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Articles of 2009

John Duddy Has Been On The Cusp Before

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Brighter days, featuring checks with a couple more zeros tacked on than he’s been accustomed to, are up ahead for John Duddy if he keeps on winning. ‘Course, those brighter days were supposed to have arrived, in the mind of those that have followed the pro career of the Derry Destroyer, who gloves up against Ohio journeyman Billy Lyell on Friday night in Newark, NJ, last year.

Duddy was in line for a St. Paddy’s day clash with then middleweight champion Jermain Taylor in 2008, but Kelly Pavlik knocked over that applecart in September 2007. So Team Duddy recast their sites, and targeted Pavlik. There was the matter of staying unbeaten, in order to best present the Irish banger to the masses who would be plunking down their spare cash for a PPV.

But Duddy needed to keep rust at bay, so he took a ‘stay busy’ bout in February 2008, on the Wladimir Klitschko-Sultan Ibragimov undercard. He was to take on Walid Smichet, seemingly a perfect foil for the occasion. The Tunisian—that in itself was part of the seemingly sweet script, who after all can name half a handful of fearsome Tunisian sweet scientists?—came in with a 17-2-3 mark, so his record was credible. His ability to render a foe unconscious, the chief worry to Team Duddy as they looked ahead to their big shot opportunity, that retirement account- stuffing megafight, was something close to nil. But Smichet rose to the occasion, and fought like something other than the so-so journeyman he was supposed to be. Or maybe Duddy fought more like the so-so journeyman his backers insisted he was not…Regardless, Duddy and Smichet were back and forth, and if one came in out of the cold, and were asked to assess their tussle, and point to the most promising pugilist, the one deserved of a title shot, one would be left scratching their head, reaching into one’s pocket, and pulling out a coin to flip.

But Duddy did have his hand raised in the ring at Madison Square Garden. A win is a win is a win, right? Win now, look good next time, right? Not so fast, not this time. Fight fans can be a gullible lot, but with the presence of BoxRec and YouTube, it isn’t as easy to BS to masses, and present them a McDonald’s hamburger patty and tell then it’s Kobe beef. Bob Arum, Pavlik’s promoter, could not even use his superior powers of persuasion, and try to sell Duddy as anything beyond a likeable lad with a football sized heart, and a skill set that could fit in a spitbucket. Duddy had to reassess, re-evaluate his career, and clamber back up the few rungs he dropped down. He did so, with the aid of Patrick Burns, the Florida trainer who honed Jermain Taylor into the pugilist who was able to take two from Bernard Hopkins, no small feat.

On Friday night, fight fans can assess for themselves, if they travel to Newark, and see how far Duddy has come, and if he deserves a title shot against Pavlik, or against another middleweight beltholder (like Felix Sturm or Arthur Abraham). This will be the third fight for Duddy under the gaze of Burns, who has instilled in him a most basic, and most useful mindset—everything, son, works off the jab.

TSS liked what they saw of Duddy in his last outing, a UD10 effory against in shape, durable Matt Vanda in New York. There were precious few moments when Duddy was in his crowd pleasing, take two to give one, the best D is a good O-mode. And Burns loved it. We shall see if the not-super-young dog,  who turns 30 in June, will continue to stick to the Burns plan, or if he will revert to his old tricks against Lyell, who figures to be ready to rock, fired up to upset the future plans for Duddy.

Lyell is trained by Pavlik’s trainer, Jack Loew, and when I asked Duddy if he would be looking to perhaps step on the gas a bit more
against Lyell, to show Loew what Pavlik might be in for, the Irishman turned the tables on me.

“Are you a fighter?” he asked me.

I told him I dabbled, that I did it for a year, enough to figure out a bit better what the pros goes through when they lace on the gloves and test their mettle.

“I don’t dabble,” he said, with an edge. “I’m not fighting Jack Loew, Pat Burns isn’t fighting Billy Lyell.” (Note: a keyboard tapper takes
the risk of raising the ire of a fighter that much more the closer it is to fight time. Understandable…But I am not a fan of the practice of
asking a fightwriter, who after all is theoretically in your corner, as he provides free advertising, which puts money in your pocket, if
he is actually a fighter, because the implication when you ask that, is that the question you have just received could only be asked by
someone who hasn’t stepped in a ring. But we tappers dish it out, and must be able to take it every now and again….)

Far be it from me to not take what Duddy says at face value, but a portion of me has to believe that he will be quite aware that Loew
will be sizing him up, getting a superb scouting report on the Derry man, and will decide on Friday how much Duddy does or doesn’t have, whether he presents a credible challenge to Pavlik.

I also asked Duddy in the phoner Tuesday whether he predicts a stoppage win against Lyell, who has been stopped in three of his seven losses. The Irishman said he would be happy with the win, no matter the time or method. “A kayo or points, it’s the same the end of the day,” he said. Not to be reflexively contrarian, but to me, it would tell me something if Duddy were to stop Lyell, who went the distance against against Vanes Martiroysan on February 3 in Anaheim. But I’m guessing this ‘just get the win’ mentality suits Duddy best, because it helps keep him away from his former crowd pleasing bent. When he simply concentrates on winning rounds, in safe, smart, risk averse fashion, he gets that much closer to that coffer filling fight, that mega payday.

Duddy was in camp with Burns from March 17, St. Paddy’s day, to April 20th, and he enjoyed the session. “I’m quite happy to go to Florida and get my butt kicked by Pat Burns,” he said, chuckling.

Interestingly, Duddy doesn’t choose to present Burns as the missing piece of the puzzle. He says that he keeps things that he learned from Harry Keitt, and Don Turner in his arsenal, and believes that his maturity has allowed to him to get where he is now, which is the
number four and second ranked 160er in the WBC and WBO, respectively.

He says there is no way he will look past Lyell, to the big one, and based on his experience against Smichet, that makes tons of sense. “My camp doesn’t think like that, what is next,” he said. “Especially with the experience we had in the past, we’re not in a position to dream, to talk like that.” But might he fall into a mode where he’s auditioning for Loew, and start looking to load up instead of working off the jab? I am curious to see, and will travel to Newark to check it out for myself. Want to check out Duddy, or the nice arena in Newark? The Prudential Center has seats for sale, at $38, $53, $78, $103 and $253. They can be purchased at Prudential Center Box Office or by calling that odious entity Ticketmaster at 201-507-8900. Doors open at 8:00pm. A multi-ethnic Fan Festival will be held 6:00 – 8:00pm at Entry Plaza, corner of Mulberry and Edison Streets with food, beverages and entertainment.

SPEEDBAG By the way, have to give a little shoutout to Ellen Haley. She is with Main Events in PR, and in the short time I have been dealing with her, it is obvious she goes above and beyond in getting the word out on their fighters, and in trying to make the job of the keyboard tapper that much smoother. Good work, and good people, need to be applauded.

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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