Voter Luke G. Williams discusses his selection of five modern fighters to join the International Boxing Hall Of Fame in the latest ballot.
Having been accepted as a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America at the tail-end of 2020, I now find myself in the position of being able to cast my ballot for the International Boxing Hall of Fame (IBHOF) in the ‘moderns’ category for men (current candidates on the ballot need to have had their last bout no earlier than 1989).
I thought it might be interesting to guide Boxing Social readers through my thought process as I prepare to cast my votes and run my eyes over the contenders for my five possible votes (you don’t have to cast all five votes, but that’s the maximum number you can cast).
First off, let me make something clear: although I greatly admire much of the work the IBHOF does – both in terms of keeping the history of the sport alive and in terms of the hospitality and pure pleasure they bring to fans and fighters past and present – it certainly has its flaws.
By my count, since the first inductees were enshrined in 1990, a total of 146 ‘moderns’ have received the call from Canastota, 77 of them American (plus two from the Virgin Islands and eight from Puerto Rico) and 17 Mexican. In contrast just 15 Europeans and 7 Asians have been inducted.
The clear geographical bias towards the United States and Mexico is an issue, as is the mysterious (to me at least) method of deciding who gets on the 42-person ballot in the first place (quite why Gianfranco Rosi is there and not Sumbu Kalambay is a mystery, likewise Nigel Benn and Chris Eubank are on the ballot but not Steve Collins).
Having said all of that, whatever criteria are employed there are always going to be flaws and biases, so let’s move on to discussing which boxers I think deserve my votes.
There is one absolute lock this year – both for my vote and to be elected by the wider IBHOF electorate – and that man is Roy Jones Jr – one of the three newcomers on the ballot alongside Acelino Freitas and Pongsaklek Wonjongkam.
Jones, a former long-time pound-for-pound king, was one of the most richly talented boxers of all-time, winning titles at middleweight, super-middleweight, light-heavyweight and even heavyweight.
Had he retired after beating John Ruiz for the WBA heavyweight crown in 2003 – when his reputation was at its height and the only blemish on his record was a disqualification defeat to Montell Griffin – then Jones would probably be seen by many as an all-time top 20 pound-for-pounder.
Typically though, as with many greats of the past, he fought on too long, damaging his legacy somewhat before ending his pro career at 66-9.
Jones also excelled as an amateur, winning the Val Barker trophy for the best boxer at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, although he was robbed of gold by a nonsensical and most likely corrupt decision in his light-middleweight final against Park Si-Hun.
The only argument against Jones’ inclusion is the murkiness surrounding a failed PED test after his WBC, WBA and IBF light-heavyweight title defence against Richard Hall in May 2000, an incident that was extremely poorly handled by the boxing authorities.
There’s no evidence that Jones was a perennial drugs cheat, however, and as an IBHOF voter I have to work on the evidence at hand. Even if we discount the Hall fight – which is still on his official record – Jones’ career is clearly Hall of Fame worthy. Scrub Roy from consideration because of that drugs test and we’d have to scrub some others who have already made it to Canastota, too – Muhammad Ali among them.
For me, Jones’s greatness is on another level to all the other names on the ballots. While I don’t have the time to explain my reasoning when it comes to every one of the other 41, after much consideration I shaved this group down to 15 candidates for my final four possible votes, namely: Yuri Arbachakov, Nigel Benn, Timothy Bradley, Miguel Cotto, Chris Eubank, Acelino Freitas, Carl Froch, Ricky Hatton, Santos Laciar, Sung-Kil Moon, Orzubek Nazarov, Gilberto Roman, Antonio Tarver, James Toney and Pongsaklek Wonjongkam.
I wouldn’t hugely object if anyone voted for any of these fighters.
So how did I reduce 15 down to four?
Deciding on my second vote was pretty straightforward to be honest. My nod went to a man who has been on the ballot for a while and whose accomplishments often go unremarked upon – former two-time lineal super-flyweight champion Gilberto Roman.
Arguably, Roman is the best and most accomplished super-flyweight of all time. However, he often gets overlooked – like many of the best ‘little men’ in boxing history. As a Mexican fighter his achievements have also often been overshadowed by iconic figures Salvador Sanchez and Julio Cesar Chavez, whose careers partially overlapped with Roman’s.
Roman had to wrest the world title from formidable Japanese champion Jiro Watanabe and faced a series of stern challenges in his career, fighting and winning at a consistently high level. He shared three fights 1-1-1 with Santos Laciar (who himself is also on the ballot) and also faced many other accomplished but oft-forgotten contenders and champions such as Sugar Baby Rojas and Kiyoshi Hatanaka.
In his two reigns as super-flyweight champion Roman won 12 and drew one out of his 15 world title fights. Impressively, he often travelled and won significant contests on ‘enemy territory’. The final showdown of his career – which took place just three weeks before his tragic and untimely death in a car accident – was an eight-round TKO loss to Sung-Kil Moon, of whom more later…
My third vote I ultimately gave to perhaps the most controversial name on the ballot, James Toney. ‘Lights Out’ didn’t get into the IBHOF last year – the first year he appeared on the ballot – and several voters were very vocal on social media about stating they did not vote for him due to the fact that he twice failed drugs tests in his career.
As with Jones, we are on contentious ground here. As such I have to remain consistent. If we scrub the results of fights for which Toney tested positive – namely his WBA heavyweight title victory against John Ruiz (listed as a no contest on his official record) and his non-title showdown with Danny Batchelder, then we are still left – to my mind – with a Hall of Fame worthy career. If he didn’t fail (or take) a drugs test for a fight and it’s on his official record then it can be used to bolster his case for inclusion.
Toney enjoyed title wins at middle, super-middle and cruiserweight, defeating quality opponents such as Michael Nunn, Reggie Johnson, Mike McCallum and Iran Barkley. His thrilling 2003 IBF cruiserweight title fight victory against hitherto unbeaten Vassiliy Jirov – a contest named Fight of the Year by ‘The Ring’ magazine – also enhances his legacy.
With three of my votes going to Roman, Toney and Jones, I’m left with two more (if I want to use them all, that is).
Several among the remaining names I considered are fighters with a significant enough single win on their resume to warrant consideration – Tarver versus Jones; Hatton versus Kostya Tszyu and Benn versus Gerald McClellan being notable examples.
However, for me, fighting consistently tough opposition over an extended period of time is a more impressive feat than growing ‘great for a night’, so ultimately none of this trio get my vote.
If I’m discounting Benn, I decided, then I also need to discount Eubank. True, ‘Simply The Best’ beat and drew with Benn, but his overall record is compromised by not having a big American name on it. Benn beat McClellan, so I’d actually give him a slight edge on Eubank for the IBHOF if I had to pick one of them.
However, the British fighter with the best claim for IBHOF inclusion at present – to my mind – is clearly Carl Froch – a total warrior who fought at a consistently high level and against consistently tough opponents once he ascended to world level. Andre Ward handled Froch with ease, but the Nottingham man defeated the likes of Jean Pascal, Andre Dirrell, Jermain Taylor, Arthur Abraham, Glen Johnson, Lucian Bute and George Groves (twice) – as well splitting two fights with Mikkel Kessler. Froch has a strong case for inclusion.
If the excitement a fighter brought in their career was the sole factor for a place in the IBHOF then former super-featherweight and lightweight titlist Acelino Freitas would also stroll in, and join his countryman Eder Jofre, presently the sole Brazilian occupant of the IBHOF.
However, for all his merits, Freitas’ resume isn’t as strong as Froch’s. Ultimately, however, Froch doesn’t get my vote either, at least not this year, as I believe there are other fighters with a marginally better claim than him for inclusion.
Among them is the fighter on this list who I believe – after Jones – is probably the most likely to get in this year, namely Miguel Cotto, who ticks a lot of boxes that IBHOF voters seem to favour. His career is still fresh in many people’s minds and the vast majority of his fights were televised in the United States. Furthermore, Puerto Rico has a great fighting heritage, and its geographical and political proximity to the States means its fighters often find favour with IBHOF voters.
Cotto engaged in plenty of high-profile, fan friendly dust-ups against the likes of Floyd Mayweather, Antonio Margarito and Ricardo Mayorga. Perhaps his greatest achievement – however – was winning the lineal middleweight crown, albeit against the shell of a fighter that Sergio Martinez had become.
Tim Bradley is another name likely to resonate with voters. Like Cotto, he faced high level opposition, including the likes of Lamont Peterson, Devon Alexander, Ruslan Provodnikov, as well as the legendary Manny Pacquiao three times. He was gifted a win against PacMan in their first fight, of course, but also holds an impressive victory against Juan Manuel Marquez.
Perhaps it’s a case of compensation bias, but I’m not giving Cotto or Bradley my votes this year. I don’t think they need them, for starters, but I also think that as an ‘International’ Hall of Fame there are other names here who often get overlooked and deserve a fairer shake.
Russian Yuri Arbachakov and Orzubek Nazarov of Kyrgyzstan (then part of the Soviet Union) are interesting candidates. Russia only has one current member of the IBHOF – Kostya Tszyu, and Australia have a claim on him, too.
Nazarov had a very good career, winning the WBA lightweight title and defending it successfully six times, including twice against Dingaan Thobela in South Africa and once against Joey Gamache in the United States. After losing his title to Jean-Baptiste Mendy he retired with a 26-1 record.
Arbachakov – to my mind – had an even better career. A formidable amateur he went 23-1 in his pro career, winning the WBC and lineal flyweight title in 1992 and mounting nine successful defences. He was also the first Russian boxer to win a professional world title. Some may view him as an obscure or somewhat hipster choice, but he gets my fourth vote.
If European fighters are arguably under-represented in the IBHOF with 15 ‘Moderns’ at present then what of Asian fighters? Currently, and shamefully, there are just seven in the hall. There are two Asian candidates on this year’s ballot with strong cases for inclusion – Sung-Kil Moon of South Korea and Pongsaklek Wonjongkam of Thailand.
As mentioned earlier, Moon ended the career of the great Gilberto Roman and was one of the great lower weight knockout artists. He won the WBA title at bantamweight and the WBC/lineal titles at super-fly, defending this crown nine times. Along the way he enjoyed an unforgettable war with Nana Konadu and KO’d Hilario Zapata – an IBHOF inductee in just one round.
Pongsaklek, meanwhile, had two reigns as WBC/lineal flyweight champion, during the first of which he defended his crown an amazing 17 times in a jaw-dropping 91-5-2 career.
In the end, my fifth and final vote came down to a virtual coin toss between these two great Asian fighters. I plumped for Moon, mainly because – despite Pongsaklek’s amazing record – I think his opposition was tougher.
It’s hard to choose between a lot of these fighters, and I don’t expect Moon (or Arbachakov or even Roman for that matter) to pick up anywhere near enough votes to get in the IBHOF. But to my mind they are deserving candidates and by voting for them I can challenge – albeit on a very minor level – the skewed geographical make-up of the IBHOF at present.
Main image: Roy Jones Jr. Photo:Alamy/Zuma Press.