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Articles of 2009

Fingers Are Crossed: Haye Just Might Lift Up The Heavyweight Division

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The Klitschko Brothers and their spokesmen can continue to make their case that the heavyweight division isn’t a dead zone, a nearly lifeless division just about completely devoid of compelling matchups and scintillating scraps in the last five or so years, since Lennox Lewis abdicated his throne.

They could argue their point of view with the eloquence of Obama and the nostril-flairing mania of Rush Limbaugh, and cite packed arenas outside the US, but one only has to recall that the Klitschko’s fights are never on pay per view, and that isn’t because they love to show off their ample skills to the widest possible audience. It is because the audience simply hasn’t been there. Most of the world’s fight fans haven’t taken to the K brand of pugilism, which is assess, dissect and much later destroy, rather than seek and destroy.

And is this all their fault, is it all because of their deficiencies as fighters?

No way.

The sub-stagnant state of the division has meant that there’s been a profound absence of capable, charismatic men to demand that the Ks elevate their game, and leave their comfort zone, and give the fans what they ache for in a heavyweight: a hitter who has an insistent desire to separate his foe’s head from his shoulders, and isn’t obsessively preoccupied with not being hit.

That previously mentioned throne has been claimed, with a marked absence of buzz, by the Brothers K, big brother Vitali and little brother Wladimir. There have been periods of time when the K boys have provided fight fans some thrills, but with their highly technical style, which prizes protection of their chin over offensive forays, fights fans outside of Eastern and Central Europe haven’t really taken to them. When was the last time, TSSers, that you were amped going into a Wlad match, or really fired up during a Wlad tussle? You have to go back to 2005, when the 6-6 1/2 hitter took on the Nigerian bomber Samuel Peter, while his star was still on the rise. There was some drama involved as viewers wondered if Wlad could stay on his feet long enough to snag a decision. He went to the canvas three times and just eked out the UD. Vitali, the 6-7 elder bro, provided fight fans with some adrenaline surges when he gave Lennox Lewis a handful in Lewis’ last fight (June 2003) before being stopped due to a cut. There was some anticipation in the air when Vitali defended his WBC title against the man who starched his little brother in March 2003 (TKO2), Corrie Sanders. But Sanders was 37, and ten pounds heavier than when he took out Wlad, and he succumbed to Vitali with a meekness that has been characteristic of too many Klitschko foes. Vitali went on hiatus from 2004-2008, to deal with injuries and an unsuccessful entrance into the political arena in Kiev, Ukraine. He ran twice for mayor of Kiev, in 2006 and 2008, and came in second and third, respectively. (Second campaign’s advisor Rudy Giulian’s ‘noun, verb and 9/11’ message didn’t go over there either).
When he healed up, and had his fill of the short end of the politics stick, he came back to boxing, and showed he lost little to none of his chops. He hammered Sam Peter, the second time he’s torn up a boxer who gave his younger brother fits, and then dispatched Juan Carlos Gomez with ease last month.

In New York City on Thursday afternoon, I may have laid eyes on the man who could elevate Wladimir’s sharp, but oh-so-methodical game, and return the heavyweight division, so dreary for so long, to a state of relevance. I spied David Haye (22-1, with 21 KOs), a Brit who showed more charisma during an hour and half at BB Kings than I’ve seen from other heavies since before TSS was born. I marveled at the enthusiasm of, and cracked up at, and found myself curious about, this 28-year-old who held some cruiserweight titles for six months, and then fancied a leap up to the XL division.

I admit that I write this article as a fan, as much as a journalist, because if I weren’t entertained by what I cover, I’d find another outlet. And the fan part of me hopes that Haye is more than just a slick-talking hypemaster, a marvelously muscled specimen who has trash-talked his way to a multimillion dollar payday, and lightning fast trip to the canvas after crumpling from the effects of a right cross on a chin that is regarded in the industry as something between tissue paper and extra strength Bounty paper towel…

In the bluesman’s club, Haye’s t-shirt was semi shocking with its gore factor, but that was mellowed by his agreeable persona. The 6-3 cracker who has fought twice at heavyweight (gaining wins against Tomasz Bonin in 2007, and against B-lister Monte Barrett in his last outing, in November) was wearing a t-shirt that featured a graphic of himself holding the decapitated heads of each Klitschko, and then another that said “I Love Klit” in German. He wore the first as he sat down and chatted with the fightwriter fraternity.

The Brit admitted that his campaign to rattle the Klitschkos—he first drew their ire when he and the UK Men’s Health unleashed a photo of Haye, in a natty shirt and tie combo, held the head of Wlad in front of him last year—was hatched to land the bout, get under their skin, and hype the bout once it was a go. “I’ve got to get Wladimir to go to war with me,” Haye said. “I can verbally abuse him, call him Bitschko two hundred times, but I wore the shirt with the decapitated head, and you see the extent I’m willing to go.”

Indeed I am. Ballsy move on the Brit’s part. Might he be waking up a giant who too often slumbers in the early part of fights, as he painstakingly sees what his foe has, puts that man’s attributes and armor chinks in his mental spread sheet, and decides what dosage of what punches will result in a win? Haye seems to legitimately believe in himself, to believe that his mercurial chin will not give out on him, and that he will be known as more than the t-shirt dude after June 20 in Germany: “Twenty years from now, you won’t think of a t-shirt, you’ll think of how I destroyed Wladimir.”

His PR stunts could backfire on him; on June 20, Wlad (56-3, 46 KOs) might do what trainer Manny Steward is always trying to convince him to do. He might use his size and strength advantage from round one on, press the issue, fight like he owns the physical advantage, instead of as though he’s David fighting Goliath, with a balky slingshot. Haye is willing to provoke the giant, and force him to fight in a style to which he’s not accustomed, as the angry aggressor, instead of the clear-minded assassin from a block away, with a laser-site rifle. “I’ve got to force him to fight, do something he doesn’t do naturally, that’s fight,” Haye said.

Haye gave his take on the division, which echoes so many of the readers who send in comments to TSS, and not Team Klitschko, which stubbornly tried to stay on message at BB’s, and tell the US journalists that the heavyweight class is in fact flourishing. “The division has been s*** the last four or five years,” Haye said. “It’s in dire straits, and it’s time for someone like myself to shake it up.” Amen; the Klitschkos are the class of the division, and their merits can’t be derided merely because they employ a fan-unfriendly methodology. But the rest of the XL wannabees will not be remembered in decades ahead as anything more than blips on the screen.

Haye gave some of us some backstory on his career, talking about going into enemy territory and winning over Jean-Marc Mormeck’s fans in France (Haye won TKO7 in Nov. 2007), and insisting that his party-hearty days are over.  His confidence overflowed, but didn’t come off as excessively cocky or haughty, as the Ks can sometimes appear to those not used to the Germanic-style reserve, which can translate as imperiousness.

“Wladimir is universally recognized as the best on the planet,” Haye said. “But I’ve never been impressed. Even at cruiserweight, I used to watch his fights and say, ‘I can beat this guy, I will knock his a** out with ease.” Haye insisted that at age two, when other diaper dandies were laboring to pair four words correctly, he knew he wanted to be heavyweight champion of the world.

Haye said that what worked for Wlad against relatively elderly heavies like Hasim Rahman, Tony Thompson, Ray Austin and Chris Byrd won’t do the job against him. He said his only loss, to the vastly more experienced Carl Thompson in 2004, wasn’t all that painful, as he was stopped while on his feet. “I have no wear and tear,” Haye said, “and the freshest guy Wladimir fought was Ibragimov who was coming off a draw with Tim (sic) Austin. After so many years of fighting B level opponents, you become B level, fighting fat, out of shape over the hill fighters, guys with no real desire.” The floor is yours, Messrs Rahman, Thompson, Austin etc…

Haye’s confidence didn’t veer into delusional territory. He admitted that Wlad is by far the best man he’s faced, though he will not appear to be the best “when I destroy him.”

Regarding that small point on his face which looms so large in this scrap, the chin. Haye was sent to the mat by Barrett, Mormeck and Thompson. He said that his chin won’t betray him on June 20, because he’ll be fighting at his natural weight, and he won’t be weak from cutting.

Steward, it seems, isn’t certain that chin will be dented irreparably. He wants Wlad to dispense with the reconnaissance, and get right to the hand to hand on June 20. “I’ve told Wladimir to put pressure on Haye,” he said. “I want this fight over real quick. I want a win within six. We can’t play safe this time.” Steward is hoping his old charge Lennox Lewis might join Team Haye and be in the Brit’s corner come June 20th, to spice up the stew that much more.

When Haye took to the dais, he didn’t crack Wlad up with his “Ich Liebe Klit” t-shirt, though Wlad wore a hint of a half-grin. He busted on Wlad for being a less than potent ticket seller, and said he was most responsible for the sale of 47,000 tix in two days. “That’s not because people want to see Wladimir throw jabs all night long,” he joked.

Wlad, in his turn at the mike, couldn’t hold a candle to Haye, though of course he managed quite well seeing as how English is not his native tongue. Some of his taunts, though, lose something in translation. He promised to give Haye a “pizza face” over the course of twelve rounds of punishment, which he said he’d prolong, despite Steward’s wishes. How he’d infect Haye with a case of acne in Germany, I can’t say…

To close, the combatants engaged in a staredown for the photogs. They stared at each other, no grins evident, and kept the gaze intact even as they turned towards the photog. Let the record show, for what it’s worth, that Wladimir broke the eye contact first.

Hey, can you tell Haye has me jazzed? Almost 2,000 on a press conference for a heavyweight beef…

SPEEDBAG There was an interesting interplay on display at BBs, as emcee Michael Buffer was clearly miffed that Team Klitschko’s Bernd Boente requested promoter Tom Loeffler whisper in Buffer’s ear, and ask him to switch his pre-planned order, and introduce Wladimir before Haye. The smooth-talking Buffer shifted gears as he was into his Haye intro, and barely betrayed a hint of annoyance. He read his planning sheet after the Klitschko attempt at controlling the message, then made a crack about “get(ting) it right,” and almost imperceptibly rolled his eyes. Boendt could’ve requested Haye do his interviews in the john, truth be told, and the Brit still would’ve had his hand raised if the winning criteria were charisma and salesmanship.

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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