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Articles of 2009

Las Vegas Journal – April 2009

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It’s still early in Chris “The Nightmare” Arreola’s heavyweight career but you can tell in the Southern California area that the Riverside fighter is building a fan base. More than a few phone calls were received as I trekked through the desert toward Las Vegas last week.

Yes this is another Las Vegas journal.

For me to reach the Nevada capital of sin it takes about three hours to traverse the 230 miles. On Thursday the press conference by co-promoters Goossen-Tutor and Golden Boy Promotions was set for 1 p.m.

Because of unexpected Easter holiday and Spring Break traffic, the roads were a little congested on a Thursday morning. So when I entered the pressroom underneath the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino the talking heads were in perfect pitch.

Dan Goossen, the president of Goossen-Tutor, spoke about Arreola and his opponent Jameel “Big Time” McCline. All the parties gave their piece and were followed by Team Paul Williams and Team Winky Wright.

Williams sported a big smile that never disappeared throughout the weekend. It was the kind of grin that a cat might show knowing that its prey is there for the taking. In a few days he had his lunch.

After the press conference, we headed to Barry’s Gym in Las Vegas where more than a few solid boxers train on a regular basis. On this day the boxing facility was rather empty so we headed toward other destinations.

We spoke to one of the Golden Boy matchmakers to see if it was possible to take a look at Ricky Hatton work out. He told us he would get back with us. That means no.

After a night of margaritas at Palace Station it was time to go file a story. I had to wake up rather early to meet with Oscar De La Hoya who was going to talk with a few reporters on Friday morning.

That margarita was a little strong for me. It was difficult getting up so hurriedly; we drove over to the media room at the Mandalay, but we needn’t worry, De La Hoya had not arrived.

Waiting before us were super boxing and MMA writer Kevin Iole of Yahoo who lives in Las Vegas and another boxing writer whiz Dan Rafael from ESPN.com and Steve Carp who took over the boxing writer position from Iole at the Las Vegas Review Journal. GBP’s Nicole told us De La Hoya was running late and would not arrive until 1 p.m. Iole needed to depart.

As we waited a few more boxing writers and photographers arrived. Finally around 1 p.m. De La Hoya arrived wearing a gray leather jacket and dark shirt underneath. He looked rather thin, almost weak.

He talked about his coming announcement on Tuesday, and was slightly mysterious about whether he was going to jump back in the ring to show that his poor showing was because of an unexpected after-effect of over-training or a dietary miscalculation.

“I weigh 152 pounds,” said De La Hoya. “I can’t gain weight.”

This is very unusual. In the more than 16 years that I’ve covered De La Hoya, I’ve never seen him walk around when not fighting at less than 160 to 170 pounds. The sport of professional boxing is a very dangerous sport. Most fans do not realize this.

Every year about seven to 15 pro boxers die from injuries sustained in the ring. It’s one of the most dangerous sports in the world because of the risk boxers take. That’s why I never disrespect a boxer for quitting. I think boxing broadcasters should take note of this too.

Last month when Robert “The Ghost” Guerrero told a doctor that he could not see due to the cut over his eye. He was chastised by the HBO crew and fans at the event for quitting. Boxing writers ganged up on him like a bunch of cheap bullies.

Boxing is a very dangerous sport. People die. Remember that.

Personally, I’ve seen three fighters sustain injuries in the ring and ultimately expire, beginning with Kiko Bejines in 1983, Pedro Alcazar in 2002, and Levander Johnson in 2005. I was one of the last people Johnson spoke to as he walked from the ring to his dressing room. He spoke a few words to me and suddenly collapsed after he walked 20 more feet.

So if De La Hoya quits because of his inability to fight at peak capacity, so be it. He’s proven many times in the past that he has more guts than most people in the world.

Personally, I hope he retires. I don’t want to see him endanger himself in the ring. It would be great to see him enjoy the millions he gained from sacrificing his time, physical health and life since 1992.

De La Hoya said listening to boos doesn’t bother him. Over the course of his career he’s learned to endure them.

As he walked away De La Hoya looked very thin and small. Though his face looked healthy his body looked more like that of a teen.

“I lost a lot of muscle mass,” De La Hoya said.

It was clearly evident.

Later that night, we waited around for Alfredo “Perro” Angulo who was arriving with his trainer Clemente Medina and friends to watch the fights. He had agreed to stay at a friend’s house where I was also staying and needed someone to show him where it was located. Around 1 a.m. he arrived and we headed toward another section of Las Vegas.

Mosley

On Saturday morning, I had a breakfast meeting with Sugar Shane Mosley who met with about five boxing writers at the Border Grill at the Mandalay Bay. Also present were several Golden Boy reps including Richard Schaefer, Monica Sears and Nicole Becerra.

Mosley was concerned that after beating convincingly Antonio Margarito, suddenly he’s been lost in the shuffle of the aftermath concerning the Tijuana fighter’s suspension and the possible re-emergence of Floyd Mayweather Jr.

He also spoke of meeting Mayweather and his friends for a friendly game of pick-up basketball.

“We beat them,” said Mosley. “I made the winning shot.”

After the game Mosley asked Mayweather for a fight. The former Pound for Pound king muttered that he was retired and wanted to stay retired and spend time with his kids.

“He don’t want to fight me,” said Mosley.

The Pomona speedster, who is the only man to knock out Margarito, hopes that he gets the winner between Manny Pacquiao and Ricky Hatton.

According to Mosley, the Pacman said he would fight Mosley and prefers a fight with the new WBA welterweight titleholder because of his crowd-pleasing style.

“I hope he fights me if he wins,” said Mosley. But he’s worried if Pacquiao has too tough of an outing against Hatton he might look for an easier fight. Or if Hatton wins that he may not want to fight at welterweight again.

Mosley just wants a mega fight.

When Williams' name came up Mosley honestly offered that the much taller fighter is a bad match for him because of his long arms. It’s a bad style match up. Plus, the Pomona fighter wants mega fights.

The topic turned to De La Hoya and when one of the writers mentioned that De La Hoya was not as good as people purported him to be, Mosley jumped to his defense immediately.

It was kind of cool to see.

Mosley and De La Hoya have been adversaries since childhood. The East L.A. boxer was seven and the Pomona boxer nine when they first met in the ring as amateurs. They fought two close and sizzling battles yet here they are friends and working for the same goal in the same company.

“Oscar De La Hoya is the best fighter I ever fought,” said Mosley who battled against many of the best in the last 15 years. “His left hand is one of the sharpest punches I’ve ever face. He could do so much with it.”

Mosley thinks that when De La Hoya changed his boxing style when Floyd Mayweather Sr. came aboard, he lost something.

“He was a much better fighter when he fought straight up and he was on his toes,” said Mosley.

Maybe he is right.

Williams and Arreola win

In the fight card Arreola reacted as I expected. Once Jameel McCline landed a blow I knew Arreola would open up with both barrels. The end came soon.

Williams, however, beat Winky Wright so convincingly I was a little in shock. I expected a closer battle with the younger fighter using fresher legs to pull it out. Instead he almost won every round with nonstop punching. It was amazing.

That night we had dinner with Perro Angulo and his people and talked about the fight. Angulo will be fighting Kermit “The Killer” Cintron next month in Miami, Florida.

After dinner, we headed for the Luxor Hotel where Arreola was having an After-Fight party at LAX. On the way we saw Librado Andrade and stopped to talk about his experience in Canada. It seems the fans love the Mexican slugger up there. He loves Canada.

Around 1 a.m. we reached the nightclub and after about 40 minutes finally spot Arreola and his crew. The party is in full gear and money is raining down on the crowd. The Riverside heavyweight looked solid in his fight and was having fun.

Around 2:15 a.m. I headed back to the pad.

Melinda Cooper

On Sunday I typed out my column for a newspaper and then spoke to Melinda Cooper, one of the most exciting female fighters today. If you’ve ever seen Cooper outside of the ring she’s a very pretty intelligent girl who could easily be an actress, lawyer or any other profession. She’s very poised and well spoken. Inside the ring, she’s as deadly as a rattlesnake. The speed of her punches and power behind them are awe-inspiring.

Cooper will be fighting on May 16 at the Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas. She’s preparing to fight Monica Lovato, a strong fighter out of New Mexico. It should be a great fight.

Because of her outstanding amateur experience and undefeated record as a professional, it’s difficult to find opponents. She gets some offers but they’re not frequent.

Plus, she’s one of the few female fighters below middleweight who has real knockout power.

One day soon, fans will discover Melinda Cooper.

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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