Wednesday, October 18, 2017  |

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The tidal wave of retirements and how it affects future IBHOF ballots

Photo credit: Alex Menendez
26
Sep

On August 3, former two-time heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko told the world via video and tweet that he was retiring from boxing. By doing so, he walked away from a contractually-mandated rematch with two-belt heavyweight titlist (and most recent conqueror) Anthony Joshua, as well as the eight-figure payday that would have come with it. While Klitschko’s decision surprised many, it was also hailed as an extension of Klitschko’s thoughtful and meticulous mindset and a rare example of a boxer leaving the sport with his bank account flush, his health intact and with his public regard – even in defeat – at its highest.

However, no one could have guessed that Klitschko’s act would trigger a mass exodus of high-profile names. Just one day later, Mexican legend Juan Manuel Marquez officially called it quits. Two-division titlist Timothy Bradley did the same, only a few hours later. Less than two weeks after that, three-division beltholder Shane Mosley hung up his gloves and the morning of August 27 brought two more retirement announcements – Floyd Mayweather Jr. following his TKO victory over mixed martial arts superstar Conor McGregor and Nathan Cleverly after his TKO loss to Badou Jack – and a threat to retire from former longtime WBC bantamweight king Shinsuke Yamanaka, should he not secure an immediate rematch with Luis Nery, who dethroned Yamanaka via fourth round TKO two weeks earlier.

Three other retirement announcements were made in late July by former 130-pound titlists Takashi Uchiyama and Takashi Miura as well as by Robert “The Ghost” Guerrero following recent defeats, but the most shocking exit was executed on September 21 by Andre Ward, the reigning pound-for-pound king and the holder of THE RING Magazine light heavyweight championship (as well as three sanctioning body belts).

“Mission accomplished,” Ward wrote on his website. “I want to be clear – I am leaving because my body can no longer put up with the rigors of the sport and therefore my desire to fight is no longer there. If I can’t give my family, my team and the fans everything that I have, then I should no longer be fighting.”

Finally, there is Miguel Cotto, who has repeatedly stated that 2017 will be his final year in boxing. Here’s something to ponder: What if Cotto makes good on his promise and what if he is joined by 48-year-old Roy Jones Jr. (who hasn’t fought since stopping Bobby Gunn last February) and by Manny Pacquiao (who will turn 39 in December and who may or may not get his rematch with Jeff Horn)? If they – along with Mayweather, Klitschko and Ward – retire and stay retired for the next five full years, they will create an unprecedented quandary for those who will assemble the International Boxing Hall of Fame’s Class of 2023 ballot – too many viable debutantes and not enough slots to make them all the first-ballot inductees they deserve to be. Even worse, there won’t be enough vacated slots from the Class of 2022 to include them all on the following year’s ballot.

Here’s why: Beginning with the 2006 class, the IBHOF reduced the number of Modern category inductees from four to three, meaning that three spots become available after every induction class. But if the worst-case scenario painted in the previous paragraphs actually happens, then there will be six fighters whose resumes scream “first-year, first-ballot inductee” – Mayweather, Jones, Ward, Pacquiao, Cotto and Klitschko – and half of them will be denied consideration from the voters because there won’t be enough spaces to even put them on the ballot, much less induct them. Even if the Hall allows a one-time expansion of available Modern ballot candidates from 30 to 35, voters are only allowed to choose a maximum of five names, which means one of the Stupendous Six will be denied a checkmark.

Yes, it’s an embarrassment of riches. But it also would be an embarrassment.

Granted, it’s very unlikely that the quagmire I suggested will occur but even if Jones, Pacquiao and Cotto continue to fight into 2018, the Class of 2023 would be set in stone – Mayweather, Ward and Klitschko. While that lineup will be one of the strongest and most meritorious three-man Modern classes in the Hall’s history, it also will remove any suspense from the voting process. After all, any voter who would deny these three one of the five maximum checkmarks should have his or her privileges revoked – and rightly so.

But this scenario touches on a problem that has been present since the three-man Modern Class was adopted for the Class of 2006 – worthy first-year eligibles crowding out others who have been on the ballot for several voting cycles. In the 12 classes since the new rules were instituted, four consisted entirely of first-year nominees (Roberto Duran, Ricardo Lopez and Pernell Whitaker in 2007, Julio Cesar Chavez, Mike Tyson and Kostya Tszyu in 2011, Joe Calzaghe, Oscar De La Hoya and Felix Trinidad in 2014 and Marco Antonio Barrera, Evander Holyfield and Johnny Tapia in 2017), while two more saw two first-year nominees get elected (Thomas Hearns and Mark “Too Sharp” Johnson in 2012, Arturo Gatti and Virgil Hill in 2013). Because of this, other worthy candidates such as Brian Mitchell, Jung Koo Chang, Yoko Gushiken, Hilario Zapata, Myung Woo Yuh, Lloyd Marshall, Cocoa Kid, Holman Williams, Naseem Hamed and Lupe Pintor languished much longer than their resumes warranted. They all ended up being enshrined but only during those years perceived to be weak, in terms of fresh names. A “soft year” shouldn’t be the only reason fighters such as these are immortalized but, as matters stand now, that is exactly why they finally broke through.

A look into the future suggests this glut will continue for years to come. Four big names will likely be considered for the first time ballot inclusion – Vitali Klitschko, Erik Morales, Ronald “Winky” Wright and Ricky Hatton – and it’s extremely probable that any combination of this quartet would be inducted next June (my guess: Klitschko, Morales and Hatton, though I would vote for Wright over “The Hitman,” if given that option), while the one aced out in 2018 probably will snag one of the three slots in 2019, a voting pool that could see the debuts of longtime titlists Chris John and/or Pongsaklek Wonjongkam along with Mikkel Kessler (if reports of a possible comeback don’t pan out) and little giant Ivan Calderon, if he doesn’t crack the ballot in the 2018 cycle, his first year of eligibility.

Because Marquez last fought in 2014, his first time before the voters will be during October 2019, the month when the Class of 2020 is considered. It’s a virtual guarantee that he and Sergio Martinez will lock down two of the three available Modern slots. Carl Froch will make his first appearance on that ballot and he may well earn spot number three. So that’s another class that could be penciled in years before the voting even starts.

Meanwhile, Mosley, who last fought in 2016, will join Bernard Hopkins as a Class of 2022 shoo-in and Bradley, another fighter whose last bout was in 2016, will vie with fellow first-time entrant Rafael Marquez to take the third slot.

Another significant part of the equation is that there are plenty of names that have been on the ballot for several years and whose candidacies are strong – Dariusz Michalczewski, Gilberto Roman, Wilfredo Vazquez Sr., Chris Eubank Sr., Nigel Benn, Sung Kil Moon, Julian Jackson, Orzubek Nazarov, Genaro Hernandez, Michael Moorer, Henry Maske, Gianfranco Rosi, Yuri Arbachakov, Sot Chitalada, Miguel Lora and Santos Laciar among them. But along with the cascade of first-year nominees who will arrive in the next few years, these fighters will be shoved even further away from enshrinement by those who will retire in the next several years such as Gennady Golovkin, Guillermo Rigondeaux, Sergey Kovalev, Roman Gonzalez, Nonito Donaire and Omar Narvaez. Then there are the younger guns who are on the path of reserving their own plaque such as Saul Alvarez, Terence Crawford, Vasyl Lomachenko, Mikey Garcia and Leo Santa Cruz.

Finally, what about fighters who have already been retired for the minimum five full years but have not yet made the ballot such as Veeraphol Sahaprom, Vuyani Bungu, Artur Grigorian, Masamori Tokuyama, Raul Perez, Marvin Johnson and Luis Estaba? Although each are deserving of a chance before the voters, the aforementioned circumstances virtually guarantee they will remain on the outside looking in. This should not be.

The point is there are plenty of candidates who can be placed before the voters and the supply will likely continue for the foreseeable future. Therefore, I believe IBHOF Executive Director Ed Brophy and his voting committee should consider the following reforms:

* Expanding the list of Modern ballot candidates from 30 to at least 35 (though I would prefer 40)

* If the 40-name list is adopted, allowing voters to place checkmarks on a maximum of 10 names instead of the current five (eight, if the 35-name list is approved)

* Restoring the four-man Modern induction class

While I believe the current protocol has fulfilled its mission of elevating the standard for enshrinement, there comes a point when strictures can become too suffocating, both for the nominees and for those charged with the responsibility of voting for them, of which I am one and have been since 2001. In my opinion, that point has been reached and the rush of retirements over the past few months illustrates how strongly reform is needed. Therefore, I believe it would behoove the Hall to revisit and revise. If they do so, the procession of new Hall-of-Famers will flow more easily but not so easily that it will negatively affect standards. That’s the balance that must be achieved and the only way to get it is to change the system – and soon.

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Lee Groves is a boxing writer and historian based in Friendly, West Virginia. He is a full member of the BWAA, from which he has won 15 writing awards, including 12 in the last seven years and two first-place awards since 2011. He has been an elector for the International Boxing Hall of Fame since 2001 and is also a writer, researcher and punch-counter for CompuBox, Inc. He is the author of “Tales from the Vault: A Celebration of 100 Boxing Closet Classics (available on Amazon)” and the co-author of the upcoming book “Muhammad Ali: By the Numbers.” To contact Groves, use the email [email protected].

 

 

 

 

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  • Dee Money

    NFL has the same problem as they limit the amount of modern candidates to 6 a year. It kind of happens in all HOFs, sometimes deserving candidates get pushed out by an abundance of inner circle guys that by chance retire in the same year.

    • Lee Groves

      You’re right about the NFL, and their congestion is even more severe than that of the IBHOF. That said, I believe the nominee pool in boxing from year to year is smaller, and thus more manageable. I think my suggestions could help loosen the glut that is now with us and will be even more so in coming years.

      • Dee Money

        I agree, I think bumping it up to 4 for modern candidates is a fair idea. Boxing is a lot harder to evaluate for this type of thing then team sports with organized leagues.

  • Steve

    Nice article Lee. Although much as I hate to say it I don’t think Benn and Eubank should be in the Hall. Much as I loved watching them neither fought, let alone beat Nunn, McCallum, Toney or Jones. Like Gatti, I believe their inclusion would be based more on entertainment and popularity than dominance of a division.

    • Lee Groves

      The induction of “fame” fighters is what I believe led to the three-man Modern class, and the new voting parameters adopted a few years ago also helped slow the flow. I hailed the move then and I still support the ideas behind them. However, I do think that the system needs tweaked because of the climate I described in the article. I have great respect for Ed Brophy, his nephew Jeff and all those who make the IBHOF what it is. I certainly consider it my “home away from home” and want to see the best for it.

      • jackstraw

        The 5 year waiting period is complete bullsh!t, IMO. What purpose does it serve? Boxing is like no other sport-what the fighters go through and suffer. No matter how much money they may have made many of them are broke and their mental faculties are damaged (even if they’re not showing signs yet). Why deprive them of their glory by making them wait 5 years? There’s absolutely no reason whatsoever that RJJ, Pac, Floyd, JMM, Morales etc shouldn’t be in now. Let these men enjoy their literally hard-fought glory now. Guys like Jones, Mosley and Toney are already slurring-they’ll only be worse in 5 years.

        • Lee Groves

          The waiting period, ostensibly, is to make certain that the athletes in question are indeed retired. Other sports have used this standard as well. However, there have been a handful of IBHOF inductees who have launched comebacks after their inductions such as Alexis Arguello, Sugar Ray Leonard, Jeff Fenech, Azuman Nelson and Virgil Hill. So, in that case, is five years enough? 🙂

    • David Telfer

      Gatti’s four FOTY awards got him enshrined and rightly so IMO.

      • Steve

        I hope I don’t come across as disrespectful to Gatti, he had the heart of a lion and I enjoyed watching him. But I feel the IBHOF should be for the most elite fighters, not the most entertaining or popular.

        • Lee Groves

          Agreed. I didn’t vote for Gatti but there is something about him that stirs emotions like few other fighters have. What’s done is done…he’s in and he’s staying in.

  • Nick Bannister

    Fascinating stuff, and makes me realise I was very lucky to come age as a fan in an era when so many great fighters were at their peaks. Not sure about some of the guys you mentioned being so good as to be hard to leave out on the first go around – Rafa Marquez, Miguel Cotto, Tim Bradley, Chris John, Mikkel Kessler, Carl Froch and Omar Narvaez were terrific fighters, but not on the league Hopkins, Pacquiao, Morales or Jones Jr were, and having to join Benn, Eubank and similar in the queue is nothing but a reflection of the greatness of some others.

    • Lee Groves

      I mentioned Rafa Marquez, Bradley, John, Kessler, Froch and Narvaez to illustrate the first-ballot guys who will be debuting in a given year, and all would get their share of votes during their initial year. Whether they would get enough votes to break into the top three is speculative, but I think of this group that Froch, John and Narvaez have the strongest cases, and I think Froch may well get in the first time around. Not sure about John and Narvaez, though Narvaez is the only titlist to ever amass 10 or more successful defenses in two weight classes.

  • FLOMATARD

    James Toney forever!

    • Lee Groves

      Indeed…but when will he start his countdown clock? It’ll be interesting to see how things shake out when he first makes the ballot.

    • stetee83

      Burger King, baby!!!!

  • stetee83

    Don’t think Big Clev’s retirement will affect any HOF votes

    • Lee Groves

      No, just wanted to provide a complete run-down of notables that retired in the past few months.

  • Rodemeyer

    why not do it like Baseball with anyone getting on 75% of the ballots?