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Articles of 2009

Is Valero More Hype Than Talent?

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Only in boxing could you be an undefeated world champion who has won every fight by knockout and also be a mystery. That is part of the odd attraction of prize fighting and also its curse.

These days it is difficult to keep track of the growing list of “champions’’ and harder still to find ways to follow young talent as it rises because, unlike other sports, boxing seems insistent on hiding its light under a basket. Edwin Valero is a case in point.

Saturday night, the Venezuelan-born Valero will fight in the U.S. for the first time since 2003 after having been suspended by the New York State Athletic Commission for a faulty brain scan. Valero has always insisted that was a medical mistake and has gone on to make his case in a profound way. After a 17-month layoff he began to fight again in Japan, Europe and South America and has won 12 straight times, all by knockout. Along the way he picked up the WBA junior lightweight title, a championship he recently relinquished to move up to 135 pounds in pursuit of what he hopes will be a bigger prize – a big money fight with Juan Manuel Marquez or a less valuable stepping-stone match with one of the four other 135-pounders appearing on Saturday night’s “Lightweight Lightning’’ pay-per-view show in Austin, Tx.

Valero, now promoted by Bob Arum but on loan to headline Oscar De La Hoya’s latest promotional venture, cleared every medical test Texas required and was ruled fit to fight despite that five-year-old suspension. This was possible because his license to box in New York had lapsed and on boxing’s odd scales of justice that meant New York no longer had jurisdiction over him.

This was a business decision for Texas as much as a medical one. De La Hoya’s promotional company wanted to headline Valero, in hopes of drumming up future business for him with Marquez, even though Valero remains Arum’s fistic property. If Texas wanted the card it had to find a way to clear Valero and judging by his record it’s difficult to quarrel with their decision.

That may be a break for American boxing fans, who have seen little of Valero for the past half decade but have heard much. If he proves to be as good as the mythology, it should be bad news for 39-year-old former world title challenger Antonio Pitalua (46-3, 40 KO), who has been brought to Austin to be sacrificed for the greater good of the sport.

Pitalua remains a world class boxer but not one likely to be able to stand up to Valero’s kind of clubbing assault for long if the latter is in fact who legend and little else say he is.

In most sports, a rising star like Valero would be well publicized, but in boxing hype sells more than talent, and Valero has had little of the former despite his obvious punching power.

What he remains is a mystery both because of his suspension in New York and his consequent disappearance from the American boxing scene thereafter. That is why he is being showcased by Arum on a De La Hoya card that also includes Joel Casamayor vs. Julio Diaz and Australian Michael Katsidis vs. Jesus Chavez.

He is here to tempt fight fans into believing his power can unseat Marquez, who now holds the WBA and WBO lightweight titles and is considered second only to his nemesis Manny Pacquiao on the pound-for-pound list.

“I’d like to stay here a few years and bring some heat out in this division,’’ Valero said recently. “I want to face the toughest opponents out there. I’d like Marquez to stay in the lightweight division. If Juan Manuel Marquez moves up, vacating other belts, it’s of no interest to me.’’

What remains of interest to Valero and everyone involved with him is that suspension he received in New York on the eve of fighting at Madison Square Garden. While it seems obvious from his performances over the past 3 1?2 years that something was amiss in that test, the implied head injury he had suffered continues to give some people pause.

One of them, however, is not Edwin Valero.

“Every fighter that steps in the ring runs a risk of being injured,’’ Valero said. “I am in no more risk than any other fighter. You know, because of the procedure, because of the surgery that I had – I want to clarify, it was an accident that I had many years ago on a motorcycle. It was very minor. It wasn't what it's played out to be. It (the operation he underwent) was outside of my brain.

“It wasn't that they took my brain out, washed it and put it back in. It was nothing like that. It was a vein that erupted and they took care of it. I've been to doctors all over the world. I've been to Argentina, I've been to Panama, I've been to Venezuela.  I have seen all the best doctors in America.

“I actually saw the doctor that performed the surgery on Marco Antonio Barrera, Doctor Madrazo, and they've all told me the same – that I'm clear to fight. That I'm okay. That I don't run any more risks than any other fighter.

“In December I was in the Philippines and a doctor — the President actually — as a gift gave me an exam and they cleared me as well out there. So I want to repeat that I'm in no more danger than any other fighter, to suffer any more injuries or anything because of what I have. But it could happen to any one of us like it happened a little while ago with the Jesus Chavez- Levander Johnson fight in the past.

“When they pulled my license in 2004 I had to leave in 2005, first to Panama, Argentina and then I landed in Japan. I was there for a few years with my promoter from Teiken Boxing. After a while, living there and raising my family and my kids, it wasn't the ideal place that I wanted there for my family so I spoke to my promoter and said I needed a trainer that would train me personally, that was dedicated to me all the time. Unfortunately in Japan I had a trainer, but he had many other fighters as well.

“We came out to the U.S.; at first I was in Las Vegas with Kenny Adams, but he became a little ill — he has a problem with his heart — and just a situation that happened and it was an emergency change.

“Now I'm here in Los Angeles with “The Professor” Robert Alcazar and I feel very, very happy. We've clicked phenomenally and it's been a great click. We both think alike; we have many same ideas and I think together we can do a lot of good things in boxing.’’

If Valero carries up to the lightweight division the same  devastating punching power he had at 130, he could quickly become the latest in a crowded list of dangerous 135 pounders. Yet as crowded with talent as the division may be, the only man Valero seems interested in is Marquez, who remains the division’s marquee name eve as he plans to move up to 140 pounds to pursue Pacquiao.

Where that would leave Valero is anyone’s guess, although opponents like Juan Diaz, Julio Diaz, Casamayor, Joan Guzman and Katsidis could keep him busy for some time.

For any of that to come about however, Valero first must win back in the U.S. for the first time over five years. On that score, Pitalua figures to offer Valero a challenge for a time, although in his mind not for long.

“I've never said I disrespect him,’’ Valero said of Pitalua. “On the contrary, he's a good fighter. But I know my capacity. I know what I can do, and I know what Pitalua brings. He's a fighter that on the night of the fight he's going to roll. He's going to fall.

“He's too slow for me. I'm too fast, I'm too strong for him. He's a good fighter, but I'm up for bigger and better things.

“I feel very strong at lightweight. Out of my 24 fights about 14 or 15 were at lightweight. In the beginning of my career as there weren't titles or anything on the line, I didn't see a need to drop down to the 130 pound division.

“It was causing me a lot of trouble, a lot of sacrifice, to make 130 pounds. We felt it was time to move up; that's why we vacated the belt and moved up to 135 and gained a little bit of weight. I feel good here.’’

Valero also feels Pitalua looks good standing across the ring from him. While some might see a wily veteran in his 50th professional fight and a guy who carries some dynamite into the ring himself, Valero looks and sees not a problem but rather an opportunity.

An opportunity to make it 25 straight work nights where he knocked off early.

“Antonio Pitalua brings the perfect, perfect style for him to fall and get knocked out,’’ Valero said. “He's perfect for me. Antonio Pitalua is perfect.

“I feel very fortunate to be on this card. I want the whole public to get what they're paying for.’’

What they are paying for is a mystery story, one they hope won’t have a surprise ending.

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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