By Robert Kunz
The International Boxing Hall of Fame celebrated its 29th anniversary with the induction of the Class of 2018 on June 10, 2018 in Canastota, New York. The four-day celebration in Upstate New York included numerous fan friendly events, ranging from a parade, to a golf outing, fist-castings, ringside talks, a cocktail reception, a Banquet of Champions, a card show, Live boxing, and the induction ceremony itself.
This year marked some changes with the Banquet of Champions moving from downtown Syracuse to the Turning Stone Casino in Verona, New York, and the return of a live boxing event.
Class of 2018
The six living members of the Class of 2018 featured boxers “Winky” Wright,Vitali Klitschko, and Erik Morales; sportscasters Steve Albert and Jim Gray; and boxing promoter Klaus-Peter Kohl. Honored posthumously were boxer Sid Terris (1922-31; pro record of 99-13-5), ring announcer Johnny Addie, and co-promoter and wife of Don Chargin, Lorraine Chargin.
Wright was a two time light middleweight champion who retired with 51 wins in 57 bouts. Wright was defeated by Julio Cesar Vasquez on Aug. 21,1994 in his first quest for a title. He entered that fight undefeated with a record of 25-0. Over a period of 10 years, Wright would own a number of middleweight titles. It was not until 2004 that Wright would unify the IBF, WBA, and WBC titles with a victory over Shane Mosley. Wright would beat Mosley for a second time later that same year, and scored a victory over Felix Trinidad in 2005. Wright would lose his last three bouts to Bernard Hopkins, Paul Williams, and Peter Quillin before retiring in 2012.
Morales was the first Mexican born boxer to capture world titles in four different weight classes (super bantamweight, featherweight, super featherweight, and super lightweight). He made his professional debut at age 16, and won his first title at age 21. After 41 wins, Morales lost for the first to Marco Antonio Barrera in their second of three epic fights. Morales and Barrera were honored with The Ring Magazine “Fight of the Year” in 2000 (I) and 2004 (III). Morales later defeated Barrera, Manny Pacquiao, Daniel Zaragoza, Kevin Kelley, Junior Jones on his way to 52 career victories.
Klitschko is a three-time world heavyweight champion who held a world championship in three different decades (EBU and WBO Champ in the 1990s, EBU and WBC in the 2000s, and WBO in 2010s). He finished his career with a 45-2 record and an impressive 41 KO’s. His 87.2 percent knockout percentage is one of the highest of any boxing champion in the history of the sport. That knockout percentage and his PhD degree helped earn him the nickname “Dr. Ironfist.”
Klitschko’s only two defeats were stoppages where he was ahead on the scorecards. In April 2000, he suffered a shoulder injury against Chris Byrd and threw in the towel after the ninth round. In June 2003, Lennox Lewis opened up a deep cut over Klitschko’s left eye and the referee stopped the fight after the sixth round. Klitschko is said to be the only world heavyweight champion in modern history to never be knocked down in the ring. Since retiring from boxing, Klitschko has been active in Ukrainian politics. He is the current mayor of Kiev, and was once a possible candidate for the Ukrainian presidency. Younger brother, Wladimir Klitschko, was also a world heavyweight champion.
Also inducted as part of the Class of 2018 were longtime Showtime announcer Steve Albert, Showtime journalist and announcer Jim Gray, and boxing promoter Klaus-Peter Kohl. Kohl’s Universum Box-Promotion handled 37 world champions over the span of 25 years.
Each year the Boxing Hall of Fame commissions Richard Slone to create a cover for the induction program. This year’s program turned out beautiful, and was sold at the Hall of Fame for $25. It has been a tradition for me, as well as many other fans, to get a program signed by the class to take home as a treasured souvenir. While Kohl did not attend, the other five in attendance were all very good signers and it was no problem getting all five signatures on the program. While the Hall does not sell signed programs, there were a number for sale on eBay in the $99 to $150 range (as of this writing). Getting a class signed glove would prove to be more difficult, as Winky Wright was not signing gloves.
Heavyweight brothers and guests
Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko dominated the heavyweight ranks from 2004 to 2015. In 2008, the brothers made history by holding the WBO, IBF, IBO, and WBA title belts. Wladimir went unbeaten for more than a decade. Keeping a promise to their mother, they never did square off in the ring against each other.
Wladimir did join his brother in Canastota for the weekend enshrinement events, and is sure to be back in about five years for his own enshrinement into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
Vitali and Wladimir were fan favorites throughout the weekend and could be seen signing autographs a number of times for fans. Vitali especially went out of his way to sign and greet fans at the Hall of Fame fist casting and the Hall of Fame cocktail reception. It was not unusual for Vitali to grab the cellphone of a fan and take a selfie of the two of them himself. Wladimir arrived to the Hall of Fame a day later than his brother, and the first event he attended was the Banquet of Champions on Saturday night. Typically many of the boxers will sign a few autographs from the dais when the banquet program is over. Unfortunately, Wladimir left the dais as the program ended and did not sign for any of the fans at the banquet. Wladimir was gracious to sign for fans on Sunday around the parade and induction ceremony events.
With Michael and Leon Spinks in attendance, Canastota hosted two sets of brothers whom all four held a heavyweight championship belt.
Again the Boxing Hall of Fame does a great job of mixing Hall of Famers, retired boxers, and current boxers among its celebrity list. Hall of Famers Marvin Hagler, Thomas Hearns, Marco Antonio Barrera, Michael Spinks, Mike Tyson, and Mike McCallum attended many of the weekend events. I was especially glad to see three division champion Mike McCallum return to Canastota. This was McCallum’s first appearance at the Hall of Fame since his induction in 2003. Back in 2003, he was a tough autograph to get. I remember only getting one signature at the card show on my 2003 induction program. I was pleasantly surprised to be able to get a boxing robe, glove, and boxing card signed this year. I was able to get signatures of Hearns and Barrera, but was unsuccessful with Hagler and Tyson.
Retired boxers, some guaranteed and some potential, future Hall of Famers who attended this year were James Toney, Robert Guerrero, Kelly Pavlik, Antonio Tarver, and Miguel Cotto. All five of these boxers attended multiple events and signed on multiple occasions. One of my favorite items I witnessed being signed during the weekend was a couple of oversized artworks by Robert Simon of Kelly Pavlik.
Some up and coming current boxers on the guest list were current super welterweight champion Jarrett Hurd, champion Jessie Vargas, and undefeated heavyweight Deontay Wilder. Hurd was one of the nicest boxers of the weekend and spent a lot of time with fans. I had just picked up two different The Ring Magazine issues (May 2018 and July 2018) with Wilder on the cover, but Wilder was in town for only part of the day on Sunday, and I just did not have a chance to get those magazine covers signed.
While Gerry Cooney and Miguel Cotto were the only celebrity golfers at this year’s Golf Tournament of Champions, many of the boxers come to the course for lunch, and a number of them signed at a prearranged table under a tent. The Hall of Fame offers a non-golf pass for $85 that gives access to a chicken barbeque and autograph guests. Signing this year at the event were Tony Tubbs (heavyweight champ), Steve Albert, James Toney, Kelly Pavlik, Antonio Tarver, Jarrett Hurd, Jessie Vargas, Julian Jackson (light middleweight and middleweight champ), and John Stracey (welterweight champ). While an impressive line-up, not a single Hall of Fame boxer signed at the table.
While I did not attend the concurrently held Boxing Autograph Card Show this year, I heard that at least Winky Wright, Erik Morales, and Marco Antonio Barrera attended and signed at that event. At a ticket price of $10, this year the card show seemed like the better value than the $85 golf event. Since both events run from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and lines form for the more popular boxers, it would be difficult to attend both events. Also, there are no posted times or predefined names of celebrities for either event so it is not like anyone can pre-plan for these events.
Parade grand marshal
Each year the Boxing Hall of Fame selects a grand marshal to lead the Parade of Champions thru the business district of Canastota. Over the years, the grand marshals have been celebrities like Burt Young from the “Rocky” movies, actresses Rosie Perez and Bo Derek, Heisman Trophy winner Desmond Howard, Dallas Cowboys football star Ed “Too Tall” Jones, and Syracuse men’s basketball coach Jim Boeheim to name a few.
The grand marshal for 2018 was future Pro Football Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald is near the top in all the major NFL receiving records. His 15,545 receiving yards ranks third behind only Jerry Rice and Terrell Owens, and his 1,234 receptions also ranks third behind only Rice and Tony Gonzalez. Fitzgerald has been honored with 11 Pro Bowl invites, was a college All American at Pitt, and was drafted third overall in the 2004 draft by the Arizona Cardinals. Fitzgerald was an easy choice for this year’s honor as 2018 inductee Jim Gray is a friend and mentor to Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald attended Saturday’s banquet, and Sunday’s parade and enshrinement ceremony. I was excited to meet and have Fitzgerald sign a few of my football items. I did hear that he can be a pretty good signer at golf tournaments and charity events, but I heard his signature was not the greatest especially if you tried for more than one. Luckily I was in the right place at the right time and had a one-on-one encounter with Fitzgerald. He signed a Cardinals mini-helmet and a 15,000 career milestone receiving yards game ticket for me. I wasn’t even sure he was in New York State at the time as most rumors had him arriving on Sunday morning. Once I knew he was in town, I grabbed a jersey with a dozen or so Football Hall of Fame receiver’s signatures on it, and I was lucky enough to also get that item signed later that night. The three signatures were consistent, but seemed to be the shorter version that appears to read “Larry” and not the longer version that appears to read “Larry# 11”. Either way these signatures were some of my most treasured of the weekend for my personal collection.
I feel very fortunate to have had three items signed by Fitzgerald as I hear he did not sign many more than two items after the banquet, and I heard he signed only very, very sparingly on Sunday.
Live boxing returns
Live boxing has not been part of the Boxing Hall of Fame Induction weekend for many years. Back in 1998, nearby Turning Stone Casino hosted its first pro fight promoted by Mike Acri during that Induction weekend. The fight featured Hector (Macho) Camacho against Tommy Small. Turning Stone has hosted many fights in the last 20 years for HBO After-Dark, Showtime, and ESPN including: Lucas Matthysse and Ruslan Provodnikov, Luis Ortiz and Bryant Jennings, and Laila Ali and Jacqui Frazier-Lyde. Boxing has brought Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, Sugar Ray Leonard, Oscar De La Hoya, Bernard Hopkins, and Roy Jones Jr. to the small town of Verona, New York just a few exits up the highway from the Boxing Hall of Fame.
This year’s June 9 boxing card featured two co-main events with Diego De La Hoya remaining undefeated against challenger Jose “Sugar” Salgado with a 7th round TKO. In the other co-main bout welterweight Travell “Black Magic” Mazion kept his record perfect at 13-0 against Daquan Pauldo. Mazion was a unanimous winner on the judges’ scorecards, but the fans in attendance voiced their displeasure with the decision.
Sitting ringside around the arena were more than 20 boxing personalities who were attending the Hall of Fame events. Thomas Hearns, Mike Tyson, Marvin Hagler, the Class of 2018, and many more were there to watch the two co-main event fights. With ticket prices starting at $39, it was a great chance to see live boxing and mingle among some boxing greats.
Turning Stone Casino also announced a last minute special draw for some lucky fans. For an additional $35, ticket holders could have access to a VIP lounge before and during the fights. Tickets sold fast, and were sold out by the time I called. The boxing Hall of Famers and celebrities did spend about 30 minutes with those VIP guests. Fans walked away with autographs and pictures with the likes of Vitali Klitschko, Erik Morales, Micky Ward, and many more. The event, in my opinion, was the best-valued event of the weekend. It provided better access because it produced a smaller crowd size than many of the other weekend events for a lower price. I compare that to the $135 I spent on a banquet ticket where I did not get a single autograph. My goal, (well, me and 50 or more other people), at the banquet was to get to the dais where Wladimir Klitschko was sitting, but Wladimir stood up and left without signing a single autograph. And by the time I could race over to Mike Tyson, there was just too large a crowd in front of him. Tyson did sign about 20 autographs, but there were more than 100 people pushing and shoving for that same chance. I think the VIP Lounge was also a better value than the $85 golf ticket since there was better access to Hall of Fame boxers and Class of 2018 inductees.
Who is coming up for induction?
A recent ESPN story rating the best 25 boxers of the past 25 years gives good insight into some of the bigger names who might be inducted in the next few years.
From that list of the best 25 in the past 25 years, there is not a boxer who would be first-time eligible in 2019 or 2020. Excluding that list, induction might be expected for Ricky Hatton, Michael Moorer, or Ivan Calderon. The Hall of Fame’s 30th anniversary next year might help boost the lack of first time eligible fighters in 2019. First time eligible in 2020 is light middleweight and middleweight champion Sergio Martinez.
First time eligible boxers from the ESPN list include:
2021: Bernard Hopkins
2022: Juan Manuel Marquez, Shane Mosley, James Toney, Wladimir Klitschko, and Miguel Cotto
2023: Roy Jones Jr., Floyd Mayweather, Jr., and Andre Ward
The number of retirements in 2017 will pose some challenges for the Hall of Fame as the current process limits the number of modern era boxers to just three in an induction year. I would predict that might change due to the number of deserving candidate in 2022 and 2023. It is hard to imagine one of the above first-time eligible boxers in 2022 would have to wait until 2024 to be inducted. But with Roy Jones Jr. and Floyd Mayweather Jr. being locks (unless they come out of retirement) in 2023 that would have to happen without some type of change.
Robert Kunz is a freelance contributor to Sports Collectors Digest. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.