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Articles of 2009

Brute 5: You Won't Be Wearing The Swimsuits

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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

The afternoon of the Mike Simms fight was the warmest of the year. It was Thursday, the 15th of May, and I had spent the preceding six days south of Los Angeles in Seal Beach on assignment for another magazine, where, although it had been windy, it had been cool. But stepping off the plane in Sacramento I felt as if I were suddenly tending a brush fire. I was in a foul mood, also, because the day before I'd been forced to purchase a ticket to the fight that evening. The week previous, Nasser Niavaroni, who manages Mike Simms and who was promoting the fight at the Red Lion, told me two things that required follow-up calls. Firstly, the fight might be cancelled because of Simms' truant blood-test results. Secondly, if the card weren't discarded, he would be sure to get me a ticket, since the management at the hotel had declined my request for press credentials on the grounds that I wrote for an internet publication. So, I'd called Niavaroni on his cell-phone the Monday before the fight. He did not answer. Undaunted, I called the gym. Eric Regan answered.

“This is Kaelan Smith from the Boxing Herald,” I said.

“Hey, Kevin,” he said.

When I asked to speak with Niavaroni, he told me to “hang on a minute, Kevin,” and ineffectively holding his hand over the receiver, explained to Niavaroni that it was “the guy who was hanging out in the gym last week.” I heard Niavaroni say, “Tell him I'll call him back.”

“He's not in right now,” said Regan, “but I can have him call you when he gets in this afternoon.”

“Is the fight still on?” I asked.

“It's still on,” said Regan.

Suffice it to say, Niavaroni never called. But having made a foolish emotional investment in the greatly devalued Mike Simms Corporation, I was not about to miss the fight. By the time I got around to purchasing a ticket online, though, the $50 seats were sold out. I got one for $75, but with the service charges, it was $86. When I completed the transaction I sat in front of my computer, knowing I wouldn't get reimbursed, and feeling like the gambler at the blackjack table who puts his last chips on the felt and then gets dealt a seven and a five.

The fight was scheduled to commence at seven in the evening. I arrived at six in order to get my ticket from will-call and talk with whomever might be milling around the lobby. I parked and walked through the lot to the entrance. The Red Lion is in an inauspicious location, between the Arden Fair Mall and the Capital City Freeway. It is a two-story building, and guests enter their rooms from exterior walkways, much as patrons of a motel would. But I believe the management offers room service, and that at least separates the Red Lion from its architecturally synonymous inferiors.

In the foyer there were a number of men already gathered. There was a sign before the gift shop indicating that pre-purchased tickets could be acquired therein, and I stood in line behind three young men, one of whom, according to the conversation I overheard, used his father's credit card to purchase tickets for he and his friends. I got my ticket, eventually, and went back into the lobby and took a seat in an armchair. To my right was an older gentleman speaking Spanish with two younger men. Near the entrance I saw two women, escorted by a man in a striped, collared shirt, and hoped that they were the ring girls, although, from the way they were dressed, it was simply illogical to assume otherwise. The shorter and thicker wore a red dress with an elastic hem that cinched the skirt to her thighs and made the waist balloon around her hips. The other girl was effectively wearing a men's blue dress shirt, well tailored, and gathered at the waist with a belt. She had no pants on. They walked past me and up to a heavy man who, it appeared, had difficulty tucking in his shirt.

“No,” said the heavy man, “You won't be wearing the swimsuits tonight.”

“Oh,” said the girl in blue. She seemed disappointed. I was, too.

The older gentleman on the couch saw that I was taking notes on my pad. “You are a writer?” he asked. He spoke very quietly.

“I'm doing a story on Mike Simms,” I said.

“Oh,” he said. He seemed as disappointed as the girl in blue had about not getting to wear the swimsuit. “He is a boring fighter. It's over. He's over.”

“He has lost five in a row,” I said. “He needs to win.”

I moved over to the couch beside him and he introduced himself as Sergio Sanchez. “I've been training boxers for forty-two years,” Sanchez said. “I have a gym in Vacaville. I train the kids there.” He added immediately, as if to establish his credentials, that he'd been in Salvador Sanchez's corner the night he knocked out Wilfredo Gomez in Las Vegas in 1981. “That was the fight of the century,” he said.

We talked for a while, and I mentioned to him that I'd spent three days the week before at Niavaroni's gym, watching Mike Simms and Otis Griffin, and that Niavaroni had reneged on his promise to furnish me with a ticket. Sergio was deeply offended by this. “I have had some problems with that man,” he said.

I looked up then and saw, leaning against the information desk counter, Niavaroni himself, talking with the heavyset man, who had been speaking with the ring girls a few minutes earlier, and whose shirt had crawled out of his pants again. Niavaroni saw me, and though he is not a timid man, he gave me a rather timid wave, as if he were out to dinner with his wife and he'd seen across the room an old girlfriend with whom things had ended indecorously.

“I don't think he wants to talk to me,” I said to Sanchez.

“That guy,” said Sanchez. “I can't beleed that guy. You cun in to help him. I can't beleed that. I understand if you try to bring in four or five guys. Bud it's just you.”

I continued looking over at Niavaroni, who refused to look me in the eyes, and I felt content that I was making him uncomfortable. Sanchez offered to buy me a soda, and I walked with him back to the gift shop. While we were standing in line, a man came up behind us and started talking with Sanchez. Sanchez handed him a $20 bill, and then explained to me that the man was the father of one of the fighters he trained in Vacaville. “You'll have to learn Spanish if you're going to write about boxing,” the father said. I agreed. Then Sanchez explained to the man that Niavaroni had failed to get me a ticket for the fight. The other man seemed as disappointed as Sanchez had been.

I got my soda and thanked Sanchez and we went back to the couch. The girl who had been wearing the blue shirt emerged from the southern wing of the hotel wearing a short, black dress. Sanchez and I both looked at her, and then Sanchez asked if I would like him to introduce me to her.

“You know her?” I asked.

“No,” he said.

It was nearing seven o'clock, so I thanked Sanchez again for his hospitality, and went to find my seat. I exchanged my ticket for a wristband at the table where the security guards were searching bags, and then went into the ballroom. It is a modest room, with dark red, short-fiber carpeting, and a bar in the southeastern corner. The only decorative flourishes are the four chandeliers (likely not crystal), arranged in a square at the center of the room above what must usually be a dance floor. On it now was the boxing ring. I walked around the perimeter of the gallery and found my chair. It was in the center of a row, almost the last before the wall, and sandwiched between two parties who, because of their collective waist girth, had exhausted their allotted space and overflowed into mine. Deciding that I would not like to watch the fight sitting in a strange man's lap, I went over to the bar and ordered a soda. I asked the bartender if he would mind my using the bar as a desk so that I could take notes, and he said that that was fine as long as I didn't get in the way of the cocktail girls. I promised that I wouldn't.

“Are you a journalist?” the bartender asked.

This was, I remembered, a small venue and an even smaller fight, and though one of the local Hispanic television stations was broadcasting the fight, there was not even a press section. I imagine at larger venues the media presence is more pronounced, but at the Red Lion the people covering the fight were, it seemed, as few in number as the boxers fighting, and even though I wasn't credentialed, I was being treated like a semi-precious commodity. I told him that I wrote for the Sweet Science and was doing a feature on Mike Simms.

“I saw Mike fight at Arco,” the bartender said. “I think he'd just gotten out of jail. Looked like he was fighting somebody's dad. Big out-of-shape white guy. Funny thing was, though, guy gave him a good fight. And Mike's from Sacramento, but the crowd turned and started rooting for the other guy. It was awful.” He put down my drink and I paid him.

On the fight card in the lobby, Mike Simms' name had been near the bottom. The boxers at the top were Brandon Gonzales and Stan Martyniouk, both of whom were scheduled to fight TBA. According to all promotional materials, they were expected to be the most exciting. Gonzalez had had three fights and three first round knockouts. Martyniouk had had two fights, both ripping rows, to borrow from Nabakov, which he'd won by decision. Otis Griffin, on the other hand, had been knocked out in his last two fights, and my man, Mike Simms, hadn't knocked anyone out in almost four years. I expected, therefore, that Simms would be in the first bout. And when you are amongst the preliminaries, and especially if you fight the opener, your observers are as likely to have their backs to you as their faces. It occurred to me how humiliating it would be to box perhaps your final rounds while being actively ignored. I hoped, therefore, that the size of the venue and the exorbitant cost of the tickets would inspire the patrons to get their money's worth by actually facing the ring.

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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