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Articles of 2009

A Battle of Dueling Proverbs

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When Poland’s Tomasz Adamek wrested the IBF cruiserweight championship from U.S. Navy veteran Steve “USS” Cunningham on a rousing split decision on Dec. 11, in one of the best fights of 2008 or any other year, everyone – well, those of us who actually saw them engage in 12 rounds of give-and-take action – figured a second installment would be forthcoming sooner rather than later.

In a world where rematch clauses in boxing contracts are routinely exercised following fights that weren’t such attention-grabbers the first time around (see Chad Dawson-Antonio Tarver I), the seemingly logical notion of pairing Adamek and Cunningham back-to-back was put on pause, like the DVD you were watching when the telephone rang or someone pressed your doorbell.

Cunningham, who has fought only once in the past 17 months, which will oblige him to scrape off a certain amount of rust when he does re-enter the ring – rust-scraping is a familiar complaint of sailors aboard warships when there’s no actual battles being waged – figures Adamek and his promotional company, Main Events, have left him in drydock too long. The former bosun’s mate and his manager-wife, Livvy, sense ulterior motives behind Team Adamek’s decision to proceed with not one, but two less-compelling bouts while Cunningham has had to stand by for his marching orders, another familiar complaint of military personnel.

What’s that old proverb? Oh, yeah, He who hesitates is lost.

“It’s very frustrating for myself and for Steve,” Livvy said. “Immediately after the (Dec. 11) fight, a rematch seemed like both camps were interested in. But nothing has materialized.

“It seems like every week Adamek’s people came up with a different name for an opponent, then, when that falls through, they find somebody else. They consider everybody but Steve. It’s like they’re searching for the big fight, and we feel like we are the big fight.”

Don King, who promotes Cunningham, also is of the belief that Adamek-Cunningham II should have happened already.

“I thought that there should have been an immediate rematch,” said King, his jaw still sore a day after he underwent oral surgery earlier this week. “Cunningham would have won that fight if he hadn’t gone down on those three flash knockdowns. But that’s the way it goes in boxing.”

So is King concerned that Cunningham (21-2, 11 KOs), who is scheduled to end his hiatus on July 11 when he takes on former WBC cruiserweight champ Wayne “Big Truck” Braithwaite (23-3, 19 KOs), probably in Sunrise, Fla., although the site has yet to be finalized, has been idle too long to achieve maximum effectiveness?

“Could be,” His Hairness said. “That’s always a concern. But remember, some heavyweight champions used to fight once a year.

“It comes down to the way a guy handles himself out of the ring as well as in the ring. Steve is a dedicated, committed fighter. He’s in the gym all the time. You know what they say: a rolling stone gathers no moss. Steve don’t sit around long enough to gather moss.”

Again with the proverbs. And here’s another:  All good things come to those who wait.

That’s the stance adopted by Main Events president Kathy Duva, who has put Adamek (37-1, 25 KOs) in a title defense against unheralded Bobby Gunn (21-3-1, 18 KOs), also on July 11 and again at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., which is becoming the Pole’s American home-away-from-home.

Like the Cunninghams and King, Duva would love to see her guy and the ex-sailor from Philadelphia in a do-over. Their first fight simply was too entertaining to be put on the back-burner indefinitely. But that didn’t mean it didn’t need at least a little time to simmer, to percolate, so that the audience for Part II would far exceed that for the inaugural, which was televised to a miniscule audience on Versus.

“They have to fight again,” Duva said of the groundswell beginning to build for Adamek-Cunningham II. “It’s inevitable. Well, almost. On July 11, Tomasz is fighting Bobby Gunn. Cunningham is fighting Braithwaite at a different site. If they win, and I think they will, the rematch will happen, but for a whole lot more money this time.”

Patience is a virtue, so the saying goes, and if there’s one thing Duva, a former publicist for Main Events, learned from her late husband Dan, the company’s first president, it is that, like those wines Orson Welles used to pitch on television, no fight should be served before it’s time.

“Right after Tomasz and Cunningham fought the first time, people were saying, `immediate rematch, immediate rematch,’” Duva said. “But there was no market for it at that time. I knew we were going to have to take some time to build interest.

“I strenuously disagree with the idea that as soon as there’s a good fight, there always should be a rematch right away. It never used to be that way. Now, in some cases it’s called for. We did it with (Arturo) Gatti and (Micky) Ward. Their first fight was in a bingo hall in Connecticut. The second fight sold out Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City. But those guys were known commodities, late in their careers. Waiting would not have made the rematch bigger.

“I knew we were going to have to take some time to build interest (in a possible Adamek-Cunningham II). The way to do it, I believe, is to do what we’ve been doing. HBO and Showtime are at least listening now. If I had gone in there in January, they wouldn’t have. Sometimes you just have to be patient.”

Duva, of course, has no control over what King and the Cunninghams do. But she said that Adamek – who followed his hellacious scrap with Cunningham with an eighth-round stoppage of Johnathon Banks on Feb. 27 – is establishing both a U.S. home base (the defense against Gunn will be his third straight in the Prudential Center, the first in the streak being his war with Cunningham) and a dedicated following in the close-knit Polish-American community in Northern Jersey and the New York metropolitan area. King, of course, is well aware of the zealousness of Polish fight fans, having promoted heavyweight loose cannon Andrew “The Foul Pole” Golota for a number of years, during which his bouts were packed with flag-waving countrymen who frequently left the arena disappointed.

“He’s as big in the Prudential Center and to Newark as Gatti was to Boardwalk Hall and Atlantic City,” Duva said of Adamek’s skyrocketing popularity among people of Polish descent and, she hopes, among fight fans of any extraction.

“Tomasz is smart enough to want to fight frequently. He’s getting the exposure, and giving us the opportunity to develop an audience for him. In Poland, he’s a rock star. He’s like Muhammad Ali and Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods all rolled into one. When he comes here (to the U.S.), people of Polish descent and heritage are, like, starstruck. As well they should. He’s charming as hell.”

With the development of American stars no longer as much of an imperative as it was with the premium-cable outlets – witness the enlarging followings of the Phillipines’ Manny Pacquiao and Ukraine’s Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko on these shores – Duva believes HBO and Showtime will be more receptive to Adamek as a possible ratings-booster in this country. The hard fact of the matter is that Oscar De La Hoya is retired and Roy Jones Jr. is sliding on the downhill side of his career as if on a toboggan.

It’s a sound business plan, on the face of it, although there are pitfalls to looking too far ahead and planning to reap future benefits that never come about. Remember Mexican-American heavyweight Alex Garcia? He was offered a career-high $1 million to take on George Foreman, but his manager, Norm Kaplan, figured there was a $5 million payday to be had against Foreman, or one of the other top heavyweights of the day, if Garcia was to hold off until he racked up another couple of victories. He wound up being stopped in two rounds by journeyman Mike Dixon on June 8, 1993, a supposed tuneup fight for which Garcia was paid just $15,000.

Sometimes all good things do not come to those who wait.

Should Adamek stumble against Gunn, a 35-year-old plugger from Hackensack, N.J., whose credentials for getting a world title shot are thin at best, it would be the biggest upset in boxing since Buster Douglas made Japan the land of the sinking sun for an overconfident, underprepared Mike Tyson. But Cunningham is in tough with Braithwaite, who gives it all that he has for as long as he has it, although the gas tank of this Big Truck is more subcompact-sized.

“Braithwaite is a real fighter,” King said. “He gives it his all. His all might not last but three or four rounds, but for that three or four rounds, you’re going to know he’s there. And if he’s in superb condition, maybe he can go eight strong rounds. If he loses, he loses swinging.”

If Cunningham is sunk by one of Braithwaite’s bombs – remember, he was on the canvas three times against Adamek – that rematch with Adamek is likely to go the way of the Foreman-Garcia fight that never was.

All of which explains why the Cunninghams are antsy, and maybe a bit resentful, that Gunn is getting a dream shot they feel he doesn’t deserve when a real Navy cruiser is anchored in the harbor and rarin’ to put out to sea.

“It’s a good come-up for Bobby Gunn, but how can anybody sanction him to fight for the belt?” Steve Cunningham asked, rhetorically. “I just can’t believe it. It’s impossible to even imagine.

“They can say it’s a business move, but if you want to make money, the money match is me and Adamek in a rematch. When people ask Adamek about us fighting again, he always says, `That’s up to my manager, my promoter.’ But that’s a copout. The fighter is the boss, not that he shouldn’t have input from his advisers.

“Adamek knows we put on a great fight, a fight people want to see again. I’m a little disappointed because he’s not giving people what they want.”

Added Livvy Cunningham: “If it’s about Main Events adding to its bottom line, I kind of get it. If they think that getting in there with Steve again is too risky for their marquee fighter, I guess I can understand that, too. But this is the business we’re in. You don’t go down in history for taking safe fights. I mean, who is Bobby Gunn?”

Duva said the Cunninghams and King doth complain too much. The Cunningham-Braithwaite bout is for designation as the IBF’s mandatory cruiserweight contender, and with Adamek due for a mandatory after he disposes of Gunn as expected, Cunningham will share the ring with her guy in the fall should both survive their July 11 tests.

And, no, she insists, she hasn’t kept Adamek away from Cunningham for any reason other than it was the financially prudent thing to do.

“Taking a little break has made an Adamek-Cunningham rematch bigger,” Duva said. “It’s bigger for a lot of reasons. Tomasz has made a home at the Prudential Center, which is a huge key in building a fighter. That is a big part of the fighter’s success. It always has worked for us.”

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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