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Something to fight for

Jeff Tully

When the World Boxing Hall of Fame began holding its annual banquet

more than two decades ago, inductees didn’t get much in the way of an

award.

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Honorees had to be satisfied with a hearty handshake and a sincere

thank-you, and were given a small lapel insignia and maybe a plaque

commemorating their accomplishment.

However, three years ago, the organization finally commissioned an

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artist to provide award statuettes that would not only capture the

spirit of the sport, but would also provide a fitting reward for the

honorees.

The artist who has helped give the hall of fame award its identity

is Burbank sculptor Steve Harpst.

Harpst was in attendance Saturday to watch his works of art being

handed out at the 24th annual World Boxing Hall of Fame Banquet of

Champions at the Commerce Casino.

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The award statue is called “The Prizefighter.” The bronze piece

depicts a boxer with his hands up, crouched and leaning forward, with

a menacing scowl, looking like he’s about to pounce on an opponent.

“I got together with the organization and we tried to see if we

could make something that they could use as an award,” Harpst said.

“So I came in with several different sketches and they chose the one

that is used now because it’s such a basic fighter’s stance,

something that everyone associated with boxing can relate to.”

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Unlike the Oscar or the Espy, the award hasn’t been given a catchy

nickname -- yet.

“Eventually, we’re going to have to come up with a nickname for

it,” Harpst said.

Harpst’s association with the hall of fame came about through

Maurice “Dub” Harris, a former president and chairman of the board.

Harris was instrumental in helping Harpst’s work find its way into

the hands of the honored boxing inductees.

“Dub Harris saw some of my pieces and he asked me what I could do

in terms of getting an award for them that they could hand out at the

banquet,” Harpst said.

Harris said the addition of Harpst’s statuettes have enhanced the

annual ceremony, and the awards have become coveted pieces.

“Steve does beautiful work, and anything we can do to try and

enhance the banquet and ceremony we try to do it,” Harris said. “And

having his awards as part of that makes it so much better.

“These fighters are so proud to get these statues. Sometimes I

think they are happier to get one of the awards than to be inducted

into the hall of fame.”

With its first induction ceremony held in 1980, the hall of fame

has honored most of the finest fighters the sport has produced.

Members include Burbank’s Jim Jeffries, Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano,

Jack Dempsey, Billy Conn, Sugar Ray Robinson, Muhammad Ali, Marvin

Hagler and Sugar Ray Leonard

Harpst has seen his awards given to fighters and boxing

dignitaries George Foreman, Lupe Pintor, Ken Norton, Jim Lampley and

Don King.

Saturday, the organization honored Roy Jones Jr. as the World

Boxing Hall of Fame Fighter of the Year. Boxers earning induction

into the hall were Azumah Nelson, Joey Giambra, Del Flanagan,

Humberto “Chiquita” Gonzalez, Rodolfo “Gato” Gonzalez and Jose

“Pipino” Cuevas.

“Since these [statues] have only been given out for a few years, a

lot of boxers who were inducted into the hall of fame before didn’t

get this award,” Harpst said. “Fighters from before, who didn’t get

one, have requested their own award. I’ve had a lot of previous

fighters ask me ‘How can I get one of these?’

“You don’t know what an honor it is for me to be involved in the

hall. The awards that I make are going to a lot of my heroes who I

have grown up with, guys who I have watched on TV over the years. I’m

really honored that they have asked me to do this.”

At the banquet, Harpst had a table set up outside the hall

displaying some of his work. Throughout the evening, boxing

enthusiasts, hall honorees and interested event-goers stopped by to

admire and complement on the artist’s pieces.

Boxers seemed to be the most impressed with the sculptures.

“This is some of the best work that I’ve seen depicting boxing,”

said former junior welterweight contender Greg Haugen, who fought

Julio Cesar Chavez, Hector Camacho, Vinny Pazienza and Pernell

Whitaker.

“You look at the poses of his work, and it really captures the

spirit of what boxing is. It is some real first-class work.”

When he’s not busy working on his art pieces, Harpst is doing work

of another sort. Along with being founder of the Burbank Boxing Club,

he is also a local fitness instructor for adults and children.

Harpst’s works have not only been given to boxers. Recently, one

of his pieces “The Glove” -- a boxing glove raised in victory -- was

presented to California Governor-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The artist was able to personally give Schwarzenegger the

sculpture last month at a town-hall meeting at the Hollenbeck Youth

Center in East L.A.

Harpst was invited to attend the event by Inner-City Games founder

Daniel L. Hernandez.

“I know Arnold is a big boxing fan, so I thought I would give him

something that not only has something to do with the sport, but

something that would signify victory in his quest to become

governor,” Harpst said.

“It was a great experience meeting him, and I think he really

liked the piece.”


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