Wednesday, March 22, 2023  |



Holyfield, Barrera, Class of 2017 immortalized at the Hall of Fame

Marco Antonio Barrera gives his induction speech at the International Boxing Hall of Fame (Photo by Mike Coppinger)

CANASTOTA, N.Y. — The sleepy town of about 6,000, tucked under Oneida Lake and approximately 25 mikes from Syracuse University, is a place long forgotten by time.

There are no Ubers; sparse commercialization save for a McDonald’s that hosts a shrine to Carmen Basilio and Billy Backus on the adjacent lawn.

But on one weekend each year, Canastota comes alive. Boxing fans travel from near and far for International Boxing Hall of Fame Weekend each June, a rite of passage for any diehard follower of the fistic arts.

There was a chicken barbecue Saturday inside the clubhouse at Casolwood Golf Course, where fans feasted on corn, potatoes and fowl alongside Marvelous Marvin Hagler.

Inside a nearby tent, Evander Holyfield — the star of the 2017 class — posed for photos next to a silent auction for collectibles ranging from an autographed photo featuring Sugar Ray Leonard and Hagler, to a RING Magazine cover adorned with Joe Calzaghe’s mug.

And if you’re an avid collector, there was an entire high school gym filled to the brim with RING magazines, fight posters and other memorabilia at a boxing card show.

Later that day, heavyweight titleholder Deontay Wilder was mobbed inside the Greystone Castle during a cocktail gala. The Bronze Bomber generated a bigger gathering than even Holyfield himself, who stood feet away with his own crowd.

In between festivities, fans and, late at night, fighters like James Toney and Pernell Whitaker convened at Graziano’s, the old-school Italian eatery mere steps from the Hall’s grounds.

That’s where it culminated Sunday, a hot and muggy afternoon, when the Class of 2017 was formally inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

Holyfield closed the festivities with a speech championing the perseverance that shaped his legendary career, but before he did, each living inductee had their chance to share what led to this special day.

Marco Antonio Barrera, the three-division titleholder from Mexico best known for his epic wars with Erik Morales, was the day’s penultimate speaker.

“When one starts boxing, you don’t think you’ll be one of the greats,” Barrera said in Spanish with his son translating. “But this has been the best week of my life because I’m with the champions from now and champions from before.

“What else can I ask of life? I have great family and now I’m inducted into the boxing Hall of Fame. And I work for the best Mexican television network.”

Barrera can only hope to achieve the kind of success in his second career as a boxing analyst for TV Azteca as two others on the stage enjoyed in their roles as English-speaking commentators.

Steve Farhood and Barry Tompkins, best buddies who have worked together on ShoBox for 15 years and counting, joined the Hall Sunday in the observer category.

“Why would a journalist want to cover anything other than boxing?” asked Farhood, who formerly served as editor-in-chief for RING Magazine and KO Magazine before it. “There is nothing quite as revealing, quite as electric, quite as magical, as a great fight. After all these years, boxing can still wow me and that’s part of why I’m still doing this.

“I’ve done this for 40 years, and if I do it for another 40, the stories of boxers will never grow stale. I thank boxing for finding me.”

Boxing truly draws people to it in all forms and occupations. Like veteran judge Jerry Roth, who expressed genuine astonishment at his election and broke down near the end of his concise speech. Or Australian trainer Johnny Lewis, best known for training Kostya Tsyzu.

And there were two boxers who unfortunately weren’t able to enjoy the ultimate fruit of their labors, men who didn’t have their hands casted in bronze Saturday: posthumous inductees Eddie Booker (old-timer category) and Johnny Tapia.

They, too, will live on at the site’s museum, and their careers were lovingly reminisced by family members.

Booker’s nephew proudly shared that his uncle never tasted the canvas during a middleweight career that spanned the 1930s and 40s.

And Tapia’s sister, Lisa, who emotionally boasted about her late brother’s unrivaled grit.

The classy Jimmy Lennon Jr. was there to speak about his late father, a pioneer who made ring announcers a valuable commodity in the fight game.

One day, they’ll all be lost to time, but that’s OK: They’ll live on forever in Canastota.


Click the photos to read our profiles of this year’s IBHOF inductees