Wherever International boxing judge Tom Miller travels, the Mineral Ridge resident invariably fields questions about the Mahoning Valley’s rich boxing tradition.
Former Sen. Harry Meshel, who served as president of the Ohio Senate and was the driving force behind establishing the Ohio Boxing Commission, proudly beams when asked about fighters from the area who not only held a title, but of countless others who were considered contenders and on the verge of greatness.
Local manager Patrick Nelson, who currently oversees the careers of 12 boxers, says the stories of local fighters and their toughness are legendary while trainer Jack Loew of South Side Boxing Club, who trained middleweight champion of the world Kelly Pavlik, called Youngstown fighters some of the very toughest and whose blue-collar work ethic should be copied by all up-and-coming pugilists.
During his March amateur card to benefit Make-A-Wish Foundation, promoter Mike Cefalde, Sr., raised the question about a boxing hall of fame for the Mahoning Valley.
“We have so much boxing history in our area, we need to honor the many fighters who have made a name for themselves and who have shed a positive light on the entire Mahoning Valley,” Cefalde said. “The boxing hall of fame is just an idea and while much would need to be done in order to even get to that point, at least the thought is out there.”
The Curbstone Coaches Hall of Fame honors athletes, coaches and administrators in all sports, honoring boxer Tony Zill among its 10 charter class members in 1958.
On May 5, the organization will posthumously induct heavyweight Mike Koranicki into its 2013 class, the 54th boxer to be so enshrined.
The late Sal Marino founded his Legends of Leather Boxing Hall of Fame in 1987 and the Trumbull County native remained most passionate about honoring local boxing heroes, making sure that the public would not forget their many accomplishments.
A proposed local boxing hall of fame should include fighters from Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties, according to Bernie Profato, executive director of the Ohio Athletic Commission and a member of both aforementioned halls of fame.
He feels, however, that you cannot limit this proposed hall of fame to just boxers.
“Calling it the Mahoning County Boxing Hall of Fame or even the Northeastern Ohio Boxing Hall of Fame would open it up to an even broader group of honorees. Drawing the line will be very tough so you don’t want to limit yourself,” Profato said. “Then again with the rising popularity of mixed martial arts and cage fighting, an ‘Unarmed Combat Hall of Fame’ might be an even more appropriate name.”
Nelson noted that honoring past legends is a great way to say thank you for their exceptional careers.
“The accomplishments of several generations of fighters from the Mahoning Valley, especially Youngstown are echoed both domestically and worldwide,” Nelson said. “Whenever I travel throughout the U.S., Europe and South America for my clients’ bouts, invariably either promoters, writers, trainers, ex-fighters or even long-time fans comment on the rich, world class boxing history within Youngstown.”
Loew added that the committee should be inclusive and every area of the sport should be represented.
“Assembling the right committee is necessary in order for this idea to work. There must be a variation of minds on the committee and everyone must do their homework during the selection process,” Loew added.
Meshel, a current member of the Youngstown State University board of trustees, said Youngstown’s boxing tradition easily rivals that of other boxing areas.
“We look forward to establishing a community-wide knowledge and awareness of Youngstown-area boxers and the impact that they have had on the world of boxing. This area has produced at least five worldwide champions and scores of state and regional champions,” Meshel noted. “We’ve produced contenders for world titles that challenge reputations of the Philadelphia and New York areas, as well as other parts of the nation.”
Miller, who has visited 22 countries since becoming a judge in 1992, has judged 103 title bouts, including 79 world title fights (he has also judged 24 regional pairings).
“We cannot forget those fighters from our area who are deserving of such an honor. Our boxing tradition over the past 75 years needs to be remembered with such a hall of fame,” Miller said. “Many local families would love the opportunity to once again honor and remember their loved ones, fighters who have helped make this area a boxing mecca.”
The group agrees that the toughest part won’t come inside the ring, instead resting with the formation of the committee in order to get such an idea off the ground.
Gulas writes about boxing for The Vindicator. Write him at email@example.com.