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Articles of 2009

Resto Shows Confession Good For Soul In HBO Documentary

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They say confession is good for the soul.

If that is true, the likelihood is that former fighter Luis Resto finally has gained some measure of peace after coming clean as to the full extent of his participation in one of the ugliest scandals ever to have blighted the frequently soiled sport of professional boxing. Resto is the conflicted and ultimately redeemed subject of producer/director Eric Drath’s compelling HBO documentary,  Assault in the Ring, which debuts Aug. 1.

During a remarkable transformation in which he first portrays himself as an innocent dupe for his role in the criminal tampering of his gloves for a June 16, 1983, bout in Madison Square Garden that left “Irish” Billy Collins frightfully battered and perhaps suicidal (Collins died after a March 26, 1984, car crash that might or might not have been an accident), Resto gradually allows decades of layered guilt to be stripped away. Yes, he eventually reveals to Drath, he knew much of the horsehair padding from his gloves had been removed and that he was complicit in that he realized it was wrong but did not object. Yes, there was a banned stimulant in the water bottle he sipped from between rounds. Yes, his handwraps had been doctored with a plaster-like substance that made the power in the punches he delivered to Collins’ face with those thinly padded gloves even more devastating. And perhaps most damningly, all these actions were undertaken to serve the gambling interests of a cocaine trafficker who sought to make a bundle by placing a sizable wager on Resto, a journeyman gatekeeper of the welterweight division who had not been expected to provide much more than token resistance to rising star Collins.

Given the recent controversy that arose from the revelation that Antonio Margarito had attempted to enter the ring for his Jan. 24 bout with Shane Mosley with doctored handwraps, which led to Margarito and his trainer, Javier Capetillo, being socked with one-year suspensions from the California State Athletic Commission, Assault in the Ring serves as a cautionary tale that vigilance against the cheaters and rules-benders must be constant, and the penalties for such offenses must be swift and severe.

In baseball, the artificially inflated sluggers of the steroids era did their damage to inanimate objects, baseballs, which can’t feel pain regardless of how hard and far they’re swatted. But a fighter who goes answers an opening bell with the equivalent of bare knuckles – or, worse, brass knuckles – can not only end an opponent’s career, but maybe his life. He, in fact, has allowed himself to be transformed into an even more lethal weapon in a sport where, in the best of situations, danger is an occupational hazard.

But if Collins, who never fought again, is the principal victim, and Resto’s ruined and guilt-wracked life nebulously falls into the category of collateral damage, there has to be a villain, someone whose complete lack of conscience supplies that quality of evil that can veer an illegal action into full-blown tragedy.

Trainer Carlos “Panama” Lewis, like Resto, served 2½ years after convicted of multiple charges, including assault, conspiracy and tampering with a sports contest. But, unlike Resto, a smirking, bling-blinged Lewis continues to proclaim his innocence despite evidence that has mounted higher than the Empire State Building. The most repugnant aspect of Drath’s documentary is that Lewis, although barred for life from working the corner of a client-boxer on fight night, still is able to hire out as a conditioner and strategist to fighters on a day-to-day basis. Remarkably, there are those who, recalling Lewis’ past association with such renowned champions as Roberto Duran, Aaron Pryor, Vito Antuofermo, Mike McCallum and Livingstone Bramble, still choose to place their professional futures in his disgraced hands.

Panama Lewis reminds me of the husband who, upon being discovered by his wife in bed with a mistress, innocently asks, “What woman?” as she gathers up her clothes and bolts out a side door. When exposed, the first rule for dirtbags like Lewis apparently is to deny, deny, deny. Hey, if you claim to have been persecuted or misunderstood long enough, maybe someone in a position of authority will take mercy and grant you a license to make a full return to your old trade.

“Give somebody a chance to make a living,” the Miami-based Lewis said last year in an interview with Rochelle Gilken, a former amateur boxer who is now a reporter for the CBS affiliate in West Palm Beach, Fla., WPEC-TV. “So far, I don’t see that.

“I didn’t cheat. I used my head for motivation. I don’t have to cheat in boxing. Boxing is my life. I’m blessed with this. They can take away my license, but they can’t take away my knowledge.”

It isn’t only a suddenly contrite Resto who spills his guts and lays out the case against himself and Lewis to a wider extent than was revealed at their 1986 trials. A former New York City detective, who went undercover as a jogger running alongside Resto, wore a wire and got the fighter to confirm certain details of the plot against Collins. Procedural reasons caused that tape to be ruled inadmissible, probably paring some additional jail time from the sentences handed Resto and Lewis and keeping the door cracked open slightly to claims the plotters somehow had been framed.

Resto’s former attorney, Robert Beecher, confirms that a cocaine dealer had a vested interest in ensuring that Resto pull off the upset over the undefeated Collins. Thomas Moore, a former New York assistant district attorney, is quoted on camera that when the drug kingpin wanted assurances that his wager would be safe, Lewis said, `Don’t worry about it, I’ll take care of the gloves.’”

No wonder Resto, the Puerto Rican-born son of a single mother who came to the Bronx when he and his five siblings were kids, seems so emotionally fragile during the early part of the documentary, when he continues to insist that he didn’t really know what was going on or who had done what.

Even Drath admits that his intention going into the project was to affirm Resto’s innocence, to expose the truly culpable while providing Resto, who said he is haunted daily by visions of Collins’ brutalized face, the sense of closure that would enable him to go on without the burden of constant recriminations.

But revisiting estranged members of his own family and relatives of Collins, some of whom are willing to forgive if not forget, and others that can never let go of the past, had a cathartic effect of Resto. If he was to ever free himself of the self-loathing that hovers above him like a restless ghost, he had to finally purge himself of the lies he had been telling himself and the world for so long.

Perhaps the closest thing to a feel-good moment in a tale that does not allow much room for hope comes toward the end when a tearful Resto confesses to Collins’ widow, Andrea Collins-Morse, that everything she previously had believed of him, and worse, was true. Collins-More hugs him, says she knows how difficult it must have been for him to finally admit what he did, and she says she thinks he is a good man.

Less conciliatory is Billy Collins Sr., who refused to open the door of his modest Nashville, Tenn., home when Resto knocked on it to request a face-to-face meeting during which he would apologize for the wrong he had done.

Then there is Panama Lewis, who was not flummoxed in the least when confronted by the former fighter and the filmmaker who mistakenly believe that such an encounter will lead him to also confess his misdeeds. But Lewis is a master of turning any situation to his advantage, and he greeted Resto in a manner that suggested that he remains the actual wronged party. He quickly badgered Resto into thinking he was still “like a son” to Lewis.

“Trust me,” Lewis said. “I do good, you be in. Stay strong, Resto, you gonna be all right. It’s in the hands of God, you understand? God looks over everybody.”

Continuing to drag the Almighty into the discussion, Lewis responded to a question as to the extent of his knowledge regarding the tampered gloves with “Only God knows. Until this day, nobody knows what happened with the gloves. Hopefully, one day, the truth will come out.”

Later, during a trip to New York where one of his fighters, Zab Judah, was to face Miguel Cotto, Lewis – barred from working the corner – stayed away from the Garden and watched the bout on television in a tavern across the Hudson River, where he sneeringly described to the barkeep, an old friend, how a crying Resto had shown up in Miami seeking his approval.

Maybe Resto, if he was shown footage of the contempt in which Lewis actually held him, was sufficiently emboldened to return to Miami and to finally accuse him of the serial offenses that have made Lewis a boxing pariah. When Resto informed his former trainer that he knew what was going on when Lewis went into a toilet stall with the gloves, Lewis said, “I went to take a piss!” Sure, everyone brings boxing gloves to the rest room when they feel the urge to urinate.

And Resto’s contention that it was Lewis who wrapped his hands with that plaster-like substance?

“I did not wrap your hands! (Assistant trainer) Artie Curley wrapped your hands!” Lewis yells, a response that is most convenient in that Curley died years ago.

You have to wonder, though, what Top Rank founder Bob Arum has to say about a documentary that seemingly indicates that he has no set position on what does or does not constitute wrongdoing in the ring, or at least the appearance of wrongdoing. Arum promoted Collins on that fateful night 26 years ago, and he describes him as “a great-looking kid” who had “all the moves,” “could punch like a mule” and potentially was a box-office “gold mine.”

Of Lewis – or maybe it was Resto, Arum’s response on the matter is a bit vague – he said, “What he did was inexcusable. He should be banned from the sport forever. There shouldn’t be any forgiveness.”

A refusal to give perpetrators of the Collins tragedy any benefit of the doubt seemingly is in contrast with the slack Arum is willing to cut Margarito, although he was less inclined to give a pass to Capetillo, the most convenient of the possible fall guys. But then nobody pays big bucks to see Capetillo wrap hands or dispense advice in the corner, and Margarito is – or at least was – an important member of the Top Rank promotional stable.

The upshot, of course, is that there are cheats who were and still are in the game and their only chance of being brought to justice is if they’re caught in the act by state commissioners who too often are political appointees incapable of recognizing illegal handwraps or unpadded gloves even if they came with flashing neon lights. The need for strict regulation of boxing is as important now as was in 1983 or at any time in the past.

If there is a positive that can come from what happened to Billy Collins, it is that his beatdown and death do not have to be in vain. All of us who love boxing must demand greater accountability of our officials to better ensure that detectives and prosecutors won’t have to be called upon to obtain justice after the fact.

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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