- Dan Rafael, Boxing
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All-time action fighter and two-division titleholder Arturo Gatti, who died in 2009, and light heavyweight champion rivals Virgil Hill and Henry Maske, are the newcomers to this year's International Boxing Hall of Fame ballot.
Full members of the Boxing Writers Association of America began receiving their 45-man ballots this week. They are due back to the Hall of Fame by Oct. 31. Results will be announced before the end of the year with the annual induction ceremony at the Canastota, N.Y., shrine just outside of Syracuse scheduled for June 9. To be eligible, fighters must not have fought for at least five years.
Gatti, Hill and Maske are eligible in the modern category for fighters whose last bout was no earlier than 1943. Among those on the ballot in other categories, which are voted on by a panel of historians and the Hall of Fame board of directors -- not the writers -- are referee Mills Lane and ring announcer Jimmy Lennon Jr. in the non-participant category and broadcaster Steve Albert and British writer Colin Hart in the observer category.
Gatti (40-9, 31 KOs) won titles at junior lightweight and junior welterweight but was best known for a career filled with intense action fights. He became known as the "Human Highlight Reel" and was boxing's most beloved blood-and-guts warrior during a 16-year career that included an epic trilogy with Micky Ward, who became his close friend and later his trainer.
Gatti's inclusion on the ballot undoubtedly will stir great debate among boxing fans and media. Although he was involved in many extraordinarily exciting fights and became a box office star who regularly drew big ratings for HBO and filled Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J., Gatti never was viewed as the best fighter in the weight divisions in which he fought.
Nonetheless, he participated in four Ring magazine fights of the year, created as much excitement when he fought as anyone of his time and had universal respect from other fighters, who marveled at the punishment he could take and dish out.
"I'd be shocked if he wasn't on the ballot and shocked if didn't get in," said Top Rank's Carl Moretti, who spent many years as the matchmaker for Main Events, Gatti's career-long promoter, and was very close to him. "He literally provided one of the greatest trilogies in boxing history. But separate from that, he accomplished a lot and that shouldn't be overlooked. The excitement and relevance he brought the sport of boxing, especially in Atlantic City, when it needed it, was more than enough to be put into the Hall of Fame."
Gatti died at age 37 at a resort in Brazil in a sensational case in which debate still swirls over whether he was murdered by his wife or committed suicide. Brazilian authorities ruled his death a suicide and released his wife, Amanda Rodrigues, from a short stay in jail, even though many believe she murdered him.
Gatti won a 130-pound world title by outpointing Tracy Harris Patterson at Madison Square Garden in New York in 1995 and made three defenses before moving up in weight. Two of those defenses were all-time action fights. There was a dramatic and improbable comeback sixth-round knockout of Wilson Rodriguez in 1996, despite an eye that was swollen shut, and the 1997 fight of the year, a fifth-round knockout of Gabriel Ruelas. Gatti also defended in a rematch with Patterson.
In 1998, Gatti lost three consecutive lightweight bouts -- to Angel Manfredy and twice to Ivan Robinson in close fights, the first of which was named fight of the year. Those fights were so action-packed that few cared who won or lost, just that Gatti had been in one barnburner after another.
When Gatti moved up to welterweight and was stopped in five exciting rounds by Oscar De La Hoya, many believed Gatti was finished. But he came back after that loss to fight his most famous fights with Ward and win another world title.
He and Ward fought three consecutive brutal junior welterweight fights in 2002 and 2003 with the first and third bouts being named fight of the year. Gatti lost the first all-time classic by majority decision before winning the next two by unanimous decision. They were unforgettable battles that propelled Gatti into a shot at a vacant 140-pound title. He outpointed Gianluca Branco in January 2004 to claim the belt. He knocked out Leonard Dorin in the second round and James Leija in the fifth round of defenses before being outclassed by Floyd Mayweather Jr., who stopped him in six rounds in 2005.
Gatti would win one more fight, an 11th-round knockout of Thomas Damgaard in 2006 before losing his final two bouts, a ninth-round knockout in a welterweight world championship fight against Carlos Baldomir and a seventh-round knockout to Alfonso Gomez in July 2007. Gatti retired after the loss to Gomez and died almost two years to the day later.
Hill (50-7, 23 KO), 48, was a 1984 U.S. Olympic silver medalist who became a hero in his native North Dakota. He won three world titles at light heavyweight and two more at cruiserweight during a 23-year professional career.
Hill won his first title at 175 pounds by stopping Leslie Stewart in the fourth round in 1987. Hill made 10 defenses before being outpointed by Hall of Famer Thomas Hearns in 1991.
Hill's second light heavyweight reign began in 1992 when he outpointed Frank Tate. He made 10 more defenses, the final one an upset victory against Maske in a 1996 unification fight in Germany.
Hill then lost back-to-back fights to Dariusz Michalczewski, a holdover on this year's ballot, and Roy Jones Jr.
In 2000, Hill went to France and surprisingly scored a first-round knockout against hometown favorite Fabrice Tiozzo to win a cruiserweight title, although Hill lost in his first defense.
In 2006, Hill claimed a vacant cruiserweight title by outpointing Valery Brudov, but he lost his next two fights in 2007, a rematch with Maske and a cruiserweight title bout to Firat Arslan.
Maske (31-1, 11 KOs), 48, was one of Germany's most popular fighters. He outpointed Charles Williams in 1993 to win a light heavyweight title and made 10 defenses, all in Germany, before losing a split decision to Hill. After the loss, Maske retired but returned in March 2007 to fight Hill in a cruiserweight rematch. Maske won the slow, plodding affair by unanimous decision before returning again.
Other holdovers on the ballot include former featherweight champion "Prince" Naseem Hamed, former welterweight champion Donald Curry, former super middleweight titlist Sven Ottke and Wilfredo Vazquez Sr., who won world titles in three weight classes, bantamweight, junior featherweight and featherweight.
Known for his final words -- "Let's get it on! -- to combatants before the bell rang to start a fight, Lane, a longtime Nevada referee, was the third man in the ring for many major championship fights. But he is best known for disqualifying Mike Tyson in the third round for biting Evander Holyfield's ears in their 1997 heavyweight championship fight. Lane, who turns 76 in November, retired in 1998 and went on to have a popular court television show, "Judge Mills Lane." But he receded from the spotlight after a debilitating stroke in 2002.
Lennon, who followed in the footsteps of his ring announcing father, Jimmy Lennon Sr., is known to boxing fans around the world as perhaps the sport's most famous ring announcer besides Hall of Famer Michael Buffer. Lennon's highest profile work has come as the longtime ring announcer for Showtime's boxing events. Albert worked for years as the blow-by-blow man for Showtime cards, calling hundreds of world title fights, including some of Tyson's biggest fights. Hart covered boxing for decades in England and last year was given the Nat Fleischer award for excellence in boxing journalism by the Boxing Writers Association of America.
Two-division titleholder Arturo Gatti, and light heavyweight champion rivals Virgil Hill and Henry Maske are the newcomers to year's International Boxing Hall of Fame ballot.