by Loyd McIntosh
Loyd McIntosh is a freelance writer and Press Relations Manager for One One Six Boxing Promotions.
Gadsden, Alabama - Eleven influential individuals key to the history and development of boxing in Alabama will be inducted into the Alabama Boxing Hall Of Fame (ABHOF) this April. The 2022 ABHOF Induction Ceremony will take place during Rumble By The River V, promoted by One One Six Boxing Promotions, on Saturday, April 23 at The Venue At Coosa River in the heart of Gadsden.
An effort spearheaded by Jay Deas, most known as the trainer and promoter for Tuscaloosa-native and former WBC World Heavyweight Champion Deontay Wilder, the Alabama Boxing Hall Of Fame launched in 2017. In its five years of existence, the ABHOF has inducted dozens of deserving amateur and professional fighters, trainers, promoters, and other people of significance to the sport with ties to the state, while also highlighting Alabama's important and, perhaps, underappreciated contributions to the world of boxing.
“For a state our size I would put Alabama way up there in terms of importance just by looking at our first few inductees in the pro boxer category,” says Deas. "We can compete with just about any state when it comes to the influential people in boxing that have deep roots in Alabama. It's pretty remarkable.”
Deas says the idea to create a boxing hall of fame started in 2015 after conversations with influential leaders within the boxing community and other sports-related leaders. It wasn't long before Deas learned there was much interest in establishing a hall of fame honoring the state's boxing legends.
"Boy, the response was overwhelming," says Deas. "So we started putting together all the rules by looking at the rules and regulations from around the country to come up with our own."
Among the inductees include Joe Louis, "pound-for-pound, one of the greatest fighters in the history of the sport," says Deas. Louis, inducted into the first ABHOF class in 2017, was born in Chambers County, Alabama, near the town of LaFayette before moving to Michigan with his family as a young child.
In 2018, the ABHOF class included Evander Holyfield, who was born in the small town of Atmore in southern Alabama before moving with his family to Atlanta at age eight. Inducted in 2019 was Earnie Shavers, born and raised in the unincorporated community of Garland. Well known as one of the hardest punchers in boxing history, 23 of Shaver's 68 knockouts came in the first round. In 2019, the ABHOF inducted Birmingham native Frankie "The Surgeon" Randall, a WBA, WBC, light welterweight champion and the first boxer to defeat Julio César Chávez who sported a record of 89-0-1 at the time the fought in 1994.
The 2022 induction ceremony will be unique, taking place throughout the evening in between bouts of Rumble By The River V. Deas says he believes inducting new members of the ABHOF throughout the evening will ensure more people witness the induction ceremonies without interrupting the action in the ring.
"We've seen some states that have had the inductions before the show, and some of them have had inductions after the show, but I noticed that in both those cases, some people were there for the show and not the inductions and some people were there for the induction and not the show," says Deas. "I thought the smart thing to do would be to do an induction during the show. Have a fight or two and then do an induction, then have another fight or two and then do another induction, and that way it's seamless. It will flow rather than having this gap of say ten minutes between fights."
The 2022 induction ceremony will include some top-notch boxers and interesting characters, to say the least. Among them include Clinton Jackson, a native of Evergreen, Alabama, a member of the 1976 Olympic Boxing team, regularly regarded as one of the greatest teams in USA Boxing history that included Michael and Leon Spinks, and “Sugar” Ray Leonard. Also scheduled to be inducted is Mobile, Alabama native James Hughes. Known by the nicknames "Jesse James" and "The Outlaw," Hughes was a well-respected welterweight who regularly appeared on USA Network's Tuesday Night Fights well into the 1990s.
“James was quite the character and a very, very good fighter. He just had that perfect television combination of heart, skill, will, and personality,” says Deas.
One of the most fascinating and controversial figures to be inducted is Ross Fields, also known as Harold Smith, a boxing promoter from Birmingham. Regarded as "The Robin Hood of Boxing," Smith served time in prison after being convicted of 29 counts of fraud and embezzlement in 1982, a result of embezzling $21 million during his years as a boxing promoter in the 1970s. There is no doubt his spending was lavish, but many boxing historians now recognize Smith as a complicated figure who took care of the boxers fighting in his shows.
“He was giving the fighters some of the biggest purses ever. Ernie Shavers himself said 'you know, it may have been a black eye for boxing but to those of us who were taking the punches, it was a fat paycheck,’” explains Deas. "Back then, some of the biggest purses were around $60,000, but Fields (Smith) would pop up and say 'how does $270,000 sound?'"
"Even though what he did wasn't right, he had the best of intentions," says Deas. "And then he did put on some of the greatest fights in boxing history."
Field's story was turned into the book Ring of Deceit: Inside the Biggest Sports and Banking Scandal in History by New York Times best-selling author Bruce Henderson. Fields died in 2021 and will be inducted posthumously.
Deas says he is thrilled to be including the 2022 Alabama Boxing Hall Of Fame Ceremony during Rumble By The Fiver, promoted by One One Six Boxing Promotions. Owned and operated by Gadsden resident Brandi McCain, One One Six Boxing Promotions is the state of Alabama's only licensed boxing promotions company and one of the nationwide to be female-led. Deas has symbolically passed the baton to McCain after Wilder's run of shows in Birmingham in 2016-17 and believes she is practically single-handedly leading a new era of boxing success for Alabama and beyond.
"I haven't really been very active over the last few years or so and Brandi has picked up the flag. I always wanted there to be more than just me promoting boxing in his state and Brandi took the ball and ran with it," says Deas. "I think she is really doing it the right way."
Deas says McCain has proven herself to be one of the brightest and toughest boxing promoters in a short amount of time. Most boxing promoters, says Deas, only get one show off the ground, if they get one off the ground at all. Now with over a dozen shows under her belt, Deas says McCain is a trailblazer and one of the most respected promoters currently operating.
"She had a plan and that plan has allowed her to keep going and to be successful. Plus she's smart, she's tenacious, and she's determined," says Deas. "Being a female promoter is not easy. I mean, a lot of the guys haven't ever seen that before, but she demands respect. She's proven herself, and it's been remarkable to see."
Rumble By The River V promoted by One One Six Boxing, including the 2022 Alabama Boxing Hall of Fame induction ceremony presented by Jay Deas, is scheduled for Saturday, April 23 at The Venue At Coosa River in Gadsden, Alabama. Doors open at 6 p.m. Tickets start at $20.