While it is an honor to be among those who vote in the International Boxing Hall of Fame election, this year in particular was as hard a vote as I have made in almost 20 years of voting.

My votes are cast and I’ll await announcement of the new class in December, with the 31st annual induction day set for June 14 at the Canastota, New York, shrine.

This year’s process was brutal. I agonized over my ballots, especially the one for the modern boxer category (for which the last bout was no earlier than 1989). It underwent a major overhaul this year and left me with about 15 candidates I strongly considered voting for. Alas, electors can only vote for five. The top three will be elected, as well as anybody who receives over 80% of the vote.

Usually, the vote is not that hard. Each year, three fighters would be elected and three new names would replace them on the next ballot of about 30 or so candidates. Typically, a couple of the newcomers would be slam-dunk votes, and then there were always a few guys from previous years I had voted for that hadn’t gotten in that I could check off once again.

This year was much different, because the Hall of Fame changed the eligibility rules and made it a much more difficult process, with many more deserving candidates to pick from.

Instead of a fighter having to wait five years since his last fight to be eligible to be on the ballot, the wait was reduced to three years. That added several good names to a ballot that also was expanded to include some oversights from the past decade or so.

That meant a ballot with 41 boxers this year, including 12 newcomers: Jorge Arce, Timothy Bradley Jr., Vuyani Bungu, Joel Casamayor, Diego “Chico” Corrales, Carl Froch, Bernard Hopkins, Sergio Martinez, Juan Manuel Marquez, Shane Mosley, Antonio Tarver and Israel Vazquez.

That is quite a list of first-timers, not to mention the addition of Bungu, Vazquez, Casamayor and the late Corrales, each of whom should have been on the ballot years ago but were overlooked.

The newcomers were added to 29 holdovers: Yuri Arbachakov, Paulie Ayala, Nigel Benn, Ivan “Iron Boy” Calderon, Sot Chitalada, Chris Eubank Sr., Leo Gamez, Ricky Hatton, Genaro Hernandez, Chris John, Mikkel Kessler, Santos Laciar, Rocky Lockridge, Miguel “Happy” Lora, Rafael Marquez, Henry Maske, Darius Michalczewski, Sung-Kil Moon, Michael Moorer, Orzubek “Gussie” Nazarov, Sven Ottke, Vinny Pazienza, Gilberto Roman, Gianfranco Rosi, Samuel Serrano, Meldrick Taylor, Fernando Vargas, Wilfredo Vazquez Sr. and Ratanapol Sor Vorapin.

The process of cutting

With such a deep ballot and only allowed to vote for five, I was able to easily eliminate most of the holdovers I had not previously voted for or hadn’t strongly considered.

However, I have in the past voted for Calderon (greatest strawweight ever not named Ricardo Lopez or Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez), Rafael Marquez (Juan Manuel’s little brother and longtime bantamweight champion), Wilfredo Vazquez Sr. (titles in three divisions and one of Puerto Rico’s all-time best), Michalczewski (two-division titlist, 48 consecutive wins to start his career, 23 light heavyweight title defenses) and Hernandez (the late longtime junior lightweight titlist).

With so many outstanding newcomers, however, I could not check any of the holdovers’ names this year, and that hurt. I will reconsider them in the future. Other holdovers I considered included Benn, Eubank and Hatton, but I had no room on my ballot for any of them, either, as all five of my selections were from the dozen newcomers.

I took long looks at:

  • Arce (titles in four divisions from junior flyweight to junior featherweight and one of the most exciting fighters of his generation)

  • Bungu (one of South Africa’s all-time best, 13 junior featherweight title defenses)

  • Casamayor (titles in two divisions, Olympic gold medalist, 2-1 in trilogy with Corrales)

  • Corrales (two-division titlist, all-time great puncher, winner of perhaps the greatest fight in boxing history against Jose Luis Castillo).

Froch, the superb former three-time super middleweight titleholder, also got a long look. If I could have voted for a sixth fighter, it would have been him. He deserves to be in, and maybe he’ll make it this year. If not, he will have my vote next year. His résumé is outstanding, with wins over George Groves (twice), Kessler, Lucian Bute, Glen Johnson, Arthur Abraham, Andre Dirrell, Jermain Taylor and Jean Pascal. His only losses were to Kessler (avenged in a unification bout) and Andre Ward, a future HOFer, in the Super Six tournament final.

Who I voted for

That left five men who got my votes: Hopkins, Juan Manuel Marquez, Bradley, Martinez and Mosley.

Hopkins, the former light heavyweight and middleweight champion (with a division-record 20 middleweight defenses), was the easiest vote and one of the easiest I’ve ever made. He is one of the greatest fighters in history, period. Other than Roy Jones, Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, BHop is the best fighter I’ve ever covered. He set numerous age-related records as he continued winning at a high level at age 48. He beat Oscar De La Hoya, Felix Trinidad, Jones (granted, a faded version), Kelly Pavlik, Pascal, Winky Wright, Tarver, William Joppy, Keith Holmes, Antwun Echols (twice) and Johnson.

Marquez also was one of those automatic votes. He won titles in four divisions (featherweight to junior welterweight). He is one of Mexico’s all-time best. And after many years of being unable to land big fights, he finally became a staple of them. His four-fight series with Pacquiao is the stuff of legend (and it was an honor to be ringside to cover all four of them). A legitimate argument can be made that he should be 4-0 versus Pacquiao instead of 1-2-1. The one win in bout No. 4 was earned by a comeback knockout in one of the most sensational and shocking fight endings in history. He also owns wins over opponents such as Juan Diaz (twice), Marco Antonio Barrera, Orlando Salido, Casamayor, Mike Alvarado, Michael Katsidis, Derrick Gainer and Manuel Medina. And don’t forget that HOFer Naseem Hamed blatantly ducked him in one of the worst duckings in recent decades.

Former welterweight and junior welterweight titlist Bradley definitely has the résumé to be included with at least a dozen high-level wins, and I am not even counting the official win over Pacquiao in the first of their three fights that was one of the worst decisions of all time. Bradley’s only two official losses were to Pacquiao, but he has more than enough big triumphs to warrant election. He outpointed Marquez in one of his best performances, outslugged Ruslan Provodnikov in the incredible 2013 fight of the year, knocked out Casamayor (albeit a faded version), unified 140-pound titles against Devon Alexander and Kendall Holt, easily outpointed a prime Lamont Peterson, won his first title from Junior Witter on his turf in England and even racked up a win over Miguel Vazquez, before Vazquez went on to have a solid lightweight title reign.

Martinez didn’t begin boxing until his 20s, but his late-career surge was tremendous — a six-year stretch from 2008 to 2014 in which he established himself as a bona fide pound-for-pound candidate, won the middleweight championship, defended it six times against quality opponents and retired as one of Argentina’s best ever. His first two significant fights should have been wins, but he was saddled with a draw against former titlist Kermit Cintron in a horrendous miscarriage of justice and then lost a majority decision in a fantastic fight with Paul Williams. I was ringside that night in 2009 when he faced Williams and had Martinez winning. But in his next fight, Martinez cut up Pavlik to win the middleweight title and followed with a massive second-round knockout of pound-for-pound candidate Williams in the rematch, which is the signature moment of his career.

Martinez’s defenses were all against quality opponents: Sergiy Dzinziruk (someone nobody wanted to fight), Darren Barker (who later won a title), Matthew Macklin, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. and Martin Murray. In his final fight, Martinez lost the title by decision to future HOFer Miguel Cotto, as Martinez was seriously marred by a knee injury that never truly healed after he sustained it against Chavez.

The hardest vote I made was for Mosley, who won titles at lightweight, welterweight and junior middleweight and also was a former pound-for-pound king. He could do it all, was one of the best-ever lightweights (eight defenses, all by KO) and then jumped up two divisions and eventually dethroned De La Hoya for the welterweight title in their classic first fight in 2000 (the first really big fight I ever covered).

However, Mosley admitted under oath to a grand jury related to the Victor Conte/BALCO steroid scandal that while training for the 2003 rematch with De La Hoya (which Mosley won by decision to claim the unified junior middleweight title but that I and many others ringside thought he clearly lost), he unknowingly used Conte’s designer steroids “the clear” and “the cream,” which could not be detected in drug tests.

I know there are many fighters to have used PEDs who we don’t know about who are probably already enshrined or will be in the future. But we know Mosley used. I cast my vote for him anyway despite serious reservations because I felt like the rest of his career — for which there was no notion of PED use — warranted it. Like I said, some votes are not easy.

Women’s ballot

I also hold votes in the newly created women’s modern boxer category, non-participants (including promoters, trainers, managers, referees, judges and publicists) and observers (including media members, television executives, historians and photographers).

The women’s category had 12 candidates. Electors can vote for three and the top two will be elected. My three votes were easy to make: Laila Ali, Christy Martin and Lucia Rijker. All were among the best of their time.

Ali, the daughter of Muhammad Ali, might be the best female boxer ever.

Martin was a fan favorite who was the face of women’s boxing for many years and paved the way for it to be taken seriously thanks to her exciting fights on Mike Tyson undercards.

Rijker, a former kickboxer, had an abbreviated career (17-0) but was very obviously the best of her time other than Ali.

I also strongly considered Ann Wolfe, but with only three votes allowed, she will have to wait for my vote until next year, if she doesn’t make it this time.

Non-participants ballot

Of the 30-person ballot, electors can vote for up to five and the top three will be elected. This also was an extremely tough one because the HOF dropped a slew of people who had been on the ballot for 10 years but not been elected. That meant a huge influx of many very worthwhile newcomers, many of whom I have known for years. It was hard not to vote for the likes of promoter Kathy Duva, Dr. Margaret Goodman, legendary ring announcer Chuck Hull, trainer Abel Sanchez, manager/promoter and legendary talent evaluator Sampson Lewkowicz, trainer/cutman Miguel Diaz, legendary German trainers Fritz Sdunek and Ulli Wegner, judge Dave Moretti and WBO president Paco Valcarcel. I considered all of them, and I can see voting for them in the future.

After agonizing over my ballot, I voted for five first-timers. But one in particular I was overjoyed to make — for late promoter Dan Goossen, who should have been on the ballot years ago and who I have campaigned hard to have placed on it. He was involved in many major fights and promoted boxers such as Mike Tyson, James Toney, Michael Nunn, Andre Ward, Casamayor, David Tua, Paul Williams and Chris Arreola. Goossen was one of the best to ever do it.

I voted for longtime Top Rank matchmaker Brad “Abdul” Goodman, who in my view is the best in the sport currently. He has been critical in the development of more than 50 world titleholders over his 20 years or so at Top Rank, including Cotto, Pavlik, Calderon, Mikey Garcia, Terence Crawford, Vasiliy Lomachenko, Brandon Rios, Mike Alvarado and Juan Manuel Lopez, to name just a few.

I also voted for publicist Bill Caplan (one of the best ever), promoter Lou DiBella (as knowledgeable about boxing as anyone ever, whose work with Hopkins and Martinez is among his best; and he also gets credit for his pre-promoter work as the HBO boxing programmer during the network’s best years) and trainer Kenny Adams (more than 20 world titleholders, including Corrales, Kennedy McKinney, Johnny Tapia, Freddie Norwood, Vince Phillips; once cornered 22 consecutive world title fights without a loss; head coach of 1988 U.S. Olympic team that included Riddick Bowe, Ray Mercer, Jones, McKinney and Michael Carbajal).

Observer ballot

Of the 25-person ballot, electors can vote for up to five and the top three will be elected. This also was extremely difficult because as with the non-participants, people on it for 10 years who hadn’t been elected were dropped, which also meant numerous new and worthwhile additions.

I used my full allotment of five votes for first-timers:

  • Seth Abraham ran HBO Sports at its peak, when it was truly the “network of champions” in the 1980s and 1990s

  • CompuBox co-founder Bob Canobbio, whose company, established in 1985, revolutionized how people watch boxing by offering punch statistics for each bout that have become part of the fabric of the sport

  • Bernard Fernandez, the award-winning former longtime boxing writer for the Philadelphia Daily News and multi-term president of the Boxing Writers Association of America

  • Jay Larkin, the late longtime first head of Showtime’s boxing franchise

  • Broadcaster Tim Ryan, the outstanding blow-by-blow man for fights on CBS during the 1970s and 1980s. How has he never been on the ballot before?