THE 2023 International Boxing Hall of Fame class included Timothy Bradley, Carl Froch, Rafael Marquez, Alicia Ashley, Laura Serrano (who did not attend), matchmakers Brad Goodman and Brad Jacobs, trainer Joe Goossen, former HBO executive Seth Abraham and broadcaster Tim Ryan.
During Sunday’s induction speeches, Marquez thanked his mother, father and sisters and described his journey as “difficult and beautiful.”
Froch thanked his mother, Carol, and told trainer Robert McCracken he was a father figure, a brother and best friend all rolled into one while Bradley said, I didn’t get here because I was better than everyone I fought, I got here because I wanted it more.”
Ashley talked about being an underdog in her major fights – even when she was a champion – and having to fight often on the road. “The road that I took to get here, was akin to climbing Mount Everest,” she said.
Posthumous inductees were light-heavyweight Tiger Jack Fox, flyweight champ Pone Kingpetch and JoAnn Hagen, in the women’s trailblazer category.
A few International Boxing Hall of Fame stalwarts always stumble onto the grounds a day early. UK fight fan Glenn Wilson is one, Canadian boxing supporter Eric Schmidt is another, Lee Groves, an analyst for CompuBox and writer for The Ring, is there, as is the event’s host, James ‘Smitty’ Smith.
We met and talked in the museum, by the famous ring that hosted the 1971 Fight of the Century between Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali, and talked boxing until news broke that the first two official days of the Hall of Fame weekend would take place in the Turning Stone Casino about 10 miles away.
The smoke from the uncontrollable Montreal wildfires had spread through the whole of New York state, turning areas, including Syracuse and Manhattan – four hours south – a hazy, apocalyptic-looking and surreal orange. Visibility was down to less than a mile in some areas and you could smell the smoke. It caused some boxers to face travel issues but not Froch, who famously had to delay going out to Denmark for his first fight with Mikkel Kessler when an ash cloud from an Icelandic volcano caused chaos. Froch faced no such issues this time.
There’s a certain elegance and charm, and most definitely a nostalgia about the museum grounds. The memorabilia on show is wonderful, fists cast from heroes of yesteryear, robes hung proudly in cabinets – of Ken Buchanan, Sugar Ray Leonard, Azumah Nelson, Arturo Gatti and many more – plaques of all of the inductees, fight-worn gloves from iconic bouts, championship belts and just about anything else you would care to see.
These are the grounds that have hosted Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson, Floyd Mayweather, Archie Moore, Willie Pep, Sandy Saddler, Marvin Hagler and almost every other modern great you could care to mention.
But when the festivities kicked off, they did so in the Turning Stone Showroom, a vacuous, impersonal hall, short on both light and atmosphere.
The Hall of Fame had to do what they could, and it was generous of the Turning Stone to play host but, really, what followed felt just like being Las Vegas in a fight week. A few journalists hunkered down and worked, not moving in case anyone of note came or left, and there was little daylight seen from the bowels of the casino.
“It’s a little different kind of a year,” admitted Hall of Fame president Ed Brophy.
The first Ringside Lecture of the day featured the inspirational Ann Wolfe, who spoke of her hardships, of finding boxing when she was a homeless mother of two because she wanted to something to do where she could use her natural athleticism, and her local basketball and football teams would not allow her to take her children while she trained, but the boxing club welcomed her.
“I had power,” she said, talking about her impressive knockouts. “It was different. I know one thing, I had man power. Some women have men power, some don’t.”
Wolfe is a great character, and she was replaced on stage by two Mexican greats, fellow 2023 inductee Rafael Marquez and one of the great little men, Humberto ‘Chiquita’ Gonzalez.
Marquez, brother of Juan Manuel and who is training his 15-year-old son in Mexico, said he felt his four fights with Israel Vazquez, two wins over Mark ‘Too Sharp’ Johnson and victory over Tim Austin solidified his Hall of Fame claim while Gonzalez spoke about his famed rival with Michael Carbajal, and said: “The hardest fights were the ones with Carbajal, but they were always the better ones, too, because I got more pay!”
The bell was sounded to officially open proceedings at 3pm, but neither Carbajal or Micky Ward and Dicky Eklund made it in time to do their Q and As because of the wildfire issues, but towering super-welterweight Sebastian Fundora and his sister, 11-0 Gabriela, took their spot and spoke to fans and answered questions.
Organisers paid tribute to inductees who had passed away over the last 12 months and there was warm applause for Bobby Goodman, Mogens Palle, Jerry Roth, Steve Smoger, Mills Lane, Eder Jofre and Ken Buchanan but, with Roberto Duran’s birthday only eight days away, Brophy led a premature rendition of Happy Birthday for one of the all-time greats. Duran loved it.
It was back to the Turning Stone, and while that might have been a first-world problem, it felt more like a work convention than a celebration. Fortunately, word was out that everyone would be back on the Hall of Fame grounds for the Saturday, but still there were some travel problems. 2023 inductee trainer Joe Goossen had not made it in time for his Ringside Lecture, so veteran fighter and trainer Robert Garcia ably stepped in.
In some ways, with the environmental issues and subsequent delays, it felt like this was the first day of the celebrations.
Froch and Bradley were both on hand. Froch was with McCracken, who seemed to be enjoying Carl getting some long overdue respect because Rob would remember there was a time when Froch was being overlooked by networks and media outlets despite his success, and an infuriated McCracken would always beat the drum for Carl, lambasting them for not recognising what they had; a future Hall of Famer.
Bradley, who in early Boxing News interviews said he was aiming for the Hall of Fame before he even won a world title, said he had rejected several invitations to visit Canastota before because he wanted his first time to be the one where he could see his own plaque on the walls. And what a ride he had. He signed anything for everyone, took countless selfies and not once could he be seen without a satisfied grin.
‘Dutch Destroyer’ Lucia Rijker was also around, and it was her first visit. She was due to be part of last year’s trilogy of inductions but couldn’t travel and so she was able to get her recognition this year. She was fascinating and talked about he she needed to fight to release her inner-beast, something she trains people to do today in some kind of therapy. She’s incredibly softly-spoken, charming and engaging.
I caught up with Michael Nunn, who was satisfied with his career although he would have liked to have fought Sugar Ray Leonard, Tommy Hearns or Roberto Duran. Nunn said he didn’t want to fight Hagler, because they were friends, and that he had also hoped to box Chris Eubank and Nigel Benn. Nunn, who spent around two decades behind bars, was incredibly positive about his past, saying it had made him stronger and stiffened his resolve to be a success on the outside.
The day finished with the 2023 inductees having their fists cast for immortality. A dental, menthol substance encases their hands, and later it is covered in copper and sprayed gold for the museum.
ShoBox came from the Turning Stone that Friday night, and many of the Hall of Fame guests were on hand to watch some of the bouts from ringside.
It was back to the grounds, finally. The air was clear, as were the skies. Saturday is the peak of the weekend. There is plenty of activity on the grounds, the morning starts with a 5k run/jog/walk that numerous boxing personalities get involved with, there is the memorabilia show at the nearby High School and the day culminates with the big banquet, back at the Turning Stone.
Buddy McGirt opened up the grounds with a candid talk. He’s always happy to discuss boxing, but his face lights up when you mention his football-playing daughter, who is a professional in Israel. Froch and Bradley shared the stage for a Ringside Lecture and then the always well-attended referee lecture saw Tony Weeks, Kenny Bayless and Sparkle Lee answer questions from the fans.
Former heavyweight champion Ray Mercer was around, and he was in great shape, talking about how he felt he pipped Lennox Lewis in their 10-round Madison Square Garden war, and how he admires Tyson Fury.
The highlight was when Duran came to my tent for an interview. Scores of fans followed him and he wound up being interviewed by Showtime’s Kieran Mulvaney in front of a live audience – completely improvised, but playing up to it every second – giving off some kind of Woodstock vibe as fans cheered and roared at his one liners. Duran spoke of his sadness of the loss of Ken Buchanan and Marvin Hagler, but pledged to live to 100!
Vinny Paz stopped by to talk to me, which was great. He has long-campaigned for a spot in the Hall of Fame and he is on the ballot, be he is yet to be voted in. To me, he blamed veteran boxing writer Dan Rafael, but at the banquet who went in on Ed Brophy, the Hall of Fame’s president.
Some felt Paz went too far, some felt it was hilarious. I was nearer the latter. I don’t think he meant any harm, but he said: “I want to get in the Hall of Fame, I think I deserved it. Ed can’t put you in? It’s not Ed’s thing? Wait a minute, the last time I looked, Ed was the president of this organisation. Am I correct or not? So he’s the president, not the vice president, not the treasurer not the secretary of state. He’s the president of the Hall of Fame and he can’t put me in? Ed, be careful when you come around me, because I’ve had a couple of drinks and you might get knocked out!”
The crowd laughed, mostly, Brophy and Paz embraced and the evening moved along.
The banquet is not the most interactive experience. The top table, with all of the boxing luminaries, stretches the length of an entire ballroom and the guests are on circular tables around the room. After the meal, there are countless speeches, too many, really. All of the inductees talk, but they should be saving their best lines for the induction the next day.
Perhaps the best moment came when Jimmy Lennon Jr announced a cross-generational head-to-head and he summoned Bradley and Duran for a face-off. There was magic in the air.
Post-banquet, many fighters made their way down to the casino sportsbook and the big screens to watch the Josh Taylor-Teofimo Lopez fight. I was with Froch and McCracken, but spent time with Micky Ward, Dicky Eklund, John Scully, Mercer and some others as Teofimo dazzled us.
All of the inductees went to the museum to have their formal photos taken with their plaques, and the always popular parade carried the fighters and guests through the often-sleepy village of Canastota, which comes to a standstill to watch. This year’s grand marshal was rapper Flava Flav, and the fighters were then taken back to the Turning Stone for the inductions. Marquez’s speech was short and direct, Bradley’s meaningful, Froch got in his ‘80,000 fans’ line but Top Rank matchmaker Brad Goodman stole the show, proposing to his girlfriend. “When people ask me what was the best match I ever made, she’s sitting next to me today, and for the rest of my life. Vivian Fierro-Rojas, will you marry me?”
Hall of Fame notes
Seeing McCracken and Froch together all weekend was heart-warming. They did it all together, from pro debut to the Hall of Fame; Bernard Fernandez should have been inducted three years ago, but twice he could not attend because of the pandemic and last year the Philly sports writing legend’s wife was told she had cancer and only 12 months to live. Ann will need chemotherapy for the rest of her life, but 14 months on and Bernard was formally inducted and Ann was there to see it; For the first time, iconic UK duo Chas and Kymberly Taylor didn’t exhibit at the memorabilia show and many noted how it was more sparse for vendors than in previous years, which it was; I caught up with former heavyweight contender Kevin McBride, who was on the grounds with his son on the Saturday; Marquez is probably best-known for his four fights with Israel Vazquez, who was on the ballot but did not get in this year. Fans of their wars hoped they might go in together; Three members of the 1988 US Olympic team were there, Mercer, Carbajal and Riddick Bowe: Andrew Golota was in attendance but didn’t seem to want to be there. The Polish heavyweight walked around with menace in his eyes all weekend and when I shook hands with him – and his fist was like a shoulder of lamb – he looked like he would have rather put that shoulder of lamb through my face; Providing he doesn’t fight again before hand, Manny Pacquiao will be eligible to be inducted in next year.