BOXING finally came home. They call Canastota ‘Boxing’s Hometown’ in upstate New York but for the last three years, because of coronavirus, the sleepy town has slept. It came back to life last weekend, however, and was at its vibrant best as crowds flocked to see the Trilogy induction weekend as the classes of 2020, 2021 and 2022 were all inducted. Here’s a whistlestop diary of what transpired.
The first event started at 1.30pm, a ringside lecture with the former ferocious middleweight Julian Jackson.
“The Hawk” was interviewed by James “Smitty” Smith – an International Boxing Hall of Fame pillar – and at 3pm several of the Trilogy Class of inductees and guests took to the stage where they formally open proceedings. Included were Miguel Cotto, James Toney, Antonio Tarver, Michael Spinks, Lou DiBella and Kathy Duva.
DiBella said something he maintained through the weekend: “Our best night is better than anybody else’s, but we need to do more to protect the sport and look after the fighters.”
Tarver was happy to be on hand and added: “I’m just a big fan this weekend, I’m just looking forward to being around the legends and all the G.O.A.Ts [Greatest of All Times].”
Because it’s the first year with a female class, the IBHOF’s executive director Ed Brophy invited Christy Martin and Regina Halmich to ring the opening bell once each.
Then, Spinks was invited to ring it 10 times for the Hall of Famers and boxing dignitaries who had passed since the last induction weekend, including his brother Leon.
It was sombre but respectful, and the widow of Carmen Basilio – a Canastota hero and legend – was remembered as 94-year-old Josie died the previous week.
Main Events boss Kathy Duva, her voice already cracking with emotion, said: “I never expected anything like this. I know they’re putting my plaque next to my late husband’s [Dan’s] and that’s perfect.”
Then, asked whether she would be thinking of one her franchise talents over the weekend, the late Arturo Gatti, she was visibly moved and replied: “There are a lot of memories. I just wish they could all be here.”
On a more uplifting note, Toney was next up with ‘Smitty’.
“Lights Out” paid tribute to the greats he aspired to be like, citing Ezzard Charles, Jersey Joe Walcott, Flash Elorde and Ray Robinson and said he deserved his old school rep because: “I fought the best and didn’t duck nobody.”
Toney is still not one to be messed with. He lamented not getting to fight Nigel Benn, Chris Eubank, Joe Calzaghe and Mike Tyson, and in the next breath was thanking and praising his adoring mother, Sherry, who clapped him from the front row.
During a Q and A with fans, Toney was asked how he managed to adapt to the different weight classes he fought in, from middleweight to heavyweight. “No problem,” he said. “Nobody hit me flush, watch all my fights. No one hit me flush.”
Toney took some time to talk about his breakout win over Michael Nunn and big fights with Merqi Sosa and Mike McCallum.
A heavy British contingent including referee Bob Williams, trainer/promoter Glyn Rhodes, and the evergreen Canastota stalwarts Chas and Kymberly Taylor.
The crowds and the atmosphere ramped up a notch as fighters and boxing personalities poured into boxing’s hometown.
A ringside lecture with 1980s lightweight stalwart Sean O’Grady, now 63, opened matters on Day Two. The colourful Oklahoma former champion spoke brilliantly and wants to return to broadcasting.
He had hoped to face likes of Ray Mancini – whom he referred to as a “bell to bell bomber” – and Sugar Ray Leonard, despite not having a big amateur career and having to learn on the job. In fact, during periods of O’Grady’s career he was boxing as much as twice a week.
“I fought on the Tuesday and Thursday one week,” he smiled. “And my mother said, ‘What are you doing on Saturday?’”
Sean also spoke of the respect he had for former opponents including Hilmer Kenty, who he beat for the title, and Jim Watt.
“Jim was rough and tough, a very tough fighter,” O’Grady went on. “I remember the fight like it was yesterday. Unfortunately! I don’t like that he headbutted me. When you look at the record it doesn’t say anything that he headbutted me, it says that I lost!”
O’Grady was on great form, and so was Roy Jones who replaced him on stage for a Q and A. “True fighters never retire,” Jones said. “We fight to the day we die.”
He admitted that he didn’t respect the cruiserweight title so he jumped over it to face John Ruiz, but he later regretted that decision. That said, he joked that if he’d done that and the bridgerweight division had come about he would have been fighting until he was 100!
Jones was on fire through the weekend, making time for fans and interviews, as was his old rival Tarver, who positively beamed all four days. Interestingly, of all his successes, Jones – who told fans that James Toney was the best he faced – said the pinnacle was coming back down to light-heavyweight and having a dogfight with Tarver having captured the heavyweight title.
“True champions need to be game tested,” Jones said. “I’m proven.”
Current super-welterweight contender Sebastian Fundora also had a ringside lecture, and astonishingly said that despite being 6ft 5 1/2in, that he could get down to welterweight. In fact, one of the unheralded heroes of Canastota is the aforementioned James “Smitty” Smith, who runs the show from the stage all day. That’s a glamourous role, but it is also an exhausting one and his enthusiasm never wavers, nor does his reverence for the fighters, despite four decades in the sport.
Through the afternoon, many of the inductees took part in the traditional fist-casting, so bronze replicas of their fists will be immortalised in the International Boxing Hall of Fame museum. It’s always a hugely-popular part of the weekend.
The ShoBox fights came from the nearby Turning Stone Casino, which is where the inductees and their families stayed. The venue also hosted the Saturday night banquet and the induction ceremony on the Sunday. The latter is usually held in the museum grounds but it was decided the larger and longer-than-normal ceremony, with three classes, would be at the casino.
The annual 5k race kicked off activities and apparently Fundora came third among the scores of runners while back on the grounds, inductee Regina Halmich opened the ringside lectures.
She was asked about women’s fights having three-minute rounds.
“I wanted three-minute rounds,” she replied.
“Twelve rounds?” asked ‘Smitty’. “No problem.”
A fan enquired about her pre-fight nerves, and Halmich replied: “The walk to the ring is like a nightmare. I have a lot of respect for everyone who has done that.”
Halmich now commentates for DAZN in Germany and was an analyst for the Katie Taylor-Amanda Serrano battle.
The editor of The Ring, Dougie Fischer, was up next, talking about the trials and tribulations of navigating the second oldest boxing magazine in the world (behind this one!) to its milestone birthday after it hit 100 earlier this year.
And while Doug was talking, he was joined on stage by Bernard Hopkins and the two gelled well, taking questions and talking boxing.
Hopkins summarised his journey, from the prison to the Hall of Fame, announced that he is working on a documentary – insisting he has creative control of it – and spoke of his reverence for Marvin Hagler. He recalled how how he would sit in his jail cell hoping he would be just like Marvin. More than Bernard could have ever hoped, he managed to achieve that and he spoke of always being in shape, how he stayed ready year-round regardless of whether a fight was on the schedule or not.
“I never went to camp to get ready, I went to camp for peace of mind,” Hopkins, three pounds over his fighting weight at the age of 57, said.
As Hopkins neared the end of his talk, veteran Las Vegas referee Tony Weeks joined him and thanked Hopkins for making him a better official. Tony was referring to the first difficult job of his refereeing career in which he took charge of Hopkins against Antwun Echols in a contest that included a bodyslam, two-point deductions and a dislocated shoulder.
Weeks apparently went to the Philadelphia man’s corner and instructed him: “Fight like a champion.”
And that’s what Hopkins did from then on.
There was also a referee’s panel, with Kenny Bayless, Tony Weeks, Russell Mora, Wes Melton, Jack Reiss, Mark Nelson, Robert Byrd and Benji Esteves, which had a clear theme of a passion for the safety of fighters and it was also good to see the camaraderie between the officials who, in the sport, have a much-maligned role.
Saturday is a split day because the card, memorabilia and autograph show takes place at the High School and is always worth visiting, with old boxing relics, posters, autographed items, magazines and books on sale from dealers and collectors. Philly promoter and previous inductee Russell Peltz was there selling his excellent new book, Thirty Dollars and a Cut Eye.
The banquet at the Turning Stone was a success. Floyd Mayweather arrived late but went up the row of ex-fighters and boxing personalities to greet them all personally and he stole the show with a long speech that went viral online. He teared up before he could even start, and boxing people would have been grateful that – among all of the champions present – he picked out Julian Jackson and Marlon Starling for praise and for inspiring him.
The parade through Canastota is a mainstay of the weekend and fight fans and residents lined the streets to catch a glimpse of their favourite stars.
Then, all eyes went to the Turning Stone for the ceremony, which took almost four hours to complete. There were several hundred in the audience and all of the inductees from the three classes spoke well.
Promoter Lou DiBella said it had been one of the best weeks of his life and Kathy Duva added that the whole experience was the best thing that’s happened to her.
Mayweather thanked Al Haymon, talked about how he “put the heavyweights out of business” and said: “I done a lot in my career but this is by far the best.”
Journalist Bernard Fernandez was unable to attend as he chose to stay home with Annie, his wife of 53 years, who is battling cancer, but there was a nice moment when Joe Santoliquito, president of the Boxing Writers’ Association of America, accepted on his behalf with Bernard’s fellow Philadelphia and namesake Bernard Hopkins. They got Fernandez on the phone so he could hear the cheers he had earned. There was a huge ovation for British pioneer Barbara Buttrick, who spoke of first writing to Boxing News in 1957 and said she was repeatedly questioned on two things.
“What are you trying to prove?”
“What are you fighting for?”
Perhaps Andre Ward made the biggest impact with his speech. He was thrilled to be going in alongside what he called his ‘Big Three’ in Mayweather, Jones and Hopkins.
He said Jones had taught him about the business of boxing, Hopkins had taught him the importance of discipline while Floyd had shown him that boxing was fun but that you needed to remain dedicated.
“My biggest fight was when I was going to retire and how I was going to do it,” Ward remembered. “If I stay gone and never come back I will assure that boxing will never beat me.”
In closing, he talked about critics who had written him off but answered them all saying: “Once you’re on this stage with great men and women like this, the debate is over.”
Mayweather brought a party of around 70 into upstate New York to see him get inducted.
There were so many fighters and boxing people around at various times. Inductees Wladimir Klitshcko – currently involved in the Ukraine war effort in Russia – and Lucia Rijker (unforeseen circumstances), did not attend, although she sent a video message. Klitschko did the same and they were played during the induction ceremony but it did not include the part where he spoke of how disappointed he was with Roy Jones for his friendship with Russian leader Vladimir Putin and for visiting Crimea since the war began.
“One person broke Ukrainian law by going to the occupied peninsula of Crimea through Russian territory,” Klitschko said. “That person is Roy Jones. So Roy, whose side are you on? On the side of the aggressor, or on the side of the defender of its right to live. I respect you as a fighter, but I really question your moral compass.”
Junior Jones, Oscar De La Hoya, Reggie Johnson, Iran Barkley, Ivan Robinson, Antonio Tarver, Freddie Roach, Kevin McBride, Mauricio Sulaiman, Paco Valcarcel, Virgil Hunter, Paulie Malignaggi and many more.
The International Boxing Hall of Fame paid tribute to those who it has lost since the last induction ceremony in 2019. This year’s trilogy induction was the first since the pandemic. Curtis Cokes, Jarvis Astaire, Jose Napoles, Pernell Whitaker and Marvin Hagler were all remembered.
Sadly, this was the first year since Graziano’s, the well-loved boxing pub/bar hangout was levelled and it was much missed. McDonald’s and Dunkin Donuts just aren’t the same. On the barren land where Graziano’s used to be, visitors were invited to park.
The Trilogy – Inductees
Juan Manuel Marquez