International Boxing Hall-Of-Fame Diary: Day Three

We were back on the museum grounds and it felt good. The weather was great, the mood was wholesome and it felt wonderful to be back amongst the feelings of nostalgia and charm that the International Boxing Hall of Fame grounds possess.

Overall, it did not seem as busy as previous years. Maybe that is because of the havoc wreaked earlier in the week by the smoke from the Montreal wildfires, perhaps it was due to the split in previous days of events taking place at the Turning Stone or maybe it was because some of the crowd divides to go to the memorabilia show at the nearby High School through the day, but even that seemed to be at around 70 per cent of what it usually is, and that was commented on by several regular visitors.

There, promoter Russell Peltz was selling his excellent book $30 and a Cut Eye, Hall of Fame writer Bernard Fernandez, like Peltz from Philly, was selling his trilogy of books, collections of his work, called Championship Rounds.

It was great to see Bernard because he was inducted last year but could not attend because his wife of more than 50 years, Anne, had been diagnosed with and was battling cancer. It wasn’t just great to see Bernard yesterday, it was wonderful to see Anne by his side.

On the grounds, the day started with Buddy McGirt, two-weight world champion and Hall of Famer, taking part in a ringside lecture with event host James “Smitty” Smith. 

Buddy is a popular guest at Canastota and has a word for everyone. He told me of his particular pride in one of his daughters, whom I asked about, who is a pro footballer in Israel.

McGirt has spoken a lot about being in Arturo Gatti’s corner this weekend, because it has been 20 years since the third fight of the three between Gatti and his friend and rival Micky Ward, who has also been here this week, along with his trainer and brother Dicky Eklund. You can tell that it’s events like this where Micky really misses Gatti. He figured they would grow old together, tearing into one another in their classic battles. Gatti died in 2007.

Next, 2023 inductees Carl Froch and Timothy Bradley were up to keep the crowds entertained and myself and Kieran Mulvaney, for ProBox, grabbed an interview with Vinny Paz. By the way, Mulvaney had interviewed Ray Mercer while I was at the card/memorabilia show, and he clearly impressed ‘Merciless’ who told him it was the best interview he had ever done. I’m waiting for it to drop with great anticipation after that build-up.

Froch, by the way, walked straight passed the Hall of Fame museum where his plaque now hangs, saying he only wants to go in and see it on induction day, and not before. Both Bradley and Froch have been significant draws and been signing and taking pictures relentlessly.

Paz, by the way, was directed into a line of questioning by, erm, yours truly, about whether he should be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame and not just attending as a guest. He said yes, and gave me an interesting interview, but I’ll come back to his methods of convincing people he should be in later in this column.

The high point, probably, out of several for me and Mulvaney, came when none other than the great Roberto Duran came over to be interviewed. We thought we might get five or 10 minutes, but we wound up with about 20 and not only was Kieran’s interview funny and perhaps unintentionally hilarious, it drew a ‘live crowd’ of dozens around our tent to watch. Duran was in full flow. An absolute force of nature. I can’t even remember what he said when Kieran asked him for his top five fights but I do know that everyone was laughing so hysterically no one really cared and that Duran was so ‘out there’ in the best way that his daughter and translator could hardly keep a straight face to translate. 

I also know, he got so side-tracked thinking back to his five best fights, he ended up naming one and then went into five moments that not many will know about, but we couldn’t stop him, and we didn’t want to.

It was staggeringly good and Kieran and I were buzzing as a consequence.

As the crowds died down – well, completely evaporated – I recorded a podcast with Kieran about his life and career, working for Greenpeace, National Geographic, the Washington Post, Reuters, ESPN, HBO and now Showtime. He’s experienced a lot.

We were the last to leave the grounds and I went to the banquet at the Turning Stone as a guest of Rocky Fratto, son of the Rocky Fratto who fought for the world super-welterweight title in 1981, together with Boxing Bob Newman, of Fightnews.

The round tables around the hall at the casino are filled with guests and family members while the long top table is stacked with the Hall of Famers and inductees. 

Fratto and I spotted Andrew Golota once and Fratto told him how the Pole was his favourite fighter. Golota seemed stunned, posed for a picture, and then swiftly marched on before any further conversations could be struck up. I bumped into Micky Ward just outside the banquet hall, and it’s always great to see The Fighter, but by in large there is not a lot of mingling between the fans and the guests at this event.

There was an auction and countless speeches afterwards, too many, really, and it is probably unnecessary giving the inductees the chance to speak as they all have their words ready for tomorrow’s induction day and are generally not ready for this. But it is a nice opportunity to showcase the other special guests while keeping the evening a little more succinct.

One person who was given the mic was Vinny Paz, and he had the crowd eating out of the palm of his hand. He made his case to be in the Hall of Fame and then focused his mock ire on IBHOF president Ed Brophy.

“Ed can’t put you in? It’s not Ed’s thing?”

“Wait a minute, the last time I looked, Ed Brophy was the president of this organisation. Am I correct or not? So he’s the president. Not the vice president, not the treasurer, not the secretary of state, he’s the f****** president of the Hall of Fame. He can’t put me in? Oh my God. ‘Ed, be careful when you come around me. I’ve had a couple of drinks, you might get knocked the f*** out.’ This is the coolest crowd I’ve ever been in front of.” 

The crowd laughed and lapped it up. And Vinny had made his case.

Afterwards and elsewhere in the casino, fans and fighters congregated to watch Teofimo Lopez defeat Josh Taylor on the big screens at the sportsbook. 

Froch was there, as was his trainer Robert McCracken, Golota was there, seemingly only speaking to McGirt, Mercer was there, former light-heavyweight contender John Scully was watching the fights, as was Eric Bottjer, Russell Peltz and a few more and there were not many who gave Taylor anything like as many rounds as the judges down at The Garden had.

It was another long day. By the time I filtered off at around 1am, plenty were still going strong but it had seemed like an awfully long time since Duran had caused Mulvaney and I to laugh so hard we were visibly sweating earlier in the day. 

Keep your eyes peeled on ProbBox TV News for that interview.