Boxing Hall Of Fame Weekend: Three Days In Canastota
This year marked the return of the annual International Boxing Hall of Fame induction weekend in Canastota, NY. Held for four days annually, the second week in June, this year's theme was “Trilogy,” as three classes were being celebrated due to the fact that the prior two years had been canceled due to the Covid 19 pandemic.
I first started attending Hall of Fame weekend in 2014 when Oscar De La Hoya, Felix Trinidad, and Joe Calzaghe were among the inductees. That first year I made many memories, including having a chance encounter with Mickey Ward walking on the sidewalk headed to the Hall of Fame grounds. After that year, I was hooked and haven't since missed an induction weekend.
This year was obviously unique, with three separate classes getting enshrined. The crowds were abnormally large, but the Hall of Fame was well prepared for the surge in attendance. But even with large crowds, I had many chance encounters and made even more lifetime memories. Below is a brief summation of my three days in Canastota in June of 2022.
I arrived with my wife around 1:00 pm and listened to Russell Mora, Julian Jackson, and Miguel Cotto address fans as well as take questions. Then there was the ceremonial opening bell to officially ring in induction weekend, with Julian Jackson and Christy Martin having the honor of ringing the bell. James Toney then did a question-and-answer session that lasted for quite some time before things on the Hall of Fame grounds concluded for the day.
My wife and I then headed over to Turning Stone Resort and Casino, which is about 10 miles from where the Hall of Fame is located and serves as a host for many of the festivities. We made it just on time to catch the weigh-in for the following evening's ShoBox card that featured undefeated heavyweight knockout artist Bakhodir Jalolov. Surprisingly to me, the weigh-in was rather sparsely attended as many patrons must have been seeking encounters with some of the celebrity boxers in and around the casino. I rarely anymore ask for photos but was standing near Jalolov post-weigh-in and as he seemed like an affable guy, so had my wife snap a photo of the two of us.
After dinner and, well just a little gambling, my wife and I decided to head out to go back to Syracuse, where we had our hotel. On the way out, a group of people we held the door open for a group of people who were entering the lobby. On the other side, holding the opposite door open for us was none other than Andre Ward. I was speechless as he motioned for us to come over. I offered my congratulations to him as we exited, and he thanked me for being a fan.
We arrived just before 10:00 on Friday, just as former world champion and famed broadcaster from the USA Tuesday Night Fight Series Sean O' Grady took the stage. The wit and humor that O'Grady once displayed behind the mic was on full display as he spoke to the audience. The crowd clearly enjoyed his presence as questions kept coming in, and his time slot seemed to be extended just a bit. Nobody minded, though, and as O'Grady left to sign autographs, I noticed a very large line that formed for those who hoped to get O'Grady's signature.
Speaking of signing autographs, each year, there is at least one fighter (and often more than one) that, in my opinion, goes above and beyond when it comes to accommodating fans. This year that was Sebastian Fundora, who showed up on the grounds around the time O'Grady was on stage and went straight to signing autographs. From what I saw, he accommodated everyone in what was a lengthy line.
As Fundora was signing, Roy Jones Jr. took the stage. Jones talked at length about his career, including going over in detail why he should not have been disqualified in his first fight against Montell Griffin and why he never fought Darius Michalczewski. Jones was informative and entertaining as always.
After Jones finished to a standing ovation, boxing writer/historian Lee Groves took the stage to do some trivia. Lee is not only a true boxing encyclopedia but an extremely nice, personable guy. If anyone has ever had the pleasure of meeting Lee like myself, you know what I am talking about.
Next up on stage was the aforementioned Fundora. Fundora made it a point that if he can't get a big fight at 154, he'd be willing to drop down to 147. He even offered to be a plan B for Errol Spence Jr. should a Terence Crawford fight not materialize.
Following his talk on stage, Fundora went to the adjacent table to sign even more autographs. Once again, he cleared out a long line. And in doing so made a lot of new fans.
Around this time, my father-in-law, Mark, arrived, and my wife headed back to Buffalo. I caught a few brief glimpses of the annual fist casting ceremony but decided to head over to Turning Stone to get set for that evening's ShoBox card.
And this gets into you never know just what kind of memory may be created during Hall of Fame weekend. It's the reason why many like myself make the annual pilgrimage to Hall of Fame weekend.
At dinner with Mark, I noticed Shawn Porter walk in. Porter went over to anyone who acknowledged him and talked with them at their table for a little bit. I wasn't going to pass on this opportunity, and Porter happily gave myself and Mark a few minutes of his time at dinner.
With a little time to kill following dinner, we headed down to the hotel lobby and found a few prime seats. Shortly after a door opened, and in walked Sean O'Grady. I immediately stood up and introduced myself. Sean gladly talked to me for about ten minutes, from everything to his memories of USA Tuesday Night Fights to asking about my family. Just like he was on tv, he was very witty and not afraid to crack a few jokes. He is just a really good person and a great ambassador for boxing. And gave me a memory that will last a lifetime.
As I sat down, I noticed another individual now sitting next to Mark. I got to talking to this person who happened to be a close friend of John Johnson, who was the former manager of James “Buster” Douglas. This guy told me many stories of his time working with some fighters Johnson managed, including Douglas and Alexander Zolkin. For a boxing fan like myself who grew up watching as much boxing as possible in the 90s, I absorbed all these stories like a sponge.
The ShoBox card was solid. The addition of a boxing card at Turning Stone on Friday night in recent years has been an excellent new piece to Hall of Fame weekend and hopefully will continue in future years.
We arrived on the grounds at around 10:00 am. In previous years I had participated in the golf outing, but the Hall of Fame decided not to have that event this year.
Regina Halmich opened the day on stage. Halmich, who is a 2022 inductee, talked about the difficulties she faced starting her career and how she successfully overcame many obstacles to earn the respect of her male contemporaries. Halmich also made a passionate plea to allow women to fight three-minute rounds. She asked why was it okay in UFC for women to fight five-minute rounds but not okay in boxing for women to fight more than two minutes? She certainly has a valid point.
During Halmich's speech, I bumped into Bob Caico. Bob is President of Ring 44 (Buffalo Veteran Boxers Association), of which I am a proud member. If anyone ever is in Western NY for boxing, you will probably see Bob ringside. He is a wealth of knowledge in the sport and a genuinely nice guy with a passion for boxing
After Halmich's speech ended, Bob pointed out another female fighter from the past who was standing directly behind us in Sumya Anani. Anani is a former world champion who is perhaps best remembered for the 1998 upset win against Christy Martin. I approached her and found her to be very humble as well as gracious. She was surprised to be recognized and very appreciative that I remembered in detail her performance against Martin.
Next up on stage was Ring Magazine editor-in-chief Douglass Fischer. But his time up there alone was short-lived as Bernard Hopkins made a surprise appearance. As Hopkins took the microphone, he first thanked referee Rudy Battle who Hopkins said visited him in prison and encouraged him to get back in boxing once he got out of jail. Hopkins stated Battle was slated to be in town for his formal induction the next day.
As many people know, Hopkins is very well-spoken and talked at length on many topics, including what Marvin Hagler meant to him and the importance of the mental side of boxing.
Next, a group of current referees took the stage. They answered all the fans' questions, including some particularly difficult ones about how they handled particular fights. The collective group provided tremendous insight into the work they do to prepare for fights and how they are constantly working to improve their craft.
Next was Laila Ali. Ali talked at length about her career. Some interesting nuggets here were that she was inspired to start boxing after watching the fight between Christy Martin and Deirdre Gogarty. She also talked about how her famous father was initially taken aback by her pursuing a career inside the ring. Eventually, though, she said her father came around to her fighting and even admitted he was wrong in his initial thoughts.
I ended my time in Canastota having conversations with Gordon Hall, who is the Executive Producer of ShoBox. Gordon is another great person in the sport who told me about the behind-the-scenes process of putting together Friday's card. In addition, we discussed many other things that have made ShoBox so great over the years, and he gave me great insight into how some of the past events came about. This was quite a highlight talk for me as I have been watching ShoBox religiously from its inception.
And that was a wrap for me in Canastota. Unfortunately, I could not attend Sunday's induction due to other commitments. Once again, a weekend in Canastota created another lifetime of memories. I would encourage anyone who has not attended to make it sometime as the experience is unique and memorable.