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Articles of 2009

Jack Dempsey Wasn't Made Of Steel, Bullets Didn't Bounce Off Him

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Jack Dempsey once said that “no man has everything.” On that matter, there is no doubt, and it applies to every fighter who has yet lived, with the possible exception of “Sugar” Ray Robinson. This article is not concerned with Jack Dempsey the myth or the legend, but rather what can be seen about Dempsey the fighter through close observation of the available films of his fights.

Dempsey was as tough as any heavyweight seen before his pro-debut, or as anyone who has come along since his retirement. Jack had a proven chin, and demonstrated his psyche couldn't be shaken, evidenced by him getting off the canvas twice to knock out the hard-hitting Luis Firpo.

Certainly Dempsey's record cannot be ignored. His 25 first round knockouts are tops amongst all the heavyweight champions. He went through the division on his way to the heavyweight title, destroying top contenders such as Carl Morris, Fred Fulton, Battling Levinsky, Gunboat Smith, K.O. Bill Brennan, Billy Miske and of course champion Jess Willard.

There has been talk by some critics that Dempsey ducked or avoided black fighters. Let's set the record straight. There was really only one black heavyweight worthy of a title shot during Dempsey's championship years, and that was Harry Wills. Dempsey did not duck Wills. Nor do I believe he feared losing to him, hence he did agree to fight the black contender. It was promoter Tex Rickard, who promoted the Jack Johnson – Jim Jeffries fiasco who wouldn't make the fight. It was too soon after Johnson, who was perceived as a threat to white America with his loud mouth and the supposed flaunting of his white women that challenged the white man's sexuality. Dempsey was more than willing to fight Wills. Again, it was the white promoters who controlled the sport that would not let Dempsey meet him.

In evaluating Dempsey the boxer I am not interested in second and third hand opinions. Nor am I interested in first hand accounts of those who might be inclined to favor Dempsey as the icon of their era. What is relevant to Dempsey the fighter is what is revealed about him via closely observing the available films of his boxing career.

All things highlighted in this article are based solely on observations made watching the available footage of Jack Dempsey. Perhaps it is not fair to say with impunity how great he may or may not have been, based on a mere seven fights of a career that spanned 83 pro-bouts, but there is enough footage to draw some conclusions based on the available films.

First Sophisticated Swarmer/Attacker

The thing that Dempsey should be most credited with, but seldom is, is the fact that he was the first sophisticated pressure fighter. Since Dempsey, there have been three great heavyweight swarmers, Rocky Marciano, Joe Frazier, and Mike Tyson. Yes, all four pushed the fight, however they weren't the same as to the manner in which they utilized their aggression.

Dempsey's fighting mindset was to apply pressure trying to force his opponent into making mistakes in order to create openings, as he was trying to get inside to land his two-handed assault to the head and body. He was extraordinarily refined in his side-to-side movement, bobbing and weaving while his upper-body was in constant motion: he moved forward better than any fighter who came before him fighting as the attacker. The swarmers who'd come before Dempsey, like “Sailor” Tom Sharkey, Marvin Hart, and Tommy Burns, were much more crude in their pursuit. Sharkey and Hart were more upward and stationary, and Burns never used leverage, and tried to push his opponent back, most resembling a lineman battling for position on the line of scrimmage.

If an opponent came to fight him, Dempsey was practically unbeatable. For his time, he really was the baddest man around. Jack was an exceptional two-handed puncher. His left-hook had one punch knockout power, and his right hand was straight and powerful, usually thrown with his full weight behind it. He had fast hands, and was at his brilliant best fighting as the aggressor. But it must also be said that Dempsey wasn't always on the attack, and would routinely step back to draw an elusive opponent to him, looking to counter– a tactic he implemented due to his ineffectiveness at cornering a mover, or when he was unable to impose himself on the opponent, physically. If the opponent was an experienced mover/boxer, Dempsey wasn't a life-taker.

It’s funny how sometimes a fighter will be plaster-sainted by historians and fans so much that the thing he might actually deserve the most credit for, is often overlooked or missed. When Dempsey is mentioned as being a puncher, then it's said you're ignoring his skill as a boxer, and his capacity to adjust his style. Then you hear it said, how about his short range and concise punching ability? For the record, Dempsey wasn't a boxer/counter-puncher, he was an attacker, who sometimes stepped back as he looked to set the opponent up for a knockout blow.

Based on the available fight footage, most of his finishing punches thrown are looped. Sure, he threw some nice straight short shots versus Luis Firpo, and knocked out Jack Sharkey with a short left-hook. However, that doesn't identify him or his style. If that's the case, based on Joe Frazier's rematch with Jerry Quarry, you'd think Joe had a good left-jab. The same can be said if you'd only seen a few films of Muhammad Ali. Suppose his fight against Oscar Bonavena was one of only a few that you saw of his career; you'd come away thinking Ali had a great left-hook. When the reality is, Frazier's jab wasn't much of a weapon, nor was Ali's left-hook a reliable finishing punch.

In spite of Dempsey being the first true great attacker/swarmer, he's not the most effective heavyweight great in that mold. He didn't apply constant pressure, nor did he cut the ring off particularly well when he was confronted by an upper-tier boxer who used his legs and utilized steady movement as a form of defense.

Troubled By Boxers/Movers

When the just turned 28 year-old Dempsey defended his heavyweight title against light heavyweight, Tommy Gibbons, who he outweighed by 12 pounds, Gibbons was 16 months removed from getting worked over by Harry Greb, who Gibbons out-weighed by seven pounds. Greb wasn't bothered by Gibbons’ movement and landed with regularity. The same cannot be said for Dempsey. Gibbons’ movement, and sudden stopping to throw quick one-twos disrupted Dempsey's attack. While Gibbons was on the move, often during the fight Dempsey was forced to reach and lunge. Because of his inability to cut off the ring and take away Gibbon's space and force him to have to fight and trade, Dempsey would move back and attempt to get Gibbons to go to him, hoping to land his counter attack. The simple truth is, Dempsey was nothing close to superb at cutting off the ring during the bout with Gibbons. And because of that, Dempsey didn't force Gibbons to have to run or fight for his life. The extra time enabled Gibbons to time Jack on the way in, so he could tie up his hands.

Dempsey won the fight clearly, but I do not see Gibbons having the same success against a pressure fighter who could cut the ring and force him to fight. Unlike Dempsey, Joe Frazier was nearly impossible to tie up. And you can't say that is what Muhammad Ali did to Frazier during their second fight. What Ali did was wrap his left hand around Joe's head and pull it into his chest. Luckily for Ali that he could take a terrific shot to the body, because Joe beat on it with both hands as Muhammad pulled him in.

Most say Gibbons fought to survive, which is ridiculous. What was he supposed to do, stand right in front of Dempsey and try to beat him by trading with him? The reality is that Dempsey being the bigger, stronger man and better puncher, should've imposed himself physically on Gibbons and forced him to fight for his life, or at the least have to fight him off. Had Dempsey been able to apply non-stop pressure and been able to corner or get Gibbons against the ropes, he probably would've stopped him. Had Joe Frazier circa 1969-71 been in the ring with Gibbons, he would've had him struggling to keep him off by the middle of the second round. Joe's unrelenting attack, while slipping his jab as he cut off the ring and got closer, would've reduced Gibbons to a walk and left him a sitting duck for Frazier's body and head attack. Gibbons would not go 15 rounds against Joe Frazier.

The lesson from the Gene Tunney fights is not that Dempsey was older at 31 and 32, inactive or suffering from rust, all of which no doubt is true, and it was Dempsey's third fight in a year, it's the fact that he was inept as to how to cut the ring off on Tunney in either fight. When I walk my dog and dangle a biscuit in front of him, I can make him go anywhere I want to. This is what Tunney does with Dempsey in both fights. Dempsey merely follows Tunney around the ring and never steps to cut him off. Not in two fights. Tunney beat Dempsey virtually 19 rounds to 1 for the simple fact of Jack just following him around the ring, allowing Gene to box and pick his spots, without having to fight with a sense of urgency.

In an analogous manner, Muhammad Ali was 34, out of shape and past his prime when he defended his title versus Jimmy Young. Granted, a fat Ali had a lot to do with his ineffectiveness. But the lesson learned from that fight is, Muhammad Ali wasn't at his best fighting as the aggressor. Ali was a head hunter, but Young's head wasn't there. Ali's lack of going to the body forced him to lunge with quick one-twos, which usually arrived late and left him open for Young's counters. Sure, prime Ali has more success versus Young, but it's not night and day different. The bottom line is, Ali still wouldn't have solved Young's style, and he's somewhat of a fish out of water when he has to fight as the aggressor for the entire bout.

Against Tunney, Dempsey was troubled when dealing with a clever boxing stylist. Dempsey was unable to cut the ring or apply the type of consistent pressure needed to force Tunney to rush his punches and to keep him from getting set. It is exactly these types of tactics that allowed Harry Greb, who was much smaller than Dempsey and lacked his big punch to defeat Tunney in their first fight and give him several other close fights. Instead Dempsey followed Tunney around in a line instead of blocking him, applying pressure and taking away his space. The problem with Dempsey in this fight is not his lack of conditioning or his age, it was his lack of knowledge in how to deal with a cerebral boxer who used the ring.

Normally I do not believe in using sparring sessions as an analysis of how a fighter does in the ring, but since Dempsey’s filmed sparring sessions with Big Bill Tate is used by Dempsey supporters as an example of his ability to bob and weave, let’s break this down. When viewing this film what I see is Dempsey moving his head well, slipping outside making his opponent miss but not making him pay. Nor does he close the distance effectively.

This brings up another stylistic point. Dempsey was simply not Dempsey if he was not bringing the fight to you. He was a swarming style aggressive attacking fighter. If he was not coming to you, then he was not Jack Dempsey. That one minute circling against Willard did not make him a boxing stylist. He was not going to outbox Muhammad Ali or Larry Holmes. He was not a guy who is going to outbox boxers like Ray Robinson could. He needed to come in and then try to take your head off. He had speed and two handed power to accomplish this as well as a reliable chin. But the argument that he can move and box until he wants to move in against a bigger, stronger and likely more powerful opponent like George Foreman is misguided. That is not how he fought the bigger Firpo who came after him. Firpo was a green one handed puncher who cannot be mentioned in the same breath as Foreman, and Dempsey was forced to slug it out with him.

The Foreman of 73-74 was a 3-1 favorite over Muhammad Ali. Jess Willard, Georges Carpentier, Tommy Gibbons, Luis Firpo, Bill Brennan, Billy Miske never saw the day they would be favored over Muhammad Ali at any time of Ali's carrier between 1964-1974. None of them would have a hope to beat Joe Frazier or George Foreman.

This brings us to a final point and that is Dempsey’s level of competition. Who did Dempsey beat that Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano, Sonny Liston, Joe Frazier or George Foreman would not beat? That argument may work in reverse as well in some cases. The point here is Dempsey’s level of competition was no better than other all time greats, and in more instances not as good as those who followed him.

Some boxing historians seem to view Dempsey as throwing shorter punches and better combinations than Joe Louis, and hitting harder than George Foreman. If that comparison were true then Dempsey may be the greatest fighter of all time after Ray Robinson.

The problem is this simply is not true.

Nowhere in the available films does Dempsey throw shorter punches or demonstrate the varied and accurate punching of Joe Louis. Don't tell me one has to freeze frame the films in order to see these short punches of Dempsey. I don't need to freeze frame Joe Louis films to see his short punches. All one has to do is pick out any knockdown/knockout he scores; the short right hand that sent the giant Buddy Baer spinning 360 degrees to the canvas; the short hook that drops Galento; the combination of short punches that knock out Billy Conn,  or the right hand that nearly decapitates Max Schmeling. Could Dempsey throw short punches? Sure, he has that nice short hook against Sharkey, but overall he is not in the class of Louis, who could not get wild or sloppy even if he tried because all of his punches are so short and precise. This is evident for all to see on the available films. One saying that Dempsey threw shorter and more precise punches than Joe Louis is asinine. It’s like saying Earnie Shavers had better footwork than Jersey Joe Walcott.

Does Dempsey hit harder than George Foreman? Based on what evidence? Foreman lifted Joe Frazier off his feet with an uppercut. Could Dempsey do that? More importantly did he ever do anything like that? One can mythologize about a fighter all day, but what did he actually do in the ring? I have not seen the film of Dempsey lifting a man who weighs over 200 pounds off his feet and then bouncing him like a basketball off the canvas. Dempsey did not hit harder than Foreman, and it's doubtful he hit as hard.

Why is it that no one ever mentions that Jess Willard was 37 years old and had not fought in three years when Dempsey clobbered him? And just because Dempsey doesn't come right out and go for the kill versus Willard, that doesn't equate to him being thought of as a fighter who didn't have to push the fight to be effective. He sure gets a lot of mileage for the one minute he circled against Willard before moving in.

No doubt that this is a good tactic against a much larger opponent. However, that does not mean the same tactic would work against a fighter who is hell bent on taking the fight to a smaller man. It would not work against George Foreman. George would not stand there waiting for Dempsey to move in. He would force Dempsey to fight. Dempsey would be forced to slug it out with Foreman just as he was against Luis Firpo. If not for the sportswriters in press row pushing him back into the ring Dempsey would have lost that fight.

Dempsey understood that every fighter is a man who has weaknesses;  as he said, “no man has everything.” However, some observers have elevated Dempsey to the status of being more than human. Various writers have called Jack, “a superhuman wildman”, or said “there were times when he didn’t seem at all human.” One writer even stated, “Dark-bearded, mahogany-skinned, busted nose, hair cropped close and high above his ears, Dempsey “came to fight.” Wow, even his haircut made him great. Never mind the fact that such hyperbole has nothing to do with how Dempsey looks on film or how his haircut made him a better boxer.

Jack Dempsey did not wear a red cape, he was not made of “steel”, and bullets did not bounce off him. He breathed air, was made of flesh and blood and died the same as all men. No one living today saw Dempsey at ringside, so like it or not, he must be judged not on myth or legend and dubious tales that cannot be proven or disproved, but on how he looks on film. Based on the observable evidence Dempsey simply does not compare to technicians like Gene Tunney and Joe Louis, nor is he as effective a swarmer as Joe Frazier at cutting the ring and fighting against a boxer/mover. The reality is all of these men were simply better boxers than Dempsey and should be ranked ahead of him.

In conclusion Jack Dempsey is a fighter whose myth and legend gives him a lot of romanticized abilities that are simply not evident in his films.

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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