By Boxing Bob Newman
Photos: Boxing Bob Newman
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In terms of weather, one couldn’t ask for a more glorious day on which to witness the enshrinement of boxing immortals at the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, New York. 2009 marks 20 years since the first induction back in 1989, and how special it was to see three deserving modern greats, Lennox Lewis, Orlando Canizales and Brian Mitchell earn their place among the lords of the ring. Not to be overlooked, among the nonparticipants being inducted this year were HBO broadcaster Larry Merchant, journalist Hugh McIlvenney, promoter Akihiko Honda and matchmaker/publicist Bobby Goodman.
A ten count was given to commemorate the passing of boxing luminaries: Ingemar Johansson, Joey Giardello, Jose Torres and Reg Gutteridge.
IBHOF induction chairperson and historian Herb Goldman read off the resumes of deceased inductees:
William “Gorilla” Jones (Middleweight champion – Old-timer category)
“Mysterious” Billy Smith (Welterweight champion – Old-timer category)
Billy Soose (Middleweight champion – Old-timer category)
Bill Gibson (Manager – Non-participant category)
Abe J. Greene (Commisioner – Non-participant category)
Paul Gallico (Journalist – Observer category)
Tom Hyer (First recognized Heavyweight champion of America – Pioneer category)
The living inductees were then announced by IBHOF president Don Ackerman. First up was journalist Hugh McIlveney. McIlvenney spoke of his introduction to boxing involving watching his father trying to tune on the radio broadcasts of big fights from America from their home in Scotland. He has garnered numerous journalism awards as well as an OBE (order of the British Empire). In boxing McIlvenney has covered fights from ringside of Ali, Monzon, Leonard, Hagler, Tyson and fellow 2009 inductee Lennox Lewis. Uttering the quote of the day, McIlvenney spoke, “Boxing is as true and basic as a heartbeat, and I apologize to no one for finding it irresistible.”
The funniest moment of the day had to be when inductee Bobby Goodman followed McIlvenney and his lengthy, yet articulate and eloquent speech, by tearing up his speech in front of everybody and saying, “I had a speech prepared, but McIlvenney already gave it. My career is over!” The crowd roared. Bobby Goodman follows his father Murray into the Hall for his career as a PR man, matchmaker, VP of Madison Square Garden, president of Boxing Operation for Don King and now with Square Ring Promotions.
Hall of fame promoter Don Chargin then accepted on behalf of his Japanese counterpart Akihiko Honda, who was unable to attend. Honda has promoted such greats as former Flyweight champion Masao Ohba, Jr. Light champ Genaro Hernandez and current champs Jorge Linares and Edwin Valero.
Larry Merchant, the HBO commentator for 30+ years, as well as previously for NBC and with numerous Journalistic credits to his name, was his typical, reflective self. He thanked his wife, his boss at HBO Seth Abraham and related his feelings akin to those of Ruth Gordon, who at 82 years of age, upon winning an Academy Award, uttered, “Thanks for your encouragement!”
Record setting former IBF Bantam champ Orlando Canizales elicited the most emotion of the day, drawing applause and heartfelt empathy from the crowd. Choking back tears, Canizales gave thanks to his family, among them his parents, for whose presence he was eternally grateful.
South African Brian Mitchell, former WBA/IBF Jr. Light champ continued his globetrotting ways in order to accept his honors. Upon winning his title in 1986, the WBA placed sanctions on Mitchell’s native land due to their apartheid policies, forcing him to defend abroad twelve times, never in front of his countrymen. Having lived for a time in San Diego, Mitchell claimed America as his second home and vowed to return to “Title Town” next year.
Perhaps the most recognizable inductee of the weekend, former unified Heavyweight champ Lennox Lewis closed the show. He praised several people who were instrumental in his development as a boxer, many of whom were in attendance. Lewis spoke of his mum’s “boxing parties” where she would invite friends over to watch the fights when Lewis was young. He also announced that he and his wife were expecting their third child, after waiting to get married after his career was over. Lewis hoped to be an inspiration to not only young boxers, but athletes from any sport and expressed plans to start a management agency to help boxers avoid the pitfalls of the sport.
As the fighters posed with their rings form the media and fans alike, thoughts turned to 2010 and what possible pugilists may find their names etched on plaques in the hall, and whose rings will need to be sized to fit the fingers on the tools of their trade. Will we see first time eligible fighters Hearns and Tyson? Will modern knockout artists Nigel Benn and Julian Jackson hear their phones ring with a call to the hall? We’ll find out next Winter. Until then, we can only wonder and play back a few old tapes…