By Lyle Fitzsimmons
All the signs of October are here.
My football team is teetering on the brink of irrelevance after five games played. My baseball team has made this year’s renewal of what’s become an annual postseason flameout. My hockey team has managed, over just 120 minutes on ice, to snuff out any lingering optimism from the preseason.
And, in the mail the other day, a big white envelope arrived from Canastota, N.Y.
In it were the stapled-together bios of this year’s crop of nominees for the International Boxing Hall of Fame, along with the form that will need to be sent indicating my picks for the Class of 2014.
It’s a task that’s among the very best parts of sitting at a keyboard and writing about boxing for a living. But, for those who’ve been reading this space since I got started several years ago, also know it tends to be one of the most conversation-inducing duties as well.
Last year, I was bombarded from all directions for pointing out that Arturo Gatti’s candidacy was far more a product of popularity than greatness, and for writing that the former action hero’s acumen was more indicative of a 50-lap feature at the local fairgrounds than of the Indianapolis 500.
People didn’t like it, but I still believe it’s true.
A couple years back, I got taken to task from more than a few readers for claiming – gasp! – that the halls of Canastota are filled with a lot of fighters for whom sentiment has clearly overtaken accomplishment when it comes to their lifetime bodies of work.
Case in point, ex-heavyweight champ Joe Frazier. He won a splintered version of the championship when its previous possessor, Muhammad Ali, was banned from the ring. And, while he indeed did beat Ali in the first of three matches, he lost the final two decisively – and was bounced off the canvas repeatedly upon meeting the other Hall of Famer of his era, George Foreman.
Possessor of a spectacular left hook? Absolutely. A terrific ambassador for the fighting city of Philadelphia, whose suburbs I called home for 10 years? Without question. But a fighter whose resume – with other title fight wins over the likes of Stander, Daniels, Foster, Ellis, Quarry, Zyglewicz, Bonavena, Ramos and Mathis – was as substantial as his legend? Not a chance.
He’s not the worst fighter in the hall by any stretch, but he was certainly the one – until the arrival of Gatti last year – whose career had been overinflated to the most seam-bursting proportions.
Again, it’s a stance for which I still get flak, but I have no problem taking it.
But all that said, the contents of this year’s envelope appear to be significantly less debate-prompting than what’s been included in past years.
Eligible for the 2014 class are newcomers Joe Calzaghe, Oscar De La Hoya and Felix Trinidad, a trio that accounted for 18 title belts and a combined 127-9 win-loss record across parts of 18 years before each appearing for the final times – Calzaghe and Trinidad against Roy Jones Jr., De La Hoya against Manny Pacquiao – in 2008.
One twist this year: Rather than including the bios for each fighter who’s on the nomination form – some of whom have been there for several years and whose fighting careers were long before I was born – I’ve only included those who were active since I’ve been around. If you’re a fighter whose wheelhouse of activity came significantly before 1969, I’ll leave it to others, each older voters or better researchers, to determine your fate.
Read on for capsule looks at the more “modern” 2014 nominees, along with this column’s vote on whether they ought to be part of the upstate New York celebration in June.
World Championships: WBO Super Middleweight; IBF Super Middleweight; WBA and WBC Super Middleweight
46-0 (32 KO)
Record against champions and Hall of Famers: 10-0
Oscar de la Hoya
World championships: WBO Super Featherweight; WBO Lightweight; IBF Lightweight; WBC Super Lightweight; WBC Welterweight; WBC Super Welterweight; WBA Super Welterweight; WBO Middleweight; WBC Super Welterweight
Record: 39-6 (30 KO)
Record against champions and Hall of Famers: 24-5
World championships: IBF Welterweight; WBC Welterweight; WBA Super Welterweight; IBF Super Welterweight; WBA Middleweight (2001)
Record: 42-3 (35 KO)
Record against champions and Hall of Famers: 20-1
World Championships: WBA welterweight; WBC welterweight; IBF welterweight; WBC super welterweight
Record: 34-6 (25 KO)
Record against champions and Hall of Famers: 6-5
World Championships: WBC Flyweight; WBA Flyweight
Record: 77-12-4 (52 KO)
Record against champions and Hall of Famers: 9-9-2
World Championships: WBA junior flyweight
Record: 23-1 (15 KO)
Record against champions and Hall of Famers: 6-1
World Championships: WBO Featherweight; IBF Featherweight; WBC Featherweight
Record: 36-1 (31 KO)
Record against champions and Hall of Famers: 10-1
World Championships: World Junior Welterweight
Record: 60-12-4 (41 KO)
Record against champions and Hall of Famers: 4-6
World Championships: World Bantamweight; WBC Bantamweight
Record: 48-9-4 (19 KO)
Record against champions and Hall of Famers: 7-3
World Championships: WBA Flyweight; WBC Super Flyweight
Record: 79-10-11 (30 KO)
Record against champions and Hall of Famers: 8-5-1
World Championships: WBC Featherweight title
Record: 133-11-4 (50 KO)
Record against champions and Hall of Famers: 2-5
World Championships: WBC Bantamweight
Record: 37-3 (17 KO)
Record against champions and Hall of Famers: 8-3
World Championships: WBA Featherweight
Record: 40-4-2 (23 KO)
Record against champions and Hall of Famers: 6-1-1
World Championships: IBF Light Heavyweight
Record: 31-1 (11 KO)
Record against champions and Hall of Famers: 5-1
World Championships: WBO light heavyweight; WBO Cruiserweight; WBA/IBF Light Heavyweight
Record: 48-2 (38 KO)
Record against champions and Hall of Famers: 6-2
World Championships: IBF Super Middleweight; WBA Super Middleweight
Record: 34-0 (6 KO)
Record Against champions and Hall of Famers: 8-0
World Championships: WBA Junior Lightweight
Record: 50-5-1 (17 KO)
Record against champions and Hall of Famers: 2-3-1
World Championships: WBA Bantamweight; WBA Super Bantamweight; WBA Featherweight
Record: 56-9-2 (41 KO)
Record against champions and Hall of Famers: 8-7-1
* * * * * * * * * *
This week’s title-fight schedule:
WBO welterweight title – Las Vegas, Nev.
Timothy Bradley (champion) vs. Juan Manuel Marquez (unranked)
Bradley (30-0, 12 KO): Second title defense; Third fight in Las Vegas (2-0)
Marquez (55-6-1, 40 KO): Fifteenth title fight (9-4-1); Held titles at 126, 130, 135 and 140
Fitzbitz says: “The last two men to defeat Manny Pacquiao seem on different levels. Bradley simply isn’t as skilled as his 40-year-old foe. If Marquez doesn’t turn old, he wins.” Marquez by decision
Vacant WBO featherweight title – Las Vegas, Nev.
Orlando Cruz (No. 1 contender) vs. Orlando Salido (No. 3 contender)
Cruz (20-2-1, 10 KO): First title fight; Lost only career fight in Las Vegas (TKO 5)
Salido (39-12-2, 27 KO): Tenth title fight (4-4, 1 NC); Lost WBO title in last fight (January 2013)
Fitzbitz says: “Cruz is a headline-worthy story and worthy of praise, but he doesn’t really belong on the same plane as an experience titleholder and challenger like Salido.” Salido by decision
Last week's picks: 1-0
2013 picks record: 55-31 (64.0 percent)
Overall picks record: 518-183 (73.9 percent)
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full- fledged title-holder -- no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA "world championships" are only included if no "super champion" exists in the weight class.
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.