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Articles of 2009

Tales Of Tijuana, Mexico



During the 1990s and the early part of the 2000s decade the city of Tijuana was a common destination for many a Southern Californian.

Recently, the stream of tourists and visitors from Southern California and other parts of the United States has reduced to a trickle.

But I always loved visiting Tijuana, Puerto Nuevo, Ensenada, Rosarito Beach and especially Tecate. Many times I drove through those towns and enjoyed some great times.

So when Top Rank and the city of Tijuana invited members of the media to visit the recent boxing card called Tijuana Thunder last Saturday, photographer Paul Hernandez and I accepted the invitation to cover the fight card.

We weren’t disappointed.

On Friday, we first had an assignment to cover a Goossen-Tutor boxing card held at the Nokia Theater in downtown L.A. featuring heavyweights and three Southern Cal local phenoms. That was our first destination.

Early Friday afternoon I jumped in my car in Riverside and trekked the 60 miles west to downtown Los Angeles. It took about an hour to reach the area and another 15 minutes to find parking that wouldn’t cost $20. We found it.

The Nokia Theater is located in L.A. Live, an entertainment area across the street from Staples Center on Figueroa Street. As we approached the credential pick-up point we could see the other boxing writers and photographers waiting for the doors to open. It would be another 40 minutes of waiting.

Big Joe Miranda, Raj Sharmba, Roberto Raijar, and several others were standing in front of the entrance talking. Later Golden Boy Promotion’s Raul Jaimes arrived along with Norman Horton, who handles public relations for Jermain Taylor.

The fights went smoothly and predictably for me. Those that were supposed to win came out on top; the only real question mark was the main event in which Fast Eddie Chambers beat former WBC heavyweight world titleholder Samuel Peter by majority decision.

After I sent out two stories, we ate at ESPN Zone located across the lot. Soon we were on our way to Tijuana, Mexico.

During the Nokia fight card I had asked most of the media members if they were planning to attend the Tijuana fight card. Only German Villasenor of nodded yes. In fact, Villasenor had visited Tijuana the week before.

Mexican Border

Two hours later we approached the Mexican border around 1 a.m. We looked for parking and walked across the heavily gated area. While entering the gates, a busload of undocumented men were exiting too. They walked right behind us as we passed two masked soldiers holding automatic rifles.

I didn’t worry about the soldiers but I did worry about whether we would find any taxis that late at night. I shouldn’t have worried. On the Mexican side there were about 100 taxis waiting for fares.

Ten dollars later we were dropped off at the Grand Hotel of Tijuana, a luxurious hotel located near Caliente Racetrack. The reception desk was waiting for us and after showing identification we were quickly given hotel card keys. It was 1:30 a.m.

Inside the hotel room it was somewhat an L-shape room. It was pretty large and had large curtains and a large television. I opened the shades to see what was outside but all I saw was darkness. Strange.

Whenever I drive long distances it takes me a while to simmer down. By the time I slept it was nearly 3 a.m. One more thing, in Mexico they are one hour behind. They don’t use Daylight Savings Time rules.

I finally awoke at 9:30 a.m. thanks to Hernandez who called me on the hotel phone because I didn’t answer my cell phone. The loud buzzer woke me but I was groggy as a Navy drunk. Hernandez said he was already in the lobby. I opened the shades to my room and discovered why I only saw darkness in the night. Outside was a beautiful golf course that straddled the side of the hotel. Further up was a ridge of expensive looking homes that resembled parts of Beverly Hills.

Pretty ritzy stuff.

Fifteen minutes after awakening I reached downstairs. In the large lobby a milieu of boxing guys sat in the many sofas. I was still half asleep and greeted many with sleep still in my eyes.

One of the first to greet me was Armando Garcia, the former Executive Director for the California State Athletic Commission. We talked a bit and soon I asked to be excused to grab a cup of coffee.

All writers need coffee.

Walking into the buffet area was like walking into the grand ballroom of the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles. It was a very big and sunny room. The receptionist at the buffet palace was a very attractive brunette with green eyes. It’s always a very attractive brunette in Mexico. They seem to be everywhere.

The first person to greet me inside was Bill Caplan. He was sitting with Top Rank’s other p.r. expert Lee Samuels and several other TV producers. They invited us to their table.

Caplan is perhaps the greatest of the boxing publicists and has been around for many a decade.

Nobody is nicer and more accommodating than the great Bill Caplan. He met Joe Louis as a child and was bitten by the boxing bug ever since.

Samuels is one of the other Top Rank guys and a very friendly person. The third Top Rank publicist is Ricardo Jimenez who was a crackerjack boxing writer for La Opinion who decided to cross over to the role of publicist. These two guys along with Caplan form the triumvirate of most Top Rank cards.

As I sipped my coffee, which was plenty tasty, a few of the fighters dropped by, like Giovanni Segura the new light flyweight world titleholder who just recently took the title by knockout in nearby Mexicali.

Segura exemplifies Mexicans as a whole to me. He’s sharp, well spoken and has a never-say-die mentality that exudes through every pore. We talked about his recent win over Cesar Canchila and he explained that Mexican spirit that the good ones possess.

“I decided that I was going to take two of his punches to give two of mine,” said Segura in explaining the last two rounds of his fight with Canchila. “I knew he couldn’t take them.”

That’s Mexican boxing.

It reminded me of what Sugar Shane Mosley said to me during dinner a few days after his win over Antonio Margarito. The Pomona fighter said that is the stark difference between East Coast fighters and West Coast fighters: “East Coast fighters don’t want to get hit. West Coast fighters don’t care.”

A few others stopped by, like Martin Honorio, Fernando Montiel, and Bob Arum. It was a smorgasbord of boxing people. And the Mexican food was delicious. Too bad we didn’t have time to explore.

Taxi ride

A bus was waiting to pick up the media at 2 p.m., 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. But nobody informed the bus driver who calmly waited outside the bus and told everyone he could not leave without orders.

Bill Caplan decided to order a taxi and invited me, Hernandez and California boxing judge Lou Filippo to come along.

Our taxi driver was named Enrique and he provided the ride of a lifetime. I was sitting in the backseat near the window and saw the near misses by at least a dozen cars as we zigzagged through Tijuana traffic on our way to the bullring located on the beach.

A couple of times I covered my eyes.

Believe me. I feared for my life during that drive.

But we made it to the arena in one piece and the taxi driver bluffed his way all the way past dozens of police officers until we reached inside the bullring confines.

Enrique gave us his phone number in case we needed a ride back.

He must be kidding.

The bullring was guarded by dozens of policemen outside and inside. All of the fans seemed pretty excited about the fight card. It took a few minutes to locate my seat and soon the fights began.

Fight crowd

During the dozen fights held on that cool Saturday night, the 16,000 fans or more cheered enthusiastically and shot off human waves that raced around the arena in seconds. If you’ve ever attended a Major League Baseball game and witnessed “the wave” circle the stadiums, then magnify that by 20 and you have the Mexican wave. They do it in seconds.

Of course they favor the Mexican fighters and of course they favor the Tijuana fighter over other parts of Mexico, but if you are from another country and give a good show they will cheer you. They love machismo.

One of the television announcers was New York City’s Maureen Shea. She recently fought for the world featherweight title and was spotted by Top Rank, who liked her personality. That’s Shea, she has a wonderful personality and one more thing, she’s Irish-Mexican and speaks Spanish fluently.

We talked briefly before the fights and the next day. Though I’ve only known her a few months, it seems I’ve known her for years.

All of the fights went quickly with Antonio Diaz and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. going the distance in their respective contests, and Fernando Montiel and Humberto Soto winning by big knockouts.

The Mexican girls were in force. There were plenty of girls dancing and cheering throughout the fights.

Soon we trotted back to the bus, yes we took a bus back to the hotel, there were about a dozen boxing writers mostly from Mexico that came along. The only U.S. representatives from American newspapers were me and Hernandez.

Several web site guys made it too. But overall the media was mostly Mexican press. I was a little surprised.

It seems during the last few weeks the media has pummeled Tijuana with bad press. But in the time we spent I never saw any violence or hints of disorder in the big city of more than 2 million people.

Dinner at Don Quixote’s

Earlier I had planned to go to Uruapan, a Mexican restaurant specializing in carnitas. Generally I don’t like carnitas but I love their cooking. We discovered that the restaurant was closed. It was 11 p.m.

Across the street was an Argentine restaurant called Don Quixote’s, so we crossed the big boulevard and took a seat at the swanky place. About a dozen people were already dining inside.

Paul and I always search for the perfect margarita so of course we asked for one. It was pretty darn good. And strong.

We ate a ton of tasty meat. By the time we finished eating and drinking I could barely cross that broad boulevard.

Finally I was back in my room. It was the end of a perfect day.

The next morning I woke at 8 a.m. and headed back to the border early so I could begin my boxing column and stories. I really wish I had spent more time exploring Tijuana. I really missed being in Tijuana. There is so much vitality. The women are beautiful too.

It went as expected. Tijuana is like any other big city. Sure there are going to be bad parts. You’ll find the same thing in New York, Washington D.C. or even East Los Angeles where I grew up. And you will find many exciting things as well.

On Monday, during the Manny Pacquiao-Ricky Hatton press conference in Hollywood, I ran into Bob Arum again and asked him about their next show in Tijuana. I just want to make sure I have plenty of time so I can plan a bigger stay.

Tijuana, here I come.

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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