When I get ballots to vote in the various categories for the International Boxing Hall of Fame each fall I go through them very carefully. I take a look at the newcomers, I give another look at others I have passed on previously and refresh my memory on their careers.
I take the task seriously and spend time thinking about who I will vote for. I talk to others whose opinions I respect.
This year was a little tougher than usual because there were more newcomers to the ballot than usual. Typically, there are 30 candidates on the ballot for modern fighters (meaning those whose last fight came no earlier than 1989) — 27 holdovers and three newcomers. This year, because there were so many quality candidates eligible to be included on the ballot for the first time — five years since their last fight — the ballot was expanded to include five newcomers for a total of 32 candidates. The newcomers are former three-time heavyweight titleholder Vitali Klitschko, former four-division titlist Erik Morales, former two-division titlist Ricky Hatton, former undisputed junior middleweight champion Ronald “Winky” Wright and former strawweight and junior flyweight titleholder Ivan “Iron Boy” Calderon. That is a deep ballot of stars and pound-for-pound quality fighters to go along with the rest of the holdovers.
Electors can vote for up to five fighters (ballots are due today) and the top three vote-getters are elected with the announcement of the new class coming in December followed by inductions June 10 at the Canastota, New York shrine.
I would prefer that the election was done like the Baseball Hall of Fame, meaning a 75 percent threshold for election. Some years there might be several candidates who are voted in. Some years there might not be any. That’s just the way it goes.
Unfortunately, that’s not how the boxing HOF does things and I have voiced my opinion to the powers that be. In boxing, regardless of the vote total, three fighters will be elected. That means somebody could, in theory, receive a tiny percentage of votes and still be enshrined, and I don’t think that’s right. Conversely, there could be several worthy candidates who might rack up a very high percentage of votes but only the top three would make it. The Hall of Fame also does not reveal the vote totals, so we never know the breakdown.
Even though I can vote for five fighters, knowing that only three will be elected has caused me to often just vote for my top three. But this year, I couldn’t do it. The ballot is so deep that I voted for the maximum five candidates from a ballot that includes the five newcomers and holdovers Yuri Arbachakov, Paulie Ayala, Nigel Benn, Sot Chitalada, Donald Curry, Chris Eubank Sr., Leo Gamez, Genaro Hernandez, Julian Jackson, Santos Laciar, Rocky Lockridge, Miguel “Happy” Lora, James “Buddy” McGirt, Henry Maske, Darius Michalczewski, Sung-Kil Moon, Michael Moorer, Orzubek “Gussie” Nazarov, Sven Ottke, Vinny Pazienza, Gilberto Roman, Gianfranco Rosi, Samuel Serrano, Meldrick Taylor, Fernando Vargas, Wilfredo Vazquez Sr. and Ratanapol Sor Vorapin.
I voted for Morales, Klitschko, Calderon, Wright and Hernandez.
Morales (52-9, 36 KOs) was a slam-dunk, easy-as-pie, no-doubt-about-it pick. Lock city. He is one of the greatest fighters in Mexican history. He won world titles in four weight classes between junior featherweight and junior welterweight. He beat numerous elite opponents (including prime Manny Pacquiao, a future HOFer, in the first fight of their trilogy, and 2017 inductee Marco Antonio Barrera in fight No. 1 of their legendary trilogy). He also beat HOFer Daniel Zaragoza, Junior Jones, Wayne McCullough, Kevin Kelley, Guty Espadas Jr., In-Jin Chi, Paulie Ayala, Jesus Chavez and Carlos Hernandez. He was one of the most exciting fighters of his time.
Voting for Morales was one of the easiest votes I have made in nearly 20 years of voting.
Klitschko (45-2, 41 KOs) and baby brother Wladimir Klitschko (another lock HOFer when he makes the ballot) dominated the heavyweight division in the post-Lennox Lewis era, which means most of the 2000s. Klitschko’s two losses were by injury, a torn rotator cuff against Chris Byrd and one of the most horrific cuts I’ve ever seen against Lewis in their epic collision. Beyond those defeats (and he was winning both fights at the time of the injuries), Klitschko rarely lost rounds and did something rare — he retired because of knee and back injuries from 2004 to 2008 and when he returned he immediately reclaimed his old title in one-sided knockout fashion from still-formidable Samuel Peter. Klitschko went on to defend it nine times, all one-sided wins, including against Chris Arreola, Shannon Briggs, Tomasz Adamek and Dereck Chisora. Klitschko was still going strong in 2012 but decided to vacate his title and retire to turn his attention to politics in his native Ukraine.
Calderon (35-3-1, 6 KOs), a 2000 Olympian for Puerto Rico, was one of the greatest defensive fighters ever and regular on the pound-for-pound list during his heyday. I covered a lot of his fights and although he had virtually no power, he was a wizard. The saying during his prime: Death, taxes and Calderon by lopsided decision. He made 11 strawweight defenses and six more at junior flyweight. He beat a slew of the top guys and former titleholders, including Alex Sanchez, Roberto Leyva, Noel Tunacao, Issac Bustos, Hugo Cazares (twice), Nelson Dieppa and Rodel Mayol. His three losses came in his final four fights. For my money he’s in the conversation for all-time best strawweight along with Hall of Famer Ricardo Lopez and future HOFer Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez.
Wright (51-6-1, 25 KOs) was the epitome of a slick southpaw with great defense. He was one of those guys for whom mandatory title shots were created because without a sanctioning body mandating he get a title shot who would give him a chance, since he was a dangerous opponent with little economic clout.
Wright was a fantastic fighter, a regular on the pound-for-pound list and earned everything he got after he left the United States and spent years globetrotting to find fights. He had two junior middleweight title reigns but made his name when he outpointed future HOFer Shane Mosley to unify titles and become the undisputed champion in 2004. He beat Mosley again in the rematch and easily outpointed HOFer Felix Trinidad in his next fight in one of the single most dominant performances I have ever covered that did not include a knockout.
For years I have regularly voted for Hernandez (38-2-1, 17 KOs), the former longtime junior lightweight titleholder who died at age 45 after a three-year battle with a rare form of cancer in 2011. His only losses were to Oscar De La Hoya (at lightweight) and Floyd Mayweather.
Hernandez’s crowning achievement came in 1991, when he traveled to France and stopped Frenchman Daniel Londas in the ninth round to win a vacant junior lightweight title. He defended the title eight times before moving up to lightweight in 1995 and suffering his first defeat challenging East Los Angeles rival De La Hoya. Hernandez retired on his stool after the sixth round because of a shattered nose and was brutally criticized for quitting. But nobody knew how bad it was or that he had hidden the fact that he had suffered a broken nose sparring against Mosley a week before the bout.
Three fights later, Hernandez got another title shot against HOFer Azumah Nelson in 1997. While Hernandez won a split decision to claim his second world title, he will be remembered more for the fighting heart he showed in the bout than the victory. “Chicanito” was ahead on all three scorecards when Nelson hit him in the throat after the bell ended the seventh round. Hernandez went down in agony and was told that if he did not continue, he would win the fight and title via disqualification. Hernandez took a few minutes to recuperate, got off the mat and fought his heart out and won the decision. He would make three defenses and before facing young lion Mayweather, who stopped him in the eighth round to win his first world championship.
I also voted in the non-participant and observer categories. In the non-participant category (35-person ballot, can vote for up to five, three will be elected), I voted for one and her inclusion on the ballot was long overdue: the late promoter Lorraine Chargin. Her husband, the great Don Chargin, was inducted in 2001 and it’s absurd she was not elected with him and has not appeared on the ballot until this year. They were a team and promoted regular shows for decades, mainly at the old Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles from the mid-1960 to the mid-1980s.
In the observer category (30-person ballot, can vote for up to five, two will be elected), I voted for two people: holdover and vastly underrated Steve Albert, the longtime former Showtime blow-by-blow announcer who joyfully called so many big fights during his long run on the network, and ballot newcomer Jim Gray, whose involvement in boxing goes back nearly 40 years but who is best known as Showtime’s ringside reporter and interviewer. Gray has never pulled punches in his interviews and will ask all the tough questions that need to be asked. He has done it superbly for decades at one big fight after another.