By Lee Groves
Just after noon on October 5, I walked down the steep driveway to my mailbox, opened the door and pulled out the day’s contents. One large white envelope immediately caught my eye and its markings enabled me to instantly identify its source, the International Boxing Hall of Fame, and its contents, the ballot to choose its Class of 2018.
Even though I’ve been an elector since 2001, I have never grown jaded or weary about executing this task. That’s because I, along with 200 or so others, get the privilege of determining which members of the boxing community receive the sport’s highest honor and, to me, that privilege carries a profound seriousness, as well as a deep desire to “get it right.” Another reason I look forward to the process is that, in recent years, I have made it my business to predict which names would appear on the ballot for the first time and whether those names would be instantly immortalized. While my record is nowhere near pristine, it’s good enough to qualify me as an authority of sorts. I began playing this game in the early 2000s when I correctly predicted that, in a few years’ time, the Class of 2007 would consist of Roberto Duran, Pernell Whitaker and Ricardo Lopez. Since then, I’ve had years in which I’ve gone three-for-three (2011, 2014, 2015, 2017), while, in others, I’ve correctly guessed only one honoree (2008 with Larry Holmes, 2016 with Hector Camacho Sr.) No matter; I derive most of my fun from the guessing and if I happen to guess correctly, all the better.
The Class of 2017 – Moderns Evander Holyfield, Marco Antonio Barrera and Johnny Tapia, “New Era” Old-Timer Eddie Booker, Non-Participants Jimmy Lennon Sr., Jerry Roth and Johnny Lewis and Observers Steve Farhood and Barry Tompkins – was among the strongest top-to-bottom classes ever elected and I believe the next decade may produce similarly formidable lineups. Last December and January, I wrote two articles detailing potential names for the Class of 2018 ballot, and in those pieces, I identified six fighters who could make the ballot in their first year of eligibility – Vitali Klitschko, Erik Morales, Ronald “Winky” Wright, Ricky Hatton, Ivan Calderon and Rosendo Alvarez – as well as other notables I hoped would make the ballot such as broadcaster Tim Ryan, promoter Lorraine Chargin, trainers Freddie Brown, Jimmy Montoya, Miguel Diaz and Al Gavin, ring announcer Chuck Hull, renowned trainer/hand-wrapper Rafael Garcia, broadcaster/administrator Randy Gordon, broadcaster/”In This Corner” host James “Smitty” Smith and CompuBox President Bob Canobbio.
Last month, I addressed the tidal wave of retirements involving high-profile fighters and how that may affect future IBHOF ballots, as well as suggested several tweaks to the voting protocol. Upon viewing this year’s ballot, I was pleasantly surprised to see, perhaps coincidentally, that one of the suggestions came to pass – expanding the number of names appearing on the Modern ballot from 30 to 32. That allowed five new names to appear on this year’s ballot instead of the usual three – Klitschko, Morales, Calderon, Wright and Hatton. While I went five-for-five in terms of the new names selected, my batting average on the other three ballots was far lower. Happily, however, Lorraine Chargin was added to the Non-Participant ballot.
Other new names in the various categories include Non-Participants Johnny Addie (ring announcer) and Guy Jutras (referee/judge), “Early Era Old-Timer” Bushy Graham and Observers Jim Gray (broadcaster) and Eddie Muller (columnist).
With only five maximum checkmarks allowed for the Moderns, my process wasn’t about for whom to vote but whom to leave out. The first three checkmarks were easy to affix – Klitschko, Morales and Dariusz Michalczewski – because all boasted superior talent, high achievement and definitive long-term success, three vital factors when I consider a candidate’s worth.
Klitschko assembled one of the greatest comebacks in history by regaining the WBC title at age 37, in his first fight back from a nearly four-year layoff (a dominant eighth-round corner retirement over Samuel Peter) and notching nine successful defenses – six by knockout – during a reign that lasted almost four years before voluntarily giving up the belt, as he had the first time around. Meanwhile, Morales is one of the very best champions boxing-rich Mexico has ever produced, as he won belts in four weight classes and defeated 13 fellow titlists, including two-time conquerors Manny Pacquiao and Marco Antonio Barrera as well as Daniel Zaragoza, Wayne McCullough, Junior Jones, Kevin Kelley, In-Jin Chi, Guty Espadas Jr. (twice), Jesus Chavez and Carlos Hernandez. Lastly, Michalczewski holds the light heavyweight record for most title defenses (23 as WBO champ) and title tenure (nine years, one month) and, by virtue over his dominant victory over future Hall-of-Famer and then-IBF/WBA titlist Virgil Hill, was the “man who beat the man,” when he and Roy Jones Jr. reigned simultaneously, beating several of the same fighters, while doing so. “The Tiger” ran his record to 48-0 before losing a split decision to Julio Cesar Gonzalez in his penultimate fight.
With just two checks remaining in the quiver, I was forced to carefully sift through the other viable contenders, which I narrowed to six: New entrants Calderon, Hatton and Wright and perennials Gilberto Roman, Wilfredo Vazquez Sr. and Henry Maske, all of whom I voted for, since the new ballot protocols were adopted. There are, of course, about a dozen other names for whom I’d like to vote but if I go above the maximum of five, my ballot will be invalidated.
I looked over each man’s record on Boxrec.com and made notes concerning the pros and cons of each, and, by the end of the process I voted for Calderon and Wright, while leaving out Hatton, Roman, Vazquez Sr. and Maske, all of whom I would have voted for under the old 10-vote maximum. So why did “Iron Boy” and “Winky” make the grade?
Calderon got my checkmark because (1), during his prime, he was considered the best defensive fighter of his time; (2) he held a world title almost continuously for more than seven years (the WBO minimumweight belt from May 2003 to April 2007 and the WBO light flyweight strap from August 2007 to August 2010), an especially difficult feat for those campaigning in the extreme low weight classes because such fighters age more quickly and (3) he accumulated 11 defenses at 105 and six more at 108, while beating nine men who had held a title at some point of their careers: Eduardo Ray Marquez, Alex Sanchez, Edgar Cardenas, Roberto Leyva, Daniel Reyes, Isaac Bustos, Hugo Cazares (twice), Nelson Dieppa and Rodel Mayol. Finally, while commentators criticized his constant movement, his lack of power and the sameness of each round, Calderon was the ultimate ring general, who banked round after round on the scorecards. One look at his score lines, especially between 2003-’07, illustrates the degree of his strategic command. Finally, because he didn’t have fight-ending power in either hand, Calderon had to depend on his array of skills to build up insurmountable mathematical leads and keep his aggressive opponents at bay. Calderon’s skills were such that he occasionally executed them with a showman’s flair; more than once his duck-under moves ignited shouts of “Ole!” I’ve always had a soft spot for fighters who succeeded without the safety net of one-punch power such as Willie Pep, Nicolino Locche and Hilario Zapata, and that soft spot – along with everything else described above – moved me to invest the fourth check.
To me, the meat of “Winky’s” successful candidacy was his blue-chip back-to-back-to-back victories over Shane Mosley (twice) and Felix Trinidad. The first win over “Sugar Shane” occurred in a rare three-belt unification match at 154, in which Mosley was a 5-to-2 favorite and was in line to make a $10 million purse against Trinidad, had he won. Instead, Wright used his ramrod right jab and timely counter lefts to build a huge lead, then went toe-to-toe with Mosley, when he launched a desperate 12th round rally. The rematch was much more competitive but two of the judges were more impressed by Wright’s more frequent connects (273 to 154, including a 138-46 bulge in landed jabs) while the third judge, who scored it even, gave a bit more weight to Mosley’s heavier blows.
Despite the twin victories over Mosley, Wright was again the 8-to-5 underdog to Trinidad, who was fighting for the second time following a nearly 29-month layoff but was coming off a sensational eighth round TKO over Ricardo Mayorga. Wright said before the fight that he would make victory look easy and, to the astonishment of virtually everyone, made good on his promise as his vaunted jab repeatedly thudded into Trinidad’s face while “Tito’s” legendary left hook was left in mothballs. Like Bernard Hopkins three fights earlier, Wright thoroughly dominated and frustrated the Puerto Rican legend en route to completing his career-defining trifecta.
But while those three fights alone may vault Wright into Canastota, other aspects of his career helped his cause. He twice reigned at 154, notching three WBO defenses before being dethroned by a majority decision to Harry Simon and posting five more during his IBF tenure before moving up to fight Trinidad in a 160-pound title eliminator. Other notable victims include title winners Bronco McKart (three times), Keith Mullings, Sam Soliman and Ike Quartey and, although he lost a majority decision to a weight-weakened Fernando Vargas, many say Wright did enough to win. The same could be said about his draw against then world middleweight champion Jermain Taylor, two fights after conquering Trinidad. In fact, one could opine that the only man who definitively defeated Wright during his best years was Julio Cesar Vazquez, who scored five official knockdowns en route to a unanimous decision victory to retain his WBA super welterweight belt, in Wright’s first shot at a major belt. It wasn’t until exactly 12 years and 11 months later against Bernard Hopkins that Wright was similarly vanquished. Wright was an elite talent with an excellent record, an equation I believe should equal enshrinement.
I am but one voter, however, and unless the choices are patently obvious, predicting the outcome of the Modern voting is tricky. The reason: Although the voting criteria is included with the ballot, in practice, each elector has his own set of priorities. Some, like myself, prioritize talent, accomplishment and time spent near the top, while others place more weight on the candidate’s “fame,” especially if that candidate is either charismatic, likable, geographically meaningful or featured often on TV in action-packed contests that transcend, whether that fighter won or lost them. With that in mind, I believe the IBHOF’s Modern Class of 2018 will consist of – barring ties –Vitali Klitschko, Erik Morales and Ricky Hatton.
As for how I voted in the other categories, there were a lot of “repeat” checkmarks because the people I chose were not inducted. Such was the case for my entire slate of “Early Era” Old Timers – Leach Cross, Frank Erne, Tod Morgan, “Harlem” Tommy Murphy and Thomas “Pedlar” Palmer – and for three of the five Non-Participants: Trainer Dai Dollings and promoters Klaus-Peter Kohl and Bill Mordey. The other two Non-Participant checks went to Addie and Chargin (the detail person in her decades-long partnership with husband Don, who was inducted in 2001). While I eagerly checked Chargin’s name, I hesitated about doing the same for Addie because of his profound inability to read divided scorecards in the proper order. In the Observers race, I voted for three repeats – writer Mario Rivera and broadcasters Steve Albert and Antonio Andere – while also choosing writer/broadcaster/referee/judge Ray Mitchell and “Joe Palooka” creator Ham Fisher.
My predictions for these categories? Tod Morgan for the “Early Era” Old-Timers, Addie, Chargin and Kohl for the Non-Participants and, for the Observers, Mitchell and Albert (though Jim Gray might also get the nod). How confident am I in my choices? I believe Addie and Chargin are locks but I’m not so certain about the others.
In terms of time spent, this year’s voting process was considerably shorter than in past years. One particularly arduous session lasted 11 hours but, here, I spent around two. Because I finished an hour before my local post office closed for the day, I signed my ballots, made copies for my records and placed them inside the stamped envelope kindly provided by the IBHOF. Ten minutes later, when I handed the envelope to the postmaster, my voting process officially ended.
Sometime during the first full week of December, the world will know who will make up the IBHOF Class of 2018. No matter what names are named, I do hope that I will be able to make my 26th consecutive trip to Induction Weekend in Canastota, New York, my home away from home.
Lee Groves is a boxing writer and historian based in Friendly, West Virginia. He is a full member of the BWAA, from which he has won 15 writing awards, including 12 in the last seven years and two first-place awards since 2011. He has been an elector for the International Boxing Hall of Fame since 2001 and is also a writer, researcher and punch-counter for CompuBox, Inc. He is the author of “Tales from the Vault: A Celebration of 100 Boxing Closet Classics (available on Amazon)” and the co-author of the upcoming book “Muhammad Ali: By the Numbers.” To contact Groves, use the email email@example.com.
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On the cover this month: Mikey Garcia
Source:: The Ring – Boxing