by David P. Greisman
Do not read this as an indictment of Arturo Gatti and Virgil Hill.
Do not see this as an attempt to discredit either man’s accomplishments.
Hill followed his Olympic silver medal with a pro career he should be proud of: 10 defenses of a light heavyweight title during his first reign, and another 10 defenses in the division during his second reign, including a very brief period in which he was seen as the legitimate, lineal champion. In his later years, he twice would hold a cruiserweight belt.
Gatti had one of the most storied careers in boxing, a career in which the two title belts he held matter much less than the fights he was in. The fact that he was so flawed helped make him so fan-friendly, but it was his other attributes that ensured he would be that way. He could absorb an inhuman amount of punishment, seeking to use his own powerful hands as an equalizer, carrying through the pain thanks to an abundance of heart. He was in four "Ring Magazine" fights of the year and shared the ring with Micky Ward in one of boxing’s best trilogies.
They deserve to be lauded and praised. Gatti in particular will be remembered for generations to come, spoken of by fathers and grandfathers recalling his battles with the same twinkle in their eyes as with those who reminisced about Carmen Basilio.
Gatti and Hill should not be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
They will be, though.
Gatti, Hill and former 108-pound titleholder Myung-Woo Yuh were the three "modern" boxers selected for induction into Canastota in June 2013; they were voted for this past October, with the announcement made last week.
Do not look at this article as an overreaction to these two fighters’ coming inductions.
But the selections of Arturo Gatti and Virgil Hill to be enshrined in Canastota are symbolic of larger problems with the process, a sign that some changes need to be made.
A quick recap of the process: Voting in the "modern" category is done by members of the Boxing Writers Association of America and other voters. They can select up to 10 names from a ballot sent out to them; the candidates’ last bouts cannot have occurred before 1943. The fighters with the top three vote totals are inducted.
That three modern boxers are inducted every year means that there will always be all the more reason for fans to trek up to the small town in Upstate New York each year for what has become a tradition that every hardcore boxing fan should experience.
That there is no baseline for inductees, however, means that the Hall of Fame can be watered down.
Those inducted should not just be the best on the ballot, but the best of all-time.
Baseball’s Hall of Fame requires a player to be selected by a minimum of 75 percent of voters. Were boxing’s Hall of Fame to have the same standard, there are several otherwise undeserving fighters who might not have been inducted — and the same can be said for some very deserving boxers, particularly those from other countries or the less famous of those who fought in the decades before the Hall opened, who would otherwise be ignored.
Without that baseline — and with the nationality of much of the electorate — voters are more likely to select the boxers with whom they are familiar. Yuh is an exception, though he had been eligible for more than a decade and had languished on the ballot for years.
It should come as no surprise that this group of boxing writers — some of whom had to be persuaded to consider international wars such as Mahyar Monshipour vs. Somsak Sithchatchawal and Akira Yaegashi vs. Pornsawan Porpramook as past Fight of the Year candidates — would lean toward American boxers that they had seen.
(Baseball also requires that players receive votes on at least 5 percent of the ballots to return for consideration the next year. Adding a similar rule to boxing would mean that many of the 42 names that have been on the ballot for countless years would be removed.)
The vote for Gatti, in particular, seemed to be based on emotion and on a redefining of the criteria. The "modern" category calls for voting to "be based upon a boxer’s achievements in the ring as a professional boxer."
This left some gray area for voters who wanted to make a semantic argument about the meaning of the word "achievements." They could point to his massively entertaining fights and the fame his warrior mentality brought him. They could note the crowds he drew whenever his name was on the marquee. They could argue that Gatti contributed tremendously to the sport, and that this contribution should matter more than the fact that he never proved himself to be one of the best in any of the divisions in which he competed.
I loved Arturo Gatti. I’ve said time and again that he was the only boxer about whom I could not stay objective. I nearly cried when he died in 2009.
I want to see him remembered in Canastota, and I long argued that this memory could be in the form of photos, videos and other artifacts that make up much of the Hall of Fame building. I just didn’t think he should be listed along the greats whose plaques hang in a special section on a specific wall.
We voters do not consider other boxers’ contributions to the sport, nor do we consider fame, despite the Hall’s name. No one is keeping in mind how massively popular a Mexican or Japanese or Hungarian fighter might have been in his home country.
We must only look at whom they beat — and whether that makes them one of the best boxers in history.
The 10 Count
1. Correction: In last week’s column recapping Pacquiao-Marquez 4, as well as in a Nov. 19 column previewing the fight, I made the same mistake when referring to the scoring of the third bout between the two boxers.
In those columns, I erroneously said that Marquez was one point away from being the winner. This, of course, was incorrect: Pacquiao-Marquez 3 ended as a majority decision win for Pacquiao; the scorecards were 116-112, 115-113 and 114-114. Pacquiao would still have been the victor had there been a one-point swing on the latter scorecard — it just would have been a split decision instead of a majority decision.
I regret the errors.
2. It came as no surprise that Nonito Donaire had little trouble dispatching Jorge Arce this past weekend on HBO, and this is despite the fact that Arce hadn’t lost a bout in more than three years.
Donaire’s third-round knockout of Arce was what most of us expected, though, given that Donaire is a 30-year-old in his prime, in a weight class that’s ideal for his body, and is a boxer-puncher whose hand speed and power are proving to be too much for so many.
Arce, meanwhile, is long in the tooth at just 33, having fought as a pro for nearly 17 years, and having been at his best in the 108- and 112-pound divisions. While he took out Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. in 2011 to win a title at junior featherweight, he had not defeated a truly top-notch opponent in recent years, not at 115, not at 118 and not at 122.
Donaire is among the best at 122, and perhaps one of the best in the entire sport. It wasn’t a question of whether he would beat Arce, but when.
Despite the mismatch, it was an excusable fight. Donaire had already put forth an impressive run in his previous three fights in 2012, and he was returning to the ring just two months after dispatching Toshiaki Nishioka to face a popular Mexican fighter at a card in Texas, and to do so on a broadcast that was shared with the repeat airing of Pacquiao-Marquez 4.
Donaire is in a holding pattern while he awaits another truly big fight — either with promotional stablemate Guillermo Rigondeaux or with Abner Mares, whose contract with Golden Boy Promotions and allegiance to Showtime makes such a bout all the more difficult to make.
Rigondeaux was supposed to have fought on the Donaire-Arce undercard. That fight fell out at the last moment, though, when the Texas athletic commission would not license his opponent, Poonsawat Kratingdaenggym, due to what reports have said is a failed medical test (one article, citing unnamed sources, said the Thai fighter has HIV, but that has not yet been confirmed).
3. Four months ago, I’d said that Donaire was one win away from being Fighter of the Year. Donaire got that win in October, and his ledger even before taking out Arce this past Saturday had made him the clear-cut frontrunner.
But he’s now facing some stiff opposition for that award from Juan Manuel Marquez.
This is the debate that voters with the Boxing Writers Association of America will have:
Donaire won a vacant title at 122 pounds in February by outpointing Wilfredo Vazquez Jr., then unified belts in July with a decision over fellow titleholder Jeffrey Mathebula, then scored a stoppage in October over one of the top boxers in the division, Toshiaki Nishioka, and wrapped up the year with his knockout of Arce.
Those leaning to Marquez, though, would argue that Donaire has no wins over the truly marquee names in the division: Rigondeaux and Mares.
Marquez, meanwhile, scored a highlight-reel, one-punch knockout over Manny Pacquiao on Dec. 8. His decision win earlier this year over Serhiy Fedchenko likely won’t factor into voters’ decisions.
Pacquiao was coming off a loss, albeit a loss to Timothy Bradley that most observers felt Pacquiao deserved to win. Pacquiao had not been clearly defeated in seven and a half years, dating back to his first fight with Erik Morales. And he hadn’t been stopped inside the bell since his flyweight days in the 1990s.
4. It’s impossible to conclude whether Amir Khan’s change in trainers from Freddie Roach to Virgil Hunter has made a substantial difference in his performance in the ring, not after just one fight, and definitely not when considering the opponent Khan faced.
Carlos Molina was game but undersized, a former lightweight who had never faced a foe on Khan’s level, or even anyone on the level of the boxers Khan had beaten in recent years. Molina was too small and too slow of foot against Khan. Though he caught Khan with clean counters earlier on in the bout, Khan easily pulled away down the stretch, opening up cuts on Molina’s face and opening a clear lead on the scorecards. There was no reason for protest when the bout got stopped after the 10th round due to accumulated punishment
We still need to see how Khan will handle someone who applies good pressure, and how he will handle a junior welterweight who carries good power. We also still need to see what adjustments Hunter, who has done excellent work with Andre Ward, will make after digesting Khan’s win over Molina.
And we will continue to watch Khan’s fights with the same suspense there was after Wladimir Klitschko returned from knockout losses.
Khan’s hands are incredibly fast. But his hands are so fast that he will throw multiple shots in combination. This gives his opponents more of an opportunity to throw while Khan is throwing, which gives them more of a chance to reach — and test — his chin.
5. With that said, another fighter who is new to Hunter’s stable, Alfredo Angulo, looks to be on the decline. His victory over Jorge Silva this past Saturday was the kind of fight where one fighter loses despite winning, while the other fighter wins despite losing.
Granted, Silva was clearly a good fighter and not a designated opponent that Angulo was necessarily going to blow away in less than one round. But Silva also is young — he is approaching 21, though he has been a pro boxer since he was 16 — and undersized. He had most recently fought at welterweight, and he did not gain a single pound between weighing in at 156 and then stepping into the ring with Angulo more than 24 hours later.
Despite the difference in experience, Silva had little trouble hitting Angulo. And despite the difference in size, Silva was able to stop Angulo in his tracks on more than one occasion.
Unless Virgil Hunter can completely change what Angulo is by turning him into a fleet-footed boxer who knows how to move his head, and unless Angulo’s team keeps him away from anyone with a pulse and a punch, then it’s only a matter of time before Angulo’s defensive deficits become decidedly detrimental.
Fighters with Angulo’s style typically have short shelf lives. He’s taken a lot of punishment, particularly a year ago in his battle with James Kirkland. His seven-month stint in a detention center due to immigration issues likely exacerbated his condition.
Alfredo Angulo might not be long for this sport. We should make sure to enjoy him, then, for as long as he remains.
6. I loved the fact that CBS showed a boxing broadcast on Saturday, airing Leo Santa Cruz vs. Alberto Guevara in the late afternoon (Eastern Time) following an NCAA basketball game that saw Butler beat the top team in the country, Indiana.
I don’t know how many people watched it, though, nor do I know how much (or how little) advertising and marketing went into promoting the boxing show.
Ratings for the entire broadcast will say one thing, but I’m most interested in the quarter-hour ratings, which break down the viewing audience by 15-minute segments. I want to know how much of its lead-in audience from the basketball game that it kept, and I want to see whether viewers stayed tuned in over the course of the 12-round title bout.
7. Boxers Behaving Badly, part one: Hall of Fame inductee Mark "Too Sharp" Johnson was arrested last week on one count of possession of liquid PCP with intent to distribute, according to Tim Starks of Queensberry-Rules.com, citing a Washington, D.C., police report.
Johnson is out on bail and due back in court on Jan. 16, according to Queensberry-Rules.com. He is also facing one count of tampering with evidence.
The 41-year-old former 112- and 115-pound titleholder was inducted this past June into the International Boxing Hall of Fame, alongside Thomas Hearns, Freddie Roach, Michael Buffer and Al Bernstein, among others.
More than a decade ago, Johnson had his boxing career interrupted in 2000 by 11 months spent behind bars. As The Washington Post recounted earlier this year, "The jail time was the result of an altercation with his then-wife that violated his probation from a previous drug charge."
8. Boxers Behaving Badly, part two: Former 122-pound titleholder Clarence "Bones" Adams was among nine people arrested last week for allegedly being part of a drug and prostitution ring, according to KLAS-TV in Las Vegas.
Adams, 38, was named in a federal indictment issued by a grand jury in late November. The indictment says that Adams was a driver for a limousine company that sold and distributed controlled substances (including cocaine and methamphetamine) and facilitated illegal prostitution.
Adams is facing one count of conspiracy to conduct or participate in an enterprise engaged in a pattern of racketeering activity, one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud, and one count of conspiracy to use a facility of interstate commerce to facilitate unlawful activity.
He has pleaded not guilty and is out from behind bars, according to KLAS.
Adams fought as a pro from 1990 through 2010, a career that included a brief title reign at junior featherweight, and two defeats in notable bouts with Paulie Ayala. His last match was a fourth-round technical knockout loss to Edel Ruiz, which brought Adams’ record to 44-7-4 with 20 knockouts and 1 no contest.
9. Boxers Behaving Badly update: It was a case that made headlines nationwide not because of the caliber of boxer involved in the alleged crime — but for the way in which authorities were able to mount a case against him.
And now Martin Tucker has been found guilty of being part of a bank robbery in Michigan back in 2009, according to Detroit television station WWJ. The guilty verdict for Tucker and another man came in earlier this month. A sentencing hearing is scheduled for April 9.
Tucker’s latest win proved to also be the night that led to his greatest defeat.
That’s because the FBI had long suspected the junior welterweight of robbing the bank. Nearly three years later, in April 2012, an investigator watched Tucker win a four-rounder over Devarise Clayton, and then seized a Q-tip that Tucker’s corner man had inserted in the fighter’s bloody nose, according to a report earlier this year in The Detroit News.
DNA from the Q-Tip apparently matched that of a ski mask police found after tracking down the vehicle used in the robbery. The mask was among evidence found in a wooded area nearby, the newspaper said. Tucker was arrested in July.
The 33-year-old has several recognizable names on his résumé, both in victory and in defeat. His career now comes to a halt with his record at 8-10 with 3 knockouts.
10. That chill that just went down a bunch of boxers’ spines is the question of whether the person who asked for their trunks or robe or mouthpiece really was with the Hall of Fame — and not with the Federal Bureau of Investigation…
"Fighting Words" appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com. David P. Greisman is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Follow David on Twitter http://www.twitter.com/fightingwords2 or send questions/comments via email at [email protected]