This is a fun time of year.
Around the first week of October, I can usually count on the annual International Boxing Hall of Fame ballot arriving from the boys in Canastota -- which ultimately yields both a 1,200-or-so word column in which I announce my votes, and an inbox full of emails telling me I'm a blubbering idiot.
But in 2011, it's the gift that won't stop giving.
Rather than simply tucking the most colorful emails into my recycle bin and waiting for next year's batch to arrive, I decided this time to at least try to turn the cyber lemons into lemonade.
As a general rule, the responses to voting columns can be characterized one of two ways: Either 1) the readers claim the guys I've chosen have no earthly business on a Hall of Fame ballot to begin with (See: Ottke, Sven -- circa 2009, 2010); or 2) they insist that those I've turned thumbs-down on have a clear and irrefutable reason to be included (see: Johnson, Mark -- circa 2011).
In truth, there are really no right or wrong answers. It'll always boil down to one person's opinion against another's. And when you think about it, that's really part of the fun of being a fan, right?
But more so this year than any other, I noticed that people made their cases for fighters based less on their own merits and more on similarities to, or successes against, fighters already enshrined.
And, funny, the more of those reasonings I received, the less sense they made.
"Hey Lyle, Fighter X is in the Hall of Fame. And because Fighter Y beat him once in three fights and had a similar record against left-handed power- punchers between 1989 and 2002, he belongs in, too, get it?"
Well, in a word...no.
In fact, such logic got me thinking how the overall quality of the Hall has been winnowed down from a true collection of the best of each generation, instead to a gathering of those same all-time greats -- alongside a bunch of guys who've too often been mere shadows in their spotlights.
Call it "Six Degrees of Trevor Berbick" and a fun game-night exercise with friends.
But it's got no real place in determining who's in and who's out.
So I've taken another tack.
Rather than rehashing the few on 2011's ballot who'd actually add to the building's aura, here's a quick list of five culprits guilty of lowering the standards from "all-time great" to "all-time good."
Take them out, make room for others...and watch the property value rise.
Bobby Chacon (inducted 2005): I get it. The guy's back story was ridiculously compelling. Frightful beatings. Dramatic comebacks. Life reinventions. But look beyond the obvious action value of his fights and there's not much to warrant an immortal tag. A one-defense reign at 126 pounds, KO losses to a pair of 130-pound champions followed by another one-defense reign a decade later. Wrap it up with a three-round beatdown by Ray Mancini and it's thanks for the memories, but no bronze plaque.
Pipino Cuevas (inducted 2002): Quick...what's your most vivid memory of the former WBA welterweight champion? My guess is anyone who didn't say his spaghetti-legged KO loss to Thomas Hearns in August 1980 had it second only to the four-round stoppage by Roberto Duran in a battle of ex-titlists 29 months later. In my eyes, if your two biggest moments in the ring were blowout losses to actual Hall of Famers, perhaps you shouldn't really be called one yourself.
Joe Frazier (inducted 1990): If there's a more criminally overrated modern fighter, I'd love to hear the case. And as great a trilogy as Smokin' Joe put on against Muhammad Ali -- yes, I'm aware that he won the first one -- there's simply not enough to translate Frazier from North Philadelphia to Central New York. Five fights against Hall-inducted heavies yielded one competitive win, three KO losses and a lifetime of overblown acclaim. Go ahead, take away March 8, 1971 and convince yourself he belongs.
Ken Norton (inducted 1992): Somewhere, when they build the "Hall of All-Time Good," the awkward ex-Marine from San Diego will have a front-hallway shrine right alongside Frazier's. But when it comes to the actual Hall, he, too, just doesn't deserve his own place. Winning one of three close ones against Ali and none against any other enshrinees -- not to mention three KO losses in two rounds or fewer -- might make him a Top 5 contender, but he's not close to a Hall of Famer.
Dwight Muhammad Qawi (inducted 2004): I won't lie. This dude was one of my favorites. His KO Magazine poster was on my wall. I never missed a fight between Saad Muhammad and Spinks and I looked on with prurient interest when he kept grinding against Holyfield and Foreman. But let's be serious. He erased a fading action hero, beat two retreads and laid an egg in a chance at 175-pound glory on HBO. Winning a cruiser title and beating Leon Spinks hardly makes a mountain of that molehill.
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This week's title-fight schedule:
SATURDAY WBC light heavyweight title -- Los Angeles, Calif. Bernard Hopkins (champion) vs. Chad Dawson (No. 1 contender) Hopkins (52-5-2, 32 KO): First title defense; No stoppage wins above 168 pounds (6-2-1, 0 KO) Dawson (30-1, 17 KO): Ninth title fight (7-1, 2 KO); Held IBF, IBO and WBC titles between 2007-10 Fitzbitz says: "Long-awaited validation for long-time new generation kingpin." Dawson by decision
Vacant WBC lightweight title -- Los Angeles, Calif. Antonio DeMarco (No. 1 contender) vs. Jorge Linares (No. 2 contender) DeMarco (25-2-1, 18 KO): Second title fight (0-1, 0 KO); Unbeaten in California (18-0-1, 14 KO) Linares (31-1, 20 KO): Sixth title fight (4-1, 4 KO); Held titles at 126, 130 pounds between 2007-09 Fitzbitz says: "Rising ex-champion too much for veteran tough-guy gatekeeper." Linares by decision
WBO light heavyweight title -- Liverpool, United Kingdom Nathan Cleverly (champion) vs. Tony Bellew (No. 13 contender) Cleverly (22-0, 11 KO): Second title defense; Third fight in Liverpool (2-0, 0 KO) Bellew (16-0, 10 KO): First title fight; Sixth fight in Liverpool (5-0, 3 KO) Fitzbitz says: "Fighting on home turf won't help quality-rising challenger." Cleverly by decision
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full- fledged title-holder -- no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA "world championships" are only included if no "super champion" exists in the weight class.
Last week's picks: 2-0 Overall picks record: 341-116 (74.6 percent)
Lyle Fitzsimmons is a veteran sports columnist who's written professionally since 1988 and covered boxing since 1995. His work is published in print and posted online for clients in North America and Europe. Reach him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter.