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Articles of 2009

Oliver McCall Tells It Like He Thinks It Was

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Jockey Calvin Borel, who jumped off his Kentucky Derby-winning horse, Mine That Bird, for the mount on Preakness winner Rachel Alexandra, isn’t the only sports figure to quit a champion in mid-stream, or mid-track as it were. That switch had already been made in 1994, when trainer Emanuel Steward left Oliver McCall, whom he had just helped to win the WBC heavyweight championship on a second-round stoppage of Lennox Lewis, for Lewis.

No one can say for sure if Mine That Bird understood the ramifications of suddenly having a different rider, or if the colt cared one way or the other, but it would seem that McCall might be just a tad bitter about being suddenly abandoned by the man who had helped prepare him for the greatest success of his 24-year professional boxing career.

But McCall, now 44 and still fighting despite having been written off more times than a stack of bad debts, isn’t angry about Steward’s change of allegiance. In fact, he believes he might have remained heavyweight champion of the world to this very day had Steward not been forced from his corner by promoter Don King, one of several shadowy presences he blames for many of the woes that ultimately befell him.

That revelation, and others, suggest that McCall is more into conspiracy theories than that other Oliver, movie director Oliver Stone. It is the recitation of those seemingly bizarre theories, more so than his Friday night bout with Australia’s John “Hoppa” Hopoate (11-2, 11 KOs) for the minor-league IBA Intercontinental heavyweight belt, that continue to certify McCall (51-9, 36 KOs) as one of the more interesting and perplexing characters to have floated upon the boxing scene over the past quarter-century.

Heightening interest in the elder McCall’s comeback – this is his first ring appearance since he lost a unanimous, 12-round decision to Juan Carlos Gomez on Oct. 19, 2007 – is the fact that his 21-year-old son, Elijah McCall (2-0-1, 2 KOs), is on the same card at The Orleans in Las Vegas. McCall the younger swaps punches with Chad Davis (1-2) in a scheduled four-rounder.

Asked what connotations go with carrying the McCall name, Elijah figured the positives outweigh the negatives.

“It’s more of a blessing than a curse,” Elijah said. “Everyone knows that my dad is Oliver McCall. They know about all the great things he’s done in this business. They know all the bad things, too. I’m thankful for the opportunity to show the talents and skills I got from my father, but I want to show that I’m my own man.

An understandable reaction, given that Oliver McCall, who began experimenting with drugs at 13 and since that time has been a troubled spirit toting more baggage than Elizabeth Taylor on an around-the-world trip, has negated nearly every worthy accomplishment with some act of irrational behavior. He is forever an enigma wrapped in a riddle, a perpetual question mark of a human being for whom there never has seemed to be a satisfactory answer.

The mysterious McCall opened up to The Sweet Science and provided some of those answers. And if some of them bespeak a mindset that only he can decipher, well, Freud probably encountered patients who also presented challenges.

Take McCall’s split with Steward, for instance.

“I just talked to Emanuel Steward on the 9th of this month at the Dawson-Tarver rematch,” McCall noted. “That was the first time I really had a chance to talk to him since I knocked out Lennox Lewis in 1994.

“After I beat Lewis, Emanuel and me parted ways, but it wasn’t my idea. It wasn’t his, either. He said, `You know, Oliver, that wasn’t me. That was Don King.’ And it was Don King that forced me and Emanuel to split up.

“It’s too bad because I really believe that if Emanuel Steward had stayed my trainer, I’d still be heavyweight champion. I was a good fighter then and I’m still a good fighter, but Emanuel helped make me the best that I could be.”

Steward, who is in Germany helping IBF/WBO heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko prepare for his June 20 defense against England’s David Haye, was not immediately available for comment. As for King, his standard response to any and all charges of wrongdoing is that he never has been guilty of anything except helping make fighters rich. If wayward members of the flock choose to be ungrateful or misinterpret his good intentions, well, that’s on them.

McCall, a two-time Chicago Golden Gloves champion, was known mainly for being one of Mike Tyson’s sparring partners until he got his big chance for a breakthrough on April 18, 1991. Going into the Atlantic City backyard of then-undefeated contender Bruce Seldon and trailing on the scorecards through eight rounds of a scheduled 10-rounder, McCall floored an exhausted Seldon three times in the ninth round to win by technical knockout. He left the ring with a 16-4 record that includes 10 victories inside the distance, but the Seldon fight stamped him as potentially being something more than a really tough gym fighter.

“Since that time I’ve been ranked in the top 10 by some organization until this year, and this year ain’t over with,” McCall said. “God willing, I’ll be ranked again before the year is over with.”

But talent isn’t always enough, as McCall was to discover. Talent can be detoured by drugs, and booze, and women. Even as he continued to rise in prominence, McCall frequently followed his instincts for getting high and getting laid.

Asked if he has finally cleaned up his act, McCall said, “For today, yes. I’m clean and sober. But when it comes to drugs and alcohol, you’re never completely past it. You know when it’ll be completely past for me? When I’m laid to rest.

“People who have been drug-free for 10 or 20 years, if they get high once, it’s relapse time, baby. It’s something I have to work at daily, just like anything. You got to work at not giving in to the drugs, to the booze, to fornication. You ain’t never past it. You just got to keep running to stay ahead of it.”

Steward was a godsend to McCall not only because he knows his stuff, but because he invited the wild child into his home and more or less adopted him. In addition to spotting the chink in Lewis’ armor – a lazy jab that the champion drew back slowly, leaving him open for the overhand right that McCall detonated upon Lewis’ chin in the second round of their Sept. 24, 1994, title bout in London’s Wembley Arena – Steward cooked for McCall, encouraged him, kept him away from the vices and temptations that forever threatened to send him tumbling into the abyss.

One-time aide-de-camp Bruce Blair, recalling the time when McCall served as a sparring partner for Ray Mercer, said McCall would “toss down shots and beers for three or four hours, leave at midnight with a couple of babes in tow, roll in at 4 a.m. and give Mercer hell in sparring at noon. I always said that if the guy ever harnessed all that physical ability, he could be something special.”

Toward that end, King opted to sequester McCall in various out-of-the-way sites during his preparations for the Lewis fight. McCall’s training base was Henlow Grange Health Farm, a luxurious spa 60 miles from the glitz and glitter of downtown London.

“You look out the window and see lambs in the field!” King said excitedly of the rural setting. “Little sheep! You got streams and brooks and meadows! This is a wonderful place!”

In terrific shape and perhaps just a bit irritable at being around four-legged lambs instead of two-legged honeys, McCall, well prepared by Steward and assistant trainer Greg Page, waited for the moment when Lewis would flick a lazy jab and attempt to follow it with his favorite punch – a big, telegraphed right hand.

He didn’t have to wait long. Lewis gave McCall the opening he was anticipating and Double-L went crashing, face first, to the canvas after catching a thunderous right to the jaw early in the second round. Lewis beat the count, barely, but he was wobbling and glassy-eyed as he lurched into the arms of Mexican referee Lupe Garcia. Garcia did the right thing by signaling the fight to an end.

McCall was on the top of the boxing world, but the euphoria proved to be short-lived. Steward left him for Lewis, removing the safety net that had kept McCall from falling. McCall defended the title once, outpointing 45-year-old Larry Holmes, but relinquished the title to England’s Frank Bruno on Sept. 2, 1995, in Wembley Stadium.

“That was a great time in my life,” McCall said of his brief, emotional roller-coaster title reign. “But when you become heavyweight champion, it comes with expectations. There were things I really wasn’t prepared to deal with.

“I should have enjoyed it more. People would come up to me and say, `What’s up, Champ?’ I’d say, `I ain’t the champ. I’m just Oliver.’ But being champ is special. It’s a gift from God. I give Him all the praise and glory for allowing me to have that gift.”

There would be a rematch with Lewis, of course, but that bout – for the vacant WBC championship on Feb. 7, 1997, at the Las Vegas Hilton – would become infamous for McCall’s crying jag, one of the most curious endings to a boxing match since … well, forever.

McCall had again strayed from the straight and narrow, or maybe he hadn’t actually been on it since he and Steward had their professional divorce. Six weeks before the fight, McCall picked up a 20-foot Christmas tree in the lobby of a Nashville hotel and hurled it in drunken rage. So concerned was Dino Duva, Lewis’ American co-promoter, that he pleaded with King to replace McCall with a more emotionally stable challenger. King insisted McCall would be ready to go on fight night, a promise that looked like it might be kept when a drug test administered by the Nevada State Athletic Commission came back negative.

But, emotionally, McCall was like an unraveling spool of thread. Demons were dancing around in his head, raising doubts and fears that manifested itself when referee Mills Lane stepped in and waved off the tearful non-action 55 seconds into the fifth round.

“It was almost as if he wanted to get knocked out,” Lane said at the time. “He didn’t put up any semblance of defending himself so I figured, that’s enough. Something’s wrong. I thought, `This boy needs medical help.’”

So what really happened that night? McCall’s explanation is stranger than what most people saw with their own eyes, if that’s possible.

“I was going through a situation,” McCall said. “I felt I wasn’t being treated fairly, and I wasn’t able to handle the unfairness by certain people that were around me.

“I got kicked out of one gym because I complained that a stripper was coming in and watching me train. Guess what they done? They didn’t kick the stripper out, they kicked me out.

“So I went a couple of days without training while I looked for a new gym. Just a lot of things going on. Bottom line, a lot of those things I brought on myself. The situation I was in, I wasn’t capable of mentally sustaining the repercussions of everything that was happening.”

If it sounds as if McCall needed psychological help, he had already sought it and was, in fact, undergoing treatment.

“I told the psychologist, `I can’t handle this. I need to get out of here. If I’m crazy, please let me know. People are playing games with me, real wicked games.

“The psychologist said, `No, you’re not crazy. But you got to learn to get past this. You got to be strong.’ I told him if they kept playing those games with me, there would come a time in the fight when I’d stop fighting and not throw no punches.”

Exactly what sort of mind games the alleged conspirators were playing with McCall weren’t exactly spelled out, but he said members of his family were used as leverage against him.

“I made arrangements for my mother and my brother to come to the fight,” he said. “They (and he doesn’t list who `they’ were, although the inference is that King was involved) said, `Oliver, if your mama and brother come to the fight, you going to jail.’ That was the last straw. I told my wife and kids, `Don’t look at this fight. Something bad is going to happen.’

“It’s documented, really. I had already told my psychologist I was going to do what I did. He knew. My family knew.

“I was mad. Upset. My life had been messed with too much. I basically said, `All right. If you’re going to play games with me, I got something for y’all.’ In the third round, Lennox hit me with a punch. I went to the ropes and looked at his mama rooting him on. I thought about my mama and I thought, `OK, you can have this now.’

“It hurted me. It made me cry.”

The fallout was immediate and severe. McCall was nuts. He was finished. He’d never be a serious factor in the heavyweight division again. He probably couldn’t even get a bout.

“People said all kind of bad things about me, but I took it,” McCall said. “I swallowed it. All the commentators said, `He’s through. He’ll never fight again.’ But here I am, 14 years later, and I’m fighting for another title. I’ve been blessed.

“If my career had started with that second fight with Lennox Lewis, I can say I accomplished more than 95 percent of all the boxers in the world.”

Prior to his loss to Gomez, McCall had gone 22-1, with two no-decisions, the only defeat to DaVarryl Williamson, when Williamson still was regarded as a major prospect. Off drugs and dedicated to the proposition of regaining at least a sliver of the title for the United States, McCall believes he can be the man to restore America to heavyweight relevance, just as he did when he took out Lewis in 1994.

“The heavyweight division ain’t as wide-open as some people think,” he said. “They say it’s wide-open because the United States has fallen so far behind in the sport of boxing. The Klitschkos, they can fight a little bit. It ain’t like the fighters of old, but they’ve had some pretty good, exciting fights.

“Back when I won the heavyweight title, I got it back after it had left the United States for the first time in, like, a hundred years. I can do it again. I know it.”

McCall’s draping of himself in Old Glory is historically inaccurate; before Lewis, non-Americans Primo Carnera (Italy) and Ingemar Johansson (Sweden) had seized the heavyweight championship. But his return to the ring does raise one legitimate question.

If Bernard Hopkins is still a world-class fighter at 44, can Oliver McCall, Mr. Conspiracy Theory himself, again ascend to the throne?

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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