|Starling celebrates with trainers Roach and Futch|
Don’t believe me? Consider any split or majority decision.
According to their website, the mission of the IBHOF (located in upstate Canastota, New York since 1989) is, among other things, to "chronicle the achievements of those who excelled" in boxing. A closer look at the site reveals more about their procedures: "Members of the Boxing Writers Association of America and an international panel of boxing historians cast votes. Voters from Japan, England, Canada, Mexico, South Africa, Germany, Puerto Rico and the United States are among those who participate in the election process."
|Bowe dumped his green belt in the trash can|
In recent years, however, the Hall, and some of its young new voters in particular, have come under fire for their selection of some less than unanimous choices such as Arturo "Thunder" Gatti, Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini, and Riddick "Big Daddy" Bowe. Critics and dissenters point to their losses and other perceived shortcomings while those who voted for them must surely have had their focus on the achievements and fame of those they ultimately helped to enshrine.
Personally, I’d have voted for two of three but that’s just me.
Enter Marlon "Magic Man" Starling, the former undisputed welterweight champion of the world from Hartford, Connecticut. Starling retired from boxing in 1990, a year after the establishment of boxing’s first true hall of fame. In those twenty five plus years, Starling’s name has yet to appear on the ballot for IBHOF voters to either vote for or not. Before discussing Starling’s qualifications, let me make one thing clear about the balloting process. It’s a closed one. What that means is that a small group of IBHOF insiders figuratively pick names from a hat and then put those choices on the official ballot for the public consideration of their various international voters. Arturo Gatti, for example, could not have been voted for and voted in had his name not been selected by this panel in the first place.
The identity and decision making process of this internal group remains a mystery to most outsiders.
They hold the 24K gold key to induction.
|Moochie beat Breland for the WBA|
Compiling a career record of 45-6-1 (27), Starling made his pro debut in 1989 after an inauspicious amateur career where he lost in Lowell, Mass to Robbie Sims of all people. As a professional prizefighter inspired by the late great Muhammad Ali, Starling had a defensive peek-a-boo style that made him very difficult to hit, let alone beat. Not unlike Ali, Starling also possessed the gift of gab.
The young welterweight ran his record to 25-0 before his first loss, a twelve round split decision to Donald Curry in 1982. To this day, Starling disputes that subjective defeat just as he disputes his lack of inclusion in the hall of fame where he is regularly a guest of honor during annual induction weekends. "The Hall of Fame is special. I think Marlon Starling does belong in there," says Marlon of Starling. Even more ironically, "Cobra" Curry is also still waiting for a call from the hall that might never come. Curry’s qualifications include having been the single best pound-for-pound boxer on the planet for a short period of time, but that’s a debate for another day.
From 1983 to 1986, Starling stayed busy in search of a big money superfight against the likes of Sugar Ray Leonard or Tommy Hearns. Neither match-up was meant to be for "Moochie" who had to settle for televised bouts against contenders Kevin Howard, Floyd Mayweather Sr., and Simon Brown, all of whom Starling defeated by decision. "I have the respect of the Big Four. That’s what matters to me," says Starling of Leonard, Hearns, Marvelous Marvin Hagler, and Roberto Duran. "Whenever I see those guys, I get their respect."
A February 1984 rematch against a prime Donald Curry ended in the disappointment of another decision loss for Starling.
It was in 1987 however that Starling began to make the most of the opportunities coming his way.
A televised shot at the WBA welterweight championship against legendary amateur Mark Breland was all that stood between Starling and the welterweight title. Following a virtuoso performance from Starling that highlighted the vast difference between a seasoned pro and a professionally inexperienced amateur, Breland collapsed in the eleventh round and just like that Starling was champion of the "whole wide world" as he proudly told Alex Wallau on ABC after the win. In actuality, Starling was not yet the man who beat the man because of somebody out there named Lloyd Honeyghan.
|Starling came back strong after the Molinares bout|
Though it was later ruled a no contest and the result nullified, Starling lost his WBA championship and his momentum. Worse, he was made to look like a fool by HBO’s Larry Merchant during the unforgettably uncomfortable post-fight interview where Starling claimed that not only wasn’t he knocked out, he was never even knocked down. It looked like the end was near for Marlon Starling.
But like a Phoenix rising from the ashes, Starling’s best days were still ahead of him. Less than a year after the Molinares debacle, Starling received a shot at Lloyd Honeyghan. Because Honeyghan had so thoroughly thrashed Curry to win the WBC welterweight title, few observers expected “Moochie” to emerge victorious, particularly after his brutal "knockout" by Molinares. Boxing the fight of his life, Starling totally dominated and embarrassed Honeyghan, stopping the puffy "Ragamuffin Man" in nine rounds to lay claim to the undisputed world welterweight championship. By fighting and defeating the very best in the world, Starling had achieved his career goal of becoming the best welterweight in the world, the true welterweight champion of the "whole wide world."
|Starling is THE world welterweight champion|
In his final bout, Starling returned to welterweight where he dropped the 147 pound world title to Maurice Blocker by a majority decision before retiring in 1990, never to return, forever young in the eyes of those who saw him box under the bright lights of commercial network exposure. Again, another judge saw it all even in what was a very close fight in the ring and on the final scorecards.
So, does Marlon Starling belong in the International Boxing Hall of Fame? I’d say he does. I asked Starling himself and he answered me with a question. "How can Riddick Bowe be in the Hall of Fame if Marlon Starling isn’t” asked Marlon in his uniquely rhetorical third-person fashion. Still, that’s not the path to Canastota, even if by all accounts Starling should at least be on the ballot by now.
You see, boxing is, like most everything else where so much money and power is involved, very political. Being outspoken, like Starling is and always has been, can hurt you in this game. Rightly or wrongly, it can prevent you from getting where you want to go. As a fight writer, I have experienced it personally and I have seen it applied to some brave souls who make their living in this, the cruelest sport.
|The Magic Man in Canastota where he belongs|
Starling, who turned 58 on Monday, August 29, is still sharp as a tack because boxing is about hitting and not getting hit. Starling still communicates with his many fans and makes himself available at boxing events for them to meet and greet him. In the end, Starling made his mark of excellence on the sport he chose to compete in and he did so in a way that made an indelible impression on all those who saw him fight. I will see you in Canastota Champ.
Written by Jeffrey Freeman
Originally Published on The Sweet Science