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Old rivals meet as dear friends at Nevada Hall of Fame dinner

World featherweight championship opponents, Erik Morales, right, and Marco Antonio Barrera, both from Mexico, pose for a photo during a news conference Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2001, in Los Angeles. The rematch of Ring Magazine's 2000 "Fight of the Year," will take place on Saturday, March 2, 2002 in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)
13
Aug

LAS VEGAS – There were memories. There were few a tears. There were laughs. There was no bitterness. No punches either. The fifth annual Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame dinner was a lot of things, including a friendship unimaginable about 15 years ago.

Erik Morales and Marco Antonio Barrera are buddies long after a rivalry as contentious and bitter as any in boxing’s modern history.

But there they were, old enemies in an alliance as unlikely as ever at Caesars Palace. Barrera introduced Morales, one of nine fighters inducted to the Nevada Hall Saturday night.

“I want to congratulate a great champion and my dear, dear friend,’’ said Barrera, who lost a wild split decision at junior featherweight to Morales in 2000 and went on to win rematches at featherweight in 2002 and junior lightweight in 2004.

Then Morales countered with gratitude instead of a left hook. Among other things, each inductee was awarded a ring. Morales turned to Barrera and said he wanted to give his ring to his dear friend. In the spontaneous exchange, the ring tumbled out of the box through their hands and onto the floor. Quickly, they both reached down to recover it. Then, they smiled, this time laughing like old friends instead of sworn enemies.

It was that kind of a night, which continued with Sugar Ray Leonard’s introduction of Thomas Hearns.

“He’s a guy who has been my dear friend for a long time now,’’ said Leonard, who stopped Hearns in an epic welterweight fight in 1981 on back lot, also at Caesars. “”I won that fight.’’

But Leonard then conceded that his friend paid him back in a forgettable rematch at super middleweight in 1989.

“He beat my ass,’’ Leonard said.

Hearns smiled at the memory and Leonard.

“My roughest fight, but now my best friend,’’ said Hearns, the last inductee in a 2017 class that also included Michael Carbajal, Richie Sandoval, the late Ken Norton, Lucia Rijker, the late Salvador Sanchez, Michael Spinks and his brother Leon.

Rapper Flavor Flav introduced an ailing Leon Spinks, who is best remembered for his 1978 upset of Muhammad Ali.

For Sandoval and Carbajal, the ceremony was a fitting moment. Their careers were linked in 1988.  Twenty-nine years later, they were together again, linked by their inductions to the same Hall on the same night.

It was Sandoval who talked Top Rank promoter Bob Arum into signing Carbajal, who had won a silver medal at the Seoul Olympics. Arum was reluctant.

Carbajal, a junior-flyweight from Phoenix, fought in a division that in those days was hard to sell. But Sandoval, a bantamweight, told Arum there might be a big future at a weight as forgotten as it was diminutive. Turned out, there were also some big bucks at the small end of the scale too.

Carbajal became the first fighter at 108 pounds to collect $1 million for a 1994 rematch with rival Humberto Gonzalez, who won a controversial decision and went on to collect $1 million in the third step of a trilogy that began with Carbajal getting up from two knockdowns for a dramatic stoppage in THE RING’s 1993 Fight of the Year at the then Las Vegas Hilton.

Their purses still stand as the record for the sport’s little guys. No fighter at 108 pounds, or 112 for that matter, has ever collected $1 million since then.

Top Rank publicist Lee Samuels told the story about how Sandoval persuaded a skeptical Arum to sign Carbajal.

“Michael turned out to be one of the great, great fighters in Top Rank history,’’ Samuels said in his introduction of Sandoval to the dinner crowd. “Thank you, Ritchie Sandoval.’’

In the end, it was that kind of night. There were thanks all around for a fifth Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame class, which also includes publicist Debbie Munch, cutman Rafael Garcia, late matchmaker Mel Greb, late referee Davey Pearl and Dr. Elias Ghanem, a 14-year member of the Nevada State Athletic Commission who died in 2001.

  • Bar Kokhba

    Ritchie Sandoval! That’s a name from the past…an excellent fighter whose career was cut short by one bad fight. Could have been one of the greats!

    Not sure what he’s up to now, but I know he was a talent scout for Top Rank for many years (as alluded to
    above). Hoping he’s doing well – thanks for the great fights Ritchie! (But I’m still a little ticked off at you for taking the title away from my favorite fighter at the time, the great Jeff Chandler.)

  • william ellis

    Good article, but I take issue with the idea that the rematch between Leonard and Hearns was forgettable: I’ve seen it twice – the first time live, and think it is exciting. Hearns deserved to get the decision, but it was close – the knockdowns made the difference. And Leonard deserves respect for saying that the draw was a gift.

    • Ain’t no dinos in Holy books

      Yeah, Leonard-Hearns 2 was an excellent fight. Shame on Mr Frauenheim.
      Tommy indeed won that fight, Ray always needed the full 15 to catch up with his great rival. He was the stronger man in those traditional championship rounds and just couldn’t get enough work done over the shorter route.

      • Colin Mc Flurry.

        I agree.
        If the rematch was a 15 rounder, Tommy gets stopped again.

        • william ellis

          My guess is you are right – but then, Hearns did have that one-punch power to turn things around.

          • Colin Mc Flurry.

            True.
            But by the 12th round, Tommy’s Tank was empty.

          • william ellis

            True – I remember cheering for him just to make it to the end. He was my favorite fighter then – he fought everybody, and his glass chin gave his good opponents a chance: I can’t ever remember seeing him in a dull fight.

          • Colin Mc Flurry.

            Always been a big fan myself.
            Loved all the Fab Four – Leonard – Hearns – Hagler – Duran.

    • Colin Mc Flurry.

      SRL was always class in and out of the Ring.

      Not many ( if any) would admit they lost, after a gift decision.

  • Colin Mc Flurry.

    Leonard v Hearns 2, was a great fight.
    One of my favourite fights.

  • FLOMATARD

    Morales Barrera Marquez – All retired
    Pacquiao – Dunno