Sunday, September 20, 2009

Boxing Hall of Fame



Having read about many of the former boxing champions, I knew that they often trained in upstate New York in order to escape the everyday distractions just before a fight. I never expected to see all these champions on my drive back from Vermont to Chicago. It was late afternoon while I was driving down Route 90, between Rome and Syracuse (N.Y.), when I spotted a sign for the Boxing Hall of Fame. At first I thought it was a mistake since the location seemed so remote. I decided to pull of the exit to see for myself.



I parked across the street from the building in Canastota, N.Y., and as I walked toward the building a man greeted me and told me that the hall of fame had just closed for the day. It was 5:05 p.m. He suggested I come back tomorrow. I told him I couldn't because I was driving across country to Chicago. He then told me to follow him.



He introduced me to Ed, the Boxing Hall of Fame director.
"Are you a big boxing fan?" Ed asked.
"Yes," I said.
"Who is your favorite fighter?"

His question caught me off guard (no pun intended). There are too many great fighters to name just one. I was tongued-tied for a few seconds. Ed started naming some great fighters and I chimed in and my mind fell back at ease and all the great fighters and writers I had read came back to me. Now that I had Ed's respect, he told me that the museum was closed, but that he would give me a private tour. I was ecstatic. Inside there was a collection of plaques, gloves, robes, and other vestiges from these great boxers' past. The fighters ranged from the 1800s pioneers to the modern pros, everyone from John L. Sullivan to Joe Walcott to Mike Tyson. I was really impressed with the two other workers at the hall of fame who knew about W.C. Heinz, whose plaque hung on the wall for decades of prose about fighters such as Rocky Graziano and Floyd Patterson.



We then walked into another room where the actual ring stood from the first Ali-Frazier fight in Madison Square Garden. At the time, it was deemed the Fight of the Century by promoters. There were lots of rare photos, many of them signed, displayed for visitors. Ed picked some of them up and showed me the price tags. I was surprised. It seemed like these items shouldn't be for sale, especially ones signed by dead boxers, such as Alexis Argüello. Nevertheless, the tour was a special treat, and I plan on returning in June for the annual induction weekend.


Carmen Basilio, left, jokes around with Mickey Mantle. Basilio was born in Canastota, N.Y., and autographed this photo.

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