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Articles of 2009

Sugar Ray Leonard: He Took The Baton From Ali, And He Could Fight



He was named after singer Ray Charles and even called up the one and only Sugar Ray Robinson to ask if it was OK to borrow his moniker, “Sugar Ray.” When his boxing career concluded he would be best known for winning a gold medal during the 1976 Olympics and winning world titles in five different weight classes as a pro. Since Sugar Ray Robinson, born Walker Smith Jr., popularized the name, many fighters have adopted the ring name Sugar Ray. Only one of them has measured up to what the name stood for and represented: Sugar Ray Leonard. Without a doubt the realization of Ray Leonard exceeded the expectation as both a fighter and true superstar. It's also a fact that Sugar Ray Leonard carried boxing from the time Muhammad Ali retired.

As a fighter Sugar Ray Leonard had it all. He could box and he could punch. He was most identified by his blinding speed of hand and foot. Leonard was versatile and capable of fighting effectively inside or outside. Along with that he possessed a great chin and had the heart and the will to win comparable to any fighter in history. Something else that he had an abundance of was ring savvy. Sugar Ray Leonard was a ring genius who often implemented a Plan B, changing his attack plan during the fight. Sugar Ray Leonard also had a real killer-instinct and was at his most dangerous when his opponent was hurt or showed him too much respect. Once he had his opponent in trouble, he finished him off.

If fate hadn't smiled down on him enough, he just so happened to fight during one of the best non-heavyweight eras in boxing history, which afforded him the chance to measure himself against other great fighters and champions. His record is a virtual who's who list of great fighters.

If all of the above wasn't enough to make anyone envious, he also had crossover appeal and was arguably the biggest draw of any non-heavyweight fighter in boxing history. Sugar Ray Leonard is the fighter Oscar De La Hoya used for a career barometer and the fighter he most measured himself against, although he'd never admit it publicly.

After Sugar Ray Leonard won a gold medal at the 1976 Summer Olympics, he was brought to Hall Of Fame trainer Angelo Dundee to help guide and teach him the pro game, although Dundee only came in a week or so before his fights. What was it that Marvin Hagler said about him leading up to their fight in 1987? “He was named after Ray Charles, stole Sugar Ray Robinson's name, and had Ali's trainer.” What most don't know is that his trainer really was Janks Morton, who was aided by Dave Jacobs. But Morton was the one who had final say. Dundee just came to camp a week or two out from the fight to help Ray and Janks devise an attack strategy and fight plan for the opponent in the upcoming fight.

Some fans and media members found Sugar Ray Leonard hard to take and very condescending. He was good looking, had a shark for a business manager named Mike Trainer and was an overall media darling. Forget the image, Sugar Ray Leonard could flat out fight and must be given credit for being a truly all-time great fighter.

Fighting as a welterweight, Sugar Ray Leonard was as close to unbeatable as a fighter could be. Look who who gave him his only loss at 147–Roberto Duran, who is the best pound-for-pound fighter since Sugar Ray Robinson. It's been mentioned by some that Leonard fought hand-picked opponents during his career. This is wrong and in fact Leonard only faced two fighters who were under .500 when he fought them, and they were both within his first seven pro fights. On the way up the welterweight ranks Leonard was matched against fighters who had varying styles and more experience than he did. Leonard fought toughie Rafael Rodriguez, slick Floyd Mayweather Sr. who was 16-1, the durable Randy Shields, and three-time title challenger and veteran Armando Muniz before he challenged for the welterweight title.

Five months after stopping Muniz, Leonard decisioned middleweight Marcos Geraldo over 10 rounds. The same Geraldo would go the distance with top-ranked middleweight contender Marvin Hagler a short time later. In fairness, I must include that three years after losing to Leonard, Geraldo was KO'd by Thomas Hearns in one round. However, that was Hearns, and it's well known Hearns  punched harder than either Leonard or Hagler. Before challenging for the welterweight title, Leonard stopped 30-3-1 junior middleweight Tony Chiaverini, and devastated third-ranked contender Andy “The Hawk” Price in one round on the Larry Holmes-Earnie Shavers title fight undercard.

After destroying Price, Leonard fought 38-0-1 WBC welterweight champ Wilfred Benitez. Benitez is the youngest fighter in history to win a world title, doing so at age 17. Leonard challenged Benitez 10 months after he took the title from Carlos Palomino. Wilfred was a master boxer who had radar for defense and made fighters miss him with their punches, including Leonard, without moving his feet. When Leonard and Benitez finally clashed, it was a chess match strategically. The difference was Leonard was the superior offensive fighter. Leonard took the title when the fight was stopped with only six seconds remaining in the 15th round. The stoppage was premature, but Leonard clearly showed during the fight that he was the better fighter and deserving of the title.

In his first defense of the title, Leonard scored one of the most chilling knockouts ever when he stopped former title challenger, 33-2 Dave “Boy” Green with a dynamite left hook to the chin in the fourth round. The Green KO was so brutal, some thought Leonard killed Green before their eyes.

In his second title defense, Leonard met former undisputed lightweight champion Roberto Duran, who was 71-1 and hadn't lost in eight years.

On June 20th 1980, Leonard and Duran met in what was titled “The Brawl For It All” in Montreal. Leading up to this fight, Duran did a number on Leonard psychologically by taunting his wife and making fun of him and challenging his manhood. Leonard already believed he could go through Duran before their fight; by the time they got into the ring he wanted to kill him. This played right into what Duran wanted. Roberto lured Ray into a toe-to-toe fight which he won via a close decision. Although Leonard lost, no one ever questioned his toughness again.

Five months later they met in a rematch, only this time Ray won the head game and totally frustrated Duran, making him say “no mas” in the eighth round to regain his WBC title. Leonard may have been the sharpest and fastest he ever was in his career during the rematch with Duran. He was totally wired and cat-quick. Anyone who's not sure or doesn't remember this, go back and watch the tape, I did. Seven months after winning the title back from Duran, Leonard stopped 36-0 Ayub Kalule, to win the WBA junior middleweight title. Shortly after winning the title, Leonard vacated it and went back down to welterweight, seeking the ultimate showdown.

Three months prior to Leonard beating Duran in their rematch, Thomas Hearns destroyed WBA champ Pipino Cuevas in two rounds to capture the title. Hearns was 32-0 (30) and a true killer who looked invincible at welterweight. On September 16th 1981, Leonard and Hearns met in what was the most highly anticipated welterweight championship fight in history, titled “The Showdown.”

In the fight, Hearns started off very fast, scoring with his long hard jab which kept Leonard from getting inside. Hearns clearly had the advantage for the first five rounds, and up until that time it looked as if he was too big and strong for Ray. In the sixth round, Leonard got inside and landed a stinging right uppercut that shook Hearns. From this point on, Hearns became the prey and Leonard the predator. However, Hearns regrouped and maintained his lead in the fight, due to his underrated boxing ability. Knowing that he was behind in the scoring, Leonard stormed out of his corner at the start of the 14th round and opened up with a flurry of punches, hurting Hearns. Leonard, being a tremendous finisher, never let Hearns recover, which led to the fight being stopped late in the 14th round.

After making one defense of the unified welterweight title against Bruce Finch, Leonard retired with a detached retina. Leonard came out of retirement 23 months later and stopped ranked Philly welterweight contender Kevin Howard after suffering the first knockdown of his career during the fight. Leonard retired again shortly after the Howard fight.

After not fighting since May of 1984, Ray was bitten by fighting again and came back to challenge undisputed middleweight champ Marvelous Marvin Hagler. Hagler had been ruling the middleweight division for seven years and was unbeaten over 11 years. Ray was laughed at when he told everyone that he could take Hagler's middleweight title despite never having fought above 154 pounds, and only fighting once in the past five years. Leonard entered the ring against Hagler on April 6th 1987 as more than a 3-1 underdog. A fight with Leonard was a fight Hagler longed for since Leonard retired in November of 1982, and he promised to “Destruct and Destroy” him.

In what is the biggest and supposedly the toughest fight of Leonard's career, he fought the most brilliant fight of his life. Look, this fight was very close. If you were rooting against Leonard, you can say he lost and really believe it in your heart. However, there can be no dispute that Leonard won the first three rounds, which cost Hagler the fight in my opinion. Hagler had to win seven of the last nine rounds and he didn't. This is the crowning moment of Ray's career; nobody ever thought this fight would be left up to the judges before the bell rang for the first round. Leonard had studied Hagler and knew exactly how to fight him. The boxing world thought the way to beat Hagler was to back him up, which Leonard showed was a fallacy. Hagler, being a counter puncher, was vulnerable, as I like to say, when he had to be the Joe Frazier in the fight.

After Hagler, Ray fought at a catch-weight of 168 and won the super middleweight and light heavyweight titles with a ninth-round stoppage of light heavyweight champ Donny LaLonde. After LaLonde, Leonard fought a rematch with Thomas Hearns that ended in a disputed draw. Hearns even dropped Leonard twice during the bout, but even that didn't eclipse the larger than life image of Sugar Ray. Shortly after the fight on the “Tonight Show” Leonard admitted that Hearns deserved the decision.

Six months after Hearns, Leonard fought Roberto Duran for the third time. This time both fighters were way past their best fighting days and Leonard handled Duran, who was making the first defense of the middleweight title he had won from Iran Barkley 10 months earlier. Ray retired after winning a decision over Duran, only to un-retire a year and a half later to fight Terry Norris at the junior middleweight limit of 154. Ray looked like an empty package and dead at the weight versus Norris. Norris proved to everyone who saw the fight that it was time for Ray to move on, giving him a one-sided thrashing over 12 rounds. Once again, Ray couldn't accept that it was over (none of the greats ever can, that's part of what makes them great), and after a six-year absence from the ring at age 41, he fought Hector Camacho and was stopped for the only time in his career in five rounds. Leonard retired for good after the Camacho debacle.

Like him or loathe him, Sugar Ray Leonard at his peak fighting as a welterweight is without question one of the greatest pound for pound fighters in fistic history. Fighting as a natural welterweight he could box or punch, trade and slug and had the heart of a wounded lion and sucked it up when he faced adversity.

I consider Sugar Ray Leonard the second greatest welterweight in history and would only pick Sugar Ray Robinson to beat him in a prime vs. prime confrontation.

Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at

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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