The Pugil List: The 10 least deserving Hall of Fame inductees
Last week, the International Boxing Hall of Fame presented its class of 2018, immortalizing Erik Morales, Vitali Klitschko and Ronald “Winky” Wright with induction. The yearly announcement is accompanied by hand-wringing over which boxer was snubbed by the selection committee. My concern is not with whom has been left out (now that non-American and particularly Asian boxers are more adequately evaluated) but the growing list of questionable boxers voted in. Not unexpectedly, every boxing fan and website has come out with a list of boxers whom should be in the Hall of Fame. That is an easy enough assignment but thinking outside the box is encouraged at UCNLive.com. Instead of following the herd, I made a list of fighters whom entered our hallowed Hall, despite rather ordinary records and achievements.
This is a critique, not a condemnation, of the International Boxing Hall of Fame, which is an invaluable part of boxing’s historical database I admire. The IBHOF does a fine job in general, even though there are some hard-to-excuse omissions. Boxers whom the voting members have seen on American television seem to get preferential treatment, based on familiarity. Failing to evaluate accomplishments over popularity is a critical area in which the IBHOF can be legitimately criticized. This is not written to slight the men on the list either. They only suffer compared to legendary boxers already enshrined, and a few whom have been overlooked for a plaque in Canastota, New York. The list is limited to fighters in the “Modern” category, since it accounts for the majority of controversy and discussion.
Curtis Cokes – The Texas native might be best known to many fans as a trainer, guiding Ike Ibeabuchi, Quincy Taylor and Kirk Johnson to, or near, title shots. A title reign less than three years, at welterweight, speaks in Cokes’ favor but his defenses came against ordinary Jean Josselin, Francois Pavilla, Charlie Shipes, Willie Ludick and Ramon La Cruz. He was beaten by Gypsy Joe Harris during his reign in a non-title bout too. Cokes also never defeated a champion to win the title, having beaten Manuel Gonzalez for the throne vacated by Emile Griffith. A scan of Cokes’ resume shows his career-best victory was a kayo of Luis Rodriguez but he also lost to Rodriguez once. Defeated a host of contenders but so did others in a era in which top-flight fighters engaged each other. Cokes never had a winning streak that stretched past 11 bouts.
Arturo Gatti – I will get the most pushback on this selection but hear me out. I loved watching Arturo Gatti and rooted for him as a fan. However, his induction is clearly a case of popularity over substance. If the IBHOF were the home of the world’s most exciting fighters Gatti would be first-ballot – but it is not. Gatti was never the best fighter in his weight class and only made three title defenses at junior lightweight and two at junior welterweight. For the first seven years of his career, he fought one boxer who had not lost at least once in his previous five bouts and Gatti lost that fight to Angel Manfredy. Was blown out by the two Hall of Fame-caliber boxers he faced and more than half of his losses were via stoppage. Who is the best boxer Arturo Gatti defeated? Tracy Harris Patterson (twice)? Leo Dorin? The faded Jesse James Leija or mentally shot Gabe Ruelas? Maybe the ridiculously outweighed Joey Gamache? Fellow warrior Micky Ward? All are fine fighters but there are other boxers who have triumphed over better opposition.
Billy Graham – Hard to argue against someone with over 100 professional wins and who sported an iron chin that did not allow him to touch the canvas. Graham never held a world title and his most notable victory was roundly criticized as a bad decision. That win came over Kid Gavilan and avenged three times over by Gavilan. There were memorable duels with Carmen Basilio and Joey Giardello but Graham lost more than he won against the best of his era. Graham was very good and gutsy but did not have the punch to take him to the top in a deep division, at welterweight. Many of his fights came from 1941 to 1945 (59), when the best competition was serving overseas in World War II. After the war ended, Graham only went undefeated in one calendar year.
Ingemar Johansson – Held the world heavyweight title for just under one calendar year and was a fine amateur, winning the Olympic silver medal for Sweden in the 1952 Olympics. One heck of a puncher and a notable run of wins from 1958 to 1959 put Johansson in the title picture. Once he took the title from Floyd Patterson, Johansson never made a title defense and lost two subsequent fights to Patterson via KO. The only other names, who Johansson defeated, that Americans would recognize are Eddie Machen and Henry Cooper. Usually enjoyed the home ring advantage, except in his first win over Patterson and two subsequent losses. Yes, Johansson only lost to one man but also only competed in just 28 fights in 11 years, which is not many by the standards of the day or even in our weakened era.
Barry McGuigan – I loved watching Barry fight and, as my last name indicates, I rooted for my Irish cousin. Yet McGuigan’s induction is a case of popularity over substance. He is a poster boy for all that is good about boxing. This blinded electors, whom only remembered the good, ignoring that McGuigan walked the same career path as 90% of the champs in the 1980s. Should one win over an aging Hall-of-Famer (Eusebio Pedroza) and two good title defenses ensure induction to a Hall of immortality? McGuigan never bounced back from a upset loss to Steve Cruz, taking two years off before going 3-1 in a comeback. Granted, McGuigan suffered under horrible managerial problems but so have other fighters. All this does not make him a Hall of Fame boxer. It makes him the American Ray Mancini, who just missed out on making this list.
Ken Norton – It is too harsh to call Norton a one-trick pony, as he is validated by giving legendary Muhammad Ali fits with his style. Norton did the same to Larry Holmes but, when faced with a slugger like George Foreman or Earnie Shavers, Norton had his own difficulties. Never out of shape and always mentally prepared for fights, Norton was sure to extract his pound of flesh. Will always be tied to Muhammad Ali and probably should have been awarded two of the three fights via decision (some insist all three), instead of one. Is that win enough to merit Hall of Fame induction? Heavyweights are overvalued by the public, in general, and THE RING Magazine voted Norton the 22nd best heavyweight of all-time. Should the 22nd best fighter from any weight class make the Hall? Iran Barkley beat Tommy Hearns twice (via KO once) and he is not in the Hall of Fame.
Bobo Olson – A tough-as-nails fan favorite, who was THE RING Magazine “Boxer of the Year” for 1953. Olson was only three wins shy of registering 100 victories and a threat to any world champion from 1953 to 1955. On the negative side, Olson’s best win was against a blown-up welterweight, Kid Gavilan, and, in that bout, Olson was pushed hard, winning a majority decision. May have never become a champion if Sugar Ray Robinson (who beat Olson four times) did not retire, leaving the door open for Olson to beat a rugged but limited Randy Turpin. Olson had to weaken himself to make the 160-pound middleweight limit, since he was not large enough to bang with 175-pound light heavyweights. Would have been a fantastic super middleweight, had the division existed in the 1950s. No one who fought Olson got out of the ring unscathed but the elite registered wins over him.
Carlos Palomino – It took a once-in-a-lifetime young phenom like Wilfred Benitez, via split decision in Benitez’s hometown, to dethrone the determined Palomino. I give Palomino a lot of credit for traveling to champions’ or challengers’ backyards to engage in title fights. He prevented a pretty darn talented Armando Muniz from winning a world title, as well. However like Barry McGuigan, he never recovered after losing his title, losing a lopsided decision to Roberto Duran before retiring. Made a horrible decision staging a comeback 17 years later (yes, 17) but that is not a major factor in my decision. Suffered a loss and three draws (without rematching any) before his title shot. Ripped the title from an ordinary champion, John H. Stracey, and none of his title defenses seem of Hall of Fame standards. Palomino did everything well but never possessed that one extraordinary skill to put him over the top against the best.
Willie Pastrano – A spurious association with the young Muhammad Ali, widely reported to admire and tried to emulate Pastrano’s style, after numerous sparring sessions, is what Pastrano is most remembered for. If you doubt that, tell me who Pastrano defeated to win his title without using BoxRec. That is because Pastrano was an average champion, during a comparatively weak era, at light heavyweight, dethroned by a Jose Torres, who was a final cut for this list. Pastrano competed from welterweight to heavyweight and his best performance may have been a 10-round draw with Archie Moore. Did defeat a very good Harold Johnson (by one point between two cards) to win the light heavyweight championship, then made defenses against pedestrian Gregorio Peralta and Terry Downes. It would not be a stretch to say there are a hundred titleholders, from multiple eras, with similar statistics. This shows the incredible power, just by association, which Ali holds over boxing.
Randy Turpin – The effort Turpin put forth, to bully the middleweight title from legendary Sugar Ray Robinson, is still one of England’s most historical sporting highlights. Turpin won many amateur accolades, and every title available to him from Country, Commonwealth, Europe, and up to the world version. His life was turbulent, inconsistent, melancholic and ended with a tragic suicide. The enigmatic Turpin was known as a hard puncher but life hit Turpin harder than anything he dished out upon thunderstruck opponents. A case cannot even be made for Turpin being a great middleweight; he was a good middleweight, whose flashes of brilliance hinted at what he could have been, if properly focused. All but three of Turpin’s eight losses were via KO. His inability to defeat Bobo Olson and a one-round destruction at the hands of Tiberio Mitri hurt Turpin’s standing.