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Articles of 2009

Roy Jones' Aging Captain Hook Returns To Neverland



Some years back, when Roy Jones Jr. was still Roy Jones Jr. – which is to say so supremely talented that he scarcely had been touched by opponents’ fists – I posed to him a hypothetical question about how he might react when all those punches that had previously missed the mark started to connect. How would an older, slower RJ respond if he ever found himself cut up, lumped up, climbing off the deck and trailing on the scorecards? Would he reach deep inside himself and find that extra spark to rally to an improbable victory? Or would he fold like a tent when confronted with the realization that he, too, is a fallible human being as capable of being thrashed as any fighter on a given night?

Jones considered the matter as quizzically as he might the possibility of Martians landing in Pensacola, Fla., and transporting him to the red planet for scientific experimentation. Sure, such a thing was possible. It just was highly unlikely.

“I don’t know how I’d react,” Jones finally said, the sort of statement that never could emanate from the puffy lips of a Matthew Saad Muhammad or the late Arturo Gatti. “I haven’t been in that position. I hope I never am, and I don’t think I ever will be.”

At that particular moment in time, the still-at-the-top-of-his-game Roy Jones Jr.’s view of his future in boxing was as bright and confident as had been his past: he would continue to dazzle any designated victim unfortunate enough to be paired with him. He had the machine gun, the no-hopers drawing the short straw in the other corner had cap pistols. Thus had it ever been and always would be. No doubt the young Sugar Ray Robinson and the young Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali felt the same way when they were at the zenith of their powers.

But fighters are not like Benjamin Button. Even the best of the best don’t become more youthful, virile and imposing as the pages of the calendar inexorably turn. The natural laws of diminishing returns mandate that reflexes slow, legs become heavy and the toll of the most brutal of athletic professions eventually begins to be revealed.

Roy Jones Jr., now 40, has more than a little practical experience when it comes to having his ass kicked. Oh, sure, he had been saddled with his first loss way back on March 21, 1997, but that came on a ninth-round disqualification in a bout he was winning, against Montell Griffin, when he whacked Griffin after he already had knocked him down. But Jones followed that error in judgment with a first-round blowout of Griffin a little less than five months later, reassuring fight fans that the most physically gifted fighter of the past quarter-century was still invincible, or nearly so.
Flash forward seven years from the Griffin rematch and the Jones who called to mind the glorious primes of Robinson and Ali was absent during a three-bout losing streak in 2004-05 in which he lost on a one-punch, second-round knockout to Antonio Tarver, was drubbed unconscious in nine rounds by Glen Johnson, and easily outpointed over 12 rounds by Tarver. Now Jones knew what it felt like to be lumped up and knocked down. The cutting lesson was administered on Nov. 8 of last year, when Joe Calzaghe so bloodied the previously ungashed Jones in Madison Square Garden that you’d have thought someone had opened spigots in his facial veins.

So what did Jones learn from all of this?

If his public pronouncements are to be believed, the Jones (53-5, 39 KOs) who takes on Jeff “Left Hook” Lacy (25-2, 17 KOs) in a scheduled 12-rounder Aug. 15 at the Mississippi Gulf Coast Coliseum, has retained most if not all of his colossal ego, and, finally answering in the affirmative to the question I posed to him so long ago, he now believes he has that Saad Muhammad, Gatti-like quality that will enable him to elevate his performance when the action gets really hot and heavy.

In keeping with the matchup’s theme, Jones, ever the showman, arrived at a press conference earlier this week with a plumed hat, flowing wig, ornate breastcoat and curved, plastic hook on his left hand. It was a sight gag straight out of Peter Pan, but it served the purpose of illustrating Jones’ contention that, despite Lacy’s nickname, it was he who packed the better, more damaging left hook.

“I am a hooker,” Jones preened. “I got the best left hook in the business. I dressed up as Captain Hook, so you know I ain’t playing about my hook.”

Hey, we get it. Anybody who saw Jones drill Vinny Pazienza with eight consecutive hooks, all delivered within a time frame of about two eye-blinks, knows that punch is his weapon of choice.

If only Jones had left it at that. But in explaining why he had selected Lacy, a former IBF super middleweight champion, as the next opponent on his comeback trail, the reason cited rang as hollow as an empty oil drum.

“I ain’t never fought a Smokin’ Joe Frazier,” Jones went on. “That’s why this is the most intriguing thing to me in the world.

“You know, I felt Muhammad Ali was the greatest who ever did it. I still do think that. He’s my favorite of all time.

“I thought his best and favorite opponent was Joe Frazier. I never had a Joe Frazier prototype in my face. Now I got one. I can’t wait to get out there and have the time of my life.”
Apart from the fact that anyone comparing Jeff Lacy to Joe Frazier should have his mouth washed out with soap, Jones’ prattling to the media was so full of contradictions that you had to wonder: had those Martians made off with the real Roy Jones Jr. and left some cyborg in his place? For one thing, if you ask Ali how much fun he had in his three wars of attrition with Frazier, he’d probably tell you that it was as enjoyable as nonstop waterboarding at Guantanamo, flaming bamboo shoot under the fingernails and an interminable stay in a medieval torture dungeon. Whether Lacy can put Jones to that sort of acid test remains to be seen, but the guess here is that he can’t and he won’t. In this dimming phase of Jones’ career, he selects opponents with care, the only requirements being that they have name-recognition value, a decent record and minimal chance to do unto him what Tarver, Johnson and Calzaghe did.

That Lacy also was beaten lopsided by Calzaghe probably was more of a determining factor in his selection by Jones than was Lacy’s calling-out of Jones on March 21, when Jones stopped Omar Sheika in five rounds before the obligatory adoring home crowd at the Pensacola Civic Center.
“All it takes in boxing is if you got a decent name,” Jones said of Lacy’s relatively thin credentials for participating in a pay-per-view fight with a suggested retail price of $34.95. “Jeff ain’t got but two losses. If you got a decent name, then it’s legitimate and it’s something that people want to see.

“All it takes is to say the word. That’s how I been my whole career. Just say when. You know that. Everybody knows that about me. It don’t matter what weight you are, if you want to fight me, just say when and where and I will be there. I’m the easiest person in the world to make a fight with.”

Bernard Hopkins and Dariusz Michalczewski are just two of the fighters who have been saying when and where for years, but those bouts never got made. In Hopkins’ case, though, it must be said that there is no mathematical formula for paying both B-Hop and RJ the 66 2/3 percent of the available revenues they’d demand and getting a deal done. When gargantuan egos collide, the result generally is a lot of talk and no action.
Lacy is getting his shot at Jones because he’s perceived as a non-threat and because he’s willing to take short money. Also presumably fitting that description is 36-year-old Australian Danny Green (26-3, 23 KOs), who fights Argentina’s Julio Cesar Dominguez (20-4-1, 14 KOs) on the Jones-Lacy undercard. Green has expressed interest in taking on Jones Down Under, should both get past their Aug. 15 low hurdles.

“Danny Green is about to fight for the vacant IBO cruiserweight title and I don’t have a cruiserweight title,” Jones said when asked if Green is apt to be next on his dance card. “By him doing that, it definitely sounds very intriguing to me to go to Australia and try to lift that off his hands, if he gets it.”

Should that happen, it would mark the first time Jones – who expressed zero interest in taking on Michalczewski in Europe, where the live gate undoubtedly would have been larger – has fought as a professional outside the United States.

“It took a long time for me to get over ’88,” Jones said of his disappointment at having to settle for the silver medal at the Seoul Olympics, where he punched South Korea’s Park Si-Hun lopsided, only to be shafted by the judges. “Now a guy from Kazakhstan (Beibut Shumenov) wants to fight me. He ain’t nothing but 8-0, and he wants to pay me money to go over there and fight him. Do y’all really know what he’s asking for? Do you really want war way over there in Kazakhstan?

“But, man, I don’t know. My business might be out of the country right now.”

Especially if that business is against a fighter with limited experience who is willing to pony up big bucks, or whatever the currency equivalent is in Kazakhstan, to share a ring with even the shadow of the magnificent fighter Roy Jones Jr. once was.

Realities change, and so do the questions of media inquisitors. Has Jones, like the young Ali an athletic freak of nature who went against all the established fundamentals of boxing, such as dropping your hands to your sides and leaning straight back, made adjustments to compensate for his advanced years and slower reaction time?

“Yeah, I had to make a big adjustment,” Jones said. “My big adjustment was I had to throw that safe sh*t out the window. I had started to fight with my hands up and stuff, and that started getting me knocked out. So you know what? That’s wrong for me. That does not work for me. I am not an orthodox type of a fighter.

“With my hands up, I am no good. That is not what I was put here to do. I had to go back, re-drop my hands, get ’em back down to my side, get my mouthpiece back out so I can stick my tongue at people and piss ’em off before I knock ’em out. That’s what I used to do and that’s what I was best at.”

Taking another tack, I asked Jones if he had contemplated what it must be like for older athletes like Ken Griffey Jr. and Brett Favre, who once had been the very best in their respective sports, to acknowledge that they no longer are what they had been. Has Jones also had to make that sort of mental adjustment, to face the remainder of his life and career with the realization that even the greatest athletes eventually must settle for being something less?

“When you start thinking like that, you start making yourself less,” Jones said with typical bravado. “Maybe I am still the guy I used to be. I just thought I wasn’t because people said I wasn’t. Maybe I believed them for a little while and that’s where I made my mistake.

“Brett Favre still got to be Brett Favre. If he ain’t Brett Favre, it ain’t doing him no good to go out there. He needs to go home if he can’t be Brett Favre.

“What it was, I started thinking I was getting to be too old to be Roy Jones. I thought I didn’t have the energy. But if I don’t think I can be Roy Jones, I shouldn’t be in boxing. I know right now I still got everything it takes to be Roy Jones.”

It is that  Peter Pan philosophy – a wish to forever remain in Neverland – that eventually takes down every athlete who looks in the mirror and can’t see the wrinkles and laugh lines, but just the unmarked face of a glorious prime. Jones’ Captain Hook should remember that the fictional version created by Sir J.M. Barrie was forever trailed by the crocodile with the ticking clock in its belly, the same croc that chomped off the hand that wears the hook. That voracious reptile so liked the taste of Captain Hook’s flesh, it was willing to bide its time until the next feeding.

Here’s hoping that Roy Jones Jr., whose not-so-secret fear was that he might one day wind up like his friend, the blind, brain-damaged Gerald McClellan, never finds himself locked in mortal combat with an actual Joe Frazier equivalent.

Articles of 2009

UFC 108 Rashad Evans vs. Thiago Silva



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



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 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



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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