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Articles of 2009

Will Vivian Harris' Pride Be His Undoing?

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One key to a fighter's success that we don't often discuss is the fighter's ability to deal with the political aspects of the game. The wrangling with promoters and managers and the sanctioning bodies can take it out of a man's body just as efficiently as a Micky Ward body shot. Sure, it may take a bit longer to feel the effects, but the stream of BS a fighter has to put up with as he waits for his shot has ended many a promising career before the promise land is reached.

Vivian Harris isn't there yet. The 30-year-old junior welterweight was born in Guyana. These days, he's living in New Jersey, working under Tommy Brooks and biding his time until he gets that title crack that will give him that payoff payday which will make the years of toil in the red light district of the sports world worth it.

His Sept. 2007 fight against Junior Witter could have been a breakthrough event, a fight to announce that a player in the division is here, and must be dealt with. Instead, Witter knocked Harris off, via KO7. And frustration with the political side to the sport very nearly dealt an even more conclusive blow to Harris. The boxer spoke to TSS as he awaited word whether he'd get a chance to take down flavor of the month prospect Victor Ortiz, the 23-1 hitter who is being groomed as a potential heir to the Oscar De La Hoya throne. That vet vs. phenom scrap will go down, on March 7, as part of a tasty HBO double feature, along with James Kirkland vs. Joel Julio. Harris tried to hold it together, see things from a philosophical stance, but by the end of the interview, his frustration with the business side of the savage science was glaring.

He pointed out that his trip to England to fight Witter was handled poorly, and perhaps contributed to his showing.

“The promoter (Mick Hennessy) there wanted me to be there three days before the fight,” he said. “I wanted to be there longer. I got there five days before. When I fought, I was still on New York time. I had no money for food, even.”

Then, Harris pivots, and realizes that it sounds like he's talking sour grapes. “But, nobody put a gun to my head,” he says. “It's nobody's fault.”

After the Witter loss, Harris was off for more than a year. He was still in the gym, staying trim, waiting for that call that didn't come. He has a new manager, Mike Indri, who he says is a good dude, who seems like he truly cares for Harris' well being. Harris took a rust shedder fight against Octavio Narvaez in October and came away with a TKO6 win, but had to survive an early knockdown to do it. He almost snagged a fight with Timothy Bradley, who grabbed the WBC 140 pound title from Witter last May, but the WBC said they wanted Harris to take another fight first. Harris seemed to be accepting of this move, which seems arbitrary on the surface. Haven't a b-load of other solid vets been given title shots after taking plentiful time off?

Harris, who is working hard on looking on the bright side, isn't irked that he would be the designated steppingstone against Ortiz. “It's do or die for me,” he said.

Harris thinks the pairing with Brooks, who he says is mellow, not as prone to getting excited as former trainer Lennox Blackmoore, will pay dividends. Also, Harris said, Brooks will do some of the heavy lifting in prep work that he says hasn't been done before. Harris says most of the fights he's won, prior to now, came from a strategy he devised himself, after studying tapes.

When asked if revolving trainers (he was with Blackmoore, then Manny Steward, and then Blackmoore again) and promotional difficulties (he's felt that Main Events didn't push him like they could've/should've) have sapped his spirit, Harris said no. But the more he talked, the more it seemed to indicate that the out-of-the-ring BS has impacted Harris.

“It doesn't affect me at all,” he says. “God knows who's right and who's wrong. People can talk bad about me, but I'm not a bad person. But people know the boxing business is garbage. They know I have to be a certain way because the boxing industry is the way it is.”

By “a certain way,” Harris means “difficult.” He's been branded “difficult,” and that probably has kept him from getting some opportunities that 'go along to get along' guys receive.

When he talks about the raw deal that fighters get, frankly, he contributes to his rep. But the man speaks truth. Can you refute him?

“In other sports everyone is wealthy,” he says. “In this decade, fighters have to make it to 30 or 40 to make big money. Guys like Bernard Hopkins, and Winky Wright and Glen Johnson. They go through the BS and then they make money. That's the real talk.”

Harris is prepared, he says, to fight another 4 or 5 years, so he can make that late breaking moolah. “I'll stay focused til it happens,” he says. “That outside the ring stuff is BS, but you got to accept it. Now, I'm at a better place, accepting it for what it is.”

Harris talks that serene talk and then simply cannot help himself. He again launches into a lashout. “I'd rather be broke and make sure nobody makes money off me,” he says. “I'm not pointing fingers at anyone, I'm just talking about the boxing business.”

To Harris' way of thinking, if promises were nickels, he could've already cashed out and retired. If he beat Diosbelys Hurtado in 2002, he said, he was supposed to get a fight with Kostya Tszyu. He kayoed Hurtado, but didn't get the Tszyu gig. Jesse James Leija had the next crack at Tszyu instead. Still, that Hurtado win netted Harris the WBA junior welter crown. He knocked off unbeaten Souleymane M'baye in 2003 in his first defense, but was then dumped off to fight Oktay Urkal
twice in Germany. Out of sight, out of mind to American audiences. “What is that?” he says.

Then, Harris reverts back to his 'It Is What It Is' mindset. “I learned from Floyd Mayweather. He kept his mouth shut and made money.” Easier said than done, though…”I got to talk. I let a person know, you screw with me, I got to let you know that, straight up.”

Harris has been a professional since 1997, and he sounds at the end of his rope with all he's seen and been through. “Too many people who are supposed to be for you, they don't care about you. I'm going to do the best for me and my family.”

Harris' frustration shone through in the final stages of negotiation for the Ortiz fight. It looked like he'd get it. Money was specified by Golden Boy and communicated to Vivian's promoter, Gary Shaw. Now, those two haven't always seen eye to eye. In fact, at times they have communicated more by intermediary, and Harris' attorney, than in regular form. Indri thought the number was fair. Vivian, though,  didn't care for the way the pie was to be sliced up. He nixed the terms as they
were offered. So instead, Mike Arnaoutis will be the name “steppingstone” as Ortiz takes two bounds up the ladder from prospect to contender.

Harris didn't want to delve into specifics on what went down and why and affix blame if it is there to be affixed. His contract with Shaw is up, he says, and he needs a letter from Shaw to attest to that, before he can look for a new promoter to propel his career.

“I don't want to put out any negative energy,” he told us. “It could make things worse. It wasn't anyone's fault. I wanted that fight. I hope it happens in the future.”

TSS tried twice to talk to Shaw to get his side of it, but calls weren't returned.

Indri, when reached by TSS, sounded bummed that the deal didn't get done. He recognizes, he told us, that the opportunities for an HBO fight aren't infinite, and that a win over Ortiz would pay humongous dividends for Harris. He understands Harris' fierce pride, and his desire to try and get a solid deal for himself, but now there is no deal, and Indri is worried that Harris might have to wait another spell before another solid opp his thrown his way. “There are always a lot more fighters than fights. I thought we were going to get it,” Indri said. “I guess I wish Vivian had said what he had to say in the ring. I'm hoping this doesn't stagnate him.”

So, where is the truth in this matter? Is Vivian Harris a problem child? Does he ask for too much? Does he speak up when it might be smarter to swallow his pride, and go with the flow? Have promoters done right by him, or has he been punished for his outspokenness, in this case and in others before like it? A lot of Americans, not only boxers, are struggling with this issue. They see bigwigs getting big chunks of the pie, and they look at their own plate, and the portion
seems comparatively meager. The President just slammed Wall Street honchos who made off with sacks full of cash, billions, while they ran their corporations into the ground. He called that behavior “shameful.” Harris has consistently spoken up for himself, and sadly he hasn't found many allies among his own brethren. In boxing, and seemingly everywhere these days, it is every man for himself. Harris didn't want the gig, but Mike Arnaoutis was OK with taking less for the shot. There is no boxer's union so the fighters could bargain en masse.

As I spoke to Harris on Tuesday in the late afternoon, he was leaning towards swallowing his pride. He is hopeful that he and Shaw can part ways, and he can get a fresh start with another promoter. He seems to be impressed with the cut of the Golden Boy jib. Maybe he'll land there, if Shaw agrees that Harris has met the terms of his contract, and lets him loose.

Once there, would Harris be able to change his ways, and swallow that fierce pride? Is he in the wrong business? Can he ever be comfortable with the concept of putting his life on the line, and then seeing the wages for his toil be disbursed in five different directions?

One question that will get answered sooner rather than later is, Is Victor Ortiz all that? And it will be Mike Arnaoutis who will be in the position to help us get an answer. It could have been Vivian Harris.

I fear that looking back in a few years, Harris may kick himself for the roads not taken. He will be able to look in the mirror, and know that he stood up for himself, but pride, and the fulfillment you receive when you give it back to The Man, does not pay the bills, and the rent, and the kids’ education. But I am just a fightwriter. Better to let Mark Twain remind us that:

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do… Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

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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