Saturday, June 10-Marvelous Day, Sleepless Night
Len’s son Greg had been unable to attend the fights at the Turning Stone with us due to his having to work the graveyard shift that evening. Appropriate for a full moon, unfortunate for Greg. Nevertheless, exhausted but excited, he drove straight down from Syracuse to get in a few photos with the fighters before heading home to see his baby boy and get some much-needed sleep.
Shawn Porter was one of, if not the first back from the annual 5k run and spent considerable time afterwards with the fans gathered outside the Days Inn where Andrew Golota was also signing autographs and posing for pictures with the Saturday morning early birds. My friend Rick had overheard Golota’s wife saying that Andrew, who is in tremendous shape, better perhaps than when he was a heavyweight contender, has been following a restrictive diet eliminating sugar and dairy and nearly all carbohydrates. Maybe this partially explains his perpetually gloomy expression and seemingly grumpy temperament. I know if I was denied having pizza or putting sugar in my coffee, I would be an impossible person to be around.
This being something I would happily have paid to sit in on, I later heard that Golota and Riddick Bowe had met up for breakfast together. The potential topics of conversation are unfortunately left to the imagination.
Micky Ward came running up wearing his powder blue jersey and number card, flanked by none other than Marvelous Marvin Hagler on a bicycle. It’s all in the name of fun and charity and, anyway, I can’t imagine anybody wanted to be the one to tell Marvin he couldn’t bring a two-wheeler to a foot race. Hagler, whose mood can also be unpredictably touch and go, was in fine spirits and strolled over to hang out with the fans after setting his bike aside for safekeeping. No doubt about it, the highlight of my day was having Len take my picture alongside the former undisputed middleweight champion of the world, not to mention my all-time favorite fighter. It only took ten years.
I left on a high note for the boxing memorabilia show over at the Canastota High School where I would, if I could, spend more time and money than I have any realistic right to. Livingstone Bramble was walking his service dog in the opposite direction and I stopped to thank him for being a recent guest on Mike and Jeremiah’s podcast on The Grueling Truth and how much I enjoyed listening to the interview. I made sure to send a message to Jeremiah letting him know that Bramble said he had a good time doing it and appreciated the opportunity to be on with them. Always a cool guy to talk to.
The first order of business, after paying the admission fee and getting my hand stamped for re-entry, was to find Springs Toledo who let interested parties know beforehand that he would be selling and signing the 40 pre-publication copies of his new title Murderers’ Row that he finagled from the folks at Tora Books. Certain to sell out in rapid fashion, I had to have one. No need to fear, as his table was in direct eyeline past the front entrance into the gymnasium where the dozens of dealers’ stations are arranged. He inscribed my copy to “the 9th member of Murderers’ Row” and encouraged me to keep up the good work with my own writing which he said he has read and enjoyed. When you receive such kudos from the guy you consider to be the best boxing writer of this generation, compliments don’t get much better than that.
Now, as to book finds on limited funds. I scored a signed edition of Ken Buchanan’s autobiography The Tartan Legend, a copy of Cleveland’s Greatest Fighters of All Time written by Jerry Fitch and signed on the front cover by the great Jimmy Bivins, Mel Heimer’s The Long Count which details the lives and fights of Dempsey and Tunney, and The Woman in the Corner: Her Influence on Boxing by British boxing historian Gilbert Odd which details both the supportive and destructive influence that mothers, wives, and femme fatales have had on prizefighters. My new buddy ‘Boxing Jones’ also came across a copy of Gilbert’s book for himself which I found to be, if you pardon the groan-worthy pun, an Odd coincidence.
Keith from Long Island had given me a heads-up that he was setting up shop in his customary spot with his eye-popping collection of Ring magazines, single issues and bound volumes dating back to its inception. Naturally, I wanted to lug back to my car all that I could carry but my wallet and my conscience conspired against me. He let me have the 1935 bound hardcover edition to add to my collection for half his asking price up front with a gentleman’s agreement to settle up on the remainder back home at a later date. He’s a good guy and knows I’m good for it. Keith even snapped a picture of me holding Emile Griffith’s WBC Middleweight Title belt which he had bought from Emile’s son Luis and had on display.
I stopped by the Bare Knuckle Boxing Hall of Fame table to talk to its president Scott Burt and express my regret that, because it is almost an additional three hours west of Canastota, piggybacking a trip there onto an induction weekend has not been logistically possible up to now. Someday though. When I mentioned that I am planning to do a story sometime down the line on Nellie Bly coming to Belfast, NY to interview John L. Sullivan who established his training headquarters there in preparation for the Jake Kilrain fight, Burt informed me that the BKBHOF’s other caretaker (standing to his left and whose name, with my humble apologies, slips my mind) named his dog after Nellie and urged me to call them up to arrange for a private tour when the time is right. I bought a hat from them as a consolation prize in the meantime.
Having just purchased a Christy Martin t-shirt to benefit her charity and getting ready to head back to see what was going on over at the museum grounds, I recognized Iran Barkley flipping through a binder of fighter photos. As luck would have it, I had the Nunn/Barkley fight program in my backpack with the hope that Iran would show up and autograph it for me. “I’ll sign that for you if you can tell me who this is,” Iran grinned as he turned over an 8×10 glossy of Michael Grant whose sloppy signature was impossible to decipher. Having passed his test with flying colors, Barkley signed my program and was happy to comply with my request to get together in the near future and discuss the Nunn bout for a feature Michael and I have been working on little by little. It does my heart good to see Iran in far better physical and emotional condition these days. I’m sure every other fight fan would concur.
Barkley’s one-time destroyer James Toney could not have been more accommodating to the fans all weekend long and certainly had a good time busting my pal Len’s balls, pretending that he wouldn’t take a picture with him for having the audacity to wear a Minnesota Vikings shirt around a Detroit Lions fan like himself. He was joking, of course, and posed for the photo with one arm around Len’s shoulders and the other blocking out the Vikings logo. Just as ‘Lights Out’ had done for me on Thursday, Michael Carbajal signed my Nunn/Toney program as he was featured on the cover for decisioning Hector Luis Patri in defense of his IBF World Light-Flyweight Title in the co-main event.
As always, I carried around my copy of Bert Sugar’s 100 Years of Boxing with me and had Chiquita Gonzalez, Riddick Bowe, Daniel Jacobs, Pernell Whitaker, Sweet Pea’s fellow 1984 Olympic gold medalist Paul Gonzales, referee Tony Weeks (a mere seven days away from officiating the Ward/Kovalev rematch), and many more over the course of the weekend add their autographs within it to the roughly 175 others collected during the last decade. The sinus infection, lack of quality sleep, and unrelenting 90-degree heat had been slowly eroding my energy and tolerance level and cumulatively steered me into an existential brick wall in the late afternoon.
I was ready to pack it in when, out of nowhere, a golf cart bearing Evander Holyfield screamed up outside the Days Inn. To everyone’s surprise, Evander wandered over and agreed to pose for what wound up being maybe a dozen photos. I was one of the lucky chosen few. He even sort of smiled for it.
Deontay Wilder was hot on Holyfield’s heels and I managed to worm my way into a photo-op with the heavyweight champ before calling it a day. While the boxers and ticket-holders were all feasting on the top-shelf grub available at Syracuse’s OnCenter for the Banquet of Champions, I was sitting on my hotel bed eating Taco Bell burritos from a takeout bag while re-watching back-to-back airings of ESPN’s 30 For 30 documentaries Muhammad and Larry and The Real Rocky. Sad, I know. Cue the violins.
Sunday, June 11-It Is What It Is
I had foolishly hoped for an early sack time and ten or more hours of heavy duty slumber. My sinuses had different ideas. Unable to breathe out of my nose and my core temperature running alternately hot and cold, I tossed and turned and was seriously considering waking up, checking out, blowing off the inductions, and driving straight home.
That would have been the prudent course of action but also the regrettable and easy way out and no fun was ever had doing that. So, screw it. Pick your shitty attitude up off the floor and soldier forward, I told myself. Always easier said than done. In retrospect, I was glad I did. Last Sunday, not so much.
Junior Jones and Bert Cooper were standing outside Dunkin’ Donuts talking to fans about a hundred yards from where Len, Rick, and I stood. They went over to join in. I didn’t have the energy and stayed put. The regret I felt was very real when Len, a big boxing card collector, told me about his awesome interaction with Bert Cooper who wondered if he could have the extras among the bunch depicting himself in exchange for signing the ones Len asked him to.
I have to admit I put minimal effort into trying (and failing) to get Evander Holyfield, who did a sudden about-face in his no autograph policy, to sign my copy of his second book Becoming Holyfield. It wasn’t going to make or break my weekend or cause me to bang my head against the steering wheel for the entire trip home as it might have in years gone by and, as Len wisely reminded me, “You’re going to get up and go back to work and your normal life tomorrow no matter what.”
I followed Len and Rick on the mile-long trek up Peterboro Street to Fiore’s Funeral Home. The end of the line for most poor souls in and around Canastota but the unlikely starting point for the Parade of Champions where the boxers await their assigned vehicles and place in the procession. As Evander Holyfield stood off to the side, Len approached him and got him to sign his induction program and Rick a Ringlords boxing card while I watched from a safe distance. Security put a stop to it after that anyway. We all got a good laugh when one of the more irritating eBay guys berated one of his several flunkies for not chasing down Marvin Hagler to get his autograph on a boxing glove as the Marvelous One pulled away. “It is what it is,” he conceded to us. As if we cared.
I caught sight of John ‘Iceman’ Scully down one of the side streets on the walk back for the induction ceremony but just didn’t have it in me to detour down there to say hello. Sorry, Ice. Donny Lalonde was supposedly somewhere in close proximity but I never did lay eyes on him. He helped me out on a story I had written about Wilbert ‘Vampire’ Johnson two years ago and was very complimentary toward some of my other writings, pieces on Marvin Camel and the Holyfield/Qawi fight in particular. It would have been nice to thank him in person.
With the temperature in the mid-90s, I gladly took Rick up on his extra ticket for the seated section beneath the canopy for the inductions so, after he snapped a quick photo of me with Danny Jacobs who was heading up to the dais, I said farewell to Len who was taking off for home. Until next June, my friend. This was the first year I abandoned (not spitefully yet with appropriately guilty feelings) my buddy Chris DeChick with whom I normally view the parade and induction ceremony from the shadeless sidelines. If you watch the very end of HBO’s Legendary Nights: The Tale of Gatti/Ward, you can see us front and center in the sea of people as Micky leaves the stage after enshrining Arturo in 2013. Don’t blink or you’ll miss it. It took me maybe three viewings before even I caught it. I needed to take a load off this time but I’ll be back out there with you next year, pal.
95 year-old Doris Lennon, wife of 2017 posthumous inductee Jimmy Sr. and, it goes without saying, mother of Jimmy Jr., sang a rousing rendition of the National Anthem after which a memorial ten-count was tolled in honor of recently deceased Hall of Famers Aaron Pryor, Bobby Chacon, and Lou Duva. There followed some opening remarks made by this year’s parade Grand Marshall Eric Braeden who may be cherished by soap opera viewers as Victor Newman on The Young and the Restless but is best known by sci-fi geeks like myself as theoretical physicist (and Zira’s cold-blooded murderer) Otto Hasslein in Escape from the Planet of the Apes. That bastard scarred my childhood.
Eddie Booker, one of the eight members of Murderers’ Row, was undefeated in his first 41 fights until losing on points to Fritzie Zivic at Madison Square Garden in 1939. Most famously, he floored Archie Moore four times on the way to earning a stoppage of ‘The Ole Mongoose’ in 1944, having drawn with Moore in two previous bouts that The San Diego Union felt Booker won. Enshrined in the Old Timers’ category, Booker’s nephew Ian told the audience that “My Uncle Eddie was a bad man,” happily accepting the Hall of Fame ring on behalf of the Booker family.
Jimmy Lennon Jr. remembered his father as “a stickler for enunciation and pronunciation” as well as “a true ham” who “relished in a challenge” whether it be taking the time to properly learn each one of a certain Greek boxer’s fourteen-syllable last name, opening the back door to the Olympic Auditorium to let kids in who couldn’t afford to buy tickets, or saving ‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper’s life by standing between the wrestler and his would-be gunman.
Teresa Tapia was next to be asked up to the podium to accept the honor of her late husband’s induction into the Hall of Fame, acknowledging that it was the love and devotion of his fans above all else that guided Johnny through his “many triumphs, tragedies, and resurrections”.
“I may not be deserving,” Barry Tompkins stated, “but I am humbled.” Coincidentally, I had gotten to have a little talk with Barry about Howard Davis Jr. the day before, seeing as though his breakthrough broadcasting gig was a momentous one: doing color commentary for the boxing competitions during the 1976 Olympics. The ensuing four decades have seen Tompkins go from HBO to ESPN to Fox Sports to his new home at Showtime where Barry, Al Bernstein, Jimmy Lennon Jr. and fellow 2017 inductee Steve Farhood have become not just colleagues but best friends. This was evidenced throughout the weekend as you rarely saw one without another alongside or close by.
Ringside judge Jerry Roth, who scored 225 world title fights in nearly 35 years on the job (but who also got the year wrong when signing Len’s induction program on Friday-might want to recheck some of Jerry’s more recent scorecards), broke down in tears at the end of a brief but emotional speech.
The comments of Sydney, Australia’s trainer of champions Johnny Lewis were likewise short and sweet and punctuated by a hug from Jesse James Leija whom Lewis singled out as having shown class in the face of a tough loss to Kostya Tszyu. Too bad neither Tszyu or Jeff Fenech made the trip to Canastota to celebrate Lewis’ enshrinement.
Steve Farhood opened by saying that, having sat on the other side of the podium on a number of occasions where inductees rambled on interminably (I’m looking at you, Michael Buffer), he would have mercy on his listeners. He then went on to joke that his presentation would include a slide show and Q+A. Having first made a name for himself as the founder of KO magazine and editor-in-chief of The Ring, he answers the question put to him on why his focus remains strictly on prizefighting by replying, “Why would a journalist want to cover any sport other than boxing?” Farhood summed it up in a way that I think all of us who pride ourselves on being both fight fans and boxing writers can well understand. “The stories of boxers and of boxing will never get old to me.”
Modern day Mexican legend Marco Antonio Barrera spoke with his son acting as translator, recognizing his legions of fans, foes with whom he shared the ring, and his loving family. The fights he has with his wife, Barrera laughed, are “the only ones I can’t win.”
Evander Holyfield delivered a touching homage to the Boys’ Club of Atlanta, where he developed and refined his boxing skills, his brothers and sisters for whom he acted as “the gofer”, and his children who inspired him to never relent to adversity no matter how many times he was tempted to give in and admit defeat. The bulk of the credit, Holyfield stressed, belongs to his mother whose penchant for hitting her wayward children was responsible for his quick reflexes but, most importantly, for instilling in him the words of wisdom he carries with him always and takes care to impart to others. “Listen, follow directions, and not to quit.”
With that, it was goodbye Rick, so long to Canastota, and a five-hour drive back to Long Island with a sinus headache and no air conditioning. Writing about it is a helpful and necessary reminder of the fun I had. June 7, 2018 will be here before you know it. Time once again to turn and burn.