International Boxing Hall-of-Fame Diary: Day 4

After the preliminaries, the interviews, the fist-casting, the lectures, and the banquet came the main event. Induction week at the International Boxing Hall of Fame ends, inevitably, with the induction ceremony – and, first, the parade.

It is Hall of Fame tradition that new and existing inductees, and other notable boxing figures present, are driven through Canastota in convertibles, waving to the crowds that throng the small town’s main street. This year’s parade grand marshal was, improbably, 80s rapper Flavor Flav; apparently a long-time friend and fan of the sport, he also has another, slightly tenuous, connection to the sport.

In 2004, he appeared on Season Three of VH1’s reality show The Surreal Life, in which very random celebrities were thrown together in a house. Flav’s fellow residents included the likes of Charo and Brigitte Nielsen, former wife of Rocky creator Sylvester Stallone. Nielsen, unable to pronounce his name – she repeatedly called him Foofy Foofy – was clearly captivated, and their unlikely relationship then became the basis of more VH1 specials. 

Anyway, I digress.

After the parade, which terminated at the Hall of Fame grounds, everyone made their way back to Turning Stone for the induction ceremony, those who had been there all week joined by a team from Top Rank, fresh from Saturday night’s Josh Taylor-Teofimo Lopez clash at Madison Square Garden. (Two of the team, great friends from HBO days whom I hadn’t seen in years, drove up bright and early, bought a pair of blankets at WalMart and fell asleep on the grass in Canastota so they had a good spot on the parade route.)

There were ten living inductees this year, of whom nine were in attendance – Laura Serrano choosing to stay at home – while two previous inductees, journalist Bernard Fernandez and boxer Lucia Rijker, who had not been able to attend in their year of investiture, also spoke.

Rijker had been prevented from traveling because of COVID travel restrictions in her native Netherlands, while Fernandez brought tears to the eyes of all those assembled when he explained why he was speaking now, four years after he was told by IBHOF chairman that he had been elected. There was no ceremony in either 2020 or 2021, of course, but he chose not to attend last year because his wife had been diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer and had been advised she had maybe a year to live. Understandably, he didn’t want to leave her for even a day.

His voice cracking, Fernandez paused.

“My wife and my son are with me today; she loves it here and we’re already talking about coming back next year.” The room erupted in applause.

Top Rank matchmaker ended his speech similarly teary. “People ask me the best match I ever made; it’s with the person I hope will be with me forever. Vivienne, will you marry me?”

Yes! Yes! Yes! Chanted the crowd. Vivienne and Brad embraced and kissed. Cue more applause and cheers.

Trainer Joe Goossen used his speech to laud his late brother Dan, also an inductee, and to reflect on their start in the business in 1979. “Dan was the man who made it happen. I just went along for the ride.”

Alicia Ashely explained how she spent the first part of her life training to be a dancer until her career was derailed by injury. She took up boxing at 28, turned professional at 32 (!) and retired a few years ago at 50 (!!!) after becoming the oldest person, man or woman, to win a maiden world title.

Carl Froch joked that he had planned to wing his speech, but after watching “consummate professional” Tim Bradley prepare backstage, he decided to make some notes. He gave a special shout-out to trainer Rob McCracken, with whom he shares a special bond. “He was a big brother, father, and best friend rolled into one. And together we conquered the world.”

Finally, Tim Bradley opened by admitting he would struggle not to cry. “I’m not here because I’m better than everyone I fought. I’m here because I wanted it more.” He paid tribute to his parents, recalling a time, at age 15, when he got a little too cocky with his mother, who put him in his place. “My mom is the only person to put me down with a body shot,” he laughed.

He remembered the intense training sessions his father put him through as a child, and the time he and his dad first went to a nearby boxing gym, when he was just six years old. The old man who owned it looked him over.

“He told me I was different, that I was special, that I was going to be a champion,” recalled Bradley. “He didn’t tell me I was going to be a Hall of Famer.”