'A labour of love': NVBHOF founder Rich Marotta interview
Luke G. Williams
Photos: All Ethan Miller/Getty Images (except second image, which is courtesy of NVBHOF)
Ahead of the Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame’s 2019 induction gala this weekend, founder Rich Marotta spoke to Boxing Monthly’s Luke G. Williams…
Rich Marotta is one of the leading sportscasters in America, with experience and knowledge spanning multiple sports, including American football, ice hockey and basketball as well as boxing.
A Liverpool FC fanatic, whose devotion to the club has even converted his formerly Chelsea FC supporting English wife, Marotta was kind enough to speak to BM about his work establishing the Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame (NVBHOF), as well as pick out some of the highlights of the hall’s seven-year history so far, including some emotional moments involving Mike Tyson, Marvelous Marvin Hagler and many others…
BM: Can you explain the genesis of the Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame?
RM: I was elected myself to a couple of Halls of Fame in California – the Southern California Sportscasters Hall of Fame and the California Boxing Hall of Fame. After moving to Nevada I toyed for a while with the idea of starting a Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame because despite its reputation as being the boxing capital of the world, amazingly, there was no Hall of Fame here to celebrate the specifics of Nevada’s extremely rich history in boxing. After wrestling with the idea for a while I decided to go ahead and give it a try. It was a labour of love really on my part towards boxing to go ahead and see if I couldn’t do something for the boxing community in Nevada and Las Vegas especially. I had no business experience and I didn't know everything that was involved and it was a much more daunting task than I ever anticipated but, once I jumped in, I decided I had to go forward and go for it. So that’s what we did. I founded it in 2012 and we had our first induction gala and dinner in 2013.
BM: Does the Hall of Fame have a permanent home that people can visit?
RM: For the first six years of our existence we were basically a virtual hall of fame. We would hold our gala which would be a big spectacular dinner and weekend with meet and greets with the fighters. During the course of year we might have other smaller events - meet and greets with champions, book signings.
But our long-term goal when we started was to have a physical home including a museum. It took us until our seventh year until we found and got a spot but we’ve just opened it five weeks ago. We’re pretty excited about it. We had a grand opening which was well attended by a number of former inductees and champions so right now we’re open for business here in Las Vegas in an attraction called HeadzUP. We have a large space within that attraction. We have a number of display cases and a lot of artifacts and memorabilia and we also have events in there. Our inductees will visit on Thursday night actually.
BM: What can a ticket holder expect if they are coming to the NVBHOF gala weekend?
RM: The weekend is a pretty full experience! On Friday we have a meet and greet with inductees and about 30 to 40 champion boxers. The fans come in and can get autographs and photos and talk to the boxers. A lot of boxing figures sit there for a couple of hours and meet with the fans. Then we have a VIP party for inductees and VIP ticket holders who get access to all events including admission to that private party. On Saturday morning we have an amateur boxing card at the same hotel where we have the induction gala. It's an amateur boxing card sponsored by the WBC. Then on Saturday night we have the big gala dinner which is a dress-up event. We don't think boxing has another night like it. It’s a real high level, high class event. We take a lot of pride in the event and we get people coming from all over, in fact we have regulars who come from Britain every year. Depending on the size of the room we’re using we have between 600 and 1,000 people attend. We induct a certain number of candidates each year. We’ve had some wonderful classes in the past and we’ve got a great class this weekend as well. We’re very excited about it. All the living inductees are going to attend this year. It’s a big event for the boxing community in Nevada and it's always well attended.
We’ve had some great moments, some really poignant moments in the past. We’ve had a rivals united theme down the years. One year we had Mike Tyson, a previous inductee, actually gave the induction speech and presentation for Evander Holyfield. Sugar Ray Leonard inducted Roberto Duran and Tommy Hearns. Marco Antonio Barrera inducted Erik Morales. With these great rivalries we’ve had in the past we try to get the fighters involved with each other again. We’ve had some incredible moments. You’ll remember the pretty bitter rivalry Marvin Hagler and Sugar Ray Leonard had for a few years even after their fight. Well, at the VIP party the night before Hagler was inducted here, Ray Leonard and Hagler hugged it out. They came together face to face, hugged each other and had several minutes of pleasant talk. It was really an incredible moment for us all.
We’ve had a lot of great speeches and inductees. When Hagler got up there and spoke he got very emotional and was crying. With Eddie Mustafa Muhammad it was the same thing. We had Mike Tyson choking up because we had him induct Muhammad Ali. The first year we had Michelle Corrales, who is now the president and CEO of the NVBHOF, she accepted on behalf of her husband Diego Corrales, and her whole family got up there. The same year Eva Futch accepted for her husband Eddie Futch. Those were poignant moments. Mills Lane, who hadn’t been seen in Vegas for ten years since suffering a really debilitating stroke, came to our first induction and was inducted. He couldn’t give a speech because the stroke had affected his speech but his son spoke. That was very poignant. We always have a great night, with a lot of rival promoters and fighters and never any trouble. Everyone knows it’s one night where we gather everybody under one roof and celebrate everyone’s accomplishments and the sport of boxing.
BM: You mentioned Diego Corrales, whose widow is now the NVBHOF CEO and president. One of this year’s inductees, who BM have interviewed, is Joel Casamayor, who had a great three-fight rivalry with Diego.
RM: Yes! Diego had some unbelievable rivalries, of course, with both Casamayor and Jose Luis Castillo. In fact we have one display case in our exhibit which is devoted entirely to Corrales and Castillo and that amazing first fight they had. In that exhibit we celebrate the history of boxing in Nevada, going all the way back to 1897 and the first world title fight in Nevada between Jim Corbett and Bob Fitzsimmons. We have a display case on Barrera and Morales, one with Hearns-Hagler-Duran and Leonard, the Four Kings of boxing. We have a display case devoted to the referees. And we’re just getting started with the museum – there’s a lot for people to see already but we are going to grow.
BM: What do you think boxing means to Las Vegas and to Nevada?
RM: From a pragmatic standpoint, the sport has meant an unbelievable amount to the economy of Vegas and Nevada. Millions of dollars have poured in from the big fights. Nevada became a destination for boxing in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The first so-called 'fight of the century', between Jack Johnson and Jim Jeffries in 1910 was in Reno, Nevada. But things really took off in the 70s. Things got bigger and bigger as the hotels started to compete with each other. We had the big outdoor fight era at Caesars Palace. And it continues to this day – we just had Pacquiao vs Thurman a few weeks ago. Boxing means a lot to Vegas and Nevada – it's the boxing capital of the world. That’s why I was always so astounded there wasn’t a Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame to celebrate the rich history here, the great fighters who have fought here and the unbelievable fights we have had here. So when sports fans and boxing fans visit Vegas now there is a place they can visit.
BM: What’s your current role at the NVBHOF?
RM: Well, I’ve taken a backwards step. Michelle Corrales-Lewis, Diego’s widow who has now remarried [pictured left], she is the CEO and president and day to day she runs the show and the business. I’m in more of an advisory role. When things like our exhibit opening or the gala weekend come up I take more of a physical presence in helping and advising and doing whatever I can. So I’m the founder and I’m still involved but Michelle is the boss now! I was president and CEO for the first four years and Michelle has been for the last three.
BM: You’ve got a great list of inductees this year, from Joel Casamayor to Hasim Rahman to Juan Manuel Marquez, Wayne McCullough and more…
RM: Right and from a personal standpoint I’m really excited about it because I’ve covered a lot of this year’s fighters during my sportscasting career. For example, I worked the broadcasts for a number of Humberto ‘Chiquita’ Gonzalez and Juan Manuel Marquez fights from the Forum in LA. These two came up the ranks there and I got to know them well. But yeah the line-up is great – as well as Marquez and Gonzalez we have Bernard Hopkins, Winky Wright, Terry Norris, Casamayor, Vinnie Paz – what a story he has coming back from a broken neck! And many more too. So I’m really excited. Also this weekend Floyd Mayweather Sr, the trainer, is being inducted and Floyd ‘Money’ Mayweather is going to give the presenting speech. That will be pretty cool!
The NVBHOF 2019 Induction Class consists of: Nevada Resident Boxers Joel Casamayor, Leroy Haley, Wayne McCullough and Hasim Rahman. Non-Nevada Resident Boxers: 'School Boy' Bobby Chacon, Humberto 'Chiquita' Gonzalez, Bernard Hopkins, Juan Manuel Marquez, 'Terrible' Terry Norris, Vinny 'The Pazmanian Devil' Paz, and Ronald 'Winky' Wright. Non-Boxer Participants Duane Ford, Dan Goossen, Dr. Flip Homansky, Floyd Mayweather Sr. and Marc Risman.