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Articles of 2009

THE WEEK THAT WAS IN BOXING HISTORY

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Special dates, such as anniversaries and birthdays, ought to be commemorated. They need to be commemorated. Just ask any husband who loses track of such an occasion and attempts to ease his wife’s disappointment with a day-late gift of flowers or a box of chocolates.

Boxing has been around long enough that just about every week is speckled with anniversaries of notable events, but this week is more crowded than most. There is a saying: You can’t know where you’re going unless you know where you’ve been. So it is appropriate that, in this most celebratory of boxing weeks, we take a stroll down memory lane. Lest we forget.

On June 15, 1984, Thomas Hearns knocked out Roberto Duran in two rounds to retain his WBC super welterweight title, one day shy of the “Hitman’s” 33rd birthday.

Also on June 15, IBF super flyweight Robert Quiroga outpointed “Kid” Akeem Anifowshe in a mesmerizing 1991 bout that had tragic consequences, and in 1996 Roy Jones Jr. stopped Eric Lucas in 11 rounds only hours after Jones demonstrated his crossover dribble in a minor-league basketball game.

On June 16, 1946, the “Raging Bull,” Jake La Motta, took what officially went into the books as a 10th-round technical knockout of Marcel Cerdan to win the middleweight championship; on the same date in 1983, a supposedly declining Duran again revitalized his career and won the WBA super welterweight title by savaging Davey Moore en route to an eighth-round TKO.

On June 18, 1941, Joe Louis hung onto his heavyweight crown by taking out Billy Conn in the 13th round of a fight the smaller Conn was leading on the scorecards; on the same date in 1963, Cassius Clay, as Muhammad Ali was then known, averted a huge upset when he stopped Henry Cooper on cuts in the fifth round, the round after Cooper had floored and badly hurt the American sensation with a crushing left hook. Clay gained precious time to recover when a tear in his right glove was detected between rounds, requiring a change of gloves.

On June 19, 1936, Max Schmeling knocked out the previously undefeated Joe Louis; exactly 10 years later, Louis starched Billy Conn in eight rounds of their long-anticipated rematch.

JUNE 15, 1984

In his book, Four Kings, a wonderful read authored by George Kimball that chronicles all eight head-to-head bouts involving Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Thomas Hearns and Roberto Duran, Kimball describes how Hearns employed his own “hands of stone” to put the Panamanian legend down and out in just two rounds in perhaps the most one-sided of those eight classic matchups.

During a 34-year career that spanned 119 bouts, Duran (103-16, 70 KOs) was stopped only four times. Three of those defeats, however, came on technical knockouts. There was the No mas surrender to Sugar Ray Leonard, an aberration in which an ill-conditioned Duran lost to Pat Lawlor and a third-round pummeling at the hands of William Joppy when the great Duran was 47 and a shadow of his former self.

Only once, though, was Duran counted out. It happened in the outdoor stadium at Caesars Palace, in 90-degree heat, and for Hearns’ 154-pound title.

Starting quickly, Hearns dropped Duran twice in the opening round, first with a right hand to the jaw and then with a crushing body shot. It was a wobbly Duran who made his way back to his corner, but one who was committed to taking the fight to Hearns in the second stanza.

Meeting fire with fire while still badly shaken proved to be a tactical miscalculation on Duran’s part. Hearns, eager to seal the deal, delivered as picture-perfect an overhand right as he ever had landed, a lightning bolt to Duran’s cheekbone. The challenger pitched forward onto his face, unconscious.

Gil Clancy, the color commentator for the CBS telecast, knew from the outset that this was not to be Duran’s night.

“A fighter can enter the ring and age overnight, and that’s exactly what happened to Roberto Duran,” said Clancy, whose writing off of Duran proved to accurate for the moment, but premature in the long term. “He didn’t have it from the opening bell.”

JUNE 15, 1991

Sometimes, the more exhilarating the action, the greater the potential for tragedy. It happened in the Nigel Benn-Gerald McClellan war, and it happened in San Antonio when Robert Quiroga held onto his IBF super flyweight title after 12 rounds of sustained, back-and-forth action with Nigeria’s “Kid” Akeem Anifowshe.

For good reason The Ring magazine selected Quiroga-Anifowshe as its Fight of the Year, but that distinction was shrouded by the unfortunate circumstances that soon enveloped Kid Akeem and, a bit later, Quiroga.

Anifowshe began vomiting blood less than a minute after the decision was announced. Rushed to a local hospital, he underwent surgery to relieve pressure on his brain. He never fought again, retiring with a 23-1 record, and his life thereafter was brief and turbulent. There were reports that, despondent over the sudden end to his boxing career, he turned to drug trafficking. He was deported back to Nigeria where he died under mysterious circumstances on Dec. 1, 1994.

The victor, Quiroga, did not fare much better. On Aug. 16, 2004, a passer-by on a San Antonio highway flagged down a police officer after finding a mortally wounded Quiroga, who had been stabbed multiple times, lying next to his car. A member of a biker gang, Ricky Merla, pleaded no-contest to murdering Quiroga and is serving a 40-year sentence.

JUNE 15, 1996

Given the fact that Eric Lucas later ascended to the WBC super middleweight championship, the low regard in which he was held by Roy Jones Jr. heading into their bout for Jones’ IBF super middleweight title in Jacksonville, Fla., doesn’t necessarily mean that Lucas was just another member of RJ’s bum of the month club. Even quality opponents appeared to be totally outclassed when Jones was at the peak of his powers.

But Jones, whose passion for basketball often seemed to exceed his ardor for the sport that made him rich and famous, couldn’t have been more obvious in expressing his disdain for Lucas when he played 14 minutes for the Jacksonville Barracudas of the United States Basketball League earlier in the day. He scored eight points and turned the ball over three times in a 13-point victory over the Treasure Coast Tropics.

Jones never tried to pull off another same-day basketball-boxing doubleheader, but he did work out with the New York Knicks on Dec. 28, 2007, a few weeks in advance of his Jan. 19, 2008, bout with Felix Trinidad at Madison Square Garden.

Of Jones the wannabe shooting guard, then-Knicks coach Isiah Thomas commented, “His shot was a little suspect, but nobody got close enough to him. I don’t think anybody wanted to challenge him for fear that he may punch him.”

Jones has caught his share of heat for not always focusing on what should have been his foremost athletic endeavor, but then a fascination with basketball also led NFL wide receivers Terrell Owens and Randy Moss to try their hand at minor-league hoops. Owens, then a member of the San Francisco 49ers, briefly played for the Adirondack Wildcats; Moss, then with the Minnesota Vikings, had a stint with the Pennsylvania ValleyDawgs.

JUNE 16, 1946

Jake La Motta never did cotton much to pretty boys. You’d have to figure he would have tried his bullish best to rearrange the matinee-idol features of Oscar De La Hoya had they come along in the same era. But La Motta, a brawler with a cruel streak that served him well in the ring, got his chance to uglify a dashing Frenchman, Marcel Cerdan, in his bid to seize Cerdan’s middleweight championship in Detroit.

When he finally finished dispensing punishment to Cerdan – who suffered a dislocated arm in the first round and didn’t come out for Round 10 — La Motta led on the scorecards by wide margins of 51-39, 49-41 and 48-42, respectively.

A rematch was arranged, but on Cerdan’s flight to the United States for the return engagement his plane crashed in the Azores, killing everyone on board.

JUNE 16, 1983

Roberto Duran was, some observers agreed, finished or very nearly so as a top-tier fighter. Oh, sure, he had stopped the great Pipino Cuevas in four rounds in his most recent bout, but that victory was less than a year removed from back-to-back losses to Wilfred Benitez (which was understandable and maybe even forgivable) and Kirkland Laing (which was neither). Duran was 32, with high-mileage on his pugilistic odometer, the normal wear-and-tear on his body presumably increased by his alarming penchant for packing on 40 or more pounds between fights, flab that then had to be taken off. Repeat that process too many times and it can shorten a fighter’s prime by years.

Moore, on the other hand, was something of a ring prodigy. He had won the WBA 154-pound title in only his ninth professional bout, a sixth-round beatdown of Japan’s Tadashi Mihari, and he entered the matchup with Duran undefeated at 12-0 and with a streak of nine knockouts. Only 24, his time was thought to be now; Duran’s had passed.

What was shown to be in the past tense, however, was Davey Moore’s brief tenure as an elite, world-class fighter. Duran exposed his opponent’s inexperience during eight rounds of measured violence, pounding his face lopsided until referee Ernesto Magana took mercy and finally waved the massacre to a halt.

Moore was never the same after his shellacking by Duran, going 6-4 in his last 10 bouts before retiring, at 28, in 1988. The Panamanian mauler, meanwhile, went on to fight another 18 years.

JUNE 18, 1941

Unlike Joe Louis, who was outstanding from the moment he began punching for pay, Billy Conn was something of a late bloomer. He lost six of his first 14 bouts after turning pro, at 17, before he went on a 26-0-1 tear, with victories over such premier fighters as Fritzie Zivic, Babe Risko and Teddy Yarosz,  to establish himself as a force to be reckoned with in the light-heavyweight division.

Conn won the 175-pound title by outpointing Melio Bettina on July 13, 1939, and he began to think he could scale the highest mountain in boxing – the heavyweight title held by the mighty Louis. Toward that end, and after seeing Louis in a tough fight with 183-pound Bob Pastor, Conn vacated the light-heavyweight championship in May 1941 to challenge Louis.

The matchup drew an enthusiastic crowd of 54,487 in New York’s Polo Grounds, although few in the audience gave Conn much chance of remaining upright once he tasted Louis’ power. Louis was as confident of success as were his backers, a presumption that very nearly cost him once he discovered he had underestimated the smaller man’s speed and boxing ability.

“Conn was a clever fighter,” Louis was quoted as saying in his autobiography. “He was like a mosquito; he would sting and move.”

At the end of 12 rounds, Conn led on two of the scorecards, 7-5 and 7-4-1 (fights were scored by rounds in New York then) and was even on the third, 6-6. He guessed, correctly, that he was ahead. All he had to do to pull off the shocker was to continue doing what he had been doing.

But Conn figured a knockout would make the upset all that much sweeter, so he moved in to finish Louis off. Instead, Conn – on the short end of a toe-to-toe exchange — got finished off as Louis, who was defending his championship for the 18th time, unleashed a flurry of blows until Conn sank to the canvas and was counted out.

Asked by a reporter why he had unwisely tossed caution to the wind, Conn famously responded, “What’s the use of being Irish if you can’t be (stupid)?”

Conn was philosophical about what had transpired. He understood that, even had he won, the heavyweight crown merely would have been on loan from perhaps the best heavyweight boxing had seen up to that point. He acknowledged as much in asking Louis, “Why couldn’t you let me hold the title for a year or so?” To which Louis responded: “You had the title for 12 rounds and couldn’t hold it.”

JUNE 18, 1963

Brash, talented and inordinately cocky, young American Cassius Clay brought an 18-0 record into his bout with cut-prone Englishman Henry Cooper in London, a matchup in which Cooper seemingly had as little chance at victory as he did at avoiding the scar tissue around his eyes being re-shredded.

Nonetheless, 35,000 Brits turned out in Wembley Stadium to cheer on “Our ’Enry,” whose only hope was to connect with one of his trademark left hooks before Clay made him a candidate for another transfusion.

Although Clay later would change his name to Muhammad Ali and would go down in history as one of the best, if not the heavyweight ever, at this stage of his career he was at least somewhat vulnerable. He had been knocked down for the first time as a pro, by Sonny Banks on Feb. 10, 1962, and he was coming off a disputed 10-round decision over Doug Jones.

Cooper, who was nicked over his right eye in the second round and gashed on his left eyebrow in the third, knew he was desperately fighting time as well as Clay. He had reason to believe he had landed the biggest punch of his career when he floored the favored 1960 Olympic gold medalist with a leaping hook late in Round 4. Clay went down in a heap and, woozy, was up at four, but the bell rang before Cooper could attempt to press his advantage.

Then fate, or luck, or a savvy trainer intervened. Clay’s trainer, Angelo Dundee, advised referee Tommy Little that his fighter had a tear in his right glove and it would have to be replaced. Cooper to this day insists the delay took four or five minutes, more than enough time for Clay to fully recover from the knockdown, but others say only 65 seconds elapsed before the fifth round began, which would have given Clay minimal additional rest.

Did Dundee help out his guy by manipulating the damaged glove until it split even more open? Hey, the suggestion that he did is now part of the legends of both Ali and Dundee. In any case, Clay fulfilled his prediction of a fifth-round stoppage with a rapid-fire burst of combinations that turned Cooper’s face into a crimson mask.

JUNE 19, 1936

With a 27-0 record that included 23 wins inside the distance, Joe Louis had every reason to think he was invincible in the ring, or as close to it as it ever gets. Former heavyweight champion Max Schmeling didn’t appear to have the goods to slow down the Louis Express, much less derail it.

But Schmeling, in analyzing film of Louis’ fights, told the press that “I see something,” dropping vague hints that there was indeed a chink in the Brown Bomber’s arsenal. That warning went unheeded, most notably by Louis who trained lackadaisically in expectation of another quickie blowout.

Schmeling, however, has been correct in determining that the key to defeating Louis was to capitalize on his habit of dropping his left hand low after throwing a jab. He rocked Louis with a succession of overhand rights in the 12th round until Louis went down along the ropes and was counted out by referee Arthur Donovan.

JUNE 19, 1946

The much-anticipated rematch between Joe Louis and Billy Conn proved to be anticlimactic. Seven years and a day had gone by since their first meeting, the gap between bouts lengthened by World War II, and when the two men entered the ring at Yankee Stadium, it was evident at the outset that Conn’s best chance at victory had come and gone in 1939.

It was Louis who uttered one of the most famous lines in boxing history prior to the return engagement when, of Conn, he said, “He can run, but he can’t hide.” Conn still could move around fairly well, but he was able to evade Louis for only so long; in the eighth round, the heavyweight champion caught up with him long enough to score another devastating knockout.

Still, the “Pittsburgh Kid” was celebrated by many who saw something, well, noble in his widely separated attempts to vanquish the larger, stronger Louis. He remained a folk hero in his hometown and beyond until his death on May 29, 1993, when he was 86, and the inspiration for another classic line, this one from the Academy Award-winning 1954 film, On the Waterfront.

Budd Schulberg’s screenplay had Rod Steiger, as the older brother of Marlon Brando’s Terry Malloy character, telling Brando how gifted a fighter he had once been.

“You could have been another Billy Conn,” Steiger said.

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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