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Articles of 2009

Campbell Blows First Title Defense On Scale

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Nate Campbell forgot.

Barely 24 hours after insisting he would never forget all the struggles he’d endured before he became lightweight champion 11 months ago, Campbell failed to make the 135-pound limit Friday night, thus losing without a fight the unified titles he’d struggled so many years to win.

In a sad irony, Campbell said just a day earlier that he knew he was an inspiration for all the struggling fighters out there who felt they never get a break because his did not come until he was 36 years old. That was the night he upset then unified champion Juan Diaz 11 months ago and appeared to turn around what had been a hardscrabble life.

But his next bout, which was supposed to pay him $300,000, was cancelled last summer when Joan Guzman ironically failed to make weight himself and then refused to fight Campbell at all. By the time he finally got someone to the scales, No. 1 IBF contender Ali Funeka, it turned out it was now Campbell who would fail himself and his professional obligations when he weighed in at three pounds over the 135-pound limit Friday after having spent the past two days baking himself dry in a sauna with few positive results.

He was given two hours to get down to the lightweight limit but upon his return he’d lost only a half pound and so was stripped of the IBF title that was at stake. With the WBA belt already gone due to boxing politics and the WBO belt likely to be stripped away as well, Campbell was left with what he’s had most of his life – nothing but his two fists, which he’ll use tonight on Funeka so that he at least earns the $240,000 payday he contracted for even though only Funeka has a chance to leave the ring as IBF lightweight champion.

“I did everything I could to make it,’’ Campbell insisted. “I feel like its unprofessional (of him) but I can’t do it any more. I’m 36 now and I just couldn’t do it. I thought the last couple pounds would come off easily but they didn’t.’’

Campbell then said the obvious – that he’d move up to 140 pounds to begin campaigning as a junior welterweight – but the sad fact is he very likely blew his one chance to change his life. Had he defeated Funeka and retained his title belts he would have been able to demand a larger purse as unified champion in his next outing or move up then to 140 and very likely instantly become the No. 1 contender in at least one of the four major sanctioning bodies’ ratings.

Now, at nearly 37, he’s back to where he’s been most of his career, which is in limbo. The irony is that 24 hours earlier Campbell talked at some length about how he would not fall into the trap that had cost so many other fighters over the years when long layoffs slow down their progress.

By Saturday night Campbell will have fought only once in the past 19 months, the kind of inaction that has in the past caused many other Don King promoted fighters to lose their resolve and dissipate themselves.

Campbell insisted that would never happen to him because, as he put it, “I tell fighters all the time that come to me when their career isn’t going right to just keep fighting. Keep working. Keep being you. This is a job. You got to go to work every day if you want to retire with benefits.’’

Apparently he failed to take his own advice. Although he and his chief advisor Terry Trekas both claim Campbell had a good training camp and that the problem was that his aging body simply shut down and refused to take him back to 135 pounds after so long away from that weight, those words rung hollow.

It was a weight Campbell has been making most of his career. Only now, with the trappings of success around his waist even as he filed for bankruptcy after the Guzman fight collapsed, he suddenly is unable to do it?

What is more likely is that he simply was no longer able to push himself and deny himself with the same urgency he had before becoming a world champion and then seeing it lead only to bankruptcy and three belts he couldn’t seem to transform into a life-altering payday.

Considering where he started from Campbell’s insistence that he would not follow in the failed footsteps of so many before him who suffered the same fate of sudden success followed by inaction and then personal failure seemed poignant and believable.

He had grown up living in 15 different homes after his father’s alcoholism forced him to turn his then seven-year-old son over to the Jacksonville, Fla. foster care system for a decade. At the age of 18 he was an under-educated father working two and three low-paying jobs to make ends meet, a young man headed in a lot of directions but none likely to lead to the world championship of anything.

Then, at 24, Campbell found his calling one night in a Winn-Dixie warehouse in Jacksonville when a white man challenged him to use a talent he didn’t even know he possessed. That evening, while working the 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift cutting boxes open, a co-worker watched Campbell shadow box, as he often did to entertain himself during lulls in the wee hours. The man told Campbell to stop wasting what seemed obvious boxing skills and take the risk to be great.

The age of 24 is no time to start a boxing career but Campbell was coerced into it by that challenge. Three years later he turned professional and nine years and several stops and starts later he was one of the most unlikely world champions in boxing history. It is a story that has fortified him and hundreds of fighters who know it, a story he credited with preventing him from slipping into the abyss of a post-championship lethargy fueled by inactivity that could strip those titles from him faster than Ali Funeka could.

“Every day I think of those days at Winn-Dixie,’’ Campbell said. “That’s why I didn’t get down on myself after Guzman fell out. I was ready to fight, he wasn’t. That’s what my job is. It’s to be ready to fight regardless. What was I supposed to do? Quit training. I know if I’m not ready what will happen. I remember those days.’’

“Those days’’ were long ones with little money, less hope and a string of jobs to try and make ends meet. Now all he had to do was one job but when it seemingly counted most he couldn’t bring himself to do it one more time.

“I don’t know why it took so long for me to get a chance to win the title,’’ Campbell (32-5-1, 25 KO) said the day before he lost it without a fight. “Maybe it was because I didn’t have that backing with me (that he now has from promoter Don King). I don’t think I’m the only talented fighter out there who nobody knows. There are tons of guys with talent like me. I see them all the time.

“Every where I go I hear I’m their inspiration. They look at me and believe they can still do it. It was a long time coming but I tell them remember this is a job and show up every day regardless.’’

When asked what he had done in the long months since the Guzman fight failed to materialize Campbell said loudly, “Train. That’s what fighters are supposed to do. I didn’t look at the belts. This is not about trinkets. It’s about becoming the very best fighter I can and making some money.’’

That’s what it was supposed to be about Saturday night on HBO but that train left the station the minute Nate Campbell stepped on those scales the second time Friday night and they barely moved eight ounces. Perhaps he had trained as much as he’d said but you had to wonder if this was just another guy for whom success was harder to cope with than the absence of it had been.

Campbell understood the risk of 11 month layoffs and fighting once in over a year and a half. He knew there is a dullness that can develop from that, an erasing of desire and a loss of hope and faith that hard work equals success.

He claimed to have avoided that pitfall, although the story was truly told only when he and Funeka stood at the scales. One made it. The other did not. Without a punch being thrown, Nate Campbell had been dethroned, a champion felled by a fork.

“Did I do enough?’’ Campbell said the day before the weigh-in. “We’ll find out Saturday night.’’

Turned out we didn’t have to wait that long.

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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