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Articles of 2009

Alexis Arguello: A Certified All-Time Great

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With the recent passing of former featherweight, junior lightweight and lightweight champ Alexis Arguello, it's the right time to examine and detail exactly what certifies him as being one of boxing's all-time great pound-for-pound champions and fighters.

There are basically only two ways to judge a fighter's true greatness. The truly great fighters like Alexis Arguello measure at the top in both. The first being the level of opposition the fighter in question faced and defeated, and the second is what he brought to the ring and could do as a fighter. A great skill-set obviously is imperative but not the be all-end all. There's been an overload of fighters who possessed a great skill-set that aren't close to or ever will be considered all-time greats.

With the exception of former heavyweight champion Joe Louis and former welterweight champ Donald Curry, Alexis Arguello is the most faultless fighter I ever saw. They were textbook boxers who were technically proficent in all that they did. He was also rare in that he had legitimate knockout power in three different punches, his right cross and his left-hook and his uppercut. Many of his opponents' faces looked as though they'd gone through a meat grinder after only being touched by him a few times.

Arguello was a boxer-puncher who liked to push the fight. Alexis was the prototype boxer-puncher, and at 5'10″, he was exceptionally tall for a fighter who weighed under 140 pounds. As a fighter he exhibited tremendous fundamentals and basics. Like a little Joe Louis, he threw straight punches while always keeping his chin down and his hands up with his elbows in tight. Arguello was also economical with his punch output and seldom threw wild punches or wasted many of them. And once he let his hands go they usually found their target.

One difference between Louis, Curry and Arguello was Alexis's hook and uppercut had a more looping arc to them. Like Louis, Alexis also had dynamite in both hands and was dangerous inside and outside. Arguello fought a somewhat pressure style and was the epitome of being an effective aggressor. He didn't pressure his opponents like a Frazier or Duran, it was more a subtle type pressure like Louis.

Another thing Arguello shared with Louis was that they were vulnerable versus fighters who had fast feet. That's not saying they couldn't beat fighters with good movement. I'm simply clarifying that fighters who moved against him usually fared the best and went a little deeper into the fight. Fighters who brought the fight to Arguello are the ones who he defeated in the most devastating fashion. Stepping to Arguello was suicide and left his opponents in perfect range to get nailed at the end of his straight punches on the way in. He never lost to a single fighter who took the fight to him from bell-to-bell. Aaron Pryor didn't even pressure him with regularity and fought aggressively only in spurts.

Alexis Arguello had a great chin and was never really hurt until he fought Aaron Pryor at junior welterweight. Pryor was a beast physically and punched like a strong welterweight. During his title reign Arguello could fight at any pace and his stamina was never an issue, as evidenced by his two wars with Pryor where both fighters fought at a non-stop pace for 14 and 10 rounds.

Alexis Arguello lost his pro debut at age 16 but would go on to win world titles in three separate weight divisions. After running off 40 straight wins he challenged WBA featherweight champ Ernest Marcel and lost a unanimous decision to the more experienced Marcel. Soon after beating Arguello, Marcel retired and the hard punching Mexican Ruben Olivares won Marcel's vacated title.

On November 23, 1974 in his first fight in the United States, Arguello won the WBA featherweight title with a 13th round knockout of Ruben Olivares. After making four defenses of the featherweight title, Arguello relinquished it. In his fifth fight at junior lightweight he fought WBC champ Alfredo Escalera. Arguello stopped Escalera in 13 brutal rounds to capture the title. After making three defenses of the title, Arguello fought Escalera again and stopped him in the 13th round.

Alfredo Escalera was an outstanding fighter who had made 10 successful title defenses before facing Arguello. He was a clever boxer who threw slashing punches and combinations. Yet in two fights versus Arguello he never figured him out. In their rematch when Escalera tried to lay back and counter, Arguello beat him with the jab and busted his face up. When Escalera raised his hands Arguello administered a brutal body attack. After being pushed to the brink Escalera desperetely went after Arguello hoping to stabilize and hold him off. Once Arguello sensed Escalera's predictament, he stepped away and picked his shots, nearly butchering him as he attempted to press forward. When Escalera was just about slowed to a walk, Arguello set him up and stopped him with a beautiful left-hook that he threw off his lead jab.

In total Arguello would defend the junior lightweight title eight times, more than any other title he held. And many respected boxing historians consider Arguello the greatest junior lightweight in boxing history, something endorsed by this author. The list of fighters he defeated reads like a who's who list of outstanding fighters — the likes of Alfredo Escalera, Ruben Castillo, and future titleholders Bobby Chacon, Bazooka Limon and Rolando Navarette. In October of 1980, Arguello vacated the WBC junior lightweight title.

Eight months later he decisioned WBC lightweight champ Jim Watt to win his third title. Prior to fighting Arguello, Watt defeated Howard Davis Jr. and Sean O'Grady in title defenses, fighters who were a combined 86-1. After being soundly defeated by Arguello, Jim Watt retired from boxing and never fought again. In his first defense, Arguello stopped undefeated top contender Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini in the 14th round.

In his fight versus Mancini, Arguello fought like a a surgeon. Mancini was an attacking swarmer who had an upper body like a middleweight and threw 100 punches around. Ray's game plan was to jump on Arguello and overwhelm him physically. The problem was Arguello made him pay in a big way for attempting to get inside and work him over. Arguello's tight defense and sound basics enabled him to disrupt and block a lot of Mancini's big left-hooks and right hands. Arguello's straight left jabs and right crosses nailed Mancini repeatedly on the way in. Despite being very tough and determined, Mancini was slowed by Arguello's precision execution and by the 14th round didn't have much left to resist Arguello and succumbed after getting hit flush with perfectly placed and timed right hands.

After Mancini, Arguello made three more successful defenses of the lightweight title before vacating it, hoping to add a fourth title to his resume. On November 12, 1982, Arguello would attempt to win the junior welterweight title after fighting one time in his new division. His opponent was WBA junior welterweight champ Aaron Pryor, who was unquestionably the top 140-pound fighter in the world. Pryor should've been a two division champ at the least. Due to him being completely avoided during the infancy of his career fighting as a lightweight, he moved up to junior welterweight and challenged the great Antonio Cervantes for the WBA title.

On a beautiful night at the Orange Bowl in Miami, Pryor proved to be too much for Arguello. In a fight that ranks as one of history's best with both fighters dealing out a careers worth of punishment, Arguello couldn't overcome Pryor's speed and power and was stopped in the 14th round. Ten months later Arguello fought Pryor again and the rematch proved to be a virtual rerun with Pryor stopping Arguello in the 10th round. After failing a second time to capture the junior welterweight title Arguello retired.

Had Arguello taken the easy route he could've challenged one of the other alphabet title holders and won the title. However, Arguello was a real fighter inside and out and wanted to defeat the best fighter fighting in the junior welterweight division, and that was Aaron Pryor. Not only was Pryor clearly the bigger man, he also had a style that would've given Arguello trouble during any point in his career. Arguello was a structured fighter. On the other hand Pryor was unpredictable and broke every boxing 101 rule in the book.

Add to that, Pryor was the bigger, stronger and faster fighter. His in and out, up and down herky-jerky movement befuddled fighters like Arguello who pretty much did things the way fighters are supposed to do them. Add to that, he didn't see where a lot of the big shots he was getting hit with were coming from, he'd never beat Aaron Pryor.

Arguello would come out of retirement twice after losing the rematch to Pryor, fighting four times and winning three comeback fights suffering a decision loss in his last bout. Arguello retired with a career record of 82-8 (65) and was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1992.

Ring magazine rated Alexis Arguello as the top junior lightweight of all time in its all-time divisional ratings and among the 20 best fighters of the last 80 years in 2002, and among the 20 best punchers of all time in 2003.

Alexis Arguello never lost any one of the three titles he held–and this was at a time when there were less titles–in the ring. He relinquished them and moved up to the next challenge. Based on the most important criteria a great fighter can be judged on, quality of opposition met and defeated along with his overall ability to fight, Alexis Arguello is a certified all-time great and no-doubt one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in boxing history.

Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com

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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