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Articles of 2009

Oscar The Aggressor Was Oscar The Fish Out Of Water

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Since being stopped by Manny Pacquiao in his last fight on December 6th, 2008, Oscar De La Hoya's advancing age, rapid weight cut and lack of hand speed have been highlighted as the reasons why he looked so bad. And though I agree with that, there's a bigger reason as to why De La Hoya looked so inept against Manny Pacquiao. Before touching on that, I can't overlook how much Oscar resembled an empty package at the weigh in. Physically, his eroded skills stymied any chance he had to get off. Add to that his severely declining reflexes, along with his being confronted by a quick-handed fighter who puts his punches together in flurries—it made him look as though he was aging by the minute. I can't help but think Oscar made the right decision when he announced his retirement from boxing on April 14, 2009. It's nice to see a fighter get out with his health, wealth and respect.

Early in De La Hoya's career he battered smaller fighters like Jimmi Bredahl, Jorge Paez and Genaro Hernandez because they engaged him and he wasn't forced to fight as the attacker every minute of every round. Even Jesse James Leija and Julio Cesar Chavez knew if they fought as the counter-puncher and moved away, they'd never beat him. So De La Hoya did to them what Bernard Hopkins would do to him eight years later, and drew them into him. However, once De La Hoya moved to welterweight he was a fish out of water when the winning ring strategy required him to impose himself physically on an upper-tier opponent.

Starting with his disputed decision win over WBC welterweight champ Pernell Whitaker, De La Hoya showed he had no clue how to force the fight. Forget about who deserved the decision. With Whitaker forcing Oscar to push the fight, Pernell was actually in control. Against Whitaker, De La Hoya lunged and reached with his left jab, and because he was missing with his jab, his slightly more than adequate right hand was a non-factor. De La Hoya was known for having a good left-hook, but no fighter with the exception of Sugar Ray Robinson could effectively lead with their left-hook. Against Whitaker, it was imperative for De La Hoya to go to the body, the reason being Pernell could move and hide his head, but not his body. The only trouble with that was, Oscar came at Whitaker with a high attack, which left him wide open for Whitaker counters when he lowered his left hand trying to go to the body.

Further proof of De La Hoya being ineffective when he had to impose himself physically are found in the contrast between his two fights with Shane Mosley. In their first fight back in June of 2000, Oscar was facing a Mosley who fought as a lightweight his entire career with the exception of Shane's two fights prior to challenging Oscar for the WBC welterweight title. Oscar assumed that Mosley was just a pumped up lightweight, therefore he figured he could push the fight and over-power Mosley a la George Foreman. Once again, De La Hoya not knowing how to cut the ring off and force Mosley to fight him off left him a sitting duck on the way in to the counter punching Mosley. In truth, Mosley's at his best fighting as the counter-puncher. Add to that a guy who's not forcing him to punch out of urgency and he's home free. Thus Mosley won the title via a split decision which should've been unanimous.

When they fought a second time at junior middleweight in 2003, De La Hoya was a completely different fighter. Luckily for Oscar, Mosley was a confident guy and loves to fight. Sure, he likes to counter-punch, but he's more than willing to press the action if his opponent is moving away. In the rematch De La Hoya moved away and circled Mosley behind his left jab. So much so, Oscar didn't even to try to put any real hurt on Shane, and was more than content trying to win the fight from outside. Mosley had no reservation about assuming the role of Joe Frazier against Oscar, and fought the entire fight as the aggressor. The problem for Mosley, like Oscar, is he's not at his best if he has to push the fight from bell-to-bell. The second time around De La Hoya moved and boxed against Mosley. Once again the decision went against him, but the fight was much closer and some had De La Hoya winning a fight that I scored a draw.

Before touching a little more on how ineffective De La Hoya was when forced to impose himself physically on his opponent, let’s look at two of his better showings against dangerous opponents who pressed him. In February of 1999, De La Hoya fought the very strong and aggressive undefeated Ike Quartey. No doubt the fight was close, but during the bout De La Hoya did some of his best work, scoring two knockdowns to eke out the decision. Why? Because Ike pressed him during the fight, enabling Oscar to move and box against an opponent who was right there. Seven months later De La Hoya fought undefeated Felix Trinidad, a fighter who pressures his opponent even more than Quartey. Again, forget about the decision for a moment. For the first nine rounds De La Hoya boxed better than he did in any other fight. With Trinidad forcing the fight, Oscar was able to tag Felix on the way in with jabs, right hands and hooks to the body. This may have been Oscar's finest hour and he won no less than seven rounds of the twelve round fight. It must be noted that Quartey and Trinidad didn't offer much head movement or angles as they pressed in, something that can't be said about Mosley when he fought as the attacker. Interesting how the first Mosley fight was nine months after the Trinidad fight, and Oscar looked so ordinary against the counter-punching Mosley.

In another high profile bout for Oscar, he took on Fernando Vargas, another fighter who'd set De La Hoya up to fight as the counter-puncher. After losing some early rounds Oscar took apart Vargas on the way in and scored one of his most impressive wins, stopping Fernando in the 11th round. A year later he fought a rematch with Mosley that I already touched on. The pattern should be very clear by now. Bring the fight to Oscar, and he was at his best. Force him to push the fight, and he was nowhere nearly as effective.

When De La Hoya announced he was fighting Floyd Mayweather Jr. after taking apart Ricardo Mayorga, I knew he was in trouble. This was easy to see. What you had was De La Hoya who was seven years removed from the first Mosley fight, taking on a fighter who'd force him to fight as the aggressor from bell-to-bell. In a way this was even a worse match up for De La Hoya, being that he wasn't as good in 2007 as he was in 2000, and Mayweather was much less inclined to force the action compared to Shane Mosley.

In the early rounds against Mayweather, De La Hoya fought smart and kept Floyd off balance by using his jab. However, once Mayweather countered him a few times Oscar abandoned his jab. From about the fifth round on, De La Hoya charged Mosley almost like a linebacker. Despite holding a substantive strength advantage he didn't know how to apply it. Oscar never cut Mayweather off or went to his body in order to try and force Floyd to trade with him. Once again, Oscar not being effective when forced to fight as the aggressor cost him a fight. Luckily for him Mayweather wasn't as good as advertised or the Golden Boy would've taken a beating, as opposed to just being outboxed for the better part of 12 rounds. Obviously, the fight with Manny Pacquiao came at the end of De La Hoy's career. Add to that the style contrast and Oscar looking weak at the weight, the way it ended wasn't a surprise.

Oscar had a great career and fought the best of his era when they were at their peak, with a few exceptions. He did a lot of things really good, but nothing great. He was a good boxer with a stiff left jab. When allowed to fight as the counter-puncher he was at his best. When forced to impose himself physically in order to win he was very ordinary and vulnerable. Don't take my word for it. Go back and watch the fights in which he fought as the aggressor at welterweight or above.

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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