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Articles of 2009

A Star Is Born



Now that Naazim Richardson has taken his place at the head table reserved for boxing’s celebrity trainers, you have to wonder if the road to recognition was like this for such legendary cornermen as Ray Arcel, Eddie Futch, Jack Blackburn, Cus D’Amato, Charley Goldman, Angelo Dundee and Emanuel Steward.

Great trainers, one would presume, must know how to properly condition their boxers, craft intelligent fight plans, make in-bout adjustments on the fly and push the proper buttons when extra motivation is needed at a critical moment. But is the ability to do all that always enough to gain a reputation as one of the sport’s finest teachers? How much is attributable to simply being in the right place at the right time? Having one or more gifted pupils whose high-visibility successes serve to illuminate your contributions?

Larry Holmes, after he had been heavyweight champion of the world for a good, long while, once offered the opinion that the shifting cast of characters in his corner were necessary evils, unable to add to or detract from the boxing acumen he had already accumulated. Others – such as Shane Mosley, who was lavish in his praise of Richardson after last Saturday night’s stunning, nine-round beatdown of Antonio Margarito – have no hesitancy in suggesting that the right voice in the gym and on fight night can be the deciding factor in any bout, all other factors being more or less equal.

Richardson, best known as a longstanding trainer of Bernard “The Executioner” Hopkins, but only occasionally in the lead role since 2005, became a hot commodity because his exquisite fight plan was followed so perfectly by Mosley against Margarito, and because his observations of the manner in which the “Tijuana Tornado’s” hands were wrapped before the fight led to the impounding of hard inserts in those wraps. The prefight drama in Margarito’s dressing room – the California commission at this date has yet to announce its findings — at least hinted that the soon-to-be-dethroned WBA welterweight champion’s already formidable punching power sometimes has been enhanced by artificial means.

Considering that Richardson was at the forefront of another hand-wrap expose, when he successfully argued to New York State Athletic Commission officials that Felix Trinidad’s hands were illegally wrapped prior to his Sept. 29, 2001, middleweight unification showdown with Hopkins in Madison Square Garden (B-Hop won on a stunning, ninth-round stoppage), his increasingly high visibility might owe as much to his keen eye for possible rules infractions as well as for his more standard duties.

Like that noted baseball philosopher, Yogi Berra, once observed, it’s amazing how much you can see by looking.

That 1-2 punch delivered by Richardson – Mosley benefiting first from the dressing room flap, then from the tactical suggestions offered by his new trainer, for which Margarito’s chief second, Javier Capetillo, seemingly had no answer – vaulted the Philadelphian from the ranks of I-think-I’ve-heard-of-him trainers into elite status.

By the end of the seventh round, HBO blow-by-blow announcer Jim Lampley was advising viewers that every big-name fighter considering a change in his corner almost certainly would soon be putting Richardson on speed-dial.

Steward, the Hall of Fame trainer whose humble beginnings with amateur kids at Detroit’s Kronk Gym 30-plus years ago mirrors Richardson’s grunt work with the Concrete Jungle Boxing Team in gritty North Philadelphia, joined Lampley in singling out Sugar Shane’s new guy as a master instructor whose ability to wring the most out of his charges only now is being recognized after years of laboring in the shadows.

“I don’t think words can even describe how much he has improved his worth,” Manny said when asked about Richardson.

“It started with Bernard’s upset win over Kelly Pavlik. Then to have another major upset with Shane – which was a little difference because Shane was working with Naazim for the first time, whereas Bernard has been with him for so long – it was like a revelation. Naz came away from (Mosley-Margarito) with a better image, a higher niche … everything.”

Not bad for someone who, not so very long, was so debilitated by a stroke that he barely could speak or mount the three steps to the corner without becoming exhausted. Although Richardson remained on Hopkins’ payroll for his bouts with Winky Wright and Joe Calzaghe, it was in a secondary role to Freddie Roach.

Now fully recovered, or close to it, Richardson is demonstrating that he is back, and back in a big way.

“One of the things we didn’t even get around to mentioning during the telecast, which we should have, was that just over a year ago this man was so physically handicapped that he could hardly speak or walk up the steps,” Steward said.

“Now he comes along and gives two of the best performances of any trainer’s life, back go back. It’s just unreal. Naz’s work with Bernard and Shane these last two fights showed technique, strategy, planning. I was so impressed that he didn’t try to completely overhaul Shane. During my interviews with Naz, he wasn’t, like, `I’m bringing this and that to the table.’ He didn’t make it all about himself, like one guy I can think of.”

If you think the mystery egomaniac to whom Steward is referring to is the person who sired a recently retired welterweight champion and pound-for-pound king, that probably would be an astute guess.

But if Steward detects something special in Richardson, someone else is going to have to play devil’s advocate, if only for the purpose of sparking a debate. Not surprisingly, that person is another noted trainer, ESPN2 “Friday Night Fights” color analyst Teddy Atlas.

“He’ll be the flavor of the month, like Buddy McGirt was,” Atlas said of the former WBC welterweight champion whose reputation was buffed and burnished during a heady run a few years ago with Antonio Tarver, Vernon Forrest and Arturo Gatti. “There’s a whole succession of guys that get noticed in big fights and gain recognition, with recognition equation into more work for a while. The boxing business is fickle that way.”

So which is Richardson? A professor of pugilism worthy of his new-found acclaim? Or, as Atlas at least wonders, a holder of a winning lottery ticket whose good fortune is as much the product of luck as of actual expertise?

“Richardson had two experienced fighters in Hopkins and Mosley,” Atlas said. “Come on. I don’t know who or what he is. Those guys had a lot of success before he came along. Not taking away anything from him, but, jeez, keep things in perspective.

“Those were made-to-order opponents. Pavlik was made to order for an experienced fighter who could box a little bit, who could stay calm, not be broken down by pressure and knew how to counterpunch. I mean, that’s Boxing 101.

“And it was the same thing (with Mosley-Margarito). Margarito now has six losses in his career. He’s a guy who walks straight in. It’s hard to miss him. He broke down (Miguel) Cotto, but he got hit with a lot of punches before that. Really, his style was made to order for Mosley.

“Mosley didn’t look much different than I’ve seen him look in the past. The way he fought is the way he usually fights.”

Gauging the true value of coach to player, of trainer to fighter, is a question which has long been debated. In team sports, circumstances matter, too. Former quarterback Terry Bradshaw, the winner of four Super Bowl championships with the “Steel Curtain”-era Pittsburgh Steelers, once was asked for his opinion of Archie Manning, a gifted passer for mostly dreadful New Orleans Saints teams during his NFL career.

“If Archie had played with the Steelers, and I had been with the Saints, he’d have those four rings and everybody would be talking about poor Terry,” Bradshaw concluded.

Makes you wonder, doesn’t it? Casey Stengel won nine American League pennants and seven World Series in 13 seasons with the New York Yankees, but he finished last in all four seasons with the New York Mets, an expansion team he took over in 1962. Did the “Old Perfesser” suddenly stop being a genius in the dugout? Or did his winning percentage dip precipitously because he had to write Marv Throneberry’s and Choo-Choo Coleman’s names on the lineup card every day instead of Mickey Mantle’s and Roger Maris’?

Would the sad-sack Washington Generals have started beating the Harlem Globetrotters if Phil Jackson was diagramming isolation plays for Red Klotz instead of Michael Jordan?

There are those who insist that Bouie Fisher is one of the finest trainers ever in Philadelphia, but the veteran of so many gym tutorials didn’t start to get his due until Hopkins came along and blossomed, like a spring flower, into the future Hall of Famer we know him to be. Same with the venerable Bill Miller in Detroit until James Toney showed up.

Truth be told, talent-devoid fighters could benefit only so much from having a brilliant trainer in their corner, just as otherworldly fighters like Sugar Ray Robinson and Muhammad Ali probably couldn’t have been screwed up that badly by having substandard seconds barking out instructions. Somehow, some way, their natural brilliance would have shone through.

But put just the right fighter with just the right trainer and magic can happen. It’s a partnership, like Fred and Ginger, Montana to Rice, Butch and Sundance. One can make the other look good, and vice versa.

Richardson’s fondest dream is to take some of the Concrete Jungle fighters he introduced to boxing, most notably his son, welterweight prospect Rock Allen, to pro titles. The long road to the top always is more satisfying than the quick fix. Steward started out that way, putting his faith in Tommy Hearns and riding the skinny kid’s comet’s tail to a shared superstardom. Once he became established, Manny continued to build upon his legacyby taking on such noted fighters as Evander Holyfield, Oscar De La Hoya, Lennox Lewis and Wladimir Klitschko and making them better.

Maybe it’ll be that way for Richardson, too, if the pied piper’s tune played by Hopkins and now Mosley leads even more star clients in need of a career rejuvenation to his door. Flavors of the month have been known to become flavors of the year and of the decade, if the taste of what they’re churning out is delectable enough for mass consumption.

And, until further notice, it doesn’t get much sweeter than that double scoop of Sugar Shane that Richardson helped lay on the unfortunate Margarito.

Articles of 2009

UFC 108 Rashad Evans vs. Thiago Silva



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



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 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



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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