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Articles of 2009

Brute, Part II: I Ain't Finished Him Off

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The forthcoming book “Brute” follows two Sacramento boxers: Mike Simms, a cruiserweight who trained with the Olympic team in 2000, who when I found him had lost five successive fights; and Stan Martyniouk, a young, Estonian-born featherweight, who when I found him had just fought and won his professional debut by decision, despite breaking his right hand in the first round.
Over the next few months I look forward to sharing the stories of these two fighters with the readers of the Sweet Science, and I look forward to hearing from any and all of you. –KS

Mike  Simms had laced up his shoes and sat resting his forearms on his thighs. “I let my opponents make all the faces,” he said. “I'll be the one smiling. So when I get into the ring, I let my hands do the talking.” His hands had spoken well for him on nineteen occasions, but on nine others they hadn't been as eloquent. “I don't think about the knockout seriously until late in the fight.”

I can imagine a journalist or a bookie predicting that a fighter would get a last-minute knockout, or even a fighter, having studied his opponent, deciding that a knockout in the eighth or tenth was more likely than the first, but for a boxer to plan generally on knocking a man out late suggests less that he is passing up early opportunities, and more that all fighters are more susceptible the more exhausted they are. And it seemed, based on his recent form (which I would read about later that afternoon) that Simms was confusing his results and his plan. In his first twelve fights as a professional, he was undefeated. And other than his first and eighth bouts, he had won by knockout, and of those, only two in the late rounds. In his next seven fights he drew once in Chicago, then lost a majority decision in Reno, won with a late, technical knockout in Tahoe, lost a majority decision near Chicago the day his manager Sid Tenner died, knocked a man out in the first round at Arco Arena in Sacramento, and finally knocked out another man in Sacramento two months later in the eighth round. Since then he had fought every scheduled minute of every fight he'd taken, and had been beaten seven out of eleven times, including, most recently, a string of five consecutive losses.

“Rather than knock him out,” Simms was saying, “I want to soften the guy up and make him look bad.” I wondered then if he thought leaving an opponent on the mat weren't the ultimate humiliation, but I refrained from asking.

“Anyways, if you knock your opponent out early, you might get a day or two off, and then you're right back there in the gym. So I figure, if I put some rounds in the bag, I can work my way to a week off at the gym.” He laughed and I laughed and I felt for the first time that I was beginning to understand his vacillations.

“But I've never been kayoed,” Simms said. “Not as a pro, or as an amateur.” Whether or not he believed in putting his opponents to sleep, he wanted to make sure I understood that under no circumstances did they ever knock him out.

“What was your amateur record?” I asked.

“132 wins, 32 losses, and 64 KOs,” Simms said. “In 1999, I was number one in the state, number one in the nation, number one in the world. I went 22-1, and the only fight I lost was the National PAL Tournament. Otherwise I would have swept the whole year. I won the Golden Gloves, the US Nationals, the World Championships—I became the second light heavyweight in US history to win a gold medal at light heavyweight, and Antonio Tarver was the first one to do it. It was weird because I'd never been to the Worlds, and there I was, the best against the best.”

I was struck first by the scope of his success as an amateur, and secondly by his nonchalance. There was nothing braggadocious about his statement. Perhaps it was because he was speaking about his amateur days, but it seemed as if he were talking about another fighter.

“The first night,” he continued, speaking of the Worlds, “I fought a guy from Azerbaijan, and I knocked him out in the second round, I think it was. The second night I ended up fighting David Haye from England. He'd never lost to a US fighter then, and now he's the top Cruiserweight Champion. He's the WBO and WBC Cruiserweight Champ.”

“And he's moving to heavy,” I said.

“Yeah, he'll move to heavy. And when I fought him, we were about the same height. He had a good jab. He was a strong puncher. I think he lifted weights a lot because after a while I saw him shaking his arms out. That's always a sign of a fighter who's too tight and tense. Later on in the fight I started picking it up more on him, started running away with the score, and I beat him. And then I fought a guy from Cuba. He had over 200 wins, no losses, and he'd just won the Pan Am games. Before I went in there with him I'd just been toying around. But I beat the snot out of him so bad.” This was the first time, I realized, that Simms had cursed. “Everybody asked me afterwards, how would you rate yourself, and I said, '9.9.' They said, 'Why not a 10?' I said, ''Cause I ain't finished him off.' I just wanted to display my skills on how bad I could just beat guys. I don't want to go ahead with a punch and have people say, 'That was a lucky shot.' When I fight somebody I want them to wake up and be sore all over, like they just been in a car wreck, not wake up with a headache and one black eye. I wanna beat you so bad that you don't want a rematch. Then I beat a guy from Russia in the semi-finals, and a Frenchman in the finals. We fought to a draw, but because of my punch rate, I won the fight for throwing more accurate punches. Then I went to Puerto Rico for a mini World tournament, and I beat a guy from Mexico, and a guy from Brazil. I wanna say Brazil, but it wasn't Brazil. It was another strong guy, but I beat him.

“When I came back to the states, probably like within a couple of weeks I went straight to Florida for the National PAL, and that was the last qualifying tournament for the Olympic trials. In the semis I knocked off the number one guy, Atlanta Anderson, who was an army sergeant. He was the favorite to make it to the Olympics at light heavyweight. The last guy from the service to make it was Ray Mercer. And then I found out that the government funds the service branches' boxing programs, and every four years, all they're asked to do is produce one fighter at least for the Olympic team to represent the branches. So they really wanted Anderson on.

“The assistant coach for the Olympic team was also the army coach. So it was kinda like they were saying, 'Anderson is our son.' They're gonna try and get their son in before they take me in. But I'd beaten Anderson at the PAL tournament. So at camp they had to come up with all kinds of stuff saying I was out past curfew, late to meetings, out arguing with officials, and that I was bad for the team. But in 1996 Antonio Tarver came up missing during one of the weigh-ins, somebody else went to jail, and they kept all that quiet from the media. Everyone stayed on the team in 1996. But in 2000 they kicked me off, and they kicked off Angel Martinez from LA. Now, when they kicked Martinez off, they said he quit for personal reasons. But when they kicked me off, they bad-mouthed me throughout the whole media. It was on the front page of the Sac Bee, and on a whole page inside, about me getting kicked off the team. I could write a book now, like José Canseco, and everybody'd be in trouble.

“When I went to arbitration I talked about the coaches that were married sneaking out with women, coming back in drunk. Some of them were allowing us to go out at night. They knew what we were gonna do. We were grown men. And the coaches would be drunk and say, 'We don't see y'all, you don't see us. I don't care what y'all do or where y'all go as long as you're back to go run in the morning.' So we were sneaking out every night—everyone was—and they put it all on me, that I was the bad guy. And I'm thinking, “If I go and sneak out, who do you think I learned it from?' The guys that've been here already,” he answered rhetorically. “And then they're talking about how I'm so bad, and I told them, 'Who do you think was picking us up from the strip clubs?' Atlanta Anderson, the guy you put in my spot. If he was picking me up, that means he was sneaking out. There were 24 guys—12 Olympians and 12 alternates—and only two guys were being pretty good. This guy Dante, because his son had just died, so mentally he wasn't gonna be out playing around at all. And one other guy, but he had a volleyball girl at the Olympic training camp—you got all different girls there—so he would stay in the dorm, and the girl would come over and they'd sneak up to an empty floor. We had housekeeping people who would leave doors open for us so the rest of us could sneak out and do whatever.

“But we all came back in time to go run in the morning and everything. It was just crazy,” he concluded, almost sentimentally. He was reminding himself of what should have been the precursor to his greatest moment, and it all sounded pretty grand to me, too. But he hadn't intended to digress. “I could go on forever talking about how bad it actually was.”

Through all of this he sounded almost wistful. It wasn't evident to me that he harbored any malice towards the coaching staff or the Olympic committee. It is possible that he knew his behavior had compromised his opportunity to fight in Sydney. Or maybe he remained unaware of the part he'd played in his own collapse. But as I sat across from him, he appeared to me a man undone by a temper he'd long since lost.

Then he became suddenly serious, and returned to thinking about the fight that was a week off. “The guy I'm fighting, Harmon, he's been off for the last two years. He done lost to Roy Jones—got stopped I think in the eleventh round. I don't know what other names he got under his belt, but he's a key name to have under mine, as far as a victory.”

If Harmon had beaten Roy Jones, Jr., I can see the logic in wanting to assimilate his record, but I can't rationalize what exactly is gained from inheriting another fighter's loss. Perhaps if he beat Harmon, who had almost gone the distance with Jones, it suggested that Simms would have put up an even better fight against the ex-champ.

“I think this time, though,” Simms said, “I'm definitely gonna try to blow someone out of the water.” His tone was almost melancholy. He was no longer the crafty boxer intending to humiliate Harmon by not knocking him out, but the thirty-three year old man on a five fight slide who needed to win or find a job with union hours.

“You're going to go hard?” I asked.

“It's like, you know, I'm on the losing end right now.”

“But you've only lost decisions,” I said.

“Yeah,” said Simms. “Never got knocked out. Only been down once, and that was like in my third pro fight, against Marcus Harvey, and Harvey just happened to catch me with a lucky punch.” He paused for a few moments, then went on. “I've been doing this for seventeen years, now,” he said. “Since '91. I'm kinda like Holyfield and them guys: I'm gonna stick around probably till I'm 40. I never abuse myself.” Across the gym another fighter came in and crossed the floor. “Oh,” said Simms, “here comes Otis right now.” Otis was, apparently, whom we'd been waiting for.

Articles of 2009

UFC 108 Rashad Evans vs. Thiago Silva

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Former champion Rashad Evans meets Brazil’s venerable Thiago Silva in a non-title belt that can lead to a return match with the current champ, but first things first.

Evans (15-1-1) and Silva (14-1) meet in Ultimate Fighting Championship 108 in a light heavyweight bout on Saturday Jan. 2, at the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. A win by either fighter could result in a world title bid. The fight card is being shown on pay-per-view television.

Events can change quickly in the Octagon and anybody can beat anybody in the 205-pound weight division. Just ask Silva or Evans.

Silva and Evans are both experienced and can vouch firsthand about the capriciousness of fighting in MMA and especially as a light heavyweight. On one day this man can beat that man and on another day, that man can beat this man. It can make you absolutely daffy.

Evans, 30, is the former UFC light heavyweight world champion who only defended his title on one occasion and lost by vicious knockout to current champion Lyoto Machida of Brazil. It’s the only defeat on his record.

Silva, 27, is a well-rounded MMA fighter from Sao Paolo, Brazil who is versed in jujitsu, Muy Thai and boxing. He can end a fight quickly in a choke hold just as easily as with a kick or a punch. His only loss came to who else: Machida.

Evans and Silva know a win can push open the door to a rematch with current UFC light heavyweight champion Machida.

“A win against Rashad would put me in the track against Lyoto,” said Silva, in a telephone conference call. “That's what – what I want to do.”

When Silva fought Machida the two Brazilians were both undefeated and feared in the MMA world. The fight took place in Las Vegas and with one second remaining in the first round a perfectly timed punch knocked Silva unconscious.

“I was humbled big time, man,” says Silva who fought Machida in January 2009. “I learned a lot from that fight.  I think I can correct the mistakes from that fight, not overlooking anything else right now, but just I want to get the chance to fight him again.”

For Evans it was a different circumstance. The upstate New Yorker held the UFC title and was defending it after stopping then champion Forrest Griffin by knockout. Still, many felt Machida was far too technically versed. Evans was stopped brutally in the second round.

“I've made it a point to not – to not get distracted on what I want to do, because you know Thiago (Silva) is a very hungry fighter,” said Evans who has not fought since losing the title to Machida last May. “My focus is just on Thiago so much.  You know I don't want to overlook him, you know, not even a little bit.”

Dana White, president of UFC, says the winner of this fight could conceivably fight Machida in the near future. Evans and especially Silva are motivated by the open window.

“I learned a lot from that fight. I think I can correct the mistakes from that fight,” says Silva. “Not overlooking anything else right now, but I just want to get the chance to fight him again.”

What a prize. The winner gets to face the man who beat him: Machida.

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Articles of 2009

Ten Boxing Wishes For 2010

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As 2009 comes to a close, one reflects on what went well and what went wrong during the year in boxing. There were many highlights. Pacquiao vs. Cotto and Showtime’s Super Six tournament were part of the best that boxing had to offer. But there were some low points too therefore the industry has some work to do in order to keep generating fans. Here are some suggestions for 2010:

10. Better pay per view cards

Paying 40 to 50 bucks to watch the main event gets old real quick. Why do we have to sit through a horrible under-card to get to the main course? It’s like being fed spam appetizers before the Thanksgiving turkey. It seems that the pay per view promoters just don’t get it. Are they watching what they put on or do they only watch the “big fight” as everyone else is slowly being conditioned to do so?

9. Time to make Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. fight

Okay, I understand he’s the son of one of the greatest fighters that ever lived. But he’s had 42 fights against low to mid level competition and has never managed to look spectacular. It’s time to throw the 23 year old out of the nest to see if he can fly. My suggestion is a fight against Sergio Mora or maybe even Yuri Foreman. Neither of these guys can punch. They may outbox Junior but they won’t totally humiliate him.

8. No more ridiculous Pay Per View mismatches

Floyd Mayweather Jr. vs. Juan Manuel Marquez should’ve never been made. It was a ridiculous fight when it was announced and it was more ridiculous when it took place. Unable to bring Manny Pacquiao to the bargaining table for a third match against Juan Manuel Marquez, someone figured that pairing up the 135 pound champion against a natural 147 pounder like Mayweather would be a great idea. The pay per view generated over a million buys but the fact that millions of people were treated to an incredibly boring mismatch is what’s truly worrisome. I can guarantee you one thing about this card. The sport of boxing lost fans once the show was over and done with. Talk about short term thinking.

7. Chris “The Nightmare” Arreola shows up for a fight in amazing shape

It was painful to see Chris Arreola take a beating from the Ukrainian giant, Vitali Klitscho. The champion certainly earned his “Dr. Ironfist” moniker as he plowed his powerful shots into the former #1 WBC heavyweight contender’s face. He reddened and bloodied the young Mexican American with an assortment of weapons and foot movement seldom seen on a six foot seven inch heavyweight. Arreola was brave and unrelenting in battle. He never stopped coming forward and took chances when he could. His work in the ring at the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles wasn’t the problem. Where Arreola let himself down was outside the ring. His unwillingness to condition himself into a finely tuned athlete cost him certain immortality as the first ever heavyweight champion of Mexican descent. Arreola has the heart and skills but it was his mental fortitude that broke down. Anyone who’s followed the Riverside fighter knows that his best weight is somewhere in the 230 pound range. It certainly isn’t at the 252 pounds he registered on the scale at the Staples Center.  Those fifteen to twenty extra pounds might have made all the difference in the world. Maybe he would’ve been a little quicker, maybe he could’ve sustained a faster pace in order to tire out the champion. In his most recent fight against Brian Minto, Arreola weighed in at a career high 263. It looks like “The Nightmare” isn’t willing to change for anyone. At this pace, the only nightmares he’ll be providing will be to the management of Hometown Buffets all across Riverside.  Just kidding “Nightmare”!

6. More respect for the lighter weights

Real boxing fans know that the most exciting fighters in the sport are usually found toiling in weight divisions south of 154 pounds. Pacquiao, Cotto, Juan Manuel Marquez, Edwin Valero, Israel Vazquez, Juan Ma Lopez, Vic Darchinyan, Rafael Marquez and countless others have been the real driving force behind this sport. It’s those great fighters that have made boxing fanatics out of casual fans. The heavyweights may get all the money and glory but it’s the little guys who make the sport shine and it’s time they received greater compensation. It’s dismaying to think that a mediocre heavyweight can make three or four times as much as the great Rafael Marquez.

5. An American Heavyweight champion

Speaking of heavyweights, two Americans tried and failed at dethroning Vitali Klitschko this year. Both Kevin Johnson and Chris Arreola did their best to wrestle the belt away from “Dr. Klitschko” but came up short since they were easily outclassed. What happened to the great American Heavyweight? Where’s our new Joe Frazier or Ali? Even a new Gerry Cooney or a Ken Norton would do at this point. I’ve got a feeling that the only way we’re going to see an American champion is if Klitschko retires. My money is on Arreola. Although undisciplined and rough outside the ring, he’s got tons (no pun intended) of natural talent. He’s without a doubt the most talented American heavyweight on the scene.

4. More ShoBox

The Showtime Cable network gave us the best boxing on TV for the price of a cable television subscription. Their ShoBox series has been a proven hit for Senior VP of Sports Programming Ken Hershman. The concept is simple yet brilliant. Match up two up and comers with great records and let’s see what happens. Sometimes the results are surprising. Many have passed the ShoBox test and went on to bigger and better things. Others have been exposed as having padded records and eventually their careers stall and take a dive.

3. More safety in Mexico so I can attend a show without a gun battle breaking out

Having lived near the Tijuana border all my life I’m dismayed at the war zone that the city has evolved into. Every day there are reports of shootings fueled by the drug war trade. Believe it or not, there was a time when Tijuana was safe and most wouldn’t have thought twice about crossing the border for some seafood and nightlife. No more. Having covered several boxing cards on Revolucion Avenue many years ago, I got a taste of just how important the sport is to Mexican fans. It’s also important to me but not that important. For now I’ll stick to covering shows at the Pechanga Casino and in the less dangerous city of L.A. I never thought I’d say that.

2. Pac Man vs. Mayweather

This is the fight everyone wants to see. Seeing how Mayweather dominated Pac Man’s arch enemy, Juan Manuel Marquez, you have to wonder if the Filipino can handle Lil’ Floyd’s speed and size. One thing is for sure, betting against Pacquiao doesn’t usually work out for me. It never has. There’s no future in it. So if the fight gets done it’s Pacquiao by TKO in ten.

1. And finally

One final wish is reserved for all the readers of TheSweetScience.com I wish you all a healthy and happy 2010. Thank you for your continued loyalty to the site. It’s very much appreciated.

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Articles of 2009

A Very Special New Year's Day Column

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It has been just over four months since Nick Charles, the play-by-play announcer for Shobox: The New Generation, was diagnosed with stage IV bladder cancer and forced to take a medical hiatus from the monthly show that has aired since 2001.

Since then he has undergone grueling chemotherapy treatments that have resulted in him losing all of his hair as he forces himself to live as normal of a life as possible. Through sheer force of will, as well as the strength and support that he receives from his wonderfully loving family and his strong Christian faith, the 63-year-old Charles has managed to keep his weight up while not falling prey to the always lingering threats of depression, cynicism and negativity.

If one was unaware that he was battling such an insidious disease, you’d never know from talking on the phone to him that he has been to hell and back. He has lost none of the inspiring energy that has endeared him to members of the boxing community and legions of worldwide viewers.

“I’m doing great,” Charles said during a telephone conversation on December 30th. “I’ve been off the chemo for a month, and the doctors have told me that I’m 80 percent in remission. I’m going to see them again in three months. It may come back, but if it takes one year, or two years, or however long, I’m going to make the most of the good time.”

As physically and emotionally wrenching as the grim diagnosis and subsequent treatment has been, even for someone as perpetually positive as Charles, the longtime announcer said a lot of good things have come from it.

Having been married three times, Charles is the father of four children: Jason, 38, Melissa, 34, Charlotte, 22, and Giovanna, 3 ½.

While Charles is not big on regrets, he is the first to admit that he wasn’t always there for his older children. For many years he traveled the world as a CNN correspondent, often putting the demands of his career above all else, including those closest to him. Nowhere was the strain more evident than in his relationship with Melissa.

Having been divorced from Melissa’s mother since 1977, Charles said his relationship with that daughter has been especially “hot and cold, all of our lives.”

His illness has enabled them to forge a relationship that has been “based on a massive amount of forgiveness and understanding.”

“This has had a tremendous healing effect on both of us,” said Charles. “My illness has had a fortifying effect on a lot of things, the most important of which is my relationships with my family.”

That also includes his first wife, with whom he has had an often acrimonious relationship over the past three decades.

“It took a long time for the scab to become a scar, but we had lunch one day and it was so great to once again see the gentle, soft sides of each other,” he explained. “The whole divorce process creates a hardness that doesn’t always go away.”

Charles is also the grandfather to three children, some of whom are about the same age as his youngest daughter. He jokes that he has a “nuclear 21st century family” because of the similar ages of two generations of children. One of the hardest things for him has been the realization that he can’t always play with them in manner in which he would like.

“The hemoglobin is the fuel in your tank, so when it’s low you can’t will yourself to do things no matter how much you want to,” said Charles. “You can’t just sleep it off or work through it. I don’t want the kids to wonder why I can’t play in the backyard with them, or kick a soccer ball, or throw them in the air.”

Particularly difficult is when Giovanna reminds her father of how handsome he is, but then innocently asks him what happened to his hair, eyebrows and lashes.

“You try to keep things on a need to know basis, which is not easy when dealing with curious kids,” said Charles.

While Charles might look like the kind of guy that things have often come easy to, the reality is that his beginnings were far from auspicious. But, he says, his often challenging Chicago childhood blessed him with the steely resolve that has helped him so much during the arduous journey he is now on.

“I had it pretty rough growing up,” he explained. “I remember the lights and the heat being shut off and eating mustard sandwiches. I went to work at 13 and always had insecurities about the future. But I always expected and saw the best in people, so when I got sick, never once did I say 'Why me?”

Since taking a leave of absence from Shobox, the outpouring of support from the boxing community has warmed Charles’s heart. For a guy that is battling for his life, he actually considers himself fortunate to be surrounded by so much goodness in both his personal and professional lives.

“I always hear that boxing people are ruthless, but I couldn’t disagree more,” said Charles. “I’ve probably received about 1,000 e-mails, and people are always following in sending their best wishes. From the relatively unknown people in boxing to many of the more famous people, there has been an outpouring of true affection.”

Charles said that the Top Rank organization has been exceedingly kind and gracious. He was touched beyond description when he learned that officials in Oklahoma got special permission to have a seamstress sew “Keep Fighting Nick” onto their sleeves. He chokes up when talking about cut man Stitch Duran giving up an endorsement opportunity so he could put Charles’s name on his outfit. He never tires of hearing shout-outs from fighters on television.

Charles has always been a people person with an inordinate faith in the goodness of his fellow man. Battling this illness has only made his already strong faith in humanity even stronger.

“Adversity is a great teacher, and it really teaches you who your genuine friends are,” said Charles. “I have a lot of friends.”

He also has a remarkable wife, Cory, a CNN producer to whom he has been married for 11 years. She is the daughter of an electrician, a self-made woman who exudes all of the warmth of her native Brooklyn. She has reinforced her husband’s spiritual base by her love, optimism and strength of character.

“If I get down, she reminds me to not get too caught up,” said Charles. “I believe in eternity, and that has put me pretty much at peace.”

More than anything else, Charles wants to get himself back behind a microphone sooner rather than later, and hopefully on Shobox. He is the first to admit that viewers “don’t watch the series to see Nick Charles,” but he is proud of the fact that he was “part of the identity” of such a popular show.

“And people love comeback stories,” added Charles. “That’s the message I’m getting from the people out there.”

In boxing the word “champion” is often overused because it pertains only to winning belts and receiving worldwide recognition for being the best at your craft. The reality is that life’s real champions have other qualities, such as the innate ability to treat people well and always make them feel better about themselves, especially when the recipients of the goodwill are in no position to give them anything back.

By that standard of measure, Charles is as much, if not more of a champion than all of the boxers he has covered during the nine years that Shobox has been on the air.

I know I speak for scores of others when I say, “Happy New Year, Champ. We hope that you are the comeback story of the year in 2010.”

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