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Articles of 2009

Vernon Forrest: I Have This Unquenchable Thirst To Be The Best

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You see champions on pay-per-view; they’re larger-than-life, mythic figures –- rock stars — towering over the Vegas Strip on plasma screens.  A stage so exalted, it’s only a dream for work-a-day fighters.

So, I couldn’t square the demigod above the Strip with the familiar loose-limbed figure in drab sweats and a bloused, white T-shirt, moving easily around a heavy bag at the Wild Card Gym in Los Angeles recently – seemingly content with anonymity.

The more he moved, the signature grace registered: Vernon Forrest.

After working out on July 18, 2006, he agreed to talk, and settled into a chair, while sparring was going on.

Q: I’ve never seen you here at Wild Card. What brings you to this particular gym?

VF: Wild Card Gym is a boxer’s gym. The atmosphere, the smell, it’s more like a real boxing gym.  When I started back training, I wanted to start in a real boxing gym and that’s Wild Card Gym.

Q: OK, you’re back. Will it be at welter or junior middle, and is there any difference in your approach now?

VF: If I could still make 147, I would probably fight at 147 pounds. But I probably have some of the worst eating habits of any elite athlete in the world. I’m addicted to junk food, candy, and all that stuff. One of the things that helped me be successful over the years is: I look at boxing as you have the predator and you have the prey. The guys coming up are the predators and the champions are the prey. What made me successful is that I always had a predator’s mentality coming up, and even as a champion; I had the predator’s mentality.  Once I became a little bit comfortable, that’s when I started thinking like the prey. I forget there are a whole lot of predators our there trying to get me. So the main thing I have to do now that I’m moving up is get back that predator’s mentality.

Q: I look at you — I know all of the fights that you’ve had — I don’t see a mark on your face, and a Ray Robinson smile.  Is it technique that allows you to avoid all of that?

VF: Absolutely! People forget that boxing is the art of hitting and not getting hit. For most people, they’ll see two fighters going toe-to-toe and they’ll say, “That’s a great fight.” That’s not a great fight. It’s an action fight, but not a great fight. I try not to get hit as much as possible. That’s the true art.

Q: Is your defense based on reflexes or making the other guy do what you want him to and setting traps?

VF: Both. In boxing, to be a great fighter, you have to have great reflexes. But to control a fighter, you throw punches to make a fighter do what you want him to do. I’ll set up a guy in the first round, just so I can get him in the fourth round. I learned that from watching old fighters like a Ray Robinson and a Henry Armstrong. When Robinson was setting a guy up, he might throw a few body shots, just so he can hit you up top with a left hook or right hand. He moves around giving you all types of mis-directions to make you think he’s interested in going one way, just so he can attack you the other way. That’s what I do in my technical game. Setting a guy up. Setting traps. I can pull the trigger anytime I want to.

Q: You get full extension on all of your combos — they’re not shoe shines. Did you study Robinson’s technique or is it natural?

VF: Well, Ray Robinson is the greatest fighter to walk the planet, so I’ve drawn a lot of inspiration from Ray. I’ve watched a lot of his fights. I’ve watched a lot of his moves. Some things he did were so fantastic — so ahead of his time. There are some moves that I can’t make, but I try to emulate Ray as much as possible.

Shoe Shining is just for show.  You are not going to hit a guy with a five, six, or seven-punch combination, anyway… not a real world-class fighter, at least. I learned a long time ago…to make every punch count.  To me, accuracy is very important. So, I’m not going to waste my time or energy throwing a shoe-shine, because the only thing that does is get the crowd going, but stiff jab, a stiff right hand or a stiff hook does the same thing. So, I’d rather focus on stiff, accurate punches then a shoeshine combination, which won’t incapacitate my opponent at all.

Q: With all your amateur and professional experience, what can a trainer teach you, and how do you know who’s the right guy?

VF: That goes back to being a great trainer. The thing about trainers nowadays is: trainers don’t make fighters no more. Trainers don’t take a guy and raise him up from a kid and stay with that kid, trainers don’t do that anymore. Trainers get guys that are already established and say, “Well I made him a champion.” No! You didn’t make him a champion; he was a champion when you got him. You on for the ride.   When I look at trainers, I look at guy who works with a certain caliber of guys. You’ll know a good trainer five or ten minutes talking with them.

Q: What is it that you see or hear?

VF: It’s an instinctual thing. You just know. If I’m hitting the bag, I have a trainer watching over me and he supposed to be watching what I do and pick out the mistakes that I’m making. So, I’ll hit the bag and drop my left hand on purpose just to see if he picks it up. You know what some guys will say? “Good Job, Good Work.”  I’m making mistakes on purpose just to see if he’ll pick it up. So, little things like. Some trainers are trainers. Some trainers are motivators. Some trainers are just good for television.

Q: Who’s impressed you as a trainer?

VF: I like Emanuel Steward. He’ll stick around on the ups and downs with guys. When you have guys like that, they are certified. They get the USDA stamp of approval. Buddy McGirt is one of the hottest trainers out there… and he’s hot for a reason. You don’t see Buddy taking guys from nothing and making them into something. But, he’s taken the guys that might have slipped a little bit and put them back on the elite level again. I’d say Buddy is a great trainer. But for some reason, I’ve always been partial to the older guys. Trainers that have been around and have seen the different eras of boxing. Me, personally, I always like those types of guys. I admired guys like Eddie Futch. You can’t put a dollar figure on experience. Boxing has evolved, and you have to keep up with the times. But I’d love to have someone like that in my corner.

Q: What drives you?

VF: They say champions are born and not made. I believe there is some truth in that. For me, I have this unquenchable thirst to be the best at what I do… to not to have someone say that they were better than me. So, if I get hit, I don’t want to go down and give this guy the satisfaction of knowing that he put me down. I don’t want to lose… to give a guy the satisfaction to say that he beat me. So that’s the thing that drives me. That’s the thing that’s going to make me become champion again. That’s the drive that’s going to make me fight Mayorga again, and all of the best fighters out there in my weight class and beat those guys.

Q: You brought it up. You mentioned Mayorga. What happened in those fights?

VF: The first time, it was just errors on my part. I really didn’t think this guy could be in the ring with me. At that time, I had the prey’s mentality, as opposed to the predator’s. The second time, I thought I won and I didn’t get the decision.

Q: You have the reputation as a puncher and you landed solidly on Mayorga.  Why couldn’t you dent him? You even landed a combination when he stuck out his chin, with his hands down.

VF: I was punching hard but I wasn’t punching with leverage. I was throwing anger shots. You have to remember, in boxing you don’t have to hit a person hard to knock him out, you just have to hit him accurately. I was throwing hard shots, but it was not really accurate. He was able to brace himself. He could see the intention in my face when I was about to throw a punch. So, as a fighter, you just brace for it. The shots that get you are the shots you don’t see. I think that’s the reason he was able to stand up to my punches, because I was throwing a lot of hard shots, not boxing shots, just hard, angry shots.

Q: Who are you working with, management wise?

VF: With the help of HBO, I was able to get the marquee fights and make a substantial amount of money in the process. Once I learned the business, and I reached a certain stature, I didn’t want to have the typical manager. I want to control my own career. If I make a mistake, I can live with that. So I created my own management and promotional company.

I’m not like Oscar De La Hoya, where my promotional company is pushed out there in the spotlight. Plus… he doesn’t fight under his own promotional banner; he fights under the Top Rank banner. I fight under my own banner. My company is not out in the front, but when it’s time to get paid, TRUST ME, my company handles all of the financial aspects.

Q: Time is precious. How much longer will you give this?

VF: I’m going to put in, like, three more years. I was really on the tail end of retiring, but I wanted to make sure my legacy was intact. So, when I walk away from the sport, I can truly walk away. I think it will take three more years for me to do everything I want to do.

*this Q n A originally ran on Fightbeat.com, thanks Carlos

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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