What took so long?
While the fight game is my passion and my enthusiasm for the sport causes some to question my sanity, I can’t say I’m a huge fan of the International Boxing Hall of Fame. The basic problem with Canastota remains that it tends to be too inclusive. I’m one who believes the whole point of a Hall of Fame is to highlight not just the best, but the best of the best, and its inductees should be nothing but true greats. And with all due respect, Terry Norris, Ingemar Johansson, and Barry McGuigan, just to name a few, cannot be viewed by any reasonable boxing fan as “all-time greats.”
Conversely, my only thought when I heard the news that Thomas Hearns is to be inducted into the Hall this spring was: “He’s not in there!?” Clearly, this is one case where the Hall of Fame has been needlessly stringent.
The Hitman’s last meaningful fight took place all the way back in 1992, a tough, split-decision loss to Iran Barkley for the light-heavyweight crown. Yes, Hearns went on to compete sporadically over the next 14 years, but we’re talking about a dozen bouts which had no bearing on Hearns’ legacy and which, truthfully, had little impact other than to cause people to wish Hearns, for his own good, would finally retire. But the IBHOF will not consider a boxer for induction unless they have been inactive for five full years.
The Hockey Hall of Fame has a similar “waiting period” rule, three years instead of five, but when Wayne Gretzky retired, they didn’t bother with it; they inducted him immediately. It makes sense. What would it matter if Gretzky had come out of retirement to play a few futile seasons with the New York Islanders and post some mediocre stats? How could anything he did tarnish the records he set and the amazing performances he put on in years past?
Similarly, as soon as it was feasible, the Hall of Fame should have inducted The Hitman. Thomas Hearns stands as one of the best boxers of the last 30 years or more, not to mention one of the most exciting battlers in the history of the sport. Beyond that, he will forever be the first man to ever win four divisional championships. For decades no one could jump the four title hurdle — not Barney Ross, not Henry Armstrong, not Alexis Arguello. Hearns did it first. And few have done it since.
Between April, 2000 and July, 2005 Hearns, no doubt contemplating the end of his career, did not compete. You would think during that interval some genius at the Hall of Fame might have asked, “Hey, why don’t we waive the five year waiting period and induct an all-time great, two-time Ring “Fighter of the Year,” and the first boxer ever to win four divisional world titles? A guy who blew away champions like Eddie Gazo, Angel Espada, Pipino Cuevas, Wilfred Benitez, Roberto Duran, Juan Roldan and Virgil Hill — not to mention, also beat Sugar Ray Leonard in ’89, though some inept judges called it a draw? Yeah, I know, Mike McCallum and Julian Jackson are glaring omissions from his record, but still, he otherwise beat a long list of quality fighters. Come on, Ring magazine ranks him one of the best punchers of all-time, while everybody and their aunt rates him the best 154 pounder ever. What are we waiting for?”
Evidently, no one did.
Someone should send a memo to the folks at the IBHOF and let them know that following their own induction process to the letter does not grant the institution credibility. Instead, maintaining a clear vision as to who belongs and who doesn’t counts far more. It will be great to see Thomas Hearns, “The Motor City Cobra,” finally get his Hall of Fame ring and bask in the glory and attention he so richly deserves. But the fact is, it should have happened years ago. Maybe the year they inducted Terry Norris. – Robert Portis