CANASTOTA — Coming back to the International Boxing Hall of Fame is something special for boxing official Kenny Bayless and current fighter Jesse Vargas.
“I love it,” Bayless said. “The first time that I came was in 2009 when Lennox Lewis got inducted, and the warmth and experience in this town and with the people that live in this town and the surrounding towns have made me come back every year since then.”
The Class of 2018 was enshrined on June 10 on the museum grounds. The Parade of Champions kicked off the induction day ceremonies.
This year’s class is Vitali Klitschko, Erik Morales, Winky Wright, Sid Terris, Johnny Addie, Lorraine Chargin, Klaus-Peter Kohl, Steve Albert and Jim Gray.
Bayless explained that he likes to come back to Canastota for Induction Weekend because he is a fan of the sport.
“Earlier this (Friday) morning, I sat in the stands just like the regular fans do because I was a fan before I became an official,” Bayless said. “I listened to stories and I’m just like the fans here, I enjoy listening to the stories. I want to share and help the fans with any questions that they might have and I want to educate the fans.”
Bayless himself had many stories to tell during his Hall of Fame lecture on June 8, but none stood out to him more than the stories of Muhammad Ali.
“I grew up watching Muhammad Ali. I literally loved the man,” Bayless explained. “His passing was hard to me because I followed his career and I met him kind of indirectly a couple of times and the reason why I wear this Ali hat is to let people know that I haven’t forgotten him.
“That, plus being here and being that I love this sport, it all just comes together, hand in hand,” Bayless added.
Bayless said that he got into officiating when he moved to Las Vegas from California. “I had never even seen a boxing match until I went and saw Muhammed Ali fight Joe Bugner at the Convention Center in Las Vegas,” Bayless explained. “I went to the match and I got turned on. The excitement in being there and from that, and I just started going to the local fights in Las Vegas and then at that point, I wanted to get involved in the sport.”
“I’m always glad to be here and it’s a wonderful four-day weekend to be here in Canastota,” Bayless finished.
For Jessie Vargas, he said he’s “very glad to have the opportunity to come back again.
“This is my second year here and I was happy when I first got the call to come,” Vargas said. “It’s a magnificent place to come by and just be a part of history.”
Added Vargas, “The fans here and the people here are always great, they’re always so welcoming.
“All the champions that you get to see again, I mean we see each other often and at the shows and events, but not as often as we we want to,” Vargas said.
“It’s a treat to mingle with the other fighters and as well as the fans.”
Vargas turned pro in 2008 and held the WBA Super Lightweight in 2014 and WBO Welterweight title in 2016 and holds a career in 28-2-1 with 10 knockouts.
Vargas said that he was eager to meet the fans over the course of the weekend and also planned to take in the fights at Turning Stone Resort Casino on June 8.