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Articles of 2009

TSS' Top 9 Unjustly Unloved

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Some fighters get all the love. Most of them deserve it. Some fighters, though, don’t get the zealous affection they should.

Manny Pacquiao and Ricky Hatton definitely get love. Both have devoted followings in the home countries and amongst those who hail from their homelands, and when they fight one another for Hatton’s junior welterweight championship, they will net 10 figures each. They’ve earned it with their all-action styles, winning personalities and quality performances that have made them two of the pound-for-pound best in the world.

On the outside looking in is lightweight champion Juan Manuel Marquez. Marquez got plenty of love after his knockout of Juan Diaz, a Fight of the Year candidate that proved he’s no worse than the second-best active fighter alive, behind only longtime rival Pacquiao. But he may never make as much money Pacquiao will against Hatton May 2, and he’s had to claw through a lot to even get this far.

Marquez is the first man on this list of elite fighters who deserve better.

They are top-notch boxers who fight in a fan-friendly style, but don’t have a corresponding number of fans. And because of that, plus a few other reasons, they don’t always get the fights they ought to or make the money that is rightfully theirs.

It’s time to recognize them, the Unjustly Unloved. Maybe – just maybe – it will help them a little in their quest for just desserts.

Juan Manuel Marquez

Even after his now near-annual Fight of the Year candidate in 2008, against Pacquiao, fewer than 100,000 people bought his pay-per-view bout with Joel Casamayor in September. Even relatively close to the border of his native Mexico, Marquez was not the fan favorite on Saturday against Houston hometown hero Diaz.

Marquez is a magnificent fighter – “Juan Manuel Magnificent,” according to this very boxing site – and loads of fun to watch, plus he’s the best Mexican fighter left standing and he pledges every fight is for his home country. And yet, he hasn’t totally won over that boxing-mad land or its descendants.

Career mismanagement didn’t help. An early tendency toward technical, cautious boxing didn’t help. Living in the shadow of two more beloved Mexican fighters, Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales, didn’t help. But all of those things appear to be behind him now. Best case scenario: He gets the winner of Pacquiao-Hatton. And this time, finally, he gets the paycheck to go along with the now-universal recognition. After his most recent performance, teams for both Pacquiao and Hatton are thankfully mentioning him as a possible future opponent.

Shane Mosley

Sure, Mosley got great paydays against Oscar De La Hoya, and at times, he’s filled stadiums. But it was Antonio Margarito, not Mosley, who was the fan draw when they fought in his backyard of Los Angeles in January. And fighting in the same region in September, nobody came to see him fight Ricardo Mayorga.

Mosley wants to be in the sweepstakes for the Pacquiao-Hatton victor. He would like a rematch with Miguel Cotto, but on his terms. He has long chased Floyd Mayweather, Jr., who recently turned him down again. He is most likely to end up with Andre Berto – a good fighter, but not someone likely to rake in the dough the others would.

It’s too bad. Mosley’s a boxer, but he’s a true warrior who loves to stand and trade. He’s had memorable fights and memorable knockouts along the way. Perhaps the BALCO questions sidelined him, and perhaps they should have. Perhaps fans gave up on him after a few losses years ago. He’s back at the top now after knocking out Margarito, but when the management and promotional teams of Cotto and Pacquiao talk about their plans, they aren’t saying “Shane Mosley” all that loud.

Paul Williams

Williams is not only a top-10 pound-for-pound player, but he’s a joy to watch. He’s a unique physical specimen – a welterweight with a heavyweight reach — who was in a slugfest with Margarito in 2007 before adapting his hundreds-of-punches per round style toward big power to score two consecutive 1st round knockouts in 2008. Then he impressively fought through adversity after getting cut by Verno Phillips to demolish the sturdy veteran.

He wants to fight everyone: Bernard Hopkins, Joe Calzaghe, Mosley, everyone. And nobody wants to fight him. Maybe they would if he had a discernible fan base. But he doesn’t. Williams inherited the “most feared fighter” label when he beat Margarito, but Margarito proved that people will risk fighting a feared opponent if there’s money in it. Mosley wasn’t the only one who wanted a piece of Margarito after Margarito knocked out Cotto and energized the Mexican fans.

For whatever reason, the African-American fan base does not, as of now, appear mobilized and united behind many black fighters. Floyd Mayweather did it for them, but it took him a very long time. Hopkins does it for them, somewhat. Williams, and a few others on this list, may win over that segment of the boxing public eventually. Williams hopes to win over some more fans by beating his April opponent, his most well-known to date, middleweight Winky Wright.

Chad Dawson

Some fans dismiss Dawson as overrated and perhaps a little boring at times, but who didn’t enjoy his terrific battle against Glen Johnson? What wasn’t there to like about the flashy combinations he used to defeat Antonio Tarver in one of 2008’s best performances?

After watching Dawson on rival network Showtime, HBO has wised up, and intends to broadcast the (unfortunate) contracted Dawson-Tarver rematch. That will offer him more exposure still. But prior to Joe Calzaghe’s retirement, Dawson was the nearest threat in the light heavyweight division. Alas, Calzaghe knew Dawson would offer relatively little money, so he didn’t see him as someone for whom he should stick around.

It’s unwise to generalize about what makes a boxer appeal to a certain ethnic group. Part of Mayweather’s appeal was that he essentially had a rap star’s persona, brash and cocky, that appealed to some younger black fans. Dawson has amped up his trash talk of late, but he also seems to be a nice guy – and being a nice guy never hurt “Sugar” Ray Leonard. If he can play up the aspects of his personality that appeal to an audience, any audience, he certainly has the talent to go along with it.

Glen Johnson

Johnson explained in a segment that aired over the weekend for his ESPN2 Friday Night Fights headlining bout why he isn’t as popular as perhaps he should be: He hails from Jamaica, a country that doesn’t particularly embrace pugilism.

If only another country would adopt this 40-year-old marvel, who earned the nickname “The Road Warrior” by traveling the world over to get fights that he often won, even if home town judges didn’t see it that way. From his crushing knockout of Roy Jones, Jr. to his nip-and-tuck battle with Dawson, Johnson puts on a show every night. And he’s a serious threat to any pound-for-pound fighter who dares get in the ring with him.

But the 2004 Fighter of the Year lost momentum after Tarver avenged his loss to Johnson, and not even another member of this list, Dawson, is interested in a rematch. So Johnson just keeps putting on his road gear, fighting anyone he can, beating them with his irrepressible style, and hoping he gets another big match. As of now, it looks like he'll get a shot at another alphabet title belt, but in a fair world, he gets more than that.

Nonito Donaire

Donaire, too, knows a little about lost momentum. In 2007, he scored the best knockout of the year when he flattened knockout artist Vic Darchinyan with one perfect left hook. That won him one more fight on Showtime, another exciting performance against Luis Maldanado.

Then came the feud with his promoter, Gary Shaw. A switch to Top Rank got him a spot on a small pay-per-view card where he defended his flyweight title belt, but entropy has enveloped efforts to arrange his next fight. A Showtime-headlining fight with junior bantamweight Fernando Montiel would have given him a chance to prove how good he was and regain the spotlight. But Montiel dropped out months in advance, saying he couldn’t make the weight anymore, only to later challenge Darchinyan — who has a sizeable fan following — for his junior bantamweight belts. Several replacement opponents and reschedulings later, Donaire’s manager pulled the plug on a spring fight altogether.

Donaire is positioned to capitalize on the Filipino boxing market, not that he has always pleased that segment of that group of fans with some of his family feuding – although he has begun healing some of those rifts. In the ring, he just needs to get top opponents. Shaw harbors a fan-unfriendly vendetta against Donaire that makes a rematch with Darchinyan unlikely, and a number of top junior bantams, including Darchinyan, are fleeing the division. It’s hard to see where Donaire will get those top opponents.

Joshua Clottey

Some perceive Clottey as a plodding, defense-first welterweight, but check again. His 2008 fight with Zab Judah featured tremendous two-way action, and it was Clottey who was drawing the “ooos” and “ahhhs” early on in his 2006 fight with audience favorite Margarito before he injured both hands.

So when it came time for the iron-chinned Clottey to test his punch resistance against huge puncher Kermit Cintron early in 2009 – two of the top 10 fighters in the glamorous welterweight division – all the networks lined up to broadcast it, right? Quite the opposite. No one wanted Clottey-Cintron, reportedly, and just as it looked like it would be relegated to the undercard of a small pay-per-view, Cintron got offered twice the money to fight junior middleweight Sergio Martinez on HBO.

It’s gotten so bad Clottey has threatened to drop boxing and focus on soccer, but there may be hope yet for the tough Ghanaian: He, along with Cintron, is in the running for a June date with Cotto and Madison Square Garden. Cintron may have the edge because his Puerto Rican heritage, like Cotto’s, could help sell a fight that coincides with the Puerto Rican Day parade. But Clottey has the better argument for being unjustly neglected, and since both Clottey and Cotto are promoted by Top Rank, the promoter can kill two birds with one stone by making Cotto-Clottey happen.

Nate Campbell

Personality has counted against a number of fighters on this list. Some of them lack charisma. Not so with Campbell. He’s passionate, funny, a great trash-talker and even when he screwed up, as he did by not making weight for February’s fight with Ali Funeka, fans are inclined to give him a pass because he showed obvious remorse. He is as likeable as any boxer around.

After a cracking good war with Juan Diaz last year, which saw Campbell pick up three lightweight alphabet title belts, it finally looked like Campbell might break through. He’d hit the pound-for-pound top-20 lists and was in one of the sport’s most loaded divisions. But bouts against Pacquiao and Marquez never materialized.

He turned to a high-risk, low-reward fight with Joan Guzman, but Guzman didn’t make weight and pulled out. That led to a bankruptcy filing and some promotional drama, and his desire to hold on to some of his belts led to a tough fight against little-known Funeka. Now, moving up to junior welterweight, Campbell is in some demand, with Judah, Paulie Malignaggi and others interested in fighting him. But nobody who would offer him a mega-payday is, at least not yet.

Celestino Caballero

Caballero no doubt hurt himself with an ugly, awkward performance on Showtime in 2007 against Jorge Lacierva, but some of the blame for that goes to Lacierva. It’s not, at any rate, the norm for Caballero. His performance against Steve Molitor in late 2008 was far more typical – an all-offense steamrolling – and his battle with Daniel Ponce De Leon in 2005 had plenty of exciting exchanges.

The problem with Caballero is that A. he’s really good and B. he’s 5’11” in a junior featherweight division where 5’7” is tall. He may have some fans in Panama, but they haven’t been enough to overcome those two things and get him a showdown against moneymakers like Israel Vazquez, Rafael Marquez or Juan Manuel Lopez.

That means he’s confined, for the time being, to defending his two alphabet title belts. And the longer he has to wait for one member of the Vazquez-Marquez-Lopez triumvirate to fight him, the harder it will be for him to squeeze his frame down into 122 pounds. And there’s nobody at featherweight right now who can offer him that kind of money, either.

Honorable Mentions

Most of these fighters are probably a notch beneath the above top 9 in terms of their elite status as of now; the last two have different reasons for not cracking the list.

Humberto Soto, junior lightweight:
A mini-Margarito. Hit the scene in 2005 by defeating Rocky Juarez, then hit a spate of misfortune when he couldn’t chase down Guzman, got a b.s. d.q. against Francisco Lorenzo and a pay-per-view with Pacquiao faded after Pacquiao went for Oscar De La Hoya. Could get good money and competition against Robert Guerrero.

Steve Cunningham, cruiserweight: Patriotic back story, loads of skill, nice as all get-out. Fought overseas repeatedly before going home for December’s Tomasz Adamek fight, losing one of 2008’s best battles, thereby losing a lucrative bout with Bernard Hopkins. May not get an Adamek rematch, either.

Gerry Penalosa, bantamweight:
Driven out by boxing politics, the sharp Filipino fighter paved the way for Pacquiao and Donaire. Had a comeback 2007, knocking out Johnny Gonzalez and deserving the win over Ponce De Leon. Getting a good money bout against Lopez in April, but has spent a lot of time trying to get paid well for his efforts.

Librado Andrade, super middleweight:
May have the best chin in the sport, and may have been robbed of a knockout win against Lucian Bute last year. Made some fans in Canada in the process and will soon be on an undercard there. Warranted as a Bute rematch appears, it doesn’t seem to be in Bute’s plans.

Kendall Holt, junior welterweight:
As talented as anybody. At his best, is as exciting as anybody. Has probably shot himself in the foot with a few underwhelming performances, though. Difficult April fight with Timothy Bradley offers a chance to springboard himself up toward, say, a Hatton, but even under the best circumstances, it’s unlikely.

Steve Luevano, featherweight: Basically the same story as Holt. Talented, but sometimes exciting and sometimes not. Manager may have undercut him by not being willing to go to Texas to fight Rocky Juarez, and Chris John instead got that slot. John is now getting a lot of plaudits that might have gone to Luevano. Top Rank pushing him hard, though.

Ivan Calderon, junior flyweight: A top-10 pound-for-pound boxer who may be the most technically proficient fighter around. Two problems; size makes him a difficult sell, and lack of pop makes him “for purists only.” Moderately popular in Puerto Rico, though. Lots of people covet fights with him, but Cesar Canchila, one possible foe, instead is doing a rematch with Giovanni Segura.

Joan Guzman, lightweight:
All-elite, talent-wise. Hurt himself badly with two terrible moves: fighting safe against Soto guaranteed he wouldn’t get Pacquiao, then not making weight against Soto almost thrust him into pariah status. Alphabet title shot looming nonetheless.

 Read more from Tim Starks at his boxing blog, The Queensberry Rules (queensberry-rules.com).

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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