By Ivan G. Goldman
Every year I am honored to cast my votes as an elector for the International Boxing Hall of Fame & Museum in Canastota.
And every year it’s tough, because when I choose my five fighters for the Modern Era, I’m simultaneously making a decision to exclude all the other nominees. I comfort myself with the knowledge that some will win in subsequent years and possibly even this year – because of course I can be outvoted. Some deserving fighters, for one reason or another, will never make it in. But if everyone could gain entry, induction into the Hall wouldn’t be such an honor.
This year, selecting the final five for the Modern Era looks especially tough. I see at least ten fighters who ought to gain entry. This isn’t just about wins and losses either. It’s about determination, grit, and sometimes an indefinable something. No matter how I make my choices, I know someone might find a sound argument to challenge them.
Let’s face it. I’m also hobbled by ignorance. We all are, because none of us has seen all the fights of all the nominees. We have to be missing something important. But we do our best. I included the voting form, which you can view following this article so you’ll see exactly what electors are faced with.
This year, my Number One choice is evident to me. Riddick Bowe. What an exciting, talented heavyweight he was. Power in both hands, great speed, and not so easy to hit. Didn’t like to train much, but once inside the ring something happened to him. He’d rather die than lose. And he was up against men who felt the same. He finished his career with an outstanding record, 43-1 (33 KOs).
Every fighter, no matter how great, can be accused of ducking someone. That’s because there are always young guys coming up when they’re ready to step down, and they can’t get around to all of them. Rocky Marciano, for instance, was accused of ducking Floyd Patterson. Malarkey. Rocky decided it was time. If he’d defeated Patterson, he’d have been accused of dodging someone else.
In 1994 in Las Vegas I saw Riddick Bowe in against Larry Donald from Cincinnati. Donald was a solid, undefeated heavyweight on the way up, and it was no sure thing for either of them. A year earlier, Bowe had lost the title to the great Evander Holyfield by majority decision.
At the opening bell, Bowe and Donald circled warily, as fighters so often do at the start, each one wondering when the violence would begin. What I remember most about that bout was the first jab from Riddick. It was a telephone pole–straight, vicious, fast. Nothing followed, but it landed flush in Donald’s face, and Donald stepped back, startled. You could see he’d never been hit with a jab like that in his entire life. Not in the amateurs, not in sparring, not in pro competition. A fighter doesn’t want to show emotion, but for a very brief moment the expression on Donald’s face was one of horror. He realized he was up against something he’d never experienced.
Meanwhile a knowing smile slowly spread across Bowe’s face. He’d seen this before, had smiled that smile before under identical circumstances. All the pre-fight talk had become meaningless. That jab was the reality now.
Donald was a tough kid, and he finished the fight but lost just about every round. It was a terrible, wonderful thing to see. Bowe was never stopped in his career, not ever. Big Daddy Bowe was all Brooklyn. His only loss was to the great Holyfield, and he beat The Real Deal two out of three. So fighting in a tough era, Bowe, now 46, defeated every man he ever faced.
I guarantee you when he joins his brothers in Canastota, New York next summer, not one will suspect he made it there by mistake. He will be home.
New York Times best-selling author Ivan G. Goldman’s Sick Justice: Inside the American Gulag was released in 2013 by Potomac Books. Watch for The Debtor Class: A Novel from Permanent Press in spring, 2015. More information here.