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Articles of 2009

A Quarter-Century Later, '84 Olympians Take Curtain Call



Some will tell you it is always best to live in the moment, that it is fruitless and counter-productive to dwell on the past or to fixate on what the future might hold. But proponents of a live-for-today philosophy fail to understand basic human nature: those who have known glory are naturally hesitant to let go of their memories of what was, and those who have never experienced some great, defining moment can’t help but believe that it is just around the next corner.

For the winningest United States Olympic boxing team ever – the 1984 team that competed in Los Angeles claimed 11 total medals and nine golds, both records – the past and the future will merge on Aug. 15, when most surviving members of that juggernaut gather at the Atlanta Marriott Century Center to recall their time together and to again soak up the adulation that for many began to slip away almost from the moment their status as national heroes was stamped with an expiration date.

Now middle-aged men beset with the same sort of problems that afflict so many others who never took a turn in the spotlight, the ’84 Olympians will be held up as examples of what can happen when fate, luck and talent converge at a particular moment in time to produce magic.

“Those guys made history together,” said Xavier Biggs, the proprietor of a Decatur, Ga., boxing gym, older brother of super heavyweight gold medalist Tyrell Biggs and the reunion organizer. “They need people to remember and appreciate what they accomplished. Sometimes it seems like everybody has forgotten them, and that isn’t right.”

Next month’s celebration is actually the third in a series of such events. Xavier Biggs staged the first such reunion last Sept. 20, in Atlanta. The second was Jan. 22, in Charlotte, N.C. The Aug. 15 fete is expected to be attended by Tyrell Biggs, Meldrick Taylor, Evander Holyfield, Frank Tate, Virgil Hill, Robert Shannon, Paul Gonzales and Henry Tillman.

It is not the fault of the ’84 Olympians – Xavier Biggs has not been able to confirm the participation of Jerry Page and Mark Breland, and of course the late Steve McCrory will be there only in spirit – that many boxing historians hold in higher esteem the 1976 U.S. Olympic boxing team headed by Sugar Ray Leonard, Howard Davis Jr. and the Spinks brothers, Leon and Michael. That squad, which competed in Montreal, won seven overall medals, including five golds, against a tougher slate of opponents due to the 1984 Olympic boycott of 13 Soviet Bloc nations plus Cuba.

All you can do is defeat whoever is standing of front of you, which almost without exception the ’84 team did.

“I heard people who won gold medals talk about what an indescribable feeling it was,” said Tyrell Biggs, whose post-Olympic life was derailed by drug addiction. “And it’s true. Words can’t explain it. That had to be the best feeling I ever had. It’s an unbelievable high, man.”

But Leonard said the ultimate measure of how successful an Olympic boxing team is depends more on the quality of opposition than in the number of medals won.

“I may be biased, but I consider my team better than any other team,” Leonard, who upset Cuba’s Andres Aldama in the 139-pound final in 1976, said from his home in Pacific Palisades, Calif. “We went to Montreal favored to win only one gold medal, and that was by Howard Davis.

“But we surprised a lot of people, didn’t we? We showed to the world that we had a sensational, incredible team. All of our final matches were against Cuba, against Russia. To win, we had to beat the best of the best.”

The 1984 team also went against a field thinned by a boycott. But the 28 black African nations that stayed away from Montreal, to protest participation in the Olympics by New Zealand, which had flouted international sanctions by welcoming a touring rugby team from South Africa, whose white ruling class had an official policy of apartheid, were for the most part not considered medal contenders.

Ed Schuyler Jr., the longtime, now-retired boxing writer for the Associated Press, said the 1984 team would not have had such an inflated medal haul had the Cubans and Eastern Europeans come to Los Angeles.

“The ’76 team was by far the best the United States has ever produced,” Schuyler said when asked to compare the relative merits of the ’76 and ’84 squads. “Hands down. It’s not even fair to compare that bunch with any other.

“Leo Randolph beat a Cuban. Leon Spinks beat a Cuban. Sugar Ray beat a Cuban. I mean, come on. Yeah, there was a boycott by some of the African countries, but they weren’t medal threats in boxing for the most part. The Russians and the East Germans and especially the Cubans were.”

Not that the 1984 Olympians fared poorly once they went on to the so-called “next level,” the pros. Pernell Whitaker, the team’s 132-pound representative and a six–time world champion in three weight classes, was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2008. Evander Holyfield, a four-time heavyweight titlist, and Virgil Hill, who captured championship belts at light-heavyweight and cruiserweight, each enjoyed long, successful careers that almost certainly will lead to enshrinement in Canastota, N.Y., someday, once they become eligible.

Mark Breland, one of the most celebrated American Olympians ever, probably was the biggest name heading into the L.A. Games and he did what was expected of him by winning a gold medal. The youngest member of that squad, the 17-year-old Taylor, didn’t enjoy the career longevity of some of his teammates, but for several years his flame burned as bright and as hot as anyone’s in the game. He, too, took gold, as did Paul Gonzales (who was voted the Val Barker Award as the Olympics’ top boxer), Whitaker, Page, Henry Tillman and the late Steve McCrory. Holyfield, who competed in the 178-pound weight class, was virtually assured of being the 10th gold medalist, but he had to settle for a bronze medalist when a Yugoslavian referee, Gligorie Novicic, controversially disqualified him in the semifinals for landing a left hook to the jaw of New Zealand’s Kevin Barry a split-second after Novicic yelled “Stop!”

Hill, who went home with a silver medal, and Holyfield thus came up a bit short of gold, with only 119-pounder Robert Shannon, from Edmonds, Wash., the only American Olympian to fail to medal.

In their post-Olympic lives, almost all of the 1984 Olympians have fallen upon hardship at one time or another. The most recent to face adversity is Holyfield, whose 109-room mansion in Fairburn, Ga., was placed under foreclosure. Even though he earned in excess of $200 million during his ring career, the upkeep on Holyfield’s palatial digs and his massive child support payments – he fathered 11 children by nine women – eventually dealt him the sort of financial battering that Riddick Bowe, Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson could not physically administer inside the ropes.

Whitaker and Biggs had drug issues which eroded their fortunes and good names, although each now claims to be clean. Whitaker recently took over as the lead trainer of former IBF lightweight champion Paul Spadafora, while Biggs spends his afternoons hanging out at a recreation center in his old hometown of Philadelphia.

“I wasn’t doing hard drugs any more, but I was bingeing on other things,” Biggs said of his decline after a brutal, seventh-round stoppage at the hands of undisputed heavyweight champion Mike Tyson on Oct. 16, 1987. I’d binge on sex. When you have money – and I made a lot of money to fight Tyson (a reported $1 million) – of course that’s going to attract women.

“I also binged on food, on certain candy bars. I’d go in the store and buy three of them. Then I’d go back and buy three more. Next trip, I’d buy the whole box.”

Taylor, who never quite was the same after he lost his junior welterweight unification showdown with Julio Cesar Chavez on March 17, 1990 – that’s the bout Taylor was winning on the scorecards when referee Richard Steele awarded JCC a technical-knockout victory with only two seconds remaining in the 12th and final round – had possibly the fastest hands ever seen in boxing. Faster than Roy Jones Jr.? Possibly. Faster than Floyd Mayweather Jr., whose blurring hand speed has been called the “fastest in boxing history” in that commercial with Bill Kurtis? A lot of people think so.

Put it this way: if an in-his-prime Taylor was an Old West gunfighter and he found himself slapping leather with Mayweather in, say, Dodge City, there’s a good chance it would be “Money” who would wind up face-down in the street, having failed to clear the holster.

“Everybody knows I had the fastest hands in boxing,” Taylor, his speech noticeably slurred, said in recalling the rapid-fire combinations he once was able to routinely dial up. “Mayweather knows his hands aren’t faster than mine. That’s not even in dispute.”

Also beyond dispute is the fact that Taylor, who won world title at junior welter and welter, fell far once that marvelous hand speed diminished, and with it the fortune he had amassed with his fists.

“Of course, we would do things wiser with the money we made,” Taylor said of the financial pitfalls he and other members of the ’84 team did not avoid. “People make mistakes. They get careless. When you have money, you blow money. You live beyond your means sometimes.”

It’s been a long time since the U.S. Olympic boxing Class of 1984 was hailed as bona fide American heroes and celebrated with parades, keys to the city in their respective hometowns, and wooed with large signing bonuses by promoters and managers hoping to capitalize on their instant fame. But what’s past is past. Time marches on. People forget.

Sometimes, though, yesterday’s chosen few get another chance to bask in the glow of recycled celebrity. On Aug. 15, it will be as if these pugilistic brothers in arms again are young, fit and prepared for the shared promise of a brighter tomorrow.

May all of you hear the echoes of the Star-Spangled Banner in your heads as you again figuratively mount the medal platform. Oh, it can’t be like it was the first time around. But the guess here is that it’ll be good enough.

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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