Thomas Hearns leads the 2012 International Boxing Hall of Fame class. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
Ryan Bivins returns to Bad Left Hook to discuss boxing Hall of Famers, and those still waiting to get inducted at Canastota.
In boxing, getting inducted to the Hall of Fame is easier than most sports. Not only because of the talent level of the weakest members present, but because there are multiple halls. The two major recognized halls of fame are the International Boxing Hall of Fame (the most famous one) and the World Boxing Hall of Fame. If we have to recognize the WBO as a world championship sanctioning body we would be hypocrites to deny the WBHF as a legitimate hall of fame. For one, its inception predates the IBHOF by a decade. For another, it actually has quality fighters the IBHOF does not. Some elite fighters exclusive to the WBHF include Eddie Booker and Georgie Abrams.
Even if you don't know these guys their reason to belong in the IBHOF is easy enough to recognize, they both beat several IBHOF fighters. Booker beat Holman Williams, Archie Moore, and Lloyd Marshall. Abrams beat Teddy Yarosz, Lou Brouillard, Billy Soose, and the newly inducted Cocoa Kid (more on him later). Abrams even drew with the legendary Charley Burley. And when the IBHOF has fighters like Barry McGuigan, WBHF exclusives like Esteban De Jesús, José Luis Ramírez, and Julian Jackson look more than qualified (all of which have also beat at least one person in the IBHOF). But enough about that, time to focus on actual IBHOF inductees.
While the IBHOF is made up of five categories, you may have noticed I've only mentioned fighters in one of them so far, the modern category. It's not the only category I care about. I also like the Old Timer category (last bout no earlier than 1893; no later than 1942). But since no one else is ever going to be inducted there, I see no need to discuss it. The pioneer category is fun, reading about old timers drinking alcohol during a fight, stumbling around drunk, throwing up, and somehow lasting over 50-75 rounds and winning on top of that. But the drawback there is not having any video footage to go with it. The other two categories I don't usually care for, Non-Participant and Observer, because they weren't inducted for being a fighter.
The main exception I make is Jack Blackburn, a bona fide all-time great Lightweight, who was inducted in the Non-Participant category for training Joe Louis. He definitely deserved the HOF for his work with Louis, but he deserved it even more for how great a fighter he was. How good was Blackburn you say? Good enough to beat hall of famers Harry Lewis and Sam Langford, both naturally bigger men. How good was Langford? Good enough to go on to become one of the greatest Heavyweights of all time. Why didn't Blackburn win a world title if he was so good? Joe Gans, arguably the greatest Lightweight or fighter in any division, happened to be the Champion at the time. But enough about a man who was inducted in 1992, let's fast forward 20 years to 2012.
Every new IBHOF induction year fans and pundits focus, often misguidedly, on the new list of fighters eligible. Writers like Dan Rafael felt the need to list Dariusz Michalczewski as a front runner for the newcomers pack. Of course his other two front runners, Tommy Hearns and Mark Johnson, did get in, but the difference was they were actually great fighters. Dariusz was just a very good fighter. There were a lot of very good or better fighters on the ballot, many better than Dariusz. Which would I definitely rate above Darius that appeared? Of the known nominees (no one actually sends me a ballot, fools) here's who I'd have to consider first, in no particular order:
- Georgie Abrams (discussed earlier, WBHF member)
- Joey Archer (WBHF member)
- Donald Curry
- Tiger Jack Fox (even though he hardly trained, WBHF member)
- Miguel Lora
- Ken Overlin (WBHF member)
- Cocoa Kid (Freshly inducted into the IBHOF)
Of the seven I just named, one stood out from the very beginning when I saw the list via Ryan Songalia:
I never got a response back from Songalia on that last tweet. Maybe he voted for Cocoa, maybe not. Whatever happened though, the right man got in. Why is he the right man? You don't go 8-3-2 with the great Holman Williams, win every single round against Jack Chase, and battle to a draw with the legendary Charley Burley (among plenty of other solid performances) if you're not the right man. You see it's the solid wins such as his conquest of Chalky Wright (all-time great Featherweight) which are comparable to the best that makes up Michalczewski's resume. The closest thing Dariusz ever beat to a great fighter was a past his prime Virgil Hill. Hill I might add will be eligible for the IBHOF in 2013. And while we're on the subject of eligibility, Michalczewski was eligible in 2011. So if you thought people dropped his name simply because he was the 3rd best choice of the 1st ballot class, think again. He's not 1st ballot, 2nd ballot, and quite frankly he should have to wait longer than Donald Curry has (Curry has been eligible since 2003). And Curry may never even get in!
So why do guys like Dariusz get more consideration than they deserve? Why will Arturo Gatti likely enter the IBHOF as first ballot entry for 2013? Well there's a lot of a reasons. Apparently boxing decided to take the meaning of the word fame quite literally. So while other sports induct their best greats, boxing likes to induct its most famous and beloved fighters, who need not be better than good with the proper amount of fame.
And who do you know more loved and appreciated than the recently deceasedGatti in the last 20 years? He was involved in 4 fights of the year (which is accurate even if you don't think he deserved the last one, the third fight with Micky Ward, since he was clearly robbed of the 1996 award for his war with Wilson Rodriguez). He took brutal, savage beatings and never quit. Hell sometimes he'd take them and still win the damn fight. Quite frankly he's the most entertaining fighter of my lifetime and more entertaining than anyone else I've seen in the past. He was humble, kind, polite, all despite living in New Jersey.
He was great man, my hero, but not a great boxer. Personally given the talent already in the IBHOF I won't be upset to see him inducted. I doubt any of you will be upset either. That's how much we love him. And I'm sure there are people in/around Germany/Poland that feel the same way about Michalczewski. He was their action hero. And action heroes always have the easier entry.
So when does the call to the Hall always matter? When a "boring," feather fisted, no personality, no fan base fighter gets inducted. I'm not sure that's ever even happened. But if it ever does, rest assured the guy is one of the all-time greats.
PS: Anybody from Jersey offended by my cheap shot, I apologize.