MIA from the IBHOF
By Martin Mulcahey, MaxBoxing (Dec 15, 2011) Special to Doghouse Boxing
Boxing Gloves
Last week, the International Boxing Hall Of Fame released its annual list of boxers selected for immortalization in Canastota, New York. This year is heavy with non-boxers, with Al Bernstein, Michael Buffer, Freddie Roach and Michael Katz entering without throwing a punch (Well, actually Roach did fight professionally from 1978 to 1986 but his induction is based on his accomplishments as a trainer). Thomas “The Hitman” Hearns, Mark “Two Sharp” Johnson and Cocoa Kid merited induction in the modern category. The yearly announcement is a cause for celebration but the IBHOF’s voting panel is deserving of scrutiny after the fact. Every year, there is a curious admittance when one considers great fighters who remain locked out of boxing’s most prestigious club. That is my focus today.
Memo to elite boxers dreaming of Hall of Fame induction: preferential treatment is given to those fighting in America or on American television. Those are the reasons I see for inclusion of Mark Johnson this year and for Orlando Canizales two years ago. Don’t get me wrong; Canizales and Johnson were fine champions. In fact, I think both possessed Hall-of-Fame skill but Canizales never tested his abilities against a similarly gifted boxer. Would Mark Johnson be a Hall-of-Famer if he were not American and fought his whole career in Japan, Argentina or Germany? I would speculate an emphatic “No” to that question. It seems clear the IBHOF’s voters reward name recognition over accomplishments. With the exception of Jung-Koo Chang (a long overdue recognition) two years ago, the IBHOF’s motto should be “If we did not see it in happen in America, it does not exist.”
This is not an anti-Johnson feature; I have too much respect for Johnson as a fighter and person. That does not mean he or Cocoa Kid should leapfrog more laudable boxers. I have nothing but positive things to say about Johnson and feel sick using him as a friendly fire victim for my beef with the IBHOF’s selection process. This is the fault of the IBHOF, who unfairly hoisted Johnson into the crosshairs of historical evaluation. Here, unfortunately, Johnson’s record does not pass the test by way of comparison despite an impressive résumé that saw him make seven defenses of the IBF flyweight title. If title defenses are the new criteria by which the IBHOF operates, they better put Sven Ottke (who made 21 defenses of the IBF super middleweight title, then unified it with the WBA belt before retiring undefeated) on speed dial for next year.
IBHOF voters fail to distinguish the popular from the great. Mark Johnson and Orlando Canizales were popular boxers with the press, even historical figures in boxing. Nevertheless, when ring records are compared with boxers still left on the outside looking in, they do not measure up. Do you doubt a flawed Arturo Gatti, one of boxing’s most exciting fighters ever, will make it into the Hall before boxers who conquered better opposition? Of course he will! I loved watching Barry McGuigan fight and - as my last name indicates - I rooted for him as a fan but his induction is clearly a case of popularity over substance. Should one win over an aging Hall-of-Famer (Eusebio Pedroza) and two title defenses ensure induction in a hall of immortals?
Cocoa Kid never fought for a world title yet he gets in over more qualified Asian boxers. In no way do I believe that there is a cabal within the IBHOF that lobbies against Asian boxers. However, until Myung-Woo Yuh or Pone Kingpetch enter the distinguished club, the IBHOF should have the word “International” removed as an adjective to describe it. Instead, replace the word “International” with “Boxers Seen on American TV.” In general, the Hall of Fame does a fine job and there are no glaring omissions outside of lower weight classes and Asian boxers. It is actually the opposite; it’s the IBHOF’s admissions that confuse. Ingemar Johansson? Jose Torres? Bobo Olson? Barry McGuigan? All were fine and popular fighters but questionable inductions when the word “merit” is tossed about.
Back to the task at hand. I don’t like it when people only criticize, neglecting to give answers for their arguments. It is not fair of me to critique the IBHOF without offering up solutions. So I am making the argument for five boxers whom I believe deserve induction more than the aforementioned fighters. Only two of the five are Asian fighters but it is the Asian contingent which seems the most obviously overlooked group of potential entrants. It is hard to come up with a valid theory for the ignorance displayed by nearly 250 voters at the IBHOF. These electors are shunning worthy boxers while lesser are allowed entrance with fanfare. The responsibility given voters demands due diligence, which has obviously not been put forth.
My five pugilists the International Boxing Hall of Fame should give more consideration to are...
Davey Moore, 59-7-1 (30) with one no-contest - One of the few overlooked American boxers. Nicknamed “The Springfield Rifle,” this featherweight lived up to that moniker, firing precision punches behind a steady stream of jabs. He was an all-around boxer who had a weakness for allowing himself to get drawn into brawls by lesser maulers. At 5’2½”, he surprised many opponents by out-jabbing them through timing and clever use of angles. An outstanding amateur boxer, winning the AAU bantamweight national title and representing America at the 1952 Olympics. Began boxing at age 14, turning pro six years later, with less success than was initially expected of him. Moore was rushed into big fights too early, suffering five setbacks in his first 27 bouts, even traveling to Panama, Colombia and Canada to take fights. In 1957, Moore found his form, ripping off an 18-fight winning streak, which included a title-winning effort against Hogan “Kid” Bassey. Defended the title five times, three of which came on the road, over a four-year period. Then came the fateful bout against Sugar Ramos, in Los Angeles, which televised Moore’s demise to a national audience. Moore’s death was an accident more than the result of a bad beating, even though the fight with Ramos was intense. Moore’s injury was sustained as a result of a whiplash action, his neck striking the bottom rope after a knockdown. Moore managed to walk back to his dressing room (his manager stopped the fight after ten rounds) and gave interviews to reporters, after which Moore complained of a headache before passing out, never regaining consciousness. An autopsy revealed the deathly damage was not caused by a punch, a neurologist calling it a “million-to-one accident.” The 30-year-old Moore looked to be a late bloomer who still had a lot of good fights left in him. We will never know.
Hilario Zapata, 43-10-1 (14) – In retrospect, and with added knowledge, it does not seem strange a boxer of Zapata’s skill had such a rollercoaster career- that is, if you understand and take into consideration that Hilario suffered from severe mental problems. Whenever I saw Zapata in the ring, one word came to mind: elegant. We should have guessed how good Zapata could be by his first loss. Former champ Alfonso Lopez took a close 12-round decision from Zapata, who was competing in only his seventh pro fight. Five victories later, Hilario captured the WBC junior flyweight title over 15 rounds against Shigeo Nakajima in Japan. Zapata’s southpaw style led to eight title defenses before suffering a shocking kayo loss to Amado Ursua. Zapata won the title back in his next fight, defending it twice more including a great win (in a barnburner of a fight) over recently inducted Hall-of-Famer Jung-Koo Chang. Zapata lost the title back to Chang in his next fight but needed six trips to the scale to make the junior flyweight limit. Hilario reappeared at elite status two years later winning the WBA flyweight title and defending it five times before prodigy Fidel Bassa took the belt in a close 15-round bout in his native Colombia. A return match with Bassa ended in a draw and signaled the end of Zapata as a force at the world level. Hilario won eight of his next 11 fights, then was used as a quality name for Korean Sung-Kil Moon to kayo in one round. Unbeknownst to most, Zapata was in the midst of battling a drug addiction that depleted all of his wealth and most of his health. After the loss, Zapata reportedly fell back into a cycle of depression and drugs.
Yoko Gushiken, 23-1 (15) – His was a short but brilliant career and the nickname “Kanmuriwashi” (“Fierce Eagle”) was appropriate and well-earned. Before you say the brevity of Gushiken’s career is a reason for exclusion, the same can then be said of inductees Jeff Fenech, Michael Spinks or Laszlo Papp. Boxing has mourned heroes who fought much too long, so why not celebrate Gushiken, who retired at age 26 while still near peak performance levels? The only question with Yoko that I have is “What if?” How much more could he have done? A very good amateur career ended with a national title and a 62-3 (52) record. Upon Gushiken’s pro debut, the 5’4” bundle of intellectual fury was heralded by Masaki Kanehira (known as the maker of champions in Japan) as, “a genius who appears once every 100 years.” Watching tapes, it looks like Gushiken always took the quickest path to get into striking distance. He was relentless but smart, stalking while rarely showing opponents’ two shoulders or an exposed chin. Like a shark, Gushiken circled into position before attacking, quickly returning to a sound defensive posture after landing his punches. The southpaw won the WBA junior flyweight crown in only his ninth fight, knocking out Dominican slugger Juan Guzman. Gushiken reigned for four-and-a-half years, making 13 title defenses (a record for Japanese world champions). Eight of those challengers were dispatched via knockout, including defenses against future champions Alfonso Lopez and Rafael Pedroza. Like other smaller fighters, his decline can be traced to making weight more than an erosion of skills. Japan’s idol lost his title to Mexican Pedro Flores and it was widely accepted that Gushiken could win more titles after some rest and a move up in weight. We’ll never know because he retired to live off his investments. For once, a proud champion put aside his ego to provide a happy ending in boxing.
Ernesto Marcel, 40-4-2 (23) - Where do you go when you defended your title against future champion Samuel Serrano, following that up with a dismantling of future Hall-of-Famer Alexis Arguello? You retire?! I agree; it is not the career choice I would have made but that is exactly what Marcel did. The Panamanian is one of the few to retire while holding his world title, announcing he would do so before his defense against Arguello. Not yet 26, Marcel doubtlessly had a lot of fight left in him, so the decision confuses on many levels. Marcel was a clever boxer using every inch of the ring to set up traps and his slip-and-counter style has rarely been duplicated. One of Marcel’s mid-career losses came in a forgotten classic, when fellow countryman, 16-0 Roberto Duran rallied to score a last-round knockout. Marcel defeated future champion Alfredo Marcano twice on his way to a title-winning decision over hometown boy Antonio Gomez. The Associated Press report on Marcel’s last title defense against Alexis Arguello is telling of Marcel’s abilities. “In the early and late rounds, Arguello moved forward with his longer reach while Marcel dealt left and right hooks that sent the Nicaraguan’s long hair flying. Arguello took so many punches in the seventh round that referee Servio Tulio Lay went to his corner after the round and asked him if he wanted to continue.” After retirement, Marcel entered politics to help the people of his community. Outside of a propensity to fight in his native Panama (which is not held against any American nominees), there is little to fault Marcel on besides an early retirement- and don’t we all want our champions to retire on top?
Myung-Woo Yuh, 38-1 (14) – His stamina and defense befuddled opponents, leaving helpless foes open to some of the lengthiest streams of combinations ever thrown in a boxing ring. One of the greatest shames of boxing is that Yuh was prevented (the usual claims of not enough money to encourage marketable foes to make the trip to Korea) from perhaps proving his superiority in clashes with Michael Carbajal or Chiquita Gonzalez. When it became apparent the fights would not happen, Yuh retired as a champion after an 11-year career. Yuh won the title at the tender age of 21, with Myung going on to make 17 defenses of his title over a six-year time frame, two statistics that have yet to be matched in this fractured title era. He handed future three-division champ Leo Gamez his first two losses, leading the Venezuelan into his punches with strategic retreats. Other future champions Yuh defeated included Rodolfo Blanco and Jose De Jesus, making him one of the last great champions to navigate the 15-round distance. Yuh’s lone loss came via split decision (in the challenger’s home nation, that many believe Yuh actually won) to Japan’s Hiroki Ioka, who used his superior speed in the early rounds to tap and move his way to a win. Yuh refused any fights until he got a rematch with Ioka, 11 months later. Traveling back to Osaka, Yuh took the crown by decision in a fight whose excitement exceeded all expectations, given the scientific nature of the first match. Gained a Korean nickname, “Sonagi” (akin to “Monsoon”), because of the continuous rain of punches Yuh unleashed on opponents. The one negative on Yuh is that he only fought twice outside of Korea but, again, has the IBHOF ever held that against an American boxer?

You can contact Marty at mmulcahey@elpasotel.net or visit him at www.facebook.com/fivedogs .

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