There were only four men inducted into the Buffalo Veteran Boxers Ring 44 Hall of Fame at Salvatore's Italian Gardens, but from Baby Joe Mesi's point of view he isn't the only one responsible for his honor.
To the Town of Tonawandan, his induction was a team effort. A Team Mesi effort to be precise, which is why he made sure he thanked those who had a hand in his rise during his Ring 44 Hall of Fame induction speech Friday night.
Mesi headlined the Class of 2011 before a sellout crowd of an estimated 275 during the association's annual dinner ceremony. Befitting a boxer who has a plethora of main-event experience, Mesi delivered a big-time speech during a night in which Western New York's boxing past became a little more current with the addition of the 37-year-old Mesi, the former World Boxing Council No. 1 contender who once was considered Buffalo's "third franchise."
"My team is my family," said Mesi, who last fought in October 2007 and compiled a 36-0 mark with 29 KOs. "It's an honor to be recognized. But to be recognized so soon is an even greater honor. To know I made that much of a difference in boxing and the community makes it even more special."
Others inducted into the Hall included Alan "Ponyboy" Kemp, Harry Fuller and Dick Loadman.
New York State Golden Gloves Chairman Don Patterson earned Ring 44 Man of the Year honors. Amateur Rudy Ngayot, 19, was honored as the association's Amateur Boxer of the Year.
A good number of the people on hand for Friday's event were there to see Mesi, snapping photographs and shaking the former heavyweight world-title contender's hand. Many comprised Team Mesi, the body of people who worked behind the scenes during his rise to prominence -- including Mesi's aunt and uncle Joanne and John Bargnesi, trainers Juan and Carlos De Leon, his brother Tom (who started him in boxing) and father/manager Jack. The Bargnesis along with Gene Vukelic, who formed "The Ring Leaders" group, provided Mesi with financial support.
Mesi said his dad had a hidden talent for marketing as he convinced boxing and non-boxing fans to fill area venues to watch his son's world-championship quest.
"My dad was the reason for the tremendous crowds," said Joe Mesi, whose last four Buffalo fights averaged 12,000. "It was my dad who made me realize the importance of community."
"Boxing is a team sport," Mesi said. "I share this honor and this award with all of them."
Kemp, 63, won three Golden Gloves titles while juggling a job and courses at Canisius College during the 1960s and went 12-2 as a pro. Not bad for someone who picked up the sport as a 9-year-old as a way of defending himself against bullies while growing up on the East Side. He won 45 of 52 amateur bouts. He moved to California in 1978 and began training boxers 10 years ago just as his father Al taught him.
He was shocked to learn of the honor.
"The fact I'm being recognized by my home and community is quite an honor," said Kemp, who 10 years ago started training boxers.
The late Fuller's daughter and granddaughter, Mary Jane and Mary Beth DeFazio, accepted the honor on behalf of the Niagara Falls boxer. Fuller went 66-18-11 from 1925 to '34.
Loadman was a tough fighter who was stopped once in 190 bouts from 1912 to '23.