Erik Morales easiest selection on tough Boxing Hall of Fame ballot

Kevin Iole
Combat columnist
Erik Morales (R) battles arch rival Marco Antonio Barrera in their third bout, held in Las Vegas in 2004. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

If all of the boxers who are retired or say they plan to retire by the end of the year stick to that promise, there are going to be some angry people when the elections for the International Boxing Hall of Fame’s Class of 2022 are held.

Based simply on who has announced their retirements or their intentions to retire by the end of this year, among those eligible in the modern category for the first time that year will be Floyd Mayweather, Wladimir Klitschko, Andre Ward, Miguel Cotto and Roy Jones Jr. Manny Pacquiao may also have fought his last fight, though he hasn’t said that yet.

Three of them – Mayweather, Ward and Jones (four if you consider Pacquiao) – were considered the pound-for-pound best at one point in their careers. All five of them are slam-dunk selections. Two of them, though, won’t make it in 2022.

The IBHOF’s rules allow for three inductees in the modern category, meaning their last bout was no earlier than 1989. Each of those five should be unanimous selections, but rest assured, not all will be. Not even Mayweather, the man most deserving of it, will garner every vote.

So in that case, the election will come down to who voters choose not to vote for, which is odd. That, though, is how it is.

There is no such dilemma for the Class of 2017, though. There are a lot of solid candidates, but not one who demands to be in. This year’s ballot is filled with fighters like Donald Curry, who was briefly No. 1 in the world at one stage but who quickly fell off a cliff after a very short prime.

Curry was 25-0 with 20 knockouts and wins over Marlon Starling twice, Milton McCrory and Nino La Rocca, heading into his bout for the undisputed welterweight title on Sept. 27, 1986, in Las Vegas with Lloyd Honeyghan.

Honeyghan battered Curry and stopped him on his stool after six one-sided rounds. Including that loss to Honeyghan, Curry went 9-6 the rest of the way in his career and was never again remotely close to the great fighter he’d been before.

One of my criteria I use in voting is whether a fighter has ever been widely regarded as the pound-for-pound best in the world. If he has, he makes it in almost every case. Curry’s case, though, gives one pause given how short his prime was and how dramatically he fell.

Another fighter in a similar situation was ex-middleweight champion Nigel Benn. He’s undoubtedly best known as the man who who defeated Gerald McClellan and left him with permanent injuries. Benn was 42-5-1 with 35 knockouts and his signature win other than the one over McClellan was a first-round blowout of Iran Barkley. Barkley, of course, is the only man to own two wins over the great Thomas Hearns.

Benn retired at 32 after a disastrous 1996 in which he was 0-3 and was knocked out twice by Stevie Collins. His record against the best opponents he fought wasn’t good, other than McClellan, who legitimately was a star. But he was 0-1-1 against Chris Eubank, 0-2 against Collins and 1-1 against Thulani Malinga.

One could make a sound argument for voting Benn in – he was 9-3-1 in world title fights – but could just as easily make a case against him.

That’s how much of the list appears to me. There are a lot of borderline guys who’d have no hope of making it in a year like 2022, but who might make it this year when the field isn’t as strong. Voters are allowed to vote for five, and three will make it.

This is my list, though I suspect votes will be spread out because of the field.

Erik Morales, 52-9, 36 knockouts, world champion at 122, 126, 130 and 140 – Morales was one of the most exciting fighters of his era and he fought everyone in and around his class. Even in his last several years, when he was fighting way up in weight and was clearly on the decline, he took on the likes of Danny Garcia and Marcos Maidana.

His trilogy with Marco Antonio Barrera is one of the best in boxing history, and all three were legitimate Fight of the Year candidates. He had quality wins over Barrera, Pacquiao, Jesus Chavez, Carlos Hernandez, Junior Jones, Wayne McCullough, Daniel Zaragoza, Kevin Kelley, In-Jin Chi and Guty Espadas.

He has wins over two men already in the Hall of Fame – Barrera and Zaragoza – and Pacquiao will surely make it.

Morales is a Hall of Famer in my book.

Vitali Klitschko (R) lands a right on Lennox Lewis in their classic 2003 heavyweight title bout in Los Angeles. (Getty Images)

Vitali Klitschko, 45-2, 41 knockouts, heavyweight champion – Klitschko’s only two losses came to Hall of Famer Lennox Lewis in a stirring 2003 bout that was stopped on cuts, and a 2000 bout with Chris Byrd in which Klitschko injured his shoulder so badly he needed surgery.

He presided over a poor era of heavyweights, but was extraordinarily dominant. He never lost to a fighter he should have beaten other than Byrd, and Klitschko was up big on all three cards when he was forced to quit because of the injury.

He’s a tougher choice than Morales, but he gets my nod.

Ivan Calderon, 35-3-1, 6 KOs, world champion at 105 and 108 – Known as “Iron Boy,” Calderon was a defensive genius who held the WBO minimumweight title for four years and then had a three-year run at light flyweight.

He was 18-3-1 in world title fights and was one of the sport’s greatest defensive fighters.

Michael Moorer, 52-4-1, 40 KOs, world champion at 175 and heavyweight – Moorer is best known as a heavyweight and as the man George Foreman defeated to become the oldest man to win a world title, but he was an outstanding light heavyweight.

Moorer was 10-0 in light heavyweight title bouts with 10 knockouts, with four of those coming in one of the first two rounds.

He wasn’t as successful as a heavyweight, but he won a title by beating Evander Holyfield and went 5-2 with two knockouts in heavyweight title fights.

Going 15-2 with 12 KOs in title fights, with wins over Holyfield, Frans Botha, Vassiliy Jirov and Leslie Stewart is enough to land my vote.

Donald Curry, 34-6, 25 KOs, world champion at 147 and 154 – He gets in by the slimmest of margins, but he was briefly the pound-for-pound king, was 9-5 with seven KOs in title fights and had quality wins over Starling (twice), McCrory, Lupe Aquino and Gianfranco Rosi.

In the non-participant category, I voted for promoter Lorraine Chargin, ring announcer Johnny Addie and ex-WBA president Elias Cordoba.

In the observers (media) category, I voted for broadcasters Steve Albert and Jim Gray and boxing writer Wilbur Wood.

Michael Moorer (R) was 1-1 in two heavyweight title fights with Hall of Famer Evander Holyfield (L). (Getty Images)