The Hall call came, and Boston-area scribe Ron Borges reacted quickly after being happily stunned. Exactly what was the ex newspaperman (Boston Globe, Boston Herald) thinking about being part of a solid class, which is topped by three kings of a sort, James Toney, Miguel Cotto and the majestic Roy Jones Jr?
“Wow,” the dual sport threat says. “This is really exciting. I can’t believe it. Usually I’m not at a loss for words but I am now. It really means everything to me. Boxing has been my favorite sport since I was six watching the Gillette Cavalcade of Sports. I was honored to have spent nearly 50 years writing about the great fighters, trainers and promoters of the sport and to now be on the Hall of Fame wall is such a great honor that I can’t even tell you how much it means to me.”
That quote came from a release sent out by Ed Brophy, the Hall show runner who told me that there darn sure will be enough hotel rooms to satisfy the legions who will be trekking to a place where more people can tell you who Carmen Basilio is than in any other place on the planet.
I remember talking to him when the 2020 event got put off, and then again when it struck him that COVID would be impacting another Hall session. “But we kept on, we have a lot of great volunteers, and it’s going to be so special,” Brophy says of the mega session running June 9-12, 2022. The assembly of talent is going to be ridiculous, because the 2020 and then the 2021 annual were both postponed, because of COVID concerns.
Regina Halmich and Holly Holm for the record, are to be lauded in the women’s Modern category, while publicist Bill Caplan in the Non-Participant category and executive Bob Yalen in the Observer category will soak in cheers alongside Borges. I’m guessing Borges will give a solid speech, we can expect a mix which mirrors his writing style: facts and opinion meshing nicely, with a couple snippets of truth dispensed which signal a penchant for critical thinking and a willingness/compulsion to not shy away from penning a hard truth. We’ll guess that New England Patriots coach Bill Belichik won’t be coming to Canastota to applaud the guy who covered the FB beat propelled by a mission plan which didn’t include softening the message in the name of pursuing popularity.
I’m also thinking that 53 year old James Toney’s speech will maybe win for Most Spicy. The Michigan native last fought in 2017, but got blocked from entry, despite being regarded across the board as a wildly skilled practitioner of the art and science of boxing. “Yeah baby! I made it,” Toney (77-10-3 mark; won crowns at middleweight, super middle, and cruiserweight) responded when told of the honor. “This is so great. I’ve been waiting for this call and I’m so happy, I can’t believe it. I’m almost tearing up. It’s a blessing and I’m looking forward to coming to Canastota as an inductee!”
The former USA Today and ESPN fight writer Dan Rafael had opposed Toney’s entry, citing a PED misstep, but it seems voters banded together with a pragmatic POV this time around. We can assume that more than a scattered handful of those funneled into the Hall in the last 25 years had looked to gain an edge on a foe via verboten supplements. Ring wizard Jones Jr (66-9 record water debuting pro in 1989), who won titles at 160, 168, 175 and heavyweight, tested PED positive in 2000, following a clash against Richard Hall, for the record. Jones, too, would have gotten into this hallowed club earlier, but in his case the delay came about because his desire to keep on gloving up. Jones’ last foray came in 2018, versus Scott Simon. His 2020 meet-up with Mike Tyson didn’t postpone his entrance, because that was an exhibition.
Cotto, the consistent campaigner from Puerto Rico, read that writing on the when in 2017 he tussled with Sadam Ali and dropped a UD12. Now on the promotional side, Cotto won crowns at 140, 147, 154 and 160, and he proved to be a consistent fan fave and revenue generator. “After many years in boxing, I’m so proud of what we have done in the sport,” the 41 year old with a 41-6 mark stated. “Above all I was the head of my family and what made me proud as a father was to provide for my family and thanks to boxing I did it in the best way possible. It is amazing, but you have to be humble and carry yourself in the best way possible and work hard every day to reach your goals in life. I look forward to being in Canastota next June.”
It will be crowded, in a good way, and responsible way, as the 2020 crew will need to be granted entry. Bernard Hopkins, Juan Manuel Marquez and “Sugar” Shane Mosley in the men’s Modern category, Barbara Buttrick in the women’s trailblazer category and “The Coal Miner’s Daughter” Christy Martin and “The Dutch Destroyer” Lucia Rijker in the women’s Modern category.
The 2021 class will also be in the mix.
Wladimir Klitschko, Floyd Mayweather and Andre Ward made it in the men’s Modern category, Laila Ali and Ann Wolfe in the women’s Modern category, Marian Trimiar in the women’s Trailblazer category and Dr. Margaret Goodman in the Non-Participant category, with late journalist George Kimball, like Borges a New England fixture, and television executive Jay Larkin gaining entry in the Observer category.
And back to Borges, I reached him on the phone to congratulate him. I prodded him, after he busted my chops about how I rarely use the phone, to please tell me how much it means to him.
“It’s really sort of the crowning moment of my professional life,” the 73 year old Mass. man shares. He gave me the quickie summation of his newspapering life, getting some work at The Grapevine in Martha’s Vineyard, before transplanting to California with nothing much more than a desire to keep on working, and learning. He gave text to a weekly, the Sacramento Observer, then to the daily Sacramento Union, where a more than fair wordsmith named Mark Twain had landed. “That’s where I covered my first real fights as a journalist,” Borges says, recalling how he learned the ropes from promoter Don Chargin and Babe Griffin as they carved out turf. All these characters pulling off scams and schemes, pursuing unlikely dreams, sometimes hitting a jackpot, more often not…Borges appreciated the in-the-ring action plenty but the ability to soak up these stories and drill down and look hard at the human experience in this red light district of sports entertainment had him hooked with no possibility of a vocational switch.
We talked about how it’s different, how press boxes are shrinking to nothing, but mostly spoke of what kept Borges in the milieu. Guys like Sid Tenner were right out of a movie. Promoter Sid had his cigar box, with tickets and cash intermingled, and he made sure all were accounted for. But he’d be more personable when he’d come into the newspaper office and tell Borges who Pete Ranzany was gonna fight next. (Click here to read a story by Bob Mladinich on the 59-8-2 welter Ranzany.)
“It was usually a lie,” Borges says, chuckling, “appropriate for this sport.”
He fondly recalls one of his best lines, from the middle 70s or so, when Tenner bragged about the caliber of a foe he was lining up for Pete, and Borges punctured all his balloons with the line, “How’d you get the tag off his toe?”
This has been a love affair, and, OK, like some of them, the passage of time can inspire some compare and contrast sessions which make the present seem like a middling facsimile for the version enjoyed back in the day. On this day, though, it’s easier to indulge in trekking down memory lane in an appreciative manner. “It just swept me up, everything we love about the sport, all the stories,” Borges says. “In the gym all the time, learning from trainers you never heard of.”
He walked me through some greatest hit memories, of meeting Tommy Hearns and Emanuel Steward in the back of a humble venue. “You better get this kid something to eat,” Borges cracked, having a hard time believing Steward’s description of this human picket fence post as a fistic assassin. He quickly learned to not be quick to judge the book by the cover when Steward offered his cents/sense.
Football also became his thing, he covered the Oakland Raiders plus boxing, doing a stop in Baltimore before touching down at the Boston Globe in ’83. He got some bylines behind Steve Marantz (look what I found, a Q n A I did for Marantz when my 14 1/2 year old daughter was two.)
Yeah, I told Borges I remember when Marantz left sports to cover news, for Metro, and that had me puzzled even then. Why would anyone LEAVE sports??
Borges enjoyed the back and forth with the fighters, the Ray Leonards and of course Marvin Hagler….
…but the gems from the trainers, Eddie Futch, Steward, Joey Fariello, Gil Clancy, Angie Dundee…
Borges: “I took the time to listen and they took the time to teach. I never lost that love of the mystery of the moment just before the bell. I tell people the worst fighter they’ve ever seen is one of the most courageous people they have ever seen, there in their underwear, under bright lights, being assaulted by someone else in front of a crowd more than willing to laugh at you. I’ve been fascinated by great fighters, and their ability to control their mind and emotions under duress.”
I told Borges it felt sad being at that venue last Thursday, when about seven media members covered the card, and how much it stung to know that our thing is swirling down the drain. I didn’t want to do this, didn’t want to bring the mood down at all, but I failed. I told him about the young gun publicist who told me they wouldn’t take applications for credentials after deadline anymore, and after 25 years covering the sport, I tried but failed in seeking to maintain a cool reserve when the employee for the big league promoter offered to put me on a waiting list. Basically, they really don’t care if we writers come, because they can put out the news regarding their product with their spin, and there aren’t enough people who give a shit. “It was different,” Borges continues, “you were more directly connected, in rooms with guys before after the fight, you knew them, and they knew you.”
Borges tells me about another memory that makes him chuckle, how he did a story on Marvin’s half bro Robbie Sims, who was trained and looked after by Goody and Pat Petronelli, same as Marvin. The interview with Robbie wasn’t scintillating, but things perked up after the chat ended, and Robbie started yapping with the brothers Petronelli.
“What’s so funny,” asked the reporter.
So the punch line got shared.
The trainers loved to think back on Robbie’s first fight, and how his movement was more erratic than in training. “He was almost tripping and falling,” Pat said. “But he still wasn’t getting hit…Anyway, the ref yells out, ‘Look down, he’s wearing two left shoes!’ And Woodsy, this is the sport of two left shoes…but also of tremendous character and courage, we saw it a week ago in the George Kambosos-Teofimo Lopez fight. They both had ample time to check out, but they didn’t.”
Then my mind travels back to Friday, Sept. 20, 1996. A card at the Bayside Expo Center had finished. I hadn’t thought about it for awhile, but the mention of Robbie Sims prompted a drift-back sesh.
Robbie thought he got it out of his system in 1993, off a points loss to Vinnie Pazienza. But a couple years passed, and the almost 36 year old lefty wanted one final try.
He headlined at the Expo, on a card promoted by “Expo Boxing.” That was their first and last promotion, and the clash versus Jose Burgos, then going by “Burt” Burgos, stands as the last bout of Robbies’ 16 years as a pugilist. He didn’t have it, he tried, and it worked out, because he realized that was the last chapter.
Sims didn’t want to chat with a reporter as he got into his street clothes, but Goody did. He looked at me, up, and down, and up again.
“How much you weigh,” Goody asked.
“About 220,” I said. That probably was a fib, I’d given up booze and etc the year before, and was filling the vacuum with late night Chinese.
“Have you fought? Do you wanna fight,” Goody asked me.
Oh, I was pleased by this query from boxing royalty. I didn’t follow up, and never did figure out what heavyweight he had in the Brockton gym who he wanted to get some raw meat to. Back to Borges…
When he started out, there was no thinking about this honor. Borges is matter of fact, not wistful, when he says to me, “I’ve always felt blessed, I have never forgotten how blessed I was to never work a day in my life. Every time I went to a show, big or little, I knew there’d be something to rock my socks off. Who wouldn’t wanna live like that? Now I’m chosen to be in the Hall, on same wall as the fighters and trainers I used to read about. It’s not the end, but I can see the end of the career where I’m standing now. James Toney, just a tremendous technical boxer, to go in with Toney.”
He’s not now wistful, but he is in a mode where he’s trying to help out a fellow traveller on journo road, by summing it all up, reducing almost fifty years of fightwriting to a manageable portion to digest. “Listen, I’m pretty happy for this reason: I didn’t get into the Hall of Fame because I won a personality contest, I didn’t get in because I was prom king,” says Ron Borges. “Woodsy, this will be the one and only time my name is in a story, and above James Toneys.”’