JULY 2007

01 | The Life and Times of  a Boxing Pioneer
By Enrique Encinosa

02 | Poem of the Month
By Colleen Aycock

03 | In the Ring with James J. Corbett : Book Sample
By Adam Pollack

04 | My Candidate for Manager of the Year: Cameron Dunkin
By Adam Pollack

05 | Touching Gloves with Ruben Navarro
By Dan Hanley

06 | Flashback to the 2006 World Boxing Hall of Fame Banquet
By Dan Hanley

07 | Why the Old Soviet Block of Nations is having Success in Boxing
By Rocky Alkazoff

08 | "I'm from Down-Under too" Reflections from    IBHOF 2007
By Orion Foote

09 | Prelims:the Art & Science of Matchmaking [pdf]
By Don Cogswell

10 | Boxing's Lineal Mathematics : Champion Versus Champion
By Cliff Rold


“I’m From Down-Under Too”

Reflections From IBHOF 07’

by Orion Foote

It was everything I had hoped it would be and so much more.

The long and painfully drawn out flight from New Zealand is a necessary though tedious journey, and after a 10 hour stopover in Los Angeles (relieved only by some fine and hearty Mexican cuisine washed down with a few ice cold Coronas), followed by a rather pointless 3 hours in Chicago spent shuffling aimlessly around O’Hare airport terminal, I’m becoming more anxious by the minute to finally touch down at Syracuse where we can settle into our hotel room, grab a few hours of much needed sleep (how anyone actually sleeps on airplanes is beyond my comprehension) and dream of what lies ahead at Canastota. 

I don’t think I’m prepared for the 90 degree hot and humid sun drenched morning that follows our first night at the hotel in Syracuse – but what a glorious morning it is.   

On entering the museum grounds on Friday morning (yes, I missed the opening day as we were both ‘dog tired’ from the long flight!) I notice a small group of excited fans congregating near the museum. I look up to see none other than ‘Rock-a-bye’ Reuben Olivares signing t-shirts and other assorted memorabilia.

Who’s that? says Melissa.

I’m quite sure there really isn’t any time to be lost in explaining how Olivares is regarded by many as one of the most devastating punchers ever to grace the bantamweight ranks, so I quickly purchase a t-shirt depicting an old Boxing Illustrated Olivares front cover, dig out the trusty black sharpie and next thing I know I’ve got my first signing of the weekend.  

He then motions for me to stand next to him, ‘Mano e Mano’.

I would have dozens of pics taken over the remainder of the weekend, but for some reason it remains my favorite, and I’m very proud to say that my humble bid for the signed portrait of a young Olivares that was auctioned off over the course of the weekend, along with many other items in the main pavilion, is enough to secure it.

“Muchos Gracias Senor Olivares” ! 

The humidity continues to rise as we make our way into the museum.

I feel like the proverbial ‘kid in a candy store’ when I feast my eyes on all the exquisite boxing memorabilia from yesteryear, and as have countless others who have visited the hallowed halls of the IBHOF museum, I stand next to the colorful robes that have adorned such luminaries as Kid Gavilan, Marvin Hagler, Reuben Olivares and many others and have my picture taken.

The diversity of fist shapes and sizes fascinates me, as I closely study all the inductees casts made since the inaugural induction weekend of 1990. Clearly the size of a fighters hands has very little, or even no bearing whatsoever on his ability to render an opponent unconscious. 

After purchasing some IBHOF souvenir merchandise from the pavilion we drift outside to view the Oscar Diaz exhibition and take in the sights around the grounds.

I glance over toward the entranceway to see another small crowd beginning to gather.

It’s  Alexis Arguello arriving on the grounds

Moving closer, I realize that he’s standing motionless in the blazing heat, talking hurriedly in Spanish to someone on his mobile phone, while the crowd around him grows larger by the second. Occasionally he looks up and glances quickly around the faces standing in front of him

I swear I hear him mention ‘J-Lo’ and detect a glint in his eye, between bursts of his clipped though beautifully lyrical Spanish. He remains there speaking on his phone for a couple of minutes while everyone stands riveted in front of him, waiting for the conversation to conclude.

No sooner is his phone snapped shut, when pictures, gloves, caps and some even larger items of boxing memorabilia are extended in his direction and he begins to oblige the excited mob.

A watchful security person interjects several times, pleading with him;  “please move into the shade Alexis, it is very hot !”

There isn’t much chance of him moving though, and he greets everyone with his own unique brand of courtesy and charm. In a few minutes I have my cap signed and it’s off to Grazianos for some much needed sustenance. 

It’s Friday night back at the hotel, and Melissa wants to check out the Turning Stone Casino.

“Why don’t you go to Graziano’s by yourself, she says.

“You’ll probably have fun”.

As per usual, she isn’t wrong. 

I slide out of the cab to see Bert Sugar standing just outside the main entrance to the bar. He looks just like he does on all of those documentaries and ESPN boxing shows – the dandy mobster attire complete with Cuban cigar protruding from his mouth.

It’s a little after 9pm and the place is absolutely pumping.

I can sense a certain electricity in the air as I push my way up to the bar for my first Budweiser of the evening.

Lionel Ritchie’s “All night Long” is blasting out of the speakers across the room.

While hoping to catch the barmaid’s eye for a drink, I turn around to see Ken Buchanan standing directly behind me.

“Hey they’re singing about me” he quips in his distinctive Scottish twang. 

Back outside the bar entrance I notice a car pull up and out falls “Sweet Pea”. He seems to slowly survey the area and mood outside, before slowly ambling over toward the small crowd gathered around.

Someone greets him warmly and I realize that he appears to be on some other planet tonight, though im not altogether sure what substance has precipitated his demeanor.

He turns to me and I extend my hand saying “the sweetest southpaw of all”…. a small smile creeps across his face as he reply’s

“I knowwwww !

I tell him ive come a long way to be here, all the way from New Zealand to be precise.

“Oh really”?

What follows is pure improvised theatre, the kind of magic that made Whitaker something special to the sweet science, and something that is so spontaneous and entertaining.

He begins to dip down low, his now slightly heavier frame sliding and twisting like quicksand. His head is now positioned slightly below my waist level as he sinks even lower toward the ground, though still with the agility and balance of a Caribbean limbo dancer. He momentarily sways to and fro in the soft light beneath the awning.

“So you from down-under? ….Hey I’m from down under too, and YOU cant hit me….”

He looks up toward me with an impish grin, he shimmys and sways…turns this way then that…. still no more than 3 ft above the ground.

“I’m STILL down-under…

He now begins to laugh softly to himself, as do most of the incredulous onlookers. This is HIS show and he knows it…. more laughter begins to fill the tepid evening air as he slowly returns to an upright position.

I can barely believe the theatre of what has just taken place and im somewhat speechless.

He asks someone for a cigarette and begins rambling into a semi drunken monologue.

People from inside now realize he’s here, and several fans emerge from the bar armed with the usual assortment of photos and other mementoes in the hope of a signing…. I can sense a change in his mood as he eyes some of them with consternation…even a slight distain.       

“Oh No! ….No No NO” he responds to one photo pushed toward him.

I can sense that it’s a game he sometimes like to play with fans…. I can see him turning into some kind of pugilistic prima donna before my eyes…. it seems to be at polar ends to what I had just witnessed a few moments before.

The man with the photo seems deeply offended by Whitakers objections, and snatches the pen and photo out of his surprisingly small hands.

“Hey if it’s a big deal to YOU…don’t worry about it!”…. he blurts and walks forlornly back inside Grazianos.

Sweet Pea looks momentarily stunned.

He quietly ponders the situation  for a moment.

“You’ll be back” he calls after the man….

Somehow, I doubt it. 

The following morning we head off to the card show at Canastota High, after our good friends from the UK – Pete and Dave, whom we had met at our motel in Syracuse, kindly offer to drive us there.

The amount and quality of the memorabilia there is quite staggering, and I manage to swap an old photo of ‘Alabama Kid’ for a nice selection of Duran tickets – including the fights with Benitez, Leonard, Hearns and Hagler (the latter I was informed, had come from the private collection of the late Jim Jacobs).

I’m also fortunate enough to purchase both gloves and trunks signed by ‘Manos De Piedra’ himself, and given the fact i’m unlikely to get close enough to Duran over the course of the weekend, I’m more than content to settle for these two precious items.

Although just in case, I also find a nice copy of the Duran/Pazienza II programme. 

A little later back at the IBHOF grounds, i’m lucky enough to grab a nice pic with Raul Macias, perhaps one of the most gracious fighters from the old school that I have ever had the pleasure of meeting.

I only just manage to zap Ricardo Lopez for a signing as he’s getting into a cart to head back to the hotel for a rest, and like Macias, he makes it seem as though it’s me doing him a favour by asking for his time.

Before heading back to the motel in Syracuse to get spruced up for the banquet that evening, the inimitable George Chuvalo entertains us all, with a little help from Bert ‘Sugar’, with his stories and reminiscences of his colorful ring career. Now here’s a man who fought the BEST of his era, and who can talk with such humour and eloquence about it all – and you can still understand every word he says! 

The two memorable events at the banquet for me that night are Vinny Paz’ heartfelt speech (he returned to the podium, after having forgotten to mention the main reason why he had attended) and also my hilarious encounter with Carmen Basilio.

Near the conclusion of the evening, I emerge from the bathroom only to see Basilio slowly making his way toward the entrance. I quickly decide that it would indeed be an honor to hold the door open for him as he approaches the doorway. He draws closer toward me, and just as he shuffles up alongside, he flashes out his left hand and catches me right under the nuts!

All I’ll add is this -

 I’m glad I never caught one flush on the jaw from him when he was at the height of his pugilistic prowess fifty years ago!

Another highlight is Melissa snapping a pic (purely by chance) of Alexis Arguello sparking up a cigarette outside the main foyer! …

”You got me,” he says.. 

Last day, and I’m already starting to feel a sense of gloom about having to leave Canastota. Anyone who has ever attended an IBHOF induction weekend will no doubt have some sense of what it means to be there, and it isn’t something that is easily translated to words.

I arrive in time to have a final look around at some of the IBHOF merchandise and the fightphotos.com stand in case I decide on a last minute purchase before I head off to find a good spot to view the Parade of Champions.

I choose one of ‘Sweet Pea’ to remember my encounter with him outside Graziano’s, and realize its just about time for the parade to roll.

It’s a beautiful crystal clear and warm Canastota morning, and as I approach a corner near the old church, for some reason I start talking to a man and his female accomplice. We strike up good thing and next thing you know we’re talking the fight game, and Jimi tells me that he’s been to every Induction weekend since IBHOF begun, “only missed a couple” he says proudly before introducing me to a friend who says he’s coming to New Zealand later this year, and what places do I recommend him to visit.

And so we talk some more about the fight game, and Jimi just loves a good  ‘tear up’. 

Just as he’s getting all wound up about Hagler and Hearns, Mickey Ward and Gatti, Corrales and Castillo, Barerra and Morales – we hear the first strains of the brass band approaching from nearby.

I get most of the pics I wanted, standing on that downtown Canastota corner in the sparkling heat of the morning. I’m waiting for Ken Norton to round the corner, as I so want to hand him a photo of a painted rock of his likeness from my local boxing club back home.

Jimi’s friend says he can help, as he’s met Norton on several occasions. “I’ll help you get it to him, just wait a bit”

Sure enough- as the car carrying the still impressive frame of Norton rounds our bend, he calls out loudly.

“Hey Ken, he wants to give ya a picture”!

As the car comes to a momentary standstill, I walk out onto the road and offer the small framed photograph up to Norton, who turns, stares impassively at me, and mutters :Thank You”. 

We start ambling back toward the IBHOF grounds.

Jimi tells me that soon all the fighters will be entering the grounds again for the induction ceremony, and I’ll have another chance for some more pics.

After what seems like an endless delay, they all start drifting along the pathway toward the podium outside the pavilion, and I spot Carlos Ortiz striking his best fighting pose for the cameras.

Despite the grey hairs and the many years since he’s stepped through the ropes, he still makes an imposing figure.

A couple of days earlier when he had signed my cap, I remembered that back in the mid 70’s his management had pushed for a shot at Duran’s lightweight crown, though for reasons known only to the shady world of the ‘bahxin’ business’ the fight never eventuated.

“Maybe you’ll get your shot at Duran after all” I joke.

“Yeah we’re currently in negotiations,” he says laughing. 

I expect Whitakers speech to be interminably long and rambling, however Jose Suliaman grabs the spotlight when his turn arrives, and most of us are shifting uncomfortably after 10 minutes of his incessant banter. ‘Sweet Pea’ winds up the crowd by glancing at his watch and suppressing a few yawns (evidently he’s booked to fly out of Syracuse at 6pm, and isn’t about to be upstaged by the WBC president for much longer)

His speech is, for something that appears to be quite unrehearsed, a spellbinding tribute to the men who had guided him through the amateur ranks into the  world of the professional prize-ring, culminating in several world titles and boxing’s coveted “Pound for Pound’ number one status.

“Pound for Pound – You guys chose ME,

Thank You, Thank You, THANK YOU” he says with unsupressed gratitude.

I can feel my stomach crying out for some much needed sustenance, so I drift back over the road to Graziano’s dining room.

Every available seat seems to be occupied.

“Come sit down out the back room honey,” the waitress says, opening the sliding doors revealing the side area where many of the fighters had gathered on Friday night for dinner and drinks.

No sooner had I ordered some Lasagne and a cold Budweiser, when in strolls Marvin Hagler with his partner. I see him quickly brush off a photo request with a little annoyance. “We wanna eat just now, maybe a bit later”.

I say hello as he passes my table.

“How ya doin’ buddy” he replys, making his way to a table by the far wall.

Despite being a little heavier around the midriff, I estimate that he’s still only a 6-week training camp away from making 160 pounds, and still carries himself with the air of a world champion.

 I wait for them to finish eating and slide up to their table to introduce myself, feeling a little unsure how this will turn out.

They seem happy to chat now the busy weekend schedule has subsided, and I tell them that I had sent an email through his website just before leaving New Zealand bound for Canastota.

“Nuuu Zeelan’ he slowly drawls.

Yeah I remember reading that one”

Yeah I read that one too,” she adds.

And so we exchange a few words, though I don’t want to outstay my welcome so tell then I’m going to head into the bar and kick back with a beer or two.

”Yeah just relax man…..that’s what I’m doin’ he says.

I give them my regards and adjourn to the bar; it’s time for some liquid refreshment. 

“Come inside and lets get some pictures, Ken’s here too somewhere,” says Alan Minter.

I had seen him walking over toward the entrance to Graziano’s with a friend and so I introduce myself, and explain that I’ve just been talking with Hagler inside.

His expression changes somewhat for an instant –

“Oh God, Haglers not still here is he”, he inquires.

“No I saw him leave not too long ago”

“Oh that’s alright then,” he says, making his way inside. 

Inside he motions to Ken Buchanan, who is engrossed in conversation over by the bar, to come over and take part in a quick impromptu photo shoot for me – I’m quite touched by his warm and courteous manner, and for the next few minutes his friend clicks away on the shutter for me. At one point Minter turns to me and assumes a fighting pose – Now this is more like it – I do the same and dip at the knees, feinting a quick left hook at his right side. For some reason, maybe it’s the Budweiser, for a split second I’m tempted to pivot on my front foot and drive it toward his unprotected liver. He senses this, and drops his right elbow in anticipation.

We all laugh in unison..

His English friend turns to me and says.

“Alan’s a former undisputed champion, You don’t get to meet many of those – not even ‘round here”

“And so he is” I reply.

And he still looks in great shape”

My friend Dave from the UK, who I met at our motel in Syracuse, and who’s been plonking a fresh bottle of Budweiser in front of me every twenty minutes, has been to every induction weekend since the beginning except the year his wife passed away, and is telling me some great stories outside over a cigarette.

“Leon Spinks was here a couple of years back”

“Yeah so I heard” I reply.

“Has he replaced his front teeth yet? I ask

“Well yeah, he did for a while – Used to get gold settings in them, but he gave up after a while”.

“Why’s that” I inquire

”All the hookers used to steal them when he was asleep” he recalls dryly. 

Back inside I’m overjoyed to spot a couple of guys I had met on Friday night at the bar..

Jerry and Howard recognize me straight away, and we’re off again.

Jerry, I don’t know his real name – I call him Jerry coz he’s Irish (as in Jerry Cooney), and every word that comes out of his mouth has me in howls of laughter.

Jerry informs me that his pal got k.o’d by Howard Davis in one of his last amateur bouts – “But don’t mention it to him” he warns, “he hates talking about it” 

So I call his pal ‘Howard’, and it seems to stick.

Jerry pulls out a card from his pocketbook and hands it to me.

It says NYPD Lieutenants ‘Benevolent Association’.

“What is it?” I ask

“Well, if ya get pulled over on the way to New York City, just show ‘em that” he says, taking another sip of Sambuca.

Around 9pm I see Carmen Basilio stroll into the bar.

He signs a pair of miniature gloves for me, and I remind him of the incident outside the bathroom at the banquet last night.

He looks up and glares sharply at me.

“Do ya want me ta’ do it again”!

I finish up chatting with Esteban Montanez, the son of posthumous inductee Pedro Montanez,’ who is propped up alongside the bar.

.I ask him if he’s proud to be here representing his late father.

“Yeah, I’m my fathers son, y’know what I mean,

“I am my fathers son,” he slowly repeats.

 He stares thoughtfully into his glass for moment

“But I’m not the man that he was” he murmers softly. 

It’s getting late, and I’ve lost count of the number of beers I’ve consumed.

I look across to where my English friends had been sitting, but they seem to have disappeared.

Reuben’s portrait is still perched on the seat just where I left him.

We both decide to call it a night.

The departing spirits at Canastota have other places to be. 

The following morning I leave Canastota, and the words of Pernell Whitaker  fill my head : 

“I may not be a resident of Canastota physically,

But I’ll always be a resident of Canastota spiritually for eternity”