Connect with us

Articles of 2009

The Nonpareil, Trainer: What's Old School is New Again

Published

on

Brockton, MA. A man and his son stand outside of what appears to be an abandoned building on Petronelli Way. Yellowing classifieds roll by in the breeze like tumbleweeds. The son shifts on his feet and throws three shots in quick succession; his chin is tucked in, elbows close to his ribs, his right shoulder hunched up –a southpaw. His father’s watchful gaze fixes there and then returns to the street. A pedestrian staggers by in an old duster towards Dunkin Donuts.

Empty buildings loom, the cracks in their windows cataracts in dimming eyes that saw Brockton as it once was, back when it was the shoe manufacturing capital of the world. Back when Rocco Marchegiano, aspiring world heavyweight champion, plod through Field Park dreaming of the day when he would walk into the Stacy Adams Shoe Factory on Dover Street and retire his father. By the 1960s only ten factories remained and the city soon dissipated and depressed. Then a single mother named Ida Mae arrived in Brockton with her children out of the riots in Newark, NJ. In the early 1980s one of those sons, by then a fearsome champion, would pass beneath these empty sentinels with a gym bag slung over his shoulder. He walked into this red brick building for the last time in 1987, through the same door where this new southpaw jabs and slips shadows.

Within minutes, Goody Petronelli, half the team that trained and managed Marvelous Marvin Hagler to the middleweight throne, parks his gray Dodge 4×4 and walks down the hill. Blue eyes twinkle as he greets the man with a handshake and pats the boy on the back. He’s aging well. The only thing bent about him is his nose. “Nice to see you,” he says while reaching into his pocket for keys. Goody holds the door open and gestures to the man and his son –a trainer and his charge. Upstairs is the legendary Petronelli Brothers Gym.

…Close the door behind you. A time machine is taking us to the future of the Sweet Science, a future where the ghost of a murderous body puncher named Tony Zale is conjured up, where Sugar Ray Robinson demonstrates how to feint a jab and throw a candy cane to the kidney on old VHS tapes, and an elderly man in a convalescent home teaches how to counter it. We’re going to a place where old-fashioned values and old school ring tactics are dusted off, polished, and presented on a platter to a novice with skyward aspirations. At the center of this is his father, a 34-year old boxing trainer with a name that you won’t forget: The Nonpareil Hilario.

THE PAST, TOMORROW

Turon is 14 years old. He stands 5’7 and weighs 115 lbs. His eyes meet yours when he speaks though his voice is quiet, as if he expects you to lean in to listen. His overall presentation convinces even adults that he should be respected. He has the flip-side down too; that is, he’s secure enough with himself to be respectful. Rap videos don’t echo in his head. The kid has presence.

If you know what to look for, a boxer can be identified in the way he moves. He’ll tilt his head, roll a shoulder, or flutter his hands, and his swagger is more confidence than bravado. The boxer moves gracefully like any elite athlete, though a hint of hazard is there too –like a big cat in the bush, or Shaft. Turon walks with that kind of self-assurance already.

Training begins with shadowboxing. “I tell him he is not to trash-talk. He is not to gloat,” Hilario leaned in close and continued, “that is not the way of a great fighter; it is the way of an insecure person.” In a culture where the self-esteem movement has adolescents teetering on pedestals never earned, where gangsta rap shakes a fist at things decent and sensible, Hilario upholds old-fashioned demands of self-respect. “Hip hop culture has been lying to our children for years,” he’ll assert, “There is no substance to it. Being a man doesn’t mean disrespecting women, it doesn’t mean demeaning others because of who or what they are, it doesn’t mean celebrating those who poison our people with drugs and negativity.”

The bell rang. Hilario stepped into the ring with Turon with body armor for drills and then worked the mitts for several rounds. When instructed to do six minutes on the heavy bag, his son nodded his head and got to work. Nothing approaching the sighs, eye-rolling, or teeth-sucking typical of his age group is evident. Nothing sags about him –not even his trunks.

Boxing has a unique way of punching right through the flimsy shields of ego and lies to expose the truth about a man. Any flaws underneath are forced to the surface –deficiency of will, low pain tolerance, self-consciousness, fear. This young fighter has a rare advantage. His father’s approach to boxing is comprehensive; it begins with the insistence that boxing is a character sport. For Turon, training doesn’t end when he leaves the gym. It’s constant. His father spends almost all of his free time with Turon and his little sister. Their days are structured, though not militaristically. They run on a track at a nearby community college, play tennis and chess. They haunt Borders and read for hours, exchanging quotes. Some evenings are spent watching old films like “Body and Soul” and “The Defiant Ones” that are then discussed as a family.

When Turon came home from school complaining about teachers who he claimed were singling him out, his father listened patiently then offered an unorthodox parental response:

“What do you do when you are under fire in the ring?”

Turon thought about it a moment, “I slip and move.”

“You should do the same thing in school.”

Advice in the gym becomes discussions at home, transfiguring the boxing ring into something bigger, something philosophical. It also reduces the world to a boxing ring, which becomes a microcosm where tenets are taught, experienced, and reinforced to bring success in both. For example, Turon’s composure in the ring will help him remain composed in the classroom, in the work place, and on the street; chances are good that it will be absorbed into his identity. Such “spiritual discussions” are “equal to 15 rounds of training,” Hilario said, “they elevate him.”

The Cappiello Brothers’ Boxing and Fitness Gym is a two minute walk from the Petronelli’s. Turon sparred four rounds against a young amateur there with experience and a six pound weight advantage. They sparred the week before and Turon took a beating in the third heat. He came back to his corner wide-eyed. “I wanted to say, ‘Pop, that’s it for the day’,” Turon admitted, “but then I thought, ‘there’s no time for that’” and on he went. It didn’t get easier. Hilario watched from the corner. That evening father and son sat down, “Nobody goes shopping for thoughts,” Turon was told, “thoughts just come. We make a decision; we try to make the right decision.”

The rematch was different.

Turon circled to the left of his opponent, feinted with the jab, and concentrated on being elusive for two rounds. He landed a straight left to the body that was a mirror image of Tony Zale’s straight right to the body from the conventional stance, and a right hook to the body that mirrored his father’s signature shot. In the third, Turon may have thought that the jinx was in after a left hook echoed off his headgear like a gong. He held on. The bell rang. In the corner, Hilario knows when to give instruction and when to give a boost –and a boost was in order here. Turon took the fourth with a masterful display of tilt jabs (ie, jabbing with your opponent), body punching, and what Archie Moore called “escapology” –building a bridge even while attacking to escape quickly. In this little comeback lie the seeds of far greater ones.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow sat unseen in a folding chair, ringside: “In ourselves, our triumph and defeat.”

Turon was thinking not of the poet but of a pragmatist as he unwrapped his hands. “Pop told me to ‘Joe Frazier’ him,” when pressed for a definition of what a “Joe Frazier” is, he said, “you come in low, hands up, bobbing and weaving and sneaky bump him so it won’t look like pushing –to get him moving back so I can counter and punch him while I’m moving forward.”

“Pop teaches me a lot of angles, how to come in, how to spin out, stay balanced, and punch from both sides,” Turon said. Already this budding stylist has better technique than half the professionals I’ve seen on cable. And his manners are impeccable.

Danye Thomas is a trainer at the Cappiello Brothers’ gym. “The Nonpareil,” he said, “is wise.”

TIME PASSAGES

Hilario wasn’t always wise… he was expelled out of Brockton High School for fighting. He had just found boxing and had not yet internalized its demands for self-control and patience; but he’d suggest to you that it wasn’t an expulsion so much as a transfer. The Petronelli gym became his new classroom and Steve “The Celtic Warrior” Collins and Robbie Sims his tutors in science class –the Sweet Science. Sims took him under his wing and before you could say “mahvelous” with a Boston accent, he’d won the silver mittens in his first amateur fight, and then had 60 more, winning all but 6. He’d spar regularly with a professional boxer named Ray Oliveira who was a fixture on ESPN in the 1990s and held his own. By day he was in the gym or in the public library studying boxing history; by night he would pop fight films in a VCR and practice in the mirror for long hours.

Hilario was 16-years old when he met an antediluvian named John Bonner. Bonner had two cousins who fought in the early 20th century: Jimmy Bonner and Jack Bonner. The latter fought Jack Blackburn, a dangerous lightweight of the time who went on to train Joe Louis. The Nonpareil’s most valuable mentor began life as an orphan, was raised in North Philadelphia and spent his early years boxing in those tough gyms. Later, Bonner moved to New York City where he would hang around the legendary Stillman’s Gym during the golden era of the 1940s. He soaked up an endless array of tricks. And his memory is sharp. When he met Hilario, he was immediately impressed with the tendency of the young Kriolu to rattle off long-dead names that Bonner himself hadn’t heard in decades. The old man had found a worthy student, and so bequeathed him all those tips, traps, and techniques that no one knows anymore.

With aspirations of turning professional, Hilario followed in Bonner’s footsteps to New York City. Indigent, he stayed in the Covenant House in Times Square though the connections he made were priceless. Stillman’s Gym closed its legendary doors in 1959, but in no time he met Mark Breland at the New Bed-Stuy Boxing Center and Jose Torres in Michael Olajide’s Kingsway Gym. Torres invited him to his house and Hilario stood jaw-to-floor in what was essentially a shrine to boxing. Torres enjoyed his company enough to invite him to attend USA’s Tuesday Night Fights where Torres was the Spanish Commentator.

On Fridays, Hilario took the train over to New Jersey to work with Al Certo whose roster of fighters trained included Mustafa Hamsho, Buddy McGirt, and Andrew Golota. Hilario jumped another train back to Brockton just in time to greet his first-born son into the world –Turon, and then returned to Jersey to train with Certo and McGirt, who was still swapping leather back then. Certo was as old-school as they get –for him, training for a fight was all sparring and heavy bags. Speed bag platforms were empty –“fighters don’t punch like that,” he’d snap.

“I felt like King Tut,” Hilario recalled, “Jose Torres on weekdays, Al Certo on weekends.”

One day he was in the ring and Certo stopped the session: “Hey Junior, what’s on your mind baby?” It was his new family. Homesick, he returned to Brockton. He turned up at the South Shore Gym in Whitman, MA, with a plan to turn professional close to home. His first fight was already scheduled when he asked a manager who he’d be fighting. The response was a short right that he didn’t see coming: “Never mind that, you’re getting paid to fight.” His face, his health, his life …but evidently not his right to know. So he dropped the skip-rope and walked out. Like Bonner many decades ago, Hilario became a gym rat –fighting all and sundry, honing skills, trying to ignore depleting nickels.

An epiphany in the form of a parable changed everything:

A man was looking through a window for a teacher, but it was always blurry. For years he continued on his journey but would inevitably return to the window. One day, it became as clear as a ringside bell in an empty arena and he saw that it wasn’t a window at all. It was a mirror. He himself was the teacher he was looking for.

Since then, The Nonpareil Hilario has not discriminated in gaining disciples. He extended a gloved hand to demographics once scorned in cauliflower alley, the beautiful people –white collar professionals at the Beacon Hill Athletic Club and suburban athletes with a strength coach named Saul Shocket. But he wouldn’t stray far from the more raw-boned venues he’s familiar with. He trained several fighters in the Brockton area and worked in Buddy McGirt’s gym in Florida with professionals Dat Nguyen, William Guthrie, and Jimmy Lange.

Two years ago, Turon asked his father to teach him the secrets of the Sweet Science …and it was Hilario’s turn to find a worthy student in a new generation.

THE FUTURE, YESTERDAY

John Bonner, the man who Hilario affectionately calls “Ray Arcel” moved into a convalescent home in New Hampshire. He is 88 years old now. Hilario brings his son to visit him, and they never leave empty-handed.

During one visit, Bonner described a move he picked up in North Philadelphia, a move that became Ray Robinson’s “candy-cane” shot. Robinson would feint a jab and throw a right hook to the kidney. His glove would turn around mid-flight so that the back of his knuckles would land. Bonner described this and the counter. He said to “sit down” (ie, assume a compact stance), twist with the shot as it whistles in to catch it on your elbow, and shoot an uppercut.

Bonner stands up to demonstrate such things from the gold mine of his memory and then collapses in his chair, exhausted, the moment the move is finished. Turon watches intensely with eyes wide, and then repeats the shot and the counter. Some of these moves haven’t been seen in a boxing ring in over half a century –they are little resurrections. Turon’s execution is perfect… and the old man laughs and claps his hands.

The Nonpareil, with an eye on the past and the future, smiles knowingly.

…..

The Nonpareil Hilario is available for professional consultation and can be reached at thenonpareil@yahoo.com.

Springs Toledo can be reached at scalinatella@hotmail.com.

Articles of 2009

UFC 108 Rashad Evans vs. Thiago Silva

Published

on

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.

Continue Reading

Articles of 2009

Ten Boxing Wishes For 2010

Published

on

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.

Continue Reading

Articles of 2009

A Very Special New Year's Day Column

Published

on

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.”

Continue Reading

Trending