Something Seems Amiss at The Hall of Fame
By Matthew Hamill
Over the years , I have greatly enjoyed going to the International Boxing Hall of Fame. The opportunity to meet and talk with the boxers and trainers is a great experience to anticipate each June. But reluctantly, 2007 may be my last venture to Canastota, not because the wrong boxers or trainers were selected. Heavens no, the three modern fighters, Duran, Lopez and Whittaker, are outstanding and worthy inductees. No, it might be for another reason.
Rightly or wrongly, I have always felt that no one should be inducted into this hallowed place unless he or she took part in an activity that impacted the outcome of a fight in a viscerally meaningful way. Refereeing and training are such activities. Promoting, writing, announcing, commentating, observing, and painting are not. Guys like Ruby Goldstein, Manny Steward, Lou Duva, and Arthur Mercante Senior belong. Their participation is co-dependently and intimately connected to the fighter. One cannot function without the other. Like analog and digital, they couldn't exist without each other.
Case in point: the late and great Al Gavin was Micky Ward's cut man. He was invaluable to Micky....... sometimes the difference between winning and losing. Steve Smoger refereed Mickey's fight with Emanuel Burton. He could have determined the outcome as well. If Ward's trainer, Dick Eklund, didn’t like what he was witnessing, he could have thrown in the towel. There was an interdependence between these men that was palpable.
Although the aforementioned Gavin was primarily known as a cut man, he trained Erik Harding (21-1-1; 7 KO's) for his challenge with light heavyweight champ Roy Jones in September of 2000. In that fight, Harding suffered a torn bicep muscle in the 2nd round, forcing Trainer Gavin to determine the outcome of the fight. He did. He stopped the bout in the 10th.
Now boxing writers and commentators can write or articulate pristine stuff about a fight, but it has absolutely nothing to do with the outcome. Hell, if the boxing writers need to honor someone, let them limit it to their own Hall or Society. In fact, The Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) has just come out with their awards and Larry Merchant, among others, received an award for log and meritorious service. Let that be the end of it.
LeRoy Neiman, who inexpicably is being inducted this year, is a great sports artist but boxing is just one of many subjects he paints. Jimmy Lennon Junior is a great announcer as is Michael Buffer but God forbid they should be inducted into the Hall. Larry Merchant does not belong, nor does any other commentator, for they in no way impact the outcome of a fight. As it stands now, such luminaries can be inducted into the Hall as "observers." But what in God's name does that have to do with who wins or loses a fight? And just what is an observer? What kind of subjectivity goes into such a selection. What are the criteria for selection?
And before someone tells me that it's all about "fame" and its association with boxing (as in Bert Sugar being famous and being associated with boxing), I say "baloney." Sitting at ringside for hundreds of fights is great for the knowledge base but it should have nothing to do with entry into the Hall, nor should being a professional sports writer. It's just too remote and subjective. Bert is a great writer and has won numerous awards; that should be enough, that's where it should end. King and Arum make millions. That should be enough. Let them have their own awards and rewards. Let's keep the Hall for the fighters and the people who have that special relationship with the fighters.
One important caveat. If some of these so-called "observers" and some of the promoters want to start doing something for the boxers in the way of reform, then maybe, just maybe, I might revise my feelings. Hell, Jerry Cooney and Alex Ramos have done more for their fellow boxers than all the "observers" combined.