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Articles of 2009

Manfredo Went From Headlining To Sweeping Up After 'Em

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The thought first hit him as a broom he was pushing fell apart and clattered down the metal steps at the Dunkin Donuts Center in Providence in the wee hours of the morning. These were the same steps thousands of people once walked down to find their seat before his fights.

Five times people had paid their hard-earned cash to watch him in this cavernous building. Now he was being paid to clean it up behind fans of other performers. It was a job though and Peter Manfredo, Jr. was glad to have it but he missed being on the other side of that broom. He missed being the performer, the man for which a broom after he finished working was necessary and that’s how it all started again.

Manfredo returned to boxing in April after announcing his retirement following a stunning, third round knockout loss last Nov. 13 to Sakio Bika in the same building where he now worked as a laborer. It was honest work. No shame in it. Yet something was missing. Prize fighting was missing.

Every professional boxer goes through this kind of sad, shocking withdrawal when he retires. Barry McGuigan recently told the BBC it is the absence of something you knew so well in your youth but now must accept can never be replaced. Manfredo began to understand that as the head of his broom clattered down the steps only hours after he’d watched Manny Pacquiao, a fighter with whom he once trained at Freddie Roach’s Wild Card Gym in Hollywood, dominate and defeat Oscar De La Hoya.

The juxtaposition of what he was doing at that moment and what he knew was going on for Pacquiao in Las Vegas began to make the 28-year-old former super middleweight title contender think and the conclusion he came to slowly became clear.

“I came to my grandmother’s house after working four or five hours on a set up crew at the Dunkin Donuts Center and I had to go back for a third shift sweep for another eight hours so I watched the De La Hoya-Pacquiao fight there,’’ Manfredo recalled. “A few hours later I’m sweeping the stands and I’m thinking about Manny and Freddie (Pacquiao’s trainer) Freddie Roach celebrating after winning a big fight and here I am pushing a broom around in the building where I used to fight.

“The broom breaks and I start swearing and some of the guys hollered ‘Maybe this ain’t for you!’ It was tough. That’s when I first started thinking about fighting again.

“I love my job with the laborer’s union. I like going to work but it’s going to be tough that day when I can’t walk into the ring any more. Right now I know I still can so that’s why I came back.

“Hopefully, I’ll know when it’s time to stop. To be honest with you, the whole goal now is to pay off my house. Then I can just go to work and my wife can stay home and raise the kids. I’m an old-fashioned Italian that way but you need three incomes to raise a family today.’’

Manfredo’s return was a spectacular one, knocking out Walid Smichet in Smichet’s adopted hometown of Montreal in seven rounds last month, dropping him in the third, staggering him in the sixth and then finishing him off with a booming left hook at the end of the seventh round.

Trying to build off that victory, Manfredo was set to go again June 20 in Minnesota against Matt Vanda, a fight he was pursuing for the same reason he agreed to face Smichet – because Peter Manfredo is stalking John Duddy.

The Vanda fight fell through, however, so he continues to look for the kind of matches that can keep both his career and his search for Duddy alive while also reducing his mortgage as fast as he can. To do the latter, he feels, John Duddy is what he needs. Getting to him has always been the hard part.

“He lost his last fight (to journeyman Billy Lyell in a surprising upset that actually might make a Manfredo match more viable in the odd way the business of boxing is conducted these days) but I still want to fight him,’’ Manfredo (32-6, 17 KO) said. “It would still be a big money fight. He’s got one loss and I got six. What’s a loss?

“It’s an Irish guy vs. an Italian guy. It’s two guys with names people recognize. Obviously I don’t got the best defense in the world and neither does he. We both come to fight. Now that I’m fighting at 160 and not 168 it’s a big difference when you get hit. Smichet hit me and I didn’t even feel it. Bika hit me and, wow!’’

What if Duddy (26-1, 17 KO) hits him? Manfredo is unconcerned about that because A) he intends to hit him back and B) the reward is well worth the risk for both of them if they’re honest about it.

Once each was in a position to dictate terms – Duddy when he was the hottest Irish boxer in the U.S. and Manfredo when he was coming off a popular run on “The Contender” reality TV series. But Manfredo has now lost two shots at some form of the super middleweight title and Duddy not only has now been beaten by a guy with seven losses (Lyell) but was also life-and-death with Smichet, whom Manfredo destroyed.

So what’s the holdup? In Manfredo’s opinion it’s Duddy. Or, more likely, the new team around him that already got him beat only months into their handling of his affairs.

“If Duddy beat Lyell he wouldn’t ever fight me,’’ Manfredo said. “He’s been avoiding me for two years. If he’d won he would have gotten a shot at (middleweight champion Kelly) Pavlik and got knocked out. But he didn’t.

“Now he needs me as much as I need him to get that title shot. It’s a perfect fight for New England. It’s a perfect fight for both of us and we should be able to get paid for it. The winner gets back into contention. The loser? I don’t know what Duddy’s gonna do.’’

Manfredo is once again being trained by his father, Peter, Sr., with whom he had a difficult falling out in the long tradition of fathers and sons in boxing. The difficulties that developed leading up to the Bika fight resulted from the father trying to wear three hats – parent, trainer and manager –and the son chafing at all those familial and business entanglements crossing wires.

Over time the fences were mended however, and the latter hat now belongs to family friend Larry Army, who also manages rising middleweight prospect Edwin Rodriguez. In the opinion of the younger Manfredo, life is now back to normal and he and his father are in complete agreement on one very important thing. They both see John Duddy as opportunity knocking.

“I like boxing when my father is the way he is now,” Manfredo said. “I got to give him a lot of credit. He’s my trainer now but at the end of the day he’s my father, too. He had such high expectations for me. I understand that. It probably had to go the way it did for us to get to this point again. I like coming to the gym and training with him the way it is now.

“Larry’s my father’s friend. He helped us with this. It’s so much easier now. It’s a job for my dad. He can just concentrate on the training and so can I. He treats me like the rest of his fighters in the gym. Outside of it we don’t talk about boxing.

“We both agreed when I decided to come back that I’d fight at 160. It’s hard to make because I’m 28 and I like to eat but 168 isn’t my weight. I needed the Bika fight to really realize that. He blew me out in three rounds. I didn’t belong in there with him. He was too strong. I’m done fighting those big guys. It’s a struggle to make 160 but now I have a reason to do it.’’

To a large extent that reason is Duddy, a natural opponent against whom he might already have fought several times if this was still boxing’s glory days of the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s when ethnic fights of this ilk were made regularly because they sold.

Manfredo believes this one still will and frankly he may well be right. Ideally he would prefer another fight or two first but if Duddy finally wants to fight Manfredo he understands there’s no reason to wait any longer.

“This is my last shot at it,’’ Manfredo said. “I got the opportunity to fight Smichet in his hometown and I took it. It was a confidence boost for me taking him out like that when Duddy struggled with him and nearly lost.

“They underestimated me. They wanted to get a name at the right time on their resume but it kind of backfired. Now Duddy and I are in the same boat. We need each other to move ahead. That’s what this business is. I don’t care how good you are, in boxing timing is everything.’’

Peter Manfredo, Jr. has been willing to make time for John Duddy for the past year or two. The only question now is what time is it for Duddy?

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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