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Nigel Collins looks back on Hall of Fame career

If there's a pretentious bone in Nigel Collins' body, the veteran boxing scribe hasn't yet learned how to use it.

So when it comes to putting in perspective exactly what being inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame means to him entering Sunday's ceremony in Canastota, New York, Collins was quick to put his ego in check by referencing the words of his late father, Ray.

"I remember something my father told me years ago when I published my book 'Boxing Babylon' [in 1990]. He said, 'This is pretty good, but it's not going to change your life,'" said Collins, before delivering a hearty laugh.

Collins, a columnist for ESPN.com and contributor to ESPN's Friday Night Fights, has been covering the sport for 43 years, most notably as writer and editor of The Ring magazine and its' various sister publications from 1972 to 2011.

Elected to the Hall of Fame's observer category, Collins joins a class of 2015 headlined by Riddick Bowe, "Prince" Naseem Hamed, Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini and Jim Lampley, among others.

For Collins, there was a connection between boxing and family that began in his native England, when his father and grandfather introduced him to a sport that was part of the fabric of where he was born. His first memory of boxing was when his grandfather threw a mattress over the family's clothesline to use as a punching bag.

After arriving in the U.S. at the age of 11, Collins and his father regularly attended fights at the old Philadelphia Arena where the two found solace in the sweet science, despite the turmoil of adolescence.

"The teenage years are always tough for the parents and kids, but through all the ups and downs of life, boxing was a safe meeting ground for me and my father," Collins said. "If everything else was going to hell, we could sit down and talk about boxing without anybody getting emotional. It's sort of like a safe place to go during those times."

J Russel Peltz, the Hall of Fame promoter from Philadelphia who helped Collins get his start in the business, remembered the first time he laid eyes on the young lad, who was in the crowd at the old Arena at 46th and Market Street in the 1960s.

"We always saw this hippie couple, as we dubbed them, since they looked out of place," said Peltz of Collins and his then-wife Mary Ann. "He had long hair and a bandana around his forehead and she had long blond hair going down her shoulders. Both wore almost floor-length coats. It turned out to be Nigel Rae Tudor Collins."

The two struck up a fast friendship, originally working together in promotion before Collins replaced Peltz as the Philadelphia correspondent for The Ring. Collins refers to this period of the 1970s as the last golden age of boxing in Philly, when names like Matthew Saad Muhammed, Jeff Chandler and Bennie Briscoe regularly headlined the Spectrum.

When the advent of casino gambling took off in Atlantic City, Collins began making as many as three trips per week to cover fights in the early 1980s, working under late Hall of Famer Bert Sugar at The Ring. Collins would grow to become the publication's editor-in-chief in 1985 and was ringside for most of that decade's biggest fights.

"This may not be a good thing as far as my bank account goes, but I've been in boxing professionally for about 45 years and there has never been one breath of scandal associated with me." Nigel Collins

When it comes to editing and layout, Collins credits his experience from an abbreviated run in art school with helping him develop a trained eye. But in terms of his growth as a writer, there was no substitute for repetition, which is something he learned from the late Philadelphia Inquirer boxing writer Gene Courtney.

"We struck up a friendship and I asked him if I should go back to journalism school," Collins said. "He gave me the best advice anybody ever has about that. He said if you want to write, write. You're not going to learn anything in class. Basically, when people asked me where I learned to write, I tell them the kitchen table."

Collins passed down those same lessons as an editor, where he made it his mission to coach young writers he believed had promise in order to give them a voice. ESPN.com and Grantland contributor Eric Raskin first crossed paths with Collins as an unrefined writer fresh out of college.

"Developing under Nigel's guidance, without being rushed, was crucial to enabling me to have a long career as a writer and editor," Raskin said. "I didn't have boxing expertise when I started, so the learning curve required there was steep. Nigel had a great sense of when I was ready to make different leaps."

Raskin calls Collins as good as anyone he has ever worked with in terms of being able to rework a story without rewriting it, and being careful never to sacrifice clarity for creativity.

Collins worked just as hard to perfect his own unique writing style, which he warns isn't really about the sweet science as much as an examination of the human condition through the lens of boxing. It's part of his multifaceted legacy that endures well into his fifth decade chronicling the sport.

There's an audible level of pride in Collins' voice when he talks about his days helping The Ring retain its prestigious aura while shepherding it through some rough times financially. He also played a huge role in bringing The Ring championship belt back to prominence and meaning in 2001.

But Collins points to something much different in regards to what his true legacy should be.

"This may not be a good thing as far as my bank account goes, but I've been in boxing professionally for about 45 years and there has never been one breath of scandal associated with me," Collins said. "I never sold out and there have been opportunities in boxing, trust me. My reputation for being a square shooter is rare in boxing, even amongst journalists."

Peltz, who calls Collins one of the best -- "if not the best" -- boxing writers of all time, agrees that fair play has become a calling card for his longtime friend.

"Nigel loves boxing, as I do, and that helped forge our relationship," Peltz said. "We unknowingly probably consider ourselves two of the straightest people in the business and whenever things get down, I always recall what he told me a few years ago: 'Just remember, Russ, the bad guys are in charge.'

"His heart belongs in Canastota!"

Considering the cathartic role boxing has played in Collins' family, it will be with a heavy heart that he makes the trip to Canastota this weekend. Not only will the words of his late father be close by in his mind, Collins is returning to the site of the last memory the two shared.

While visiting the Hall of Fame together during induction weekend in 2000, Collins' father collapsed into his son's arms and died of a heart attack before the start of the annual parade.

One second the two were laughing, referencing an earlier moment when Collins' father had excitedly approached Marvellous Marvin Hagler, determined to tell the former middleweight champion he was robbed against Sugar Ray Leonard. One second later, he was gone.

Collins admits he can take comfort in looking back 15 years later with a philosophical point of view. Even in the midst of tragedy and turmoil, boxing provided a safe haven for father and son.

"My father loved boxing and was proud of what I accomplished while he was alive," Collins said. "As sad and traumatic as [his death] was, I realized how lucky he was. He went happy, he went quickly and he went in a place surrounded by what he loved.

"He couldn't wait to go up to Hagler. He was as excited as a little kid. That was the kind of guy he was. It was a joyous time."

Collins will share the moments of induction weekend with his daughter Shani and 10-year-old grandson Gavin, who will make the trip along with many of his former colleagues over the years. While Collins may be too humble to pat himself on the back, he appreciates the historical significance of the honor that awaits him.

"Having that plaque that's going to be on the wall in the Hall of Fame is as close as I'm ever going to come to immortality," Collins said. "It's something that's going to live a lot longer than me and probably longer than the paper that most of my stories were printed on."

Maybe adding the title of Hall of Famer won't change Collins' life, as his father once alluded to. But it's certainly a recognition of the impact his life in boxing has had on others, and will continue to have for years to come.

"Maybe my grandson will take his children to [the Hall of Fame] one day and say, 'Hey, that's my Pop Pop,'" Collins said.