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Articles of 2009

Joey Gamache's Final Fight, For Truth And Justice, Part I

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“There’s no tomorrow for me if I lose. Arturo Gatti’s not an easy fight. He turns everything into a war. I know this is the final chapter of my career.” –Joey Gamache before his last in-ring fight, on Feb. 26, 2000, against Arturo Gatti

Joey Gamache was speaking figuratively when he shared his mindset leading up to his bout against the Human Highlight Machine, boxing’s premier blood and guts warrior, on the undercard of the Oscar De La Hoya-Derrell Coley main event at Madison Square Garden. When he spoke of there being “no tomorrow,” he understand that his professional  window was open only a sliver, and that at age 33, after 58 times climbing up those stairs, and into that ring, soon enough he’d need to find something else to fill his days, and pay the bills.

Soon enough, the third generation pugilist knew, he could dive into his drywall business with all his energies. But not yet. There was a comeback to attend to, one last thrust at the upper reaches of the most dangerous game. And a win over Gatti, the pugilistic darling of HBO who epitomized the unfathomable but laudable refusal to quit in the face of a hailstorm of punishment, would propel the Maine native up several rungs on a new ladder, the junior welterweight class. Gatti, like Gamache, had been sipping from the bitter chalice of defeat lately, not the sweet nectar of victory. A loss to Angel Manfredy, two defeats to Ivan Robinson, and he’d deposited another bucket of blood on the canvas in recent defeats. Gatti was compromised, Gamache felt, and ripe for a takedown.

He didn’t feel impregnable after going into the office of Lou DiBella at HBO, and begging for the Gatti fight months before, but he believed in his ability, in his ring generalship, that his style was right to prolong Gatti’s losing streak. Gamache knew full well that Gatti had an in-ring mindset that would make him a bad bet to try and save if he were, say, caught in a riptide. Most fighters, even those guys known for being willing to “go out on their shield,” have a mechanism inside them that kicks in, which recognizes when the current is too strong. They take a knee, send a subtle signal that their cornerman picks up on, so the chief second can throw in the towel, and save their man from having to submit himself. Think of that mechanism as a life preserver. Gatti was prone to grabbing on to that life preserver, and chucking it aside. His fierce pride, mixed with a desire to give the customers what they came for, even if it was to his long-term neurological detriment, meant Gatti always tossed the life preserver to the side.

There will be trading, there likely will be blood, Gamache knew, but he expected that he’d get the better of the trades, with his superior technique, and that more of the blood in the ring at Madison Square Garden would be Gatti’s.

Gamache’s dad, Joe Sr, and his dad, Elmo, had boxed in Lewiston, Maine and thereabouts. They were amateurs, but the third Gamache hitter showed more acumen. He hit a gym on the recommendation of dad, who suggested that boxing workouts might strengthen his arms for Little League. He excelled, stuck with it, and powered through the New England Golden Gloves, on the way to a bronze medal at the 1984 Olympic trials. On the way, he never turned down a fight. At age 12, at one tourney with somewhat lax regulations, he fought a twentysomething sailor, and stopped him with a body shot. He was more boxer than slugger, and he reminded the man who oversaw the vast majority of his pro career, Brooklyn-born advisor Johnny Bos, of Caucasian craftsmen like Joey Archer, Billy Conn, Paul Pender, Willie Pep. Gamache had no problem with a little toe to toe tango, so he definitely had a streak of that caveman in him that can be so helpful when the guy across from you is clubbing you, you’re seeing stars, and a lesser man hits the deck and lets the count reach ten. But you really wouldn’t know it when you interact with him. The opposite of brash, Gamache stands out for his humility and congeniality in a sport that actually boasts far more of these sweet tempered types than the uninformed might know. Gamache is quick to break into a shy grin, most of the time, and it is next to impossible to get him to so much as critique anyone, even if that anyone has done him wrong.

That humility, that decency was apparent when Gamache lost his first bout as a pro. In his first WBA lightweight title defense, he took on 40-3-1 Tony Lopez in Portland, Maine. The action in Oct. 1992 was tight, though Gamache’s eyes were both swollen and discolored. In the 11th, though, “The Tiger” pounced with combos that forced the ref to halt the bout. After, Gamache gave the Sacramento fighter his due.

“He beat me legitimately,” said the now 29-1 Gamache. “No excuses. He's a strong, courageous fighter and he came to my hometown and beat me legitimately.”

Gamache put together seven straight wins after that, as Bos steered him to another title crack, this one against Orzubek Nazarov, in Dec. 1994. The rugged Russian entered the ring in Cumberland, Maine at 19-0, with 15 stops. He broke Gamache’s nose in the first round with a hook, and bore down in the second. A left hook sent Joey down, and soon after, a flurry stopped his night for good, at 2:50 of round two. Again,Gamache gave the victor full credit.

“I feel like I never got started,” said Gamache. “But what can you do? Nazarov had a lot to do with that. He caught me with a good shot and he was exceptionally strong. I never really had a chance. He came in rocking and socking. I'd fire something and he'd come right back. That's how it goes. Tonight, I got beat by a better man.” He got beaten at the box office, too. He was working off the gate at the arena, and the take that night wasn’t enough to pay off Nazarov, and give himself a healthy cut. Or, actually, any cut at all. The cruelest game can be punishing in so many ways, but taking a whupping hurts that much more when you can’t even make the mortgage payment the month after you got worked over.

Gamache absorbed maybe an even crueler slap-down from his community, his people. The adoring throngs who longed to shake his hand, to insinuate themselves into his world, who eagerly bought first-class tix on the Gamache bandwagon on his ascent, just as eagerly disembarked the ‘wagon when Joey disappointed them. The textile mills had shut down, leaving too many of the 35,000 in Lewiston without work, and with a need for good news, and heroes to look up to, to help them forget their plight. Maybe they invested too much into Maine’s best all-time boxer, identified too much with Joey, so when he lost, they took the defeats personally. Instead of helping to build him back up, and bolster his dented psyche, many Mainers avoided him, and stopped buying tickets to his fight. Gamache isn’t one of these brash hitters who can shut everything out. He has a sensitive side, and he took the exodus hard. Were they calling him a fraud, a fake, to his face? Not so much; the bandwagon crew felt jilted, not suicidal. But he heard whispers, read the glances, saw the sneers of disgust. Relations with his own family suffered. His dad and Bos beefed frequently, and Joey was caught in the middle. He tried not to take sides—but this is an impossibility when you are silently asked to choose between blood and other. Joey and Bos saw other people for awhile, but got back together, for one more run to the top of the mountain.

Julio Cesar Chavez had taken on the second loss of his career four months before, to Oscar De La Hoya. The assassin from Culiacan needed to  dust himself off, get back on the horse, and hit the trail again…and Bos suggested Gamache as the tester, for a damn good fee, $250,000. Both men had seen better days, but neither wanted to relinquish their spot, as they saw it, in the sweet science realm. In Anaheim, California, they would square off, battling each other, and fighting the little voice in the back of their head that is so tactless, the one that informs you that you are not wine, you are not getting better with age. Both would be trying to counter the effects of erosion from aging with a reliance on smarter strategy and pacing. One man would look the worse for wear after, one of them would reach for one of the games’ saddest symbols: the sunglasses, to be worn at night, indoors, to mask the effects of a hard rain of punches.

END, PART 1

*photo from 1992; courtesy Johnny Bos

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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