<
>

Stuck on the Hall of Fame fence

Larry Holmes and Eddie Perkins were equals on Sunday in Canastota, N.Y., two formerly outstanding fighters gaining induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

Six months ago, they were not equals. One knew he was a Hall of Famer long before that call from executive director Ed Brophy came in. The other had no idea whether that call would ever come.

From the moment the IBHOF opened its doors in 1990, it was a given that Holmes would have a plaque there in his first year of eligibility (provided he retired before the ice caps melted and civilization ended, which was never a guarantee).

On the flip side, it took Perkins 33 years after his career concluded before he got voted in.

In all sports, there are degrees of greatness, and each generation has fighters like Perkins -- those who were either just barely great enough or just shy of that indefinable line.

When it comes to Hall of Fame speculation, those are the fighters who are most compelling to discuss.

Among today's active fighters, there are plenty of sure shots, champions whose Hall of Fame résumés are beyond debate: Roy Jones, Oscar De La Hoya, Bernard Hopkins and so on. Those aren't the guys I'll be discussing in this column.

I also won't be discussing the younger fighters for whom it's too soon to even speculate, potential greats such as Miguel Cotto, Kelly Pavlik, Cristian Mijares and David Haye.

This is a column about the older fighters, the ones who are past their absolute primes and appear to be stuck on the Hall of Fame fence. The question is this: What do they need to do to get off that fence and through the front door?

Before we get into the five fighters I've included, a quick word about a few I left out.

Israel Vazquez and the Marquez brothers, Rafael and Juan Manuel, all fall short of "sure shot" status, but they seem in recent fights to have at least moved into the "highly likely" category.

Vernon Forrest was on the fence and most likely fell off of it with his upset loss to Sergio Mora on Saturday night.

Pongsaklek Wonjongkam has gaudy enough stats to warrant a spot on the fence, but small Asian titlists better than him have failed to attract votes in recent years, suggesting that the Thai flyweight really doesn't have a prayer.

And Virgil Hill is technically active and somewhere in the vicinity of the fence, but at 44, he can't do anything at this point to change his fate. It's in the hands of the voters.

For these five fighters, however, it's in their hands to make the voters' decision easier:

Joel Casamayor

Casamayor's dramatic knockout of Michael Katsidis in March got experts talking positively about "El Cepillo's" chances, but with a record of just 2-3 in five close, controversial fights against his three best opponents -- Diego Corrales, Jose Luis Castillo and Acelino Freitas -- there's still plenty of incentive not to vote for him.

It's clear-cut what he needs to do now: Fight Nate Campbell, defeat him and distinguish himself as not only the lineal lightweight champion but the people's champion. A win over Campbell right now, when the fight means so much, would almost guarantee Casamayor's induction.

Ricky Hatton

England's wildly popular "Hitman" looked like a lock for Canastota after his '05 campaign that included a beatdown of Kostya Tszyu, but his string of underwhelming performances since has "unlocked" him.

Hatton could use one more Hall of Fame-bound name like Tszyu on his record, and the best candidate close to his weight is Manny Pacquiao.

But Hatton, who appears to be flaming out at 29, could also clinch a spot with just a little more longevity. One more full year as undisputed junior welterweight champ, pushing his reign to four years, would be helpful. An upset loss to Paulie Malignaggi in November, on the other hand, could be devastating.

Gerry Penalosa

The Filipino veteran wouldn't even be within three lawns of the fence if not for his stirring comeback year in '07, when he lost a controversial decision as a massive underdog against Daniel Ponce De Leon and then pulled off an enormous upset over Jhonny Gonzalez to start a second alphabet title reign a full nine years after his first one ended.

Penalosa needs one more year like the one he just had and he might be able to get over the hump -- especially if his fights are televised in the U.S., where most of the Hall of Fame voters reside.

Antonio Tarver

If you ask Tarver, he'll tell you he's already a slam-dunk first-ballot Hall of Famer and that among the all-time pound-for-pound greats, he rates somewhere between Benny Leonard and Harry Greb.

If you ask anyone else, however, two wins over an aging Jones serve only to get Tarver into the discussion.

Unfortunately for Tarver, he's 39 years old and he still needs to achieve more. If he fights and defeats Chad Dawson, that would be enormously meaningful, but it might not be enough. He probably needs two more quality wins.

Maybe if Mason "The Line" Dixon had beaten Rocky Balboa a little more decisively, Tarver wouldn't have such a tall task ahead of him.

Ivan Calderon

If Ricardo Lopez is the benchmark for modern mites, Calderon falls short in two regards: He made no effort to clean out his division at strawweight and, so far at least, he hasn't cracked anybody's top five pound-for-pound.

A second win over Hugo Cazares would help his cause, but ultimately, individual wins don't count for as much with 105- and 108-pounders because big-name opposition is so difficult to find.

If "Iron Boy" wants to make the Hall of Fame, fighting a couple more years and retiring undefeated would make him a no-brainer.

Losses for tiny, under-exposed fighters are not easily forgiven, whereas zeroes at the ends of records are not easily ignored.

Eric Raskin is a contributing editor for and former managing editor of The Ring magazine.