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Articles of 2009

We Are The Pure Jewish Warriors



Ran Nakash says it’s really very simple. He heads the Krav Maga instructional division of the Israeli Defense Force, and the form of hand-to-hand combat he teaches his nation’s military is all-or-nothing. Kill or be killed.

“There is only one way for an Israeli soldier,” Nakash said. “You need to live, the terrorist needs to die. That is it. There is no in-between.”

Welcome to a different sort of fighting man, the kind for whom a matchup with a gloved opponent with bad, but not necessarily lethal, intentions is a relative walk in the park. In boxing, it’s perfectly normal for two guys to try to beat hell out of one another, then at the final bell to embrace and wish each other well. That’s sportsmanship.

But for Nakash and another Israeli soldier-boxer, Elad Shmouel, the very real possibility of someday finding themselves in a desperate clinch with an enemy dedicated to the eradication of the Jewish state hardly qualifies as sport. In war, there is no referee, no time limit, no decisions rendered by judges with scorecards and pencils. Survival is the only acceptable outcome.

“Hamas is a terrorist organization. Hezbollah is a terrorist organization,” said Shmouel, who recently concluded his mandatory three-year military service with the IDF as a first sergeant, but is leaving open the possibility of re-upping for another hitch. “There’s really nobody to talk to like regular people. They are terrorists, and we do not negotiate with terrorists.”

Friday night at Philadelphia’s Blue Horizon, Nakash and Shmouel attempt to take another step toward what they hope will someday be fame, fortune and bejeweled championship belts. They’re not exactly fighting for fun, but there understandably is a lesser sense of urgency than when rockets are falling and the possibility of instant death is tugging at your elbow.

Nakash (16-0, 12 KOs), a cruiserweight from Haifa, takes on Ryan Carroll (7-1, 4 KOs), from Delaware, Ohio, in the eight-round main event while Shmouel (18-2, 9 KOs), a junior welterweight from Tel Aviv, swaps punches with Khristian Garaci (4-5-1, 3 KOs) in a six-round undercard bout.

Promoter Vernoca Michael is billing the eight-fight event as the “Valentine Special Show,” but love, brotherly or otherwise, often is in short supply in the Middle East, where tensions always are high and fear is a part of everyday life.

For many American teenagers, going to the mall is all about hanging out with friends or maybe just alleviating boredom. Not so in Israel, where even the most mundane of activities is fraught with peril.

“I was 15 and I was walking to the mall with some people I know,” said Shmouel, now 22. “All of a sudden we hear this big boom and we started running. We saw bodies and blood all over the place. A suicide bomber.

“It’s terrifying for a 15-year-old to see maybe 50 dead people, and I don’t know how many more wounded screaming. It’s hard to describe in words. But that is what our lives are. Danger is constant.”

Even courtship and romance in Israel can be more hazardous than Americans might imagine.

“I was at my girlfriend’s house in Ashod and a rocket landed right near her house,” Shmouel said. “You don’t pause, but that is the reality.”

Nakash, 30, said it might be better to look into the face of your enemy, to meet his stare with one of your own, and to just go at it in a struggle in which the loser goes down and forever stays down. What is frustrating is when someone is pushing a button and raining death and destruction on you from some distant place. Rockets and missiles fired from long range are indiscriminate killers.

“In the southern part of Israel there have been rocket attacks every day for the past eight years,” Nakash said. “Children who go to school are afraid because at any minute there can be an alarm and you have only 15 or 20 seconds to take shelter. That’s it. Now, imagine that alarm sounding eight to 10 times a day. That is what our people live with. It is a nightmare.”

Nakash often feels like lashing out, retaliating, but the enemy is seldom right in front of him, as is an opponent in boxing. Fights, real fights, at least are honest when you know exactly who you are fighting.

“I don’t think there can be peace in this generation,” he allowed. “The real enemy is not the guy in Gaza firing the missiles. The real enemy is in Iran, paying money to the guy in Gaza who fires the missiles. So we don’t fight the real enemy. This is the big problem. People in America don’t understand that.”

Well, some Americans do. Friday marks Nakash’s eighth appearance at the Blue Horizon, his U.S. home-away-from-home. Shmouel is fighting there for the seventh time. They have become popular figures in the local Jewish community, representatives of a shared faith and ethnicity. And they are fighters, in and out of the ring, which strikes a chord in all national permutations of a people who have endured thousands of years of armed conflict.

“They take me to synagogues, to schools,” Nakash said of the warm welcome he always receives from fellow Jews whenever he comes to Philly. “It is great to have that sort of support.”

That Nakash and Shmouel have become almost cultural icons in Philadelphia is in and of itself a curious story. Their manager, Raanan Gal, was in New York searching for an American venue to regularly showcase his fighters when someone suggested he contact matchmaker Don Elbaum, who works with Michael and lives in the Philly suburb of Phoenixville.

Elbaum has turned the venerable Blue Horizon into an international destination, previously importing several Swedish fighters who for a time gave the old arena a distinct Scandanavian tinge. He was aware that once upon a time Jewish fighters were numerous and popular in the country, the best of whom were Benny Leonard, Barney Ross, Jackie “Kid” Berg, Lew Tendler, Abe Atell, Battling Levinsky, Maxie Rosenbloom, Jackie Fields and Benny Bass. And if it once was that way, why not again? You know the old saying: What goes around, comes around.

“Israel is becoming what Russia was 10 years ago when the Klitschkos began to gain widespread recognition,” Elbaum said. “In the next couple of years, I think you’ll see an exodus of incredible boxing talent coming out of Israel.”

So, just maybe, Nakash and Shmouel are the forerunners of the next Jewish boxing revolution. As it is, Elbaum thinks both can make a larger mark of their own, with Nakash closer to the sort of breakthrough that would graduate him from the Blue Horizon to possible gigs at Madison Square Garden or the big casino-resorts in Las Vegas.

Nakash and Shmouel came to Philadelphia earlier than usual on this trip, one of the reasons being that Nakash had an opportunity to do some serious sparring with former IBF cruiser champ Steve “USS” Cunningham, a fellow serviceman (he served in the United States Navy) who could provide the Israeli with a benchmark for how high he needed to rise to become a legitimate contender.

If Elbaum is to be believed, Cunningham and Nakash engaged in a sparring session every bit as spirited as was the recent title bout in which Cunningham yielded his title to Poland’s Tomasz Adamek on a split decision.

“I think Ran is two to three fights away from beating Adamek,” Elbaum opined. “Adamek is tough, but nobody is tougher than Ran Nakash.”

“Ran is going to stun the boxing world before this year is out, mark my word. There is nobody – nobody – tougher than Ran Nakash.”

Eight years younger and perhaps not as far along in his boxing development, Shmouel likely will have to wait a bit longer before he breaks through to the proverbial next level. But if and when he does, he said he, like Nakash, will carry with him a motivation and purpose that supersedes that of such Jewish-American boxers as Dmitriy Salita and Yuri Foreman.

“What we are doing, no one has done,” he said of the untrod path he and Nakash are following to what they hope will be a glorious destiny. “You can’t compare it to Salita and Foreman. They are Jewish, but not real Israelis like we are. It is a whole different thing. We are the pure Jewish warriors.”

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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