"Here in Canastota, you can feel the heart of boxing."
-- 2022 IBHOF Inductee Regina Halmich
Nestled in the northern fringes of the Alleghany Plateau about 25 minutes east of Syracuse, Canastota is a bucolic village of 4,800 people that epitomizes the beauty and serenity of large portions of Upstate New York. On the drive into town there's green as far as the eye can see, with hills and mountains not too far in the distance. The main street has no more than a couple of traffic lights. The homes are modest, but well-maintained. It's an unusual yet stirring setting to honor boxing, a sport that's associated more with urban travails than rustic pleasures.
Canastota was home to Carmen Basilio, the great welterweight and middleweight of the 1950s, and that is the village's prime connection to boxing, other than Ed Brophy's quest to honor the sport with the brick-and-mortar museum that was erected in the 1990s. And yet towns like Canastota have played a huge role in boxing. Several towns in New York's Catskill Mountains were famous training locations for many top fighters. A couple hours south of Canastota rests the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania, where Muhammad Ali would often hold training camp. These serene locations have frequently been utilized by boxers to refresh, focus and prepare for their biggest nights in the ring.
|Photo by Adam Abramowitz|
The International Boxing Hall of Fame (IBHOF) museum itself is modest, and perhaps a tad disappointing for those who have visited other halls of fame, such as baseball's, just over an hour away in Cooperstown. The IBHOF museum has lots of interesting items and pieces of memorabilia. You can find the old Madison Square Garden ring, tons of fight robes, gloves, plaques for all of the inductees, famous fights shown on loop on the monitors, tickets, programs, and other ephemera. There also is a refreshing nod to today's boxers, with memorabilia from fighters such as Spence, Fury and Lomachenko on display. But the IBHOF surely has far more memorabilia than its three rooms can showcase. And I hope that the museum can eventually expand to display more of its collection.
The museum itself only played a small role in the weekend's festivities. Brophy and his team at the IBHOF pulled out all the stops. Leading up to induction day, events were held at a huge outdoor stage. Bernard Hopkins and Ring Magazine Editor Douglass Fischer held a great Q&A session. There was also a wonderful referee roundtable that featured luminaries such as Tony Weeks, Jack Reiss, Kenny Bayless, Mark Nelson, Benjy Esteves and others.
Hundreds watched these sessions in seats facing the stage. Hundreds more stood and lined the perimeter. Fighters signed autographs in tents beyond the stage area. And fans jumped on these opportunities. They didn't care if they were 80th in line to get a Roy Jones autograph; that's the reason why they came to Canastota, to interact with their heroes. IBHOF merchandise flew off the shelves in the museum shop. Boxing dignitaries, fans, media members and those involved in the sport floated around the grounds, stopping for conversations, pictures, handshakes and hugs.
The Hall of Fame annual boxing memorabilia show was on Saturday about half a mile away from the museum at the high school. Vendors from across the nation displayed their treasures (and some trash) to boxing's hardcore. It was almost impossible not to part with some money. Signed pictures, autographed gloves, old magazine covers, boxing artwork, books, figurines, newspapers from yesteryear – in its own way it was a paradise. I bought a really interesting book on Philadelphia boxing history. The stage in the gymnasium featured a table for boxing dignitaries. 2022 Hall of Fame Inductee James Toney was signing autographs and the line was over 150 deep.
This year's induction ceremony covered three years – 2020, 2021 and 2022 – and included huge talents such as Mayweather, Hopkins, Marquez, Ward, Cotto, Jones, Toney, Mosley and many more. The unique opportunity to see all of these legends on the same stage compelled thousands of boxing fans to make the pilgrimage for Hall of Fame Weekend. Because of outsized demand, the induction ceremony was moved from the Hall of Fame to the Turning Stone Events Center.
Throughout the weekend in Canastota, in the lobby and bars of the host hotel (Turning Stone Resort Casino), at the ShoBox card on Friday night, at the banquet on Saturday night, and during the induction ceremony on Sunday, boxing was everywhere. And for those accustomed to following the sport in relative isolation, here was a centralized locus for like-minded people. There were old friends to catch up with, boxing fans to meet, and opportunities to bump into the scores who work in boxing in one capacity or another. It was wonderful! And as Halmich said in the quote above, you could feel the heart of boxing. Here, boxing felt vibrant, present and real.
"Without family, you don't have anything."
-- 2022 IBHOF Inductee Bill Caplan
Although boxing is often viewed as the ultimate solitary sport, a fighter alone in the ring trying to conquer his or her opponent, a key takeaway from Induction Weekend was the importance of family, and this extended to blood relatives, surrogate families and even the boxing community as a whole. 2021 Hall of Fame inductee Shane Mosley credited his accomplishments to his father, Jack. Floyd Mayweather referred to his father as a genius and a great man. Mayweather was joined by over 50 friends, family members, colleagues and business associates to help celebrate the weekend. Bernard Hopkins called two people up to the stage for his induction speech, his son and Rudy Battle, a mentor and former boxing referee from Philadelphia. Kathy Duva, who had lost her husband Dan decades ago, was delighted that her three children could attend the ceremony. An adopted child, Duva was able to locate members of her birth family in the downtime during the pandemic, and she was exuberant that many of them were able to attend the induction ceremony.
|Bernard Hopkins on Saturday|
Photo by Adam Abramowitz
Sportswriter Bernard Fernandez, a great scribe from Philadelphia, couldn't attend the ceremony in person as he has been tending to his ailing wife, but Hopkins and Fernandez's fellow Philly writer and friend Joe Santoliquito called him live from the stage during the ceremony, and Hopkins, whom Fernandez covered intimately during his professional career, inducted him.
Marian Trimiar, a female boxing trailblazer from the '70s and '80s, thanked dozens who had helped her during and after her boxing career, including her live-in medical orderly, whom she regarded as her "sister."
The ceremony was also filled with children, grandchildren and other relatives on hand to accept awards on behalf of inductees who had passed away.
The induction ceremony encompassed whole ranges of emotions. There was bliss. There was laughter. There was loss. You could feel the inductees' love, joy, hardships and sacrifices. It was raw and at times cathartic.
III. Victory...but at a cost
"People ask me who was the biggest puncher, who was the toughest opponent. It was the sport of boxing."
-- 2021 IBHOF Inductee Andre Ward
As wonderful as boxing can be, Induction Weekend was a reminder of the dark side of the sport. James Toney, the preeminent trash talker of his day, spoke for no longer than a minute as words no longer come easily for him, at least not in a public setting. Ward admitted that the draw of coming back to the ring has been strong, but every day that he didn't fight meant that he had beaten the sport of boxing. You could still feel Mayweather's antipathy towards those who doubted his ability to become a star or believed that he would squander all of his money. Lou DiBella talked about how hard it has been for him to smell the roses during his time in boxing. Throughout the weekend there were a couple of older ex-fighters making the rounds who walked with visible discomfort, reinforcing the physical toll of the sport.
Even in the ring on Friday night during the ShoBox card, there was a reminder that the dark side of boxing remains present. Heavyweight George Arias won a split decision over Alante Green as a last-minute replacement. But Arias was only on TV because Elvis Garcia had failed a performance enhancing drug (PED) test. 2021 IBHOF Inductee Dr. Margaret Goodman revealed that she had left the Nevada Athletic Commission as a ringside physician because she didn't believe that the commission was doing enough to clean up the sport. In her speech Goodman beseeched the audience to do more to get PEDs out of boxing. And I'm sure the irony wasn't lost on her that on the very same stage where she was being honored for helping to clean up the sport, there were a couple of fighters, now Hall of Famers, who had failed PED tests.
Many of the female fighters who were inducted during the ceremony reminded those in attendance about the limited opportunities that they had at the time. They didn't necessarily want to be trailblazers; they just wanted to fight, and they didn't have the options or the financial possibilities that many of their male counterparts did. It was great to see Ann Wolfe and Christy Martin and Holly Holm onstage, but if they were fighting now their financial prospects would have been exponentially higher.
"Boxing is the most relatable sport. Everyone knows how it feels to be knocked down in life and that you have to pick yourself back up. It's universal."
-- 2020 IBHOF Inductee Lou DiBella
As many legends of boxing were honored over the weekend, the next generation was also present. Welterweight champion Terence Crawford was around all weekend, so was his last opponent, the recently retired Shawn Porter. Junior middleweight contender Sebastian Fundora was also there. Oh, there was also a fun fight card.
Bakhodir Jalolov, the Tokyo Olympics super heavyweight gold medalist, headlined the card and fought into the eighth round for the first time in his professional career. The power in Jalolov's left hand is real and he does different things with it. He walks opponents into it, he can go upstairs or downstairs, and he throws a mean uppercut. He shares some similarities with fellow southpaws Oleksandr Usyk and Zhanibek Alimkhanuly in that his back hand is more than just his dominant power hand; he can use it creatively.
|Jalolov before Friday's fight|
Photo courtesy of Stephanie Trapp
Jalolov is now 11-0 with 11 stoppages. With his power, amateur pedigree and the fact that he's in the heavyweight division, he will get significant opportunities sooner rather than later. But he still has a lot to work on. His right hook is more of a concept than an actual punch at this point. He also is a little too impressed with his power. On Friday he repeatedly hit Jack Mulowayi with his biggest punch, but stood there in almost disbelief as Mulowayi remained upright. Instead of following up a big shot with subsequent power punches, Jalolov did a lot of posing, admiring his work. He will need to understand that knockouts often come by putting punches together instead of just landing single shots in a vacuum. But that is all for another day. He still has more than enough time to refine his skill set and he is one of the top heavyweight prospects in the sport.
And it wouldn't be ShoBox without some obscure guy impressing as the "opponent." Chann Thonson is a 30-year-old lightweight from Quebec who fights out of Toronto. Although he's been a pro for almost six years, he only had ten fights coming into Friday's match, where he squared off against undefeated prospect Ty Tomlin, a DiBella fighter.
After tasting some serious leather in the first round, Thonson figured out that Tomlin was left-hook happy. He realized that if he moved to Tomlin's right side, he wouldn't face the same amount of danger. Having solved problem #1, Thonson proceeded to crack Tomlin with sharp combinations. When Tomlin would rush in irresponsibly, Thonson would make him pay. Thonson's clean punching continued to have more and more of an effect as the fight progressed and he was able to open up a huge cut on Tomlin. Eventually the fight was stopped in the fifth round because of the cut and no one protested the stoppage. It was a solid, clean TKO victory for Thonson, who could be fighting a lightweight of note really soon.
Overall, there's much more I could say about Induction Weekend, but I'm sure we can agree that this article has gone on long enough. So, let me end with this: If you have never been to Induction Weekend, you must put it on your list. If you love boxing, you will walk around all weekend with a huge smile on your face. The experience will enhance your connection to the sport and to those who love it like you do. It was unforgettable.