Connect with us

Articles of 2009

Iran Barkley: For Better Or Worse “A Glass Half Full Type Of Guy”

Published

on

As the subway train stops at Manhattan’s Penn Station a swarm of baseball fans, decked out in Mets jerseys and caps, eagerly board and turn the carriage into a heaving capsule of blue and white.

Yet one passenger stands apart. His all-black attire coupled with dark skin and shaven head cuts an intimidating figure.

A Mets fan turns around to take another glimpse of the dark standout, and in the process of assessing the character he is met by a question.

“Who won the game?” asks the black man.

“The Mets. One to nothing,” answers the fan, who purses his lips in hesitation before realizing a familiarity with the rugged features of the inquisitor’s face. “You were a fighter, right?” he offers.

A response is not immediately forthcoming as the man raises his arms to grab the handrail above his head. He then flashes a wide smile before proclaiming, “I’m Iran Barkley. The five-time champion of the world.”

“Oh yeah! Was it Hagler you beat for a title?” responds the fan.

“Tommy Hearns. I’m the only man to beat him twice,” replies Barkley. “Marvin Hagler, [Ray] Leonard, they didn’t want to fight me. I could have beaten any of them. It was the promoters that took my titles from me.”

Iran doesn’t turn down an opportunity to lament his frustration with the commerce of boxing. He garnered an estimated $5 million during his prizefighting career, but now lives a more meager existence in the same South Bronx housing projects he grew up in. He puts much of the blame on the sport’s powerbrokers. But there are plans to gain retribution. Barkley figures to force the top promoters to pay him what he feels is deserved by resuming his boxing career and bludgeoning the sport’s biggest names. 

“I’m training every day in Gleason’s [Gym in Brooklyn]. I’m looking real good and I’m just waiting for someone to sign me,” he claims.

Barkley may exaggerate some of his pugilistic accomplishments [his official boxing record suggests he won recognized world titles on three occasions] but his face does little to perjure his former profession.

“People recognize me from time to time,” he says. “They know the look on my face.”

While his skin is remarkably smooth for a 49-year-old with 63 professional fights on his record, his features show distortion; the cartilage of his nose has lost its curvature and a thick mass of tissue overhangs the left eye.

The brunt of Barkley’s eye damage can be traced back to the most famous night of his career: a 1988 challenge for Hearns’ middleweight world title in Las Vegas.  Hearns, already a three-weight champion, was regarded as one of the most violent punchers of his generation, a wiry specimen that could extract maximum leverage from his long frame.

For three rounds he abused Barkley with chopping right-hands, bloodying the unfavored New Yorker, who appeared to be little more than a brave brawler. Blinded by a steady flow of claret and piercing blows, Barkley could only offer token resistance, seemingly extending the beating for the crowd’s pleasure before the customary Vegas climax of seeing a man concussed by one of the game’s great combatants.

Yet Barkley was able to look past all the blood and long odds to gyrate his body into a motion that generated a furious right-handed strike which scrambled Hearns’s equilibrium. The champion regained his footing but a follow-up assault left him clinging to the lower stands of the ring ropes having relinquished his grasp on the World Boxing Council’s 160-pound championship.

Barkley defied expectations to rise above his athletic limitations and wrest glory in Ring magazine’s upset of the year. His journey through the fightgame would involve further triumphs, with Iran joining a select club of three-weight world titlists, but the troughs came fast and deep.

Barkley announced his retirement in 1999, concluding with a résumé of 43-19-1 (27 knockouts) but closed out his career fighting for paltry paydays in obscure venues, while winning just one of his final nine outings.

After his last official contest he allowed his weight to balloon nearly a hundred pounds above the fighting limit of his prime. But today he appears leaner than in recent years, probably scaling close to 220. His speech is clear and he makes prolonged, direct eye contact when asserting his desire to compete against the best fighters of the current era.

“My body has had a rest. I’m ready to go,” he maintains. “I want to fight at cruiserweight [200 pounds]. I hear Bernard Hopkins wants an opponent. Why not fight me?”

A bout against Hopkins, one of the pound-for-pound elite, would never gain approval with a credible athletic commission, and it’s probable that Barkley would be denied a licence regardless of his competition.

“In Iran’s mind he can beat anyone out there now,” says Bruce Silverglade, owner of Gleason’s Gym. “He trains here every day. I don’t recommend that he fight again. He realizes he needs to get in shape if he wants to get licensed to fight, but I don’t believe anyone will licence him in New York. But that won’t stop him from fighting. Someone will licence him somewhere.”

Various media outlets, including the Times of London, reported that in 2006 Barkley engaged in an unsanctioned heavyweight bout in Aruba against a young prospect for $7,000. Barkley purportedly knocked his opponent unconscious in the second round.  Yet when questioned about the event today, Barkley insists that the fight took place over ten years ago, upholding that he has not fought since 1999.

While it may seem that he is simply confusing the fight’s date, a more likely explanation is that he wants to disregard the Aruba debacle, thus distancing himself from the desperate pug that would fight anywhere for a paycheck. 

Barkley’s aggressive boxing style routinely saw him absorb heavy blows in exchange for his own slashing hooks and uppercuts, lending credence to his moniker “The Blade”. In his prime he fought with such relentlessness that sportswriter Pat Putnam described him as “an angry brawler who jumps in an opponent’s face and hangs on the way a Doberman hangs on to a piece of red meat”.

His fearsome reputation was enhanced by a furious march to the ring, while sporting a dark hooded robe and menacing scowl, all against the backdrop of past membership with the notoriously vicious Black Spades street gang. Such prominent factors combined to cultivate an image as a belligerent street thug.

***

“I hope you’re in shape,” Barkley says as we exit the train at 138th street station. “We got to run if we want to make the next train to the Bronx.”

As Barkley hurries from one side of the platform to the next he exudes glimpses of his infamous ringwalk. With his head down and shoulders slumped forward he breaks into a hasty trot towards the train.

“I like taking the subway,” he says as the intense heat inside the carriage spawns beads of sweat on his shiny forehead. “I don’t need a car. I’ve got everything I need here. I used to have a lot of things, like apartments and cars. But the money went away. You have to pay your trainer, pay your manager, then pay Uncle Sam [taxes]. I had two divorces and four kids. After that, there’s not much left.”

Barkley at first seems philosophical about his current predicament, but the more he talks about the business of boxing, the more agitated he becomes.

“My managers weren’t good,” he insists, jabbing the air with his finger to emphasize an annoyance with the subject. “One of them didn’t even know the business. I had to teach him about it. I taught him everything he knew. Promoters only gave me enough money to pacify me. I got half a million dollars for my big fights. Guys I beat got millions more. When I start fighting again my old promoters are gonna have to pay me big money. Top Rank better pay me millions if they want to sign me.”

Top Rank, headed by Bob Arum, promoted Barkley through the high points of his career, but today the fighter has little affection for his former handlers. He claims the organization has ignored him in recent times, and failed to look after him when he won his world titles.

Barkley is aggrieved that the promoters failed to give him the customary easy first title defence and multi-million paychecks that other marquee champions received. “They put me in tough fights all the time and didn’t pay me what I deserved,” he says. Barkley’s succeeding fight after defeating Hearns was against the great Roberto Duran, a fight Iran lost by a close points verdict.

But much of his recent disdain for Top Rank comes from comments made by Arum in a 2007 piece in the New York Times.

“Iran never made Ray Leonard or Tommy Hearns-type money, but we did put him in a number of big-money fights,” Arum told the Times. “He just kept giving all of it back to the casinos, and that’s the real story. We tried to stop him, but there was just no talking to Iran at that time.”

“They said I gambled my money away, but that’s not true,” counters Barkley. “I didn’t gamble that much. I take some of the blame, but not all of it.”

Barkley never possessed matinée idol looks and didn’t attempt to be the type of sweet-natured sports star that middle America could take to their hearts. Consequently, he was not a fighter that major promotional outfits would invest millions of dollars to market. Yet Top Rank did take Barkley from obscurity and matched him with Hearns, even if it was as a sacrificial opponent.

“Before I signed with Top Rank, Arum told me that if I sign with them he’d get me a world title shot,” recalls Barkley before pausing.

“I suppose he did what he said he’d do at the time,” he adds.

The loss to Duran, in an exhausting battle widely recognized as the best fight of 1989, was followed by defeats to Michael Nunn and Nigel Benn; encounters in which Barkley believes outside forces conspired against him. Subsequent surgery to remove a cataract and repair a retinal tear in his left eye ate into Barkley’s finances, and when he returned to the ring he was written-off as a viable contender, leaving him to fight for four-figure purses against obscure opposition.

But his career was resurrected in 1992 when Top Rank provided him with an opportunity for redemption against super middleweight world titlist Darrin Van Horn. Barkley duly grasped the break with a second round knockout victory, which was followed by another title-winning performance in a rematch versus Hearns.  Yet the most lucrative bout of Barkley’s career, versus James Toney, also represented its zenith when he earned a million dollars for receiving a systematic beatdown that ended his standing as a high-calibre prizefighter.

Twenty-five more official contests followed for rather pitiable monetary rewards in American states with lax athletic commissions and distant international locations such as Australia and Finland.

Regardless of his latter form, boxing analysts generally remember Barkley as an exciting fighter that was on the cusp of elite status.

“Iran Barkley was somewhere in between being real skilled and a brawler,” says broadcaster Al Bernstein, who provided television commentary for Barkley’s biggest bouts. “He just wanted to get opponents out of there. But he was not great defensively and overall he was just short of greatness. But if he was fighting today he’d definitely have a world championship.”

When Bernstein alludes to Barkley fighting today, he is referencing Iran Barkley in his athletic prime, not the middle-aged version.

As Barkley continues to talk of a comeback, his motive for resuming his career sways from regaining recognition as a champion to reclaiming the vast sums of money he lost. Even phone bills pose a problem these days as late payments resulted in his service being temporarily cut off last month. In recent years he has had short stints as a car salesman and a shop assistant, but suggestions he should earn a living away from the ring are sharply rebutted.

“My job is fighting. If you’re in shape and you feel good, you can do your job. They can’t say I’m too old. That’s like me saying someone is too old to be a doctor,” he contends, as the increasing volume of his voice draws attention from passengers on the train. “You don’t fill a job application to be in this sport. You have to be blessed to be able to do this sport. God has to give you a talent to do it.”

Barkley also refutes the idea of being a trainer to promising boxers. His pride will not allow him to play the supporting role to a fighter that may never achieve excellence.

“I’m not going to wait around every day for some guy who might not even make it,” he says.

Efforts for establishing proper support structures for former fighters have met with little success, with retirees like Barkley left without a pension or medical insurance. But Barkley has recently been fuelled with a new optimism.

“With [Barack] Obama as president, things will get done,” he predicts. “John McCain was trying to pass measures for ex-fighters years ago, but he’ll have more success with Obama in power.”

While the system that regulates boxing can partially be blamed for Barkley’s current financial woes, the pride and single-mindedness that saw him withstand Hearns’ onslaughts have never diminished, and prevent him from settling into a subordinate role in society. He spent countless hours in the gym soaking up punches while being told that “quitting is for losers”. A man cannot be expected to rebuff decades of such conditioning.

He promises to soldier on, expressing a yearning to once again rise above his surroundings. But it is not just the security and limousines that he misses; he pines for the chance to once again help out his community.

***

“This is where it all happens,” pronounces Barkley, breaking into a broad grin as he climbs the steps from the subway toward the daylight of the South Bronx.

“I’ve been here in the Patterson projects nearly all my life. I lived in Hackensack [New Jersey] for a while [and] I was in the Middle East when my Dad [a military serviceman] was stationed there [in Iran]. That’s how I got my name. But I didn’t stay there too long, not long enough to learn Arabic,” he quips, letting out a distinctive chuckle as he walks along 143rd street.

The Patterson housing projects are alive with activity as local youths play basketball and the older residents take advantage of the warm sunshine. There is a heavy police presence on the streets, giving credence to Barkley’s labelling of the neighbourhood as “Gaddafi-land”; referencing the Libyan terrorist Mummar al-Gaddafi in relation to the violent street crime that persists in the New York borough.

“Just last night a young guy was shot in the face here. The kids are obsessed with guns these days,” he laments, shaking his head in bewilderment at the hostility.

Despite the threat of violence in the area, Barkley seems peaceful in his familiar environs, jovially greeting the numerous residents that salute him as “champ”.

He draws attention to a faded mural on the wall. “That’s me right there,” he remarks, while unwrapping a piece of Starburst candy and admiring his dulled portrait. “They painted that for me in the 1980s. When I get the money I’m gonna get it touched up, and this time they’ll put my belts in the picture.”

A lot has changed since that mural provided an accurate depiction of Barkley.  In the mid-nineties Barkley’s father and two brothers died of terminal illnesses, while in 2000 he lost his mother, Georgia, who Barkley attributes as his “inspiration that put him on the right track with God.” He now lives with his sister in a housing block directly opposite the apartment in which he grew up.

Standing beside Barkley’s dulled mural is Bimbo, a 60-year-old life-long resident of the Patterson projects. Bimbo was involved in the planning of a youth event to be held in the neighbourhood on this evening, but a lack of resources meant the occasion could not go ahead.

“Back in the day Iran would have paid for something like this,” recalls Bimbo. “But today there’s no community spirit, no one to keep the community together.”

“I used to make these [events] happen,” says Barkley, looking despondently at a pack of squirrels rummaging through an over-flowing garbage can. “We would have had a tent, music, everything right here. I gave a lot to the community, but not everyone remembers when you do good things.”

But many people within the boxing industry still recognize Barkley’s social awareness.

“He’d give you the shirt off his back,” says Bruce Silverglade. “He has a heart of gold. I don’t know where his money went, but he always helped people out. Even today he’s always willing to talk at hostels and to kids.”

“Iran is a glass half full type of guy,” adds Bernstein. “That’s what has sustained him through his difficulties.”

***

As he leaves the projects Barkley realizes he has forgotten something. He turns around and approaches a man at the street corner.

“Hey, do you know the lottery numbers?” inquires Barkley.

“Not good, they ended in 666,” is the reply.

“Damn. Still, it’s worth doing [the numbers],” Barkley explains. “For just a few dollars I can get lucky and win thousands.”

Barkley’s financial success expired a long time ago. Fighting will not bring it back. And deep down he must know that. As the day progresses his rhetoric about resuming a fighting career eases. His lambasting of promoters and challenges to current fighters dissipate from conversation. Instead he seems happier to talk about his plans for the weekend: to go to church and then into the city for some dancing.

“I like going to church. Some people have nasty spirits and that can rub off on you sometimes,” he admits. “I’m not a selfish person. I still pray on my hands and knees giving thanks for what I’ve got.”

Ronan Keenan can be contacted at ronankeenan@yahoo.com

Articles of 2009

UFC 108 Rashad Evans vs. Thiago Silva

Published

on

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.

Continue Reading

Articles of 2009

Ten Boxing Wishes For 2010

Published

on

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.

Continue Reading

Articles of 2009

A Very Special New Year's Day Column

Published

on

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.”

Continue Reading

Trending