Why Some of Boxing’s Most Famous Fighters Don’t Belong in the Hall of Fame
By: Patrick Mascoe
Being great and being famous are two very different things. However, one of the characteristics that often go along with greatness is fame. Sometimes being famous leads to the assumption that one is great, but they are not one and the same. For example, when a baseball player is inducted into Cooperstown there is certain unwritten criterion that the player is expected to achieve. In a sense, baseball has deemed that certain numbers quantify one as being great. It may be 3000 hits or 500 home runs. In hockey, 500 goals will get you into the Hockey Hall of Fame. In these sports, excitement, charisma, and entertainment value do not define greatness – statistics do.
Entry into the International Boxing Hall of Fame is a lot more subjective. Statistics are still important, but charisma, courage, and bravery are also highly valued. As a result, not every boxer in the International Boxing Hall of Fame was great. Some were just very good. What allows them to be mentioned, in the same breath as the likes of Sugar Ray Robinson, Muhammad Ali, and Joe Louis, are their intangibles.
Statistics can not measure a man’s will to win or his ability to take a punch. They don’t gage fan excitement or exhilaration. For example, Floyd Mayweather is a shoe-in for the Hall of Fame. He exhibited greatness in the ring, was a multiple world champion, and remained undefeated throughout his career. Mayweather also possessed God-given talent that made it hard for the average fan to relate to.
When he clashed with Arturo Gatti, Mayweather made him look like an amateur fighter. Yet it was Gatti who could sell out venues and made every fight must-see-TV. The technically superior Mayweather was labelled “boring.” We as fans could relate to the Arturo Gatti’s of the world. We saw him labour and could appreciate his bravery and his tenacity. Floyd is boxing royalty while Gatti was boxing’s common man. Floyd Mayweather was great. Arturo Gatti was good, but made us feel great.
Arturo Gatti was not a great fighter. Nevertheless, in 2012 he was enshrined into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Gatti was not the only good fighter to enter the Hall. Other fighters also captured our attention. They shined so bright, we were mesmerized and captivated by their talents but failed to see their inefficiencies.
Here is my countdown of boxers who were very good, but not great, who rode a wave of excitement and adulation into the International Boxing Hall of Fame:
5. Matthew Saad Muhammad: In the late 70’s and early 80’s, Matthew Saad Muhammad was one of the most exciting fighters in boxing. He held the WBC World Light Heavyweight title from 1979 – 1981 and defended it eight times. He finished his career with a record of 49 wins, 16 losses and 3 draws. He was known as an all-action fighter, who was incredibly resilient. Just when it looked like he was on the verge of defeat, he would mount a magical comeback and win.
Muhammad was an excellent finisher and possessed considerable power. His one substantial weakness was his permeable defence. He fought every match as if he were working out on a heavy bag: all offense – no defence. His style made him fun to watch, but it also made him very easy to hit. Every fight, no matter how strong or weak the opposition, was a life and death struggle.
When we break down what Muhammad did in the ring, you have to wonder why he is in the International Boxing Hall of Fame. First of all, he lost a quarter of his fights. Yes, eight of his losses came at the end of his career, but they are still losses. Almost twenty fights into his professional career; he was still being matched against fighters with losing records. Even after winning a world title and right up to his retirement, he fought boxers with losing records.
Muhammad did defend his title eight times. However, none of those title challengers stood out as being exceptional. In one of his most illustrious fights, in 1980, against Yaqui Lopez, he was hit with twenty unanswered punches. He was on the verge of having the fight stopped, only to come back and knock out Lopez in the 14th round. Ring Magazine declared it the “Fight of the Year.” Yaqui Lopez was a solid fighter but he was a fighter who, during his career, challenged for a world title five times and lost all five fights.
The only truly great fighter Muhammad ever faced was Dwight Muhammed Qawi. They fought twice. Qawi won the first match and took Muhammad’s Light Heavyweight Title by way of a ten round TKO. In the return match, Qawi won again, this time in six.
Muhammad defeated a number of good fighters, but he never beat a great fighter. Many of his victories were against weaker competition and when he did fight good fighters, he had his hands full. He also lost 16 times during his career. Did he have the heart of a champion? Was he entertaining? Was he incredibly courageous? Yes. Yes. Yes. Was he a great fighter? No.
4. Arturo Gatti: He was known as an absolutely fearless all-action fighter. Much like Matthew Saad Muhammad, Gatti had a supernatural ability to endure punishment while always pressing forward. He held the IBF Jr. Lightweight Title from 1995-1998 and the WBC Super Lightweight Title from 2004-2005. He retired with a record of 40 – 9.
Gatti was involved in the Ring’s “Fight of the Year” on four different occasions. He defeated Gabriel Ruelas, was defeated by Ivan Robinson, and had both a victory and a loss against Micky Ward. These fights were character defining, monumental battles for Gatti, but the men he faced were themselves not great boxers. They were like him, good solid professionals.
His will, power, and iron chin always made him a formidable opponent. However, he was easy to hit and was often out-boxed even in victory. In Gatti’s first defence of his IBF Junior Lightweight Title against Wilson Rodriguez, he was completely schooled and had been taking a hellacious beating before coming back to stop Rodriguez in a desperation finish. Against Angel Manfredy, another good fighter, but never a champion, Gatti was again completely out boxed and the fight was stopped in the eighth round.
When Gatti actually faced Hall of Fame level competition, he came up considerably short. He fought Oscar De La Hoya and Floyd Mayweather. Neither fight was even close. Against Oscar, the fight was stopped in five rounds and against Floyd, the fight was stopped in six. These outcomes showed that although Arturo was a great fighter to watch, he simply did not posses the same calibre of skill as the elite fighters of the day.
Arturo Gatti may very well have been one of the most exciting fighters of his generation. He possessed a great chin, great power, and a great heart. Despite those valiant qualities, he was not one of the all-time greatest boxers in history.
3. Ray Mancini: If you judged Mancini only by his boxing style, you would swear that he and Arturo Gatti came from the same family. Like Gatti, Mancini was an in your face, aggressive pressure fighter. He had decent power and a granite chin. Whatever he lacked in skill, he made up for with unbelievable heart. Mancini held the WBA Lightweight Title from 1982-1984 and retired with a record of 29 – 5.
Mancini garnered national attention, not only for his entertaining fighting style, but because of a heart-rending background story. His father, veteran boxer Lenny “Boom Boom” Mancini, missed his opportunity to fight for a world title because of WWII. Ray, who idolized his father, took up boxing with the idea that he could finish what his father had started.
After compiling a 20-0 record, Mancini was given the opportunity to fight for a world title. Unfortunately, it was against Hall of Famer Alexis Arguello, arguably one of the greatest boxers of his era. Mancini fought bravely and took the fight to Arguello, but was eventually stopped in the 14th round. For the media and for boxing fans, this only made Mancini’s story more compelling. He won his next two fights and was again given a title shot, this time against Arturo Frias for the WBA Lightweight Title.
Mancini stopped Frias in the first round after almost being stopped himself. His fairy tale life story had now taken on the happy ending that all fans had wished for. Along with being a good fighter, Mancini always appeared to be a genuinely good guy. He went on to defend his title four times against the likes of Ernesto Espana, Duk-koo Kim, Orlando Romero, and Bobby Chacon and fought two non-title fights against George Feeney and Johnny Torres. Bobby Chacon was the only recognizable fighter Mancini faced as champion, and he was a natural featherweight who had moved up in weight for this fight. This would be Mancini’s last professional victory.
Eventually, Mancini lost his title, as well as a rematch to Livingston Bramble. He then lost bouts to Hector Camacho and Greg Haugen before retiring. Mancini was both exciting and entertaining. During his career he faced off against three Hall of Famers. He lost to two of them and defeated one. Mancini’s sentimental story was greater than his skills. I can’t help but think that without the story, he wouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame. Instead, he would be regarded as being very similar to the likes of Vinny Pazienza, an entertaining fighter who is on the outside of the Hall looking in.
2. Prince Naseem Hamed: He was known for his elaborate ring entrances, his unorthodox boxing style, and his one punch knock out power. Nassem reigned as the WBO Featherweight Champion from 1995 – 2000. He retired from boxing with an impeccable record of 36-1. Always a polarizing figure, some feel he was one of the greatest featherweights of all time, while others including his former promoter see him as one of boxing’s greatest underachievers.
Prince Naseem’s story is not about what he accomplished, but rather about what he never tried to accomplish. He defended his WBO Title a total of fifteen times. This was back in a time when the WBO was even more insignificant than it is now. His resume of title defences was a who’s who of no-name, average fighters; Said Lawal, Daniel Alicea, Remigio Molina, Tom Johnson, and Jose Badillo. Prince Naseem never fought the best fighters available at the time of his reign. The fighters he never faced tell us more about him than the fighters he defeated; Azumah Nelson, Jeff Fenech, Gabriel Ruelas, Arturo Gatti, Erik Morales, Juan Manuel Marquez, Floyd Mayweather Jr., Diego Corrales, and Johnny Tapia.
Prince Naseem fought the vast majority of his fights in the UK, where fans obviously seemed unbothered by the lack of aggressive matchmaking. It was only when he came to the United States that the Prince was really tested. He knocked out a very good opponent in Kevin Kelly in the 4th round of their epic battle at Madison Square Gardens. Despite the victory, Kelly was able to expose Naseem’s defensive shortcomings as he put him on the canvas three times.
In 2001, Prince Naseem finally engaged in a high profile fight against a world-class opponent, Marco Antonio Barrera. Barrera had agreed to move up in weight in order to fight the larger Naseem. How did the Prince fare against a legitimate Hall of Fame fighter? He was given a complete boxing lesson. Not only did Barrera beat Prince Naseem physically, it looked like he beat the will to fight right out of him. When Barrera lost to Junior Jones, he demanded an immediate rematch. When he lost to Erik Morales he came back and fought him two more times. What did Prince Naseem do after losing to Barrera? He fought someone named Manuel Calvo, was booed by his hometown fans for his poor performance, and never boxed again.
Prince Naseem was far more flash than substance. Yes, he had a great record, but so did Butterbean. It’s not his many victories over subpar opponents that we should measure him by. It is his one loss and all the fighters he avoided that really define his legacy. Yes, he was famous, more for his ring entrances than anything else. That should get him on “Dancing with the Stars”, but not in the Boxing Hall of Fame.
1. Mike Tyson – From 1985 – 2005, Mike Tyson was the biggest name in boxing. Much like Prince Naseem, Tyson was a polarizing figure, both inside and outside of the ring. Once dubbed “the baddest man on the planet”, Tyson was the Heavyweight Champion from 1986-1990 and again in 1996. He was an intimidating force who possessed great power and fought like a ravenous predator. Tyson was well on his way to greatness. He became the youngest man ever to hold the heavyweight title and by February 10, 1990, he had a record of 37-0 with 33 knock outs.
Dramatically, the very next day, everything would change for Tyson and his cloak of invincibility would be shredded by Buster Douglas. Douglas was a tall rangy fighter with an excellent jab. He was a skilled fighter who often lacked motivation, yet against Tyson he refused to be intimidated. Despite being a 42-1 underdog, Douglas knocked Tyson out in the 10th round. It was at this point in his career that Tyson’s quest for greatness ended. No longer the intimidating figure he once was, his life began to fall apart.
He engaged in, and won two tough fights against Razor Ruddock. Then in July of 1991, he was arrested and convicted of rape. He spent the next three years incarcerated at the Plainfield Correctional Facility. Upon his release, he returned to the ring and defeated Frank Bruno to become the WBC Heavyweight Champion. The victory helped set up a much anticipated and long awaited fight against Evander Holyfield.
Going into the Holyfield fight, Tyson was considered a heavy favourite. Evander Holyfield was 34 years old and was thought to be washed up. Much like Buster Douglas, Holyfield was not apprehensive about facing Iron Mike and his celebrated reputation. By the end of the night, it was Holyfield’s reputation that had been boosted after stopping Tyson in the 11th round.
Their immediate rematch lasted only three rounds. Tyson bit Holyfield’s ear not once, but twice and was subsequently disqualified. This was the action of a man who chose quitting over fighting. As a result of his actions, Tyson had become a pariah. Numerous boxing commissions refused to grant him a license to box. In 2002, in Pyramid Arena in Memphis, Tyson once again challenged for the heavyweight title. This time he faced off against Lennox Lewis. Lewis dominated the match, winning by knockout in the 8th.
Throughout his career, Tyson fought four Hall of Fame fighters. He defeated Michael Spinks, a great light heavyweight masquerading as a heavyweight and a well past his prime Larry Holmes, who came out of retirement for an appealing pay cheque. He was thoroughly beaten by Lennox Lewis and lost to Evander Holyfield twice – once by knockout and once by disqualification (which was nothing more than a way to quit rather than being knocked out again).
Why is Mike Tyson in the Hall of Fame? The most memorable thing he ever did in a ring was to bite a man’s ear off. Tyson had a great start to his career however, along the way he was exposed as nothing more than a bully and a quitter. Tyson did not just quit against Holyfield. He also quit in the last fight of his career against journey man boxer Kevin McBride. Tyson could have been great; in the end I don’t believe he was even one of the top three best heavyweight fighters of his era. Lennox Lewis, Evander Holyfield, and Riddick Bowe were all superior to Tyson.
In conclusion, all five fighters mentioned on this list had one thing in common; they were aggressive warriors that endeared themselves to boxing fans. They were all great to watch, but they themselves were not necessarily great. Based on the intangible qualities of courage, bravery, and determination, I believe there is an argument to be made on behalf of Matthew Saad Muhammad, Arturo Gatti, and Ray Mancini, being in the Hall of Fame. However, there should be no room in the Boxing Hall of Fame for imposters like Prince Naseem Hamad and quitters like Mike Tyson, no matter how famous they were.