Obscurity no barrier to Hall of Fame induction anymore
Next Sunday in Srisaket, Thailand, future Hall of Famer Pongsaklek Wonjongkam will defend THE RING flyweight championship against Suriyan Por Chockchai. Yes, you read that right: future Hall of Famer Pongsaklek Wonjongkam. Maybe you’ve never seen him fight. Maybe you can’t pronounce his name. But he will make it into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, N.Y., someday.
Ten years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to state an opinion like that, regarding the Hall of Fame potential of a 112-pound fighter who’s never fought outside of Asia, with such certainty. But in 2010, I’m comfortable making that statement.
And Pongsaklek has the internet to thank.
Al Gore’s little invention has had a profound impact on the way we follow boxing, as it has on all aspects of our life. It’s not exactly groundbreaking to note that the World Wide Web has provided us access to fights we never would have seen otherwise or has opened fans up to more fight writers and faster information than ever before. And plenty of writers have waxed poetic on the beauty of BoxRec.com and how it has diminished the degree of difficulty we face. But with Hall of Fame ballots going out to voters this week, it’s a perfect time to draw a direct line between the information superhighway and the IBHOF induction potential of obscure foreign fighters.
The fighters in the “modern” category (last bout no earlier than 1943) are inducted based on a straight-forward vote, with all members of the Boxing Writers Association of America and a collection of selected international boxing historians having the opportunity to vote for up to 10 fighters. The top three vote-getters enter the Hall. According to IBHOF Executive Director Ed Brophy, the total number of voters most years falls in the range of 150-175.
It can be reasoned that the international historians have, as a generalized group, always given the lower-profile fighters from outside North America and Europe proper consideration. But the same is not necessarily true of the BWAA members. At least not until recently.
There are two reasons for the shift. One is that the internet has made it easy to study the records, and in most cases fight footage, of the nominated fighters.
The other is that the makeup of the BWAA has evolved. What was once an organization of numerous newspaper writers and a handful of magazine writers is now loaded with internet writers, while the newspaper numbers have dipped considerably. This is not meant as a slight on past newspaper writers, but in many cases, they were paid to cover their local regions and the occasional mega-fight. There was no incentive to keep up on titleholders from all corners of the globe. Nowadays, almost everyone, including the newspaper and magazine writers, does some writing for the Web, and almost everyone in the BWAA is responsible for being aware of everything going on in the sport.
And again, thanks to the internet, there’s no excuse for a lack of awareness.
“There’s easier access today to the global scene of boxing, through the internet, and when more information is provided to you more easily, it makes you more knowledgeable about what you’re researching,” said Brophy. “I think the fast pace of technology making it easier to have access to the international boxers is a complement to the induction process, and that is a positive thing for not only the election process, but for electors themselves, being able to find the most information they can on a fighter before voting.
“In past times, you would have to have the record book by your side to look up a fighter’s achievements. Today, you go to Fight Fax, BoxRec, a video on YouTube, reach out to a friend in another country, reach out to other writers and correspond and make a very fair decision in casting your vote with knowledge. All of our voters over the years have been very knowledgeable; it just happens that the documentation of history is easier to get to today than it was yesterday. So this strengthens the opportunity for all boxers around the world to be looked at equally at the end of their career.”
BWAA President Jack Hirsch took extra advantage of the internet in 2009 when he formed a BWAA Hall of Fame committee to compile bios of all fighters on the ballot and posted those bios on the BWAA’s Web site, so that all voters would have complete information (opinion-free, of course) at their fingertips.
“The committee consisted of Cliff Rold, Lee Groves, and Jack Obermayer,” Hirsch explained. “They did a phenomenal job of writing bios on all the men on the ballot. Cliff later told me that, because of this, he believes South Korea’s Jung Koo Chang was inducted. I tend to agree.”
Indeed, Chang, who had been retired for more than 18 years but overlooked until the ’09 vote, serves as the most compelling proof that the voting trends are shifting.
The two most often criticized inductions in the modern category have been those of Ingemar Johansson and Barry McGuigan, two high-profile fighters whose biggest moments were televised on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Neither stayed at the top long and both only had a couple of wins over elite fighters. This isn’t to say that they’re necessarily unworthy Hall of Famers, but the reality is that if you stuck their resumes on a junior flyweight from Asia or South America who never fought on U.S. television, they probably wouldn’t have been voted in when they were.
Last year, however, we saw a couple of well-known names in the Johansson/McGuigan vicinity, Donald Curry and Naseem Hamed, denied induction in favor of the long-overlooked Chang and Lloyd Marshall. (The third inductee, Danny “Little Red” Lopez, fits both categories, as a popular American-based TV fighter who was long denied entry.) I’m not saying the voters got it “right.” But it’s clear that they did their homework rather than simply saying, “Oh yeah, I remember Curry, I remember Hamed, those are the guys I’m voting for.”
While Chang got in this past June, others of his ilk are still waiting. Myung-Woo Yuh, a dominant junior flyweight from South Korea, is every bit as deserving as Chang. Strong cases can also be made for Japanese junior fly Yoko Gushiken, Argentine flyweight/junior bantam Santos Laciar and Panamanian junior fly/flyweight Hilario Zapata, who happens to be the only fighter to defeat Chang in “The Korean Hawk’s” prime.
The ballots that will be mailed out in a few days will probably prove unkind to these particular fighters, since those ballots are expected to contain the names Mike Tyson, Julio Cesar Chavez and Kostya Tszyu, each eligible for the first time. So this discussion is not specifically geared toward the Class of 2011. Rather, we’re identifying a trend that should be measured over the next several years to come.
The next time the ballot isn’t so loaded with new superstar names, I expect Yuh to get inducted. Gushiken, Laciar and Zapata may well follow. And active fighters, such as Pongsaklek, Ivan Calderon or Veerapol Sahaprom, can rest assured that their accomplishments will not go unnoticed just because they never fought on HBO or Showtime and can make fists smaller than a tennis ball.
Thanks largely to the internet, they will all someday have the opportunity to cast those tiny fists in plaster in Canastota.
ÔÇó There’s emotional distress. And then there’s what ring announcer LoopyÔÇöer, um, LupeÔÇöContreras did to poor Manuel Vargas on Saturday night. In a fight for some interim belt not worth identifying, Contreras declared it a majority decision in favor of the “new champion,” Vargas, producing an ecstatic reaction from the Mexican journeyman, then quickly apologized and corrected himself, saying that the majority decision was in Ramon Garcia’s favor. Here’s an outstanding photo that a ringside photographer took of Vargas’ reaction.
ÔÇó Such a shame that Wladimir Klitschko vs. Jean-Marc Mormeck isn’t happening. I heard Ross Greenburg was really interested in that one.
ÔÇó And the boxing trash talk of the year award goes to Paul Williams, for saying of Floyd Mayweather, “I guess Floyd won’t fight me because I don’t have a vagina.” We hate to break it to you Paul, but he wouldn’t fight you even if you did have that particular genitalia. Of all the women Mayweather has been accused of roughing up, were any of them talented, prime athlete, 6-foot-1 southpaws with an 82-inch reach?
ÔÇó How’s this for a depressing bit of Super Six math: If either Allan Green or his to-be-determined opponent score a knockout in Group Stage 3, that winner would advance to the semifinals if either Andre Dirrell loses to Andre Ward or Carl Froch loses to Arthur Abraham. In other words, if Green’s opponent is not very tough, then Green could easily advance in place of more worthy fighters Dirrell and Froch, whereas if the opponent is tough, he can advance with a single victory over the relatively unworthy Green. What a shame that legal and financial obligations have forced Showtime to go against what makes competitive sense.
ÔÇó Anyone else spot ref Randy Neumann in the pilot episode of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire? Apparently the plan is to have a different referee that presided over an Andrew Golota quit-job make a cameo on every episode of the showÔÇöat least until they run out of them in the middle of Season Six.
ÔÇó If it’s the end of the column, it must be time for my weekly Ring Theory plug. I’d tell you to check out last week’s episode with special guest Max Kellerman, but if you call yourself a boxing enthusiast, you’ve surely already listened to it. (Now, if you really want to prove your worth as a fight fan, listen to it again.)
You can read his articles each month in THE RING magazine and follow him on Twitter @EricRaskin.