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Articles of 2009

Cotto And Arum Headed For Divorce?

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I could have used one of those body language “experts” the NY tabloid papers always trot out to examine the mannerisms in speech and movement when some boldface figure has transgressed, and is then trotted out in front of the media to come clean, during the Top Rank/Cotto-Jennings press conference held at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday.

“Experts” studied A-Rod while he put on a show of contrition on Tuesday, and the MLB star chose to maintain that he didn’t know what he was being injected with from 2001-2003, though he conceded that he knew it wasn’t Tic Tacs. “Experts” concluded the same thing a bright 10 year old could, that A-Rod was being less than forthcoming, that he was exhibiting tendencies of evasiveness during his “mea culpa” session. But I could have used another set of eyes to study Bob Arum, Cotto’s promoter, and the fighter, while they were up on the dais together, trying to move some more tickets for the Saturday tussle at MSG. Because I’m thinking that the relationship between Arum and Cotto must be damaged, if not irrevocably, then at least quite seriously. Because Arum has so vehemently defended Antonio Margarito from the charges that he intended to use illegal material to wrap his hands before his Jan. 24 fight with Shane Mosley, he is at odds with Cotto, who has gone on record as saying that Margarito’s punishment should be stiffer than the one year suspension handed down last week by the California State Athletic Commission.

Arum blasted CSAC for their Feb. 10 ruling, which called for the suspension of Margarito and trainer Javier Capetillo, for conspiring to insert excessively hard pads, which were smeared with a mystery substance which is still being analyzed, into the boxer’s hands before his bout. At the hearing, Capetillo admitted culpability.

“I committed a big mistake. I don't want this young man to have problems,” Capetillo said regarding the hard pads, though not the mystery smears, through an interpreter.

“To take a kid who's done nothing wrong and revoke his license for a year: Are you crazy?” Arum railed outside the Van Nuys hearing room on Feb. 10. “If this was anyone other than a Mexican kid, there'd be a different result. The trainer does something wrong and the fighter who knows nothing suffers the consequences? What kind of nonsense is this?”

You think Cotto took this in, and just shrugged it off? Or did he see Arum’s response, and ask himself why his promoter, who is also Margarito’s promoter, was so vociferously defending a boxer who’d just been busted for cheating. You think maybe Cotto was wondering what sort of hand wraps and mystery substance were maybe in Margarito’s gloves on July 26, 2008 in Las Vegas, when Margarito stalked him and pummeled him into an 11th round ‘No Mas?’ You think maybe he felt like the promoter was choosing his favorite son, and it wasn’t him?

Cotto tried his best to contain his emotions on a conference call on Feb. 11, the day after the California commission ruled against Margarito and Capetillo.

“I don’t have any reaction,” Cotto said after being asked to comment on the Hand Wrap Flap. “It’s not my business. It’s the business of Margarito. I’m not one to talk about that.”

But after a reporter asked him about the possibility of Margarito fighting outside the US, the Puerto Rican boxer spoke from the heart.

“I think we should all abide by the rule that was made,” Cotto said. “He’s suspended for one year [in California]. He should be suspended everywhere. I don’t think he should fight. I think it’s not right for him to go and fight somewhere else. I think 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.”

So, do you think the 78-year-old Arum, the feisty Brooklyn born lawyer who has always relished a rousing debate, would back off his defense of Margarito, let the matter simmer down, let some other scandals sprout up, so the press jackals can find other fresh meat to tear into? Nope.

“Well Miguel is certainly entitled to his opinion,” Arum responded on the call. “I mean people can differ on the circumstances. As far as I’m concerned California revoked his license and he has to make a living and he has the right to fight anyplace that will license him. And Mexico has indicated – or a certain place in Mexico that they will provide him with a license. And I am his promoter and I will do the best that I can for him. Now Miguel may feel otherwise as far as you know serving the year, etc. but – and he’s entitled to his opinion. But I have expressed my opinion and that’s my opinion. I don’t say everybody has to agree with me or have the same opinion I have.”

Arum has held firm on his belief that a fighter may well not know if something funky has been inserted by a cornerman wrapping his hands. Cotto, on that call, took the opposite stance.

“All I know is that when everybody gets their hands wrapped we know what’s in them,” Cotto said. “Every boxer knows if there is something different in their hands or not. And I think, as a fighter, you would know if you have anything in there or not.”

After that, he told the Puerto Rican newspaper Primera Hora that he wasn’t pleased with Arum’s stance on the Margarito matter, and said Top Rank was putting “money ahead of the well-being of a human being.”

So, it was with this string of events that I surveyed Arum and Cotto at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday. Even without that body language expert, I could see that the two didn’t appear to be chummy. Arum sat next to Cotto on the dais, and his body was twisted to the microphone, while the boxer’s body was turned several degrees away from the promoter. The boxer looked down, at his shoes, while the promoter stared at the microphone, as Michael Jennings, and Maureen Shea, and Matt Vanda talked up their scraps. Arum and Cotto, when at the mike, both said the right things, thanked the people you’d expect them to thank. Emotions didn’t boil over. There was no talk of a divorce, not there. But Cotto’s contract with Top Rank is up next year, and other promoters have been eyeing this relationship seemingly splinter with fascination.

Miguel Cotto would be the lead horse in just about any stable. He himself pondered the possibility with the LA Times on Wednesday, after the press conference.

“I’m just going to stay with them until the contract is finished,” he told writer Kevin Baxter. He said he’d talk extension with Top Rank, but admitted he could see himself jumping ship in 2010.

I asked Arum if he was in between a rock and a hard place, between Cotto and Margarito. He indicated that was not the case. But he is holding firm on his wish to see Margarito fight in Mexico within a year, while he is under suspension in the US.

“Absolutely, the Mexican commission supports that,” he said. Arum said he’s confident the mystery substance being analyzed will not be plaster, and says it is more than plausible that a fighter not know if a hardened pad were inserted over gauze on his fist. Margarito should not be held accountable for the actions of his trainer, he reiterated.

“This is the American legal system. Ron Borges and everyone can preach as much as they want. I’m a lawyer, and this is the rule of law! What Miguel said, that’s Miguel’s opinion.”

Could Cotto your stance against you come contract time, I asked Arum.

“If he does, that’s too bad,” the promoter said.

If you were a betting man, would you bet the house—if it isn’t in foreclosure—that Cotto stays with Top Rank? Not me—not even if I get some bailout money to bet with. That body language on that stage, and the language being thrown around which shows that Cotto and Arum aren’t close to being on the same wavelength, indicates that the Puerto Rican slugger may well be a Golden Boy, King or DiBella fighter come 2010. That said, in the next 10 months, there figure to be another dozen or so steroid scandals unfolding, and Arum does have a way of fixing things, when he chooses to.

So let’s not get ahead of ourselves. And let’s remember that money can be an extremely effective healing salve, and there will be a bucketload of it up for grabs when Margarito-Cotto II gets made. Might Bob Arum slice off a larger than usual slice of money pie for Cotto come rematch time, to mollify the hitter’s sore feelings? That’s a bet I’d take.

SPEEDBAG Had a nice chat with Jennings' trainer Brian Hughes. The 70-year-old cornerman, whose highest profile client to this point was Robin Reid, the ex super middleweight champion, said that Jennings came to the US to win. Hughes, who wouldn't look out of place on a pubstool anywhere, was asked if his man would win. “Wouldn't be here if we didn't think that,” he said. “We've done all the hard work. This'll be like climbing Everest blindfolded. The press is treating him like he's just an English fella comin' over for a few quid. He'll show the American people how good he is.” Hughes said his man's less than sterling resume lacks big names because promoters haven't chosen to spotlight him, until now. The big stage at MSG won't have Jennings soiling his trunks, Hughes said. “He wants a bit of glory,” he said. Jennings will bring mementos honoring his brothers, Ray and Stephen, who died from a drug overdose, and car accident respectively, into the ring with him at MSG.

—I was disappointed that Jennings didn't come away with a phone number from one of the Wilhelmina models who were at the press conference, and will hold up round cards Saturday. Kid might as well leave New York with something aside from his purse and bruises dished out by Cotto. But ya never know. But really, in this case, we do. Top Rank isn't sure that Margarito didn't do lasting damage to Cotto, and they are serving up a short putt for Cotto to put away, to help him restore his confidence.

—You can watch undercard bouts that don't make the PPV on Yahoo, FYI. PPV fans will see MSG fights, then the post fight interviews, and will then be switched to Youngstown for the Pavlik-Rubio beef.

—I expect Duddy-Vanda to be a crowd pleaser. The Minnesotan Vanda seemed pumped. “I love hostile crowds,” he said. “I hope the whole crowd is against me, booing me. The best man is gonna win, I sure hope it's me.” LOVE that last line.

—On the subject of Duddy. Not sure if he just had his gameface on or what…But he and I have chatted a few times. I walked up to him at the press conference, and wished him well. I asked him what would be next after a win over Vanda. “A fight,” he said, stonily, sarcastically; he then disengaged quickly, and called out to his new advisor Craig Hamilton. Hey, maybe he was just in gameface mode. But this was not a particularly charming interaction for a guy TSS has covered quite heavily. Hope he's not getting too full of himself, too soon…

—Arum read a good luck note to Jennings he said was sent by British PM Gordon Brown. Obama didn't send anyone on the card such a note, sad to say. Maybe Pavlik got one?

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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