in high demand at the banquet. His signature proved to be of interest. The first few items he signed when he arrived in town were all printed in English, and then soon after that he starting signing his name in Japanese. His Japanese signature is beautiful. And sometimes he would also write in English, “Yoko,” under his Japanese signature.
The Boxing Hall of Fame always prints a nice induction program with a cover drawn by artist Richard Slone. Slone’s work can be seen on many fight posters and Ring Magazine covers, and he has been drawing the induction cover each year for as long as I can remember.
Autographs of returning members and current greats
Some of the most other notable signers for the weekend were Jake LaMotta and Amir Kahn. LaMotta, who will turn 94 years old next month, signed for fans a number of times over the course of the weekend. I think he was even able to better endure the lines of fans more than a couple of years ago.
And with Amir Khan, I just figured as a current champion he would be a tough autograph, but he was extremely nice and down to earth. He signed at the Thursday opening ceremony, at the cocktail party and at the banquet.
But I should know from experience, boxers are in general the best with fans of all the major professional sports.
I have been to induction weekends for baseball, basketball, football and boxing for more than 15-25 years depending on the sport, and overall for all those years, I believe boxers have given more attention to fans than any other sport.
It is hard not to fall in love with spending a weekend at the Boxing Hall of Fame, as there are so many events open to the public, and the boxers seem to really appreciate the fans. There are plenty of chances to talk and get close to the boxers. For example, at the golf tournament, Ray Mercer, Hasim Rahman and Claressa Shields sat and ate lunch at the table next to me. In past years, I have shared my table with Micky Ward and others.
I am not sure how autograph authenticators do their job; it must be tough. Case in point are the variations I got on three Amir Khan autographs (see photos). The top signature is a typical script, signed on a glove, and it seems to be his most common signature. The middle signature bears the same script, but also includes more. I think it is “Khan.” It certainly isn’t Kong (his nickname), and I had another opinion that thought it looks like “world.” Maybe someone reading this article can help me decipher this.
The third signature is far nicer than any other Khan autograph I have seen. It looks to have a pretty distinct Amir Khan under this normal script. With such a variation, I wonder if one of these would come back from an authenticator as “not verifiable.”
Other great signers of mention were Nino Benvenuti, Michael Spinks, William Joppy, Hasim Rahman and Michael Moorer. My only disappointment for the weekend was Winky Wright. While I was fortunate enough to get one signature on Thursday, I believe he left town, as I never did see him again.
I was able to obtain autographs of 29 of the 43 boxing celebrities in attendance over the course of three days. I could have obtained a few more, but I did not bring anything for the likes of Hall of Famers Aaron Pryor and Pipino Cuevas.
I have to plan better next year, and I cannot wait until next year. Next year’s class will be announced in early December. Hector Camacho Sr. and Israel Vazquez likely lead the Class of 2016 as first-time eligible candidates. Hopefully, Naseem Hamed will head the class of current Hall of Fame members making the trip to Canastota.
Robert Kunz is a freelance contributor to SCD. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.