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Articles of 2009

ROBERTO DURAN-The Fourth Crown



“The eyes of Roberto Duran. There’s a sinister look there…. even now.”
~ Al Bernstein, 1989

On the evening of February 24, 1989 a thirty-seven year old Panamanian has-been stood in a boxing ring in Atlantic City. A snowstorm raged outside but the crowd that filed into the Convention Center was undeterred –they came like believers to Lourdes, looking for a miracle. This was the boxer’s 92nd bout in 21 years as a professional. The touched-up beard and glistening hair recalled Charles Manson. His size and stature did as well –standing only 5’7 with his shoes on. In the opposite corner the powerfully built WBC middleweight Champion Iran Barkley stalked about, his features half-hidden under a hood.

Six years earlier, the man with the black beard had brutalized Barkley’s friend and fellow champion Davey Moore en route to an eighth round TKO. Moore died some time later in a freak accident and Barkley was dedicating this bout to his memory. For Iran, this was a revenge fight.

The Panamanian wasn’t worried: “that’s not my problem, that’s his problem.” Yet problems abounded. Iran wasn’t a 3-1 favorite by accident. He had bombs on both fists and stood over six feet. He was the kind of middleweight who looked like a light heavyweight with a rigged scale.

The flag of Panama waved up in the cheap seats as both men walked to ring center for the pre-fight instructions. Duran was eye-level with Barkley’s chest. Within moments, the timekeeper sounded the bell and round one began. The sold-out crowd roared and a familiar chant echoed off the walls as the boxers converged for battle: “Dooo-ran! Dooo-ran! Dooo-ran!”


Roberto Duran Sameniego began as just another dirty face in the sprawling barrios of Central America. He was a shoeshine boy who started boxing for coins at the age of eight. Like many before and after him, the rumblings of an empty stomach produced a great fighter. The kid fought as if he were possessed by thirteen devils, eventually growing into the lightweight division. He was barely out of his teenage years when he dominated the WBA champion Ken Buchanan, ending the fight with a shot that launched Buchanan’s testicles into his esophagus.

Duran had by this time come under the wings of two old Jewish corner men, relics from the golden age of boxing. In 1950, Ray Arcel was in Ezzard Charles’ corner when he handed Joe Louis his first defeat since Schmeling. Freddie Brown was the cut man in Rocky Marciano’s corner who plugged up the gaping wound on the champion’s nose long enough for him to overcome Charles four years later. They trained 26 champions between them since the 1920s and together they took the raw material that was Duran and unleashed one of the greatest lightweights in history. Brown streamlined the heavy-handed aggression and added finesse while Arcel taught him to think in the ring. Neither trainer tampered with the source, resolving never to touch the fire that burned in Duran.

A commentator later described his style as “back alley baroque” but it was more than that. Brown once asserted that that in all of his decades of training fighters, only Henry Armstrong was close to Duran.

The Hands of Stone’s reign of terror in his natural division began with Buchanan writhing on the canvas at his feet and ended with Esteban De Jesus in a similar posture in 1978. Having unified the lightweight title, Duran and his ancient corner targeted larger prey and greater glory.

Duran’s invasion of the welterweight division commenced with a challenge to former welterweight champion Carlos Palomino, a solid and proven fighter. Duran took nine of ten rounds. One year and three wins later, Duran stepped into the ring against one of the premier welterweights in history –the undefeated Sugar Ray Leonard. A ferocious Duran, on the books as a 9-5 underdog, beat Leonard over 15 grueling rounds. Leonard did not disappoint, erasing forever any notion that his warrior credentials were suspect. When asked after the fight if Leonard was the toughest of his 70 opponents to date, an exhausted Duran hesitated for a moment and then conceded: “si.” It is widely considered his peak performance, a perfect blend of skill and aggression. But it was more than that. It was an historical anomaly. To find a natural lightweight defeating a natural welterweight champion before this, you’d have to go back to 1906 when Joe Gans defeated Mike “Twin” Sullivan –and Sullivan was no Leonard.

Roberto Duran became a living legend.

Then came the fall. Five months later, Duran quit in the rematch against Leonard. “No quiero pelear con el payaso” (“I do not want to fight with this clown”) were the words he uttered to the referee. Howard Cosell bowdlerized it and the phrase “no mas” entered the American lexicon forever. Freddie Brown and Ray Arcel walked away in disbelief. Overnight, the proud name of Roberto Duran became a punch line for comedians on late night television. He hid out in Miami, refusing to go home to Panama where passions ran deep.

Roberto Duran became a pariah.

The real drama was only beginning. Duran began challenging larger fighters at precisely the time that the powers he commanded in his youth were waning. Age is a thief, and Duran’s passion was among the victims. At times he seemed to forget who he was, or he didn’t care. The Leonard rematch was only the first of his humiliations. More would follow: the Kirkland Laing and Pat Lawlor fights among them.  His would be the walk-out bout. He’d struggle against fighters who couldn’t carry his spit bucket in his prime. Duran would be reduced to fighting for coins again, often badly conditioned enough to look as if his name were Rotundo Duran.

But then he would rise from his own ashes like a phoenix. The first resurrection brought him a third title, once again from an undefeated bigger, younger, and faster champion in junior middleweight Davey Moore. Five months later, he faced one of history’s greatest middleweight champions -Brockton's own Marvelous Marvin Hagler. Only a loco lightweight would challenge middleweights, but this one became the only one of Hagler’s title challengers to go 15 rounds. Unlike Leonard who waited until Hagler was slowed down enough and even then insisted on 12 rounds, Duran fought him in the pocket for 15 rounds when Hagler was near- prime. At the last bell, Duran stood in defiance, scowling with those Manson lamps. It was a glorious defeat.

Duran was offered $500,000 upfront to fight Thomas “The Hitman” Hearns. Duran, foolishly believing that Hearns was a “chicken” after watching his fight with Leonard, trained like a hedonist at Woodstock. He spent two rounds snarling and missing, and after Hearns connected in the second round with a right hook, Duran said, he “shook all the alcohol, all the women, and to the mat I went!” He was carried out on his shield –it would remain the first and last time in 119 fights that Duran finished a fight horizontal.

Over the next four years, Duran fought only one top contender in Robbie Sims, and he lost by a split decision. When Duran and Barkley converged like David and Goliath on that snowy evening in 1989, Duran was 25 pounds and a decade past his peak. He had never fought anything the size of Barkley except perhaps for that horse he was said to have knocked out. Meanwhile, Barkley had just vanquished Duran’s conqueror in Hearns with two right hands, the second landing as Hearns was in the act of falling. “I’m gonna finish off these legends,” declared the former Bronx gangbanger. Unlike either Duran or the horse, the WBC middleweight champion was in his prime at 28 years old.

Kleos Aphthiton

Iran Barkley began his first title defense with a demonstration of what his strategy would be. Any stogie-chewing, bent-nosed chief second would have grunted his approval: work behind a varying jab, pound the body, feint, give angles, get physical, and set a torrid pace. The older, smaller Duran had no advantages except for a good memory. His only chance for victory was to fight Barkley in the eye of the storm, counterpunch, angle out, and capitalize on any mistakes that were made. Duran didn’t have to wait long for a mistake. Barkley threw a jab with 10 seconds left in the first round and left it hanging out there. Duran slipped it and came over with an overhand right that caught Iran on the side of his head. Barkley’s legs sagged. The crowd went berserk. Commentator Gil Clancy, who was in Ken Buchanan’s corner on the night that Duran stopped him in 1972 hollered, “Barkley is hoit! He-is-hoit, no question about that! We mentioned the fact Duran has not shown punching power as a middleweight… there it was!”

The struggle quickly became epic. Every round, Barkley made a serious investment in body punching, bending at the knees and cranking left hooks that seemed to come out of Duran’s back. It didn’t slow him down. In round four, Barkley pushed Duran into the ropes like a rag doll and Duran bounced off with a right-left-right-left combination that stunned the champion. Later, Duran grazed Barkley with a left hook in close, fall-stepping to his right as he did, then twisting back with a right hand. This was a mirror image of a move that Rocky Marciano did against Ezzard Charles in the eighth round of their second fight. Somewhere, the ghost of Freddie Brown was nodding in approval. Nevertheless, Duran was having difficulty with the size and strength of this champion because although he was standing on a dime and making Iran miss, anytime the larger man connected anywhere, Duran was knocked sideways.

Round seven was a showcase of Duran’s genius. He slipped six punches in a row before stunning Barkley again with a right. Moments later Barkley bent his knees and landed two short left hooks. A dazed Duran started to tilt and fell into a clinch, but resumed fighting a moment later as if his chin matched his hands of stone. At the end of the round, Duran stood ring center  and stared at the champion as if to say “mas”. Ray Arcel was almost 90 years old when he watched this bout in his Manhattan apartment: “I just sat there…and I mean, I was laughing,” he told Ronald K. Fried in “Corner Men”, “this is my baby.”

In the next round, Barkley went low and came up with another short left hook that snuck in behind Duran’s guard. Barkley never threw a better one. Duran’s eyes rolled around in his head like a Looney Tune, and he stumbled. The black light was beckoning.

In rough fights, including ones like this where the momentum swings like a pendulum, the expectation is that young lions will outlast old lions. Barkley’s corner operated with that expectation. In the eighth round, they thought that their strategic investments against this aging ex-champion –the pressure, the pace –were beginning to pay dividends; and that left hook looked like a cleanup.

They were wrong. The phoenix saw the ashes at his feet, and something primal rose again in him shaking a stone fist at past failures, at age, at giants, at any and all who doubt Duran.

And he came roaring back. In the eleventh, Duran exploded a left-right-left-right combination that left Barkley sprawled on the canvas like an advertisement. In the last round, it was David who was stalking Goliath, and Goliath’s eye (like Leonard’s, Moore’s, and Hagler’s)  was decorated with an ugly hematoma. Duran was triumphant. The mythical fourth crown was his. And there wasn’t a scratch on his face.

The storied history of twentieth century boxing strains to find something comparable to Duran’s victory over Leonard, but it has no precedent for this. Aging, natural lightweights don’t beat full blown middleweights. It simply doesn’t happen. And yet it did. In a last act of defiance, Duran gave the finger to history, to the laws of physics, and to Father Time. It has been twenty years since the Panamanian seized his fourth crown. The days of blood and shame and redemption and glory are long gone, and at 57, he is as round as he is happy. But  don’t let the twinkle in the eyes of Roberto Duran fool you… he just might be the greatest fighter we’ve experienced in a half century.

Gregory Toledo is a freelance writer from Boston, MA who has contributed to various publications; he is also the author of The Hanging of Old Brown: A Story of Slaves, Statesmen, and Redemption and can be contacted at:

Articles of 2009

UFC 108 Rashad Evans vs. Thiago Silva



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



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 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



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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