By: Dave Murphy
Some will say this analysis comes a year later than it should since Donald Curry managed to clear the largest hurdle there is to International Boxing Hall Of Fame entry last year, that of attaining ballot access. However, I would argue otherwise, since this is the first year he has a serious chance of induction, given the presence of Mike Tyson and Julio Cesar Chavez last year. Let’s briefly examine that process for those who aren’t familiar with it. Only 45 fighters over the last 68 years that encompass the Modern Category as the Hall of Fame classifies the post-1943 Era (I defy anyone to find anything else in today’s society where 1943 is still considered “Modern”, but that‘s beside the point) make the ballot sent out to the voters. The 45 Ballot slots are a major roadblock to a LOT of strong candidates and dare I say even a few “should be” Hall of Famers. If you don’t make the ballot then you don’t make the Hall, it’s that simple. And unlike Baseball’s Hall of Fame, there’s no required percentage of the vote to keep you on the Ballot. In fact, the Ballot Screening Committee seems to treat the slots as if they were U.S. Supreme Court appointments and good for life. I’ve never known anyone to be removed from the ballot unless by induction. For example, Al Hostak has been on the ballot for years now and quite simply… he’s NEVER going to be Elected over other well-deserving candidates who are looking to have their turn-at-bat but are lined-up behind Hostak, who last fought in Jan 1949, before all but a handful of IBHOF Voters were even born.
So basically we have a system that most years will only clear off three places (those of the previous years inductees) and often those get gobbled up by three newly eligible’s including the “no brainers” like Tommy Hearn’s, who appears this year for what will undoubtedly be his only ballot appearance, along with Mark “Too Sharp“ Johnson, and Darius Michalczewski. Against those odds, Donald Curry was able to clear the biggest hurdle already, just making the ballot 20 years after his retirement (a brief comeback in 1997 aside). Like a salmon swimming upstream, he’s already made it further than most in his position, further than Lupe Pintor and others who are hopelessly parked behind Hostak, Dave Sands, etc. and the other “dead wood” on the ballot.
Having made it this far on the journey, we’re going to examine the case to be made for Donald going the whole way and ending up on the wall in Canastota. To do that, the first thing we’re going to do is ignore the temptation to “Comparison Shop” and resort to building Donald’s case simply on perceived mistakes of the International Boxing Hall Of Fame’s past. Yes, we all know that Barry McGuigan, Ingemar Johanson, Jose Torres, and several others were controversial choices and there’s always the temptation to try to question why the bar was set so low in many cases. Unfortunately, we can’t undo what’s gone on before, nor do we want to have a Hall of Fame bulging with more questionable entries adorning the walls. Back in 2005, the Hall of Fame scaled back from four Modern inductees to just three in an attempt to address what was perceived as a weakness in the “Tailend Charlies” that frequented the #4 slot. No, we can’t change the past. We can only try to avoid building on past mistakes. We’ll simply be looking at Donald and Donald only, his strengths and weaknesses, why he should or shouldn’t be wearing a Ring come next June.
In analyzing a nominee, I often begin with their Amateur career, there’s nothing about the Hall of Fame that says accomplishments have to be limited to just the Professional ranks, and that it shouldn’t be a plus in certain instances, although I would hold that it should never be a negative. Several fighters such as Dwight Qawi had no amateur Career and are solid Hall of Famer’s, some even had poor amateur starts and then blossomed as Pros. It’s not essential to have success in the Simon Pure ranks, but I tend to give brownie points in certain cases, and I think Donald Curry would be one such case. An overall record of over 400 fights with just 4 losses, he was a three-time AAU National Champion, a National Golden Gloves Champion, a World Amateur Champion and a 1980 United States Olympian, who was deprived of a chance at a Gold Medal by America’s boycott of the Moscow Olympics. Few on the Wall in Canastota had more success in the punch-for-trophy ranks. So he starts out with a leg up in my book.
Under Veteran Texas Trainer/Manager Dave Gorman’s guidance, Curry started quickly and in just over a year as a Pro was facing solid Journeymen/fringe contenders such as Curtis Ramsey and Mike Senegal before winning the NABF title by a fourth-round TKO over Bruce Finch in a stunning display of speed and power, and six months later in a rare battle between “can’t miss” prospects and an even rarer USBA vs. NABF Champ matchup, won a clear decision over future WBA Welterweight Champ Marlon Starling that was unfortunately a split decision due to one myopic Judge.
As a World Champion 16 months later, Curry would once again repeat the feat and decision the highly regarded Starling. In between those two fights, he’d scored an impressive stoppage of ex-Army Champ and 5th ranked Roger Stafford, who’d previously won Ring Magazine’s Upset of the Year award for defeating ex-WBA Champ Pipino Cuevas. The Stafford win set up a date on ESPN for the WBA title that Sugar Ray Leonard vacated due to his detached retina, following his victory over the before-mentioned Finch. For this assignment, the WBA paired Curry against a tough-as-nails Korean, Jun-Suk Hwang in Curry’s hometown of Ft. Worth, an obvious coronation for Boxing’s brightest young star. Hwang promised to win the title in memory of friend and stable mate the late Do Kou Kim, and put in a game effort, scoring a flash knockdown of Curry early in the fight, but finally wearing down late and losing a lopsided decision.
Yes, Donald Curry was now a World Champion and more importantly the hottest young welterweight prospect since Leonard and Hearn’s. The sky appeared to be the limit for the Lone Star Cobra, and that initial phase of his career shines as brightly as any that DO grace the walls of the IBHOF. Anyone who didn’t think we were talking about a possible legend in the making……well, they simply weren’t paying attention.
The second win over Starling added the first ever welterweight belt from the newly formed IBF to his WBA honours, while the Kronk Gym’s phenom Milton “Iceman” MrCrory captured the WBC Belt in a rematch with tough Welshman Colin Jones (their first fight ended in a Draw), whom Curry would get to know better later. A storm was brewing as these two, Curry and McCrory, were on an obvious collision course.
A defence over undefeated Elio Diaz in front of the homefolks was followed by a trip to Monaco to face dangerous 59-1 veteran Nino LaRocca, and in one of his best performances of his career, Curry started slow and then relentlessly destroyed the Italian in the 6th round. A trip to the UK to face McCrory nemesis Colin Jones ended in the 4th round as cuts over both eyes and a disfigured nose proved testament to the punching power of the still developing juggernaut Curry. Popular James “Hard Rock” Green was never an easy opponent for anyone……except for Donald Curry, who dismantled Lou Duva’s protégé in just 2 rounds. Finally on the night of Dec 6th, 1985, the much anticipated showdown with McCrory took place on HBO. With one of the most devastating Left Hooks seen in years, Curry dropped McCrory in the 2nd round and then when McCrory amazingly was able to rise, Curry followed up with a Right hand that ended matters. Those who saw it still remember it like it was yesterday, if ever there was a test that could be said to have had a “False Positive” result, it was Curry-McCrory. There was nobody who saw it DIDN’T think we were looking at the early stages of Greatness.
It was clear at that point that no one in the Welterweight ranks was going to test Donald Curry, and all eyes were cast toward Middleweight Kingpin Marvelous Marvin Hagler. The Buzz for that fight only intensified as Hagler and Curry shared the Ring Magazine’s 1985 Fighter of the Year Award, which up until Curry’s December destruction of McCrory had been thought to be Hagler’s for sure, following his impressive win over Tommy Hearn’s that April. This period of time marked the apex of the Lonestar Cobra’s career. And even though we didn’t know it at the time, his star never again shined so bright.
What happened the following September proved to the most shocking event of 1986, as the still growing 24-year-old Curry battled weight problems, losing a reported 11 pounds the week of the fight, and lost Ring Magazine’s Upset of the Year to Lloyd Honeyghan. He also suffered a head butt during the fight that greatly affected the outcome. The problem on the scales masked one thing that none of us would’ve believed at the time, that being that the young Cobra’s greatest achievements already lay behind him. A move up to 154 pounds was a natural progression toward the Hagler showdown and blame was placed on Dave Gorman for simply putting off the inevitable rise in weight, surely when the Cobra was not cutting weight, he’d be back cutting through opponents, right? A small detour to Greatness, others had dealt with such bumps in the road, nothing a move up to JMW wouldn’t solve, right?
Junior Middleweight proved very unkind for Donald Curry. Two straight head butt DQ’s awaited the Cobra there, one to former sparring partner Tony Montgomery, obviously looking to get out of the fight, resulted in Curry losing his temper and firing a shot at Montgomery after circling the Ring following the Refs stoppage. A similar result against former IBF JMW Champ Carlos Santos didn’t draw a post-fight punch, but was equally frustrating. An immediate change in Management took place as Curry said goodbye to Dave Gorman and joined Murad Muhammad, a move that many believed would put him back on the Hagler Track.
Enter Ray Leonard. The Sugar Man, in an unofficial capacity and simply speaking to Curry as a “friend” advised Curry to avoid facing Hagler following the Honeyghan loss and to concentrate on moving to 154 pounds instead, and then only weeks later stunned the boxing world by announcing his intention to return to the Ring to challenge the Marvelous one himself. Feeling betrayed, Donald Curry took to the Courts and filed suit against Leonard. That case was still in it’s early stages when Curry took on Mike McCallum in a high-profile challenge for the Bodysnatcher’s WBA title that would put him back near the top of the Pound for Pound rankings. Such was not to be the case, as after a good opening four rounds, a double left hook, downstairs and then up top, left Curry’s very career in doubt, and certainly his status as one of the stars of the game tarnished beyond repair. HBO was put in a tough position of having Ray Leonard both as a commentator and a litigant in the Lawsuit, but Ray saw that case settled out of court with the help of Mike McCallum.
A nice rebound win over Lupe Aquino and a WBC title win over Gianfranco Rossi on the road, gave Cobra backers hope as he headed to France for a nationally televised showdown with perceived sacrificial lamb Rene Jacquot, who sported an unimpressive 23-9-1 record and who many thought was overachieving just holding the EBU title. To the shock of everyone, the Frenchman scored a stunning upset as Curry faded down the stretch and got outworked by a fighter who didn’t posses anything close to his natural talent. Anyone who had been holding out for a return to greatness was left shaking their heads and wondering how such a talented fighter could drop this far this fast.
Once again, Curry blamed the loss on weight and moved up to the Middleweight Division, but clearly there was more missing than could be blamed on the scales alone. A couple lackluster wins on ESPN over Brett Lally and Jose Martinez set the stage for what would be Donald Curry’s final shot in the spotlight as he took on Middleweight King Michael Nunn. A one-sided contest culminating in a 10th round stoppage was the coup de grace for what was once the most promising young career in the Sport.
He fought once more against Terry Norris, who’d just retired his arch-nemesis Ray Leonard, and was never in the fight, being stopped in 8th round and announcing his retirement. Retirement wasn’t kind to the Cobra, as a “in the wrong place at the wrong time” situation led to his arrest and trial on drug conspiracy charges, and although acquitted, many in the boxing community shied away from the Cobra at that point and news of his arrest on unpaid child support charges led to even more negative publicity. Work as a Trainer produced only moderate success, as he struggled to make a living. An ill-advised comeback seven years after his retirement produced a meaningless win and set up a showdown with one of his pupils with whom his relationship had soured, Emmit Linton. Bad blood between the two, including a parking lot incident where guns were drawn, drew attention to the Cobra one final time, but he proved to have nothing left and Linton administered a sad drubbing that few care to remember.
So there’s his Career, and here we are in late 2011 asking ourselves, “was it enough?” It’s never an easy thing to close the door in the face of someone who once enjoyed success and then had it fade too quickly, it always seems doubly cruel as if your delivering a kick while he’s down, especially when it comes twenty years after the fact. But the HOF Ballot Committee has put us in this situation, one in which I don’t envy the voters, as they and not I will officially be the ones to say NO to Donald Curry, as appears likely to be the case. My decision to write this article was by choice, a response to a friend, Anthony “Zute” George on his Blog Talk Radio Show Zutes Boxing Talk, and who inquired about my opinion on the Cobra’s HOF chances. I thought it might be more interesting (and less time consuming) to write about it as opposed to using the airwaves. It’s made easier with the knowledge that the Cobra is unlikely to ever see this offering from a lowly writer such as myself, the sting he will likely feel when he doesn’t get “the Call” from Ed Brophy of the IBHOF will no-doubt be a hundred times worse.
I’m reminded of an interview once with a famous baseball writer and Hall of Fame voter who when asked how he decides who belongs in Cooperstown said, “if you have to think about whether he’s a Hall of Famer, then he ISN’T a Hall of Famer”. Simply put, the bottom line is that I have to think too long and too hard with Donald Curry.