The Travelin’ Man goes to Induction Weekend 2019: Part Three
Sunday, June 9: The toll of all the long days and short nights resulted in a fairly decent six-and-a-half-hour slumber that helped re-energize me for this, Induction Sunday. Although I haven’t attended every ceremony since 1993 (work responsibilities prevented that), I have been to the vast majority of them and saw dozens of inductees officially immortalized. Each year’s ceremony represents a microcosm of the entire weekend in that while the stars of the event may change, the supporting actors (the fans) and the strong camaraderie the event engenders remains largely the same.
Following my morning routines, I drove onto I-90 East and thought about the events to come. But after I turned onto the Exit 34 ramp and drove toward the toll booth, I saw multiple emergency vehicles with lights flashing in front of the McDonald’s located across the street from the Hall of Fame building. The reason: A roof fire that closed the outlet on one of its busiest days of the year. While the situation was soon brought under control – I didn’t see any flames – the restaurant was closed for the day. One had to think that the one obvious beneficiary was the PB&J food truck situated at the back of the grounds. Not only did the truck replace McDonald’s on this day, it also replaced the tent that, for many years, sold the Basilio Sausage Sandwiches that served as the backdrop of an informal Sunday event started by Bernard Fernandez and me: The Basilio Sausage Sandwich Summit.
It started more than a decade ago as a gabfest between two writers but, over the years, it became a tradition to which we both looked forward. Bernard missed last year’s event but veteran scribe Eric Armit more than ably stepped into the void. Now with Eric, Bernard and the Basilio sandwiches gone, I had to improvise. I spotted longtime writer Frank Bartolini ordering lunch at the food truck and, after telling him of the tradition, asked if he wanted to step in.
“Of course,” he said, “but I already ordered a hot dog. Is that OK?”
“Of course,” I replied. “I, however, will order a sausage sandwich from the food truck to keep some semblance of tradition.” This I did: I ordered one, put mustard on it and took it and the Diet Pepsi with me to the table Frank picked out.
Three other members of the boxing fraternity joined in the roundtable: Kirk Lang, Albert Derouin and Richard Schwartz, all of whom are pictured here:
Sure, all the details of previous Summits weren’t perfectly adhered to but the underlying spirit was more than maintained by the five of us.
After finding my seat on press row – seat eight in the front row on the right side looking at the podium – I continued to talk with whomever got into speaking range, which included photographer/scribe “Boxing Bob” Newman, photographer Mike Greenhill, emcee James “Smitty” Smith, promoter/manager Samson Lewkowicz (who, I think, deserves immediate consideration for the IBHOF ballot), writers J.R. Jowett and Jack Hirsch, longtime WBC official Chuck Williams and several members of the ESPN boxing family I hadn’t seen in a decade, which included Russ Whinnem, Matt Sandulli and Saul Avelar, while also saying hello to Brian Kenny.
At a little past 2:30 p.m., Smitty introduced all the celebrities (Larry Hazzard Sr., Earnie Shavers, J. Russell Peltz, Marc Ratner, Billy Backus, Marvelous Marvin Hagler, David Diamante, Carlos Ortiz, Michael Spinks, Humberto Gonzalez, Jorge Arce, Erik Morales, Paulie Ayala, Jesse James Leija, Marlon Starling, Mark Breland, Antonio Tarver, Orlando Canizales, Oleksandr Gvozdyk, Michael Moorer, Vinny Paz and parade marshal Holt McCallany) as well as the IBHOF Class of 2019 (Teddy Atlas, Donald Curry, Tony DeMarco, Don Elbaum, Julian Jackson, Guy Jutras and James “Buddy” McGirt).
A most welcome change in the induction ceremony protocol was that everyone was seated on the main stage, which provided a feeling of equal prestige for everyone concerned. In previous years, several notable non-inductees sat in chairs on the side platform located about 15 feet to the right of the main stage, which projected an unintentional “adult table/kiddie table” dynamic that was not appreciated by some, including me.
After acknowledging those Hall-of-Famers whom had passed since the last ceremony, Ackerman honored the one deceased member of this year’s class, writer Mario Rivera Martino, a longtime contributor to The Ring magazine, who died in 2017 at age 93.
“Mario was very influential with the WBO; he made the WBO bigger because he was always talking about honesty in boxing,” said WBO President Francisco “Paco” Valcarcel, who accepted the honor for Martino. “I think the WBO is where it is because it was honest; we play by the rules and Mario taught me how to do that. He was the guy who brought me into the sport and I’m now a golfer because Mario taught me to golf. Everyone knows Bert Randolph Sugar as the man who wore the hat and had the cigar but Mario said that the first guy who wore the hat was him, not Bert Sugar.”
The first of the living inductees to speak was the 87-year-old Jutras, who credited the IBHOF for addressing the corruption in boxing that was epitomized by Jake LaMotta’s acceptance of an under-the-table deal that had “The Bronx Bull” purposefully lose to Billy Fox in exchange for a shot at middleweight champion Marcel Cerdan more than a year-and-a-half later.
“The fact is that some sources recognize that boxing is probably one of the cleanest sports on Earth,” he said. “We have to give an awful lot of credit to the International Boxing Hall of Fame because it exposed everything that was happening. One after the other, the ones that were undesirable started leaving the picture. We find that, although there are five or six organizations, they all have obedience to the rules and regulations of boxing.”
Next up was Al Valenti, grandson of promoter (and 2012 inductee) Rip Valenti, set the stage for Tony DeMarco’s induction speech.
“Don’t get up yet,” he said to DeMarco. “Tony DeMarco transcends boxing. To understand Tony DeMarco and his relationship to Boston, the City of Champions, you best understand that he was born on, believe it or not, Fleet Street. The street is now called Tony DeMarco Way. When Tony walked into the Boston Garden in April 1955, he did something that no other Bostonian boxer had ever done: He won his world championship. He walked back home with the belt and he partied like it was 1995.
“I am an Italian-American and I’m proud of it,” he continued. “I am also a boxing fan and I’m extremely proud of it. I represented my grandfather here in 2012. The connective tissue between Tony DeMarco, Rip Valenti and the Italian-American community is iconic. Understand what Tony did in the ring: He boxed for three decades. He boxed 16 champions or future champions. He boxed at the Boston Garden 26 times. Frank Sinatra didn’t play the Garden 26 times. Today, there’s a statue of Tony DeMarco at the very top of Hanover Street and I implore visitors to the City of Champions to remember the single champion that has represented our city like no other champion because he is a true Bostonian. Today, I get to call him a Hall-of-Famer. Today, I get to call him my ‘campione.’ And today, I get to say to Tony DeMarco ,’Amore, I love you, my friend.’”
“I’m so happy to be here,” began DeMarco, who, at 86, is the second oldest living world boxing champion behind France’s Robert Cohen, who is 14 months older. “I must say that I met eight world champions and I lost to two but we won’t talk about that. Anyway, (this) is an honor.” In all, DeMarco’s speech – including applause – was just 52 seconds.
Lee Samuels linked a famous fight of his youth to the profession that eventually lifted him to the Hall of Fame.
“We grew up not too far from here in New Jersey,” he said. “We didn’t have a whole lot of money but we did have a radio. In 1963 I listened to Muhammad Ali against Doug Jones. I was captivated. Little did I know that I would eventually cover Ali fights for the Philadelphia Bulletin. I’m very fortunate to be standing here. In life, you’ll find out, each one of you, that people will help you get to the next level. When I got to the Philadelphia Bulletin, we covered every Muhammad Ali fight and every Joe Frazier fight. I covered Ali versus (Leon) Spinks in Las Vegas and I covered Ali versus (Trevor) Berbick in the Bahamas and it was an incredible experience. In fact, the publicist at that time, who I eventually came to work for, was Irving Rudd.
“I want to tell you about Top Rank: I wouldn’t be standing here without Bob Arum, Todd du Boef, Brad Jacobs, Carl Moretti, Bruce Trampler and Brad Goodman. I’m the fifth from Top Rank to be in the Hall of Fame – more than any other company – and I think that’s a testament to Bob Arum, who he hires and the direction his company goes. This is quite an honor, it’s unexpected because publicists don’t usually get this kind of honor.”
He then made reference to the many star fighters with whom he worked, two of which were on the stage: Marvelous Marvin Hagler and Donald Curry.
“My family and their families were very poor,” he concluded. “We had nothing but by the time I got to Top Rank, I traveled the world and I want to tell each and every one of you that this is the greatest country in the world. There’s no freedoms like we have in this country and when you travel, you’ll find out why. This has been a tremendous journey and I feel that I’ve been very blessed in life.”
Next up was Don Elbaum, who occasionally fished through notes written on several sheets of yellow paper but had limited time to express the thoughts written on them.
“Ed Brophy is only giving me three minutes,” he began. “This is definitely, absolutely incredible and I’m not sure where to start. There are two things in this world, one of which is in boxing, has been trying to come up with an answer. One is, ‘Which came first, the chicken or the egg?’ And the other question, which is going to be answered in about 30 seconds, is, ‘Who came first, Don Elbaum or Russell Peltz?’ Russell Peltz was at my circumcision. It’s true, by the way.”
Elbaum paid tribute to his fellow inductees but his praise for Teddy Atlas was accompanied with a pointed message aimed at the powers-that-be at ESPN.
“I’ve been in this game since before I was born,” he said. “I have been meeting and speaking with some of the greatest trainers of all time – Whitey Bimstein, Ray Arcel, Jack Hurley, Angelo Dundee and, currently, the master of them all Buddy McGirt. In every sport, in every business, there are great champions but there is only one Muhammad Ali. You have great trainers but there is only one Teddy Atlas. There are also an incredible amount of great ring announcers and it is a shame and a disgrace and an embarrassment to the fans that one of the best ever in ring announcing at the fights and (in terms of) explaining the fights is not back on the air doing blow-by-blow in boxing.” Moments after he concluded his remarks – which ran seven minutes and 24 seconds and had received emphatic applause – a female fan ran up to the stage and presented Elbaum with a bouquet.
A final thought about Elbaum: Nearly every plaque hanging inside the Hall of Fame bears the honoree’s birth year and a death year. The plaques of those who were alive during their induction year eventually will have to be altered upon their death but because Elbaum has been famously circumspect about his age, his plaque will bear no birth or death year. So in a powerful way, his plaque – in addition to his place in boxing history – will remain unchanged from this day forward.
Donald Curry, nicknamed “The Lone Star Cobra” for his quick and concise strikes, took just 24 seconds to deliver his remarks.
“Thank you very much,” he said. “I am very honored to be here tonight. I want to thank my coach, Paul Reyes, Ed Brophy and Bob Arum. I had a terrific amateur and professional career and I want to thank all of them.”
Former two-division champion Julian Jackson, who is now an evangelist, mixed in a Sunday sermon along with paying tribute to the people closest to him.
“I just want to greet you in the name which is above every other name: Jesus Christ,” he began. “A lot of people say that for every good man, there is a good woman behind of him. But I want to change that: For every good man, there is a good woman beside of him.” He asked his wife to stand (which she did) as well as those offspring who were in the audience.
He then spoke about his humble beginnings, the appreciation he has for Canastota and the power of belief.
“St. Thomas is only 32 square miles,” he continued, “and if you look on the map, all you’re going to see is a dot. But you know what? The Virgin Islands packs a big punch! We may be a small island but we have a big heart. There’s something that is unique about the Hall of Fame and that one unique thing is the love that I feel in this place. I want to thank the fans for coming and supporting us. We love you as much as you love us.
“There’s something I want to share from my heart: Nothing in life is worthwhile if you don’t take a chance. To take a risk in life. We all have to put our lives on the line but some of us had to step out of the familiar and into the unfamiliar. In 1987, on my way to fight for the (vacant) WBA junior middleweight championship of the world (against In Chul Baek) in Las Vegas, I did something that changed my life forever. Something that was not popular. I gave my life to Jesus Christ. And that was in an airport in the Virgin Islands on my way to ‘Sin City’ Las Vegas! I became a brand-new man. I was born again. It was no longer Julian Jackson’s way but God’s way. My old way was always headed for destruction, problems, trouble. As a matter of fact, I tried to commit suicide but I didn’t have the guts to pull the trigger. The Bible says there’s a way that seems right to a man but the end thereof is the way of death. My way didn’t work but now I was trusting God’s way. I believe that God was setting me up. You’re looking at a man who is not ashamed of what God did in my life. I know what is true. And I want to let the world know it wasn’t my way anymore but God’s way. I met somebody like God and I now stand before the world on this prestigious platform to receive one of the highest honors in boxing and to let the world know, with God, all things are possible!”
Atlas, who appropriately called the Hall of Fame “a kind of boxing heaven,” began by paying tribute to a group of people who receive little praise for what they do.
“There are a lot of people who get credit, properly, for putting this magnificent event together, like the Brophys,” he said, “but there are, from my understanding, 300 volunteers that are just so selfless and dedicated to helping make this the event it is for four days, whether it is stopping traffic, driving us somewhere, security, just everything. And without those 300 volunteers, this event can never happen, so thank you.”
He congratulated his fellow inductees, some of whom he knew personally, such as Samuels and Elbaum.
“I had the privilege of working with Samuels, who was in our camp when I trained Timothy Bradley for the (third Manny) Pacquiao fight, and I learned firsthand why (Samuels) has always been called a gentleman,” he said. “As for my friend of 40 years Don Elbaum, he has been called many things other than a gentleman. As he tells it, he was the first promoter of the first real ‘Fight of the Century’ between Cain and Abel. You will hear many stories about Elbaum today but I will take a second to tell one right now: My son Teddy was in grammar school and Don would send $10 for every ‘A’ he got on his report card. And for those doubting that story I still have the bounced checks.” As the crowd laughed, Atlas added, “I’m kidding…I’m kidding. He sent cash.”
He recalled meeting a young McGirt and his trainer/manager Al Certo at Gleason’s Gym, watching tapes of DeMarco at Jack Newfield’s house, cited Jackson as proof that punchers are born and not made and deemed Curry and Jutras as examples of pure class.
Although Atlas was being inducted as a broadcaster, he asserted that his broadcasting career would not have materialized without his being a trainer and he wouldn’t have become a top trainer without the fighters, who included attendees Tyrone “The Harlem Butcher” Jackson and Jimmy McMahon (whose career was cut short by a negative CT scan result), as well as former heavyweight champion Michael Moorer and current WBC light heavyweight titlist and lineal champion Oleksandr Gvozdyk, both of whom were on stage. He also thanked Gvozdyk’s managers Egis Klimas and David Berlin for recommending him to the future champion, expressed his appreciation to TV executives Kevin Monaghan, Dick Ebersol and NBC for the opportunity to broadcast at four Olympics, lauded ESPN producer Matt Sandulli for making Atlas watch video of himself to identify and fix his broadcasting flaws and said thanks to colleagues Brian Kenny, Max Kellerman, Bob Papa and Saul Avelar, the latter his often-silent sidekick in the popular “Fight Plan” segments. Of Avelar, a former professional fighter with a 9-2 (with 5 knockouts) record and a longtime employee of CompuBox, he said, “You should have a place here for all those years of Fight Plans. Thanks for always letting me win.
“I also want to thank the fans because without you there is no sport and there is no me for us,” he said. “My mentor in the business was the great Cus D’Amato and there is no doubt that without him in my life, this day could not exist. He would often remind me of how fortunate I would be if I were ever able to count my true friends on one hand. Well, I have been truly been given the gift of perhaps a couple of handfuls of, as Cus phrased it, trusted friends and not fair-weather ones.”
The most poignant moment of Atlas’ speech was when he described the impact his frequent absences had on his family, particularly his children.
“Someone once said that to make an omelet, you have to break a few eggs,” he said. “In a career, you sometimes have to miss some birthdays, graduations, holidays. I remember flying out to do a broadcast on Thanksgiving or being in a training camp during Christmas and calling home to hear my young daughter say, ‘I don’t want to talk to Dad; I want to see him and I want to hold him.’ And I remember my little son asking what color was my hotel room and what channel I had on my television, so he could put the same channel on and pretend that he was with me. It may have been my ambitions and responsibilities but it was their sacrifices. And who was it that who removed the picture of me from my daughter’s arms as she lifted her into bed or turned the television off as my son drifted off to sleep? It was the greatest champion I’ve ever known: My beautiful wife Elaine.”
McGirt was the final speaker and, unlike his ring work that was so well-planned and so technically sound, he spoke without notes and he delivered his remarks straight from the heart – and straight from his tear ducts.
“I warned you last night that I was going to cry,” he began. “I don’t like using the word ‘fans.’ I like to use the word ‘family.’ So for all the family who came to support me, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
After thanking his children and his wife (“This lady has been with me for 30 years. Any woman who has been with a man in boxing for 30 days deserves a medal. Another crazy thing is that 30 years ago today, we went out on our first date. We went from making out in the parking lot in Secaucus, New Jersey, to making out at the Hall of Fame.”) McGirt paid tribute to his mother in a fashion that was simultaneously humorous and touching.
“She left us three years ago and I think about her every day and cry every day for her,” he said. “She bought me my first pair of boxing gloves and she said to me, ‘You can box but you’d better have good grades in school.’ As I got older, she said, ‘I hope you make it in boxing because manual labor is not for you.’ She said, ‘You suck at everything!’ She asked me to cut the grass one day and she came home and found me sitting down in the shade. She said, ‘What are you doing?’ and I said, ‘I’m letting the lawn mower cool off.’ She said, ‘Stupid ass, what do you think they make the lawn mower for?’ That lady was my mom.
“She attended about 60 of my 80 fights,” he continued. “And I’ve only heard her voice in two fights. The first one was when I won my first title. I’ll never forget Frankie Warren stepped on the gas a little (in their rematch) and picked up the pace and she yelled, ‘C’mon JW!’ I looked at her, winked to let her know I was OK and started to hit Frankie Warren back. So I started hitting him with combinations and I won the (vacant IBF junior welterweight) championship. The next time I heard her voice was when I won my second world title (the WBC welterweight title). I was fighting Simon Brown and Brown stepped on the gas and I said, ‘Shit, man, I can’t get a break.’ But I heard her say, ‘C’mon, JW!’ She was behind me, so I couldn’t wink at her, so I had to throw punches to keep Simon Brown off me and to let her know I was OK. I did that; I won the championship and she was happy. And if she was here right now, she would say, ‘JW, stop all that damn crying!’ I want to say, ‘Mom, I hear you, I miss you and JW is OK.’”
With that, he kissed the box that stored his new ring, raised it to the sky and closed the curtain on another Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
Thanks to Jeff Brophy, I was able to spend about 30 minutes inside the museum and much of that time was spent talking to Curry, who spent considerably more time expressing his joy of being inducted than he spent doing so on stage. Now a trainer, he says his goal is to be inducted a second time in that capacity. I also congratulated McGirt on his speech, looked for DeMarco’s plaque with longtime friend and scribe Boxing Bob Newman, chatted with Smitty and David Diamante – two of the nicest people on Earth – and briefly spoke with Atlas while also shaking his hand and congratulating him on his new status. Although I now had my “big book” with me, I kept it in my laptop bag because the moment didn’t seem right to pursue any autographs. This was a private time for the inductees to soak in what they had just experienced and I didn’t want to do anything to spoil the afterglow.
I could have spent much more time inside the museum but I chose not to do so because I got a phone call on behalf of ace memorabilia collector John Gay, with whom I was to have dinner (along with fellow memorabilia icon Don Scott and his wife) and whom I was to drive to the Syracuse train station. In exchange for the ride, John paid for my meal – an extremely fair and much appreciated exchange.
After dropping John off, I continued my drive to Erie and arrived at the hotel shortly after midnight. The person to whom I promised a copy of the book was not there, so, technically, I hadn’t yet sold out. I spent the next couple of hours winding down from the long day before turning out the lights.
Monday, June 10: I awakened at 7 a.m. and spent the first three hours getting ready for the day and editing as much copy as I could before starting the drive home. Just before checking out, I sold the final copy of “Muhammad Ali: By the Numbers.”
The drive home was successful but not always smooth. It took at least an hour longer than usual because of a pair of bottlenecks on I-79 South prompted by road construction projects, as well as an 18-wheeler than opted to drive 10 miles per hour below the speed limit on narrow roads that offer nowhere to safely pass. I finally shook free of him in Sistersville – just five miles from my house.
I stopped by the post office in Friendly to pick up my laptop and desktop computers, which I had sent away for mandatory modifications a week earlier and once I returned home, I discovered, to my chagrin, that the UPS shipping process not only had damaged my desktop on the way to New York but also that it incurred damage on the return home. Thanks to my computer-savvy sister, those issues were repaired and soon I was ready to resume my daily life.
The “to do” list I left last Tuesday afternoon had grown and shifted in my absence and there were items that needed my immediate attention. After addressing them, I finally had a chance to sit down and reflect on what had happened over the past few days. It was a wonderful journey and I am already anticipating next year’s pilgrimage.
I will spend the next 10 days inside the Home Office taking care of the business that is before me. Then, this Travelin’ Man will return to Sloan, Iowa, to chronicle a “ShoBox: The New Generation” tripleheader topped by 6-foot-7 southpaw junior middleweight Sebastian “The Towering Inferno” Fundora versus the 17-0 Hector Zepeda.
Until then, happy trails!
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 16 writing awards, including 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 newly released book “Muhammad Ali: By the Numbers” (also available on Amazon). To contact Groves about a personalized autographed copy, use the email [email protected] or send him a message via Facebook.
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