A look at the 2015 International Boxing Hall of Fame
For one weekend every June, the town of Canastota, NY. becomes the place to be if you are a fight fan. Boxing greats, past and present, make the pilgrimage to upstate New York, the site of the International Boxing Hall of Fame, for its annual induction weekend. It is always a good time to see the faces of the game who have lived to tell their tales. This past weekend, the IBHOF honored some of boxing’s best. The inductees are selected by the Boxing Writers Association of America and a panel of international boxing historians.
This weekend, the Hall recognized heavyweight champion Riddick “Big Daddy” Bowe, lightweight champion Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini, featherweight champion “Prince” Naseem Hamed, light flyweight champion Yoko Gushiken, manager Rafael Mendoza, referee Steve Smoger, journalist Nigel Collins and broadcaster Jim Lampley. Posthumous honorees include Japanese flyweight Masao Ohba, Illinois middleweight Ken Overlin and publicist John Condon of New York City.
While all the inductees are worthy of a detailed review for their contributions to the game, let’s take a brief look at this year’s class.
One of 14 children, Riddick Bowe survived a childhood of poverty in Brownsville, New York to go on to win the world heavyweight title. The 6-foot-five slugger won his first 31 fights, 27 by knockout. He beat champion Evander Holyfield to win the heavyweight title (in his first of three memorable bouts with Holyfield). He fully retired in 2008 with a record of 43-1 (33).
Ray Mancini, oft-described as the “Pride of Youngstown, Ohio”, followed his father, Lenny into boxing and turned pro in 1979. In 1982, Mancini scored a first round stoppage of Arturo Frias to win the WBA lightweight title. He successfully defended the title four times before losing to Livingstone Bramble. Though his career was brief, the popular Mancini had a profound impact on the sport. In Nov. 1982, he defended his title against 23-year-old Duk-Koo Kim of South Korea at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas in a bout televised live on CBS. Mancini scored a knockout in the 14th round but Kim suffered brain injuries that led to his death four days later. The WBA immediately shortened its title fights to 12 rounds and by 1990 all sanctioning organizations had followed suit. But the impetus of Kim’s death, witnessed by a large TV audience, had a negative impact on the sport’s popularity and sadly overshadowed much of what Mancini had accomplished in a great career. Gutsy and all-action, Mancini officially retired in 1992 with a pro record of 29-5 (23).
England’s Naseem Hamed turned pro in 1992 and, over the following 10 years, he went on to capture major titles at featherweight, making an impressive string of 15 successful title defenses before retiring in 2002 with a pro record of 36-1 (31). Like him or not for his outlandish ring entrances and brash persona, there is no denying his world-class accomplishments.
Tokyo-born Masao Ohba turned pro in 1966 and compiled a 25-2-1 record before winning the WBA flyweight championship in 1970. He made five successful title defenses over the next two years and three months. His last fight was a successful title defense over Thailand’s Chartchai Chionoi by knockout in Jan. 1973. Sadly, three weeks later, he died from injuries suffered in an automobile accident at 23 years of age. Ohba finished with a pro record of 35-2-1 (16).
Ken Overlin, who learned to box in the Navy, turned pro in 1931. He retired 13 years later with an incredible record of 135-19-9 (23) in an outstanding 165-fight career. Overlin passed away in 1969 in Reno, Nev.
John F.X. Condon, primarily known as the voice of the New York Knicks basketball team for 42 seasons, also branched out into boxing. At different times, he was the Publicity Director, Vice President and President of Madison Square Garden Boxing. For a time, too, he served as the matchmaker and the blow-by-blow commentator for fights televised over the MSG cable-television network. He died in 1989 at the age of 75.
Rafael Mendoza was one of boxing’s most respected managers and booking agents. He advised 26 world champions, including Hall-of-Famers Alexis Arguello and Pipino Cuevas, among many others. Originally a journalist who began writing at age 20 and spent almost a decade in sports reporting before moving into boxing as a manager and agent, becoming one of the most respected in boxing the world over.
Referee Steve Smoger started in boxing in the early-1970s as a timekeeper, judge and referee for the Police Athletic League before he began his career as a professional referee in 1984 in New Jersey. Over three decades in the sport, as one of the game’s most notable third men in the ring, Steve has refereed nearly 200 title bouts.
Nigel Collins immigrated to the United States from his native England, boxed in the U.S. Army, and eventually managed fighters before turning his attention full-time to writing. He began his professional career in 1973 as a correspondent for THE RING magazine and also served as editor of Boxing Illustrated and Managing Editor and Editor-in-Chief of THE RING. In 40-plus years in the game, he is one of boxing’s most recognized and respected writers.
Jim Lampley served as blow-by-blow announcer for over 40 boxing matches on ABC’s “Wide World of Sports” and has been calling boxing for HBO since March 1988. Fight fans know him from “HBO World Championship Boxing,” “HBO Pay-Per-View” and “Boxing After Dark.” He has also covered 14 Olympic Games for television. One of the most recognized faces commentating from ringside for some of the biggest boxing matches over the past 25 years.
To each deserving inductee into the 2015 International Boxing Hall of Fame, Congratulations!
* Nicholas “Axe Man” Walters UD 12 over WBA No. 7 Miguel Marriaga on Saturday night at the Madison Square Garden Theater in New York City. The WBA featherweight title was only up for grabs for Marriaga as former champion Walters couldn’t make weight, so the title remains vacant. Also on the card, undefeated Puerto Rican lightweight star Felix “El Diamante” Verdejo scored a one-sided 10 round unanimous decision over previously unbeaten Ivan “Bam Bam” Najera.
* Former world middleweight champion Sergio Martinez officially announced his retirement this weekend at the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Promoter Lou DiBella on the announcement: “Sergio Martinez was an extraordinary athlete and boxer. I have valued his loyalty and his personal excellence. It was an honor to have been his promoter.”
* WBC heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder KO 9 WBC No. 7 Eric Molina on Saturday night at Bartow Arena in Birmingham, Ala. Also, on the undercard, unbeaten, IBF No. 1-rated Jose “Sniper” Pedraza UD 12 over IBF No. 6 Andrey Klimov to claim the vacant IBF junior lightweight title.
* WBA “regular” junior middleweight titlist Erislandy Lara UD 12 Delvin Rodriguez on Friday night in Chicago. After the fight, Lara called out Floyd Mayweather Jr., Canelo Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin at 160-pounds. Undeniably, an outstanding talent, Lara needs to up the excitement factor if he hopes to land the big payday against one of the elite pay-per-view players. Right now, he is seen as high-risk/low-excitement by promoters. I’m a fan and appreciate his in-ring mastery but to reach the big audience, it isn’t always enough to be good. You also have to be exciting. Lara needs to add a little sizzle to his steak!
* Oscar-winning producer Robert Chartoff, the man behind the hit boxing films “Rocky” and “Raging Bull,” died on Wednesday in California at the age of 81. Chartoff shared an Oscar for Best Picture with his partner Irwin Winkler for the 1976 film “Rocky,” which was written by and starred Sylvester Stallone. He was nominated for another Oscar in 1981 for producing Martin Scorsese’s biopic of boxer Jake LaMotta, “Raging Bull,” which starred Robert DeNiro.
* Three-time, two-division world champion Randall “KO King” Bailey returns to the ring June 20 after a one-and-a-half-year absence. “I couldn’t get the top junior welterweights to fight me,” Bailey said. “I’m not afraid to move up to junior middleweight, where I hope to fight Canelo or Lara.