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Articles of 2009

When OSCAR Knew: I Did Start Getting Beaten Up By Sparring Partners

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Oscar De La Hoya didn’t know for sure what he was going to say Tuesday afternoon until his wife gave him the chance to say something other than what he knew he had to say. Only then was he positive he would do what had to be done.

“My wife asked me…she looked right in my eyes and asked me, ‘are you sure? Are you sure you want to retire?’’’ De La Hoya said Tuesday night by phone from Los Angeles, where three hours earlier he announced he’d fought his last.

“Right there, when she opened the door to fight again, I didn’t take it. It was a very emotional and difficult decision for me to make but I have come to the conclusion I am retired from being a fighter. Every time I mention it it reminds me this was my life for 32 years. It hurts me that I cannot compete at the highest level any more but when I step in the ring now it’s not me. It’s not the fighter people grew up watching.’’

That is how it always ends in boxing. An imposter takes over your body. He looks like you and he talks like you but he can’t fight like you. You may think he can, and for a time he might survive somehow in a lesser form, but then the night comes. A night like De La Hoya experienced last Dec. 6. A night when suddenly it is all gone and you find yourself standing helpless, a renter in a place you once owned – the middle of a boxing ring.

That is where De La Hoya found himself the moment the first bell rang and Manny Pacquiao began what would turn into an eight-round assault on a shadow of who De La Hoya once was. Freddie Roach, who trains Pacqiuao, had promised as much and Tuesday, for the first time, De La Hoya admitted he had feared the worst himself.

In a tuneup fight several months earlier, De La Hoya had won every round against a former 130-pound champion for a minute named Steve Forbes but he came out of the ring that night looking like he’d been attacked by a swarm of hornets. His face was as bruised as it had ever been, damage done by a guy who everyone knew could not punch.

Roach knew what that meant. So did De La Hoya, yet he took the long walk from the locker room to the ring one more time, just to be sure. In a sense, Manny Pacquiao did Oscar De La Hoya a violence-laced favor that night for a half hour after he walked down that aisle at the MGM Grand Garden Arena De La Hoya had no doubts and no delusions any more. It was over.

“The first sign I felt, and I didn’t want to accept, was with the (Floyd) Mayweather fight,’’ De La Hoya said. “I felt that was the beginning of me not having it any more. Probably the second half of that fight. At the time you don’t want to accept it. You lie to yourself.

“Then against Forbes I got him like no tomorrow. That was a clear sign to me. The Pacquiao fight was icing on the cake. I did feel things weren’t right in training camp. I did start getting beaten up by sparring partners. That never happened ever, ever in my life – getting beaten up by sparring partners. I didn’t want to accept it. I was lying to myself but I kind of had a hunch something was wrong. Maybe I’m not going to beat him.

“Yes, I did lose in a devastating way to Pacquiao. Yes people never imagined that would happen. But things happen for a reason. It made the decision that much easier.’’

Easier but not easy. As he addressed a large crowd across the street from the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles, barely a mile or two from the barrio where he grew up in East L.A. and first learned to box at the age of five, De La Hoya needed barely six minutes to announce he was through. It was the longest six minutes of his life.

Yet as sure as he says he is about the rightness of his decision, De La Hoya choked up when talking about how his father first took him to the gym and supported his career from the start to its finish. It seemed like he was bewildered a bit that it had come to this, that the Golden Boy from East L.A. who won Olympic gold in 1992 in Barcelona was now no longer either a boy or a boxer.

“I needed that perfect excuse,’’ De La Hoya said. “I was searching for that perfect exit strategy. How do I retire? What will it take? Us athletes are very stubborn. We never know when enough is enough. I can make any excuse I want (for being stopped by Pacquiao) but ultimately…I believe the time is now. It’s over.’’

The difficulty with which De La Hoya said those words despite the reality of their accuracy was clear in his halting voice. The pain of giving up the arena he had so long dominated as the most popular fighter of his time was written on his still unmarked face. It may be time to go but that doesn’t mean you really want the party to end.

De La Hoya admitted part of the reason he was retiring at 36 was because he had built a life outside of boxing to fall back on. Golden Boy Promotions is the most powerful promotional company in the sport and around it he and CEO Richard Schaefer have added an array of other businesses – real estate holdings, Spanish-language newspapers, RING magazine, development property, a fledgling Latino-based bank and credit card operation, endorsement deals – that not only have set him up well financially but also emotionally.

Yet while he admitted having other places to hang his hat had something to do with the decision to stop boxing, “it’s not the primary reason.’’ The primary reason was also the primal one. In a world of savage young lions, Oscar De La Hoya was no longer able to survive.

That has happened to every great fighter there ever was, including the greatest of all-time. Sugar Ray Robinson had more than one night like De La Hoya’s with Pacquiao. Muhammad Ali had 10 after his savage third fight with Joe Frazier and the fallout has left him speechless and severely impaired by Parkinson’s, a disease that has many fathers but in Ali’s case had only one – boxing long after the fight had been beaten out of him.

De La Hoya well knows that sad history of fighters retiring at 36 and coming back a year or two later, unable to live without the call of the arena and the shouts of the mob in their ears. They come back to a sport they love but which no longer loves them and are jilted again.

The fall is harsher that time. More demeaning. Often more savage, although that would be difficult after what Pacquiao did to him. It is a scene De La Hoya not only has seen but has been a part of for he was the young man who destroyed his idol, Julio Cesar Chavez, 13 years ago when the roles were reversed.

Chavez was, like most great champions, blind to his slow decline. He did the same thing De la Hoya did last year. He lied to himself until the side of his face was ripped open and pouring out his own blood. Then he could lie no longer but it was too late.

That, Oscar De La Hoya insists, is what he wants to avoid. Not so much the beating, for he has been in the hurt business a long time and well understands what comes with it. It is not about the pain of losing either. It’s about the humiliation of not being what you used to be.

“This is the love of my life,’’ De La Hoya said. “Boxing is my passion. Boxing is what I was born to do. When I can’t do it any more, when I can’t compete at the highest level, it’s not fair (to go on). It’s not fair to me. It’s not fair to the fans. It’s not fair to nobody.

“Now I understand why athletes have such a tough time retiring from something that you feel so passionate about. From your sport that you’re always thinking you can try one more time. You’re always thinking you don’t want to let no one down. I can still train. I can still compete but when you’re an athlete that has competed on the highest level for a lot of years, it’s not fair to step inside the ring and not give my best. When your body doesn’t respond, there’s nothing you can do about it.’’

Yet when you are 4-6 in the 10 biggest fights of your life and have gone 8-6 in your last 14 fights after beginning your career 31-0, walking away is easier to think about than to do. De La Hoya retires having won 10 world titles in six different weight classes, yet his critics will insist he was not even the best fighter of his era despite having grossed a record-setting $696 million in 19 pay-per-view fights. That is a record of financial dominance that eclipses even the two best heavyweights of his time, Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield, as well as anyone else who has ever doubled up his fists to face another man for wages.

De La Hoya knows, however, that while he is one of the best fighters of his time and the greatest box office draw in boxing history, he fell short in his biggest moments, losing to Felix Trinidad, Shane Mosley twice, Bernard Hopkins, Mayweather and Pacquiao. Few would deny those were the best six fighters he faced in a career in which he never avoided a soul. Some will point out that any fair thinking person knows he beat Trinidad and is pretty sure he split with Mosley but the record book doesn’t say that and it never will.

It says 0-6 and so he must live with it. Frankly, he can and not simply because he is the richest boxer in history or was for most of his career the man who kept his dying sport alive. At a time when boxing is seldom written about even in the sports pages in America, De La Hoya became a PEOPLE magazine cover and a couch guest of Oprah. He was a regular on Leno and the author of a best-selling autobiography. He was the savior of his sport.

During his 17 year career, Oscar De La Hoya was not the best boxer of his time but he WAS boxing. He was the handsome face of it and the financial engine that drove it. Tuesday he said he’s proud of that unrivaled popularity that sprang from not just his ability to fight but also his ability to fight without looking like a fighter or acting in the way some people expect a fighter to act.

“I wanted to retire like a champion,’’ De La Hoya said. “That was the plan. But I’m sure I made the right decision. I’m not going to fall into the trap (of fighting one more time) because once you fall into that trap there’s no way out.’’

And so he went out perhaps in a style that fit him best. He didn’t leave the ring in a robe or the arena with an ice bag on his swollen jaw and stitches above his eye. Oscar De La Hoya went out in an expensive business suit, a boxer no more.

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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