Florida Boxing Hall of Fame
THE USA BOXING NEWS INTERVIEW
President of the Florida Boxing Hall of Fame
By Mark Weisenmiller
Photos courtesy of The Florida Boxing Hall of Fame
The new President of the Florida Boxing Hall of Fame talks with The U.S.A. Boxing News about his long-time boxing experience; explains his goals to be achieved while President; the opening of the new FLBHOF located in Fort Myers, FL, and his long-time admiration and love for the New York Yankees
The year 2021, depending on how one tracks time, is the start of a new decade and for Steve Canton, 74, the new President of the Florida Boxing Hall of Fame, all indicators suggest that it is going to be a busy year for him.
Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Steve got involved in boxing at the age of 11. In his six-decade long career in boxing, he has done just about everything (as we will find out below).
His interview with The U.S.A. Boxing News was conducted during the closing weeks of 2020 and, even then, during the annual winter holiday season, Canton told us that he was working 12-to-16-hour long days “and sometimes I don’t even have time to eat.” Besides assuming the many responsibilities of being the FLBHOF President, he also owns and operates SJC Boxing Club, Inc., a boxing gym which has been in existence in Fort Myers for more than 30 years.
Additionally, when we interviewed him by telephone, he was supervising the laying out of exhibits and memorabilia of the new “facility” – a word he uses to describe the three rooms in Fort Myers which constitute the actual, physical Florida Boxing Hall of Fame, which is to have its grand opening ceremonies on January 9, 2021. Previous to this, the FLBHOF had a sort of three-dimensional existence; in other words, the FLBHOF did not exist in actuality. Canton told the USABN that he hopes that the FLBHOF will grow to the point where it needs more than three rooms.
We began the interview by asking the tall, thin, swift, white-haired Canton- – who, with his classical facial features, resembles a Harvard-educated Boston Brahmin trustee attorney, although he speaks with neither a Boston or Brooklyn accent – about his boxing experience and how he feels about becoming the new FLBHOF President.
NEWS: What in your background, in your estimation, makes you best suited to be the new President of the Florida Boxing Hall of Fame?
CANTON: I’ve been in the sport since the age of 11, when I started boxing at the Police Boy’s Club in New York City, and I’ve been involved in boxing ever since; and now I’m 74. You name it and I’ve done it: promoter; announcer; trainer; cut-man; judge; referee; timekeeper; and I boxed myself when I was younger. Plus, I was serving as the FLBHOF Vice-President for quite some time. I was part of the inaugural inductee class of the Florida Boxing Hall of Fame back in 2009, of which I’m grateful.
NEWS: On the point of inductees, now that you are President, would you like to see, on average, many more inductees put into the FLBHOF every year?
CANTON: It will be the same. Every year we put in about 20 people, plus we give out two awards to people who have contributed to boxing in some way. That’s probably more than any other boxing hall of fame in the world, so I don’t see us putting even more inductees in every year.
NEWS: What are some of your aims, or your goals, for the future of the FLBHOF?
CANTON: We want to get more involvement with the past inductees and their families helping newer inductees and their families join our (FLBHOF) fraternity. That way, we will become even more popular and, by word of mouth with all of these people talking about the FLBHOF, more and more people will hear about us.
Every year, we have two big events: the announcement of the year’s inductees, which is done here at Fort Myers and the June induction ceremony weekend which is done in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area. What we would like to do is something between those two events. For example, I would like to see a casino night held in, say, Miami and then, the following year, something held in Orlando. I’ve begun work on about 15 or 16 different ideas about all of this. In other words, more ideas spread all throughout the state.
It’s been a busy time for us. We’ve got a new gym and we loaded a U-Haul (moving truck) three times, moving things from the old gym to here in the new gym. We did all of this over a weekend and by the Monday of the next week, the new gym was open for business and for boxers to train; it was as though there was no break in our business.
NEWS: Do you plan for the FLBHOF to get bigger during your tenure as President? If so, how will this be accomplished?
CANTON: When you use the word bigger, that’s a relative term. If you mean bigger by way of putting more inductees into the Hall of Fame, as I’ve said, no, we’re not going to do that. But if you mean bigger by way of space then YES. The new facility (i.e., the new FLBHOF) is three separate rooms in the gym. They have exhibits; memorabilia, and a continuously playing video will soon be installed, where visitors can watch the great boxers in their great fights. In time, we’ll add plenty more.
NEWS: We live and work in an Internet-connected world. On that point, would you like to see the FLBHOF’s website made more efficient and informative while you are the FLBHOF’s President?
CANTON: The website will be totally revamped [Note: he hopes to have this done by the end of 2021]. We’ve got people working on it now. I’m the type of leader that wants everything done yesterday. I’m getting wi-fi installed here as we speak. I’ve got three different guys here, doing three different things, and one of them is the wi-fi guy.
NEWS: Tell us about your background.
CANTON: I was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York until the age of 16. That makes me a life-time New York Yankees fan. They’re my favorite team to watch and I’ve been watching them since I was a boy. I finished high school in Ohio and then went into the Air Force. One thing led to another and for the past 30 years, I’ve had the gym here in Fort Myers. I grew to love this area because when by the time I was in the Air Force, my mother and father were retired and they moved here to Fort Myers. When I got military leave, I would come to visit them and I fell in love with the area. I grew to love the climate and the fact that there was no snow and ice here.
NEWS: Has any fighter donated items to the FLBHOF?
CANTON: There’s been so many items donated by so many fighters. Some that quickly come to mind are David Jaco’s gloves when he fought (Mike) Tyson; a painting by Dr. Ferdie Pacheco, and the boxing gear worn by Nate Campbell during his final bout (trunks, robe, etc.). All of that, and plenty more, are here.
NEWS: How big is the new building, in terms of square feet, and are there plans to expand said building within, say, the next two to three years?
CANTON: The square footage of the three rooms adds up to 5,200 square feet. We plan on constantly updating and arranging exhibits in the facility. We’re going to constantly be having things – items, memorabilia, etc. – moving in and out of the facility. Yes, I would like to see us expand in the future.
NEWS: How are you going to give enough time to fulfilling your many FLBHOF Presidential duties if you are also running your boxing gym?
CANTON: I’ve been doing this (i.e., multi-tasking) all of my life, so it’s nothing new to me. I run my gym; I’ve got my (FLBHOF) Presidential duties; I’m working with the city of Fort Myers to create a program in which under-privileged kids will come to the gym to box and train, and hear inspirational talks from athletes of all walks of life, and also get a hot meal. I’m always doing all sorts of things here.
NEWS: Who is going to be your FLBHOF Vice-President and do you have plans of working closely with him or her on various projects?
CANTON: Yes, Bob Alexander is my V.P. He is one of the great boxing announcers in the world. I used him in many of my fights and respect him so much that I brought him along on some overseas fights that I promoted. He’s been on the FLBHOF board for years. Bob handles Media Relations; Press Relations; Organization, and other things. Besides those things, we work on many other matters as a team.
NEWS: Your life is already boxing oversaturated and with your new duties as FLBHOF President, it’s going to be even more so. So, what do you to do to relax? What do you do to take the stress off?
CANTON: I’m training every night here in the gym. Boxers from 72 different countries have trained here in my gym. I relax by training. I tell people that I have three ages: when I’m in the ring, I fee like I’m 25; when I get out of the ring, I feel like I’m 85, and all of the other times, I’m 74.
I usually get home sometime after midnight. There are only two hobbies in my life: baseball and boxing. I will watch the Yankees whenever I get the chance on TV, but I’ll settle for watching any team play. I’ll also watch the news on occasion. That’s all I do.
NEWS: What specific things did Butch and Kathy Flansburg (Canton’s FLBHOF President predecessor and his wife) do to make sure that the FLBHOF succeeded? What, in your estimation, was the most significant achievement of your predecessor and Kathy?
CANTON: Creating the Florida Boxing Hall of Fame is easily their greatest achievement. Plus, they were smart enough to surround themselves with knowledgeable board members who knew all sorts of things about boxing. That was a very smart move that ensured that the Hall of Fame would succeed. They set it up properly.
We’re (Butch and Kathy and Steve and his wife Beth) long-time friends. I knew Butch back when he was a photographer shooting boxing back in the 1970’s. Butch and Kathy were just down here this past weekend, helping Beth and I sort through boxes of memorabilia. Before we had the new facility, we had all of the memorabilia stored in a storage space in Tampa. Now, people can see some of the stuff in the new Florida Boxing Hall of Fame. And now I’m eager to see what I can do as President. I want to put all of my boxing experience to use (as FLBHOF President).
For more information on the Florida Boxing Hall of Fame go to: http://www.floridaboxinghalloffame.com/
A Fun-packed Winter Induction Ceremony for the 23 Class of 2020 Florida Boxing Hall of Fame Inductees
Story by Mark Weisenmiller
Photos courtesy of the Florida Boxing Hall of Fame
Photos by Damon Gonzalez
St. Petersburg, FL – On the same early November 2020 weekend that a new President of the United States, Joe Biden, was projected to be elected, there occurred the Florida Boxing Hall of Fame Class of 2020 Induction weekend.
The election of Biden over his predecessor took some days to formalize and at press time, there are still questions regarding the election’s integrity. For the 23 inductees of the Class of 2020, such was not the case.
In 2020, the year of the international pandemic best know by the acronym of COVID 19 (this is easily the most important story of the year and, possibly, the new decade), all aspects of people’s personal and professional lives have changed. Such was also the case with the 2020 FBHOF induction Weekend.
In past years, FLBHOF induction ceremonies have always taken place during the week of the North American summer solstice in late June at the Westshore Hyatt Hotel in Tampa. Now, in these post-COVID days, 2020’s ceremonies took place, as previously noted, in the winter month of early November, but this time at the St. Petersburg Marriott Hotel.
Life in these COVID (China Virus) times did not seem to scare away eager and interested boxing fans, for it seemed as though there appeared to be more people attending the ceremonies as compared to past years! Also, there seemed to be more women here this year as compared to past induction ceremony years.
All of these people, as per an anti-COVID ordinance from Florida’s Governor, wore protective face masks. Some of these individuals wore black colored masks which had the FBHOF’s circular orange-colored emblem printed on them.
On Day One (actually evening, Friday, November 6) – had 14 pro boxing bouts held in the hotel’s grand ballroom. The fisticuffs began at 7:30 and did not finish until 1:30 am the following morning. The bouts were put on by T & K Promotions.
From 10 am until four pm on Saturday, on the second floor of the hotel, there was the following: fist casting; autographs; book signings; various types of memorabilia on sale (boxing gloves, old boxing magazines with aging, yellowing paper, etc.), a two-hour podcast, and two seminars.
The first of these seminars was conducted by former Referee Brian Garry (FLBHOF Class of 2009; he worked as a referee in amateur bouts for 22 years and professional fights for 25 years), and the second was “The Fine Art of Coaching” by Steve Canton (also a FBHOF inductee member).
The entire weekend events were hosted by the terrific announcer Bob Alexander, who is also a former inductee in the Florida Boxing Hall of Fame.
Inductees were the following:
Fighters: Bonnie “The Cobra” Canino (Former IBF and IBA Female Featherweight Champion – 11-4-5 KO’s); Eliseo Castillo; Robert “Preacherman” Daniels (Former WBA and IBO Cruiserweight Champion – 49-10-41 KO’s); Jeff “Left Hook” Lacy (Former IBF and IBO Super Middleweight Champion – 27-6-1 -18 KO’s); Buster Mathis, Jr. (Former IBF USBA Heavyweight Champion – 21-2-3 NC-18 KO’s); Jeff Sims (Former Florida State Heavyweight King – 22-9-20 KO’s); Rocky Torres (Former WBA FEDELATIN and WBC FECAR BOX light heavyweight champion – 22-7-8 KO’s), and Glenn “Big Bad” Wolfe (Former 2-time IBF Super Middleweight Title Challenger – 27-5-1-24 KO’s).
Trainer/Manager: Ben Getty.
Promoter: Jeff Gibson.
Media: Joe Bruno; Dalia Duran (daughter of one of this publication’s most favorite fighters, Roberto Duran, FBHOF Class of 2012. With her induction, this became the first father/daughter combination to be inducted into the FLBHOF), and Alan Hopper.
Participants: Lucius Harris; Lou Martinez; Charles Mooney, the Bantamweight Silver Medalist at the legendary 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, and Floyd Self.
Official/Commission: Phyllis Garry; Emil Lombardi Jr., and Mark Streisand.
Finally, Phil Alessi Jr. and Orlando Cuellar received Boxing Achievement Awards and Kathy Gentile received a Lifetime Achievement Award. These last three received their awards during the Saturday evening dinner.
Sunday was induction day for the 23 honored people of The Class of 2020. After a breakfast (from eight to 10 am), where it seemed as though there was more reminiscing than actual eating, the ceremony started with the presentation of the American flag by American Legion Post 5 of Tampa. Then outgoing FBHOF President Butch Flansburg and his wife, Kathy, (a quiet, unassuming woman who is a whirling dervish during annual induction weekends) were asked to come to the stage as well as the new FBHOF President Steve Canton.
A video tribute to both of them was shown to the hundreds of people who packed the grand ballroom for the ceremonies (perhaps symbolically, Billy Joel’s song “I’m Still Standing” was the song played during the length of the video presentation). Canton enthusiastically praised both of the Flansburgs “for laying the foundation for us (the FLBHOF) to grow.” He then gave a commemorative plaque to Butch and a $50 gift card to a famous steak house in Tampa to Kathy; this caused the latter to jump up and down and pump her arms vigorously as though she was a high school cheerleader.
All of the inductees wore red short sleeve polo shirts and were given rings and FLBHOF plaques as they came to the stage. The introductions for the inductees were quite laudatory but tended to be a bit too long. Also, due to the COVID pandemic, a number of inductees chose not to attend the ceremonies; however, they did watch said ceremonies from their respective homes (the induction ceremony was shown, live, via the Internet).
The inductees ceremonies began with the presentation of said awards to relatives of the four deceased inductees: Self (which was accepted by his daughter Gayle Sierens who, in the 1980’s, was the first woman announced to broadcast play-by play commentary of an NFL football game; later, she worked for many years as a news reader for the NBC-TV affiliate station in Tampa); Sims (who died in 1993 at the age of 39 due to a physical altercation. He may best be remembered for splitting Muhammad Ali’s lip during a sparring session; the egotistical Ali grew a mustache to hide the cut); Getty (accepted by his son Chris), and the man who trained Antonio Tarver and scores of other boxers, Lou Harris (this was accepted by his widow who gave a calm, well thought out, and very well delivered speech. Here was, and is, a woman of class and distinction). Brian Garry came to the stage and clanged the ten-count bell in honor of the four men. Then came a video, with Bruce Springsteen’s “Born To Run” song played on the video’s soundtrack, of the highlights of the induction ceremony.
Now came the living inductees and, mostly, they kept to their five-minute long speech deadlines. First up was trainer and promoter Lou Martinez (“I’m glad that there’s a community among people. I’m going to wrap it up because that’s all I have to say,” he concluded amidst laughter from the audience); Charles Mooney (who was not in attendance; it was accepted by Canton); Phyllis Garry (a timekeeper and judge, who worked at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia); she joined her husband Brian as the first husband/wife inductees in FLBHOF history. She explained just what she does, and how she does it – that is, timekeeping – as per Florida boxing rules. Mark Streisand (not in attendance); and the ever popular and loquacious referee Emilio Lombardi Jr. (when he came to the stage the theme song that he selected for his walk was “Rock You Like A Hurricane.” That is a song with much guitar playing in it and Lombardi, like the author, is a guitar player.) Lombardi got a long and loud ovation. He graciously first offered his congratulations to his fellow inductees. Lombardi easily gave the longest speech of the afternoon, but it was laced with humor and good intent).
Now it was time for the three media inductees: Hopper (yet another no-show); Dalia Duran, who very much was there, was very happy. After she came to the stage, she took some minutes to gather her composure before speaking. Her contingent in the audience promptly went loco as she walked to the stage. “We did it; we’re in!,” she said to her contingent in particular and the audience in general. Then was Joe Bruno, whose speech was brief, and at different times, hilarious and or quite emotional. Promoter Jeff Gibson was next. Coming to the stage (to the tune of “Bad Boys”), he began his speech by saying “It’s not a good idea to give a mike (microphone) to a boxing promoter but I’ll make this short as possible.” He did not do so, but his speech was both funny and informative. Gibson has put on 104 boxing shows in Florida.
The final section of inductees were the fighters: Rocky Torres, who said, “I want to give Glory to God and thanks to my birthplace of Homestead, FL, which is undergoing a big storm now.” He was referring to the hurricane which then plagued South Florida); Robert Daniels (who gave the shortest speech of the inductees who were present); Buster Mathis Jr. (whose theme song was “Hit Me With Your Best Shot.” He was yet another person who could not attend. Canton, who accepted for Mathis, told the crowd that Buster was not in the best of health, but was watching the induction ceremony from his home in Grand Rapids, Michigan); Castillo (also not in attendance); Bonnie Canino, who actually was there at the beginning of the weekend, but had to rush back home to her home in South Florida due to a personal matter. Lou Martinez accepted the award for his good friend Canino); Glenn Wolfe (who got a boisterous reception and gave a short and hilarious recap of his boxing career), and, finally the intense Jeff “Left Hook” Lacy (there was noticeable gray in his beard and, while intense, he was also quite emotional and came close to breaking down and crying during his speech), who remarked, “This is the icing on the cake for me (i.e., his FBHOF induction).”
The day, and the Class of 2020 Induction Weekend, ended when the master of ceremonies formally introduced the Class of 2020. The FLBHOF Class of 2021 will be announced In early January of 2021.
Letter sent out by the departing FBHOF President Butch Flansburg and his wife, the FBHOF CFO Kathy Flansburg:
Dear Boxing Fans,
After many years of attending the IBHOF, I felt that Florida should have this same honor. Florida has had many champions come from our state as well as many who have helped those become champions. After talking with some friends, I asked my wonderful wife if she would be willing to help me establish the FBHOF which she gracefully agreed to do.
After all the jargon of becoming a corporation, getting our nonprofit, we established a board of directors. I remember that very first dinner, the Board prayed for at least 75 people to attend so we would not have to be personally responsible. To say that we were received with open arms is an understatement with over 250 people supporting us, we knew we could only get better.
It has been an honor and a pleasure for us to be able to create this wonderful organization for all of those who love boxing. After 12 years Kathy and I are retiring at the end of this year and looking forward to traveling, spending more time together and visiting us grandchildren more often.
I would like to thank Steve Canton for agreeing to start this adventure with us, Bob Alexander for being a great MC each year, Arcadio Castro for our amazing logo and all of you who have supported and believed in us.
I would like to also thank Steve Yerrid and The Yerrid Foundation for its continue support through the years, along with Fred Levin, Christopher Young, NISA Brian Garry, Jimmy Resnick, Renaissance Gems for our rings, Ira with Goldstar streaming & Phil Alessi Jr. it would not be a hall of fame weekend without the delicious beautiful cake donated by Alessi bakery each year.
Through the past 12 years we have learned a lot, met some of the most amazing, interesting and generous people and have had so much fun. We offer to all, please keep in touch with us. We are thankful to everyone who has worked with us through the years to make the Hall what it has become and we believe that it is being left in good hands to continue the legacy for many years to come. Vice President Steve Canton will be taking on the position of President and will fill any empty board seats. We will always be available to assist the Hall as needed.
We are forever your friends in boxing
Butch & Kathy Flansburg
Editors’ Note: We first came in contact with Butch and Kathy Flansburg in 2012. We were grieving at the time of the loss of our brother Gerard Rinaldi, who had died the previous year at New Port Richey, Florida. Gerard had covered boxing for us at The USA Boxing News and for numerous other boxing publications and newspapers over the past 30 years.
One afternoon in January, we received a call at the offices of The USA Boxing News from Butch Flansburg notifying us that Gerard was chosen to be inducted into the 2012 class of the Florida Boxing Hall of Fame. The phone lit up our day and we were genuinely gratified that a boxing hall of fame had recognized the great achievements of our brother Gerard.
We both attended the 2012 Florida Boxing Hall of Fame Induction Weekend and spoke at the Ceremony honoring Gerard. We personally met both Butch, who was the president of the FBHOF, and his wife Kathy, who was the CFO of the FBHOF. They were friendly and accommodating to us and could not have been nicer.
Over the course of the years, The USA Boxing News has promoted the efforts of the Florida Boxing Hall of Fame. We are big supporters of organizations in various states that organize state boxing hall of fames to honor fighters and others who have made incredible contributions to their respective states in the wonderful sport of boxing.
People such as Butch and Kathy Flansburg are credits to the sport of boxing with the tireless efforts each year to make the Florida Boxing Hall of Fame the resounding success it is. They are a first-class couple who are champions in their own right.
We are proud and honored that in 2012 our brother Gerard was a 2012 Inductee into the Florida Boxing Hall of Fame, and that we followed him in the 2017 FBHOF class of inductees.
We both wish continued success to Kathy and Butch Flansburg, and we also congratulate their worthy successor Steve Canton, who we are sure will do a knockout job.
–The USA Boxing News Editors John and Alex Rinaldi.
2019 Florida Boxing Hall of Fame
Story by Mark Weisenmiller
TAMPA, FLORIDA. Twenty people, from six different specialties of boxing, were inducted today into the Florida Boxing Hall of Fame Induction weekend. Additionally, two men were given Boxing Achievement Awards.
The Florida Boxing Hall of Fame Class of 2019 are the following:
Eromosele Albert, Juan Arroyo, Nate Campbell, Lou Esa, Richard Hall, Lamar Murphy, Jimmy Navarro, and James Scott.
Mike Birmingham and Pete Brodsky.
Nathan Lopez Senior.
Damon Gonzalez and Sean O’Grady.
Pete Balcunas, Henry Grooms, and Chico Rivas.
Telis Assimenios, Dr. Rodolfo Eichberg, Frank Gentile, and Dr. Mel Jurado.
The two men who were given Boxing Achievement Awards were Seminole Tribe of Florida politician Mitchell Cypress (when in the U.S. Army, he fought in matches in Germany and the United States. Decades later, as Chairman of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, he was seminal in attracting boxing promoters to stage matches at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Florida) and Emile Lombardi Jr. (who began his affiliation with boxing while working as a judge before becoming a referee; he has refereed more than 50 fights).
On the evening of Friday, June 21st, the annual day of the summer solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, 17 amateur fights were held at The Westshore Grand Hotel (whose facilities also hosted all of the other activities affiliated with this weekend’s induction ceremonies). 2018 FBHOF inductee Christy Martin came down from her home in North Carolina to attend the bouts.
All day on Saturday, vendors had tables selling boxing memorabilia; local authors signed their books (whose subjects were an array of boxing-affiliated topics); and autographs were asked for and given. From 10 to 11 am, a referee and judge seminar was conducted by Brian Garry (who was inducted into the FBHOF 10 years ago). Assisted by his wife Phyllis Garry (a long-time boxing match bell ringer and the recipient two years ago of the FLBHOF Boxing Achievement Award), his talk was divided into three sections titled, respectively, “Who Is Da Ref?,” “Purpose and Function of the Referee,” and “Ring Mechanics.” When husband Garry began and ended a section, wife Phyllis would clang a hammer on a bell. Ever the diligent worker, when the seminar started to last longer than the one hour scheduled for it (due to audience members having many comments and questions for Brian), Phyllis loudly and repeatedly hit the bell, a not-so-subtle hint to Brian to wrap up the talk.
Referee Garry, who officiated boxing matches at the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympic Games, had a series of bon mots during his seminar. Among them: “Remember, it is always better to stop a fight one punch before it’s too late (i.e., before a boxer gets injured)”; “The critical job of the referee is safety, safety, safety,” “Roberto Duran and Archie Moore were the two greatest defensive boxers I ever saw,” and “A boxer will try everything in the book (i.e., to score points against, and to hurt, his or her opponent).”
Garry also explained to audience members that judges can not get out of their chairs during a boxing bout; that punches on an opponent’s arms aren’t scoring (“because arms are used for defense”); that when judging a fight at home, the first thing that a television viewers should do is mute the volume, and that Garry is in favor of increasing the number of judges for a bout from three to five “because it would eliminate draws.” After this came a two-hour long podcast, done from The Westshore Grand, of a show called “The Shadow League,” which was hosted by Rhett Butler and no, this was not the same Rhett Butler of “Gone With The Wind” fame.
People commingled, ate lunch, told each other boxing stories (most of which seemed to be fact and not fiction) and then, from 1.30 to 2.30, Dwaine Simpson (Class of 2014) hosted a seminar entitled “Boxing At It’s Finest.” He has 65 years of experience in boxing; he began fighting as a young man in Florida. Simpson likes to joke and say “I had 142 professional bouts and all of them ended in knockouts except for the two that I won,” but in actuality, this man was a talented pugilist. His record, after he completed his 14 year (1956 to 1970) career, is 113 wins, 22 defeats, and seven draws. After retirement, he has stayed active in boxing as a consultant, teacher, and trainer.
Simpson began by talking about the fundamentals of boxing and he also noted that Alexis Arguello (who he knew when Alexis was a youngster) would push himself to train hard even when he was 14 years-old. The 87 year-old Simpson then talked about something that many of today’s boxing cornermen do which makes him mad: “I see the cornermen turn away from the ring and start to gaze around and look for people that they know, as though these people came to see them rather than the boxers box.”
Continuing, Simpson said, “I’m tired of seeing cornermen teach boxers either the wrong way to do things or, worse, the wrong things. If I seem to be down on boxing, it’s because there doesn’t seem to be any good teachers anymore. The first thing a trainer should teach a boxer is how to bob and weave.”
On this theme of current coaches and cornermen being inferior to those who worked in these professions in the past, next came, from 2.30 to 3.30, the seminar “The Fine Art of Coaching,” hosted by Steve Canton (FBHOF Vice President and Class of 2009). He is a long-time manager and trainer of the Florida boxing scene and was introduced by Bob Alexander (FBHOF Media and Public Relations Director and Class of 2010). “There are good fighters today,” began Canton, “but not great fighters and that’s because there aren’t that many great trainers left. The old boxing gyms are gone; now we have physical fitness centers.” For the past 30 years, Canton has run a gym in Fort Myers.
During his talk, Canton noted that only eight of the 22 FBHOF Class of 2009 inductees are still living and “four of them are in his room.” He also noted that “There are 85% more broken jaws today as compared to 30 years ago and that’s because boxers are always making sounds with their mouths. Why?”
The Saturday night dinner banquet and ceremonies began, surprisingly, on time (traditionally these things usually are not because of the large crowds which move slowly about in and out of the outlay convention and dining rooms). After a dinner of chicken, rice, and vegetables—and a dessert of a slice of thick chocolate cake, came the welcoming speech by FBHOF President Butch Flansburg. “This weekend we celebrate out second decade of existence. This is the weekend we are here to celebrate the greats and congratulations to all of the inductees,” Flansburg said.
The keynote speaker was Julio Martinez (Class of 2015) who began by asking for a moment of silence for those in the boxing world who died in the previous year. He talked fondly of being tutored as a young man by Kid Gavilan and Chris Dundee. Martinez’s speech was done in a stream-of-conscious manner.
Afterwards, the Don Hazelton Scholarship Award was given by his widow to 20 year-old Chris Samuels. The young boxer is studying finance at the University of Florida and he was grateful for the $1,000 award. Besides boxing and studying at the University, Samuels is also coping and dealing with the following: his father is disabled; his sister is ill and needs a kidney and his mother works long hours at a store to pay for everything. Young Samuels’ life, so far, reads as though it is a 21st Century version of a plot of a Charles Dickens novel. “Boxing has brought stability to my life. I don’t feel that I’m riding the wave of life; I feel like I am in control of my life,” he told an enraptured audience.
Music was provided by singer Sasha Vargas (who has two Master’s degrees, sings in six language although not simultaneously, and currently performs with the Orlando Philharmonic). Shortly after she began singing, in Cuban Spanish, the classic Cuban song “Guantanamera,” many of the Hispanics in the dining room began to boisterously joining her in singing the song.
For those who had others interest than music, they could make bids on items at a silent auction. Some of the items were a poster for a concert by Sam Cooke and The Platters; a painting by the late boxing physician Dr. Ferdie Pacheco; a 2003 program from a fight between Evander Holyfield and James Toney; a baseball signed by the New York Yankees Starlin Castro; a red boxing glove signed by John Mugabi, and a Tampa Bay Buccaneers football.
Sunday dawned hot and humid and that was the weather report for the entire weekend; women’s face make-up ran and smeared and men quickly developed sweat stains on their shirts. Inside The Westshore Grand, however, the air-conditioning kept things cool. From 8.30 to 9.30, people could have a hot breakfast (scrambled eggs, bacon, potatoes) with the inductees. At precisely 11 am, the formal induction ceremony commenced and the national anthem was sung by Tristan Miller.
The room was full of people; hotel workers had to bring in extra chair to seat everybody. “This is an honor that will never be forgotten and you will never be forgotten,” Alexander told the inductees. The inductees wore red polo shirts and sat in front of the stage and when their name was called, they would walk up steps to accept their inductee plaque, pose for photographs, and then give their acceptance speech. First to be inducted were the three posthumous inductees: James Scott (Who when he was incarcerated in a New Jersey prison, once sparred with Rubin “Hurricane” Carter; Canton accepted the plaque on behalf of Scott); Pete Balcunas (a coach and trainer who coached U.S. and international programs and who died in March of 2016; his widow accepted on his behalf), and Birmingham (Butch Flansburg accepted on his behalf). Phyllis Garry clanged her boxing bell three times to honor the three posthumous inductees. The ceremony was put on the Internet by Gold Star Productions and the FBHOF has a YouTube channel; the activities of the weekend were posted on said YouTube channel.
Then came the induction of the living inductees. Promoter Nathan Lopez was the first of this group to be inducted and when he took to the stage, he received a warm applause “Wow, this is awesome !,” he gushed. “I am so proud to be part of a family that fights then makes up (he was speaking metaphorically).” The line got much laughs and then he said “You go into a ring, you fight your opponent, and then at the end, you say to him ‘You’re the champ, even though I just beat your ass.”
Trainer Pete Brodsky said “This is one of the best days of my life.” Due to his being born on Long Island, and his long time working in New York City, he speaks with a thick Noo Yawk accent. He thanks his wife Sharon and then said “Don’t ever train a fighter you don’t like.” He ended by telling the audience that his daughter and husband were currently making a film about boxing called “Sometimes you’re The Dog, Sometimes You’re The Tree.”
Long-time promoter Henry Grooms was next and this is a man whose life accomplishments ranged from being a friend to Muhammad Ali to Elvis Presley. Grooms received the loudest and longest standing ovation of all of the inductees. As he took to the stage this 86 year old man heard the strains of the song “Lean On Me” – a rather appropriate tune. He knew and was good friends with legendary trainers Emanuel Steward and Eddie Futch. He first thanked God, then his mother and father. Grooms told the audience that “I have no living relatives and have not had any for the past 25 years. I grew up in a house without water and electricity.”
How far this man has gone, and how much of the multiple facets of life, this man has seen ! He closed by saying “I’m not going to take any more of your precious time” and then took his seat on stage. Many in the audience must have felt that the inverse was true—that we were taking up much of Grooms valuable time. After he sat down, Bob Alexander said “I love you Henry but you are wrong about one thing – you have a family. We are your family,” at which point Grooms began to cry.
Rivas was next and he took to the stage to the tune of Queen’s “We Are The Champions.” He frequently broke down emotionally during his speech. Before the induction ceremony, inductees are asked which song they would like to be played while they are walking up to the stage; if they can not chose one, the audio production crew chooses a song. When Dr. Eichberg slowly made his way to the stage, a tango was played. He served as a ringside physician for decades until his retirement in 2016. He spoke with pride to the fact that “in all of the bouts I worked, none of the participants was ever seriously injured.”
Gentile was next and he was the first inductee to give much thanks to Butch Flansburg and to give warm congratulations to his fellow inductees. All three of Gentile’s sons—Frank, Jose, and Paul—are boxing referees. “Thank you for this unforgettable moment of my life,” this inductee said. Jurado, Gonzalez, and O’Grady, respectively, were the next three inductees.
Jimmy Navarro was the first such inductee and Alexander reminded the crowd that he was only 26 when he decided to retire. Murphy followed. After him came Puerto Rico-born Arroyo. His record upon retirement reads 37 wins, five losses, and four draws. In his personal life, he had, and has overcome, a drug addiction.
Jamaica-born Richard Hall followed. Alexander told the audience of his horrific childhood. He was abandoned by his parents at the age of 18 months and was found wandering the streets of Kingston by a local policeman. His grandmother then took charge of him but Richard was horribly abused by her husband (i.e., Richard’s uncle). Fleeing Jamaica, he found work as a baker and eventually decided that he would try to become a boxer; Hall eventually became the lightweight champion of the world. He received a long, loud applause from his large entourage in the audience. As he took his seat on stage, audience members heard fellow Jamaican Bob Marley’s rendition of the song “One Love.”
Big Lou Esa (the man is well over six foot tall) came next. As a young man he went to a Miami gym to see his boxing hero, Muhammad Ali, train. While waiting for Ali, he saw a heavy bag , threw one punch (a left hook) that broke the chain that held the heavy bag aloft, and that was enough for Angle Dundee who saw all of this happen. He began to work with Esa. The Wayne, New Jersey-born Esa gave the shortest speech of all of the inductees.
Nigeria’s Eromosele Albert followed and this is a man who was a member of the 1996 and 200 Nigerian Olympic boxing squads. His final record is 24-6-1 and when he fought, Albert’s bouts were often broadcast on ESPN. He fought in 12 different countries, is now a coach, and the first words of his speech were Oh, boy!”
Nate “The Galaxy Warrior” Campbell, the former WBO/IBF/WBA Lightweight Champion, was the final inductee. “My dad made me promise to never back down from anyone and I carried that into the ring…I realized that being a good man is what made me a great boxer,” Campbell proclaimed.
Although Sean O’Grady was inducted in the MEDIA category, he was once a talented lightweight. “The Bubblegum Kid” had an impressive career that culminated with him defeating Hilmer Kenty on a unanimous 15-round decision (146-139, 146-138 and 147-137) for the WBA World’s Lightweight Championship on April 12, 1981 at Bally’s Park Place Casino in Atlantic City. The O’Grady-Kenty fight was nationally televised and is one of the greatest lightweight title bouts of all-time. O’Grady retired with a terrific 81-5 (70 KO’s) record. From October 1, 1982 to August 25, 1998, the USA Network held the popular Tuesday Night Fights and O’Grady was one of the announcers. O’Grady provided wonderful insights to the television audience with his color commentary of fights that featured the likes of Roberto Duran, Roy Jones Jr., George Foreman, Vinny Pazienza and Larry Holmes, among many others.
After a coffee-and-cake party, people went their separate ways. Many of them will not see each other until next June 21st when the 2020 FBHOF ceremonies will commence. Yet again it will be time for another summer solstice and, simultaneously, another FBHOF ceremony. The two are concurrent.
Butch and Kathy Flansburg, along with the rest of the staff of The Florida Boxing Hall of Fame are credits to the sport of fisticuffs and put on a great weekend for boxing fans each year.
For videos of the glorious 2019 Florida Boxing Hall of Fame Induction Weekend, go to their YouTube channel at: https://www.youtube.com/user/FBHOF1#p/u.
The 2019 Florida Boxing Hall of Fame Weekend was from June 21 to June 23.