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Articles of 2009

Wrapping Up The Past

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Until the Antonio Margarito hand-wrap controversy is resolved (and it might never really be, given skepticism on both sides of the issue), everyone in boxing is apt to have their own take on what has become a hot-button issue.

When does “gamesmanship,” the little tricks many fighters employ to gain any kind of an edge they can, cross the line into illegality and, just maybe, criminality? The names of disgraced trainer Panama Lewis and his fighter, Luis Resto, have been tossed around like Nerf footballs by those convinced that Margarito and his trainer, Javier Capetillo, not only crossed that line, but enthusiastically bounded over it.

Others — for the most part, fans of the “Tijuana Tornado” – are insistent that this brouhaha is much ado about nothing, a minor controversy magnified for purposes of advancing someone else’s agenda.

But, to me and to others, the question is not whether Capetillo and Margarito knowingly cheated. (I think they did, although I reserve judgment as to whether their transgressions approach Panama Lewis despicability.) It’s whether state commissions are manned by qualified individuals who know what the hell they’re supposed to do and do it, and not by political hacks appointed solely or at least mostly because they contributed to the reelection campaigns of their state’s sitting governor.

Remember, the Titanic didn’t sink because it was struck by the tip of that iceberg; it went to the bottom because of a large gash in its hull below the water line, inflicted by the larger, unseen portion of the submerged threat.

I know more than a few employees of state commissions who are informed, dedicated individuals, who take their jobs seriously and follow every step necessary to ensure the safety and well-being of the fighters entrusted to their care. I also know others who wouldn’t know a legal hand wrap from the Saran Wrap their wives use to preserve last night’s dinner leftovers. And, even though they might not realize it, ignorance on the part of someone in their position is not bliss. It’s potentially lethal.

The Professional boxing Safety Act of 1996 and Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act of 2000 co-authored by Senators John McCain and Richard Bryan are well-intentioned, but they lack teeth in that enforcement is ceded to the Association of Boxing Commissions, which in turn relegates it to a particular state’s commission. And, as we have unfortunately discovered, some states hand out commission positions like candy because to political contributors to the “right” party or to friends of a person with high-enough connections.

Boxing these days is like a ship crossing the North Atlantic at night in 1912 and the lookout is calling out that he spots an iceberg dead ahead. But it’s what the lookout doesn’t see that can most hurt us, or more specifically the fighters who enter the ring a bit less secure than they should be that their opponents don’t have the equivalent of brass knuckles inside or under their gloves.

After Wrapgate reared its ugly head the night of Shane Mosley’s thrashing of Margarito, I dug through my voluminous clip file to find whatever I could concerning Naazim Richardson’s upheld assertation that Felix Trinidad’s hands were illegally wrapped prior to Tito’s Sept. 29, 2001, middleweight unification bout with Bernard Hopkins.

Prior to Trinidad’s May 11, 2002, fight with Hacine Cherifi in San Juan, Puerto Rico, I revisited the matter with Hopkins, the presumed beneficiary of Richardson’s observations, who dominated Trinidad en route to stopping him in the 12th round 7½ months earlier.

“If you put on tape, then gauze, then tape, then gauze, it’s like a (plaster) cast,” Hopkins told me. “It’s like being hit with a baseball bat.

“I’m giving out some secrets here, but you can dip your hands in ice water and that tape will, like, marinate and become harder. But it’s only cheating if you get caught. Personally, I think (Fernando) Vargas’ and (David) Reid’s people dropped the ball. Naazim did a brilliant job in spotting what (Felix Trinidad Sr.) was doing with the wraps.”

Boxing commissions have been – or at least should have been – more diligent in the enforcement of regulations designed to restrict unfair competitive advantages since the notorious incident in 1983 when Panama Lewis used tweezers to remove much of the horsehair padding from Resto’s gloves. Resto administered a horrific beating to Billy Collins, ending Collins’ career, and Lewis received a prison sentence and a lifetime ban from boxing.

Only last year, Resto came clean and admitted that he did in fact know that he went into the Madison Square Garden ring that night with rocks for fists.

Richardson wonders why the commissioner who oversaw Capetillo’s wrapping of Margarito’s hands allowed it to proceed prior to Richardson’s arrival on the scene. When Richardson protested, and the hard plaster-like substance was cut out of the left hand wrap, the on-scene commissioner insisted that the wraps to the right hand were A-OK and that he personally would vouch for them. Except, of course, that they weren’t.

I don’t know the identity of that commissioner, but this smacks of something more than incompetence. It has the taint of collusion, and if that is proven he should be dealt more than a lifetime ban from boxing. He should be criminally prosecuted.

Richardson himself has adopted a less forgiving stance over the years. After Hopkins schooled Trinidad, a fight in which Richardson worked B-Hop’s corner as an assistant trainer, he downplayed the fact that William Joppy had claimed he had been victimized in his fifth-round, middleweight unification stoppage loss a few months earlier.

“I think (the hand wraps) gave Joppy and some of the other guys Trinidad knocked out an excuse,” Richardson said at the time. “I mean, the kid can punch. Trinidad could punch before, he can punch now.

“Bernard just didn’t get hit a lot. If Trinidad had bricks in there, he still wouldn’t have beaten Bernard that night.”

So what does Richardson think now? He said he has had other conversations with Joppy, who continues to maintain that Trinidad’s power on the night they fought was something beyond all-natural.

“You know me, Naz,” Richardson said in relating what Joppy told him. “I take a good shot. I’ve sparred with heavyweights and gotten nailed. But nobody ever hit me like that before. It just didn’t seem right.”

Noted trainer and ESPN2 “Friday Night Fights” color analyst Teddy Atlas said the lack of proper oversight by various commissions is a matter that must be addressed, and soon, if boxing is to become as unsullied as it needs to be in order to maintain public confidence.

“This is why I’ve been calling for a national commission for the last 11 years,” Atlas said of the Margarito hand-wrap flap. “I’ve had this platform at ESPN where I can say something that I think needs to be said.

“We’re not going to get a national commission and even if we did, it probably wouldn’t be run the right way, anyway. I know I’m being cynical, but I have a reason for cynicism, unfortunately.

“We need uniform standards across the board and the possibility of actually administering those standards is low.”

Perhaps because Mosley has his own skeletons in the closet – he now admits that that “flaxseed oil” he thought was being rubbed on him by a personal trainer before his Sept. 13, 2003, rematch with Oscar De La Hoya probably was a designer steroid supplied by the infamous BALCO laboratory – he initially tried to downplay the hand-wrap issue and Margarito’s possible culpability.

“I don’t think Margarito was trying to do anything illegal,” Mosley said immediately after the fight. “I am sure it was a misunderstanding.”

Yeah, and Barry Bonds’ head grew two hat sizes larger because his skull was a late bloomer.

Atlas hears the excuses and the explanations and they ring as hollow as ever. What does the cheating husband tell his wife when she catches him in bed with another woman? He innocently asks “What woman?” as the naked lady gathers up her clothes and skedaddles out the side door For some, the best way out of an embarrassing situation is to deny, deny, deny.

“I don’t think it was a misunderstanding,” Atlas said of Margarito’s hand wraps. “I think he and his trainer understood exactly what was being put in there.

“Look, the California commission has not been the most glorious, to tell you the truth. They need to take some of the mystery out of this and tell us, at the earliest possible date, exactly what the device was. I’ve heard it was anything from a plastic shield to something that, if wet, acted like plaster of Paris.

“Identify it so we can know what the intentions were. Then we can go from there.”

Atlas said his cynicism is rooted in legitimate concerns. He’s seen commission members around the country who hadn’t enough sense to come in out of the rain, much less spot an illegal hand wrap if they saw it being applied before their very eyes.

“Look, nobody travels around the country to see boxing as much as I do,” he said.
For the last four years I’ve doing two shows a week on `Wednesday Night Fights’ and `Friday Night Fights,’ although we aren’t running on Wednesdays anymore. I’ve been to places in the middle of nowhere, wherever an Indian casino pops up – and believe me, they pop up everywhere. Iowa, Wisconsin, Oklahoma. You think those places have stable, knowledgable commissions? No, they don’t.

“Sometimes I have to instruct my guys, the guys who go to weigh-ins and stuff like that, not just to tell me the weights supplied by the commission. I tell them to see if the fighters actually get on the scales. There have been times when a weight was announced and the fighter never stepped on the scales.”

The International Boxing Hall of Fame is located in Canastota, N.Y., about an hour’s drive from the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. Baseball’s high level of personal accountability has kept Pete Rose (gambling) and, to date, Mark McGwire (suspected steroid use) from the enshrinement their statistics on the field would otherwise merit. It’ll be interesting to see how Bonds, Rafael Palmeiro, Sammy Sosa and Roger Clemens, all of whom are believed to have used performance-enhancing drugs, fare when their names appear on the ballot.

Boxing, meanwhile, winks at its bad boys because it holds itself to a lower level of accountability. You say Sonny Liston was arrested 19 times? No problem! That Jake La Motta threw a fight? So what? Their plaques and those of numerous other semi-shady characters hang in the IBHOF because, hey, it’s boxing. If the doors to Canastota were open only to knights in shining armor, there wouldn’t even be any doors to open in the first place.

Just remember that l’affaire Margarito might only be the tip of an iceberg of a scandal whose effects potentially are more far-reaching than any of us would care to admit. If Bonds and McGwire hit more and longer home runs because of injections in their buttocks, isn’t it reasonable to assume that at least some of the more spectacular butt-kickings we have witnessed in the ring were the result of doctored gloves and hand wraps?

Like Hopkins said, it’s only cheating if you get caught. For boxing, the unfortunate reality is that too often Inspector Clouseau, not Lt. Columbo, is on the case.

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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