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Articles of 2009

UFC Angles For Boxing Fans In Ireland

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DUBLIN, Ireland – UFC President Dana White described the Manny Pacquiao-Oscar De La Hoya event as “a bad day for boxing”, citing an abbreviated undercard as a driver for the show’s poor production values. Turns out the fights on the UFC 93:Franklin vs. Henderson card didn’t last very long either.

But there was a key difference: the fights on UFC 93 were competitive and entertaining, regardless of their brevity.

Just two of the eight bouts went the full three rounds, but the 9,369 crowd at the O2 Arena in Dublin didn’t disapprove. They were under the impression that the matchups were relatively even, despite the fact that one fighter scored usually a conclusive victory in quick fashion.

None of the bouts featured a fighter evidently out of his league and there was never a hint that any fight was merely a showcase opportunity for a favored contestant.

Some of the fights did lack quality, such as the tangle between Mauricio “Shogun” Rua and Mark Coleman, but that clash had the crowd roaring its approval up until the knockout finish by the Brazilian.

This was the first UFC event in Dublin, a city that has feverishly supported the sweet science over the years. It’s an old school fight town, populated by a plethora of boxing gyms and the prospect of a night of fights, regardless of their discipline, saw intense demand for tickets to UFC 93, with all seats selling out within two weeks.

The attendance generated an exhilarating atmosphere, getting vocally involved in all bouts on the five hour show, leading Dana White to describe the crowd as “pound-for-pound one of the best crowds” the UFC has observed. The organization’s U.K. President, Marshall Zelaznik, announced that the UFC plans to host an annual St. Patrick’s Day card in Ireland and will make the nation one of its key hosts.

The newfound presence of the UFC will test the Irish fight fans’ loyalty to boxing. After seeing a well-produced, invigorating UFC show their appetite for pugilism may wane, as the prospect of evenly matched, unpredictable fights overshadows the likelihood of a cumbersome undercard beneath a big boxing match. Value for money matters during these economically tough times. Fans can’t afford to feel cheated anymore.

Many observers maintain that boxing and MMA followers are mutually exclusive, but Irish boxing stars Wayne McCullough and Bernard Dunne, seated at Octagon-side, were inundated with attention from fans throughout the night, indicating that a sizeable portion of the crowd were genuine boxing supporters.

In recent years the Irish public has turned out in force to support John Duddy, Andy Lee and Dunne and it is likely that each of the three fighters will make appearances at the O2 Arena within the next year. But when they do, ticket sales may be adversely affected by the prospect of an upcoming UFC card. National pride will always see the Irish public show strong support for their boxing heroes, but if home-grown UFC stars arrive, fans may decide to pump their money into MMA instead.

Such a scenario may never materialize, but ultimately Ireland will prove to be a case study as to whether fight fans really do switch allegiance from boxing to UFC.

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In the main event of UFC 93, Dan Henderson gritted out a split three round decision over Rich Franklin to take a major step towards a title shot. Even though this contest was at light heavyweight, Henderson will next face Michael Bisping at middleweight.

Henderson, 38, looked physically smaller than Franklin, even though both men were listed at 6’1 and just under the 205-pound limit. Franklin figured to use his cleaner striking ability to subdue the rugged former two-time Olympic wrestler, and the strategy worked at times, but Henderson’s ability to control affairs on the ground ultimately proved the difference.

“He did well on the outside, landing some nice kicks,” admitted Henderson after the fight. “But I landed some good shots in close as well as from on top.”

On entering the octagon, Henderson seemed thoroughly relaxed in his surroundings, his nerves eased by the experience of battling some of the sport’s biggest names in his 23-7 career. His renowned looping right-hand staggered Franklin early, providing the opportunity for Henderson to take a dominant position on the ground, while landing a series of knees and right hooks.

Franklin, 34, managed to scramble to his feet and thereafter he recomposed himself and enjoyed some success with left kicks from his southpaw stance. But an accidental head clash dampened his momentum, opening a deep cut on the top of his head.

Franklin’s superior strength saw him push Henderson around in the clinch, but a single-leg takedown from the Californian saw him govern the majority of the round, pounding Franklin with forearm blows and looping punches.  It wasn’t the prettiest action of the night, but it was effective, as Henderson maintained his position to stifle the technically smoother Ohio native.

The third round was Franklin’s best, as his leg kicks found their mark, but he was still unable to get leverage into his usually dangerous left cross.  The threat of Henderson’s right-hand may have limited Franklin’s output and an inadvertent finger to his eye brought a stop to the action, enabling Henderson to regroup. Both fighters winged punches at the fight’s close, with the decision uncertain as the contest ended.

Two judges scored it 29-28 for Henderson, while the other somehow had it 30-27 in favour of Franklin.

“At the most I would have given Rich the third round,” said Henderson. “I didn’t feel any power in his punches. I tried to time his [left cross] and land my right-hand, but he did a good job with the [left] kick.”

Henderson will now take on the role as coach of the U.S. team in the upcoming The Ultimate Fighter reality series which begins filming in Las Vegas on Monday.

Both fighters in the co-main event, Mauricio “Shogun” Rua and Mark Coleman, showed a lack of conditioning and shoddy technique but still managed to captivate the crowd throughout the 14 minutes of their affray.

The bout was awarded Fight of the Night status [along with Marcus Davis –Chris Lytle] by the UFC, but the distinction is arguable given the lack of quality on display. Both fighters had nothing left after just three minutes of a fight that moved at an ordinary pace.

Coleman, despite showing some of the wrestling skills that made him the first UFC heavyweight champion, was on rubbery legs after absorbing a series of leg kicks, knees and punches from Rua in the opening minutes. But with the 44-year-old apparently ready to be taken out, Rua shockingly was unable to summon the energy to finish the job and live up to the hype that preceded his arrival in the UFC in 2007.

Coleman then somehow found his way back into the fight, though only by default, as Rua struggled to maintain any sort of attack. The American’s left jab found its mark on Rua’s face with regularity, but the 27-year-old had numerous chances to wrap up the contest but had to wait until the dying seconds before a right hand sent Coleman reeling and a followup uppercut sent him down. The referee quickly intervened to halt the bout at 4:36 of the third.

Both fighters were visibly drained afterward. Coleman can maintain a degree of pride, as few expected the rematch to their 2006 encounter to be so competitive and there were calls that the contest was stopped early. But Rua looked a shell of the fighter that thrilled audiences with his striking skills in PRIDE.

Rua blamed his poor performance on inactivity since his upset loss to Forrest Griffin in 2007.

“I stayed sidelined for one year and a half,” explained Rua at the post fight press conference. “I went through surgeries. That is not easy, and that took a lot of my conditioning. It’s one thing to train and another thing to fight.”

Despite’s the crowd’s involvement in this fight, there will be no imminent rematch as Dana White announced that Rua will face Chuck Liddell at UFC 97 in Montreal on April 18.

The unpredictability of MMA was demonstrated in Alan Belcher’s submission victory over the much heralded Denis Kang in a middleweight matchup. Belcher had a reputation for being a one-dimensional kickboxer, but he showed improved ground skills in defending against Kang’s submission attempts and securing a decisive guillotine choke.

Kang was in control up until the fight’s end, showing impressive boxing skills while working in a variety of submission attempts. But Belcher used his strength to escape from Kang’s attempts of a d’arce choke and kimura.

When Kang attempted a takedown in the second round, Belcher stuffed the attempt and used Kang’s momentum to lock in a guillotine choke, forcing the Canadian to tap out.

“I think I’ve established myself in the UFC,” said Belcher. “Kang is one of the top middleweights in the UFC.”

Marcus Davis and Christ Lytle showed why they are regarded as two of the UFC’s most durable fighters by electing to engage in a standup battle that featured an abundance of clean blows.

The bout started with Lytle enjoying some success with kicks to Davis’ legs, but the latter constantly threatened with sharp straight lefts from the southpaw stance.  A right hook from Davis momentarily floored Lytle, but “The Irish Hand Grenade” was unable to capitalize.

Lytle enjoyed more success with his punches in the second, trapping Davis along the cage and unloading with a barrage of hooks. Davis was forced to run from his opponent to escape the combinations.  But the Maine native rebounded with a double-knee combination and landed a number of clean punches as the round drew to a close.

Both fighters embraced at the start of the final frame, but the hostility soon resumed as Davis began to land the straight left with increasing frequency. A variance of leg kicks and nifty footwork saw Davis take control of the fight drawing winces from the stationary Lytle, but the hard-hooking Indianapolis resident remained a danger throughout.

The judges scored the contest 29-28 (twice) and 28-29.

“I’ve fulfilled a dream,” said a tearful Davis as the crowd roared their approval. “To beat someone as tough as Lytle in front of my family’s homeland is amazing. I knew how important movement would be in this fight.”

Jeremy Horn and Rousimar Palhares put on an exhibition of technical ground fighting in their middleweight tussle. Palhares ultimately proved to be too strong for the UFC veteran.

Horn, a 104-fight veteran, used all of his experience to provide a tough test for the Brazilian submission specialist. Palhares was unable to trap the slippery American, who used his long limbs and agility to escape from any submission attempts.

Horn looked the better fighter standing, but the stocky Palhares used his strength and low center of gravity to routinely bring Horn to the ground. Palhares cited a broken hand as the reason he could not finish off his opponent. 

John Hathaway clinically ended the ambitions of hometown hero Tom Egan, taking the fight to the ground and controlling the action until the stoppage at 4:36 of the first round of their welterweight clash.

Hathaway wasted little time in taking Egan off his feet and doggedly pressurized the Irishman, never allowing him to regain his footing. As mush as Egan struggled to escape, Hathaway maintained control, smothering his opponent until securing the mount and raining in strikes until the referee called a halt.

The 21-year-old Englishman was relentless in his pursuit of victory and never gave Egan a chance to settle into his debut UFC contest.
 

Martin Kampmann got back to winning ways in his welterweight debut, stopping Alexandre Barros at 3:09 in the second round of their contest.

Eric Schafer used his noted jiu-jitsu skills to dominate Antonio Mendes, forcing the referee to halt the light heavyweight fight at 3:35 of the first.

Poland’s Tomasz Drwal wasted little time in beating Ivan Serati, pounding on the Italian until the fight’s end at 2:02.

Knockout of the Night honors went to Denis Siver, who landed a devastating spinning back kick to the solar plexus of Nate Mohr. A follow-up assault brought the fight’s end at 3:47 of the third.

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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