The USA Boxing News Interview
with Steven J. Canton President of the Florida Boxing Hall of Fame
By Mark Weisenmiller
Photos courtesy of The Florida Boxing Hall of Fame
PETERSBURG, FL – When The U.S.A. Boxing News last interviewed Florida Boxing Hall of Fame President Steven J. Canton, he had just become the leader of the esteemed institution and told this newspaper what he planned to do, and also what he wanted to do, while in the position. We decided to talk with him mere days after the 2022 FLBHOF induction ceremonies weekend held in a hotel here from Friday June 17 to Sunday June 19.
Despite suffering from a sore throat, Canton acceded to do a telephone interview. He was in a good mood: his favorite Major League Baseball club, the New York Yankees, had at the time the best record in baseball. More germane to his duties as FLBHOF President, he was living in the burning-bright afterglow of what was, in terms of attendance, the most successful FLBHOF induction ceremonies weekend in the 14-year history of the organization. According to Canton, 1,000 people attended the exhibition bouts on Friday night; 370 people went to the Saturday night dinner, and anywhere from 2,000 to 2,500 people showed up, for various periods of time, during the weekend. “Last year,” informed Canton, “that last figure was 2,000 people.”
The U.S.A. Boxing News began by asking Canton, who is 76, about this year’s inductees, followed by a scatter-shot of other topics.
NEWS: What is your opinion about the overall quality of the inductees this year?
CANTON: I would say that it’s one of the best overall class of inductees that we’ve had in the 14 years that we’ve been in business. We had people from all over the boxing world as inductees. It was a great weekend in terms of the class of inductees; attendance, and anything else I could think of.
NEWS: Boxing is a business and, like all businesses, boxing in general and the FLBHOF in particular are having to grapple with declining figures due to COVID; inflation, and the possibility of a recession. What is the FLBHOF doing to keep people visiting it?
CANTON: There’s not a shortage of enthusiasm from boxing fans; we are still getting people visiting the Florida Boxing Hall of Fame (located at 4220 Cleveland Ave, Fort Myers, Florida). We only have four sources of income: sponsors; the raffle held during the (induction ceremonies weekend) dinner; advertising, and finally by people buying tickets to come to the induction ceremonies weekend. We’re a non-profit and tax-deductible organization; the Florida Boxing Hall of Fame has no employees. We’re always looking for sponsors and advertisers. We’re also investigating doing a golf tournament weekend, somewhere in the Orlando area in October when it cools down, to generate income.
NEWS: What is the one thing that is your proudest achievement since becoming FLBHOF President?
CANTON: One of the greatest things that has happened since I’ve been (FLBHOF) President is the accomplishment of the museum itself. We now have an actual building devoted to the boxing greats of Florida. We (FLBHOF board members) are always tinkering with the (induction ceremonies) weekend (activities and events). For example, we used to have the inductees march in behind a Color Guard. Now, this year, we had the inductees march in behind past inductees who have served in the past in various branches of the military.
NEWS: Regarding the annual FLBHOF induction ceremonies weekend: are there any plans to add more vendors and or more seminars and/or different things to do next year as compared to past FLBHOF induction ceremonies weekends?
CANTON: I don’t think we’ll add more vendors and seminars because it’s a full schedule now. I just don’t see where we could find the time to add more things. It’s a full slate now. In thinking about it, I’ve accomplished everything I’ve set out to do before I became FLBHOF President. Now it’s just a matter of keeping everything up and maintaining it, to keep everything operational.
NEWS: How often do you meet with your fellow FLBHOF board members? Do you meet in person or by way of Zoom?
CANTON: We meet by Zoom four or five time a year, almost once a season, and we meet whenever we need to discuss items or topics that come up. We all know each other; we’re all good friends. If something arises, if something comes up, we’ll talk about it.
NEWS: How many months of planning by you and your compatriot FLBHOF board members does it take to plan the annual FLBHOF induction ceremony?
CANTON: It takes us one year; it seems like there’s a million and one things to do. Right now, today, I’m recapping everything that happened (during the 2022 FLBHOF induction ceremonies weekend) and we (FLBHOF board members) are already looking at 2023. By recapping, I mean checking the (bank balance account) books and writing the checks to cover the many different things that go into making an induction weekend. When we started, we were at a hotel in Tampa, and for the past few years we’ve been at the Marriott in St. Petersburg, but we’ve gotten so big (in terms of attendance numbers) that we may move to another hotel that can offer us more space. We (FLBHOF board members) are looking into this now. I’m not sure where we’ll end up, but we want it (the 2023 FLBHOF induction ceremonies weekend) to stay at a hotel in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area.
NEWS: Does the FLBHOF ever show a profit after an induction ceremonies weekend? If so, how much?
CANTON: There’s not a (FLBHOF board member) who gets a salary, or money to do it (i.e., their duties and responsibilities). Like I said, we’re a non-profit. We make enough money to cover the checks (to pay for the induction ceremonies weekend) and that’s it.
NEWS: Final question: how long do you want to be President of the Florida Boxing Hall of Fame? Do you have a time frame in mind, or do you want to stay FLBHOF President indefinitely?
CANTON: At age 76, I can’t stay President forever. I don’t have a time frame. I’ll keep doing it for as long as I’m able to. Who knows when that will be? I’ll do it for as long as I can, and when I can’t, I’ll pass it off to someone else.
FLORIDA BOXING HALL OF FAME INDUCTION WEEKEND TAKES PLACE DURING UNUSUAL DANGEROUS HEAT WAVE
Story by Mark Weisenmiller
Photos courtesy of Florida Boxing Hall of Fame
PETERSBURG, FL – Despite a dangerous, life-threatening heat wave that covered much of the American South, The Florida Boxing Hall of Fame (FLBHOF) conducted its annual induction weekend this year. The event was held at the Marriot Hotel here in St. Petersburg from Friday June 17th through induction day of Sunday June 19th.
Eleven fights were scheduled for Friday evening, but one of them was cancelled. Thus, only 10 bouts happened. These fights, and the entire proceedings, were livestreamed by Gold Star Television.
Saturday’s first seminar was conducted by long-time Florida-based referees Brian Garry and Chris Young. These two have been conducting this seminar, or variations of it, during past FLBHOF induction ceremony weekends for many years and, like a singing duo that has worked together for many years, they know each other’s physical actions and vocal syncopations.
The theme of the seminar was boxing refereeing and judging and Garry and Young relayed anecdotes of both fields from their past, and current experiences. Garry told a story of himself refereeing a bout in St. Petersburg some years ago that got so out of control that the frenzied audience moved their physical and vocal mayhem out of the arena where the fight was being held and continued their hellraising. Result: 25 of these people were arrested by St. Petersburg police. Young often emphasized the importance of positioning by referees, of themselves, during a bout. “Position is everything,” Young told the audience of 25 to 30 people.
Antonio Tarver was slated to give the next seminar with the theme of it being “A Fighter’s Perspective.” Tarver did not show up so former lightweight king Nate Campbell Jr. – a past FLBHOF inductee and a talented boxer who fought from 2002 to 2014 – filled in. Campbell spoke much about how mental preparation for a bout is just as important – indeed, in Campbell’s estimation, more important – than physical preparation. “When boxers trash talk an opponent,” explained Campbell to a packed audience, “It is not just done for the benefit of the media, but is a form of a boxer mentally psyching himself up for a upcoming bout.” Nate also admitted that he and his compatriot boxers undergo the mental strain of getting ready for a fight. “I can’t eat what I want; I can’t see the woman I love, I can’t see my kids. All of this is mentally grueling,” Campbell confessed.
After lunch, FLBHOF President Steve Canton led a four-person panel (himself included) of a round robin discussion of many boxing-related topics. Among the things that he and his fellow panel members talked about – before another packed room – was how long fights should be; where fights should be held (Canton remembered when fights were held in baseball stadiums); the fact that TV network executives prefer 12-round fights to 15-round fights because the former fits television’s peculiar way of bending time; the point that major fights are no longer held on free TV and that this leads to less name recognition; the fact that good fighters will always watch and study both tapes of themselves and their opponents, and other matters. Canton said, “Fighters train for their fights; champions train all the time.” He also highly praised this year’s class of inductees.
The seminar lasted until 3 PM and, in the interval until the formal dinner began at 6 PM, people lulled about or visited vendors who sold their wares (T-shirts, hats, etc.) from glass topped covered tables. There was also, as has been the case in past years, a plaster cast company’s worker making plaster casts of peoples’ fists.
Seated at Table 25, at the back of the hotel space where the formal dinner was held, we had a full, wide-angle view of the room. Master of ceremonies for the evening, as has been the case in past years, was FLBHOF Vice President Bob Alexander. Two massive, large-screen movie screens – onto which was projected continuously played highlights of past boxing matches – enveloped the podium where Alexander reigned over the proceedings. Ten chairs were at each table and old friendships were renewed while new friendships began.
Between the salad and the entrée, many people looked at the aforementioned tables. Atop them now were dozens of items up for sale at a silent auction, ranging from a football jersey of local NFL team Tampa Bay Buccaneers player Mike Evans to a signed photo of local NHL team Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevsky (the Lightning were playing the Colorado Avalanche in the 2022 Stanley Cup Final at the time of this year’s FLBHOF induction ceremony weekend).
Alexander announced the names of people from the boxing world who died in the previous year and one of these people was past FLBHOF President Walter “Butch” Flansburg. Canton thanked the crowd for coming and congratulated the new inductees. After this, Alexander acknowledged the people in the room who were Class of 2022 FLBHOF inductees. Keynote speaker of the evening was former amateur boxer, and now President of the Indiana Boxing Hall of Fame, Craig Houk.
Before the evening ended with dancing, awards were presented. More specifically, Chris Young, and brothers Vernon and Russell Ansell were given Special Achievement Awards, and the final award was the first annual Walter “Butch” Flansburg Award; this was presented to Tim Shipman, who is the Assistant Executive Director of the Florida State Boxing Commission.
As people made their way to the Sunday morning hot buffet breakfast of eggs, bacon, and fried potatoes – all washed down with a selection of coffee; tea; or apple or orange juice – many seemed somewhat groggy. Two possible reasons: they stayed up too late after the previous evening’s festivities, or they watched the Lightning lose Game Two of the Stanley Cup Final. Yet, as these people took in sustenance, their spirits seemed to brighten.
The induction ceremony started at 11:20 AM. The FLBHOF Class of 2022 inductees was, and is, made up of 20 people – one PROMOTER (Richard Dobal); one person from the MEDIA world (Claudia Trejos); two OFFICIALS (Dennis DeBon and Dr. Ramon Garcia-Septien); three TRAINERS (Gus Curren; Tito Tiburon Ocasio; and Armando Wiz Fernandez); five PARTICIPANTS (Phil Alessi Jr.; Richard Fabian; Jerry Reyes; Joey Orduna; Steve Harris), and eight FIGHTERS (Randall Bailey; Al Cole; Fres Oquendo; David Tua; Shannon Briggs; Keith Mullings Sr.; David Armstrong, and Cory Spinks).
The inductees walked into the room, two by two, to the tune of “Rocky” which was followed by the National Anthem. As it was Father’s Day, Alexander started the day by proclaiming, “A Happy Father’s Day to all of you fathers out there.” All of fathers applauded unabashedly.
The first inductee was the only posthumous one – Keith “The Brooklyn Assassin” Mullings Sr. He was only 53 when he died last May; cause of death has never been announced. Mullings captured the WBC super welterweight title on December 6, 1997 when he TKO’d the legendary “Terrible” Terry Norris in the ninth round. His eldest sister accepted on his behalf. “He [Keith] wanted to be remembered as a great fighter and he was. We (his immediate family) are deeply honored for this recognition,” she said. Before leaving the stage, she added “Brother, your fight is over.” Mullings’ final record was 16-8-1 (11 KO’s).
Brian Garry gave a final 10-count bell ring to all who died in the boxing world in the past year. A video tribute to the late Walter “Butch” Flansburg was then shown. Beforehand, Alexander told the room packed with boxing fans, “This is the first induction ceremony that we’ve had where Butch Flansburg was not in attendance.” It ended as the crowd watched, in the video tribute, Flansburg getting inducted into last year’s FLBHOF class. Kathy Flansburg, Butch’s heartbroken wife, was not in attendance at this year’s induction ceremony.
The ceremony continued and the next inductee was Steve Harris. He first thanked God, then his mother, then his brothers, and then, overcome with emotion, Harris nicely wrapped up his speech when he told his fellow inductees “This isn’t the end of the world. Keep involved in boxing. You can always teach a young person something.” Earlier in his life, he took this advice for, after an amateur boxing career of some 250 bouts, rather than turn professional, he decided to become a full-time boxing coach.
Next came Jerry Reyes. He took the stage accompanied by the Whitney Houston song Hero. When he told the audience that he was born in Puerto Rico, many of the crowd yelled approval and began to loudly yell “Woo, woo!” He is the founder and operator of Reyes Macho Time Boxing. Reyes gave it this name, for he was close friends with FLBHOF inductee and former world champion Hector “Macho” Camacho.
Former inspector for the Florida State Boxing Commission Richard Fabian followed. In addition to the above, he later went on to own and operate his own boxing consulting company. “You have to have passion before you have progression,” was Fabian’s motto during his boxing career. He told the crowd that his career in boxing has been a series of meeting the right people at the right time. “The thing that’s been important to me is the friends I’ve made along the way,” he confessed. Overcome by emotion, Fabian ended his speech in tears.
Joey Orduna was next. The matchmaker for T & K Boxing Promotions took the stage to the tune of Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now. He remembered first getting interested in boxing when he watched bouts on TV, especially those with Muhammad Ali, with his father. “You get stronger through adversity. These are tough times in the world now, but don’t get down. Let’s get going,” he enthusiastically said. He gave the longest acceptance speech of all the inductees.
Phil Alessi Jr. is an example of a son taking over a business run by his father and making it even more successful. In this case, his father started the well-known and successful Alessi Bakery, which is based in Tampa. This affable Italian – who was inducted for his work in the fields of boxing management and promotion -took to the stage to the tune of That’s Amore as sung by Dean Martin. “I do all of this for my Lord, my family, and the legacy of my father,” he told the audience.
The next inductee was Dr. Garcia-Septien. Born in Cuba in 1952, his family made their way to Florida. In 1984, in Tampa, he received his first state license. During his decades long work in helping boxers, he has never charged a boxer for a medical service. Uniquely, the first person that he thanked was his sister. “Boxing is my life and boxing is my family,” he said. Dr. Garcia-Septien gave the shortest acceptance speech.
Born in 1954 in Buffalo, New York, Dennis DeBon, the next inductee, has refereed more than 400 professional bouts. He collects autographed boxing gloves and, for a hobby, works as an artist specializing in works made from glass. DeBon was the first inductee who, in his acceptance speech, first thanked everybody at the FLBHOF. DeBon recalled getting hit in the face while refereeing a bout and thanked Brian Garry who was his mentor.
Born in 1969, Claudia Trejos was the MEDIA department inductee. As a child, she was a talented athlete. For more than 25 years, she has worked as a television boxing commentator. In 2002, she started work for the Univision broadcasting network and her career has continued to climb. “When they say you can’t, guess what? Yes, you can,” she gushed in her acceptance speech. Bob Alexander, who has worked professionally with Trejos, echoed this theme when in his introductory speech of her, he told the crowd that the Hispanic boxing commentator “is serving as a great role model for Hispanic women and also young girls out there.”
Next was boxing promoter Richard Dobal. Taking the stage to the accompaniment of the Phil Collins song In The Air Tonight, he remarked, “I’ve worn many hats and promoter wasn’t originally one of them.” Eventually, he made his way to the vocation of boxing promoter with an emphasis of promoting matches in Miami and Key West. “Through the years, I’ve co-promoted fights in Ireland and Australia. It’s been a helluva ride,” Dobal mused.
Now came the TRAINERS inductees. First up was Gus Curren. He was born in 1974 in Bloomfield, New Jersey. Later his family settled in Vero Beach, Florida. The affable Curren, the only inductee clad in blue jeans, made his way to the stage and first thanked his mother and father. He then thanked his wife and told the crowd of the circumstances of their first meeting. “She (his wife) shook my hand and said, ‘Hello Gus, it’s nice to meet you.’ I said to her ‘Shake the hand that shook the world, baby!’ It turns out that you shook my world, baby, and I love you.” He then asked the audience to give applause to the FLBHOF board members; the audience did so.
Trainer Armando Wiz Fernandez was, to borrow a phrase from baseball, next up to bat. He was born in Cuba and had relatives who worked with Chris and Angelo Dundee in their gym in Miami. This led to Armando getting work in boxing. By the 1990’s, he was a fulltime trainer and cut man. The humble Fernandez told the audience that his father did not want him to go into boxing. “To me, it is an honor to be inducted with this great group of champions,” he proclaimed.
The final trainer inductee was Tito Tiburon Ocasio. In 1996 he stopped his career as a boxing trainer due to being involved in a major car accident; six years later, Ocasio returned to the Sweet Science. Among the many boxers that he worked with was Antonio Vargas, who represented Brazil in a Summer Olympiad. As Ocasio opened a Christian ministry and does volunteer religious work at the Coleman Correctional Facility, it was not surprising to hear him open his speech with “God bless everyone here today.” The most striking thing that he said was “Never think you are nobody. You are somebody.” His father, mother, and children were in attendance and Ocasio thanked all of them.
By tradition, now came the final department, the FIGHTERS. First of these to be inducted was Cory “The Next Generation” Spinks (39-8, 11 KO’s). The former undisputed welterweight king and 2-time IBF jr. middleweight champion was born in 1978 in St. Louis, Missouri, only five days after his father Leon upset heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali in their memorable bout. Cory would go into boxing and eventually win five different title belts. Before stepping behind the podium, he got up from his front row seat and started dancing. He had a hard time controlling his emotions during his acceptance speech. “We’re (boxers) the biggest giants and we’ve got the softest hearts,” he admitted.
Randall “The Knock-Out King” Bailey, the next inductee, was said to be one of the hardest boxers in boxing history by Alexander. The former WBO jr. welterweight and IBF welterweight champ now lives in Georgia with his family. Bailey finished with a pro record with 46 wins, 39 by KO, and 9 losses. Randall also gave a very short acceptance speech.
David “Diamond D” Armstrong (20-13-2, 12 KO’s) was next. As an amateur boxer, he had a record of 108 wins and only 7 losses. He ambled onstage to the accompaniment of a country and western song and wore a tan cowboy hat as he gave his speech. “Amazing, amazing, amazing,” the former NBA lightweight champion began and finished in a direct and to-the-point manner: “That’s it. We’re all good. I ain’t got anything more to say.”
Fres “The Big O” Oquendo was introduced by Alexander as “a man who always has a smile on his face.” Possibly that is since his final record as a pugilist was 37-8 (24 KO’s). Born in Puerto Rico, but raised in Chicago, he had 105 wins and only five losses during his amateur career. One of his bouts was against fellow inductee Tua. The three-time world heavyweight challenger Oquendo held the USBA and NBA heavyweight titles, along with the WBO and WBC Latino heavyweight crowns, and the WBA Fedelatin belt. He spoke for many minutes and closed by telling the audience that his wife was in Chicago tending to their child who was recently diagnosed with COVID.
Former cruiserweight division champion Al “Ice” Cole (35-16-3, 16 KO’s) was the next inductee. Born in 1964 in New York, he grew up as an athlete who specialized in playing basketball; he did not take up boxing until he joined the Army. In 1989 he turned pro and then won his first 15 fights. Cole captured the IBF cruiserweight title with a 12-round decision over James Warring on July 30, 1992, at Waterloo Village in Stanhope, New Jersey. After 5 successful title defenses, Cole moved up to the heavyweight division. Before his fight with former heavyweight champ Tim Witherspoon, he was involved in a car accident which injured his back, yet he went ahead and fought Witherspoon anyway. He lost this fight, but the scoring was close. “Hey everybody, welcome to the Hall of Fame,” he gushed. Although he has 16 losses to his record, the former cruiserweight king only suffered 1 loss in the cruiserweight ranks.
Shannon “The Cannon” Briggs was the next to last inductee. Born in Brooklyn in 1971, he had to deal with asthma as a child and he still suffers from it. Shannon won his first 25 bouts and then proceeded to beat George Foreman in a 12-round bout on a majority decision on November 22, 1997, in Atlantic City, NJ for the lineal heavyweight title. Briggs later captured the WBO heavyweight championship in the most dramatic way possible -by technical knockout with only one second remaining in the bout against title holder Siarhel Liakhovich on November 4, 2006, in Phoenix, AZ. His record was 60-6-1 and 1 NC (53 KO’s). Often gesturing with his arms while giving his acceptance speech, he began by telling the audience “Get comfortable because this is going to be awhile.” That it was – his speech covered many themes and was entertaining.
The final inductee was former #1-ranked heavyweight contender David “Tuaman” Tua. He and his wife travelled the farthest distance out of all who attended the weekend ceremonies: they live in their native New Zealand. Tua wrapped up his professional boxing career with an impressive 52-5-2 (43 KO’s) record. He was mighty a slugger who KO’d future 3-time WBA heavyweight champion John Ruiz 19 seconds into the opening round on March 15, 1996, and then later KO’d former cruiserweight and 2-time heavyweight king Michael Moorer in 30 seconds of the first round on August 17, 2002. Tua only received one shot at the heavyweight title, facing Lennox Lewis on November 11, 2000, where he lost a 12-round unanimous decision.
Another highlight of Tua’s career was winning a bronze medal during the boxing competition at the 1992 Summer Olympiad held in Barcelona, Spain. He wore several leis around his neck and got the audience on his side when he began by saying “I’m going to keep this speech like me – short and sweet.” He thus proceeded to do so, and he kept the audience on his side when he told us that, in addition to it being Father’s Day and Induction Day, Sunday was also his wife’s birthday.
The Florida Boxing Hall of Fame is wonderful credit to the sport of boxing. The USA Boxing News congratulates the 2022 Class of the FLBOF.
2021 Florida Boxing Hall of Fame Weekend a resounding success!
Story by Mark Weisenmiller
St. Petersburg, FL. The Florida Boxing Hall of Fame (FLBHOF), in it’s 13th Induction Weekend (June 18-21, 2021), was the most attended Induction Weekend since the inaugural one in 2009.
The new team handling the FLBOF are President Steven J. Canton, and the husband and wife team of Bob and Mary Alexander (Bob is Vice President and Mary is Chief Financial Officer). All three assumed said jobs in January of 2021.
Anywhere from 900 to 1,000 people attended the Friday night fights (the highlight of which was a TKO by Antonio Tarver Jr.; his father, former light heavyweight king Antonio Tarver, was one of the 23 inductees of the Class of 2021), and 400 people attended the Saturday night gala dinner.
The Florida Boxing Hall of Fame Class of 2021 inductees are:
Fighters: Antonio Tarver; his long-time rival Glen Johnson; Jameel McCline; Danny Santiago; Frankie Randall; Marcel Clay, and Danny Sanchez.
Trainers: Orlando Cuellar and Luis Camacho.
Promoters: Terry Trekas.
Media: Artist Arcadio Castro Jr. and Brad Berkwitt.
Historian: Caroline Myer.
Participants: Rodolfo Aguilar; Walter “Butch” Flansburg; Orlando Fernandez, and Charley “Doc” Williams.
Officials/Commissions: John Birmingham; Richard Green, and Alex Levin.
Special Achievement Award: Steve Harris and Joey Orduna (these two were given their awards, and made their acceptance speeches, before the Saturday night gala dinner).
Lifetime Achievement Award: Bob Nicholson. He, along with Frankie Randall and Charley “Doc” Williams, were honored posthumously.
As is the norm, most of the day Saturday (specifically, from 9 am to 3 pm) was spent by past, present, and future FLBHOF inductees commingling with boxing buffs of all ages at the Marriott St. Petersburg hotel (which, as it did late last year, hosted the induction weekend activities). There were autograph signings; book signings; fist casting; various forms of memorabilia for sale; a radio program, which broadcast from the hotel (all of this took place on the hotel’s \second floor), and – most pertinently for those who either like or love boxing – various seminars.
The first of these dealt with the topics of judging and refereeing and was co-hosted by Brian Garry and Chris Young, two long-time boxing referees, who have made this seminar a tradition at the annual FLBHOF induction ceremonies. Yet, with each passing year, they tweak it to change things up and make the seminars interesting.
This year, for example, they passed out to each of the large audience members a yellow, rectangle-shaped weigh-in “induction list” (their words); a gray and blue colored brochure called a judges brief, and – from long-time boxing judge Tom Kaczmarek of New Jersey – a 1996 copyrighted card entitled, Guideline for the Professional Boxing Judge. All of these hand-outs helped the audience immeasurably as Garry and Young talked about topics ranging from certain boxers preferring various sized rings (Muhammad Ali, with his energetic boxing style, preferred a 22-foot ring; Mike Tyson, with his brawling style of boxing, favored a 16-foot ring) to tips for referees (always take a nap the afternoon of a bout, to be energized for the long night of referring ahead).
After Bob Alexander conducted a seminar on ring announcing, Canton and four other boxing personnel participated in a panel discussion seminar. One of the subjects discussed before the audience was performance enhancing drugs (or P.E.D.’s). All five panel members were against them and Canton took the point even further.
The new FLBHOF President stated that he believed that if a boxer tested positive for P.E.D.’s after a bout that: A) The fight should not officially be recognized, B) If the fight is officially recognized, then the boxer who testified positive for P.E.D.’s should automatically be disqualified, and C) Said boxer should have his license revoked.
Came the evening and diners nibbled on a salad, garlic bread, and a slice of lasagna. Diners chatted among themselves until the next major event of the evening. That was “to pay respect and tribute to those we lost (in the boxing world) since we last met in 2020,” explained Bob Alexander. He then read aloud a long list of names and Phyllis Garry (a past FLBHOF inductee and long-time boxing bell-ringer) did so, as the audience rose to pay tribute to them.
Canton gave a short speech welcoming everyone; the annual Don Hazelton Scholarship Awards were presented to Xavier Castro and Terrance Williams; the keynote speech was given by Phil Alessi Jr., and then, as noted, Canton gave the Florida Boxing Hall of Fame Lifetime Achievement Awards to former boxer/coach/trainer Steve Harris and matchmaker and promoter Joey Orduna.
Sunday, June 20, 2021, was notable for it was: A) The first day of summer in the Northern Hemisphere, B) Father’s Day, and C) Most importantly for our purposes here, Induction Day for the 23-member Class of 2021. The Breakfast of Champions was for early risers from 7 to 9 am, where – over eggs, bacon, coffee, cranberry or orange juice, and bagels – people munched away and conversed (not simultaneously).
Master of ceremonies was, as he has been since 2009, Florida Boxing Hall of Famer Bob Alexander. The induction ceremony was live-streamed online. As noted, the three posthumous inductees of the Class of 2021 were inducted first. Previous to this, the remainder of the Class of 2021 walked into the hotel ballroom, two by two, and took their seats in front of the room as audience members stood. To the inductees, Alexander said, “You earned this moment through hard work. Savor this moment and enjoy it.”
Frankie Randall was first inducted, and then Nate Campbell Jr. accepted the honor for Charley “Doc” Williams. “This man,” Campbell said, (while holding Williams’ plaque) “was a mean old fart.” Campbell then told a number of numerous stories about Williams and the longer that Nate spoke, the more apparent it was that he loved and respected Williams, so much so that by the time Campbell got to the end of his speech, he was crying.
Accepting for Bob Nicholson was his wife of 40 years, Debbie, and his daughter Heather. The latter gave an emotional talk that ended with “I hope that he’s (Nicholson) enjoying this Father’s Day in heaven because we sure as hell miss him here.”
The Panama-born Rodolfo Aguilar was the first of the inductees to speak. This ex-boxer won his first 21 bouts and overall, the tone of his speech was quite humble.
Walter “Butch” Flansburg, who was next and who is the former President of the FLBHOF, began by thanking his wife Kathy. “My wife did the hardest part of the job (i.e., starting the FLBHOF) because she did all the work, all I did was go around shaking hands,” he said to chuckles from the audience.
Orlando Fernandez then stepped behind the podium; he told the audience that his godfather was the famed former baseball player Orlando Cepeda, whose picture was on a wall in the house that he grew up in. every time that Fernandez walked past it, he tapped the picture for good luck.
John Birmingham made a point of thanking Don Hazelton, while Richard Green (who traveled widely for his boxing job) stated, “With this sport, you can make friends from all over the world, and I have, and I hope to keep them.”
Speaking in a quiet voice, Alex Levin told the audience that his love of boxing began when he watched the first Muhammad Ali vs. Leon Spinks fight on television in 1978. “I fell in love with Ali, and when he lost, I cried.” During Levin’s speech, Canton fell backwards off of his chair. Levin handled this with adroitly when he said “It’s OK everybody, he’s (Canton) fine. It’s OK, everybody, my father fell this morning.”
Brad Berkwitt thanked Aaron Pryor and Alexis Arguello (“who were my favorite fighters”), while artist Arcadio Castro Jr. said, “Second to my kid being born, this is the greatest moment of my life. All I do is paint pictures, but look at these guys,” as he arm-gestured towards his fellow inductees.
Caroline Myer gave the shortest acceptance speech of the inductees, while Terry Trekas, who followed her, began his speech by noting, “Thank you for this over-sized podium, so I don’t have to hold in my gut!”
Luis Camacho (who, at age 83, was the oldest inductee) took to the stage to the accompaniment of recorded salsa music to which he danced along with. He was the only inductee to thank both the men, and especially the single women who raise their children alone, on Father’s Day 2021. He then proceeded to give a hilarious speech comparing boxing to marriage. This caused Orlando Cuellar, who followed Camacho, to publicly ask him “When did you steal my speech?”
Now came the final division of inductees, those of the fighters. Marcel Clay gave the longest speech of the afternoon and Danny Sanchez one of the shortest. Danny Santiago was the only inductee who noticeably thanked all of his past trainers. Jameel McCline, a massive man (both in height and weight and he still looks in good physical shape) began his speech by saying, “I will be kindly short.” He then took the audience on a vocal voyage of his boxing career and remarked, “Where there is no struggle, there is no success.”
Glen Johnson kept his speech short and made a point of thanking both Roy Jones Jr. and Antonio Tarver. This paved the way or the last inductee, Antonio Tarver, who took to the podium among long, sustained applause and to the strains of the Bob Dylan song “Blowin’ In The Wind.” As he made his way to the podium, numerous audience members rushed to the stage to take pictures and video of him with their cell telephones.
“Thank you to everyone who came here and safe travels back,” Tarver began. He admitted that, “I was moved by all of the testimony from all of the inductees.” He went on to thank his mother and three sisters and, noticeably moved, made a point of thanking Johnson.
Johnson and Tarver, the co-protagonists of an intense rivalry when both were active boxers, have mellowed. The fires of youthful ambition no longer bank their personalities. Today they are friends; such is the way with long-time opponents in the sport of boxing.
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.