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Articles of 2009

Cheer Up Ross, Dan's A Fan

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It’s easy to tell someone how to do their job, and it’s easy to play Monday-morning quarterback.  Hindsight vision is, after all, 20-20.  But what isn’t easy is to run a network that serves as the largest forum for an ever-changing sport – all while no one is thanking you for your services.

Over the past few years, there has been copious criticism of HBO – world-class boxing’s home since the late 70s – and its executives for hurting the sweet science through poor matchups and unwise budget spending.  Fans and pundits alike continue to complain about HBO’s boxing program, and lower ratings indicate that some fight fans are going as far as cancelling their subscription to the network.

“HBO’s boxing program is crap,” said one Internet blogger in October.  “Serve people crap and they’ll find other things to eat.”

In terms of numbers, 2008 was an up-and-down year for HBO’s boxing program.  Despite the low Nielsen ratings, many of which fell between 1 and 2, HBO’s pay-per-view station did manage to hype and sell the third biggest non-heavyweight pay-per-view fight in history this December when Oscar De La Hoya met Manny Pacquiao in a welterweight bout.  And that was during an economic crisis.

But in terms of the quality and quantity of HBO boxing programming, 2008 may have been the best year boxing’s seen since Mike Tyson’s glory days nearly twenty years ago.  Call me crazy, but as a die-hard boxing aficionado, I’m finding the “crap” HBO serves us to be quite delicious.

We live in a new, on-demand world where if one wants something – be it information, entertainment, or even a romantic partner – a click of the mouse is all that’s required to obtain it.  What impresses me most about HBO is how the network has kept up with the times.  No longer is HBO a place where fight junkies can get their boxing fix only through the occasional Saturday-night fight; the channel has warped into a multi-media powerhouse that delivers quality fight programming on a slew of forums.

HBO On Demand, which is available to HBO subscribers for a small monthly fee, features recent HBO fights, fighter profiles, past fights, fighters’ “greatest hits” (quick clips of the significant matches of a fighter’s career), and much more – all at the click of a button.

Much of what HBO features On Demand is on HBO’s YouTube channel, Youtube.com/HBO, which, needless to say, is free to even non-HBO subscribers.  The site features over 70 top-notch boxing videos, and the number grows by the month.  Videos range from the first episode of “De La Hoya-Pacquiao: 24/7” to actor Mario Lopez and De La Hoya talking about whether sex before a fight weakens legs.

2008 also saw HBO debut their new online series “Ring Life” which follows the lives of world-class and journeymen fighters in and out of the ring.  The heart-warming and inspirational tales of boxers like Edvan Barros, the 9-6-1 Brazilian who fights to support his sick mother thousands of miles south, remind fans of boxing’s essence.  And they’re free on HBO.com.

The aforementioned “24/7” series, which follows and spotlights fighters and their personal lives throughout training camps, is breathing new life back into pay-per-view fights.  The two-year-old show allows fans to see their favorite fighters spar, run, and most importantly talk about their opponents before mega showdowns.  Nothing gets me more fired up for a fight than seeing the combatants preparing for battle.

HBO’s upgrade into the 21st century has made me, along with countless other fight fans, love boxing more than ever.  So much of the sport stems from within the fighters’ personal battles, and seeing into those battles through HBO’s new programming brings fight nuts closer to the sport they love.

So why the hell is everyone complaining?

The current criticisms of HBO are unwarranted and, quite frankly, a bit whiny.

Recently, boxing scribe Thomas Hauser expressed his concerns about HBO and its methods of televising and promoting boxing.  He condemned everything from the fights the network televises to the promotional shows hyping them.

 “De La Hoya-Pacquiao: 24/7, while pretending to be sports journalism, was primarily an effort to engender pay-per-view buys and, secondarily, an exercise in image-building for Oscar coupled with a product placement tool for Ring sportswear,” said Hauser.  “The issue of De La Hoya trying to lure Pacquiao away from Top Rank and signing him with Golden Boy by giving him a briefcase filled with US$300,000 in cash and the ugly recriminations that followed were never discussed.”

While offering suggestions to improve boxing is something all fight scribes should do, disparaging “24/7” is unnecessary.  Boxing is a business that makes its money off of entertaining people.   Fans watching “24/7” aren’t concerned about sports journalism; they watch the show to get amped for fights.   Aaron Cohen, who writes the shows with beautiful, captivating prose, isn’t a journalist; he’s a wordsmith, and a damn good one. HBO televises the show to generate hype and buys, which subsequently raises boxing’s popularity.  And it works.  I brought two of my best friends from college to my house to watch “De La Hoya-Pacquiao:  24/7,” and despite the fact that neither had ever watched boxing before, both were anxious to watch the fight after seeing the countdown.  Had something as mundane as the promotional battle over Pacquiao been discussed, I can’t say my friends would have had the same excitement.

Hauser continued his bashing by criticizing the relationship between HBO and Golden Boy Promotions.

“It’s hard to shake the belief that HBO is tilting the playing field in Golden Boy’s favor to the detriment of other promoters,” he said.

Hauser quoted Top Rank President Todd DuBoef to corroborate his statement.  DuBoef called Golden Boy Promotions “stealers and poachers.”  Hauser also quoted Top Rank Chairman Bob Arum saying how he would change HBO’s boxing program if in charge of it.

“Right now, it’s idiotic,” Arum said of the network’s pay-per-view system.  

It’s hard to blame DuBoef and Arum for bashing boxing’s biggest network, especially considering Top Rank’s bleak future in comparison to their rivals at Golden Boy Promotions.  While Golden Boy continues to sign hot fighters like heavyweight David Haye and (less recently) light-welterweight star Ricky Hatton, Top Rank’s stable of stars is diminishing year after year.  Erik Morales retired in 2007; Jose Luis Castillo was blown away by Hatton in June of 2007; and superstar hopefuls Humberto Soto, Zahir Raheem, and Hasim Rahman have all been beaten or parted ways with Top Rank.  Golden Boy, run primarily by Richard Schaefer and De La Hoya, is young, new, and exciting.  Arum is 77 years old and not getting any younger.

Here’s a wakeup call to the boxing world:  Golden Boy Promotions is the strongest promoter of today and tomorrow.  They’re the ones with the best champions and prospects, and their collaboration with HBO will bring those world-class boxers to fans.  Instead of viewing HBO’s relationship with Golden Boy as a conspiracy, fans should view it as a partnership between two boxing superpowers.  Arum had the Versus network reserved for Top Rank fighters for more than enough time to prove the worth of his company, and the fights he put on were uncompetitive, insignificant, and boring.  I sure as hell would rather see Golden Boy fighters on HBO than suffer through Top Rank battles on boxing’s biggest network.

Further criticism towards HBO lies in the quality of fights it broadcasts, both on regular cable and pay-per-view.  Mismatches that feature prospects vs. no-hopers and mediocre fights being put on pay-per-view, fight critics say, are bringing boxing down.   While some of this denigration is indeed called for, the boxing world is a bit too harsh given the sport’s modern state.  Unlike five years ago, boxing doesn’t have a stable of stars and prospects to match against each other.  Marco Antonio Barrera, Jose Luis Castillo, Erik Morales, and several others are no longer worthy of significant HBO matches, and exciting upstarts like Rocky Juarez have run their course been replaced by less talented pugs like Chris Arreola.  Boxing’s depth is not the sport’s strong point.  HBO is working with limited resources.

The unfair criticism is again evinced in Hauser’s article.  In it, he asked:  “Did HBO really need Paul Williams vs. Verno Phillips paired with Chris Arreola vs. Travis Walker?”

The answer is an emphatic ‘yes.’  Williams is one of the sport’s brightest young stars.  But at 6’1 and with a extraordinary punch output, the world’s best 147 and 154 pounders want no part of him.  Phillips, though a limited opponent, was willing to take the challenge.  So should HBO not televise one of boxing’s best and most exciting fighters just because his opponent isn’t dynamic?  That would be unfair to the sport’s fans.  And Williams can’t wait around until someone like Miguel Cotto decides to fight him.  He has a family to feed, a living to make.  Regardless of who he is facing, I want to see him make that living.

Arreola, though flawed, is one of boxing’s hottest prospects, which, admittedly, isn’t saying much. But   he’s exciting, big, and heavy-hitting, meaning he’s a perfect fit to be on television.  Walker, a one-loss hard hitter who had beaten prospects Jason Estrada and Jorge Garcia, was a worthy opponent for a stepping-stone bout.  And the fight was actually exciting.

Granted, putting fights like Roy Jones Jr. vs. Felix Trinidad on pay-per-view is unfair to fans, but every sport has flaws, and if boxing’s biggest flaw means putting extra cash into the pocket of a soon-retiring ring legend, then $50 for a fight every now and then is okay by me.  And it’s not like HBO and Golden Boy aren’t making an effort; in 2008, they collaborated to bring us De La Hoya vs. Steve Forbes, Bernard Hopkins vs. Joe Calzaghe, and Ricky Hatton vs. Paulie Malignaggi for free.

In the past four months, boxing suffered two major programming setbacks.  Telefutura cut their “Solo Boxeo” series, and ESPN2 ridded “Wednesday Night Fights” of their airwaves.  The reduction in televised boxing will make HBO’s role within the sport even bigger.  My advice to the network:  market your multi-media features more, and continue to hype your fights.  Your online and On Demand programming are a fight fan’s dream, and your “24/7” series deserves all the praise in the world.  And hopefully, with more advertising, the boxing world will realize what a great job you’re actually doing.

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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