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Articles of 2009

TSS Q 'n A Special: LOU DiBELLA



“My guy stole defeat from the jaws of victory,” boxing promoter Lou DiBella says to me, sitting comfortably in his office chair, an incongruous San Diego Padres jersey worn baggy over denim jeans.  DiBella sounds at peace with Jermain Taylor’s impossible 12th round TKO loss to unbeaten British upstart, Carl Froch. Listening to him, though, I can’t help imagine the cash and opportunity forfeited by a meager 16 seconds. Never mind, Dibella’s expression says, looking confident about his charge’s chance of another shot at the ‘Cobra.’

A Brooklyn native, Harvard law school graduate, veteran promoter, actor, former HBO senior executive and recently turned Hollywood producer, DiBella defies typecasting. For his last card at Foxwoods between Taylor and Froch, DiBella had the words ‘Pardon Jack Johnson’ plastered on the center square. Read: Not your average promoter, this man with an obvious social conscience.

Over coffee at his Chelsea, NYC office, I spoke to him about boxing’s future, the state of the heavyweight division, and the possible emergence of a global icon for boxing in Manny Pacquiao. At times acerbic, at other times coolly rational about the sweet science, DiBella showed why the sport desperately needs executives with a conscience as much as it needs another great heavyweight champion.

JJ: You’ve said “boxing is dirty from top to bottom. The sport is dying. It’s like a cancer patient on chemo.” Is it truly doomed? How does boxing reclaim its place in the pantheon of sport?

LD: Death is finality. This sport is eternal like pornography is eternal. People will always have sex for other people’s entertainment, and people will fight for other people’s entertainment. So I don’t believe boxing will ever disappear. But it’s certainly become marginalized. It will never return to being one of the two big sports in America. It will never return to one of the two biggest sports internationally. In the U.S., it was baseball and boxing for a long period of time – in fact it was baseball, boxing, and horse racing…the three big sports in this country for years and years. Boxing has disappeared into a niche situation. Boxing will never regain its past glory. But it’s also not going to die. It may stay on a respirator for a long period of time, but it’s not going to die.

JJ: Is it a zero sum game in that sense, or does it become a hybrid of something else?

LD: There’s no such thing as a hybrid. It’s not a hybrid of anything. MMA does not hurt boxing. MMA does not destroy boxing. Boxing fans aren’t running to MMA. That’s just all b.s. The reality was that long before MMA and the Fertittas [brothers] spent a gazillion dollars with the UFC, boxing was already fading. Boxing’s biggest problem is that it can’t attract young people. We have virtually no fans under 30, and that’s a problem.

JJ: Is that a marketing problem?

LD: Of course it’s a marketing problem. But it’s more than a marketing problem. You just have to look at the realities and you have your answers. There’s no boxing on broadcast TV. Budgets are going down on HBO and Showtime. The ratings are way, way down. There’s no American heavyweight of note, any place. The heavyweight division is nowhere. No one gives a flying —-. They don’t know what Klitschko is what. They don’t know which Russian is what. No one gives a flying rat’s tail about the heavyweight division. So it’s not that the other division’s are elevated, it’s that there’s no heavyweight division in the US, ergo it has to be the other divisions. Many Pacquiao is a Filipino icon. He’s an icon, but he’s a little Filipino guy who needs to fight a big name to draw. He is not a transcendant star in the US.

JJ: But he has international appeal…

LD: He has virtually no appeal in this country. Yes, he’s a terrific fighter. He’s not going to transcend the boxing audience in the US.

JJ: So you think his appeal is limited to heavy immigrant populations in America?

LD: I don’t think he’s limited to that, but he’s not saving the sport. Right now he beat De la Hoya, but it doesn’t make him De la Hoya. You know, frankly, it doesn’t make him Ricky Hatton. At least Ricky Hatton speaks English. I mean, Manny’s a terrific fighter, but he’s not a savior of the sport.

JJ: Boxing still has no labor union and no health or pension plan for its athletes. You’ve said that unless that changes, boxing is going down for the count. What steps have you taken or do you consider taking on this front?

LD: Boxing is never gonna have a labor union that works. There are simply too many impediments and inherent problems. It’s just reality. Second of all, what defines a fighter? Is it the kid who has a full time job and fights occasional 4-rounders? The guys at the top of the game that make 99.9% of the money, they don’t care about a union. And the rest of the guys that are starving, the economics don’t support a union. And who are they going to collectively bargain with? So, forget about a union. A health or pension plan for its athletes? You know, maybe someday, if there’s a national commission, although I doubt there will ever be a national commission.

JJ:  Is there a bill that was moving through that just didn’t gain momentum…

LD: I’ve given up on boxing being effectively regulated. So it’s not happening. It’s a matter of what boxing can become as a niche sport in this environment.

JJ: In other words, don’t be naïve.

LD: Exactly. I’m done with labor unions, I’m done with…you know, pension is a little bit different, but not really, because what defines the length of a fighter’s career? The average fighter doesn’t have a five-year career. So what kind of pension? By the way, are the fighter’s making multi-million dollars a night…are a couple of them going to support a pension for the kid that makes $2,500 for an 8-round fight? It’s not happening.

JJ: How soon do you think we’ll see a National Boxing Commission?

LD: If you don’t see one in the next year or two, you won’t see one.

JJ: Is boxing losing popularity to MMA ?

LD: No, it’s not losing to them. They are gaining popularity on their own and we are not gaining popularity. It is a marketing problem, yes, but there are also a lot of stupid people in the boxing industry. And frankly the investments that are being made by the biggest entities, they have no long term…

JJ: On that point, and not to put you on the spot, but after all of the years you’ve been in this, your voice betrays a hint of having tried to do the right thing. Are you just tired?

LD: I am tired. And I don’t expect to be in it…I said this five years ago – but I was wrong in my prognostication because I said I’d probably be out – I gave it another five years. Now by necessity I’ll be in it another five years, but I have no intention, if things don’t turn around, of spending the rest of my life in this industry. And it’s not so much that I’m tired of fighting windmills, there’s a little bit of that, but I’m jaded for good reason. And realism has to settle in. So I’m much more realistic about where things could go and are going.

JJ: Can you talk a little about the heavyweights? David Haye?

LD: He’s got no chin. Great mouth, compelling character, but incapable I think, ability-wise, of having any kind of long reign at the top and again, not an American. He’s a Brit that lives out in Cyprus. And he’s too ‘chinny’ to be the long-term answer. Does he have the ability to upset the apple cart? Yes. For bringing attention to the heavyweights, he’s better than a bunch of guys from the former Soviet Union in the heavyweight division. So if he were able to upset the apple cart, it would be positive.

JJ: Boxing needs exciting fighters is what you’re saying?

LD: It needs characters. He’s a character. He’s got a big mouth. He’s very arrogant. He’s fun to listen to. His style’s good. A guy that’s ‘chinny,’ frankly, a guy that has no chin but can punch, they’re very interesting to watch because they’re kill or be killed. So this guy’s either gonna knock someone out, or get knocked out.

JJ: A little like Carl Froch?

LD: Yeah, I mean, he’s fun to watch. Froch’s a good TV fighter. Limited, but fun to watch.  My guy Jermain Taylor stole defeat from the jaws of victory. I love Froch, but with respect to American boxing, I don’t think he’s a long term factor. The same way the kid from the UK [Amir Khan] is not making a difference in American boxing. Here’s another thing. Why are we so biased against our own? Why is American boxing the only place that embraces foreign fighters as its stars, and ignores its up-and-coming kids? American fighters aren’t getting paid to fight in Germany or to fight on German television, which is a better market than the U.S. right now. We’re not being paid to fight in England. So why the —- are we laying money, crazy money, on guys like Carl Froch, and why are we willing to embrace Amir Khan as a future star here? Why did Ricky Hatton have to adopt the U.S. to get paid? We continue to diminish our product domestically. We do it to our own industry, and frankly, the powers that be in TV, to a large extent – even though I think they mean well – they don’t get it.

JJ: You were quoted by [famous boxing writer/investigative journalist] Jack Newfield pretty heavily in an article…

LD: Newfield was also one of my dearest friends…I gave the eulogy. It was Pete Hamill, Jimmy Breslin, Mario Cuomo and me that gave eulogies at his funeral. He was a dear friend. Also, he was a real boxing fan, a true boxing fan.

JJ: So he said Ali-Frazier was a ‘symphony.’

LD: You know, yes. But I think a lot of fights are like that. A great fight is poetry. Froch and Taylor was poetry. It was a great fight. And just the drama of the last couple of rounds when Jermaine couldn’t even stand up [because] he was so gassed. And the other guy needed to get him out of there. And I mean it hurt me to the tune of millions of bucks probably but from the standpoint of a fan, it’s what it’s supposed to be.

JJ: It had a little of the Cotto-Margarito [fight]…

LD: Cotto-Margarito was filthy. Margarito should never fight again. Margarito’s a cheater who knew he was cheating. I mean, every fighter in the world knows you know what’s in your hand wraps. And if your hand wraps harden, and your gloves come off and your hand wraps are like friggin concrete, you know. Tony Margarito is a cheater.

JJ: Pardon Jack Johnson?

LD: Long overdue to pardon Jack Johnson. And in fact, I had ‘Pardon Jack Johnson’ [written] on the ring mat for my last fight. I have an autographed photo of Jack Johnson in my home. I’m a big Jack Johnson fan. The conviction under the Mann Act is one of the greatest acts of racism in American judicial history. And the fact that he hasn’t been pardoned already is amazing.

JJ: Can anyone rescue the sport?

LD: Yes, an American heavyweight champion that captivates the American public’s imagination. Another Mike Tyson.

Articles of 2009

UFC 108 Rashad Evans vs. Thiago Silva



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



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 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



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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