INTERNATIONAL BOXING HALL OF FAME
Induction Weekend, 2018
As my wife and I drove the 291 miles from our home on Long Island to our destination upstate New York, our five hours of conversation included our kids, our grand-kids, upcoming vacations, my forthcoming book, my next book project, our friend Fran’s upcoming hip replacement, the gorgeous new studio at SiriusXM to which Gerry Cooney and I..
..have been assigned to host our Monday and Friday show “At the Fights,” President Trump’s then-upcoming visit to Singapore to meet with North Korea’s Kim Il Jun, the crazy weather patterns we’ve been experiencing throughout the world, the volcanic eruptions in Hawaii and Guatemala, the difference between those volcanoes, wealthy celebrities, our personal bucket lists and more.
However, a majority of our conversation involved the reason we were taking this five-hour drive, easily the longest drive we take every year (anything longer, we fly!): We were headed to Canastota, New York, home of the International Boxing Hall of Fame. It was Induction Weekend 2018. It was the Hall’s 29th induction weekend.
My thoughts raced back to 1989, when I, as Chairman of the New York State Athletic Commission, along with a state senator, a few local politicians and former heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson, cut the ribbon to officially open the IBHOF. I remember walking through all the post-rain mud amidst the construction that was going on and trying to envision what the finished project would look like. The following year I found out, when the IBHOF inducted its very first class. And what a class it was:
Muhammad Ali. Joe Frazier. Sugar Ray Robinson. Joe Louis. Henry Armstrong. Sandy Saddler. Willie Pep. James J. Corbett. John L. Sullivan. Joe Gans. Sam Langford. Jack Dempsey. Bob Fitzsimmons, Barney Ross. Tony Canzoneri. Benny Leonard. Rocky Marciano. Jack Johnson. Stanley Ketchel. Harry Greb. Mickey Walker. Nat Fleischer. Carmen Basilio.
Yes, Carmen Basilio. The former Welterweight and Middleweight Champion is the reason Canastota—a town known previously for its growing of onions, a town with a population of 5,000–has become “Boxing’s Home.” Carmen Basilio and a Canastota native named Ed Brophy.
Wanting to erect a lasting tribute to Basilio, his boyhood idol, Brophy formulated plans to erect a museum on a piece of land in Canastota, directly off the New York State Thruway.
During my years as the Editor of Ring Magazine (1979-1984), Brophy made a few trips from his home in “Oniontown, USA,” to the Ring’s offices in midtown Manhattan, to sell the idea of a boxing hall of fame to me. If nothing else, he wanted moral support for his enormous dream.
He was one of many who approached me with the same dream, the same vision. However, all of them wanted Ring’s financial support…In a big way. All except one man: Ed Brophy. Armed with only blueprints and his dream, Brophy was the only one who didn’t ask for a truckload of cash. He asked only for our blessing, good wishes and support. I was more-than-happy to give him that. He was the only one of the many I believed. He was a dreamer who had a vision to make his dream come true. The others were not dreamers. They were schemers.
So, it was with great pride and honor that I was on hand to be among the dignitaries to cut the ribbon to officially open the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
You can imagine how I felt when I took another trip back months later, to see the newly-built museum, which would serve as the centerpiece for this amazing dream-come-true.
Then, a few months later came the IBHOF’s first induction weekend. I can only imagine the excitement Brophy must have felt. He conceived it. He believed it. Now, he had achieved it.
He and IBHOF President Don Ackerman honored me that opening year by having me—as New York’s Boxing Commissioner—make the opening statements to a packed crowd who had come from around he world to be part of boxing history. I remember Joe Frazier giving me a slap on my back as I walked to the podium.
Over the years, my wife, Roni, and I, always make the journey from Long Island to Canastota. We’ve already put our 2019 trip into our travel calendar.
After that incredible inaugural launch and through the years, I always find a reason to go, wanting to give moral support and show respect for longtime friends and colleagues who are being inducted. We’d go regardless of who the inductees are, but, for me and my wife, it’s even more special as, year after year, some of our favorite boxing people are immortalized.
Off the top of my balding head are the names of those whose inductions gave me added incentive to spend a weekend in Canastota:
Alexis Arguello (1992)
Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Gil Clancy, Don Dunphy and Teddy Brenner (1993)
Sugar Ray Leonard (1997)
Bob Arum (1999)
J. Russell Peltz (2004)
Bert Sugar (2005)
Jose Sulaiman (2007)
Larry Holmes (2008)
Shelly Finkel (2010)
Mike Tyson (2011)
Michael Buffer, Al Bernstein (2012)
Jimmy Lennon (2013)
Ray Mancini (2015)
Marc Ratner (2016)
Steve Farhood, Evander Holyfield (2017)
This year, the field of inductees was strong. The living Modern fighters who were inducted include Vitali Klitschko, Winky Wright and Erik Morales.
For me, the trip was extra-special because the list of inductees included my friend and former colleague, announcer Steve Albert. Steve was inducted…
…along with Showtime colleague Jim Gray.
Over the years, Albert and I had announced hundreds of fights, including all of the boxing events at the 1990 Goodwill Games in Seattle, Washington, many fights from Atlantic City on ESPN, and even the George Foreman-Gerry Cooney fight on Showtime.
Three other memorable fights Albert called were both of the Evander Holyfield-Mike Tyson fights and the incredible Diego Corrales-Jose Luis Castillo fight, which saw Corrales wage a Rocky Balboa-like comeback to win on a 10th round TKO.
Roni and I arrived on Thursday afternoon, a few hours before an introductory dinner at Theodore’s Restaurant in Canastota. There were no fans invited to this event, as it was closed to just the fighters and their families.
Why was I there, then? Roni and I always go as a member of the Gerry Cooney family!
In the room, which can comfortably accommodate around 200 people, were some of the inductees (Steve Albert, Jim Gray and Erik Morales) and many boxing personalities, past and present.
Jarrett Hurd, the undefeated 154-pounder who may just be the best in boxing at that weight, sat, almost mesmerized, at the camaraderie he was seeing from boxing insiders and royalty.
Others in that room included James “Lights Out” Toney, Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Miguel Cotto, Julian Jackson, Robert Guerrero, former welterweight champs John Stracey and Billy Backus, Jessie Vargas, Kelly Pavlik, Hall-of-Fame promoter Don Chargin and the outstanding MC for the weekend, James “Smitty” Smith. So far, there was no sighting of the Klitschko brothers or Mike Tyson, who, we were told, were in seclusion at the Turning Stone Casino.
At this buffet event, we did more talking, picture taking, reminiscing and laughing than we did eating.
It was there I reunited with Steve Albert and his girlfriend, Nena. Over the next two hours, Steve and I shared “war stories,” much to the amusement of our better halves.
As the talking went on throughout the room, playful James Toney snuck around, playfully snatching cell phones left unattended by their owners. He caused chaos at virtually every table in the room. As the panic of having your phone disappear enveloped, Toney sat watching and laughing from a nearby table. He returned the phone the moment he saw distress on the cell phone owner’s face. Toney did this, not just at the Thursday dinner, but throughout the weekend in the breakfast room of the Days Inn, where all the fighters were housed.
“Make sure you take your cell phone with you,” was the most-spoken phrase during the weekend, as nobody’s phone was safe from the hands of the playful future-Hall-of-Famer, James Toney.
On Friday, Roni and I had breakfast in the room which is always set up by Brophy and the Days Inn. It’s a room in which the fighters and their families can hang out in during “down” time. All the fighters need “down” time, an escape from their adoring fans and overly-annoying memorabilia collectors.
Many are like gnats at a picnic or an evening outdoors: they won’t kill you, but will pester and annoy you non-stop. They bring several—sometimes many—items for a fighter to sign. Gloves. Photos. Magazines. Posters. Then they want pictures. Selfies. Another one. Then they have questions. Many of them. All this as hundreds of other fans await their turn.
So, when the fighters are at the Days Inn, the room provided by the hotel becomes a safe haven for them. The fans and collectors are not allowed in, stopped by security at the main door.
Nearly all the big-name fighters enjoy the fans, signing autographs and taking pictures with them. Gerry Cooney, James Toney, Micky Ward and Dick Eklund are four crowd favorites. Fans couldn’t get enough of them. Inductee Steve Albert was another, who continually stopped to sign and take pictures. So did Jarrett Hurd and Robert Guerrero. But, I did say NEARLY all enjoy their fans. The one former champion who looked uncomfortable all weekend was Miguel Cotto. From the moment we saw him at Theodore’s on Thursday, right up through the parade, Cotto, who will surely be inducted on the first ballot in 2023, looked like he didn’t want to be there. He was, by far, this year’s most stand-offish celebrity. Even other fighters were heard commenting, “What’s wrong with Miguel.” Actually, nothing was wrong with Miguel. That’s just the way he is.
On Friday, after walking the museum grounds, looking at the exhibits (I always stop at the tribute to Bert Sugar, which contains one of his fedoras, a cigar and his old typewriter—on which I finished several of his editorials, as he was unable to finish them for one reason or another), taking photos, talking to fans and meeting up with old friends, I headed back to the Days Inn. There, I did several interviews. Included among them were Steve Albert and Don Chargin.
Around 3:00, Roni and I were in the lobby to greet an arriving celebrity—my co-host—“Gentleman” Gerry Cooney. When he stepped out of the car which had picked him up in Syracuse (he had come from doing a huge event in Canada, which raised money for a children’s hospital), he was besieged by fans outside the hotel. Naturally, he obliged them. All of them! It took him at least a half hour from the time he stepped out of the car to entering the hotel. Nobody does that. Nobody!
Once inside, Cooney was greeted by the personalities inside. They, too, want pictures with Cooney.
After the greetings, Cooney checked in, headed to his room and changed. We had to get going, as it was 5:00 pm and we were one hour away from going on the air with our “At the Fights” on SiriusXM. The studio was a half hour away in Syracuse.
After a typically-fast-paced show and signing off at 8:00, we jumped into my car for the 45-minute drive to the Turning Stone Casino in Verona, N.Y. When we arrived, we headed straight to the hotel’s large ballroom, where the fights were being held. The short walk to our seats took no less than 20 minutes, as many of the unrelenting autograph hounds I spoke of earlier saw the hard-to-miss Cooney and descended upon him. They wanted autographs. Pictures. Conversation. One guy wanted a photo and an autograph. After Cooney smilingly obliged him, the guy said, “I’ve gotta’ tell ya’, Gerry. I bet on you to neat Larry Holmes!” I hope he didn’t expect Cooney to give him back the money he lost on the wager.
We left the fights shortly before they ended (Diego de la Hoya stopped Jose Salgado after seven rounds to win the NABF Super Bantamweight Title), because walking through a crowd with Cooney can add an extra hour—or two—to your travel time. Like a candidate stumping for votes, Cooney shakes the hands, hugs and kisses as many people as he can. And signs. And poses. And squares off playfully. On this occasion, it only took us 25 minutes to make the five-minute walk to the valet.
Cooney asked to drive my car back to the Days Inn. Joining Roni, me and Gerry were IBHOF inductee Steve Albert and his girlfriend, Nena. Roni, Nena and I sat in the back seat of my Jeep. Steve was up front. The normal 20-minute drive back to the Days Inn took around 10 minutes. I never knew my Jeep was capable of doing 100 MPH! Steve Albert was sure his induction in two days was going to be posthumous!
At breakfast the next morning, Gerry and I did several interviews. One was with 2018 inductee Vitali Klitschko. Another was with 22-0 junior middleweight Jarrett Hurd. From there, we went to Canastota High School, where, every year, they hold the biggest Boxing Memorabilia/Autograph Show to be found anywhere. I wound up buying a few items, including the June 1984 issue of The Ring, in which I wrote the editorial “Murder: Plain and Simple.” It was an editorial which opened up the case against Panama Lewis and Luis Resto for their part in the brutal cheating and beating of Billy Collins in June 1983, a case which sent both of them to jail.
Following the card show, we went to the BBQ, held just off the beautiful Canastota Golf Course. It was then time to head back to the Days Inn to relax, rest and recharge. The Cocktail Party at The Castle was only a few hours away, followed by the massive Saturday night dinner at Turning Stone.
At the Cocktail Party, Gerry and I interviewed Tony Tubbs and Mike “The Body Snatcher” McCallum. As the autograph-seekers besieged Cooney, I did one-on-one interviews with J. Russell Peltz, former welterweight champ John H. Stracey and a few others.
Then, we got onto air-conditioned buses and headed to Turning Stone. It was dinner time. It was sit through speech-after-speech time. The dais was the longest I have ever seen, stretching clear across the floor. Most would be coming up to speak, after a video of them in action was played.
Luckily, the MC for the third consecutive year was James “Smitty” Smith, the personable, charismatic and extremely talented boxing analyst. Speakers were given time limits and Smitty held them to their limit.
Smitty even defused a potentially-explosive situation when Hall-of-Famer Thomas Hearns came up to speak.
Hearns, showing effects of his 28-year, 67-fights pro boxing career, good-naturedly chided Marvelous Marvin Hagler, who was also on the dais, to give him a rematch. It was good for a laugh. But Hearns continued. And continued. Finally, Hagler got up and took a microphone. His words were all in good humor. Hearns seemed to take them as a challenge. He became agitated, looking ready to have a rematch with Hagler right there.
Hagler, a successful actor in Italy, knew when his lines were over, and politely sat down. Smitty then softly, courteously and professionally got Hearns to do the same.
The best speeches of the night were given by Showtime announcers and soon-to-be-inducted Steve Albert and Jim Gray. Albert was funny. Gray was more serious. Both were entertaining and easy to listen to.
A short while later came another skirmish, this one much more real than the Hagler-Hearns theatrics. It involved Mike Tyson and his former promoter, Don King.
After an untypically-short speech (4:59), ending with King praising “the great fighters in attendance” and doing a segue into another “great fighter who is fighting for all of us—President Donald Trump,” prompting boos from a majority of the close to 1,000 in attendance, King returned to his seat with a sheepish grin.
As Smitty was at the microphone introducing the next speaker, most in the room missed what happened further down on the dais, where Mike Tyson sat. As King walked along the dais, he passed by Tyson, who ignored him. King reached out and touched Tyson. The former heavyweight champ grabbed a glass of water and threw it on King. The incident went unnoticed by just about everyone in the crowd. Everyone except one fan, who was videotaping the event.
Quickly, the incident went viral. Don King refused to speak about it. So did Tyson. After the dinner and after returning to the Days Inn, the talk amongst the celebs and inductees was “Did you hear about what Mike Tyson did to Don King on the dais?” The word spread quickly. We went to sleep wondering what had happened.
Following the Sunday “Parade of Champions,” we found out why Tyson exploded. But first, a few words about the parade.
The busiest Canastota’s streets get is when Canastota High School’s students finish their day and head for home. Then, dozens, maybe at most a few hundred people can be seen walking on the sidewalks and through the streets.
During Sunday’s “Parade of Champions,” Canastota’s population of around 4,700 swells to over 100,000.
Sitting in the convertible with Gerry Cooney were me, Roni and Josh Friedman, our longtime SiriusXM Producer. We were shocked as Cooney continually jumped out of the slowly-moving car and ran from one side of the street to another, hugging and kissing everyone. He even hugged a patrolman who was on traffic control. At one point, Producer Josh ran with Cooney, holding a box of Tootsie Roll lollipops. Together, they launched the Tootsie Roll lollipops into the crowd as they ran. An errant throw by Josh smashed against the nose of a little girl, bringing her to tears. Cooney was needed to calm the father down and to restrain him from smacking Josh. Woops! Sorry! Josh gave the rest of the box to the little girl, changing her crying face to a smiling one!
At the end of the parade, all of us were herded into a religious school, where a buffet meal is served to all of us. When we saw Mike Tyson walk in, Cooney, me and Josh approached him. We asked if we could do a brief interview with him. He smilingly said, “Of course, whatever you guys want.”
After my opening intro of “We’re joined by a man most people known as ‘Iron’ Mike, but whom I call ‘Catskill Thunder,’ Mike Tyson.
Cooney wasted no time, asking Tyson, “What happened last night that made you throw water on Don King?”
Tyson’s response to us was as quick—but much nicer—than his water-throwing at King.
“It was an immature thing I did,” Tyson told us. “I have a lot of built-up hostility towards Mr. King, and I reacted the wrong way.” With Josh taping the interview, it went viral in minutes.
Following the interview, I talked with Tyson one-on-one. No microphone. No camera. Just me and Mike.
Let’s just say that Mike Tyson doesn’t care for Don King the way he did when he ruled the heavyweight division 30 years earlier.
Following the time together under one roof, we left for the induction ceremony, perhaps one-half mile away. Family members rode in one bus. Inductees and honorees went on another bus.
It was a perfect day. There were blue skies and the temperature was around 80 with low humidity.
The most emotional and moving acceptance speech was given by Hall-of-Famer J. Russell Peltz, who spoke on behalf of the late Lorraine Chargin, whose 90-year-old Hall-of-Fame husband, Don Chargin, sat on stage, smiling, fighting back tears and looking skywards. Lorraine, who passed away in 2010 from cancer, was loving Peltz’ speech.
Our normal five-hour drive from Canastota to Long Island took around seven hours, as we stopped for dinner and later to pass through NYC to drop off Josh. We walked into our home close to midnight.
We were happily exhausted. What a four-day trip it had been. Kudos to IBHOF Ed Brophy and all the amazing volunteers from Canastota who made the weekend so enjoyable for everybody.
We can’t wait for Induction Weekend 2019!