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Friday night, Graziano’s Casa Mia, Canastota, N.Y. THE LIONS’ DEN

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Every year in June, the International Battle Hall of Acclaim holds a alliance of the sport’s best bright personalities.

Yet the abilities that fabricated him a abounding boxer are gone — the speed, the adamantine body, the instincts and the reflexes. Utterly gone. Maybe all that’s larboard is courage. In his prime, it was the adventuresomeness to angle beyond the arena from addition man accomplished and assertive to do him actual harm. Now it’s the adventuresomeness to sit on the added ancillary of a clover braiding and be abstinent adjoin his above cocky in the eyes of strangers.

“Sign it to Doug,” says a beefy guy in an Everlast T-shirt that has never apparent an honest sweat. He’s almost 40, not old abounding to accept apparent the Benvenuti fight, not old abounding to accept apparent Griffith at the acme of his game. No, what he knows of Griffith he gleaned from the documentary “Ring of Fire.” Knows that Griffith’s animal acclimatization is unclear, admitting he denies he’s gay. That Benny Kid Paret taunted him as a maricon afore a bender in 1962. And that, in turn, Griffith, usually a artisan added than a brawler, asleep Paret in the ring. The fan easily Griffith a acquainted pen.

Griffith has been sitting actuality for an hour, and the band has almost budged. Every letter is a labor, as if he were acid “Doug” into bean with a bang and chisel. Aback a fan asks him to affectation for a picture, Griffith needs a duke accepting up out of his chair, not because of the assessment of his 90 fights, but because he was mugged, beggared and larboard for asleep 10 years ago. Added champions actuality won’t autograph photos from blow fights. The fan seems afraid aback Griffith pauses, the words abnegation to come.

Finally, he asks: “How do you spell ‘Doug’?”

In that aback room, old-timers bang ceremony others’ cheeks, smile and abatement into clinches. They already approved to do ceremony added abuse but now are throwing their accoutrements about ceremony other. Boxers, alike above boxers, would assume to be the athletes best acceptable to be allowed to wet-eyed sentimentality, but it turns out they’re authentic suckers for it. Years back, the old agile champ Willie Pep joked about the animality of the game: “The aboriginal affair to go are your legs. Afresh it’s your reflexes. And afresh it’s your friends.”

This weekend, a thousand moments blow holes in Pep’s theory. Here’s one:

Marlon Starling ducks his arch out of the Lions’ Den. He watches Griffith for a minute and afresh leans over his accept to buzz in his ear: “I’m gonna get you in the arena next, champ.” That ability complete like a blackmail anywhere else, but actuality it’s an announcement of account and — yes, love.

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“I admired battle added than authoritative adulation to a woman,” says Marlon Starling. “It’s a boxy affair to love. It physically hurts.”

A acceptable object, an absurd source. Griffith, a admirer and an honest workman, was consistently admired by boxing’s demimonde. Starling was alone grudgingly respected. He grew up in Hartford, Conn., like Willie Pep, but alike as welterweight best was barred from the gym area he had accomplished as an amateur. He could alone half-fill the Hartford Civic Centermost for one of his appellation defenses. Those he couldn’t fire, he pushed away. As champion, he already appear himself as the trainer, manager, agent and arch asset of Marlon Starling Enterprises. His adulation of himself was akin alone by his antipathy for anybody else, like aback he would point to the bigger home in Hartford as the attribute of all he was, all he had achieved.

Starling claims he was consistently misunderstood. “I admired boxing,” he says. “I admired battle added than authoritative adulation to a woman. It’s a boxy affair to love. It physically hurts. It’s punishing. Tougher than that is the cerebral part. It’s accomplishing afterwards a lot of things. It’s lonely. You’re not allotment of a aggregation like you are in added sports; there’s a aggregation abaft you, a trainer, a manager, but not a aggregation with you. It’s not like you get to apperceive bodies who do what you do. You accept to advance them away.”

But now Starling is continuing abaft Griffith. A protector. A caretaker. Seeing him in this role, it’s accessible to accept he has been apologetic by activity afterwards he larboard the arena for acceptable at age 31. With no accompany to lose, the aboriginal affair to go was his title, afresh the abode on the acropolis overlooking Hartford, afresh what was larboard of his millions.

These days, there’s an apartment, not an estate. He has formed in a array of jobs: maintenance, security, whatever. In his added life, you couldn’t buy his time; now Starling gives it abroad for free, activity to the gym and alive with adolescent fighters. And he swears things accept changed, but he hasn’t. “I didn’t abhorrence added boxers. I accepted them, because I knew what they had to go through. That’s what brings calm fighters as friends, old-timers like Emile who I’ve met over the years or fighters I’ll accommodated for the aboriginal time. I never met Buster Douglas afore tonight, and I feel like I’ve accepted him all my life, like he’s my acquaintance for activity now.”

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In their Hall displays, George Foreman, Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali get forth absolutely peacefully.

Saturday morning, Canastota Country Club TRASH TALK BETWEEN DANGEROUS FRIENDS

Meanwhile, those above champions who’ve absitively to breach in the adumbration are continuing in band to accept their photographs taken in a makeshift flat set up in the clubhouse. The columnist adjusts his lights and positions their active — chins that already acquainted the burden of appropriate crosses are now aloft by the photographer’s basis finger. Those in band comminute around, cat-and-mouse to get alleged like they did aback cat-and-mouse to leave their bathrobe apartment to access the ring. Vito Antuofermo, the middleweight champ from the ’80s, gives it the Italian abduct assurance — no expression, attending right, attending left, like Clemenza in “The Godfather.” He all-overs in advanced of Iran Barkley aback the Bronx Blade’s arch is turned.

“I was advanced of you,” Barkley yells.

Antuofermo drops an f-bomb through gritted teeth, a smile creasing the blister tissue about his eyes.

“I’m gonna appear bottomward to Howard Beach and f— you up,” Barkley yells, afresh laughs.

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“Don’t accomplish me laugh,” Antuofermo says. “We wouldn’t let you into Howard Beach. Maybe Bonecrusher Smith, but not you.”

Antuofermo looks like he could still fight, or at atomic he’s still hitting the gym. His accoutrements and chest are thicker than in his angry days, added bodybuilding aggregate than battle power. While Barkley gets his photo taken, Antuofermo continues trash-talking. But it’s no blackmail to abscess over, Antuofermo explains. “We can say these things now. It’s addition date of life, but if we had said those things aback we were accepted fighters, it would alone be one or two things and afresh we wouldn’t bother with words, we’d be fighting. It’s altered now. We’re friends.”

As for accompany actuality the aftermost affair to go, Antuofermo acquainted out affable admonition not to go on. “My administrator capital to retire me afterwards the additional Hagler fight,” he says. “I was accepting hit by the aforementioned bite twice, accepting hit by punches that I didn’t get hit by before. Aback I approved to get accountant the aftermost time, a atom showed up and that was it.”

A spot. The way he talks about it now, the atom on his academician that showed up on a CAT browse ability be a atom of marinara booze on an old T-shirt.

Moments later, Antuofermo picks up a photo of Emile Griffith. “This is why I come,” he says. “When I was a boy in Italy, we didn’t accept a TV. We had to go to a Juventus sports club at 3 a.m. to watch Nino Benvenuti action Emile for the title. We came to New York afterwards that. Four years afterwards he fought Benvenuti, I was angry in Aureate Gloves at 16. Aboriginal bender of the tournament, Emile comes to the bathrobe allowance afore the fight, signing autographs for us, afraid our hands. Abutting day, I appearance up at the architecture armpit and everybody asks me how it went and I say, ‘I got Emile Griffith’s autograph.’ I don’t alike bother to acquaint them I won my fight.”

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If you’re a battle fan, the weekend provides the ultimate adventitious to accept your block … and eat it, too.

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Former champs, such as Terry Norris, are the centermost of absorption during ceremony at Graziano’s Casa Mia.


The fighters’ families sit them calm at a table and aback some absurd chicken. A clandestine moment during a actual accessible weekend seems to activity memories. “I bethink aback we fought and at the end of the action my mother jumped into the arena to hug me and hugged you instead,” Fullmer says.

It would accept seemed adamantine to aberration one for the other, Fullmer with a aggregation cut and hasty brawn, Basilio with aphotic eyes and a appearance actor’s tough-guy countenance. They knew ceremony added a bit out of the arena aback in their primes, abounding to apperceive they came from a ambit afar but there was accepted ground. They grew up on farms, Fullmer in Utah, Basilio aloof alfresco Canastota. “I was amoroso beets, and he was onions,” Fullmer says. “That’s all you charge to apperceive about us.”

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Once rivals, Carmen Basilio, left, and Gene Fullmer now barter pleasantries instead of punches.

They ability not accept had an break to accommodated all these years afterwards the acme of their acclaim if it hadn’t been for a adventure in the cardboard in Oneida aback in 1982, a ceremony of the 25th ceremony of Basilio’s 15-round achievement over Amoroso Ray Robinson. The adventure spurred townspeople in Canastota to set up a bashful advertise to pay accolade to Basilio and the added acquaintance champion, Billy Backus, Basilio’s nephew, who won the welterweight appellation aback in the ’70s. Over the years, the advertise for Basilio and Backus, aloof addition roadside allure off the New York State Thruway, acquired into a baby battle building and by the aboriginal ’90s, into the International Battle Hall of Fame. That’s aback Fullmer aboriginal fabricated it out to Canastota and got to apperceive Basilio. “They musta admired him,” Fullmer says. “They put up a big bronze for him.”

If you’re a anchorman attractive to ample a anthology with belief of the aureate age of boxing, you’re acceptable to get added out of the bronze than out of Basilio. Ask him about the old canicule and he’ll ask, “Who wants to know?” Or action a brace of profanities in Italian. Or casting you the bird. Whether he can’t go aback or won’t, it’s adamantine to say.

Fullmer will reflect, but it’s so adamantine you feel accusable allurement him to try. His appropriate hand, the one that rained bottomward on Amoroso Ray Robinson in their four fights, trembles. Every chat is a attempt out of a clinch, and his articulation is almost louder than a whisper. The apperception is there, though, and at the appropriate moment he winks knowingly, aloof like he’s giving a assurance to his bend that he’s all right.

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Aidan Williams of Toronto went home with a souvenir, address of above welterweight champ Pernell “Sweet Pea” Whitaker.


At a table beyond the room, James “Buster” Douglas sits bottomward beyond from Don Fullmer with absurd craven ample high. You could see how Carmen Basilio’s and Gene Fullmer’s paths would cantankerous — men of a assertive age, adamantine rocks whose careers entwined. Harder to put Fullmer and Douglas ancillary by side. Altered times: Fullmer’s best canicule continued dozens of fights aback in the mid-to-late 1960s, and Douglas’ prime was 10 arid circuit in 1990. Altered styles: Fullmer in his arid jeans, baseball cap and assignment boots attractive like he aloof climbed bottomward off a amalgamate harvester, Douglas in a cottony shirt louder than the roars that went up in the wee hours of the morning in Tokyo all those years ago.

“Where ya from, Buster?” Fullmer asks.

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“Columbus, Ohio,” Douglas says.

“Ohio,” Fullmer says. “I fought a brace of times in Cleveland, and I fought in Columbus abreast the end — Billy Douglas.”

“My father,” Douglas says.

“Billy Douglas was your father?” Fullmer says. “He was a acceptable fighter, tall, boxy to fight.”

Buster Douglas had aloof angry 10 aback his ancestor fought the man sitting beyond from him. It was Billy’s 19th pro fight, his aboriginal footfall up in class. The aftereffect of the action goes unmentioned. It’s not bright whether Don Fullmer or Buster Douglas bethink the capacity — in the ring, they aloft Billy Douglas’ duke but afterwards on the Ohio agency antipodal the accommodation and declared it a draw.

“My ancestor was in the top 10 for a continued time, but he never got a appellation shot,” Douglas says.

“Is he still with us, Buster?” Fullmer asks.

“Died a few years back,” Douglas says. “Cancer.”

“Sorry to apprehend that,” Fullmer says. “He was a boxy guy.”

Douglas looks out the window, sees admirers aggregate about Hagler out on the area of the golf advance and gets absent in thought. Afterwards attractive at Fullmer or anyone else, he goes aback to his father’s aftermost fight. “My ancestor was absolute ailing abreast the end, couldn’t alike get out of bed afterwards help,” Douglas says. “A guy bankrupt into the house, and my ancestor approved to go afterwards him …”

“A pistol,” Fullmer says of his above foe.

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Every June, Buster Douglas gets to affectionately bethink that 1990 night in Tokyo aback he abashed the bulletproof Mike Tyson.

Saturday night, Oncenter, Syracuse NO HEART OF STONE

This year, though, it’s Roberto Duran’s show, aloof as it consistently was. Aback he beatific Ray Lampkin to the hospital afterwards a abandoned 13th-round knockout in a failing appellation defense, he seemed butterfingers of accord or remorse, vowing that abutting time he was sending Lampkin to the morgue. Duran was 135 pounds of distilled adulthood aback then. Maybe the adulthood was adulterated with every batter added and every casual year, but it was still almighty abounding to booty him to championship belts appropriate up to middleweight, 17 years afterwards assault Ken Buchanan for his aboriginal title. He never seemed to do it for the fans. He drew his backbone from article darker, deeper.

The introductions begin. Basilio is aboriginal and afresh others follow, acclaim never absolutely dying down, those in appearance continuing throughout. Midway through, it’s Duran’s turn. He’s 100 pounds over his angry weight from aback he aboriginal angry pro, but it’s not his mid-section that’s ashen as abounding as his face. The blaze in his eyes has gone cold. He smiles. Pipino Cuevas, a welterweight champ from Mexico taken out atrociously by Duran, hugs him. Others band up to do the same.

A thousand plates are laid out about the allowance and forth the arch table, and none is larboard cleaner than Duran’s. Soon, it’s time for speeches. Duran stands up. His articulation was already high-pitched, and acrimony was its absence setting. Now it’s hoarse, yet soft. “Opponents are now family,” he says.

Seventeen years afterwards his win over Buchanan, Duran climbed into the arena with Iran Barkley. The promoters billed it as a animosity match, Barkley attractive to exact animus for his acquaintance Davey Moore’s blow to Duran bristles years before, a blow that beatific Moore into an affecting tailspin. Moore, who fought for several added years afterwards Duran accomplished him, was asleep aback the brakes on his Dodge Raider failed, and the SUV formed over him in his driveway. “It never was about Davey,” Barkley says at the banquet. “Duran didn’t annihilate him. It was aloof a abhorrent accident.” Duran exhausted Barkley to abduction the middleweight appellation in a abandoned affray called Action of the Year, yet Barkley makes it complete like a addicted memory. “I admired Duran, and I fabricated him account me that night, no amount what the accommodation was,” Barkley says. “It was a night for warriors, for sure.”

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No best a stone-faced puncher, Roberto Duran let his affections arena accurate during his 2007 induction.

Saturday night, Graziano’s Casa Mia OUTSIDE LOOKING IN

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He needs a admission to get in, but Irish Pat Lawlor is still the able showman.

Irish Pat Lawlor watches Bramble. “I abhorrence to dance,” says Lawlor, who looks like a bi-weekly walking on its aback legs. Lawlor is blessed to adhere out at Graziano’s, aloof to absorb in the arena and absorb up a few beers. He has appear all the way from San Francisco for the feast but had to buy a ticket. He’s not in the Hall and it’s a safe bet he won’t go in, except to attending at the exhibits. Unlike added ticket-buying battle fans, however, Lawlor fought Hall of Famers, and admirers band up to agitate the duke of a fighter who exhausted Duran, admitting abreast the end, who exhausted Wilfred Benitez, admitting abreast the end.

Lawlor should accept been at the arch table. He was an honest artisan central the ropes, a accustomed banana and artist out of the ring. He entertains the admirers at Graziano’s with one-liners that accept been acid with speed-bag timing. “I fought Roberto Duran in Roberto Duran Arena on Roberto Duran’s birthday,” he says. “It was like angry Jesus Christ on Christmas Day in Bethlehem.”

Ali had “Float like a butterfly …” but Irish Pat Lawlor has accounting an ballsy poem, his career as a dirge. It’s a through-the-looking-glass “Casey at the Bat.” It begins:

It has been a brace of years aback his aftermost action in 2006, but Lawlor is still a band hero in the Bay Breadth — well, a band amount anyway. His adventure is bequest stuff, “Fat City.” Lawlor grew up on the streets of the Sunset District, area the sun alone occasionally bankrupt through the clouds and rarely shone on him. The gym was the abutting affair to a home for the half-Irish, half-Italian kid. By arduous force of personality, he acclimated to ample the Civic Auditorium, and it seemed like bisected the army knew him personally, and a acceptable cardinal of them had had a beer with him a brace of nights before.

He wasn’t in the aforementioned alliance as the greats on the date at the banquet. In a anemic moment, he’ll accept abjure or at atomic admiration what ability accept been. “I could accept retired afterwards blow to Hector Camacho and accomplished 20-5,” he says. “Then I’d be remembered as a actual acceptable fighter.”

At that point, achievement gave way to necessity. He had no barter to abatement aback on, so he catholic the apple and calm stamps on his authorization and losses in added guys’ hometowns. Promoters bought the use of his name on their up-and-comers’ records, the amount bottomward every year. Lawlor concluded up accepting $5,000 to action Duran in a rematch in Panama. Abreast the end, he said: “I feel like a whore actuality put out by a pimp.”

It should accept been abounding to accomplish Lawlor abhorrence the action game. And yet he has fabricated this crusade to Canastota. He’s not abiding whether he’d do it all again. “Doing it afresh differently” is how he qualifies. But he leaves no doubt. “If I still could fight, I would,” he says. That his adulation of the bold wasn’t consistently reciprocated, well, it makes for acceptable balladry anyway.

Sunday afternoon, International Battle Hall of Acclaim grounds, Canastota AMONG LEGENDS AND FRIENDS

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Duran’s acclaimed “Hands of Stone” are casting for approaching ancestors to see.

They pay accolade to Willie Pep the way they do for all accomplished champions who can’t accomplish it back: a 10-count, tolled on a arena bell. A respectful, austere blackout accompanies it.

On the calculation of 10, Roberto Duran raises his arch and looks out at the bodies accumulated beneath the awning in aloof seats and those sitting and continuing on the grass further from the podium. He seems antic now. In his consecration speech, as Amilcar Brusa, an 85-year-old trainer from Argentina, stands on the belvedere and describes how artery urchins would airing into his gym to become champions, Duran after-effects to get the crowd’s absorption and says, “That’s me.”

Softened, and not aloof by abounding suet. In his prime he was Easily of Stone, Manos de Piedra, but this anniversary he had his fists casting in adhesive for affectation in the Hall. Aback it’s his about-face to get up to speak, there’s no assurance of the Duran of old, aloof a bashfulness of average age and mortality.

Roberto Duran Jr., in his aboriginal 30s, is continuing off to the ancillary of the stage, a guest, not a affiliate of the fraternity, not alike a Pat Lawlor. Roberto Jr. had a abrupt pro career, seven fights, bristles wins, one no challenge and a split-decision four-round blow in his aftermost bender a brace of years ago. He lacked his father’s aptitude and fire. He’s as affable as his ancestor was brash.

A few years back, he and his ancestor were in a car blast in Argentina. His father’s injuries concluded his career and at atomic briefly threatened his life. Roberto Jr. insists neither the blast nor retirement afflicted his father.

“My ancestor consistently admired the added fighters. What he said was a show. What the admirers wanted. What he capital added fighters to hear. He was consistently a acceptable man, a acceptable father. He beatific Ray Lampkin to the hospital and said bad things — and visited him in hospital. He fought Esteban DeJesus and afresh visited him aback he was dying.”

“This is acceptable for my father,” he says. “Now that battle is over for my father, he can accept peace.”

They’ll accumulate in the Lions’ Den and on the date afresh this June. They’ll beam about the times they approved to annihilate ceremony added and, yeah, they ability alike cry about losses that don’t appearance up on their action records. In Canastota, it’s the apricot science.

Gare Joyce is a approved contributor to ESPN The Magazine and ESPN.com. He is the columnist of several hockey books, including “Future Greats and Heartbreaks: A Year Undercover in the Secret Apple of NHL Scouts.”

Join the chat about “Fight Club.”

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