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Articles of 2009

Wlad Has Division Under His Thumb, But Now Haye Is Under His Skin

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NEW YORK – Wladimir Klitschko is both several forms of heavyweight champion and holder of a Ph.d in sports medicine and philosophy. These are two worlds apart – academia and assault and battery – but generally Klitschko sounds most often like a college professor rather than a professor of pugilism. Yet occasionally even he can get, shall we say, peeved.

Count every day he’s around David Haye as among the most peevish.

This is significant on the one hand because the two of them will be together and stripped half naked on June 20 when Klitschko defends his WBO, IBF and (must we say it?) IBO titles from the challenge of the former undisputed cruiserweight champion. It is significant on the other because the voluble Haye has already succeeded where most men have not. He has irked Klitschko to the point where he’s dropped the Ivan Drago programming and reacted to Haye’s boisterous threats like, well, a fighter might.

For boxing this is a good thing. Whether that will prove to be true for Klitschko as well, only time and Haye will tell. Until they square off in 60,000-seat Veltins Arena, the soccer stadium where Schalke 04 plays its games in the German Bundesliga, what is evident is that the often outrageous antics of Haye have reached Klitschko the way no one else has ever gotten to him.

“You will get a good pizza face from these jabs,’’ the hard-jabbing Klitschko said to Haye recently during a press conference at B.B. King’s Blues’ Club in Manhattan. “Then I will knock you out in the 12th round. Not earlier.’’

When Klitschko’s trainer, Emanuel Steward, spoke up suggesting his fighter should get rid of Haye in six rounds or less because he would be at increasing risk after that, the champion snapped back, “Emanuel, please! Let me enjoy the process.’’

Dr. Steelhammer then turned toward Haye, who was wearing a T-shirt with an original design of his own creation in which both Klitschko and his brother, Vitali, had been decapitated and Haye was holding their heads aloft as their bodies leaked blood on the canvas, and stared a hole through him before making a statement laced with bruising promises.

“I will make you eat the words and the T-shirt,’’ Klitschko said. “You think you’re great promoter? I’ll  make you a loser!

“You were trying to get under my skin? You got under my skin. Whatever it takes to make you lose, I’ll do it! I promise!’’

From most fighters this would be quite rightly seen as little more than good business, a bit of hype to sell a few more tickets to Klitschko’s latest heavyweight venture. But the bulk of the 60,000 tickets sold out in two days and while there will be the required HBO sales pitch, the fight is on HBO World Championship Boxing’s regular schedule–not pay-per-view–so there’s no reason to create something that doesn’t exist between these two fighters to drive $50 buys.

What one has to conclude then, is that for once Klitschko is showing a pulse, something he often hasn’t done even during methodical, lopsided beatdowns of second-tier challengers like Tony Thompson, Hasim Rahman, Sultan Ibragimov, Lamon Brewster, Ray Austin, Calvin Brock (can we stop now?), etc.

This became more apparent when Klitschko sat down with a small group of boxing writers prior to that press conference to discuss in more measured tones the challenge Haye (22-1, 21 KO) poses.

After conceding Haye’s obvious attributes of speed, a good jab and a powerful right hand, Klitschko launched into a mounting verbal assault on Haye that made clear the champion did not appreciate the promotional style of the 28-year-old Brit.

“The way David Haye acts shows what kind of person he is,’’ Klitschko (52-3, 46 KO) said. “If he was trying to get under my skin to get the fight, well he got the fight but he continues to do the same thing.

“I think it’s not funny. Decapitations? That has nothing to do with sport. He went over the edge. He is immature as a fighter and as a person. This will be his last trash talking because I will do anything and everything to knock him out. I hope and I wish he will get up if he goes down early. I will make sure at the press conference after the fight that he will eat his words and his T-shirt.’’

Yet as irritated as he has become with Haye, Klitschko concedes the undisputed cruiserweight champion might never have gotten the fight had he not gone on a one-man campaign of blood, gore and hyperbole first. So what’s a guy supposed to do? Be polite and not fight?

“He did get the fight because he was so loud,’’ Klitschko admitted. “I’d never heard of David Haye before.’’

What Haye is hoping for is that his constant, ear-splitting insults will lure the oft chin challenged champion to rush in and thus open himself up for the kind of volley of punches Haye has used to knock out 21 of the 22 men he’s beaten, including former title challenger Monte Barrett in his first real foray into the heavyweight division.

In that fight Haye was rocked himself, as has happened in the past even as a cruiserweight, before finally bombing out Barrett with a barrage of punches so fast and accurate they were nearly blinding. That is what Haye will bring to Germany with him come June 20.

He will bring unusual hand speed for a heavyweight, fitness to equal Klitschko’s, a big man’s power and the inclination to wade in and throw punches. Haye feels that the latter is really his greatest advantage. Although he fancies his speed and power as well, what he believes will decide the outcome is his willingness to do what few of Klitschko’s recent opponents have been inclined to do – which is fight back.

“He doesn’t engage in battle,’’ Haye says of Klitschko. “That’s why I call him Bitchko. We sold 47,000 tickets in a few days because of what I do, not what he does. I bring value for money.

“I’ve never been impressed by him. These heavyweights are so slow you see the shots coming and you see them earlier because they come from so far away. I’ll put myself in position to land bombs.

“He’s not fighting Hasim Rahman or Tony Thompson. I’m coming to win. When is the last time he fought someone fresh (young)? He’s in for a rude awakening when that first bell rings. He’s fought so many B level opponents he’s become a B level champion.’’

In the next breath however, Haye concedes Klitschko will be “by far’’ the best opponent he’s ever faced. More importantly, he knows to finish off the job he’s undertaken he will have to first get the good Dr. to leave his college degrees at home and come to the arena with the intention of losing his mind and fighting the way he’s been talking which, frankly, is not likely.

“I got to make him do what he doesn’t do naturally – engage,’’ Haye admitted. “Most people, the first time they take some punishment (from Haye) are ready to taste the canvas.’’

Klitschko has become the dominant fighter in a languishing division because he has not engaged until he was ready. He is by nature a safety first fighter who uses a long and punishing jab the same way a picador uses his lance to weaken the bull before the matador ever appears in the ring.

Often that creates a blood letting before the real fight begins. This has worked well for Klitschko over the years but if he fights the way he’s talking this time he will move away from that and closer toward the approach Steward admits he favors.

Emanuel Steward became a Hall of Fame trainer and creator of the KRONK Gym name by producing knockout artists like Thomas Hearns. His fighters were most often hard-punching, forward moving boxers who attacked. To use Haye’s words they “engaged.’’ Klitschko, on the other hand, has often seemed reticent to do that in part because his chin has failed him several times, including when he went down three times in a victory over Sam Peter several years ago.

Peter was so inept a boxer and so poor a finisher that despite being able to knock Klitschko down, he couldn’t win another minute of the 12 rounds they fought. Haye, on the other hand, has always been a grimly efficient finisher. If he gets you in trouble you generally stay there until the gendarmes show up.

So what is Klitschko willing to risk to inflict the kind of knockout he’s talking about? Will he be foolhardy or merely fearsome? Will he rush in, stay behind his jab or do enough of both to deliver on his public threats? You might need a Ph.d to figure that out.

Asked to elucidate Haye’s skill set however, Klitschko said, “I will not underestimate him. He has good fast hands…..(long, longer, longest pause)….and a pretty weak chin.’’

Then Dr. Steelhammer, the pugilistic PH.d, laughed. It was not an academic laugh. It was an assassin’s laugh.

“It’s a big mistake to go in and think you’re just going to knock him out,’’ Klitschko said. “Things happen in the ring without thinking. He was making fun of my style. Jab, hold. Jab, hold. It’s funny to him now but the best man laughs who laughs at the end.

“If he wants to win that’s great but he is not acting in a professional way. What he did with my family members’ body (on the T-shirt and in photos) is not funny. I asked him, ‘What are you going to do next? You going to cut the head off my mother? My father?

“There’s a certain way to act. A lot of kids look up to us. Honestly, that picture bothers me. I never heard of him. After the fight I’ll forget about him. He is not my neighbor.

“I will knock him out and I will punish him before I do. I am just sharing with you my dream.’’

If things turn out to be academic for boxing’s Ph.d. it will not be a dream for David Haye. It would be a nightmare.

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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