By Rob Kunz
Boxing fans gathered in upstate New York for the 23rd annual induction weekend on June 7-10, where the International Boxing Hall of Fame served up another weekend jam-packed with events, providing numerous opportunities for fans to interact with boxing greats.
The Class of 2012 honored boxers Thomas Hearns and Mark Johnson, trainer Freddie Roach, ring announcer Michael Buffer, broadcaster Al Bernstein and writer Al Katz. The class was headlined by Thomas “Hitman” Hearns. Hearns would become the first fighter to win four world titles in four divisions in 1987, and one year later would become the first to win five titles in five divisions with his WBO Super Middleweight title win. Hearns fought in one of the golden ages of boxing, with fellow champions and Hall of Famers Sugar Ray Leonard, Roberto Duran and Marvin Hagler. With a career record of 61-5-1 (48 KOs), it was just a matter of when he decided to hang up his gloves as to when he would receive the call from the Hall of Fame.
The Hitman was the king of the long weekend, talking with fans and signing autographs on many occasions. Many like me, however, were disappointed that Hearns would not sign any boxing gloves. It did not matter what the size or whether it was a single or multi-signed glove. Hearns said he was under contract, preventing him from signing any gloves for induction fans. Based on this information, I was surprised the official Thomas Hearns website did not even offer signed gloves for sale.
My main goal of this boxing trip was to go home after four long days with a gloved signed by the Four Kings (Hearns, Leonard, Hagler, Duran), but that was not to be. Not only did Hearns not sign gloves, but Duran cancelled his scheduled appearance for the weekend.
What I expected to be the main event of the weekend, the gathering of Hearns, Leonard, Hagler and Duran, was not to be. I believe this would have been the first time in the 23-year history of the Hall of Fame that all four of these boxing immortals would have been together in Canastota, N.Y. It was rare, if ever, that Hagler and Leonard would attend the same induction weekend. Many times it was one or the other, but rarely both.
These are four boxers that captured the boxing world from 1978-89. Coined “The Four Kings,” they amassed a combined 121-12-3 record over those 12 years. They took six of Ring Magazine’s Fighter of the Year awards, and four Fight of the Year awards. During this time, this group of four was collectively featured 33 times on the cover of Sports Illustrated. The boxing world took notice of some of the greatest fights of all time.
There were legendary bouts among these greats. Leonard-Hearns I and Hagler-Hearns are considered some of the greatest fights of all time. And the 1984 second-round knockout of Duran by Hearns was called and is remembered as the boxing’s version of the “shot heard around the world.” Up to that day in June 1984, Duran had never been knocked down. Twice in the first round Hearns dropped this legendary Panamanian boxer. Duran fared no better in the second round, and after a solid right, Duran went down cold, face-first on the canvas.
Hagler and Sugar Ray
Leonard also signed at times during the weekend. But there was a sharp contrast in their signatures. Hagler has a great, consistent signature. Every letter is legible. The same could not be said of Leonard’s signature. It was very inconsistent – anywhere from legible to a “SRL” script to a scribble that could vary anywhere from a “S” and “Z” to a wavy line.
One way to secure a little nicer signature, was to have one of Leonard’s books. Unfortunately, I had none. I take great pride in my collection, and I would never display the signatures I received from Sugar Ray Leonard. The Sports Illustrated magazine and the boxing program I had signed are likely to just go in the trash. That is how bad they are. They were just a scribble of a line, and I would be embarrassed to show them off to family and friends as part of my collection. I found that the best collectible pieces for my collection were going to be dual-signed Hagler and Hearns items.
The other members of the class of 2012, like Hearns, were also great with fans. Mark Johnson, two-division champion in the early and mid-1990s with a 44-5 (28 KOs) record – and notably the first African-American flyweight champion – attended all the weekend events and also signed at all of them. He seemed to really enjoy the weekend, both the interaction with fans and with the other boxers. Bantering between Johnson, James “Buddy” McGirt and Ray Mercer entertained the fans in attendance.
Al Bernstein and Michael Katz also attended all four days and were also great with the fans. These two inductees, as well as many others on hand, chatted boxing with the fans. Fan interaction and getting to chat up the sport with some of the greats in boxing is an experience like no other hall of fame offers.
Due to the Manny Pacquiao bout against Timothy Bradley Jr. in Las Vegas on Saturday night, Freddie Roach and Michael Buffer only spent Sunday at the hall of fame. They landed early Sunday morning after taking a private jet cross-country. Their time in Canastota was limited, and they were very busy getting shuffled here and there. I am sure they were exhausted, but they still found the time to stop and sign for fans when they could.
Regarded by many as one of the greatest trainers in the history of boxing, Roach has trained more than 20 champions, including James Toney, Michael Moorer, Oscar De La Hoya, Mike Tyson, Bernard Hopkins, Virgil Hill and Manny Pacquiao. Roach is also a five-time BWAA Trainer of the Year.
Buffer’s pre-fight introductions and patented phase, “Let’s Get Ready To Rumble” have fired up arenas around the world since 1983.
“Manny Pacquiao is the reason I’m going to the Hall of Fame,” said Roach. “Manny Pacquiao is the reason for a lot of things, and the day he walked into the gym was the best day of my life.”
With comments like that, I was really hoping to see Manny Pacquiao also be on that plane from Las Vegas, but based on what I saw on Sunday at the grounds of the Hall of Fame, he was nowhere to be seen. But it makes sense that right after a long, hard fight no boxer would jump on a cross-country flight. I was a bit disappointed not to see James Toney, Bernard Hopkins or other past champions under Roach make a surprise appearance for the Sunday ceremony.
This year’s Friday night event was highlighted by a “heavyweight bash.” Heavyweights from the past and presented were honored. The guests included George Chuvalo, Chuck Wepner and Leon Spinks. With the passing of Angelo Dundee earlier this year, it was nice to see three heavyweights who battled with Mohammed Ali in the 1970s. More current heavyweight guests included Michael Moorer, Ray Mercer, Gerry Cooney and Lamon Brewster. This event also suffered from some cancellations, as Ken Norton, Michael Spinks and Donovan “Razor” Ruddock were not able to attend after initially being announced on the guest list.
The heavyweights who showed were great. Wepner was talking up a storm of his great fortunes this year, from attending Ali’s 70th birthday party, to an ESPN documentary about his life, to a movie due out in the fall of 2012. After going 15 rounds with Ali in 1975, Wepner was the inspiration behind Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky manuscript. And the merciful one, Ray Mercer, signed up a storm. From the opening ceremony to the Saturday banquet, he challenged fans to bring it on. He would not stop signing until there was nothing left to sign.
Guys like Mercer, Wepner, Buddy McGirt, Micky Ward and others thanked fans on multiple occasions and appreciated the fans for coming out during their careers and to events such as the induction weekend. How many times do you hear that anymore? This is just one of the many reasons I really enjoy the Boxing Hall of Fame.
But the Hall of Fame is changing, and some of the younger Hall of Famers need to feel that same sentiment. Gone are the greats like Alexis Arguello, Jose Torres, Angelo Dundee, Floyd Patterson, Archie Moore and Willie Pep who regularly came back to the Hall. Age and health are catching up with Carmen Basillio, Gene Fullmer, Emile Griffith and Ken Norton, and regrettably, making the trip to Canastota is getting more and more difficult. With all those events over four days, it is a grueling schedule, especially if only a few greats show up and they have to attend all the events.
In 2012, only six Hall of Fame boxers returned for a majority of the weekend (Hagler, Leonard, Ruben Olivares, Carlos Ortiz, Terry Norris and Aaron Pryor). And for the “heavyweight bash,” not a single Hall of Fame heavyweight fighter was in attendance. Compare that to say 10 years ago, in 2003, when 14-15 Hall of Fame boxers returned. I mention the class of 2003 honoring George Foreman, Mike McCallum, Curtis Cokes and Nicolino Locche, since this class is a great example to my point. None of these four boxers have returned in the past 10 years. Let’s hope next year, on their 10th anniversary, that a few of these boxers make their way back to Canastota.
The Hall of Fame still does a great job in bringing together non-Hall of Fame boxing greats. John “The Beast” Mugabi traveled all the way from Australia, and joined Moorer, Mercer, Wepner, Sugar Ray Seales, Ward, James Leija, Kevin Kelley, Sharmna Mitchell, Antonio Tarver and Hilario Zapata as very special weekend guests.
Hats off to the Hall of Fame staff for a another great induction weekend.
Rob Kunz is a freelance contributor to SCD. He can be reached at email@example.com.