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Articles of 2009

Flash Forward : And the 2011 SSWBC Winner Is….

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A LAND OF COMMON SENSE – Showtime and multiple promotional entities unveiled their already much appreciated outline of what could be another bolstering boost for the industry when the “Super Six World Boxing Classic” was formally announced Monday. The six participants introduced comprise a strong enough field to legitimize the format's mission of establishing an undisputed 168 pound division kingpin.

The six-pack of primo performers, three from the US and three from Europe, almost guarantees most of the fights will be very interesting. Over the approximately two year punching project, audiences can get further HD insight into each personality in what immediately seems like the best scenario in the history of the division.

Only Carl Froch and Jermain Taylor have faced others in the draw, when Froch rallied to a come from behind final round stoppage over Taylor for the WBC title. Other than that, it's uncharted territory at the top of the hill for everyone involved.

The point system used to determine a fighter's relative position gives 2 points for a win (with an extra point for knockouts), and 1 point for a draw.

If the tournament goes safety first and develops into cases of fighters going for sure points and fighting “not to lose,”the odds of more than a couple draws happening over the projected span of a definitive dozen duke outs are around 50-50. A common philosophy of going for the knockout seems more likely at the start.

While there are always surprises possible, here's the call on what to expect through the series' conclusion, currently scheduled to wrap up around May of 2011.

One fighter will have to be replaced before the tournament's second stage begins. One decision will be controversial enough to prompt a serious review and possibly mandated rematch.

But let's not spoil any surprises. We'll proceed as the tournament is currently laid out. Recent personal predictions put this in the “every blind hog gets an ear of corn sometime” sweepstakes.

Each entrant will be lined up to meet three different opponents over “Group Stages”. After those preliminary nine lives have been cataloged, the fistic final four with the most points go on, which leads us to yet unspecified bracketology for the entire tournament, with final match ups to be determined by previous tournament fight results.

The series kicks off on October 10 in a twin-site broadcast, opening with 2004 US Olympic bronze medalist Andre Dirrell, 18-0 (13) meeting hometown hero Froch, 25-0 (20) in his backyard of Manchester, UK. That kickoff will be followed by Arthur Abraham's home court clash with Taylor, set for a new O2 Arena on the outer fringes of Berlin.

Defending WBC titlist Froch will be faced with a considerable task in how well can get through Dirrell's southpaw stance, and won't solve the puzzle until it's too late. Dirrell will present him with enough angles to nullify Froch's aggression. Dirrell should be able to slickly stick his way to a controversial decision. Froch will press all the action and mount a rally down the stretch but Dirrell will render most of the assault ineffective, and hang on for a close, perhaps split-decision win.

The tourney's first big surprise comes when Taylor, 28-3-1 (17), shocks Abraham in a toe to toe whapathon that should spell a win for the visitor but results in Taylor having to settle for a draw. Taylor charges out, more psyched up to be fighting in Germany than in Arkansas, and almost stops Abraham before three rounds are completed, in one-sided action that might have been halted elsewhere. Abraham, 30-0 (24) will rally and get Taylor in serious trouble, but Taylor will look bigger and stronger overall. Scoring will be too questionable to grant Taylor the deserved upset, but Abraham, who gave up his IBF 160 lb laurels prior to participating, will no longer be one of the tournament favorites.

The remaining first round fight is set to commence on November 7th as WBA kingpin and a pre-tournament favorite Mikkel Kessler, 41-1 (31) defends against '04 Olympic gold medalist Andre Ward, 19-0 (12) in Ward's Oakland stomping grounds. At 25, Ward is the youngest competitor in the tournament, but his Olympic experience alone takes care of that. Ward heard criticism that he was overly cautious and took too long to dispose of a faded Edison Miranda, but since that win helped him here, you can't question his results.

That approach works like a dream for Ward against the touted Kessler, who may have let rust settle in after his disappointment against Joe Calzaghe. Ward will play the unwilling warrior and pick a few moments to score points, while Kessler sleepwalks just enough to let a probable victory slip away.

At the end of the first round grouping the scores will be:
Dirrell and Ward 2
Taylor and Abraham 1
Froch and Kessler 0

The initial 2010 Group Stage should see Abraham versus Dirrell at a US location in January. Abraham, embarrassed by the near debacle against Taylor, rebounds by showing up in a career best form and steamrolls Dirrell around the ring. Dirrell manages to flop his way to safety enough to make the final bell in a sloppy but entertaining scrap. Except for a couple early frames where Abraham is too reckless trying to start faster, it's pretty much a shutout for the German visitor.

For Froch's and Kessler's subsequent date, probably March somewhere in Europe, Denmark may host since word is UK television funding is at a minimal stage lately. That could also mean one of the fight friendly flagships of German TV will broadcast another big fight in Deutschland. Location becomes a footnote formality as Kessler and Froch, both smarting from earlier detours, will engage in what becomes the series' first true classic.

Kessler weathers an early storm after they trade splattering knockdowns and comes back to leave Froch collapsed and drooling on the strands. The fight last less than six rounds. Both men are barely conscious of who and where they are after the fight.

Not too long into springtime after that, Taylor and Ward meet stateside for what becomes a sloppy slog in hugland. Ward abandons any offense as Taylor presses the action just enough to take an unpopular decision as both fighters look confused and unmotivated.

Scoring after second Group Stages:

Abraham, Kessler and Taylor 3
Dirrell and Ward 2
Froch 0

The summer session/third Group Stage unfolds like this:

Ward – Dirrell is a chess match with pillows and by far the most lackluster fight of the tournament until the final few rounds. Both men wake up and create highlight reel exchanges, but Ward pocketed every point in the first half of the contest and has a lead he does not relinquish, despite Dirrell emerging as a go-for-broke brawler, who ironically ends up a fan favorite.

Froch has the summertime blues against Abraham at a European venue, once again probably near Abraham's TV dollar driveway. Faithful fans pack the building and this is the kind of fight “King Arthur” likes, with a willing foe that's right in front of him. Froch knows he only has one chance and tries to take a shootout. He lands some clean shots early that might have done something on another night in another place, but tonight Abraham is a tank and rolls over Froch before the 9th.

Back on American shores, Kessler meets Taylor in a battle of current leaders.  Taylor looks ready when he starts on his toes and leads early behind the jab, but slowly and surely Kessler just grinds Taylor up in a fight that starts wild then slows down when Taylor runs out of gas by the 10th. It's all Taylor can do to last the distance and deny Kessler a crucial KO point.

So, after the completed primary slugging sessions are concluded, the point stand is at:

Abraham 6
Kessler 5
Ward 4
Taylor 3                

which eliminates Dirrell with 2 points and Froch with 0.

This will lead to January 2011, a new duking decade (with boxing still alive and well, big surprise) and a pair of opening group rematches in which familiarity breeds concussive contempt.

Abraham is the only man among three other starters to remain undefeated, but most observers feel that slate should be different after the first fight with Taylor. Now, Abraham tries to make a justifying statement, and this time it's Taylor who's in deep trouble early in their second fight. For six rounds it looks like Abraham is close to a knockout, but Taylor seems to grow before the eyes of the crowd and what first seemed like glancing gloves start to land hard and straight on Abraham's kisser. Abraham suddenly looks vulnerable and Taylor pounces with a fabulous five punch flurry that leaves Abraham defenseless for a stunning TKO in the 11th.

Kessler and Ward meet a weekend later, with the opposite type result as both play it safe while the crowd boos. Ward stays on his toes and Kessler tries to follow suit. Kessler can't land many punches, while Ward doesn't throw many that are more than defensive jabs. Ward boxes well enough to build a slim lead on the scorecards initially, but his lack of offense costs him as Kessler keeps marching forward without cutting off the ring and squeaks by to earn an uninspired split-decision by one point.

Which brings us to our championship, sometime in the summer of '11. It's going to be Jermain Taylor against Mikkel Kessler in a surprising, anyone's fight type thriller that becomes a fan favorite and cements the tournament's appeal. The location is not NY or Vegas but Copenhagen, which lights up for the event.

Both teams form a strategy based on waiting the other guy out. Both training camps spend months practicing well conditioned pacing that should get them ready to remain fresh, unscarred, and set to fire away and capture the crown during the anticipated final three rounds, or roughly the closing nine minutes of the tournament.

Instead, each man gets his bell rung immediately in the opening exchange and abandons those plans. There are frequent clinches, but action is back, forth, and furious. Taylor jumps ahead but Kessler catches up. The defining difference occurs around the tenth frame while they're wrestling against the ropes, when a knockdown is ruled against Taylor that looks to many like a slip.

That point is crucial as Kessler captures the 168 pound title with a dramatic split decision that has global fans asking for more, even if it means putting the championship on hold for another round robin.

Time flies when you're having fun.

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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