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Articles of 2009

Brute Pt. 4: I Just Woke Up. Who's Winning?

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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

At the bell, Otis Griffin came forward first, and threw an imprecise left hook. Mike Simms stepped away from it, certainly not bouncing on his toes, but boxing the smaller man. Throughout the first round of sparring, he neutralized Griffin's attack, jabbing his way outside. By the way Griffin continued to press forward, though, it was clear that his cardio was superior. He threw a series of combinations but failed to land anything with much authority. Late in the round Simms backed Griffin into the ropes and landed a hard left hook to the body, to which he added a stiff, straight right to Griffin's forehead. After the bell Simms leaned over the ropes and stared out the roll-up door at the rear of the gym that had been raised to let in a breeze. Griffin stood with Eric Regan who gave him a sip of water and suggested that he continue to press forward against Simms. One of the Marines from the recruitment center next door to Nasser Niavaroni's had walked back to the ring and was standing with his arms crossed. When he had finished with Griffin, Regan asked, “Can I help you?”

“I just got kicked out of the office,” said the Marine. “I thought I'd come over and watch the boxers.”

In the second round I felt that Simms' footwork was more deliberate and intelligent than it had been in the first. He would stick Griffin with a right jab, or cross over with a straight left, and Griffin couldn't gain enough composure to found any offense. Simms kept a high left hand when he jabbed, and that forced Griffin to go to the body, where he landed two left hooks to Simms' right oblique. They tied up after that, and without a referee to separate them, Simms escorted Griffin to the ropes, where he threw the first truly malicious punches of the morning. He landed a right and a left consecutively to Griffin's head, then disengaged. But as he danced back outside he reminded Griffin of their embrace by stinging him with a jab and a left. The buzzer signaling thirty seconds left in the round sounded, and Simms, visibly tired already, had to accept two impetuous rights from Griffin that, had he not been wearing his headgear, might have wobbled him.

In the second break Regan tended to Simms. “Keep finishing with the left,” he said.

In the third, Griffin reintroduced himself as the aggressor, but it was Simms who continued to land the cleanest punches, including a short left uppercut that lighted on Griffin's chin. Griffin seemed relatively undaunted, though, and pressed forward as Regan had instructed him to do four minutes earlier. Griffin pushed Simms back into the ropes, and I felt a breeze of anticipation. Simms had said that he liked to attack off the ropes, and I watched to see if he could find an exploitable opening in Griffin's defense. He didn't. Instead he accepted a flurry of punches to the body. Eventually he dislodged himself and backed into the corner where I was standing. There he strung together a good series of punches, lefts and rights,  that continually caught Griffin on the temples. I wondered if he were showing off, or if he knew the round was nearly over and needed, were there judges present, to impress them.

The fourth round, if you were cheering for Simms, was not lovely to watch. Simms seemed exhausted, and he kept his guard up with his elbows fastened to his sides, inviting whatever punches Griffin cared to throw. And Griffin cared to throw plenty. He caught Simms with two right uppercuts from the inside, and two solid, alternating, three punch combinations. Simms appeared to be resting, but boxing is not a sport suited to stationary recuperation. He was forced, late in the round, to latch onto Griffin. And then as if to distract the three observers—myself, Eric Regan, and the Marine—Simms threw a hard, low, left hook to Griffin's liver, but none of us were persuaded to donate him the round.

The fifth round began as the last had transpired, with Simms plodding around the ring backwards, singularly egressive. Regan seemed frustrated, even bored with Simms performance, and he yelled, “I'm the old judge. I just woke up. Who's winning?” Simms, rather than the hypothetical judge, seemed to wake up, as if in the first half-round he'd been thinking about something else—perhaps his child support payments. With his newly unearthed focus Simms put together the best combination of the bout, but Griffin shrugged it off. At the end of the round he had Simms against the ropes again where he landed a final, hard right to the cheek.

The sixth was a dramatic round, insofar as it was dynamic, with the boxers exchanging ownership of one another. Griffin came in with combinations, using a hard right hook on the inside to oppress Simms. But then Simms overthrew him, using his size to muscle Griffin around the ring, hooking Griffin as he pressed with alternating shots to the body. They arrived, ultimately, in my corner again, and Simms landed a left to the body and a right to the head that convinced Simms to hold on until the bell reprieved him.

After the fight there were no stools and Simms crouched in the rear of the ring, facing the alley, with his hands over his face, almost as if he were praying—or crying. I highly doubt he was doing either. After awhile he stood up and walked over to where Regan and Griffin stood near my corner, and crouched down again. Regan took off Griffin's gloves first, and when he took off Simms', Simms said, “How long before a fight can I get a massage? I know it drains you. Turns you to jelly.”

“Maybe two or three days before,” said Regan. “It's different for everybody.”

I stood around at the front of the gym, waiting for the fighters to change. A young man came in with a large box and set it on the counter. Regan had come up to the front desk to answer a phone call, and when he hung up he opened it. It was full of cookies, and he took out one container of them and handed it to me. “Give these to your mother,” he said. It was Mother's Day the following Sunday. “Don't eat them all yourself.” I thanked him and told him I would be back in the morning.

“Tell Simms that I'll see him at 9:00,” I said.

When I returned the following day at 9:30AM, the gym was open. The silver Isuzu was parked in front as it had been the day before. Inside Simms was standing by the ring in a sweatshirt and shorts. He had not wrapped his hands. At the front desk was a man in a Stanford hat, who, judging by the strident tone of his voice, was Nasser Niavaroni. He was at least talking loud enough that he appeared to own the place. Simms came towards me and we shook hands, but he looked melancholy. I turned then to Niavaroni, and listened to what he was saying into the phone.

“So he gets new blood work done for his last license, which is still good,” Nasser was saying, “but because he has to redo the license maybe it's better to get more blood work? He just got a full medical clearance for his last fight, and that was less than two months ago.” He paused for a response and then added, “Okay, yeah, that's crazy. All right. Thanks, Lilly.”

I looked at Simms and knew immediately by the look on his face that the party in question, who needed new blood work, was Simms himself.

“Michael, don't just stand there,” said Niavaroni. “Get your s–t together.”

“I don't understand what just happened,” said Simms.

“What good are you doing standing with your arms crossed?” Niavaroni said to Simms. This was obviously a rhetorical question. “You've got to get more blood work, period. That's what it is: a dictatorship. You've got to have blood work. You don't have it, you don't fight. I really don't care. I might cancel the show today. Don't worry about it.”

“We got a shitty commission,” said Simms.

Nasser had passed from frustration almost into complacency. “Yeah, we do.”

I followed Mike across the gym to the ring where Ezra Regan was sitting on the mat having finished his three hundred sit-ups. Simms knelt down in front of his bag, took out his wrap, and began winding his hands as he talked. “They screwing so much stuff up down there.” I think he was referring to the Sacramento boxing commission. “It's ridiculous.”

I asked him if the fight were in jeopardy of being cancelled, and he said, “This February I got my blood work done, and when you get it done it's good for a whole year. And every couple of years you got to get the eyes. Even after the fight here I went and fought in Russia, and everything that was done here was good there.”

Ezra, as had everyone else in the gym, had heard Niavaroni yelling at Lilly, and knew that the fight was, apparently, on the verge of being terminated. “You got to do what they say,” he said. “Don't even waste your energy on it.”

But Simms seemed as if he wanted to waste a little more energy on it. “I think they trying to kill boxing in Sacramento, in my opinion. Think I'll have to try cage fighting. I mean Nasser just told her he'd submitted the fight card, who's on the fight card. Why are you all just now, a few days before weigh-ins, letting me know I need blood work? They should have had it checked out way ahead of time. This close to weigh-ins and they're making everybody jump through hurdles.” Jumping through a hurdle, rather than over one, it occurred to me, was probably more difficult.

“That's to be expected,” said Ezra. “They try to do stuff like that all the time.”

I asked Simms if he planned to spar, and he told me that he had to go try and get his blood work done. I wondered then why he'd wrapped his hands if he was leaving the gym, but I shook his hand instead and left. On the way out I asked Niavaroni if he really thought the fight would be cancelled.

“I'll know this afternoon,” he said.

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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