James McGirt played little league football when he was a kid growing up on Long Island, and it didn’t take him long to realize that wasn’t his sport.
“When I was 11 years old, I was maybe 65 pounds soaking wet,” McGirt recalled Wednesday. “One day I was standing outside and it was cold as hell. I said, ‘This ain’t for me,’ told coach, and I brought my uniform in the next day.”
The kid nicknamed “Buddy” quickly found his niche after watching professional boxers such as former middleweight champion Vito Antuofermo train in the local recreation center. When he came of age, McGirt stepped into the ring for his first fight on his 12th birthday, and that was it.
“I fell in love with it. I was hooked,” McGirt said. “It was like a drug. My mom told me, ‘You can box, but you’ve got to have good grades in school.’ So I got my grades up because I wanted to box.
“My mom used to always tell me, ‘I hope you make it as a boxer because you’re not going to make it doing anything else,’ ” he said with a chuckle.
Suffice to say he succeeded — in a big way.
The International Boxing Hall of Fame announced Wednesday that McGirt, who went on to become a two-division champion, is one of nine people selected for induction. Also to be enshrined next June 9 in Canastota, New York are two-division champions Donald Curry and Julian Jackson; Tony DeMarco in the old-timer category; promoter Don Elbaum; referee/judge Guy Jutras; publicist Lee Samuels; and broadcaster Teddy Atlas. Puerto Rican journalist Mario Rivera Martino was selected posthumously.
Inductees were voted in by members of the Boxing Writers Association and a panel of international boxing historians.
For McGirt, the news was like a right hook to the jaw — it caught him off-guard.
“This is the greatest day of my life. I’m overwhelmed. You can’t really explain it,” he said. “Your dream is to be a world champion. Your ultimate dream is to be in the Hall of Fame.”
McGirt turned pro in 1982 as an 18-year old high school senior and three years later won the WBC Continentals Americas light welterweight title from Sugar Boy Nando with a fifth-round knockout. He captured the vacant IBF light welterweight title in 1988 with a 12th-round knockout over Frankie Warren, whom he called his toughest foe.
“I still have nightmares about him,” McGirt said. “There was constant pressure. I felt like I was fighting him in a closet.”
McGirt retired in 1997 with a record of 73-6-1 with 48 KOs, and since has trained five champions, including Hall of Famer Arturo “Thunder” Gatti.
Curry, 57, of Fort Worth, Texas was dubbed the “Lone Star Cobra” for his lightning-quick reflexes and hand speed. He captured the vacant WBA welterweight in a 15-round decision over Jun-Suk Hwang in Fort Worth in 1983. The next year he became the inaugural IBF champion and unified the 147-pound titles with a second-round knockout over WBC champ Milton McCrory .
Curry’s induction will come 22 years after he retired with a pro record of 34-6 with 25 KOs.
“All right. Now we’re talking!” said Curry, who in 1985 shared fighter of the year honors with Marvelous Marvin Hagler. “It’s an honor. This is the greatest day of my life. I’m overwhelmed. It’s a dream come true.”
Jackson, a native of the U.S. Virgin Islands, began boxing at age 11 and compiled a 15-2 amateur record that included a win over Livingstone Bramble. Renowned for his powerful punching power, Jackson, dubbed “The Hawk,” turned professional in 1981 and scored 29 consecutive victories, 27 by knockout. In 1987, he captured the vacant WBA 154-pound title by stopping In Chul Baek in three rounds, and became a two-division champion three years later when he scored a fourth-round knockout over Herol Graham to take the vacant WBC middleweight title. He retired in 1998 with a pro record of 55-6, including 49 KOs.
DeMarco was born Leonardo Liotta in Boston in 1932 and began boxing at age 12, turning pro in 1948 and borrowing his ring name from a friend because he wasn’t the legal fighting age of 18. He upset Johnny Saxton with a 14th-round knockout at Boston Garden to become welterweight champion, then lost the title to Hall of Famer Carmen Basilio in a 12th-round knockout. Basilio also stopped him again in the 12th round of their rematch. DeMarco retired in 1962 with a pro record of 58-12-1 with 33 KOs.
Elbaum grew up in Erie, Pennsylvania and, after seeing Willie Pep box, fashioned a 40-10 amateur record before taking a shot at matchmaking. Over six decades in boxing he served as matchmaker for over 10,000 fights and promoted over 1,000 cards.
“I’ve been in the game over a thousand years and this is one of the greatest days of my life, absolutely one of the greatest days of my life,” Elbaum said. “This is like winning the heavyweight championship of the world.”
The Canadian-born Jutras was a Golden Gloves champion and the 1951 Royal Canadian Navy welterweight champion before becoming a judge, referee, and matchmaker. As a judge and referee, he worked over 75 world championship bouts.
“You don’t know how much this means to me. This is unbelievable,” Jutras said. “Fantastic! This is the greatest news I could ever get.”
The 71-year-old Samuels, a native of Pennsville, New Jersey, began his career writing for local papers before being hired by the Philadelphia Bulletin in the mid-1970s. After the paper folded, Samuels was hired by Bob Arum to handle East Coast publicity for his ESPN boxing series and has been publicist for Top Rank since 1996.
“The biggest honor in the sport of boxing is induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame, and the greatest honor any publicist can hope to get,” Samuels said. “This is a tremendous honor.”
Atlas was born in 1956 on Staten Island, New York and trained in upstate New York under Cus D’Amato, winning the 1976 Adirondack Golden Gloves lightweight title. But back problems forced him out of the ring and he apprenticed under D’Amato as an assistant trainer working with a young Mike Tyson. He trained nine champions before becoming one of boxing’s most popular and outspoken broadcasters the past two decades.
Martino, who died last year at 93, wrote for The Ring, was boxing columnist for The San Juan Star, and served as director of public relations for the World Boxing Organization, boxing commissioner in Puerto Rico and president of the Puerto Rico Boxing Commission over more than six decades in the sport.
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