Reminiscing On The Hall Of Fame And Donald Curry

21.10.07 - By Matthew Hurley: It was 2003 at the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, New York and I had just experienced a rather surreal day that included watching Aaron Pryor get married on the grounds, Leon Spinks knocking back shot after shot of whisky at Grazianoís bar and keeping everyone entertained with his good humor and Matthew Saad Muhammad asking my fatherís friend for legal advice while we all knocked back beers and ate antipasti. Without hesitation I will say that my first visit to the Hall of Fame was one of the most exciting weekends of my life.

That year Curtis Cokes, George Foreman, Nicolino Locche, Mike McCallum, Jack Fiske and Budd Schulberg were all on hand to accept their gold Hall of Fame ring. I met them all along with personal favorites such as Ernie Shavers, Gil Clancy, Marlon Starling, Marvin Hagler, Goody Petronelli, Emile Griffith, Iran Barkley, Ken Norton, Terry Norris, Carmen Basilio, Tony Demarco, Gene Fullmer, Ken Buchanan, Angelo Dundee and Ralph Citro. Demarco has since become a man who I hold in extremely high regard as Iíve bumped into him several times in the Boston area and he never fails to greet me with a smile and a firm handshake.

That Saturday was also when Micky Ward and Arturo Gatti stepped into the ring for the third and final time and we all watched the classic bout in the foyer of our hotel with dozens of other fight fans. Thatís what the induction weekend is all about, camaraderie not only with writers and fans and talking heads like Bert Sugar but the fighters themselves.

It made me pause recently when I sent in my ballot for the 2008 Hall of Fame inductions when I struggled over voting for Donald Curry. The struggle had nothing to do with whether or not he should be in the hall, I donít think he should and I didnít vote for him, it was the notion that he was markedly better than several fighters who are enshrined in the Hall, none of whom I voted for. The struggle was how much I enjoyed watching Curry fight when he reached his all to brief brilliant apex. His fall from grace was inexorably quick and painful to watch for his fans, as everything that had made him so special seemed to just abandon him in pieces, bout after bout.

And I remembered that weekend of 2003 when I talked briefly with Donald in the Hallís museum. The fighter was always very soft spoken and polite with the media and fans. That weekend he seemed to want to disappear. There was none of the enthusiasm that Aaron Pryor always shows or the curmudgeon like grace that Basilio exhibits. He seemed lost. His face was unmarked, smooth and still boyishly handsome. And there was none of the sad, diminished capacity of his one time conqueror Terry Norris. But there was a definite melancholy enveloping the man.

There were rumors surrounding Curryís fall from grace that had nothing to do with managerial problems or weight issues. His private life was said to be hellish during that period and perhaps as he walked the grounds at Canastota it became a little too much for him to accept that he had let a potentially great career get away from him. In fact, after an autograph session where he sat next to Marlon Starling, a crafty boxer he beat by decision twice, Donald Curry disappeared. Perhaps it was all too much for the sensitive boxer nicknamed ďThe Lone Star CobraĒ. As he inexplicably did at the height of his career he quickly faded into the crowd and then went home.

Boxing is such a brutally taxing sport both mentally and physically that only a few survive to enjoy long, sustained careers. Curry was one of those fighters who blazed brightly in the fistic night sky like a shooting star and then fizzled out before anyone really had a chance to ask, ďWhat happened?Ē There was something about him that made you want him to achieve every possible goal. He was humble, well spoken and aesthetically pleasing to watch. He could turn fights into clinics as he did against tough opponents like Marlon Starling or Milton McCrory. But unlike a fighter like Thomas Hearns, who he may have met eventually had his career not fallen apart, one defeat, against Lloyd Honeyghan in 1986 stripped him of his aura of invincibility and his skills. He became alarmingly vulnerable. Where Hearns bounced back from defeats with a vengeance, determined to prove his greatness as a fighter, Curry collapsed mentally. That right there is the difference between a Hall of Fame fighter and a fighter not quite worthy of a plaque on that hallowed ground.

It would be nice to see Donald at the induction ceremonies next June but I donít think he will be there. He has kept such a low profile these past four years and he seemed so uncomfortable all those years ago. Still his ascension to welterweight supremacy in the early eighties made him a lot of fans and his name still gets bandied about by writers such as myself who can never quite forget how good he was and how much promise he had. And thereís always something compelling about a story that doesnít end happily or at least how it was supposed to complete itself because it becomes all the more human and all the more easy to relate to. Thatís Donald Curryís story, a vulnerable, human one and thatís why it continues to fascinate.

Article posted on 21.10.2007

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