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Articles of 2009

CHAMBERS: People Say Best U.S. Hope Is Arreola, I Say It’s Me”

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The Cold War presumably ended with the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, but another Berlin Wall of sorts has been erected in Germany, the nation where a raft of heavyweights from the onetime USSR are holding hostage all widely recognized versions of what used to be boxing’s most cherished title.

Ukraine’s Wladimir Klitschko retained his IBF and WBO straps last weekend in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, with a perfunctorily efficient 10th-round stoppage of Uzbekistan’s Ruslan Chagaev, the WBA champion “in recess,” whatever that means.

Those not disposed to pay homage to the younger of boxing’s two Klitschko brothers as the one, true king of the heavyweights probably give their allegiance to older bro Vitali, the WBC titlist. And for those who really like to march to the beat of a different drummer, there’s (no longer interim) WBA champ Nikolay Valuev, the 7-foot, 320-pound Russian bear who moves as ponderously as Frankenstein’s monster and has enough hair on his very broad back to qualify as one of his homeland’s national forests.

Consider this: Of the last 26 title bouts in which the aforementioned champions appeared (some as challengers), 15 were on German soil. Two others were in Switzerland, leaving only nine to be fought in these United States.

So what happened to that conga line of dominant American heavyweights, stretching back to the Marquess of Queensbury and San Francisco’s James J. Corbett as the first recognized champion of the gloved era?

Until recently, the only non-Americans to be globally recognized as the  real heavyweight champion were England’s Bob Fitzsimmons, Italy’s Primo Carnera, Sweden’s Ingemar Johansson and England’s Lennox Lewis, although splintered versions of the title went to Nigeria’s Samuel Peter, England’s Frank Bruno, South Africa’s Gerrie Coetzee and Francois Botha and, if you perceive a more recent party-crasher, the WBO, to be on an equal footing with the WBC, WBA and IBF, Italy’s Francesco Damiami, Nigeria’s Henry Akinwande, South Africa’s Corrie Sanders and England’s Michael Bentt and Herbie Hide.

But with inexorable shift toward the German-based Eastern Europeans who now rule the roost, American heavyweights have been as devalued as cars from Chrysler or General Motors are in comparison to their pricier counterparts from Mercedes-Benz, BMW and even Volkswagen.

All of which makes “Fast” Eddie Chambers, the Pittsburgh-born, Philadelphia-based heavyweight, a man on a mission as he and his team of U.S. dissidents head off on a quasi-secret mission behind enemy lines. Chambers (34-1, 18 KOs) takes on Russia’s Alexander Dimitrenko (29-0, 19 KOs) in a WBO elimination bout in Hamburg, Germany, on – oh, the irony — the Fourth of July. Should he emerge victorious (and he’s an underdog to do so), Chambers, a veteran of 18 appearances at that venerated mausoleum of a Philly fight club, Philadelphia’s Blue Horizon, becomes the mandatory challenger to the 6-6½, 240-pound Wladimir Klitschko.

Most consider Chambers to be on another suicide mission. (In his only other bout in Germany, on Jan. 26, 2008, in Berlin, he lost a 12-round, unanimous decision to Russia’s Alexander Povetkin.) But the undersized American with the quick hands and pedestrian power has a legacy to uphold, or at least to re-establish.

Maybe that’s why his trunks will bear the names of such legendary American heavyweight champions as Jack Johnson, Jack Dempsey, Rocky Marciano, Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield. The same guy who fought with a curious lack of urgency against Povetkin has been in the Pocono mountains preparing with patriotic fervor for his date with Dimitrenko, stoked by the history lessons imparted by his manager-trainer, Rob Murray Sr.

The objective, according to Murray, is for a smallish American with a relatively thin club-fighting resume to rise to previously unattained heights and take back a prize that rightfully has belonged in the USA for lengthy stretches of the past 100-plus years.

“We want to be heavyweight champion of the world, not just the heavyweight champion of Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, the state of Pennsylvania or even the United States,” Murray said with revival-tent enthusiasm. “To do that, we can’t just knock on the door. We have to kick it down.”

When Chambers knocked on that door against Povetkin, he did so without a palpable sense of urgency. Oh, sure, the American had his moments in the early going, but he seemed to ease up on the gas pedal in the middle and later rounds as Povetkin won a unanimous decision in an IBF eliminator that supposedly was to lead to a mandatory matchup with Wladimir Klitschko. As of yet, Klitschko and Povetkin have yet to square off.

To Murray, who learned cheesesteak-flavored tricks of the trade by observing such legendary Philadelphia trainers as Yank Durham and Sam Solomon, Chambers’ unhurried approach to the Povetkin fight was inexcusable.

A change in the corner clearly was called for, and Murray took over as Chambers’ trainer from Eddie Chambers Sr., who acquiesced to the request to step aside if it was in the best interests of his son.

With Murray as the chief second, the post-Povetkin Chambers has reeled off four consecutive victories, including, in his most recent outing, his most important win as a pro, a 10-round majority decision over former WBC heavyweight champ Samuel Peter.

Murray is, by nature, a dice-roller and risk-taker, which is why he agreed to put Chambers in against Peter for short money. “Fast Eddie” needed to take the EZ Pass route back to prime contention, not a leisurely Sunday drive down boxing’s back roads, and the only way to do that was to knock off one of the bigger names in the division.

The 6’1” Chambers, who some have speculated would be better off campaigning as a cruiserweight, weighed a career-high 223 pounds against Peter, who apparently trained at Dunkin’ Donuts and came in at an excessively fleshy 265.

But Chambers, 27, has decided that less is more in this potential breakthrough bout against the 6-7, 256-pound Dimitrenko, a pairing that was deemed unworthy of being shown on American television.

Murray used that alleged slight as a motivational tool to convince Chambers that it not only was a personal affront, but a figurative slap to the face of all of his boxing-loving countrymen.

Cue up the Star-Spangled Banner as we salute Old Glory.

“Do you think it’s right that this fight is just being shown on German TV?” Murray asks rhetorically, sounding like a Hatfield whose new shoes had been spat upon by a trans-Atlantic McCoy.

Chambers was down to 205 pounds last week, which, if he maintained that up to the official weigh-in, would be the lowest he’s been since he turned professional in 2000, although he expects to inch up into the 210-pound range as he tapers off in training.

“I have the ability to beat any heavyweight in the world, and this fight will prove it,” he said with the conviction of a man who had glimpsed into a crystal ball and liked what he saw.

Murray said the biggest problem Chambers encountered in his failed attempt to take down Povetkin was an inability to recognize the moment for what it was.

“He was prepared for a fight, but not  the  fight,” Murray said. “Nobody (in the corner) knew what buttons to push. If I had been there for the Povetkin fight, I would have pushed the right buttons.”

The buttons Murray is pushing now accentuate Chambers’ need for speed – getting in and out, greased-lightning combinations, making Dimitrenko feel as if he were being buzzed by a swarm of angry hornets – and the premise that American heavyweights get no-respect from these hulking Eastern Europeans with Bela Lugosi accents.

Chambers seems amenable to the sales pitch.

“I’m going over there to take the bull by the horns,” he vowed. “It won’t be like the Povetkin fight. I’m going to start strong and finish strong. I’m going to be strong in the middle, too.

“There’s no question of what I’m capable of doing. But talk doesn’t count for much. It’s all about getting it done. I have a lot to prove, not only to my doubters, but to the world.”

And the way to do that, Murray said, is to journey across the pond and make a statement that will oblige the suits at HBO and Showtime to recognize that there is a new sheriff in town, a relatively compact one outfitted in red, white and blue.

“No American heavyweight wants to fight in Germany,” Chambers said. “Hey, the Eastern Europeans apparently don’t want to fight Americans in the United States, for that matter. So somebody has to take a chance, and I guess I’m elected.

“A lot of people say the best U.S. hope is Chris Arreola. I disagree. I say it’s me.”

Murray likes what he’s hearing from Chambers, because it sends out the sort of positive vibe that, hopefully, will make skeptics forget that 51.4 percent of Fast Eddie’s bouts were in the Blue Horizon before small, albeit knowledgable, audiences. If there is such a thing as sparring-partner syndrome above which would-be champions must rise, so, too, is there a stigma that must be erased after having mostly fought in a club venue more familiar to the ham-and-egg set than the caviar-and-filet mignon elite.

Never let it be said that Murray eases up in his attempts to keep Chambers’ confidence in good repair.

“Eddie Chambers is the most talented athlete I have been involved with, and I was involved with Bernard Hopkins earlier in his career,” Murray said. “Now, Bernard Hopkins was a great student. He soaked up instruction like a sponge. But as far as raw talent, Eddie is even ahead of Bernard.”

We shall see. Maybe Chambers has the goods to reveal himself as the best of the American heavyweights. Maybe it’s the harder-punching Arreola, another member of the Goossen Tutor promotional stable who has a disturbing propensity for coming in, if not exactly fat, then at least pudgy. Maybe it’s Kevin “Kingpin” Johnson or Brian Minto or Jason Estrada or Chazz Witherspoon. Maybe it’s retreads like Ray Austin or Lamon Brewster or James Toney or John Ruiz or Hasim Rahman or even Holyfield, who’s been around long enough to have had a ringside seat for Cain vs. Abel.

More likely, it’s none of the above.

But while you’re waiting for America’s next pugilistic prophet to wander in from the desert, you can do this on the Fourth of July: grill some hamburgers and hot dogs, hit the beach, take in a ballgame, set off firecrackers and, if it’s in your video library, watch Rocky IV and again thrill to the sight of another scaled-down Philadelphia heavyweight chop down massive Russian Ivan Drago.

Who knows? Maybe on the USA’s 233rd birthday, Eddie Chambers can do in real-life what Rocky did in reel-life.

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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