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Articles of 2009

Brute 6: First Bout Is Coming Your Way

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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

While I was standing at the bar, a man with long, dark hair tied back in a ponytail came up to me and asked if I was a reporter. I said that I was and he told me, before asking what sort of story I was writing, that I should do a feature on his man Stan Martyniouk. “I haven't seen him fight,” I told him. “Are you a fighter?” He did not look like a boxer, but I felt I should give him the benefit of my enormous doubt.

“I'm a promoter,” he said, and then introduced himself as Mehrad. “This is Gerrell.” He indicated to a young man to his right wearing a blue t-shirt and shorts. Gerrell looked, if not like a boxer, at least potentially like a high school wrestler who has been taught to punch his opponents after taking them down.

“Is he a fighter?” I asked.

“No,” said Mehrad. “He's my business partner, but you should see his left hook.” Gerrell looked embarrassed.

“What do you promote?” I asked.

“Fighters,” said Mehrad. I suppose I should have anticipated that answer. But he continued. “Also musicians, or whoever.” That seemed to be a rather broad business plan, but he elaborated by saying that they were promoting Martyniouk. “We have a company called White Tiger Promotions. We'll introduce you to Stan the Man after his fight.” Mehrad seemed very confident that Martyniouk would win and that after the bout he would be in the mood to talk with journalists. Gerrell, by his expression, was more apprehensive. Then Mehrad asked, “Who are you writing about?”

“Mike Simms,” I said.

“I don't know him,” said Mehrad.

“He's on a five fight-skid,” I said. “He needs a win badly.”

“When's he fighting?”

“I have a feeling he might be first.”

Up in the ring, the announcer, dressed in a tuxedo and sweating profusely from his cheeks and forehead (he must have been standing out at the patio bar before coming in to announce), held up his microphone. “Our first bout is coming your way right now,” he said. He was, apparently, exaggerating, because he paced around the ring for a few minutes longer while the crowd, who had prepared themselves for the fighters impending entrées and then found that there was little impending, moved hesitantly towards their seats. Mehrad, Gerrell, and I stood by the bar with a group of almost fifty others and continued talking. The music that had been appeasing us during our wait came back on over the speakers. Then a man notified the announcer of something, and he took up the microphone again and said, “We're ready to fight.”

“That's Stan's music,” said Mehrad. Apparently, Mike Simms was not fighting first.

Martyniouk came out in a red, white a blue robe, colors that most of the audience must have construed as American, but I believe it was Martyniouk's nod to Russia. His opponent, Matt Mahler, of Manteca, making his pro debut, came out after, but the announcer introduced him first. When Martyniouk was introduced there was a loud cheer from the crowd. Manteca is not far from Sacramento—much closer, in fact, than Russia—but Martyniouk apparently trains in the Capital and had gained favor with the partisans in his two previous fights. Martyniouk weighed in at 130 1/2, and Mahler just below the featherweight ceiling.

When the bell rang, the debutante came after the Russian with the bravado of a man who has fought for money before, but also with the naïvely brisk pacing of a man who hasn't, while living up regardless to his surname's belligerent homonym. He backed Martyniouk into one of the neutral corners with a veritable blizzard of well-intentioned punches to the body and head, but Martyniouk had dressed well for the occasion. It was a brief squall, perhaps because the mauler remembered that Russians are weaned on ice, and Mahler let Martyniouk off the ropes.

In retrospect, it would have been better for the mauler to have exhausted himself punching shoulders and elbows. As it happened, Stan the Man followed the dissipated storm back across the canvas. I was writing a note, so I missed the right hook that hurt Mahler, but I looked up as the crowd began to scream, and certainly did not miss the short right that knocked the young Mantecan out. Mahler fell prostrate on the floor, and though, after the referee had waved him out, he tried heroically to get to one knee, it required two men to haul him to his corner. He had only been conscious for thirty seconds. And of those, for twenty-two he must have thought he was winning.

I was very impressed, and I congratulated Mehrad and Gerrell on their man's success. They were both elated, if Gerrell a little less visibly than Mehrad. “That didn't take very long,” I said. “That's a hell of a right hand.” It is rare, of course, to meet a young featherweight with one-punch knockout power. The disciples from White Tiger Promotions had already been converted, but the rest of the multitudes in the ballroom, whether they had been behind Martyniouk before the fight or not, were standing around as if they'd just been fed at Bethsaida.

“I told you he was worth watching,” said Mehrad. “Now I just wish I knew what I was going to do for the rest of the night.” I suggested that he root for Mike Simms, and he and Gerrell took up the cause. I feared, though, that the show had started with a climax and was moving towards an expository first scene. I hoped that Simms would put on a good show, but I was simultaneously terrified that he wouldn't.

The announcer stepped back into the ring and read the decision, a thirty second knockout, and a few minutes later Brandon Gonzalez, whom a week earlier I'd gone to Niavaroni's gym to interview, came through the ropes. That implied that Simms was fighting at least third, and that the fight card in the lobby had been printed upside down, with the preliminaries on top. This was a strange way of promoting, as if the man who had drawn up the promotional materials was more accustomed to filling in baseball box scores, where the home team resides at the bottom of the card because they bat in the bottom half of the inning, which, of course, comes after the top. The only other explanation I could come up with was that the two preliminary fights were anticipated to be more exciting, and that the semi-final and final would be treated like consecutive six-round emergency bouts scheduled to fill in the negative space left by an early-round knockout in the main event.

Gonzalez had won his three previous fights with knockouts in the first round, and in the wake of Martyniouk's astounding right hand, the crowd was poised to watch another man put to sleep. His opponent, Mike Alexander, was technically undefeated, but he had drawn two out of the three times he'd fought.

When Gonzalez was an amateur he fought at the NABO's light-heavyweight limit of 178 pounds, but discovered that, unlike Cassius Clay, he was better suited to cutting weight as a professional than adding it on. Also like Clay, he served on the Olympic Team, but unlike his predecessor, Gonzales, perhaps lacking the patience to wait three years (he joined the team in 2005) for a chance to repeat Clay's 1960 Roman victories a few miles east in Beijing, turned pro in 2007. Or he needed money. He is a manager, still, at Starbucks, and that can erode one's patience.

According to his record, it seemed a wise decision to have traded Sacramento for Beijing. But as the bell announced the first round, Mike Alexander looked the more flagitious, and he supported that claim by knocking Gonzales down a minute into the first. This was an unprecedented coup, and the crowd waited, almost in silence, to see what the Olympian would do. Gonzales got up after three, stood for the remaining mandatory five, nodded to the referee, and stalked in again. He was apparently more cautious, though he landed, near the end of the round, a flurry of alternating hooks to Alexander's head. Gonzales, nonetheless, lost the round—the first of his career—and he sat down bright-eyed on his stool after the bell had rung, almost basking, it seemed, in the unfamiliar adversity of being two points behind on the cards with only three rounds remaining.

It took Gonzales almost the three full minutes of the second round to nullify the knockdown, but he did, with all the brutality of a lumberman transubstantially punishing his infidelitous wife by chopping down a tree. Neither fighter did much to write about in the first two minutes, but Gonzales, having measured and re-measured Alexander's reach, found a flaw in his battlement and walked inside. There Gonzales began punching Alexander in the obliques as if they were positive and negative poles and his fists were the magnets in an electric motor switching between them. Alexander did not last long. But before he quit lasting he had his back against the ropes, inanely guarding his face. It appeared to be a left to the liver that felled him finally.

Near me in the crowd a man said, with some melancholy in his voice, that there were only four fights on the card. At the rate fighters were losing, the evening would expire after nine minutes of actual boxing. Another man seemed to feel similarly. “They're charging $100 for four fights?” he asked rhetorically. “I should have hawked my ticket. Anybody need a ticket to the fight tonight?” A number of people turned towards him, laughing. I didn't think his was a fair reaction to Gonzales' stunning body-punch knockout, but I empathized with the scalper. $10 for each minute of fighting was not ethical.

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

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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Articles of 2009

No One Is Leaving This Stage Of Negotiations Looking GOLDEN

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Early in his political career, the young Lyndon Baines Johnson served as a congressional aide to Rep. Richard Kleberg, the wealthy owner of the King Ranch who was elected to seven consecutive terms in the House of Representatives, at least in part because he often ran unopposed.

One year an upstart rival politician we'll call Joe Bob had the temerity to challenge Kleberg in the Democratic primary, resulting in the convocation of the Texas congressman's staff to plot an election strategy. Several ideas were kicked around before Kleberg himself came up with a brainstorm.

“Why don't we start a rumor that he [copulates with] sheep?” proposed the politician.

This was a bit over the top, even for Lyndon Johnson. The future president leapt to his feet and said, incredulously, “But you know Joe Bob don't [copulate with] sheep!”

“Yeah,” replied the congressman, “but watch what happens when the son of a bitch has to stand up and deny it!”

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Events of the past week or two have seen the Floyd Mayweather camp adopt a similar tactic with regard to Manny Pacquiao.  But if introducing what would appear to be a red-herring issue — the debate over drug-testing procedures — to the negotiating process was intended as a negotiating ploy, it would appear for the moment to have backfired.  The idea might have been to force Pacquiao to go on the defensive, but Pac-Man instead responded with his stock in trade, the counterpunch — in this case the multi-million dollar defamation suit he filed against the Mayweathers, pere et fils,, with the U.S. District Court in Las Vegas on Wednesday.

In boxing even more than in life, you never say never, but you'd have to say that Pacquiao-Mayweather is a dead issue right now, at least in its March 13 incarnation. Bob Arum says Pacquiao is prepared to move along to another opponent, and Mayweather is supposedly looking at Matthew Hatton in England.

We'll believe that when we see it, for at least three reasons: (1) There would hardly seem to be enough money in that one to make it worth Floyd's time, (2) He's going to have to put so much into preparing a defense to this lawsuit that he mightn't have time to train and (3) He'd get a better workout if he stayed in Vegas and boxed one of Uncle Roger's girl opponents.

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Colleagues on this site have already done a good job of dissecting this process. Ron Borges is absolutely correct in noting that in the midst of all the posturing that's gone on, you'd be a fool to accept at face value anything coming out of any of the parties' mouths. And Frank Lotierzo is spot on in noting that if you had absolutely no desire to actually get in the ring with Manny Pacquiao but were still looking to save face, you'd do pretty much exactly what Mayweather has done. Which is to say, talk tough while you get others to run interference with a series of actions seemingly calculated to ensure that the fight doesn't come off.

But left almost unscathed in all of this heretofore has been the convoluted role played by Golden Boy — by CEO Richard Schaefer, by the company's namesake Oscar the Blogger, GBP's subsidiary enterprise, The Ring, and at least a few of the lap-dogs and lackeys whose favor GPB has cultivated elsewhere in the media.

In late March of 2008, Shane Mosley and Zab Judah appeared at a New York press conference to announce a fight between them in Las Vegas two months later. As it happened, the BALCO trial had gotten underway out in California that week. That day I sat with Judah and his attorney Richard Shinefield as they explained that they intended to ask that both boxers agree to blood testing in the runup to the fight. Citing Mosley's history with BALCO and its products The Cream and The Clear (which Shane claimed Victor Conte had slipped him when he wasn't looking), Shinefield and Zab, noting that Nevada drug tests were limited to urinalysis, proposed that the supplementary tests be administered by the World Anti-Doping Agency.

Want to know what Richard Schaefer's response to that was?

“Whatever tests [the NSAC] wants them to take, we will submit to, but we are not going to do other tests than the Nevada commission requires,” said Schaefer. “The fact is, Shane is not a cheater and he does not need to be treated like one.”

But the fact is that Mosley had a confirmed history as a cheater. Manny Pacquiao does not. Yet in the absence of a scintilla of evidence or probable cause, less than two years later Schaefer was howling that the very integrity of the sport would be at risk unless Pacquiao submitted to precisely the same sort of testing he had rejected for Mosley.

And you thought it was Arum who was famous for saying “Yeah, but yesterday I was lying. Today I'm telling the truth!”

Schaefer, by the way, defended his 180-degree turnabout by saying he is now better educated on the issue. He couldn't resist aiming a harpoon at the media by adding that many sportswriters “don't know the difference between blood and urine testing.”

Don't know how to break this to you, Richard, but sportswriters, who have had to deal with this stuff for the past twenty years, probably know more about drug-testing procedures than any other group you could name.

*****

Now, the reasonable assumption would be that by assuming the role of the point man in this unseemly mess, Schaefer was insulating his boss (De La Hoya) and his fighter (PBF) by keeping their fingerprints off it while he made a fool of himself publicly conducting this snide little campaign.  

And yes, Money would have stayed out of the line of fire had not a two-month old, expletive-filled rant in which he described the Philippines as the world's foremost producer of performance-enhancing drugs not exploded on the internet at the most inopportune moment. That the lawsuit was filed less than 24 hours after “Floyd Meets the Rugged Man” overtook the Tiger Watch probably wasn't a coincidence.

And we're assuming that this Dan Petrocelli, the lawyer who filed Pacquiao's suit, knows what he's doing, because if there were an even one-zillionth chance that somebody could credibly link Manny to PEDs, then it was a pretty dumb thing to do. You could ask Roger Clemens about that.  Clemens' transformation from Hall of Famer-in-waiting to nationwide laughingstock didn't come from the Mitchell Report. It came from his wrongheaded decision to file a lawsuit against Brian McNamee, which in turn threw everything open to the discovery process.

*****

De La Hoya, in the meantime, was playing both sides of the fence. He let Schaefer play Bad Cop as he distanced himself from the negotiating process, but simultaneously was sniping away at Pacquiao from his First Amendment-protected perch as a Ring.com blogger.

“If Pacquiao, the toughest guy on the planet, is afraid of needles and having a few tablespoons of blood drawn from his system, then something is wrong…  I'm just saying that now people have to wonder: 'Why doesn't he want to do this?' Why is [blood testing] such a big deal?' wrote Oscar the Blogger. “A lot of eyebrows have been raised. And this is not good.”

Ask yourself this: Exactly what caused those eyebrows to be raised, other than the innuendo coming straight from Oscar's company?

Providing De La Hoya with a forum from which to dispense propaganda  only begins to illustrate the hopelessly compromised position from which The Ring continues to operate. They might as well give Schaefer a column, too, while they're at it.

Nearly seven months have elapsed since we last visited the Ring/Golden Boy relationship, and at the risk of winding Nigel up, it might be useful here to note that in the midst of last June's discourse, The Ring's editor offered a laundry list of the magazine's covers since the De La Hoya takeover as a demonstration of Golden Boy's restraint.

After listing them, Nigel Collins wrote “that's 28 covers over the course of 21 issues, of which Top Rank had 12 fighters, as opposed to eight for Golden Boy and eight for other promotional entities. Obviously, The Ring has shown no bias to Golden Boy when it comes to magazine covers.”

It had never even been suggested that the conflict of interest extended to the magazine playing favorites in choosing its cover subjects, but since Nigel brought it up it is probably worth noting now that of those eight covers given over to “other promotional entities,” two were of David Haye, whose promoter was properly listed as “Hayemaker,” but who had also signed a promotional deal with Golden Boy in May of 2008. (Just last month GBP issued a release in De La Hoya's name in which it described itself as “Golden Boy Promotions, the United States promoter of World Boxing Association Heavyweight World Champion David Haye.”)

And even more to the point, in four other issues Nigel Collins offered in evidence the cover subject was Floyd Mayweather (Independent), although what has transpired with regard to the Pacquiao fight doesn't make Money look very independent at all, does it?

We don't regularly keep track of these things, but in making sure we didn't misquote  Oscar's Blog we also came across a representation of the January 2010 issue on The Ring's website.  The picture on the cover of the Bible of Boxing is of the Golden Boy himself, and the cover story “De La Hoya: The Retirement Interview.”

Wow! Now there's a hot topic for crusading journalists.

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