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Articles of 2009

A Proper Introduction To Chris John

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Despite being an iconic figure in his native Indonesia, featherweight world titlist Chris John has experienced relative anonymity in Houston during the build-up to Saturday’s defence against Rocky Juarez at the Toyota Center.

But being an outsider is nothing new for John, who is accustomed to fighting thousands of miles away from his homeland in locations as diverse as Australia and Japan. The endeavors have thus far been successful, as he has enjoyed a five-year reign as the WBA 126-pound titlist, defending the belt ten times en route to accumulating a 42-0-1 (22 KOs) record and pervasive domestic fame.

Yet the 29-year-old’s profile in the United States is diminutive, even among ardent boxing fans. John is noteworthy for a decision win over the outstanding Juan Manuel Marquez in Borneo nearly three years ago, but the contention surrounding the victory and his subsequent triumphs over obscure opposition have overshadowed his exceptional ability.

But a newly-formed relationship with Golden Boy Promotions has led to John’s appearance in Texas on the HBO-televised card headlined by Marquez’ showdown with Juan Diaz. According to John’s U.S. adviser Sampson Lewkowicz, the Indonesian will be taking a pay cut for Saturday’s fight, but then again, money had nothing to do with John’s introduction to boxing.

Born in Jakarta and raised in a small village in Central Java, John was tutored in boxing by his father Djohan, who believed his energetic son needed a focus in life that would serve as an outlet for his youthful exuberance.

“[Chris] was a hyperactive kid,” recalled Djohan, a former amateur boxer. “I thought it was better for him to be doing something useful. But the only skill I [can teach] is boxing.”

Djohan administered a strict routine for his son. He bought Chris a bicycle so that the youngster would not commute to school on motorized transport, thus tiring him out.  Djohan believed that if Chris was exhausted on his return home from school he would then take a nap, thus replenishing his energy and enabling him to train harder in the evening.

The training sessions took place on a section of disused rice fields, and lasted three hours a day regardless of the weather. But the regimented routine soon began to take its toll on Chris.

“I felt like I was being forced to do something that I didn’t like,” he revealed. “My father did everything he could to make me like boxing. Everything was tightly controlled. Dad scheduled breakfast, lunch and dinner. The training had to start and finish on time. It didn't matter if it was raining, or if something happened.”

After years of intensive instruction, Djohan felt that at 15, John had acquired the necessary physical and mental tools to compete.  His debut amateur contest was a victorious one, and from that point on Chris learned to appreciate the value of the strict schedule, while also realizing that he possessed a special talent.

After finishing high school, John sought to capitalize on his pugilistic aptitude and left home for the province’s capital city of Semarang to begin his paid career under the tutelage of Sutan Rambing.  The Indonesian boxing scene has a reputation as an unforgiving environment, with a reported 22 ring deaths occurring in the country since 1948, and it didn’t take John long to realize that the professional game was a ruthless affair. In his twelfth outing he endured a brutal struggle against Muhammad Alfaridzi, and was forced to dig deep to grind out a knockout in the final round.

Yet he speaks about the dramatic twelfth round victory with humility.

“I was just lucky,” acknowledged John. “It was a very hard match for me. My nose was broken. Until round four, I had no concentration anymore, everything was a blur. I was just punching around.”

While rising up the pro ranks John also demonstrated a noted talent for wushu, a martial art similar to kung fu. He claimed medals at a number of international tournaments, but when presented with an opportunity for a world boxing title, he decided to dedicate himself wholly to his profession.

In 2004 a conclusive points victory over Osamu Sato in Japan saw John claim the WBA strap in a mild upset. In doing so, he became only the third fighter in Indonesia’s history to claim a world title, but his status as a national hero was soon threatened by an ugly legal dispute.

John claimed that Rambing took an unfair percentage of his purse for the first title defense against Jose Rojas, prompting the fighter to leave his longtime trainer and relocate his training camps to Perth, Australia under the guidance of Craig Christian, a figure who is no stranger to the nation’s legal system. John believed that the move was necessary to aid his development as a world-class fighter, but various boxing figures in Indonesia criticized his decision, arguing that John was breaking a legally binding contract while also disparaging the sport in his native country.

“The Indonesian people must be disappointed by [John’s] decision,” the WBA’s Indonesian representative Tourino Tidar told The Jakarta Post, while chairman of the Indonesian Boxing Commission Anton Sihombing added that John was “big headed” and had “forgotten his roots”.

But John contended that the move would ultimately benefit his burgeoning career.

“I have a room in the back of the gym [in Perth] and stay with my brother for 6 to 8 weeks before each fight,” he told Fightnews. “It is an old cliché but here in [Australia] I am able to eat, sleep and live boxing for the hard preparation I need to do to defend my title. I don’t even go out; [I] just live a monastic lifestyle. My country of Indonesia has made me proud and I train [in Australia] away from the public adoration I receive at home to give me the mental and physical edge I need to be a dominant world champion at featherweight.”

John agreed to pay his ex-trainer Rp150 million [approximately $15,000] to settle the dispute, while his decision to still reside in Semarang between fights and compete frequently in Indonesia eased tensions with the boxing public. Soon after, a dominating points victory over Derrick Gainer fully restored his popularity.

But the ensuing triumph over Marquez would bring John toward iconic status in his homeland. Yet elsewhere, John’s success was met with skepticism. The western boxing community, unable to view the fight on television, struggled to comprehend that a pound-for-pound caliber fighter could lose a unanimous decision to an obscure opponent such as John. The setting also prompted claims that Marquez was the victim of a hometown decision, while claims of injustice from the loser’s camp helped fuel such concerns.

“It is not fair,” claimed Marquez’ spokesman Jaime Quintana. “[John’s management] did whatever they were supposed to do to win the fight; gloves [the fighters had to wear the Winning brand of gloves instead of Marquez’ preferred choice of Reyes], coming all the way here, many things put us at the disadvantage here.”

But Quintana later stated, “It was a close fight but I thought we took seven rounds.” “I think I won a close fight,” added Marquez. Such comments hardly indicate a blatant robbery.

The twelve round bout was a nip-and-tuck affair, with a relatively low degree of contact between the fighters. While John employed lateral movement and produced a more voluminous output through long punches, Marquez often connected with heavier right crosses and hooks to the body. The rounds were difficult to score, yet the cards of 116-112, 116-110 and 117-111 did seem too wide. But Scott Mallon, who was ringside for the fight, scored it 116-110 for John and reported on TSS that “[The decision] was fair. [Marquez] came on in the middle rounds, but then [John] started to dance, moving side-to-side, and it made it hard for [Marquez] to hit him solid.”

In the three years following that fight, John has only competed in five bouts, all of which were straightforward victories over generally mediocre opposition.  The only blemish on his professional record is a technical draw incurred against Jose Rojas, when a clash of heads in the fourth round left John with a deep gash, forcing the fight’s stoppage. John easily won the rematch on a wide points decision, using his superior speed to turn back a game effort from Rojas, who holds a third round knockout over current 122-pound titlist Celestino Caballero .

The decision by Golden Boy Promotions to bring John to the U.S. and put him on the same card as Marquez seems to be an effort to drum up stateside interest in a rematch between the pair. At 35, Marquez is nearing the end of a stellar career and his focus is likely on avenging recent defeats. And given that Manny Pacquiao is campaigning at 140 pounds, a matchup with John is probably the only bout that will interest the Mexican.

Since Marquez has recently been fighting at lightweight, a bout between the two may have to take place at a catch-weight, but moving up a few pounds shouldn’t bother John, who has had difficulty making 126-pounds. Last July his fight with Jackson Asiku was bizarrely cancelled on the day of the weigh-in, with The Jakarta Post reporting that John was nearly 10 pounds above the featherweight limit a day earlier.

Victory over Juarez on Saturday is no given, and the Houston native, who has been competing at junior lightweight, is expected to be the physically stronger fighter.

John is not a powerful hitter and is most effective when fighting on the outside and Juarez, 28-4 (20 KOs), should have a clear advantage if he can get within John’s long straight blows. On occasion, the Indonesian has looked ragged when trading in close ranges, Aswinging sloppy punches while leaving himself vulnerable to hooks to the body and head. Notably, in his 2007 points defeat to Marquez, Juarez enjoyed success with hard lefts to the body and the right cross.

John likes to set a quick tempo, employing quick footwork behind a sharp left hand. He moves his upper body constantly, while favoring the double jab, straight right combination.  This ought to prove effective against Juarez, who stalks forward behind a high guard and generally punches in sporadic, yet heavy, sequences.

The clash of styles should provide an absorbing contest.

“I think it will be a fantastic fight for the crowd; boxer versus aggressive fighter,” predicts John.

And while Juarez will have thousands of Houstonites cheering him on, John will have millions of reasons to win.

“I have the expectations of Indonesia on my shoulder,” he declares. “I will do them proud.”

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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