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Articles of 2009

Same Chin, But A New Khan?

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When Amir Khan tests himself Saturday night against three-division world champion Marco Antonio Barrera, it will not be a physical test. It will be an intelligence test.

Younger, faster, taller and hungrier, England’s 2004 Olympic silver medalist will have everything going for him, including home field advantage, when he faces Barrera at the M.E.N Arena in Manchester, England, just down the road from his native Bolton. In front of him will stand a shadow of who Barrera once was. Though still dangerous, Barrera is well past his prime, having begun the long, slow slide all great fighters face.

Khan’s promoter, Frank Warren, is a wise and wary man, someone not prone to risking his moneymakers against dangerous, stern opposition without being forced to. That he sought out this fight and agreed to a deal with Barrera’s promoter and his former partner, Don King, only made clear his faith that Barrera is no longer what he once was, because if he was, Amir Khan wouldn’t be in the same area code as Marco Antonio Barrera Saturday night.

Yet this fight remains a test all the same because like the greatest of Shakespearean characters, Amir Khan has a fatal flaw – his chin. While he is otherwise well equipped for the profession he has chosen, his chin has cracked on several occasions, most notably in the only loss of his career in Sept. 2008 when he was badly wobbled within seconds by a jab from Breidis Prescott, and soon after had his mind numbed to the passage of time until he was counted out.

At 35, Barrera is not as fast as he once was, or as resilient as he once was or as powerful as he once was… but he has retained all his fighting intellect, and that is the weapon Khan must overcome first. For if he cannot, all his other advantages could well dissolve as quickly as his chin sometimes has.

“This fight is going to be more about patience and it’s going to be more technical,’’ Khan (19-1, 15 KOs) claimed several days ago after returning to England following six weeks of training at Freddie Roach’s Wild Card Gym in Hollywood.

“The hands are going to be up. I’m going to be more focused. It’s going to be a clinical fight instead of me rushing in with my hands down, chin up. It’s going to be the total opposite. You’re going to see a new Amir Khan in this fight. I think it should flow well.’’

Roach has been working diligently on Khan’s defense, or lack thereof. He has his chin down, his hands up and his mind beginning to grasp the idea that he is not the only lightweight in boxing that can do damage when he lands. But Roach is the first to admit that sticking to your knitting is a lot easier in the gym than when the TV lights come up and the crowd is roaring and a formidable man is across from you trying to lash your features.

Only then will anyone know if there is indeed a new Amir Khan. Until that moment passes, all that is known for sure is that there needs to be a new Khan, because the one Prescott knocked stiff and several other lesser lights knocked down is not someone destined to become lightweight champion. In fact, that Khan might be destined to have his career ended by the aging Barrera rather than the other way around.

If Khan can keep that in mind for 12 rounds and not be lured into a firefight with an old warrior whose only chance is to take advantage of bad habits and youthful indiscretions then Roach’s work will have been rewarded. Certainly Roach has impressed upon Khan that while Barrera is not what he was a few years ago that does not mean he can be disrespected, especially early in the fight. Khan would be wise to be wary.

The problem most likely will come, if it does at all, after a few rounds of beating Barrera to the punch and eluding him with his speed: Will Khan still stay wary then?

That is the great unknown, but certainly there will be someone in his corner who can speak to him of the wisdom of that in the person of former heavyweight champion Michael Moorer, who has begun to assist Roach as a trainer and been what Khan calls “the third eye’’ in his training camp. Moorer has been watching for any slippage in technique during the 90 rounds of sparring Khan engaged in, some of it with Manny Pacquiao, who twice defeated Barrera when he was far more formidable than he is today.

Moorer also learned the hard way the dangerous side old veterans with proven pedigree bring with them to a boxing match. It was Moorer who was winning easily against George Foreman when he let down his guard for an instant and was knocked unconscious by a punch that traveled about six inches. The heavyweight crown fell off his head before his head hit the floor.

Moorer learned from that 1994 night and has tried to pass on the wisdom of caution without panic to young Khan, but only when the moment comes will Moorer know if all learning comes from doing or if, sometimes, wise counsel can be heeded after the fireworks start.

“I’m moving into world class level,’’ Khan said of Barrera (65-6, 42 KOs), repeating by rote the things he’s been told the past six weeks in L.A..

“You’ve got to think. You’ve got to pace yourself. You have to think about every move you make. Instead of using my heart, I have to use my brain a bit more.

“With this guy you have to box him. You have to be smart. I think if I just box him and do what I’m good to do and not get involved in his game and his fight then we’ll be okay in the fight.

“You won’t see the old mistakes I used to make. It’s going to be a professional job. You’re going to see a new Amir Khan.’’

Khan may be right about that, but that is also the question. Can he avoid getting involved in a fight when Barrera wants one to break out? Is there truly a new Amir Khan or an old one waiting to re-appear at the worst of moments?

Roach and Moorer have certainly worked hard to avoid the latter, making Khan more focused on defense with the understanding his offense must flow from that. Pacquiao has also counseled him against feeling he has to prove his mettle by matching one of boxing’s most revered warriors every aggressive act with one of his own.

It all sounded great. Made perfect sense, really, until Khan began to talk about how he would be there to prove his critics wrong and that his performance was “going to shut a lot of people up.’’ Khan’s previously ignored fighting flaws were loudly pointed out after the Prescott defeat at a time when he had grown used to being coddled by the press as well as the people around him. That is why Roach was brought on board, to not only train him but also to give him a shot of boxing’s harsh realities. But if he feels he has something to prove to his critics, he is wasting his energy and his emotion on things that will be of no value once the first bell rings.

Khan has the benefit of having one of the best trainers in boxing in his corner. He has a well-thought out fight plan by someone who has beaten Barrera twice with Pacquiao and of having gained an understanding that fools rush in where wise men fear to tread from Prescott.

Yet Roach knows well that once the fight starts odd things can happen. Amnesia can set in. Old habits can return. A fighter can go deaf to the counsel of his corner. Chins can go up and fighters can fall down.

That is particularly dangerous for a fighter with a suspect chin who felt the need to say, “I think everyone knows Amir Khan is a warrior. I’m game for a fight every time there’s a fight. But for this fight I’m going to be pacing myself.’’

That would be a wise choice. It would be the choice a professional would make. It is also the one Amir Khan best stick to because if a fight breaks out in Manchester instead of a boxing match don’t bet against the old Mexican.

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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