CANASTOTA – It is always tough to know where to start the Saturday of International Boxing Hall of Fame weekend, with the crowds splitting between the museum grounds and the local High School, which houses the autograph and memorabilia show.

Lamon Brewster and Ray Mercer kicked things off on the grounds, while Hall of Famers Russell Peltz and Bernard Fernandez were on stalls at the show. It is always great to see both of them. 

The autograph and memorabilia, while still being a treasure trove, has reduced in size over the years, but there is still plenty of interesting stuff in there, with collectors selling programmes, artefacts, gloves, magazines and so much more. It is still easy to lose a couple of hours of your time looking through it all.

On the grounds, Brewster and Mercer made way for 2024 inductee Ricky Hatton, who was joined on stage by the brilliant Jim Lampley. 

Talking of Hatton, Lampley said fans preferred fighters who “Hit and get hit” to which the Manchester hero replied, “At least I kept my looks.”

They were a great double act, and Hatton had Lampley and significant crowd in hysterics at times. Hatton spoke of being linked with a fight with Miguel Cotto – “I think that would have been an unbelievable fight” – Micky Ward and Arturo Gatti. He said, up at welterweight, Luis Collazo gave him his most physical battle and that Collazo took more out of him than Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao combined.

Later, there was the annual referee Q and A, with Charlie Fitch, Kenny Bayless, Mark Nelson, Russell Mora, Sharon Sands and Benjy Esteves holding court. Nelson still calls amateur fights and has done more than 2,000, including 16 in a weekend recently. He also was the third man when Oleksandr Usyk defeated Tyson Fury and Nelson, who knows officials in other sporting realms, said: “Refereeing boxing is the hardest of all sports refereeing.”

Mexican legend Erik Morales was next on stage, and he said he was excited to see the new Hall of Famers joining him in Canastota. He talked of his reverence and respect for Ricardo Lopez, and discussing a past possible fight with Naseem Hamed, Morales said: “I saw him in Saudi Arabia [recently] and we were asked why we never fought. There was something in the works, I’m sure it would have been a great fight. I would have beaten him.”

Morales was also asked to rank himself, Marco Antonio Barrera, and Juan Manuel Marquez in order. 

“At the end of the day, it’s up to me to do my job,” he said. “And it’s up to the fans to decide the rest.”

Sebastian Fundora and Gabriela also took part in a ringside lecture, and then attention turned to the Turning Stone Casino for the annual banquet where the list of dignitaries included: Wallace Matthews, Mercer, Brewster, Micky Ward, the Fundoras, Morales, Mauricio Sulaiman, Ana Maria Torres, Ann Wolfe, Hatton, Jane Couch, Jackie Kallen, Michael Moorer, Fred Sternburg, Lampley, Bayless, Kelly Pavlik, Cotto, Paco Valcarcel, Calderon, Barrera, Alicia Ashley, Michael Spinks, Jesse James Leija, Butterbean, Cory Spinks, Tony Weeks, Peltz, Julian Jackson and Bronco McKart.

Sulaiman called Canastota “the field of dreams of boxing.”

Through a lot of post-dinner speeches, here are some of the lines that stood out: 

Lisa McClellan, sister of Gerald, was on hand to raise awareness for the Ring of Brotherhood and said she had been looking after her brother for nearly 30 years since he fought Nigel Benn and was left damaged. “I realised there were so many families suffering the same problem. I’m on a mission to do whatever I have to do,” she said.

“If we love them in the ring, we have to love them when their career is over because they need it.”

Kallen: “It took me 45 years to get here, but I’m here.”

They showed half the ninth round of the first fight between Ward and Gatti on big screens and Lampley said of that trilogy the boxers were: “Falling in love even at a moment when they’re trying to destroy each other… They became bigger and closer than people can be… They came from the same family, the Gatti-Ward family.” 

Ward thanked Lampley for calling the fight and said: “We became great friends and it’s a shame Arturo’s not around. We could be enjoying doing these sort of things together. We just gelled and I’m just glad to be involved in it with someone like Arturo.” 

As the only brother and sister combo to hold world titles at the same time, Gabriela Fundora said: “We made it into the history books of boxing,” and Sebastian added: “I feel like we’re going to be here eventually as well.”

Jane Couch: “I feel like I’m at the Oscars. I just want to say thank you all.”

Michael Moorer: “I feel good right now. I have social anxiety disorder so I get very nervous. There’s a lot of hard work [in making it to the Hall of Fame]. I’m very blessed I was able to get out of the game uninjured. I’ll do a better speech tomorrow night.” 

Tony Weeks said how Vegas referee Richard Steele once told him that referees might get many great fights, but not many get “signature fights.” Weeks was referring to handling the first fight between Diego Corrales and Jose Luis Castillo. His “signature fight.”

Butterbean, talking about starting yoga to lose weight and shape up with Diamond Dallas Page, recalled the conversation: “I can help you doing yoga, I said, ‘I ain’t doing no yoga’.”

Butterbean started yoga and has lost more than 100lbs.  

“I got my self-belief back,” said Butterbean, one of the weekend’s stars.

Close to the end, Hatton took the mic and ended the night on a high. He is the lead inductee this year, for all intents and purposes, and Hatton quipped: “I haven’t seen so many stars since I fought Pacquiao!” 

The day had started with the 5-kilometer fun run, and Ivan Calderon, Hatton, Marco Antonio Barrera, Ana Maria Torres, Sebastian and Gabriela Fundora all took part.

Celebrations carried on into the night at the Turning Stone, with many heading to various bars for ‘refreshment’.

BoxingScene spoke to Barrera who said he was in town only to support his friend Hatton. It has been a joy seeing them spend time together. They boxed an exhibition a couple of years ago and have been friends for more than 20 years.