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An Inductee Experiences the International Boxing Hall of Fame – Part Four

The International Boxing Hall of Fame Parade for the induction classes of 2020, 2021 and 2022.
03
Jul

Saturday, June 11, began with breakfast in Parlour. That was followed by a bus ride to Canastota for another meet-and-greet with fans. There was a hospitality lounge on the fourth floor at Turning Stone that was open to inductees for most of each day and evening. The turkey and veggie wraps were good.

The first major event of Induction Weekend was the banquet on Saturday night.

“The banquet is great,” Al Bernstein had told me. “All of the inductees and other honored guests line up backstage and then they go out to the dais one at a time. It’s the biggest dais I’ve ever seen. And it’s wonderful. You look at the people sitting beside you. It’s a history of boxing. And you say to yourself, ‘Wow! I’m one of them.'”

The banquet, at $175 a ticket, had sold out weeks in advance. Fifteen hundred people were there. All of the inductees except one (more on that later) gathered in a room across the corridor from the Event Center. I thought back to the nights when Roy Jones, Bernard Hopkins, Miguel Cotto, and James Toney had invited me to share the hours in their dressing room before and after some of their biggest fights. Now I was being inducted into the Hall of Fame with them.

The Banquet of Champions

At 6:45 PM, the inductees were introduced and walked out to the dais. It was the first time I’d worn a suit and tie since the pandemic began. I was seated between Bernard Hopkins and Margaret Goodman. Margaret is a sartorial wonder and her outfits had been carefully planned. On this occasion, she was wearing a vintage black Gianni Versace suit with a short skirt and black high-heeled Christian Louboutin shoes. Sunday at the parade, she would wear a gray Dolce & Gabanna suit with gray Gucci pumps. Then she’d change into a white Richard Tyler pants suit with beige Manolo Blahnik sandals for the induction ceremony.

It’s a unique experience to sit at a dais under bright lights surrounded by some of the greatest fighters of our time. Referencing the pandemic and trilogy nature of the proceedings, Bernard leaned over and told me, “I don’t think we’ll see this again in our lifetime. At least, I hope not.”

Floyd Mayweather made his entrance at 7:55 PM, more than an hour after the the other inductees were seated.

Throughout the weekend, virtually all of the inductees had mingled freely with each other and the fans. The women inductees (Christy Martin, Barbara Buttrick, Laila Ali, Ann Wolfe, Marian Trimiar, Regina Halmich, Holly Holm, and Kathy Duva) were accorded full respect by the men. Fighters with immense pride put their egos aside to blend as one. Only Floyd carried himself separate and apart from the group.

Everyone who understands boxing respects Mayweather for his work ethic and the skills he exhibited throughout his ring career. But the way he handled himself at Canastota, in my eyes, was disrespectful to the other fighters. Time and again, he acted as though he was above them.

Each of the inductees had been asked to speak for a few minutes at the banquet. Our more formal remarks would come on Sunday at the induction ceremony.

After being introduced at the banquet, Mayweather stood at the podium in a show of emotion (feigned or otherwise) for more than two minutes before uttering his first words. He then said, “I’m not here to talk about me,” but managed to get in a few words about “me” (“My body of work is amazing . . . To be able to leave school in twelfth grade and go pursue my dream and make over a billion dollars; that’s truly impressive”). His fifteen-minute speech ran far longer than the remarks of any of his peers.

The most inspirational words of the evening came from Anne Wolfe who spoke movingly about not knowing how to read and write and thanked her two daughters for helping her fulfill her greatest goal in life – “to be a good mom.”

On Sunday, the inductees visited the Hall of Fame museum again; this time for group photos. Mayweather arrived separately with an entourage of thirty people. Later, in his induction speech, he would say that he’d brought seventy members of the Money Team to Canastota. That may or may not have been hyperbole.

At 11:30, the inductees assembled prior to the start of the Induction Day parade. Before journeying to Canastota, I’d been asked what I was most looking forward to about the weekend.

“I’ve seen a lot of parades in my life but I’ve never been in one,” I answered. “I think the parade.”

Good choice.

The parade is like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting. Jim Lampley’s voice choked up (a not uncommon occurrence) when he told me, “Those of us who love and care about boxing live in a world of the heart. And that heart is on full display in Canastota. The seemingly hokey experience of getting in a car and riding around this small town waving to total strangers who are waving back to you will be thrilling. You’ll remember it for the rest of your life.”

“A lot of people will be cheering,” Don Elbaum advised me. “And nobody will boo.”

“I was a twirler in high school,” Kathy Duva reminisced. “So I’ve been in parades before.”

The fact that three classes of inductees would be in the parade and the impact of COVID on local car dealerships had made it difficult for event organizers to round up enough vehicles. Earlier, one insider had suggested tongue-in-cheek that Mayweather be sounded out about bringing some of his luxury fleet to Canastota. But in the end, there were enough cars.

The people of Canastota and the surrounding environs were out in full force. The early forecast had been for heavy rain around noon. But now, rain wasn’t expected until mid-afternoon.

We got in our cars in a lot outside the Fiore Funeral Home. Each inductee was in his or her own vehicle and could choose who they rode with. I was in an orange Wrangler Rubicon Jeep with Jessica, Bayo, and Simon. Laila Ali, appropriately, was in a tomato-red convertible (Cassius Clay’s dream car). There were twenty marching bands.

The car I was in left the funeral home at 12:10 PM and arrived at the end of the parade route twenty-five minutes later. Thousands of people lined the streets, waving and cheering. For most of the ride, I stood on the back seat, waving back at them. At one point, I looked over at Simon, who was sitting on his mother’s lap. There’s no way to know how a 16-month-old toddler was experiencing the sights and sounds of that moment. But from time to time as people waved, Simon high-fived in return.

There was another buffet lunch.

At 2:50 PM, the induction ceremony began in the Turning Stone Event Center. The posthumous inductions came first. At 3:30, the induction of the living began. I was seated onstage between Lou DiBella and Shane Mosley.

Each of the inductees had been asked to limit his or her speech to three or four minutes. Andre Ward caught my attention with remarks that began, “Give God the glory. I wouldn’t want to be in this sport without Him.”

Ward then told the gathering, “I’d tell people, ‘I’m going to win a gold medal and I’m going to be a world champion,’ and people would say to me, ‘You’re crazy.’ But it’s only crazy until you do it. Some people like you. Some people don’t. Some people criticize you. Some people praise you. But when you make it here to this stage in Canastota, the debate is over.”

“I’m not the lead singer in the class of 2022,” Ron Borges noted. “But I’m proud to be part of the group.”

Thomas Hauser’s IBHOF ring

Each inductee was given a gold ring with a diamond chip in it when called to the podium to speak. The rings aren’t as fancy as the ones players get for winning the Super Bowl. But when I put mine on, a jolt of electricity went through me.

Once again, Floyd Mayweather separated himself from the pack. During the induction ceremony, he gestured from time to time to an aide who brought him a drink and a towel to wipe his brow. The event center was well-air-conditioned and each of the inductees had a bottle of water by his or her chair so that seemed largely for show.

Inductees had been asked to limit the length of their speeches. Floyd talked for almost fifteen minutes. That was longer than James Toney, Shane Mosley, Miguel Cotto, Juan Manuel Marquez, Anne Wolfe, Holly Holm, Christy Martin, and Laila Ali combined.

Mayweather began his remarks by saying, “Today, I want to talk about me. I want to talk about TBE.” He then proclaimed, “I look good. I fight good. I’m undefeated.”

That was followed by a lot of bragging about money: “Another great thing about my career is the smart investments that I made. It put me in position to make over a billion and then invest my money and triple it. In thirty-two months, I put myself in a position with a smart business team to make three hundred million dollars a month.”

I’m sure Floyd is a wealthy man. I’m also sure he doesn’t have three billion dollars and that his income is closer to mine than it is to $300 million a month.

More bragging followed before Mayweather closed with the declaration “I’m the best. I will always be the best. There’s no fighter in the past that’s better than me. There’s no fighter that’s in the future that’s gonna be better than me. And there’s no fighter that’s better than me right now. I will always be TBE.”

The belief among the fighters I talked with in Canastota was that Ray Leonard and Thomas Hearns would have knocked the “0” off Floyd’s record and that it wouldn’t have been close. Roberto Duran might have done the job too.

The induction ceremony was long, running until 6:20 PM. Just before speaking, I decided to begin my remarks by acknowledging the heroism shown in recent months by Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko. The rest of my speech was as follows:

“I’ve often said that some of the best people I’ve met in my life are in boxing and many of the worst people I’ve met in my life are in boxing. But it’s never boring and it’s a great writers’ sport. 

“Let me start with the fighters. This is your sport. The rest of us are just along for the ride. I’m indebted to every fighter who allowed me in his dressing room in the hours before he fought so I could chronicle that night for history. And I’m equally indebted to all the other fighters in boxing for being who you are.

“I’d like to acknowledge the promoters, trainers, managers, matchmakers, ring doctors, television executives, announcers. fellow writers, and all the others in the boxing community who have been so generous in sharing their knowledge with me. 

“I’m very moved by the thought of each and every person who put a check mark next to my name on the Hall of Fame induction ballot. Voting is anonymous so I don’t know who you are. But thank you. 

“A special thank you to Muhammad Ali.

“And thank you to the fans; those of you who are gathered here today and those beyond. One of the nicest things about writing for a living is the realization that, on occasion, someone actually reads what I write. A lot of the motivation for what I do comes from you. 

“Mike Jones, who managed Billy Costello to a world title, was my first guide through boxing. Four decades ago, Mike said something that has always stayed with me. In closing, I’d like to share Mike’s thoughts with you now:

“‘To understand boxing, you have to understand tradition and what it takes to get inside a ring. You have to learn about promoters and television and what goes on inside a fighter’s head from the time his career begins until the day it ends. You have to grasp the reality of smashed faces and pain, and understand how they can be part of something courageous, exciting, and beautiful. I know, I’ve been there. And after everything I’ve been through in  boxing, I can look you square in the eye and tell you boxing is beautiful – the purest sport in the world. You can knock promoters. You can knock trainers, managers, even fighters. But don’t knock boxing. It’s the best sport there is. And anyone who has ever been involved will tell you, it’s an honor to be associated with boxing.'”

After the induction ceremony ended, I went to my room and packed my bags. Then I dropped by the hospitality lounge for some final good-byes.

One of the tables was piled high with boxes of pizza.

Roy Jones was talking with family and friends. Two of his daughters stood off to the side.

“Is either of you Raegan?” I asked the young women.

“I’m Raegan,” one of them answered.

On November 8, 2008, I’d been in Roy’s dressing room at Madison Square Garden after his loss to Joe Calzaghe. Raegan was four years old at the time. In describing the scene, I wrote, “Jones sat in a far corner of the room on a folding metal chair with his head down. His twin sons (Deshawn and Deandre, age seventeen) were fighting back tears. His youngest son (Roy Jones III, age eight) stood to the side with tears streaming down his face. Raegan Jones, her hair beaded, as cute as a four-year-old can be, moved to her father’s side and put her arms around him. ‘I’m a big girl, daddy,’ Raegan told her father. ‘I don’t cry.’”

Time goes by. Raegan is now a young woman and had come to Canastota to share a moment of supreme triumph with her father.

Jessica and Bayo had left Canastota for Martha’s Vineyard (with Simon in tow) late that afternoon to celebrate their second wedding anniversary. I drove back to New York with Chris Davis, (a friend who works at the same law firm that I worked at decades ago).

Before I journeyed to Canastota, quite a few previous inductees told me that Induction Weekend had exceeded their expectations. I’d known it would feel good. But driving back to New York, I understood that it meant more to me than I’d thought it would.

 

This is the fourth in a four-part series. Read Part One, Part Two, and Part Three.

 

Thomas Hauser’s email address is [email protected] His most recent book – Broken Dreams: Another Year Inside Boxing – was published by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism. In 2019, he was selected for boxing’s highest honor – induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

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