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Articles of 2009

Boxing Fans, Can You Handle The Truth?

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One of my favorite television shows when I was a kid was “Perry Mason,” if only because there was no moral ambiguity concerning the outcome of every episode. No matter how compelling the evidence against Mr. Mason’s client, the counselor’s shrewd deductive powers and dynamic oratory ensured that the actual guilty party always broke down and confessed before the final credits rolled.

If only life, and boxing, were so cut-and-dried.

Now, when I watch TV, be it a fight card or updates on President Obama’s rushed-through-Congress, trillion-dollar stimulus package, my prevailing sense is that justice, at best, is only occasionally served. Like the real culprits who attempt to escape detection in one of those old “Perry Mason” episodes, much of what we hear are lies and distortions because, well, the powers-that-be don’t apparently think much of John Q. Public’s ability to comprehend anything. It is as if we are small children being told to eat the rest of our vegetables because kids in India are starving, as if one thing had to do with the other.

Now I have to wonder, was it ever any other way? Now that we celebrated another Presidents’ Day, are the White House icons of long-ago eras really as squeaky-clean as we were told in history class? Would Abraham Lincoln have been hailed as “Honest Abe” had there been bloggers, the Internet, 24-hour news stations and talk-radio back in the 1860s? And how many of those diggers of dirt, dedicated to the skewering of elected officials, are capable of passing the sniff test themselves?

Once I believed, or wanted to believe, that good triumphed over evil far more often than not. Maybe you did, too. But now we have become a society of cynics, skeptical about nearly every public pronouncement from those in high places. If Perry Mason were to pass the bar today and put out his shingle, he could expect a low approval rating as a matter of course because, well, he’s an attorney. Which would place him in the same leaky boat with politicians and the media, other groups that, rightly or wrongly, are widely viewed as serial prevaricators.

I was again reminded of my heightened wariness when two high-profile boxing figures with whom I have had periodic cause to disagree, WBC president Jose Sulaiman and Top Rank founder Bob Arum, issued recent statements that offered little room for disagreement. It was like being told, “Now, kids, there are vegetables on your plate and those children in India are still starving. So shut up and eat the rest of your Brussel sprouts.”

Less than a week after tarnished baseball heroes Alex Rodriguez and Miguel Tejada were forced to admit they had lied to Katie Couric (A-Rod) and to a grand jury (Tejada) about their past use of anabolic steroids, there was a quite remarkable statement from Senor Sulaiman concerning the “innocence” of Antonio Margarito and the improper hand wraps he would have worn into the ring for his Jan. 24 bout with Shane Mosley had those wraps not been detected.

After the California State Athletic Commission – itself no paragon of virtue – suspended Margarito’s license for a year, along with that of his trainer, Javier Capetillo, Sulaiman sent out a memo that stated that Margarito was “innocent” of any culpability in the matter because the CSAC’s investigation had determined that he didn’t really know what Capetillo was doing when he applied the hand-wraps.

Uh, that would be the same CSAC whose on-site inspector at the Staples Center in Los Angeles personally observed the illegal wrapping and then attempted to dissuade Mosley’s trainer, Naazim Richardson, from pressing his rights when he arrived after Margarito’s hands were already gloved up.

This is part of the release sent to media outlets by the WBC:

“The WBC, founded 46 years ago and formed by people who have vast experience in boxing, can not conceive that a boxer is suspended because of a bandaging, as the only people responsible for it are the managers, the ones who solely execute such an important responsibility without ever receiving instructions from their fighters on what to use in the bandaging or how to use it. The fighter always trusts his managers widely, and he only extends his hands and moves them the way the manager tells him to do it.

“On June 16, 1982, in the fight between Luis Resto and Billy Collins, in New York, just to give an example from many there are, some banned substance was found in the gloves worn by Resto, who won the fight, and due to that fact, manager Carlos `Panama’ Lewis was suspended for life, but Luis Resto was not involved at all, and not only that, his win was confirmed as such, without any modification.

“WBC president Jose Sulaiman, in order to confirm or modify his own experience regarding bandaging, as a fighter he used to be in his early youth, and after being in the locker rooms of thousands of bouts throughout his 60 years in boxing and 33 as WBC president, decided to personally call several great champions, being Vitali Klitschko, Larry Holmes, Tommy Hearns, Michael Spinks, Gerry Cooney, Julio Cesar Chavez, Erik Morales, Ruben Olivares, Carlos Zarate, Lupe Pintor, among many others, ALL of whom confirmed without exception that during their careers they had nothing to do with their being bandaged, and that their managers were exclusively responsible for such action.

“Based on the previous facts and many more pieces of evidence that will be obtained, the Mexican boxing authorities, in a very respectful and amicable way, will request the California State Athletic Commission to extend the courtesy of sending all the prescriptive documents of the case, to immediately proceed to submit a respectful but firm appeal against the suspension that Antonio Margarito who is ABSOLUTELY INNOCENT without a doubt, was placed on; Margarito should be restored his damaged prestige and dignity.”

Arum, who brandishes his law degree from Harvard as proof that he is smarter than any of his would-be detractors, was perfectly willing to throw Capetillo under the bus if it meant a free pass for Margarito, who, of course, is under contract to Top Rank.

“Obviously, the trainer was using these wraps. He says it was by mistake or whatever, but he’s tainted. He did it,” Arum said in a conference call with pesky media inquisitors last week in advance of Saturday’s split-site doubleheader  PPV in which WBC/WBO middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik was to defend his titles against Marco Antonio Rubio in Youngstown, Ohio, and Miguel Cotto was to swap punches with British challenger Michael Jennings for the vacant WBO welterweight crown in Madison Square Garden.

“The California commission is tainted because they deprived a young man of his livelihood after finding him innocent of any wrongdoing,” Arum continued. “That offends me as somebody who graduated from law school. It offends me as an American. Americans don’t punish somebody who is proved to be innocent of any wrongdoing. That is what is a blemish on boxing.”

Square those sentiments against those of Cotto, who was beating the snot out of Margarito in their WBA welterweight championship bout  last July 26 before the Mexican began to gain the upper hand, wearing down the Puerto Rican titlist with heavy blows that, in retrospect, now appear to potentially be heavier than they should have been.

“I think, if it’s up to me, we should all abide by the rule that was made,” said Cotto, who clearly is resistant to drinking the Kool-Aid Sulaiman and Arum are ladling out. “(Margarito) was suspended for a year; he should be suspended everywhere. He has to abide by the rules and I think if he can’t fight in the United States, he shouldn’t be able to fight at all.

“This is not a good thing for boxing. It gives boxing another black eye. You go into the ring thinking you’re all playing by the same rules. This is sport, this isn’t a slaughterhouse. This is about boxing to the best of your abilities. We should all go into the ring and be ready to fight with what we have, our own abilities and our own preparation.

“All I know is when everybody gets their hands wrapped, they know what’s in them. They know if something’s in their hand-wraps or not. As a fighter, you know if something’s in there.”

In response to Cotto’s ire toward what he believed was a competitive edge gained by Margarito against him, Arum said, “Miguel is certainly entitled to his opinion. I have expressed my opinion. I don’t say everybody has to agree with me.”

Here in this space, I get to offer my opinion, and I also don’t say that everybody has to agree with me. But TSS readers aren’t as gullible as some would like to believe, so consider this body of evidence for yourself and arrive at your own conclusions.

Sulaiman’s recital of Resto’s “innocence” of improprieties in the 1982 bout against Collins is specious in that Resto admitted only last year that he was completely aware that he had entered the ring with the equivalent of brass knuckles after Lewis had removed much of the horsehair padding from his gloves with tweezers through a pin hole.

The WBC is headquartered in Mexico City, and evidence of WBC executive rulings that have benefited Mexican fighters throughout Sulaiman’s presidency is overwhelming. For exhibits A and B, let us turn to the twice-screwed Pernell Whitaker. On March 12, 1988, Whitaker thoroughly outboxed WBC lightweight champion Jose Luis Ramirez in Paris, only to find out he was being tagged with a split-decision loss, the first blemish on his career.

Even more egregious was the majority draw that Whitaker, then the WBC welterweight champion, was obliged to accept in his Sept. 10, 1994, title fight with the legendary Julio Cesar Chavez in San Antonio. A pro-Chavez crowd of 63,000-plus in the Alamodome didn’t protest the decision, instead silently accepting the gift that had been presented to their hero.

When Whitaker’s handlers demanded an immediate rematch with Chavez, Sulaiman didn’t even acknowledge the controversy concerning the dubious draw. The Senor’s position was that “Sweet Pea” had retained the title on the draw, so there was no need for him to do it again with Chavez.

Now let us consider the March 17, 1990, junior welterweight unification matchup between Chavez and Meldrick Taylor. Taylor was too far ahead on points on two of the three official scorecards to lose a decision when he got floored late in the 12th and final round by a crushing overhand right by Chavez. Referee Richard Steele stopped the fight and awarded Chavez a technical-knockout victory with only two seconds remaining, which might or might not have been the proper call. But ask yourself: If the situation had been reversed, and Chavez been the knockdown victim while ahead on points, would Sulaiman have tried to overturn the outcome? Or at least have mandated an immediate rematch?

Lest anyone forget, Sulaiman was prepared to go along with promoter Don King’s thinly disguised attempt to rob Buster Douglas of his newly won heavyweight championship after Douglas knocked out Mike Tyson in the 10th round of their Feb. 11, 1990, title fight in Tokyo. King argued that Douglas had benefited from a “long count” in the eighth round, after he had been knocked down by Tyson, and Sulaiman and WBA president Gilberto Mendoza announced at a press conference six hours after the fight that they would not certify a winner until the executive committees of their respective organizations met later in the month.

The public smelled something rotten, and the immediate outcry got so loud that Sulaiman and Mendoza did a quick about-face and confirmed that Dougas was indeed the champion.

I also have to smile when I think of Sugar Ray Leonard winning both the WBC super middleweight and light heavyweight championships on Nov. 7, 1988, the night he stopped WBC 175-pound titlist Donny Lalonde in the ninth round. Although WBC rules allegedly prohibited such double-dipping, Sulaiman told me allowances were made “for those who write the history of boxing in golden letters.” That was an obvious reference to Leonard, who no doubt was willing to fork over a heftier sanctioning fee for the right to become the first fighter to win championship belts in five separate weight classes.

When I asked Senor Sulaiman to send me a copy of those WBC rules he refers to so often, my request went unanswered. To my knowledge, no accredited member of the media has ever received copies of WBC rules, or rules from any world sanctioning body. Such documents exist, we are told, but we are asked to accept what the Sulaimans and Mendozas tell us are in them as a matter of faith. Eat all your vegetables, children.

If you think this is a screed condemning only the WBC, think again. The WBA exceeds even the WBC when it comes to naked grabs for sanctioning fees, once telling us it was OK to have an “interim” world champion, “regular” world champion and “super” (unified) world champion in the same weight class. Three guys with claims to the same organization’s title.

The IBF, of course, is the American sanctioning body whose then-president, Bob Lee, served 22 months in Lewisburg (Pa.) Federal Prison for six convictions, including racketeering, money-laundering and tax evasion.

The scary thing is that maybe boxing is just a microcosm of what our country is becoming, if it hasn’t already. Only a month ago, our new president pledged “transparency” in the workings of government, and that everything would be done in “the light of day.” Almost immediately, he and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi began pushing a trillion-dollar spending bill that few members of Congress have had time to read or digest. It’s already been passed by the House of Representatives and could soon be enacted into law if the Senate follows suit and President Obama affixes his signature, despite the fact many of our elected officials have said they have not been given time to study the bill’s provisions.

But that is not to say that one political party or the other is more righteous than the other. President Bush had those never-discovered weapons of mass destruction to justify the invasion of Iraq. President Clinton looked right into a television monitor and insisted that he “never had sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.”

When it comes to what version of the truth we choose to believe, it pretty much boils down to what political party in which we are registered voters. Should anyone really expect boxing and boxing fans to be held to a higher standard?

Personally, I’d like that trillion-dollar spending bill to include a few million dollars to guarantee that political hacks aren’t appointed to state commissions primarily on the basis of their contributions to the party in power … to ensure that inspectors know what the rules are and are prepared to uniformly enforce them … and that Naazim Richardson, who apparently is the only guy who can tell Plaster of Paris from regular gauze, be named grand high poohbah of hand-wraps.

The feds are all over baseball’s steroid scandal because, let’s be honest, they care about baseball. Barry Bonds must be busted for the good of the country! Now, go up to Capitol Hill and ask the first congressman you see if he knows who Antonio Margarito is, or what the penalty should be for his trying to enter the ring with loaded fists.

What’s scary is that an entire era of baseball has been forever tainted by the specter of performance-enhancing drugs. Is there a computer to upwardly adjust, say, Mickey Mantle’s home-run total if he had been juicing throughout his career? Our heroes of the recent past are now a pack of cheats, and whatever innocence with which we viewed the game they played has been stolen from us.

Can it be like that in boxing? Should we now wonder if the most devastating knockouts of our memories were the result more of doctored gloves and hand-wraps than of all-natural punching power? Is Antonio Margarito now the equivalent of the disgraced Rafael Palmeiro or Miguel Tejada? Is Jose Sulaiman’s decree of Margarito’s innocence as flimsy as Mark McGwire’s testifying before Congress that he’s “not here to talk about the past”? Or is the Senor’s statement positive proof that Margarito was a clueless dupe of a nefarious trainer?

Forget Perry Mason. The courtroom drama that is most apt here is the classic scene in “A Few Good Men” in which Navy lawyer Daniel Caffey, as portrayed by Tom Cruise, hammers away at smirking Marine Corps Col. Nathan Jessup, a role that Jack Nicholson was born to play.

Somebody ordered a Code Red. Margarito, who has fought long enough to know if his hand-wraps gave him an extra boost, was prepared to carry it out. As for the rest of us …

Maybe we can’t handle the truth.

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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