THIS weekend was supposed to see one of the main annual boxing gatherings take place in upstate New York. Bernard Hopkins, Juan Manuel Marquez, Shane Mosley, Christy Martin, Lucia Rijker, Lou DiBella, Kathy Duva, the late Dan Goossen and writers Bernard Fernandez and Thomas Hauser were due to be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. But Canastota will remain asleep. The grounds will be closed.
Normally on induction weekend, there’s a buzz from the opening bell on the Thursday until everyone leaves after the ceremony on Sunday afternoon. There’s a glow of camaraderie as fight fans from around the world swap stories and mingle with people they’ve only seen on TV.
I’ve been going since 2000. It’s always a highlight even though old time fans contend it isn’t what it once was. How can you compare going nowadays when at the start the likes of Archie Moore, Johnny Saxton and Willie Pep used to go? But there’s still nothing else like it.
The first time I met a fighter there was when I bumped into Matthew Saad Muhammad looking at the plaques in the museum. Light-heavyweight great Saad was a first-ballot inductee in ’98 and as we chatted promoter Mickey Duff bowled over. They shared a joke about how Matthew bumped off Duff’s contenders, with two wins over John Conteh and victories over Louis Perguad and Lottie Mwale.
There are stories everywhere. One morning, on my first visit, I sat at a table to take it all in. Within moments, Kid Gavilan took a seat next to me. Then Eddie Futch came to say hello to Kid. Then Angelo Dundee came over to speak to Futch. Here was I, a 20-year-old fan, sat with Gavilan, Futch and Dundee as they sheltered from the sun.
Sometimes incidents happen after hours, but even they add to the event’s legend. One story circulated that while in Graziano’s bar across the street an inebriated fan told light-heavyweight legend Bob Foster that Michael Spinks would have beaten him. Bob was a great guy but he didn’t suffer fools. The guy was soon asleep at Foster’s feet.
One of those early days I stopped Jake LaMotta, asking if he’d pose for a photo. This was before selfies and mobiles. ‘Mr LaMotta’ – as I called him – replied, “Don’t want you want to be in it?” He grabbed a passer-by to snap us and proceeded to do something he never did; he smiled in the picture.
Brockton’s former contender, the late Mike Pusateri was a regular and he’d tell stories of his friendship with Rocky Marciano and fights with the likes of Denny Moyer, Terry Downes and Joe DeNucci.
Former heavyweight contender Bert Cooper was there last year and he picked out someone who sat in the crowds unrecognised. He and Eddie Gregg had sparred plenty of times in the past and Eddie was taking it all in.
A highlight was spending time with Joe and Enzo Calzaghe for Joe’s induction in 2014. I flew down to New York on the Saturday afternoon – on a small plane with Mike Tyson – to watch Miguel Cotto-Sergio Martinez at The Garden and flew back the next morning to see the inductions.
Some of the speeches over the years have been enough to make the hardest fight fan cry.
It’s not all positive. I remember being shocked by the poor health of Leon Spinks, and that was two decades ago. Leon is still going but suffering with cancer as well as CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy). In that same year Iran Barkley said he’d only have pictures taken for 10 bucks. Fighters who have lost everything argue the toss over change, even though they are asked to refrain from doing so by organisers.
Next year should be a bumper event with the classes of both 2020 and 2021 being enshrined. Whether it is what it once was or not, there’s nothing else like it for a fight fan.