Rafael's 'lock' list of boxers bound for Canastota

Which boxers will become Hall of Famers when they become eligible five years after their retirement? Check out Dan Rafael's "lock" list.

Originally Published: June 7, 2006
By Dan Rafael | ESPN.com

Each June, boxing luminaries and fans from around the world gather at the International Boxing Hall of Fame in the quaint upstate New York village of Canastota for the annual induction weekend.

HOF HAPPENINGS
Boxing historian Bert Sugar and other luminaries will be attending the 17th Annual International Boxing Hall of Fame Induction Weekend, which begins Thursday. More

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At Sunday's 17th annual induction ceremony, former junior flyweight champions Michael Carbajal and Humberto "Chiquita" Gonzalez, who faced each other three times in their signature bouts, headline a 12-man class that also includes historian/publisher Hank Kaplan, promoter/manager Jarvis Astaire, late lightweight champion Edwin Rosario and late welterweight and middleweight champion Lou Brouillard.

But which boxers will join them as Hall of Famers when they become eligible five years after their retirement?

As a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America, I have a Hall of Fame vote, which means I have a say. I voted for Carbajal and Gonzalez in this year's class, but for whom will I cast my ballot in the future?

The locks

Here's a look at fighters who are not yet eligible, in alphabetical order, whom I consider no-brainer, first-ballot Hall of Famers. If you disagree with me, you don't really know anything about boxing.

Marco Antonio Barrera
Barrera

Marco Antonio Barrera (62-4, 42 KOs): The "Baby Faced Assassin" has won his share of belts -- five in three divisions, junior featherweight, featherweight and junior lightweight -- and at one time or another was regarded as the best of the various title holders in each of those divisions.

Barrera is up 2-1 on rival Erik Morales in their fabulous trilogy, and he toppled undefeated star Naseem Hamed in a major upset in 2001.

As great as the fights with Morales were, shame on you if you forget Barrera's 12th-round TKO of former champion Kennedy McKinney in 1996, a fight which ranks as one of the best of the past decade.

Although he suffered back-to-back losses to Junior Jones in 1996-97, Barrera rebounded to turn in his career-best performances. He also rebounded from a 2003 knockout loss to Manny Pacquiao to unify junior lightweight titles.

Barrera also has defeated several other notable opponents, including Paulie Ayala, Kevin Kelley and Johnny Tapia.

Julio Cesar Chavez
Chavez

Julio Cesar Chavez (107-6-2, 88 KOs): Chavez is widely considered Mexico's greatest fighter, and for good reason. His thumping body attack and relentless pressure made him the first Mexican fighter to win titles in three divisions (junior lightweight, lightweight and junior welterweight). Fight after fight, opponents fell from his fury as he began his career 89-0-1, although the draw was a gift against Pernell Whitaker in a try for the welterweight title.

But from 1980 until his first bout with Frankie Randall in 1994, Chavez never suffered an official loss. Among his notable victims: Mario Martinez, Roger Mayweather (twice), Rocky Lockridge, Juan LaPorte, Edwin Rosario, Jose Luis Ramirez, Meldrick Taylor (twice), Hector Camacho, Greg Haugen and Randall (in the rematch).

The first Taylor fight is probably Chavez's most memorable win. Trailing the junior welterweight unification fight in the 12th round, Chavez knocked Taylor down and pulled off the stunning victory when referee Richard Steele stopped the fight with two seconds remaining.

Chavez, who was stopped by Oscar De La Hoya twice and Kostya Tszyu late in his career, figures to be done for good following last fall's fifth-round TKO loss to journeyman Grover Wiley.

Oscar De La Hoya
De La Hoya

Oscar De La Hoya (38-4, 30 KOs): The biggest non-heavyweight attraction in history became one of boxing's few mainstream superstars by fighting every big fight imaginable.

His launch to stardom began with a 1992 Olympic gold medal and 14 years later, the Golden Boy has 10 world title belts in six divisions spanning from junior lightweight to middleweight. Even in this day and age of watered-down titles, that is still impressive.

In the early years, he beat John John Molina, Rafael Ruelas, James Leija and Miguel Angel Gonzalez.

There were also a pair of wins against an aging Julio Cesar Chavez, a still-dangerous Pernell Whitaker, Hector Camacho, Ike Quartey, Oba Carr, Arturo Gatti, Javier Castillejo, a junior middleweight unification knockout win against hated rival Fernando Vargas and last month's memorable knockout of Ricardo Mayorga.

Every time De La Hoya fought, it was an event.

Unfortunately, De La Hoya might be remembered by some more for losing his biggest fights: The controversial decision to Felix Trinidad in their 1999 welterweight unification (the highest grossing non-heavyweight fight ever); two decision losses to Shane Mosley, including in the highly controversial junior middleweight rematch in 2003; and a knockout loss to Bernard Hopkins in a 2004 middleweight title fight.

De La Hoya says he is fighting one more time, perhaps this fall against Floyd Mayweather. If they do fight and De La Hoya loses, his legacy as a tremendous champion remains the same. A victory would only serve to enhance his place in history.

Roberto Duran
Duran

Roberto Duran (103-16, 70 KOs): Many people think he is already in the Hall of Fame, but he had his last fight in 2001 at age 50, and finally will be eligible on next year's ballot. "Hands of Stone" could be a unanimous selection.

Duran is considered by many to be one of the top 10 fighters in history as well as the greatest lightweight of all time. Duran also won titles at welterweight, junior middleweight and then pulled off a major upset to win the middleweight title against Iran Barkley.

He hung the first loss on Sugar Ray Leonard in their first memorable fight, but unfortunately will be remembered by many for quitting in their "no mas" rematch.

Duran, along with Leonard, Thomas Hearns and Marvelous Marvin Hagler, formed the quartet of fighters whose high-profile round robin made the 1980s one of the most exciting times in boxing history.

Thomas Hearns
Hearns

Thomas Hearns (61-5-1, 48 KOs): Believe it or not, "Hitman" is still fighting at age 47. He should have been in the Hall of Fame years ago but has continued to fight on and off despite not having a significant win since beating Virgil Hill in a light heavyweight title fight in 1991.

All told, Hearns won titles from welterweight to light heavyweight and thrilled fans with a series of huge fights, none more memorable than courageous knockout losses to Sugar Ray Leonard and Marvelous Marvin Hagler.

He got a draw against Leonard in their eventual rematch, although he deserved the victory, and he beat Roberto Duran and Pipino Cuevas by monster knockouts and outpointed Wilfred Benitez.

Larry Holmes
Holmes

Larry Holmes (69-6, 44 KOs): By fighting and beating Butterbean in a sideshow fight in 2002, the former heavyweight champ with one of the best jabs ever simply delayed his inevitable induction. But I dare say once he appears on the ballot, Holmes could be a unanimous selection.

Holmes is one of the 10 greatest heavyweight champions, reigning for eight years and beating numerous top contenders: Ken Norton (in an all-time great fight), the faded Muhammad Ali, Earnie Shavers, Mike Weaver, Trevor Berbick, Leon Spinks, Gerry Cooney, Tim Witherspoon and Carl Williams among them.

He was 48-0 and gunning for Rocky Marciano's hallowed mark of 49-0 when he was upset by Michael Spinks in 1985 and again in the 1986 rematch. Holmes would fight for the title three more times but would lose to Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield and Oliver McCall.

Evander Holyfield
Holyfield

Evander Holyfield (38-8-2, 25 KOs): Although many considered "The Real Deal" too small to hang with the heavyweights when he moved up in weight after becoming the first undisputed cruiserweight champion, he proved everyone wrong by becoming a great heavyweight.

He won the cruiserweight title in his 12th pro fight in an epic 15-round battle with future Hall of Famer Dwight Muhammad Qawi. Then he unified the titles in 1988.

At heavyweight, he claimed the undisputed crown from Buster Douglas, who had upset Mike Tyson several months earlier, and went on to defend it against renowned, but aging, former champions George Foreman and Larry Holmes.

Then came the star-making three-fight series with Riddick Bowe, and although Holyfield was 1-2, the fights are among the most memorable heavyweight scraps in history.

If the Bowe fights made Holyfield a star, his fights with Tyson made him a legend. As a huge underdog, he stopped Tyson in the 11th round of their first fight to regain the title and then beat him again in the immediate rematch, during which he lost a chunk of his ear to a hungry Tyson.

He followed the Tyson fights by avenging a loss to Michael Moorer in a unification fight before slowly drifting into decline beginning with two fights (a gift draw and a loss) against Lennox Lewis.

In all, Holyfield won pieces of the heavyweight title an unprecedented four times.

Bernard Hopkins
Hopkins

Bernard Hopkins (46-4-1): "The Executioner" was the most dominant middleweight of his time, recording a division-record 20 title defenses on a long, hard road. After serving 4 years in prison for armed robbery, Hopkins turned his life around in the ring. After losing his pro debut in 1988 and also losing his first title fight to Roy Jones Jr. in 1993, Hopkins didn't lose for 12 years.

After winning a vacant middleweight belt in a rematch of a draw with Segundo Mercado in 1995, Hopkins ruled the division, racking up wins against notable opponents Joe Lipsey (25-0 at the time), John David Jackson, Glen Johnson (32-0 at the time), Robert Allen (three times), Antwun Echols (twice) and Syd Vanderpool.

Then came the middleweight unification tournament, during which Hopkins became a star. In the semifinals, he easily outpointed Keith Holmes to unify belts. Then came the heavily hyped finale, when Hopkins thrashed favorite Felix Trinidad en route to a 12th-round knockout to become the first undisputed champ since Marvelous Marvin Hagler.

Hopkins followed with six more defenses, including a lopsided decision against former titlist William Joppy and a one-punch knockout of Oscar De La Hoya in one of Hopkins' crowning moments.

Two razor-close decision losses to Jermain Taylor followed, neither of which will have any negative impact on Hopkins' legacy.

On Saturday, Hopkins will look to enhance an already awesome resume by moving up two weight divisions to challenge light heavyweight champion Antonio Tarver in what Hopkins says will be his final fight. Regardless of the outcome, Hopkins is a surefire HOFer.

Mark Johnson
Johnson

Mark "Too Sharp" Johnson (44-5, 28 KOs): Johnson is small in stature, but he was a giant in terms of talent during his prime. A skilled boxer and underrated puncher, he won three titles between flyweight and junior bantamweight and was considered one of the top 10 fighters in the world for several years.

When he knocked out Francisco Tejedor in the first round in 1996, Johnson became the first African-American flyweight champion. Seven dominant defenses ensued before Johnson moved up and won a vacant junior bantamweight title against Ratanachai Sor Vorapin, who later won a bantamweight belt.

After a pair of losses at bantamweight to Rafael Marquez, a possible Hall of Famer, many wrote Johnson off. But he came back to upset Fernando Montiel to win another junior bantamweight belt in 2003.

Johnson won two more fights before losing his belt by knockout to Ivan Hernandez in 2004 and getting knocked by Jhonny Gonzalez in February in what figures to be his final fight.

I've always had something of a soft spot for Johnson. Of all the world title fights I have covered from ringside, you never forget your first. Mine was on July 26, 1998, when Johnson scored a virtual shutout in defense of his flyweight title against Luis Rolon in Verona, N.Y.

Soft spot, or not, Johnson has earned his ticket to Canastota, which is just a few minutes from Verona.

Roy Jones Jr.
Jones

Roy Jones Jr. (49-4, 38 KOs): Yes, it is pathetic to see the once great Jones limping toward the finish line of his career having lost three in a row, two by brutal knockout to Antonio Tarver and Glen Johnson.

However, that does not detract from his greatness. From 1989, when he turned pro, until his first fight with Tarver in 2003, Jones was virtually untouchable. The lone blemish during the run was a disqualification to Montell Griffin, which was avenged via vicious first-round knockout in an immediate rematch.

Jones barely lost rounds during his long run, much less fights, and for a decade was regarded by most as the best fighter in the world.

As an amateur, Jones was robbed of a gold medal in the 1988 Olympics. In the pros, he won the middleweight title by easily outpointing Bernard Hopkins and won the super middleweight title with a shutout of James Toney -- both of whom eventually will join Jones in Canastota.

Jones also won the light heavyweight title against future Hall of Famer Mike McCallum in 1996 and dominated the division until 2003, when he became the first former middleweight champion in more than 100 years to win a heavyweight title by easily defeating John Ruiz.

Along the way there were victories against Virgil Hill (maybe the best knockout of Jones' career), Lou Del Valle, Reggie Johnson, David Telesco, Eric Harding, Julio Gonzalez and Clinton Woods.

Even after Jones came back down to light heavyweight after the Ruiz fight, he outpointed Tarver in a very tough first fight before the decline became obvious.

Jones is probably one of the top 25 fighters in history and although I will vote for him without hesitation, I'm still irritated to this day that he never faced his longtime leading contender and fellow titlist Dariusz Michalczewski. It's a fight that should have happened.

Lennox Lewis
Lewis

Lennox Lewis (41-2-1, 32 KOs): Talk about an easy vote to cast. Lewis, simply put, was the most dominant heavyweight of his era.

Although Lewis didn't always command respect, particularly from the American public and media, the British star eventually earned it when he destroyed Mike Tyson in their 2002 summit meeting, the highest-grossing fight in history. But even if Lewis had never faced Tyson, the man whose shadow he lingered in for years, he was a cinch Hall of Famer.

Lewis won an Olympic gold medal for Canada in 1988 (via knockout of Riddick Bowe), won the heavyweight title three times, became undisputed champion by outpointing Evander Holyfield in a rematch of their bogus draw and retired as champion.

Lewis' two knockout losses to Oliver McCall and Hasim Rahman were both avenged by knockout, and he also defeated Razor Ruddock, Tony Tubbs, Frank Bruno, Tommy Morrison, Henry Akinwande, Andrew Golota, Shannon Briggs, Michael Grant and David Tua before scoring a TKO in his final fight against Vitali Klitschko.

Ricardo Lopez (51-0-1, 38 KOs): Although he has never gotten his due, and he certainly never made the big bucks, Lopez is simply one of the greatest little men ever. He retired as an undefeated junior flyweight champion in 2001 and soon will be eligible for election. He's as automatic a first-ballot HOFer as anyone who ever lived.

Lopez is easily the greatest strawweight of all time, winning the title and defending it 22 times, including against the best his division had to offer: Rosendo Alvarez (avenging the lone technical draw), Kermin Guardia, Andy Tabanas and Alex "Nene" Sanchez.

When he moved to junior flyweight, Lopez immediately defeated Will Grigsby for a title and made two defenses by knockout before retiring.

It would have been nice had he faced Michael Carbajal or tried flyweight to match his skills with the likes of Mark Johnson, but let's not quibble with near-perfection.

When I first started on the boxing beat full time in early 2000, one of my great joys was knowing I would have an opportunity to cover Lopez. As it turned out, I was ringside for his final two fights and thrilled that some day I could tell people I saw one of the true greats.

He had power, speed, skills and a big heart. He also has my vote.

Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Mayweather

Floyd Mayweather Jr. (36-0, 24 KOs): The pound-for-pound king is simply the most talented and dominant fighter in the world, and regardless of what happens in the future, he's a shoe-in HOFer.

In his 18th pro fight, he dominated long-reigning junior lightweight champion Genaro Hernandez for an eighth-round TKO to start a sensational run as 130-pound champion. Among his eight defenses, Mayweather defeated Angel Manfredy and Diego Corrales (then 33-0) and future title holders Jesus Chavez and Carlos Hernandez.

Mayweather then jumped up in weight to claim the lightweight crown by outpointing Jose Luis Castillo in a close fight. To erase any doubts about the outcome, Mayweather beat him more convincingly in a rematch.

Since leaving lightweight, Mayweather has claimed paper titles at junior welterweight (crushing Arturo Gatti) and welterweight (lopsided decision against Zab Judah). Still just 29, the future promises even more big fights and accomplishments, all of which only will serve to enhance a résumé that is already Hall of Fame material.

Erik Morales
Morales

Erik Morales (48-4, 34 KOs): You can't have Barrera on this list without Morales. Since knocking out future Hall of Famer Daniel Zaragoza in 1997 to win the junior featherweight title, Morales has done nothing but fight top opponents in great fights. He won titles at junior featherweight (and unified), featherweight and junior lightweight (and unified).

In his all-time great trilogy with Barrera, Morales is just 1-2, but that easily could be reversed given how close all three fights were.

In addition to Barrera, Morales beat more big names in his divisions than anyone around. He split two wars with Manny Pacquiao and defeated Carlos Hernandez, Jesus Chavez, Guty Espadas (twice), Paulie Ayala, Injin Chi, Kevin Kelley, Wayne McCullough and Junior Jones -- all former or future title holders.

James Toney
Toney

James Toney (69-4-3, 43 KOs): Forget about his star-crossed heavyweight campaign in which he owns a knockout win against a faded Evander Holyfield, and has a steroid-induced no contest with John Ruiz and a draw with Hasim Rahman in title fights. If "Lights Out" Toney eventually wins a heavyweight title, it will just be gravy on top of an already outstanding career. His Hall of Fame legacy was built 70 pounds or so lighter.

It began with his 11th-round knockout of Michael Nunn to win the middleweight title in 1991. Toney went on to win titles at super middleweight and cruiserweight. Along the way he defeated top opponents such as Reggie Johnson, Mike McCallum (going 2-0-1), Iran Barkley, Prince Charles Williams and Vassiliy Jirov in the BWAA's 2003 fight of the year. Toney hasn't lost since 1997 (15-0-1, 1 no contest).

Working against Toney are two surprising losses to Montell Griffin and a loss to Roy Jones in which an out of shape Toney was not even remotely competitive.

Felix Trinidad
Trinidad

Felix Trinidad (42-2, 35 KOs): One of Puerto Rico's all-time greats, "Tito" was one of the most feared fighters and biggest punchers of his time. The three-division champion burst on the scene at age 21 when he knocked out Maurice Blocker to win a welterweight title. He went on to unify welterweight titles, albeit on a controversial decision against Oscar De La Hoya, and junior middleweights titles with an electrifying 12th-round knockout of Fernando Vargas in one of the best fights in 154-pound division history.

Trinidad also won a middleweight title with a crushing knockout of William Joppy, and he never ducked any opponent. Among his notable wins: Hector Camacho, Yory Boy Campas (56-0 at the time), Oba Carr (32-0 at the time), Pernell Whitaker, David Reid and Ricardo Mayorga in Trinidad's return from a 2½-year retirement. In all, he was 20-1 in title fights.

But when Trinidad lost, he lost big: A lopsided 12th-round TKO at the hands of Bernard Hopkins for the undisputed middleweight title and a shutout decision to Winky Wright last year. Neither should hurt him in the long run.

Kostya Tszyu
Tszyu

Kostya Tszyu (31-2, 25 KOs): From 1995 when he beat Jake Rodriguez to win a junior welterweight title until last summer when he was stopped in the 11th round by younger, stronger Ricky Hatton, Tszyu ruled the 140-pound division.

Yes, there was a shocking knockout loss to Vince Phillips in 1997, but Tszyu rebounded impressively to put together an amazing run.

The former amateur world champion brought a methodical, stalking style the pros, which he used to erase a slew of significant opponents, including Rafael Ruelas, Diobelys Hurtado, Miguel Angel Gonzalez, Julio Cesar Chavez, Zab Judah, Sharmba Mitchell (twice) and James Leija. Tszyu scored knockouts against all of them.

His second-round blowout of Judah made him the first undisputed junior welterweight champ in almost 30 years.

Mike Tyson
Tyson

Mike Tyson (50-6, 44 KOs): If you can cut through the chaos, antics, meltdowns, suspensions, ear bites, rape, road rage, divorces and bankruptcy, and look at Tyson simply as a fighter, he's a Hall of Famer based on his ruthless first reign as champion (1986-90). During those years, he was a ferocious, unbeatable man who could have knocked out any heavyweight in history on a given night.

He drilled Trevor Berbick to become the youngest heavyweight champion in history and went on to become undisputed champion by collecting belts from James "Bonecrusher" Smith and Tony Tucker. Anyone who doubted Tyson's stature as the "Baddest Man on the Planet" was quieted with his first-round destruction of undefeated linear champion Michael Spinks in 1988.

Tyson also blew away Pinklon Thomas, Larry Holmes, Tyrell Biggs, Frank Bruno and Carl Williams in defenses before the shocking upset loss to Buster Douglas in 1990 which marked the end of a prime Iron Mike.

During his comeback from the loss, Tyson twice defeated dangerous Razor Ruddock but then went to prison for rape. Although he became a champion again in his post-prison career, and remained boxing's biggest attraction, it was the early part of Tyson's career that will put him in Canastota, not a string of wins against no-hopers followed by losses to Evander Holyfield (twice) and Lennox Lewis.

Pernell Whitaker
Whitaker

Pernell Whitaker (40-4-1, 17 KOs): Before Roy Jones' emergence as pound-for-pound king, "Sweet Pea" ruled as boxing's best. A defensive wizard, he was the undisputed lightweight champion before winning titles at junior welterweight, welterweight and junior middleweight.

He stamped himself as the pound-for-pound king in 1993 when he dominated Julio Cesar Chavez only to be ripped off with a draw in one of the biggest fights of the '90s.

Whitaker fought every top challenger available, beating in order: Roger Mayweather, Greg Haugen, Jose Luis Ramirez, Azumah Nelson (Hall of Famer), Poli Diaz (32-0 at the time), Jorge Paez, Rafael Pineda, Buddy McGirt (twice), Julio Cesar Vasquez, Wilfredo Rivera (twice) and Diobelys Hurtado (awesome come-from-behind 11th-round knockout to preserve showdown with Oscar De La Hoya).

Think about this: Many of those wins came during Whitaker's well-publicized troubles with drugs.

By the time he lost to De La Hoya in a close fight in 1997, Whitaker was on his way down. He was finished when he went the distance with Felix Trinidad and lost, but his legacy had already been sealed.

In all, Whitaker went 19-3-1 in world title fights (including the robbery draw against Chavez and the robbery loss in the first fight with Ramirez).

Whitaker's final bout came in 2001, which means he will be on the ballot in short order and elected just as quickly.

Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.

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