CANASTOTA, N.Y. — Al Bernstein stood in front of a thousand fans as he accepted his commemorative ring, and then took the podium at the 23rd International Boxing Hall of Fame’s induction ceremony on Sunday. Behind him sat a “who’s who” of boxing legends.
But on this day, the stage belonged to six in particular that made up the 2012 class: Thomas “The Hitman” Hearns, Mark “Too Sharp” Johnson, trainer Freddie Roach, ring announcer Michael Buffer, writer Michael Katz, and Bernstein, the noted boxing analyst for Showtime.
As he began his speech, Bernstein glanced at the greats behind him and was humbled.
“This Hall of Fame is essentially for the great boxers you see on this stage,” Bernstein said. “It is built for them. It is their house. This Hall of Fame is very generous in the way it welcomes those of us who filled another function for boxing. I take this as a supreme honor that I’m allowed to be a part of this place that is so special.”
Hearns fought in the magnificent era of the 1980s, taking on Marvin Hagler, Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran in some of boxing’s most famous fights. He was the first fighter to win five world titles in five different divisions. Johnson was the first African-American to claim the flyweight and super-flyweight titles.
Roach, who trains Manny Pacquiao, chartered a private plane so he and Buffer could fly from Las Vegas to Syracuse for the ceremony, just mere hours after Pacquiao’s controversial loss to Timothy Bradley. Roach did not acknowledge the split decision that cost Pacquiao his welterweight crown. He merely gave credit to the legendary Eddie Futch, who trained Roach as a fighter, and later gave him his start as a trainer.
“My mentor,” Roach said, “and my idol.”
Others, though, did talk Pacquiao-Bradley. With the news so fresh, how could you not?
“I want to congratulate all of my fellow classmates,” Katz said, “even poor Freddie.”
The ceremony was filled with funny stories and standing ovations. Buffer recalled how Katz never missed a chance to remind him of the occasion when he mistakenly announced that Joe DiMaggio was in attendance at a fight. Truth was, the former New York Yankees outfielder was not there at all.
The fans showered Johnson and Hearns with applause. The two former champions returned the affection.
“To see all you folks here today to witness myself and everybody else make it into the Hall of Fame, this is beautiful,” Hearns said. “I thank you for being here.”
“I made it,” he said, raising his arms. “This is truly, truly, truly a dream come true.”
Other greats such as Leonard, Hagler and Aaron Pryor, were in attendance to honor the class.