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Articles of 2009

Paul Williams Is What Winky Was, Ten Years Ago

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Nothing Winky Wright has been doing the past two years has helped him prepare to face The Man No One Wants To Fight because he hasn’t done anything the past two years but fight with promoters instead of fighting actual fighters.

This, quite naturally, is someone else’s fault. We know this is true because in boxing problems of this nature are always someone else’s fault. In this case, they actually may be.

The reason a 37-year-old man who has not fought in nearly two years – a man who stands three inches shorter and has a 10-inch reach disadvantage – chose to get into the ring with middleweight Paul Williams is, according to Wright, because no one else but The Man No One Wants To Fight would fight him.

Williams did it, Wright believes, because he is now what Wright was about 10 years ago and says he still is today. Williams is version 2.0 of The Man No One Wants To Fight.

“There ain’t a lot of guys who want to fight him,” Wright said. “You ask him. Or ask his promoter. They get guys turning them down left and right. But remember who did say yes: Winky Wright. They said to me, ‘You want to fight Paul Williams?’ I’m like, ‘When?’

“It's tough when nobody wants to fight you and, you know, you see all these other fighters getting fights.  You can't get the fight just because nobody wants to fight you.  It ain't because you ain't good enough.  It's just they don't want to fight you. So, you know, I know how Paul feels about being avoided.

“It don’t matter to me. I’ll fight anybody, anywhere and I just want the people to know that if a fight don’t happen, it won’t be because of me. And I want them to know that when I do get a fight, that’s what I’m going to do: I’m coming to fight.”

Wright (51-4, 25 KO) maintains steadfastly that the only reason he hasn’t fought since losing to Bernard Hopkins on a night when he absorbed more punishment than anyone could remember is because he could find no viable opponent willing to get in with him. Long considered a defensive wizard, Wright spent years plying his trade in Europe because he couldn’t find an opportunity in the U.S. He finally broke through for a brief time after beating Shane Mosley twice and becoming a world champion and a regular on HBO but then he misread the market and over-priced himself and his disappearance began anew just as he was growing old.

Had he defeated Hopkins things might have been different these past two years but he did not and so he has wandered alone once again, Winky Promotions unable to put together a fight worth his time. Finally he joined forces with Oscar De La Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions, figuring their power in the marketplace might change his luck. Still no fights.

Finally HBO gave him a list of six names acceptable to them. Four – middleweight champions Kelly Pavlik and Arthur Abraham, former champion Jermain Taylor and ex- super middleweight champion Mikkel Kessler – all declined to face a southpaw who plays defense like Bill Russell. Wright himself refused to take on his close friend Vernon Forrest and that left him only The Man No One Will Fight.

Fortunately for Wright, he knew Williams’ difficulties and so Saturday night we have a showdown between the original Man No One Would Fight and A Man No One Will Fight who is 10 years younger and claims that crown while wearing no other.

“I do know that Winky has been the most avoided fighter since I can remember,’’ conceded Williams’ promoter, Dan Goossen. “Paul has been the most feared for the last few years which I think has transcended into being avoided.  They kind of go hand in hand.’’

Saturday night they will go into hand-to-hand, each hopeful that they can emerge from their combat with the kind of victory that will force the hand of a middleweight title holder like Pavlik or Arthur or perhaps even a super middleweight like Taylor or Carl Froch if Froch finds a way to defeat Taylor when they meet on April 25.

Yet this is a fight that also features the kind of possibilities that could be devastating to their hopes. Both are southpaws, which seldom makes for a good mix, and Wright is a defensive puzzle harder to penetrate than the Sunday New York Times crossword, which is not good news for Williams.

Williams (36-1, 27) is a banger whose nickname “The Punisher’’ has been well earned but he has had moments where he looked ponderous and unsure of himself and Wright is the kind of guy that creates self-doubt not with his offense but with his defense, a style only the real aficionados of the sport favor.

The larger – or at least longer – problem for Wright is that Williams not only has fought four times since he last faced Hopkins but comes to the arena with a 82-inch reach. To put that into context, it’s two inches longer than Muhammad Ali’s and 10 inches longer than Wright’s. In other words, that’s a long stick to avoid even if you were on your game, which Wright is unlikely to be after so long a layoff.

“We could've taken an easier fight just like the rest of the fighters do and go get an easy fight, get back and get a win but we want to fight the best,’’ the original Man No One Will Fight said. “When I fight I want to beat somebody that's credible. I want to fight somebody that also can have a chance to beat me.
“Paul is a fighter that comes in and throws a lot of punches. You know, he's an exciting fighter so I'm looking for an exciting fight and I know he is too.’’

Actually, what Williams is excited about is fighting anybody. Or at least anybody with whom he can make a decent paycheck.

“If I wouldn't be fighting him I don't know if I'd be fighting anybody,’’ Williams said. “So I've got to take my hat off to him for stepping up, you know what I'm saying, and giving me the opportunity to get out there and show my skills again.’’

Williams has the somewhat unique experience of having been avoided by 147 pound champions, 154 pound champions and now 160 pound champions. Wright, for the most part, was just ignored by everyone at 154, only recently finding himself spurned by middleweights as well.

Even after he schooled Felix Trinidad, Wright seemed to garner little from it but an enhanced reputation and an even further inability to convince someone to get in with him. But now he’s landed Williams and one has to wonder if getting his wish may not this time have been a mistake.

“I'm going to (come out) and do my thing,’’ Williams has promised. “I'm not concerned what Winky's going to do and how his defense is and all that.  I'm just going to get mine in.  If I'm waiting on him to step, I'll be out of my game plan.  I'm just going to do my thing.’’

Considering how long it’s been since Wright last fought, one can see why Williams would be sure of his position. Ring rust is not an easy thing to clean off of aging reflexes. It is difficult enough for the young man who stays too long away from his trade to get it back but for a fighter of Wright’s advanced years it is a far more daunting task.

That is what tune-up fights are designed to do – to allow a fighter too long away from combat to ease back into the warrior’s mentality. Wright has chosen another way however, perhaps because he could find no volunteers or perhaps because he wanted the kind of money only a fighter of Williams’ pedigree would command.

Whatever his reasoning, Saturday night Wright will find himself in a hot cauldron after long months out of the kitchen. What he cooks up will decide not only this fight but, for him at least, the direction the remainder of his career will head.

“It is what it is,’’ Wright said. “You've been off for a while and you know you've just got to come back and do what you've been doing.  You know, like Paul said, you know, I've got to go in and fight my game play.  He's got to go fight his. At the end of the night, we're going to see who's going to win.

“I don't feel rusty but like I said gym work and fighting are two different things.  We will see when we get in the fight.  You know, it has been a long time but I feel good in the gym.  You just got to light up there when we get in the fight and see how it goes.’’

Light up or get lit up, the latter being pretty much what Paul Williams is all about. The fortunate thing for Wright is that Williams has done his best concussive work at 147 pounds. Despite his edges in height and reach that remains his true calling but with none of the welterweight champions willing to risk what they have to face him, he and Goossen decided to step up two weight classes and see what happens.

Saturday night he finds out. So does Winky Wright. More than likely, one of them won’t like the news.

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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