To borrow a comment from my wife, “For a man who says so little in the ring, Michael Buffer can sure deliver an acceptance speech.” No truer words were ever spoken. Of the six living International Boxing Hall of Fame inductees for 2012, Mr. Buffer undoubtedly commanded the dais. Mr. Buffer shared his long, and often difficult, journey that had brought him to this grand stage and momentous occasion. Mr. Buffer gave a stirring account of his initial failure when first presented with the opportunity to make fighter introductions, only, to become the most world renowned voice of boxing’s best ring announcers. Mr. Buffer’s recollection as to how his boxing introduction catchphrase became a trademark, was humorous, and fascinating. He did an uncanny impression of Muhammad Ali, and credited him with borrowing “Let’s Get Ready to Rumble” from one of Mr. Ali’s interviews. He also credited his brother, Bruce Buffer, with assisting him with capturing the trademark for his catchphrase. According to Mr. Buffer, he never anticipated, nor dreamt of being inducted into the IBHOF. But his refined niche to make boxing a spectacular event to behold is what cemented his well-deserved induction. As a fight fan, it’s interesting to hear how Mr. Buffer’s catchphrase has morphed into what we hear today. I, for one, hope to hear that booming voice bellow out that catchphrase for years to come.
I can’t recall the time when newspapers decided to stop publishing boxing columns; not all-inclusive sports columns, but columns strictly dedicated to the latest fight updates, and upcoming bouts. But, I do remember reading Michael Katz’s columns in the New York Times, and later the New York Daily News, as a kid growing up in Brooklyn. Mr. Katz’s columns were, to use a boxing metaphor, pulled no punches. He always told it as it was. I equate it to HBO analyst Harold Lederman’s unofficial “scawcod.” That’s scorecard, for those who don’t speak Brooklynese. But I digress. Mr. Katz also gave a historical acceptance speech, full of the most clever anecdotes, insofar that his speech could have been mistaken for a roast. That’s a compliment to Mr. Katz’s ability to craft a well thought out and prepared induction speech. Mr. Katz’s induction into the IBHOF is a testament to journalists, that writing about boxing can earn you that coveted ring. He too, expressed his surprise and admiration for that ring.
When I think about boxing commentators, I instantly recall the voices of Howard Cosell, Gil Clancy, Tim Ryan, Ferdie Pacheco, Steve Albert, Jim Lampley, Larry Merchant, and Al Bernstein. The latter, who was also one of 2012’s IBHOF’s inductees, is inarguably one of boxing’s best. From ESPN to Showtime, Mr. Bernstein has proven that he has filled his mentor, Don Dunphy’s shoes, and then some. Presently, Mr. Bernstein’s boxing commentary is second to none. Like a humble fighter, he is completely objective, in a sport that often cries for a little subjectivity. If I had one honorable thing to say about Mr. Bernstein, is that he has always upheld to the journalistic standard of calling a fight without the slightest hint of favoritism towards one fighter versus the other. Mr. Bernstein, like the two aforementioned inductees, never anticipated having his picture and biography hang alongside his mentor, Don Dunphy. However, there the plaque hangs. And because of his love and respect for the sport, his journalistic integrity, his silky smooth voice you could recognize with your eyes shut, and his no-nonsense approach to calling a fight, shall ensure that his plaque shall hang there for a lifetime.
No more emotional speech could have come from a retired fighter than Mark “Too Sharp” Johnson on the day he received his IBHOF induction and ring. Sure, Mr. Johnson riveted audiences with his incredible fighting ability, but he was also a historical marvel. Dominating weight classes filled with Asians and Hispanics, Mr. Johnson was the first Black man to win championships in the flyweight and junior bantamweight divisions. Rightfully so, he boasted about these accomplishments during his acceptance speech, but he mostly captivated the fans with his shouting, yet teary-eyed proclamation of “I made it. I made it.” Indeed, he did.
In my estimation, Freddie Roach could have made it into the IBHOF on his boxing history alone. Instead, he was inducted as a non-participant for having been boxing trainer of the year for five consecutive years. A man of few words, Mr. Roach gave credit to his “mentor and idol”, and fellow IBHOF inductee, the late and legendary, Eddie Futch. Mr Futch trained Mr. Roach as a fighter, and got him started as a boxing trainer as well. Suffice it to say, that Mr. Roach’s tutelage under Mr. Futch has paid huge dividends. Mr. Roach is currently training boxing’s elite in the likes of Amir Khan, Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr., and the worldly recognized, Manny Pacquiao. Ironically, Mr. Roach’s acceptance speech was twenty-nine minutes shorter than Mr. Buffer’s, at a mere one minute long.
The biggest name to be inducted into this year’s class of Hall of Famers, Thomas “Hitman” and the “Motor City Cobra” Hearns, received standing ovations throughout the four day induction festivities. Mr. Hearns’s induction was long overdue. After all, his most memorable fights which came against Marvelous Marvin Hagler and Sugar Ray Leonard, were both inducted in 1993 and 1997, respectively. Mr. Hearns, under the training of fellow Hall of Famer, Emanuel Steward, amassed an incredible boxing record, boasting sixty-seven wins and forty-eight knockouts. The name “Tommy” in boxing will always evoke the name of Mr. Hearns. That’s just how great Mr. Hearns was as a boxer, and what an indelible impression he left on the sport. Mr. Hearns’s speech was brief, but he summed it up best for his fans by saying, “To see all you folks here today to witness myself and everybody else make it into the Hall of Fame, this is beautiful. I thank you for being here.’’
On induction day, there was a moment of extreme levity and awkwardness when Hall of Famer, Carlos Ortiz, who was accepting induction on behalf of the late Cocoa Kid; a fellow Puerto Rican, was overly candid in saying that he was called to accept the honor, but had never even heard of Cocoa Kid. I have to admit that I laughed until I cried.
My first induction ceremony will likely be my most memorable. By all means, it will not be my last. I made incredible friends in Hall of Famer and referee, Joe Cortez, author of the upcoming book. The Future of Boxing, Alexandre Choko, and many fellow fans. My wife got an opportunity to flirt with Antonio Tarver. I got an autograph for my eight year old son from his favorite fighter, “Irish” Micky Ward, and I got the opportunity to see a display of Sugar Ray Leonard’s craft up close and personal, albeit at Sugar’s fifty-six years of age. But, nothing could have summed up the four days of induction festivities than the following statement:
“This Hall of Fame is essentially for the great boxers you see on this stage.’’ “It is built for them. It is their house. This Hall of Fame is very generous in the way it welcomes those of us who filled another function for boxing. I take this as a supreme honor that I’m allowed to be a part of this place that is so special.’’…Al Bernstein