The 2012 class of the International Boxing Hall of Fame was announced Monday with inductions set for the Canastota, N.Y., shrine on June 9.
Elected were the late Arturo Gatti, who won world titles in two weight classes but was more revered for being the supreme action fighter of his time, former light heavyweight and cruiserweight titleholder Virgil Hill, two-time junior flyweight titleholder Myung-Woo Yuh of South Korea, former referee Mills Lane, ring announcer Jimmy Lennon Jr., and British writer Colin Hart. Gatti and Hill were elected in their first year on the ballot.
Also elected were lightweight Wesley Ramey and middleweight Jeff Smith in the old-timer category, manager Arturo "Cuyo" Hernandez in the nonparticipant category, cartoonist Ted Carroll in the observer category and Joe Coburn in the pioneer category.
As a full member of the Boxing Writers Association of America, I hold a vote in the modern fighter category (meaning for eligible boxers whose last fight was no earlier than 1943). I don't vote in the categories for observers, nonparticipants, pioneers and old-timers, which are voted on by the Hall of Fame's board of directors and historians selected by the Hall.
There were 45 names on the ballot for modern fighters and electors could vote for up to 10, but only three are elected (or more, if there is a tie).
I voted for three candidates: Gatti, Yuh and former featherweight kingpin "Prince" Naseem Hamed of England.
Some argued that Gatti -- who I will confess was my favorite fighter of all time, to the point that I have a cat named "Thunder" after Gatti's nickname -- did not belong in the HOF. Sure, he won a junior lightweight and junior welterweight world title, but was never considered the best in his division and never defeated an elite opponent. They said he didn't have the skills to warrant election.
Fine, maybe so. But to view Gatti (40-9, 31 KOs) only through that prism is to miss the point.
He delivered like nobody else of his time. He moved people. He created boxing fans. He was THE action star of his day, a cult hero to many.
Born in Italy and raised in Montreal, Gatti later called New Jersey home and packed Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City time and again to become the boxing franchise there. He wasn't just in great fights, he was in so many over-the-top great fights compared to everybody else of his era that he stood head and shoulders above them in terms of the level of excitement he brought to an event. That counts for something and that is why I voted for him.
The famed trilogy he had with Micky Ward, which Gatti won 2-1, was only part of the story. Gatti was known as the "Human Highlight Reel" and as boxing's ultimate blood-and-guts warrior because he left so much of himself in the ring during his 16-year career.
In all, Gatti, who also had some great comeback wins, participated in four Ring magazine fights of the year. Four. That is like winning four MVPs in your sport. That means something.
He was one half of the fight of the year in 1997 (Gabriel Ruelas), 1998 (Ivan Robinson I), 2002 (Ward I) and 2003 (Ward III).
But there were other great action fights against Wilson Rodriguez (one of the greatest comebacks ever), Jose Sanabria, Calvin Grove (a drastically underrated fight), Robinson in the rematch (sensational), Angel Manfredy and Oscar De La Hoya (another underrated fight). Yes, Gatti lost some of them and won some of them, but he was a legend because of how he fought, not the outcome of the bout.
Many times over the years I have talked to fighters and they would say that their favorite fighter -- the guy they had the most respect for -- was Gatti. He was extraordinarily respected by his peers for the heart, guts and never-say-die attitude he displayed. That also says something.
Gatti died at 37 at a resort in Brazil in a controversial case in which debate still swirls over whether he was murdered by his wife or committed suicide. I wish Gatti was alive to attend his induction because nobody would have had a better time. His election is a well-deserved honor even if I know that many disagree.
I am also very happy that Yuh (38-1, 14 KOs) got in at long last. It seemed like he was destined to be lost forever among voters. I had been voting for him for the past few years, but the Asian greats have been underappreciated by HOF voters for years. He fought from 1982 to 1993 and twice held versions of the 108-pound world title. He went 7-1 against other titleholders and retired at age 29.
Yuh made a division-record 17 defenses during his first reign, which lasted six years, before losing to Hiroki Ioka via split decision. But Yuh regained the title in the immediate rematch, made one defense and then retired. I previously had also voted for Yuh's countryman Jung-Koo Chang, who also was a junior flyweight champion and was elected to the HOF in 2010. They are arguably the best two fighters in South Korean history, so it never made sense to me why Chang was elected but not Yuh, since they were contemporaries with similar résumés. In my view, you couldn't have one in without the other even if they both deserve points off for never having fought each other. Now, the argument is over. They are both where they belong.
I have also been voting for Hamed (36-1, 31 KOs) for the past several years. He was flashy and rubbed a lot of people the wrong way with his outlandish trash talk and arrogant attitude. But he was a lot more than that and I honestly believe many let that stuff get in the way of an honest assessment of his career. Sure, his technique was flawed and he relied too much on his massive, one-punch power. And, yes, he fought for only 10 years (1992 to 2002) and lost his biggest fight, a clear decision in a showdown with future Hall of Famer Marco Antonio Barrera in 2001, after which he fought only once more.
Hamed also blatantly ducked Juan Manuel Marquez, who was his longtime mandatory challenger. But putting those negatives aside, a fighter must be judged on whom he did fight and how he performed and Hamed beat everyone else. He also brought enormous excitement like nobody else and should be respected for many accomplishments.
Not only did Hamed have massive power and a strong résumé, he gets points from me for changing the economics of the smaller weight classes. In the days before Hamed, featherweights -- and fighters even smaller -- making seven-figure purses was almost unheard of. After the Hamed era, it became the norm for the smaller superstars -- fighters such as Manny Pacquiao, Erik Morales and Barrera who owe Hamed a debt of gratitude for paving the way.
For several years, Hamed was considered the clear No. 1 featherweight in the world and was ranked on the various pound-for-pound lists. And, in an era of watered-down titles and four major belts, he should have held all four simultaneously except that boxing's politics actively work against that. He defeated alphabet titleholders Steve Robinson (TKO8), Tom Johnson (TKO8) and Cesar Soto (W12) to claim belts. He also beat Wilfredo Vazquez (TKO7), who had been stripped of his version of the title for facing Hamed.
Other notable names Hamed beat: Kevin Kelley (their 1997 fight at Madison Square Garden was one of the most exciting fights of the decade), Paul Ingle, Vuyani Bungu and Manuel Medina. Overall, Hamed defended his WBO version of the title 15 times and held the lineal 126-pound championship for three years while bringing extraordinary excitement and showmanship to a small weight class that had never seen the infusion of money it enjoyed during Hamed's heyday.
Hamed belongs in the HOF.