Hall of Fame Thoughts

By Tom Donelson
Updated: September 12, 2005

NEW YORK — What makes a Hall of Fame fighter? Interesting question and it is tough call when considering a fighter for the Hall of Fame. Many of us who vote for boxers face similar problems as other sports. And I am not so convinced that other sports do any better than what we do in selecting Hall of Fame candidates.

Can anyone explain to me how Art Monk has yet to make the Football Hall of Fame? When the guy retired, he was the NFL leading all time receiver and had caught a pass in 183 straight games.

Translation: The guy caught a ton of passes and rarely was denied.There are stats that are so overwhelming that they can’t be denied. Except by some sport writers or in the case of Monk, many sports writers.

Sometimes athletes are overshadowed by others and their own records are not truly appreciated even after they are voted in. Recently, one writer recently lamented how Dwight Qawi made the Hall of the Fame.

At his peak, Qawi was a relentless killing machine and champion in two divisions. At his peak, his only lost was to Mike Spinks for the unified light heavyweight title and to Evander Holyfield for the Cruiserweight championship. It took two Hall of Fame fighters to defeat him at his best.

Sometimes athlete’s entry into the Hall of Fame is based on a totality of their career and others are like meteors whose career flame bright before injuries derailed them. Gale Sayers’ stats did not compare to many in the Football Hall of Fame but bad knees derailed a longer career.

At his best and healthy, there were very few better. For the first six years of his career, Sandy Koufax was a mediocre flamethrower that couldn’t get his pitch over consistently. He won only 168 victories but his last four years were as good as any pitcher in baseball.

He was the key to the Dodgers winning three pennants and two World Series in four years. Koufax’s ailing left arm failed him and he retired. Here’s a thought. If Koufax last four years was his first four and his first six years were his last six years, would he had made the Hall of Fame? Sometimes it is as much about timing as effort.

Tony Zale is one of boxing most beloved fighters and many in my father’s generation remember Zale for his three wars with Rocky Graziano. Those three fights symbolized his career and cemented his legacy. When Zale first grabbed his championship, he shared the title with Ken Overlin and it could easily be argued that neither fighter were the best Middleweight.

Billy Soose in a span of one month beat both fighters in non-championship fights in 1940. No one today doubt that Zale doesn’t belong in the Hall but many of the champions of his era has yet to make it to the Hall of Fame including Ken Overlin and Billy Soose. Zale three wars with Graziano was his ticket to the Hall of Fame.

This will not be the first time that an athlete would make it to a Hall of Fame based on one performance. Joe Namath stats are inferior to many of the quarterbacks in the Hall of Fame but his colorful nature outside of the football and his guarantee victory over the heavily favored Colts ensured Namath’s place in Football Hall of Fame.

While Monk still awaits his call, Namath is in the Hall of Fame. Monk was part of three Super Bowl champions but this never seem to matter to Football writers.

Here is an interesting case study. Virgil Hill is close to the end of his career and his best have long been in his past. From late 80’s and throughout the 90’s, he shared portions of the light heavyweight and Cruiserweight championships. Those fighters who beat him included Hall of fame caliber fighters Roy Jones, Thomas Hearns and Dariusz Michalczewski.

Do we hold those losses against Hill or do we acknowledge the 20 plus victories in various championship fights that he did win? For me, Hill has his ticket punched in Boxing Hall of Fame. Hill stats in championship fights alone should convince even the most of skeptical voter.

What makes a Hall of Fame performer? One is excellence over a long period of time. In baseball, there are meaningful stats that have meaning. 500 homers, 300 wins and 3000 hits are usually stats that guarantee entry in baseball Hall of Fame unless the individual suffers from specific moral failings like gambling on baseball. (It will be interesting to see how the recent steroids controversy will affect many of today’s baseball stars when their name comes up for consideration.)

Sometimes, dire circumstances must be considered. Both Sandy Koufax and Dizzy Dean made the Hall of Fame simply because their domination over a short period of time was that overwhelming before injuries derailed their career. Gale Sayers was another whose domination over a short span allowed his entry into football immortality.

The availability of many championship belts confuses the situation. How do we rate fighters when there are so many champions in the same weight division? Before World War II, there were numerous champions in Middleweight division due to rivalry among promoters and various sanctioning bodies.

Many of these fighters such as Billy Soose and Ken Overlin are still looking for their due. There are many fighters over the past two decades who’ve held portion of titles but we remain skeptical of these fighters. One way to judge some of today’s fighter is simply review the totality of their careers.

How many years do they share titles or how many championships did they participate in and win? How dominant were they and how did they match up with the better fighters of their generation?

Voting for a fighter is not an easy matter and boxing writers have similar challenge to voters in other sports Hall of Fame. We sometimes make mistakes but so do other voters. Just think Art Monk and you know that so far, football voters have made one very glaring mistake of omission.

There is one thing that can be said. Those who have been voted in are good fighters. We can argue if their career was deserving of Hall of Fame status but we can’t argue they were not excellent fighters. There have been ten of thousands fighters who have stepped into the ring and those voted in the Hall of Fame represent not even one percent of those who boxed. A fighter must have skills to even be considered.