Once again, the Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame showed why they may be the best Hall of Fame outside of Canastota, NY. In only their 4th year of existence, the brainchild of longtime boxing announcer Rich Marotta, has turned into an annual gathering of boxing elite, fight fans and celebrities. With Michelle Corrales, widow of former world champion Diego Corrales, serving as COO and running the day-to-day operations, induction weekend has quickly become one of boxing’s biggest summer events. Las Vegas, long known as the fight capital of the world, is the perfect destination with all its glitz and glamour not to mention all of the historical fights that have taken place in the desert and at Caesars Palace, the home for the last two years induction ceremonies that have both sold out.
This year’s class had plenty of star power and with the legendary Sugar Ray Leonard on hand to pay tribute to The Greatest, Muhammad Ali, it truly made this event extraordinary.
Like Leonard and Ali, Pernell “Sweet Pea” Whitaker won Olympic gold, winning his in the great 1984 class. He was also a world champion in four weight classes. Not bashful, he let the packed ballroom know he was the greatest defensive fighter of all time and suggested he was the 2nd greatest fighter of all time behind only Ali. In an amazing gesture, Whitaker asked everyone to stand up and close their eyes for 10 seconds to pay respect to The Greatest, Muhammad Ali. Whitaker was presented by fellow southpaw Zab Judah.
Ricardo “Finito” Lopez, one of the greatest Mexican fighters of all time, was thrilled to be there with his family. Lopez finished his career with an amazing 51-0-1, 38 Kos. He won the WBC minimum weight title in 1990 and remained a world champion for the rest of his career, which ended in 2001. He also fought on several undercards of Mike Tyson. WBC President Mauricio Sulaiman and current WBO Welterweight Champion Jesse Vargas were on stage with Lopez to present his award.
“Big Daddy” Riddick Bowe was presented by former heavyweight champion Hasim Rahman. Bowe, who fought wars with Evander Holyfield and was part of the famous fan man fight at Caesars, cracked a few jokes and thanked everyone for coming out. Along with Rahman, Sugar Ray Leonard presented Bowe with his award. It was said by a few in attendance, that Bowe may be the last of the great American heavyweights.
No one captured the night more than the legendary Christy “The Coal Miner’s Daughter” Martin. She shared her story about being shot and stabbed, where she was essentially left for dead. But she’s a survivor and a fighter. She was the first woman fighter on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Like Lopez, Martin fought on several of Tyson’s undercards in Las Vegas. Although Tyson, also a Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame inductee was not in attendance, Christy thanked him for allowing her to fight on his cards and knows if he didn’t want her to, she would not have.
Hall of Fame Referee Richard Steele presented fan favorite Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini. Steele praised Mancini for the punching power he had in both hands. He witnessed first-hand as the 3rd man in the ring when Mancini pummeled the great Bobby Chacon in Reno where Steele stopped the damage in the 3rd round. Mancini who had the tragic fight with Deuk-Koo Kim ironically at Caesars thanked a myriad of folks for his rise to the top. A move to New York kicked things off and with the help of promoter Top Rank and Bob Arum, he got to the top of the boxing world.
There was 80 year old Freddy Little, Nevada’s first world champion, who smiled from ear to ear the whole weekend. He travelled the world to get fights back in his day as he was hungry, literally. Bruce Trampler, Top Rank’s Hall of Fame Matchmaker who presented Little, joked this was way before they had frequent flyer miles. When asked during the weekend who his toughest fight was, he said everyone. He also joked he was making a comeback. Little got a roaring ovation from family and friends in attendance.
James “Smitty” Smith shared his experiences with Muhammad Ali when he met him as an 11 year old kid in Miami. Smitty became part of Ali’s Miami entourage. Ali affectionately referred to Smitty as “little white boy.” Smitty also thanked his parents for their support. Smitty is also host of In This Corner, America’s only syndicated ½ hour long boxing interview show. Smitty was presented by Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame board member Amber Dixon, who also covers sports for Channel 3 News in Las Vegas.
Thell Torrence, who has trained over 20 world champions including Riddick Bowe and Wayne “Pocket Rocket” McCullough, was introduced by legendary actor Ryan O’Neil who managed several fighters including welterweight contender Hedgemon Lewis. Torrence gave praise to his trainer, considered the greatest of all-time, Eddie Futch, as well as Willie Brown who also trained Torrence and influenced him greatly.
Kenny Adams, coach of the 1988 U.S. Olympic Team, was presented by Gene Kilroy, Muhammad Ali’s business manager. Adams and Kilroy met in the army and have been lifelong friends. Kilroy stated it’s better to give then to receive and presented Adams with several gifts on stage including some pictures of Ali never seen before in public. Adams was humbled by the gesture and talked about his time with the 1988 team that included Riddick Bowe, Roy Jones Jr and Michael Carbajal. He also thanked Sugar Ray Leonard who served as an advisor.
AP Boxing Writer Tim Dahlberg was introduced by last year’s inductee, Top Rank publicist Lee Samuels. Dahlberg has covered boxing all over the world including the biggest fights in Vegas. Dahlberg shared his experiences of covering fights at Caesars. “Anyone who was ever there remembers the aromas of the pavilion behind Caesars. It was a mixture of cigarette smoke, hot dogs, sweat and Caesars Woman perfume that hit you the moment you got in the door, and it was intoxicating.”
The late Johnny Tocco was also honored as he operated the famous Ringside Gym in Las Vegas and was one of the game’s best trainers. He moved to Las Vegas in 1953. Marotta accepted his award on his behalf.
With the recent passing of Muhammad Ali, the Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame paid their respects to The Greatest, who was elected to the Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame last year where his daughter Rasheda accepted on his behalf. The VIP Lounge was lit up with a sign “In Memory of Muhammad Ali.” Sugar Ray Leonard, who took the torch from Ali in the 1980’s and became boxing’s biggest star was on hand to share his memories of his friend and mentor.
Leonard recalled meeting him for the first time at 19 at a banquet. He had so many questions for him, but when the moment came, Leonard couldn’t speak, Ali “took his breath away.” Leonard waited to see how he would use all the silverware that was laid out in front of him as he grew up with either a spoon or a fork and figured he could learn etiquette from Ali. That he did, as Ali grabbed a roll put it in his mashed potatoes and gravy and shoved it in his mouth. Leonard laughed and said he still does that today.
Leonard knew he arrived as a fighter when Ali visited him in his locker room prior to “The Showdown” with Thomas Hearns at Caesars Palace.
Leonard talked about Ali outside the ring and his strong beliefs and values when he gave up precious years of his career. Leonard shared as a fighter you dream of the moment to become champion and win those belts and then to give it all up like Ali did was something that no other fighter would do such thing, not even him.
Leonard was then joined on stage by John Ramsey, a longtime friend of Muhammad and Lonnie Ali. Lonnie had previously committed to coming but her grandson, Nico, son of Rasheda Ali-Walsh was fighting in California. Ramsey shared memories of Ali and got great laughs when he imitated Ali’s voice and Mike Tyson, although Tyson was not impressed by it at the time of the encounter. The room was filled with laughter at these recollections.
Another big hit of the night was The Mighty Sensations, who sang a variety of oldies led by referee and lead vocal Tony Weeks along with fellow refs Kenny Bayless, Russell Mora as well as Bobby Hoyle and Kermit Bayless all with the Nevada State Athletic Commission.
The weekend festivities kicked off Friday with an all-day meet and greet with fight fans who got to take pictures and get autographs from most of the inductees including Ricardo Lopez, Freddy Little, Christy Martin, Pernell Whitaker, Riddick Bowe, James Smith, Thell Torrence and Kenny Adams. Also in attendance throughout the day were Shawn Porter, Jesse Vargas, Terry Norris, Richard Steele, Kevin Kelley, Paulie Ayala, Miguel Diaz, Rafael Garcia, Mike McCallum, Stevie Forbes, Ava Knight, Ana Julaton plus MC and Top Rank reporter Crystina Poncher. Poncher along with ESPN’s broadcaster Bernardo Osuna served as co-mc for the event.
A host of vendors were on hand too, where you could by boxing merchandise, get your picture with the WBC Green Belt in a cool photo booth, sit down for a quick massage or even buy an autographed cigar from inductee himself Riddick Bowe who owns Champion Cigars along with Chris Byrd, James Toney, Lamon Brewster and Ray Mercer.
On Friday night, a VIP reception was held poolside at Caesars, which served as an intimate setting for the inductees, their families and special guests. It was also an opportunity for the Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame to recognize others for their great contribution to the Nevada fight scene.
WBC President Mauricio Sulaiman was presented with the Muhammad Ali Humanitarian Award for his work around the world on behalf of the WBC to help those in need. He poetically talked about the tragedies of recent weeks and if only we could come together as a society like those gathered as one big boxing family.
An emotional Herb Santos was honored with the President’s Award for his work as a judge, a member of the NSAC and former chairman and credited with modernizing the NSAC rulebook in 1989. He held his trophy tightly and shared for several minutes how much the award met to him.
Long time boxing announcer Colonel Bob Sheridan was recognized for his many years of service. He recently was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame and broadcasted his 1,000th world title fight.
Ava Knight was awarded Female Fighter of the Year and was very proud as she has never been honored in such a way. She’s also a winner of the WBC Diamond Belt World Champion Badou Jack was named Male Fighter of the Year after a three year stranglehold by his promoter Floyd Mayweather. He accepted the award with his beautiful wife and newly born daughter. Undefeated sensation Devin Haney won prospect of the year and told the audience he’s aiming for fighter of the year next. Amateur JJ Marino won Amateur Fighter of the Year winning his second consecutive NCAA boxing title for the University of Nevada.
If interested in donating to the Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame, a 501c-3, go to www.nvbhof.com. The donations are used for boxing related charities, special-needs of former boxers, youth boxing and Nevada boxing gyms and other worthy organizations.