For as long as Rick Jeanneret has called Buffalo Sabres games — since their second season, in 1971-72 — the play-by-play announcer endeared himself to fans with his enthusiasm and wit.
Any listener would have a favorite goal call (‘Top shelf where mama hides the cookies,’ ‘May Day’ or ‘Now Do You Believe?’) and/or a favorite fight as called by ‘RJ.’
Who can forget Jeanneret’s passionate account of Steve Shields “firing punches at (Flyers goalie) Garth Snow” or another goalie fight, when Martin Biron tangled with Ottawa’s Ray Emery?
Jeanneret’s vast library of fighting calls earned him an invitation to Belfast this weekend, where he will accept an honorary induction to the Bare Knuckle Boxing Hall of Fame.
As the BKBHOF celebrates its 10th anniversary, Jeanneret’s induction recalls the reasoning for one of the first class’ honorary inductees.
“BACK WHEN we first started our very first class,” recalled BKBHOF owner and founder Scott Burt, “we were thinking about 'OK, we're going to have some inductees and we're going to have bare knuckling (boxers), but everybody is from 100, 150, 200 years ago. We're not going to have much of a gathering if we just honor those folks. We'll have some relatives. So what can we do?' What we were thinking ... works best for us, if we have an honorary class also. An honorary class is any person associated with the combat sports in Upstate New York that bought a positive spotlight onto the sport.”
So along with 11 “Original Era Inductees,” which included John L. Sullivan, who trained in the barns that now hold the Hall, the BKBHOF celebrated four honorary, more modern inductees: boxers Carmen Basilio and “Baby” Joe Mesi, promoter Bill Heaney and former Sabres enforcer Rob Ray.
“We thought, 'Oh my goodness, who is the closest person to bare knuckle boxing, who drops gloves and fights bare knuckle? Well, Rob Ray does,'” Burt said.
Burt said Ray, Jeanneret’s broadcast partner, has sported a BKBHOF emblem on his pocket during Sabres games and the two discussed their honorary inductions during their 2018 season finale while replaying an old clip of a Ray fight with Tie Domi.
So Ray will accompany Jeanneret to Saturday’s induction in Belfast.
“IF YOU think about it, there's no person ever in history that has called more bare knuckle fights than Rick Jeanneret, albeit his were on ice,” Burt said. “So that's the connection and when I told him our reason, he said, 'Well that fits perfectly.'”
This year’s class includes two more honorary inductees, author and historian Tony Gee and Dick Topinko, a retired boxer from Buffalo.
Gee, who resides in England and cannot attend the ceremony, is the author of Up to Scratch and John L. Sullivan: Cradle to Grave.
“He is looked upon as the work's No. 1, foremost, authority of knowledge in bare knuckle boxing,” Burt said.
Topinko won the Golden Gloves in 1965 and after being drafted for the Vietnam War, returned home and turned pro in 1968, going 14-0 and earning recognition by Ring magazine as a top five prospect in the world. A shoulder injury, however, forced Topinko into early retirement from boxing.
The BKBHOF also will honor its first Mary Backus Team of the Year to Olean’s Team USA Jujitsu, coached by Barry Broughton with members Bryanna Baer, Mike Hanchett, Charlie Love and Desmond White. The team trained in the Sullivan barns last summer before competing in the 2017 World Championships in Australia.
A famed boxing official, Bill Clancy has refereed more than 900 fights including Mike Tyson’s 50th victory and will receive the Marie Backus Person of the Year award.
The 2018 Original Era posthumous inductees include Mike Conley, Tom Johnson, Nat Langham and Joe Lannon.
Previous inductees also confirmed to attend this year include Bobby Gunn (a 2015 original inductee), who holds a career 72-0 record as an undefeated bare knuckle boxing champion, and Billy Backus (2010 honorary), a 1970 World Welterweight Champion.
Upstairs at the BKBHOF, Burt also plans to unveil the first-ever William Muldoon All-Star Wrestlers Wall of Fame, comprised of a Founder’s Class and a Modern Class, the only surviving member of which being Terry Bollea aka Hulk Hogan. Burt said he spoke with Hogan, who said he’s “very honored to be included” in this first class but cannot attend due to a paid engagement.
Just how far has the name of the Bare Knuckle Boxing Hall of Fame travelled? Burt cites a story from just its second year, in 2010.
“I went up to Canastota and I set up a table at their card show,” he said, “then I went to the meet and greet and saw Angelo Dundee, who was Muhammad Ali's trainer. I went up to Angelo and said, 'Mr. Dundee, it's very nice to meet you. My name is Scott Burt and I own the Bare Knuckle Boxing Hall of Fame,' and he reached out his hand and interrupted me and said, 'That's in Belfast, New York, isn't it?'”
Scott credited the late boxing historian Bert Sugar, who helped him start the Hall of Fame and spread the word.
The celebration begins with a beer, cider and wine tasting tonight from 6-10 p.m. at the St. Patrick’s Parish Hall in Belfast. Tickets are $25 in advance or $30 at the door.
On induction day Saturday, ceremonies begin with a 10 a.m. with a special USPS stamp cancellation at the Belfast Post Offiice, then an 11 a.m. meet and greet at the Methodist Family Center, followed by an 11:30 brunch and awards ceremony and tours of the BKBHOF at 2 p.m. Induction day tickets are sold only in advance and are $55 for adults and $20 for kids.
For more information, visit www.bareknuckleboxinghalloffame.com.
(Salamanca Press sports editor Sam Wilson may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)