Last weekend the International Boxing Hall of Fame inducted trainer Ignacio Beristain, referee Joe Cortez, actor Sylvester Stallone, and boxers Julio Cesar Chavez, Kostya Tszyu and Mike Tyson.
The gala dinner saw many of the past inductees take to the microphone and address the in excess of 1500 guests attending. Many talked about how great it was to be back sharing memories with past champions, others talked about the sport and the courage of every boxer to step into the ring and not be afraid to take a step forward.
It was however former World Champion, “Irish” Mickey Ward’s half brother, Dicky Eklund who made probably the most poignant observation.
Eklund will be remembered probably more for Christian Bale’s outstanding performance of him as a former boxer addicted to crack in the movie “The Fighter” than for his alleged knockdown of Sugar Ray Leonard. I say, “alleged” as Leonard’s corner man Angelo Dundee was in attendance and he stated that Eklund had been living off a slip by Leonard for years. “If he wants to believe he knocked down Sugar Ray, the so be it, but he didn’t,” was Dundee’s summation.
At the microphone Eklund spoke well, and away from it was an extremely personable gentleman. He made the point that boxers are one of the few groups of athletes who do not have a retirement fund, who do not have a body that looks after its past fighters in times of need, when their careers are over. All they have are their memories and their colleagues. Baseball, Basketball, and American Football, also have their Hall of Fames but they also look after their former heroes, boxing does not.
He put out a call for the governing bodies, of which there are far too many, to start looking after those fighters who give them a job.
As he spoke one looked at the line inductees which extended along one whole wall of the venue and saw great Champions who have obviously fallen on hard times, some who were allowed to take too many punches in the ring and are now paying the price, and others who simply do not know how to cope with life away from the ring.
Eklund’s words were on the money, and they came from a man who probably knows better than most what it is like to fall from grace having been a junkie and gone to prison.
Let us hope that as Boxing tries to get its house in order to once again appeal to the masses who love the sport, that Eklund’s plea does not fall on deaf ears. However we fear that it probably already has.