Report and photos by Boxing Bob Newman
Saturday is the day at every IBHOF induction weekend where fight fans have a plethora of choices of which to take in- weather permitting. As is the case in many towns around the United States, the favorite saying regarding the weather in upstate New York is, “If you don’t like the weather, don’t worry, it’ll change in a few minutes.” While rainy, cooler-than-usual conditions were forecast since earlier in the week, the rain did take a round or two off on Saturday. Participants in the annual celebrity golf tournament played on through the occasional drizzle, threatening clouds and dry patches. The 5K road racers also made it through soaked mostly by their own perspiration. The best bets for cover from precipitation were, under the pavilion on the IBHOF museum grounds where ringside lectures and ring workouts took place (courtesy of young contenders Ryon McKenzie and Julius Jackson), the boxing collectors and autograph show at Canastota High School and the V.I.P. cocktail hour at the Grey Stone Castle. Of course the best and most glamorous bet of the night was the gala banquet at Syracuse’s OnCenter.
At both the cocktail and banquet, guests and fans were guaranteed to be able to mingle, take photos with and collect autographs from nearly every fighter who attended this year’s events. Annual faves and former inductees like Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Carlos Ortiz, the “Raging Bull” Jake LaMotta (92 years young), Michael Spinks, mixed in with this year’s inductees Myung-Woo Yuh and Virgil Hill, Colin Hart and Jimmy Lennon Jr. Other ring battlers of the past, such as Simon Brown, Tony DeMarco, Gerry Cooney, Mia St. John, Bonecrusher Smith and Gaspar Ortega dined and drank with the revelers. Current WBC middleweight champ Sergio “Maravilla” Martinez returned to the festivities for the third time in four years, proving to be a fan favorite among contemporary pugilists, accommodating and humble to boot.
As is the case on many an IBHOF induction weekend, after the banquet, fans desperately either returned to their hotels or searched out establishments where they hoped to catch either the HBO or Showtime competing boxing telecasts. Both sets of fights were the subject of conversation on Sunday morning while waiting for the festivities to begin.
Sunday began as it always does with the annual parade of champions. Current inductees as well as past, and future hopefuls ride in sharp, often classic cars as fans line Peterboro St., snapping photos, waving and hoping to catch the eyes of their respective heroes.
On this day, the skies were blue, dotted with fluffy, white clouds and temperatures were in the comfortable 70s. Fans and media filled their allotted seats and positions outside and underneath the pavilion on the hall grounds for the start of the induction ceremony. As strains of the “Rocky” theme filled the air, the names of boxing’s elite were read off, whereupon they entered the grounds and took their seats on the dais. Even more special guests such as Angel Manfredy, “Sugar” Shane Mosley, Pipino Cuevas, Canastota’s own Billy Backus, Zab Judah, Mike Weaver and Marlon Starling strolled in. Then it was time for the five living inductees to bring the fans to their feet with their entrances- referee Mills Lane, journalist Colin Hart, ring announcer Jimmy Lennon Jr., light flyweight champion Myung-Woo Yuh and light heavy and cruiserweight champ Vigil Hill.
IBHOF president Don Ackerman addressed the assembly by remembering the recently departed hometown hero Carmen Basilio. This induction weekend would be the first without Canastota’s own. Ackerman’s voiced trembled as he closed out his comments on the hometown boy who made good on his promise to a school teacher to, “be champion of the world one day.”
Parade grand marshal, actress and self described “Boxing Head” Rosie Perez took to the lectern- heaping praise upon this year’s dignitaries, explaining that boxers are decent men of great character.
Boxing historian Herb Goldman then ran down the list of deceased inductees along with their ring accomplishments:
Arturo “Thunder” Gatti- Two division champ Gatti thrilled fans with his give and take style for sixteen years. Despite winning two world title belts, Gatti will best be remembered for his three non-title wars against “Irish” Micky Ward, with whom he later became the closest of friends. Accepting Gatti’s induction certificate were Ward, manager Pat Lynch, promoter Kathy Duva and Gatti’s mother Ida. The most touching moment came as Lynch lifted the late fighter’s daughter Sofia to the microphone, where she joyfully uttered five simple words, “Thank you for my daddy!” The crowd stood in ovation to honor ‘Thunder,” who finished his career with a record of 40-9, 31 KOs.
Old Timers category:
Wesley Ramey- Lightweight Ramey boxed out of Grand Rapids, Michigan from 1929-1940, beating world champs Benny Bass and Tony Canzoneri along the way to a 157-28-6, 72 KOs record. Ramey never got a title shot. But as Wes Ramey Jr. said as he accepted his father’s certificate, “He got something better than that. He got inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame! It doesn’t get any better than that!”
Jeff Smith- The “Bayonne Globetrotter” laced up the gloves professionally for seventeen years, compiling a 149-31-5, 52KOs ledger. Smith met the likes of Harry Greb (7x), Georges Carpentier, Tommy Loughran and Gene Tunney along the way.
Joe Coburn- A heavyweight during his era (1856-1871), reportedly went undefeated during those fifteen years, drawing twice with ring legend Jem Mace.
Non Participants category:
Arturo “Cuyo” Hernandez- One of Mexico’s greatest fighter managers ever, Hernandez guided the careers of such ring greats as Carlos Zarate, Alfonso Zamora, Ruben Olivares, Lupe Pintor, and Alexis Arguello among others.
Ted Carroll- The widely known boxing cartoonist’s work could be seen in the pages of the “Bible of Boxing”- The Ring magazine for fifty years as well s New York City news papers. Carroll also penned many articles over the years on the “Sweet Science.”
Then it came time for the living inductees to receive their honors…
Colin Hart- Journalist Hart began covering boxing in 1964 for London’s Daily Herald. Hart was later named Boxing correspondent for The Sun in 1969 and for his first American assignment covered the first Frazier-Ali fight at Madison Square Garden in 1971. Hart is the first British writer to win the prestigious Nat Fleischer Award for “Excellence In Boxing Journalism” from the BWAA in 2011.
Mills Lane- A former U.S. Marine, NCAA boxing champion, professional boxer, attorney and judge, Lane is best known as a fair, but no-nonsense boxing referee, having coined the phrase, “Let’s get it on,” which he barked out following his ring instructions. Lane famously disqualified Mike Tyson for biting Evander Holyfield’s ears in their epic rematch in 1997, one of over 100 world title bouts to his refereeing credit. Lane suffered a debilitating stroke in 2002, from which he is still recovering.
Jimmy Lennon Jr.- Former teacher and son of legendary ring announcer Jimmy Lennon, “Jr.” stepped into the ring at his father’s urging in 1981 and hasn’t looked back since. The classy Lennon Jr. has circled the globe to ply his craft inside the ring in such locales as Indonesia, Mexico, Australia, and Japan where he broke out in a big way announcing Douglas-Tyson at the Tokyo Dome in 1990. The voice of Showtime boxing for over twenty years, Lennon coined the introductory, “It’s Showtime!”
Myung-Woo Yuh- South Korean Yuh dominated the light flyweight division for six years as WBA champion along with WBC countryman Jung-Koo Chang. The two compatriots never laced them up against each other though, and Yuh went on to lodge a record setting seventeen defenses of the crown before getting upset by Hiroki Ioka. Yuh avenged that defeat, and made one more defense before calling it a day in the ring with a final tally of 38-1, 14 KOs, having beaten every man he faced in his career.
Virgil Hill- 1984 silver medalist Hill was unheralded coming out of North Dakota. Quietly turning pro and notching win after win, Hill annexed the WBA light heavyweight title in his nineteenth fight via TKO4 over defending champ Leslie Stewart. Hill made ten successful defenses before losing to legendary Hall-of-Famer Thomas Hearns. After reclaiming the vacant WBA belt, Hill notched another ten defenses, claiming the IBF belt along the way, before losing to Dariusz Michaelczewski. Moving up in weight, he twice captured the WBA cruiserweight title. Hill amassed a record of 50-7, 23 KOs in a twenty three year pro career.
After posing with their rings for media and fans alike, the enshrined inductees filed into the IBHOF museum to once again pose for media, this time in front of their plaques. Afterward, Virgil put an interesting twist on the custom of inductees donating an article of their ring garb to the Hall. Instead of a ring robe, trunks or boxing shoes, Hill donated one of his Native American head dresses, adorned with authentic Eagle feathers. Hill advised IBHOF director Ed Brophy that the head dress had undergone a traditional sacred native blessing, and needed to be displayed in the natural herb of sage in keeping with the sacred rites, to which Brophy readily agreed.
And with that another year in boxing’s “Title Town, USA” has passed. Another class of boxing’s elite has been enshrined amongst their peers. The walls are fast becoming filled with plaques- an expansion beckons as another class is a little over 360 days away! Until next year Canastota…