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Articles of 2009

George Foreman Is Back…Sort Of

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“Monk’’ Foreman certainly recognized the guy standing in the ring across from him that first day of sparring in Houston so many months ago but he didn’t really know him. Not that guy he didn’t.

The 26-year-old son of two-time heavyweight champion George Foreman knew his father as well as anyone. He had been his business manager for several years since graduating from Rice University and had traveled the road with him in his second reincarnation as heavyweight champion and later during his years as an HBO boxing analyst.

But who was this guy glowering over at him from across the room? He looked like his father but something was different. Dangerously different.

“Normally he walks into the gym, wraps my hands, talks to me,’’ young George Edward Foreman III said as he rode in the back of a camper this week heading from Houston to Kinder, La., where he will make his pro debut at 26, today, in a four-round heavyweight fight at Coushatta Casino Resort.

“This day he comes in and he wouldn’t even look at me. No smile. No tips. No greeting. He just walked over and started to put on his headgear and wrap his hands. He kept glowering at me. That intimidated me.

“We got in to spar and the first thing my Dad did was throw a lead right hand over my jab. Hit me right in the head. I felt his power. He just pulverized me. He can still punch like a mule. He made me pay for every mistake I made so I started to use my legs.’’

All his life George Foreman took punches so his kids wouldn’t have to. He won the heavyweight title as a young man before losing it to Muhammad Ali in an African jungle in the middle of the night and then came back after a 10-year layoff and won it a second time, becoming at 45 the oldest man to ever win the heavyweight crown.

He never wanted any of his 10 children to box but when his second oldest boy (one of five named George) told him just over a year ago that he had been secretly training for months and harbored a long-hidden desire to box, the father understood what he had to do. He had to let him, but not without first making painfully clear to him the choice he was making.

“I never wanted my kids to do this,’’ Foreman said from the front of the motor home taking him and his son to Louisiana. “No way. I would never have gone for that because I know how rough it can be for a human being in boxing.

“But I told them all once they got their college degrees they could do what they wanted. I just never thought it would be this.

“At first I didn’t really get it. I didn’t take him seriously but my wife said I better get down to the gym and watch him. I took him to the ranch out in Marshall (well west of Houston) and made him go through the same grueling workouts I did. Chopping wood, digging ditches, pulling a jeep up the hill with it strapped to you.

“When he pulled that Jeep for a few weeks in Marshall I knew he wanted this. There was no one to help him. He had to get down sometimes and crawl to pull it. He did it.’’

Yet even after his son had proven his desire there was still the matter of what happens when you are in the ring with, as Foreman used to call himself during his days as heavyweight champion, “a predator.’’ Nothing can really prepare you for that. Nothing but the real thing, which was Big George himself.

“When you get in the ring with the ex-heavyweight champion of the world if that don’t frighten you nothing will,’’ Foreman said. “Before my first professional fight I got in with Sonny Liston. I took one look at him and I knew I didn’t want to make the guy angry.

“He tried to get me. He tried to take my head off with his jab. I did the same think with Monk. He got the true atmosphere.’’

He also got the Foreman seal of approval. Father admits he has no idea yet how his son will fare in the most difficult and dangerous sporting endeavor on Earth but he has agreed to train him and the two have been working at the George Foreman Youth Center around the corner from Foreman’s church and ministry offices daily to be ready for the moment that will come against Clyde Weaver Saturday night.

Unlike his father, who had 25 amateur fights before winning the Olympic gold medal in 1968, the son has no amateur fights. He tried to get some over the last year but it turned out no one wanted to fight a 6-5, 240-pound guy named George Foreman III.

He was bigger than his Dad had been when he first won the title in 1973 (217 ½ pounds) by knocking Joe Frazier down six times before referee Arthur Mercante stopped the fight, rawer than his dad because this is the first time he will be in the ring with the lights on bright and far removed from the harsh upbringing that spawned his Dad.

George Foreman was a legend around the Fifth Ward in Houston, a hard piece of ghetto real estate he ruled with treachery and fear. Foreman was the kind of kid who hurt people. His son, by all accounts, is as sweet tempered as his father was angry.

He is a son of privilege, a young man who went to a private military prep school and then one of the elite colleges of the south, Rice University. These are not addresses that produce prizefighters and his father acknowledges that.

But then he quickly dismisses the thought that growing up the son of a wealthy man will decide anything about what kind of fighter he becomes.

“It’s all about do you want to fight,’’ the elder Foreman said. “Coming up rough is not a passport to a title. I fought a lot of guys who came up rough but they didn’t want to fight.

“He had a privileged life. To him the world is a nice place. I had a lot of anger. He doesn’t have that but he doesn’t have a lot of the baggage that comes with that either.

“I wanted to knock people out and get a lot of money and fame. He’s not thinking about that. This is a sport to him. He wants to be the best he can be at it. He wants to be a BOXER. All I did was swing. He wants to be a gigantic Sugar Ray Robinson.’’

The younger Foreman’s style is far different from his father. He moves, jabs, uses his legs and his mind more than his power. His father had the thunder, boxing’s great equalizer. The son is lightning.

Or so he hopes to be.

“At home I was always the quiet guy,’’ the younger Foreman said, “so my family was surprised when I said I wanted to be a boxer. But it’s always been in my mind.

“My Mom doesn’t like it one bit but boxing has brought a lot of opportunity to our family. When I finally told my Dad I wanted to step into the ring I knew what it was about. I saw all he went through. Denying yourself all your pleasures. Rubbing Ben-Gay all over your body. He knew I knew how hard a business it was.

“Once he said he’d train me I thought ‘Here we go!’ He’s never made anything easy for us even though we had a life of privilege.

“I first started training a little bit in California. No one knew who I was. I just told them my name was Monk. I think I used my mother’s maiden name. I just paid the membership and started to train.

“In Houston, I knew he’d find out. I was boxing at his gym, one block from the church. It wasn’t that smart but this is the natural sport for me. I played football, basketball, lacrosse. I liked those sports but this is one man versus one man. To me, boxing is a sport of self-defense. I’m pretty elusive.’’

Tonight will be the first real test of that elusiveness. Weaver (0-1) will be in the ring looking for him for four rounds or less. He will be there to punish the son of a champion and maybe make a little name for himself around the Louisiana backwoods.

That name will cause many to smirk and many more to constantly compare the raw tools of the son with the razor sharp ones they remember of his father. The name he carries will be a burden as well as a key that unlocks doors others had to fight harder to open.

Yet George Edward Foreman III is philosophical about that as he seems to be about most things. Boxing is what he wants and having his father in his corner and sharing his name on his robe can’t hurt. At least not if he can fight.

“I could have been Jeffrey Dahmer III,’’ the young Foreman says with the same sense of humor his father used to make himself millions when he came back to boxing at 38 in 1987. “This is better.’’

Looking across the ring tonight at Clyde Weaver will be better too. Better than looking across at his father that first sparring session in Houston, a father with a look on his face he’d never seen before.

“He’s starting from the bottom but he’s really good,’’ his father said. “He’s got a tough road to climb. Some people won’t understand. All they know is me knocking out Joe Frazier. He’s got to fight that. He’s not that George Foreman. He’s got  to establish his own identity.

“This is a journey. We’ll take it one step at a time. It’s like walking through a new back door for me in boxing. It’s kind of exciting. If he was 18, 19 I think this would bother me. I couldn’t take him getting hurt.

“But he’s 26. This is a man thing now so I think I can deal with it. To train him you have to divorce yourself from that ‘This is my son’ stuff. I have to back off and let him be the fighter and respect him as an athlete. I’m totally in the blind on this.

“I know he works hard. He has the drive inside to fight. He will fight. But we’ll have to see how he responds. This is like baking a German chocolate cake. It’s one of the most difficult to make. You mix the ingredients, put it in the oven and hope for the best but you don’t know until it comes out what you got.

“He already drives a Bentley, so I don’t know what his goals are.’’

George Foreman III, known in the gym as Monk, knows. They are the same ones his father had 41 years ago after he left the Olympics in Mexico City to turn pro. He wants to win.

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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