Lee Groves

Hall of Fame ballot deliberation

Santos Laciar (1976-1990, 79-10-11, 30 KO)

Helpful Factors: During his time as a world-class 112-pounder, “Falucho” defeated a number of titlists such as Peter Mathebula, Juan Herrera (twice), Betulio Gonzalez, Prudencio Cardona and the excellent Zapata. He also scored wins over unbeatens Steve Muchoki and Ramon Nery, perennial contender Antoine Montero and crushed the 24-1-1 Hi Sup Shin (a future titlist) and the 20-2 Shuichi Hozumi. The only reason Laciar was a two-time WBA flyweight king was because he was victimized by a rare hometown robbery against Panamanian Luis Ibarra in Buenos Aires. His two reigns spanned nine defenses over four years and he captured a second title at 115 when he defeated WBC super flyweight titlist Gilberto Roman (another worthy name not on the ballot) via cuts in the second of their three fights. Ten career losses in today’s landscape are not cosmetically attractive, though during his championship years of 1981-87 he was defeated only by Sugar Baby Rojas and Ibarra. That tells me that when Laciar was good, he was very good.

Negative Elements: Before he won his first WBA flyweight title he lost decisions to future WBC kingpin Charlie Magri (who was 20-0 at the time) and to future 115-pound monarch Gustavo Ballas. Neither defeat is nothing to be ashamed of, for Magri and Ballas were quality fighters. A more noteworthy negative is the fact that he lost the last two of three fights to obscure journeyman Raul Perez, who was 23-24-11 and 25-24-12 at the time of those bouts. After he won world honors he fought a draw with Ruben Condori and two draws against 70-plus fight veteran Rodolfo Rodriguez. One must take into consideration that draw decisions were common in Argentina during that time so one must wonder how those bouts would have been judged in other countries. Without any video to examine, all we can do is electors is look at the record and take whatever facts are available into consideration. Finally, Laciar never decisively defeated Roman in any of their three fights; most observers believed Roman deserved to win their initial draw encounter in Argentina, Laciar trailed by one point on all three cards in their cuts-marred second fight in France (which was deemed an 11th round KO for Laciar instead of a technical decision for Roman) and the Mexican comprehensively out-pointed Laciar in their rubber match in Inglewood, California.

 

Miguel “Happy” Lora (1979-1993, 37-3, 17 KO)

Helpful Factors: Lora’s eight defenses as WBC bantamweight champion compares favorably to other 118-pound Hall of Fame entrants such as Carlos Zarate (nine), Jeff Chandler (nine), Eder Jofre (eight), Ruben Olivares (four in two reigns) and Fighting Harada (four). He dethroned future Hall of Famer Daniel Zaragoza by scoring five knockdowns en route to a dominating decision, a victory that looks supreme given how durable “The Mouse” proved to be in subsequent bouts. Similarly, his off-the-floor points win over Wilfredo Vazquez Sr. also enhances Lora’s reputation given the Puerto Rican’s future accomplishments. Other noteworthy wins include title-fight victories over highly ranked Dominican Enrique Sanchez, 27-1-1 Argentine Lucio Lopez and titleholder Albert Davila (twice) as well as non-title encounters against Gabriel Bernal, Ruben Palacios, Cesar Polanco, Ramon Nery and Rolando Bohol. For a number of years Lora was considered the world’s best bantamweight with his mobile boxer-puncher style, and when one is considered the class of his class, he should receive strong consideration for the ultimate class that is enrolled in Canastota.

Negative Elements: Controversy swirled around his second title fight with Davila, for it was discovered that his bottle contained sugar water, an illegal stimulant. While Lora won a convincing decision, and while the WBC cleared Lora of wrongdoing following a post-fight investigation, the victory still has a cloud of doubt and begs the question of how many other fights his corner used this ploy against more inattentive inspectors.

Detractors also will point to his wide decision loss to Raul “Jibaro” Perez (who went on to have his own quality reign) as well as Lora’s thrilling two-round KO loss to Gaby Canizales for the WBO bantamweight belt, which saw both men hit the floor. Unfortunately for Lora, he hit the floor last.

 

Henry Maske (1990-2007, 31-1, 11 KO)

Helpful Factors: This German “Gentleman” was a busy and highly successful titlist, for he stuffed in 10 defenses during his 44-month tenure as IBF light heavyweight king. Unlike several of his countrymen, Maske didn’t have to rely on overly friendly judging to keep his belt because he did a very nice job of piling up points on his own. When one includes his title-winning effort against “Prince” Charles Williams – another long-reigning monarch – Maske achieved the maximum 10 points on the judges’ scorecards 82.9 percent of the time in his successful title fights, which compares favorably to the best mathematical stretches enjoyed by Roy Jones Jr. (88.8 percent in 21 fights), Wladimir Klitschko (83.7 percent in 12 fights), Pernell Whitaker (84.3 percent in 11 fights) and Floyd Mayweather Jr. (82.4 percent in 24 fights).

Maske’s best wins came against Williams, 1988 U.S. Olympian Anthony Hembrick, veteran John Scully, undefeateds Ernie Magdaleno, Egerton Marcus and Duran Williams as well as two-division titlist Graciano Rocchigiani (twice) and three-division belt-holder Iran Barkley. He also emerged from a 10-year retirement to decisively reverse his only defeat to Hall of Famer Virgil Hill, though by that point the 43-year-old “Quicksilver” was a shadow of his prime self. Still, it was impressive that a 43-year-old Maske could shake off the rust so effectively and out-point the only man to have beaten him.

Despite what some label a boring style, Maske was enormously popular in Germany and could rightly be credited for sparking his nation’s boxing renaissance, one that continues to this day. Add to that his sterling amateur career, which includes a middleweight gold medal at the 1988 Seoul Olympics and a pair of medals at the 1986 (silver) and 1989 (gold) world amateur championships.

Negative Elements: Although Maske and Dariusz Michalczewski were big stars in the German market and their reigns overlapped two years they never managed to stage a unification fight. The split decision loss to longtime WBA champion Hill on his own turf is also a minus, for it was Maske’s only title unification fight and the two cards in the American’s favor were justified. Some voters, wrongly, will subtract points from Maske for his careful style, which piled up points but hardly stirred passions.

 

Masao Ohba (1966-1973, 35-2-1, 16 KO)

Helpful Factors: Ohba’s resume was one that placed quality over quantity, for by age 23 he was in the process of putting together a dominant reign as WBA flyweight champion as he strung five defenses against excellent competition. After dethroning the 25-1-3 Berkrerk Chartvanchai (KO 13), Ohba’s title victims included a pair of three-time flyweight kings in Betulio Gonzalez (W 15) and Chartchai Chionoi (KO 12) as well as former WBA flyweight titlist Susumu Hanagata (W 15), which reversed an earlier loss. His over the 27-1 Orlando Amores (KO 5) in his fourth defense also was noteworthy, for, as was the case against Chionoi, Ohba came off the floor to score the KO win. Before he won his belt, Ohba scored a non-title 10-round victory over then-WBA titlist Bernabe Villacampo, who had earned his belt just six weeks earlier from Hiroyuki Ebihara.

Negative Elements: Ohba’s story was an unfinished symphony because, like Mexican Hall of Famer Salvador Sanchez 22 days after his defense against Azumah Nelson, the 23-year-old was killed in a car accident 22 days after his thrilling war against Chionoi. Unfortunately, voters can only consider what actually happened instead of what might have occurred had he lived. Although most of his title wins were of high quality, many voters would believe that five defenses aren’t enough to stack up with other small man Hall of Famers who weren’t cut down before their prime years.

 

Sven Ottke (1997-2004, 34-0 (6 KO)

Helpful Factors: Only nine boxers have ever accumulated 20 or more consecutive successful title defenses and with 21 of the IBF super middleweight belt Ottke was one of them. He also is one of a handful of major titleholders ever to retire without a loss or draw and never come back, though there were whispers about a 2008 return against Michalczewski that never came to pass. He turned pro very late (three months short of 30) and one has to be impressed that 22 of his 34 fights – or 64.7 percent – had major titles at stake. His case is further enhanced by his amateur career, which saw him make three Olympic teams (1988, 1992 and 1996) and amass a 256-47-5 record that included victories over Antonio Tarver, Chris Byrd, Michael Moorer, Zsolt Erdei and Juan Carlos Gomez as well as European championships in 1991 and 1996 and a bronze at the 1989 World Championships. He achieved all this despite a profound lack of power, though he did manage to score a dramatic come-from-behind one-punch knockout over future claimant Anthony Mundine in his fifth defense. One would think these facts would make him a shoo-in candidate, but a look beyond what is written on paper is necessary to complete the examination.

Negative Elements: Any positive mention of Ottke in terms of all-time standing invariably brings howls of protest. They object to his dull, pop-gun offense and cautious defensive approach but their biggest beef by far is that he was the beneficiary of friendly judging and refereeing that bordered on bend-over-backwards. Although he scored legitimately dominant victories over titlist Silvio Branco and Armand Krajnc in his final fight and managed to unify the WBA and IBF straps with a split decision over Byron Mitchell, more than a few victories were tainted in many eyes. They include tightly rendered verdicts against Charles Brewer (twice), Glen Johnson, Mitchell, Thomas Tate (twice, one via technical decision) and Robin Reid, which was considered a particularly blatant robbery.

With so many perceived judicial gifts, the value of Ottke’s lengthy reign is devalued considerably. Another strike against Ottke is his failure to unify with longtime WBO counterpart Joe Calzaghe, with whom he shares the divisional defenses record. As was the case with Jones-Michalczewski, geographical preferences and risk-reward issues stood in the way; Ottke wouldn’t leave Germany (35 of his 36 fights were staged there, with only one bout in Austria) where he made an excellent living while the better-traveled Calzaghe (he fought once each in Germany and Denmark and twice in the U.S.) preferred to stay in the U.K. Unlike Calzaghe, Ottke didn’t have career-defining fights that put him at considerable risk (like Calzaghe’s unification fights against Jeff Lacy and Mikkel Kessler) and he didn’t make an effort to establish his star away from home as Calzaghe did in his final two fights against Bernard Hopkins and Roy Jones Jr. That’s why Calzaghe is a shoo-in and why Ottke’s candidacy requires so much thought.

Samuel Serrano (1969-1997, 50-5-1, 17 KO)

Helpful Factors: On paper, the long-armed Puerto Rican stylist fares well, for his 13 defenses spread over two reigns from 1976-1983 ranks very high on the all-time 130-pound list. His better victories came against Diego Acala (a pre-title W 10), Victor Echegaray (a pre-title W 10), Leonel Hernandez (W 15, W 15), Young-Ho Oh (KO 9), the 70-1-2 South African Nkosana Mgxaji (KO 8) and blemish-avenging wins over the hard-hitting Ben Villaflor (a title-winning W 15 to counterbalance a previous draw that should have been a win) and Yasutsune Uehara (W 15 to offset a KO by 6 so shocking it was declared THE RING’s 1980 Upset of the Year). He also was a round-winning machine, for in fights where scorecards were available during his winning title fights Serrano captured 84.6 percent of all available points, another illustration of his effectiveness.

Negative Elements: Although aesthetics shouldn’t figure into one’s thought process (and it didn’t with me), it is noteworthy that , Serrano’s style was difficult to watch. That negatively affected his regard among the mainstream boxing press, and, by extension, how stories involving him were written. That, in turn, will affect how those too young to have seen him will perceive him if they decide to research his career through those articles. He was an expert jab-and-grab artist who drove his opponents crazy and thrilled no one but the purest of purists. But when he wasn’t doing his best Fred Astaire impersonation he mixed in some classic Fritzie Zivic with a vast array of illegal maneuvers. His 15-rounder against the 16-7-1 Julio “Diablito” Valdez bout was so ugly that ABC’s Howard Cosell was moved to say “even when they fight after the bell, they don’t fight well.”

Additionally, some of Serrano’s title-fight opposition was nothing to brag about, yet they still managed to garner some success against the Puerto Rican. The 11-1 Alberto Herrera took a big step up as Serrano’s first defense and he managed to score a first-round knockdown before being stopped in 11. Tae-Ho Kim floored Serrano in round three and gave the champ plenty of trouble before being stopped in 10. Battlehawk Kazama (KO 13), Hikaru Tomonari (KO 12) and Benedicto Villablanca (TW 11) dotted Serrano’s slate instead of unification fights with Alfredo Escalera or Alexis Arguello and Uehara, a prohibitive underdog before their first meeting, lost every round before flattening Serrano for the count with a single right hand. A 21-year-old Roger Mayweather also dominated Serrano in the champion’s back yard before scoring a smashing eighth-round TKO.

Wilfredo Vazquez Sr. (1981-2002, 56-9-2, 41 KO)

Helpful Factors: Vazquez captured WBA titles in three weight classes – bantamweight, junior featherweight and featherweight – and in two of those reigns he assembled respectable reigns (three years and nine defenses at 122, two years and four defenses at 126). He carried his two-fisted power up the scale and he proved his resiliency by overcoming a difficult three-fight stretch where he lost a title shot to WBC bantamweight king Miguel “Happy” Lora (L 12) and a Closet Classic war with former flyweight titlist Antonio Avelar (KO by 8) by winning his first belt from Chan-Yong Park four fights later.

One of his best victories was a third-round KO of longtime bantamweight titlist Raul “Jibaro” Perez to win his 122-pound strap, reversing a decisive 10-round decision defeat more than three years earlier. Vazquez was a considerable underdog entering the match and for him to turn the tables so dramatically spoke loudly of his advancement during the interim. Other notable victories include 122-pound titlists future (Thierry Jacob – KO 8, KO 10) and former (Luis Mendoza – W 12), eye-blink 115-pound belt-holder Juan Polo Perez (W 12) and Eloy Rojas (an upset title-winning come-from-way-behind KO 11) but his most important win in terms of reputation-building was an HBO-televised decision victory over longtime IBF bantamweight champion Orlando Canizales.

Also, during an era when successful 30-year-olds at lower weights were few and far between, Vazquez excelled into his mid-30s. He won his second title at 31, his third belt from Rojas three months shy of his 36th birthday and registered his final successful defense (W 12 Genaro Rios) at 37 years 3 months. Although Vazquez was a big underdog when he met WBO titlist Naseem Hamed six months later, the Puerto Rican’s past accomplishments certified him as a legitimate opponent for “The Prince,” who stopped Vazquez in seven.

Negative Elements: Four of his nine defeats were by knockout but three of the victors were former titlist Avelar, future belt-holder Israel Contreras and Hall-of-Fame caliber puncher Hamed, who was at his positive peak while Vazquez was nearing the end. Vazquez also was flummoxed by height and speed as the willowy Perez easily out-boxed Vazquez in their first fight while lanky Venezuelan Antonio Cermeno used his wiles to end Vazquez’s 122-pound reign.

The Verdict: Sifting through their resumes once again helped crystallize the decision-making process, which, in the end, was fairly easy. The final three checks were given to, in order, Maske, Vazquez Sr. and Lora, who just beat out Ohba with his more complete resume. Had I been given the option of an 11th check, I surely would have used it to check Ohba’s name but had I done so it would have, by rule, invalidated the rest of my ballot.

The three fighters who made the cut did so because they had many more positives than negatives in my eyes. Not only must a Hall of Famer have big numbers, they also must have quality wins as well as demonstrate long-term excellence at the highest levels. There are some names on the ballot that were well on their way to Canastota – Donald Curry being one – but when they reached the middle and late stages of their careers they weren’t able to consolidate their past successes. There also were many names that simply didn’t have a big enough resume in comparison to their divisional peers to merit my further consideration, a determination I made during my first set of deliberations 12 years ago.

Once I affixed the final three marks I folded up my ballot, stuffed it inside the self-addressed stamped envelope the IBHOF kindly provided, drove down to the post office and dropped the envelope in the slot. With that another voting process came to a close.

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Photos / THE RING, Alexander Hassenstein-Bongarts (Dariusz Michalczewski and Sven Ottke), Bongarts (Henry Maske), Al Bello-Getty Images (Wilfredo Vazquez)

 

Lee Groves is a boxing writer and historian based in Friendly, W.Va. He is a full member of the BWAA, from which he has won 10 writing awards, including seven in the last three years. He has been an elector for the International Boxing Hall of Fame since 2001 and is also a writer, researcher and punch-counter for CompuBox, Inc. He is the author of “Tales From the Vault: A Celebration of 100 Boxing Closet Classics. To order, please visit Amazon.com or e-mail the author at l.groves@frontier.com to arrange for autographed copies.

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