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Articles of 2009

Rest In Peace, Joey Roach



“Listen, I got a story for ya!”  Anthony (Rip) Valenti sounded excited, but that wasn't unusual.

Every time the octogenarian boxing promoter called to relay the details of his latest project there were two things I could count on him telling me. One was that this was the biggest story yet. The other was “Ya gotta get this in the paper right away, 'cause I ain't giving it to nobody else — yet.”

By the early summer of 1982 I'd been dealing with Rip for a while, so I knew enough to listen to what he had to say before I phoned the composing room with orders to stop the presses.

“Never happened before in the history of the Boston Garden,” I could hear him saying on the other end. “All three of them!”

“All three of them?” I asked. “Don't tell me. You've got Magda, Eva and Zsa Zsa coming to Boston?”

“Naw. The Roach kids,” he said. “Freddie, Pepper and Joey. They're all gonna be back here, and fight on the same card.”

As amateurs, the three brothers had achieved almost legendary status in New England boxing circles, winning everything from Silver Mittens to Golden Gloves titles. Even their mother had followed them into the family business. When her sons headed out West to turn pro, Barbara Roach underwent a seamless transition from AAU volunteer to professional judge. At a time when female judges were a rarity, she was already the best in Massachusetts — of either gender.

Freddie, the oldest, had just turned 22. He had turned pro at 18, signed on with Eddie Futch, and moved to Phoenix, later relocating with the Hall of Fame trainer to Vegas. Rip had continued to nurture a relationship with Freddie. In January of '81 he brought him back to the Garden, where on the undercard of the first Hagler-Obelmejias fight he beat Joe Phillips to win the New England featherweight title that had once belonged to Willie Pep. A month later he'd flown Freddie and Futch back for a headline performance on an ESPN card he staged at the old Hotel Bradford Ballroom, the site of today's Roxy.

By early '82 his brothers had followed Freddie to Las Vegas. Pepper had already had a couple of fights that spring. If memory serves, Rip had hoped to have 20 year-old Joey turn pro on his Boston show in June, but Joey beat him to the punch and made his debut in Vegas a couple of weeks earlier, fighting a guy named Alex Silva to a draw at the Showboat.

Although they enjoyed something of a local following, Rip Valenti didn't think for a moment that the three Roach brothers were going to fill the Boston Garden. Back in those days big fights were routinely shown on closed-circuit television, and in boxing venues like the old Causeway Street building were often augmented by live cards that might attract a few thousand extra customers.

Larry Holmes was defending his heavyweight title against Gerry Cooney at Caesars Palace that night. Joey, fighting as a pro for just the second time, made short work of Joe Vanier, knocking him out in the first round. Pepper did his part, outpointing Jaime Rodriguez in the six-round co-feature. But in the main event, Freddie, who had come into the bout 26-1, had his problems with Rafael Lopez, a decent prospect from Pawtucket, and wound up on the wrong end of a unanimous decision.

It was the first and last time the Roaches ever fought together on the same bill, though they came close: On Nov. 10, 1983, Marvelous Marvin Hagler won a come-from-behind decision over Roberto Duran at Caesars. Joey Roach fought a six-round draw with Manny Cedeno in one of the undercard bouts, while Freddie dropped a 10-round decision to his old nemesis Louie Burke in another. Pepper didn't fight that night because he had a scheduled bout at the Showboat a week later.

Pep had by some accounts been the more promising amateur, but by the time he turned pro he seemed to have lost interest. He retired after less than two years as a professional with a 7-2-1 record.

Joey Roach's amateur career had begun memorably, if inauspiciously, ten years earlier at an outdoor arena in Lynn, where he was matched against another Massachusetts 10 year-old named Micky Ward in the 50-pound class. Nobody emerged with bragging rights that evening. A thunderstorm blew in across the harbor and the bout was rained out midway through the second round.

Joey, though, shared the same card with Freddie on several other occasions. The handwriting may have been on the wall in late 1985 when, at the Hollywood Palladium, he faced '84 gold medalist Paul Gonzales.  Joey had lost just one of ten fights, while Gonzales was fighting for just the second time as a pro, but the Olympian won eight of eight rounds on all three cards. The next year he got knocked out by a guy (Mauro Diaz) who was 1-7-1. He never boxed again, finishing up 8-3-3.

An ESPN fixture from the network's inception, Freddie was a popular draw, but as has been well documented since, he spurned Futch's advice and overstayed his welcome, continuing to fight until 1986. He finished with a record of 39-15, but the fights he engaged in over those last couple of years may well have sown the seeds of the Parkinson's Disease he would encounter later in life.

The brothers remained close even after going their separate ways. As has been recounted in painful detail elsewhere, they had shared not only their boxing experiences, but an abusive childhood at the hands of their father as well. Paul Roach might have been the driving force in turning his kids into successful boxers, but by most accounts he wasn't averse to using each of them as punching bags along the way.

One can only assume that there were some lively scraps around the Roach household while the three were sharing their boyhood home in Dedham, but they loved one another as only brothers can.

While Freddie and I saw one another regularly over the years, I occasionally ran into Joey and Pepper too. The first time I saw Joey after he'd stopped boxing he grinned and told me he was working as a telemarketer.

“Who'd buy anything from you? Over the phone?” I kidded him.

That's how much I knew.

Once he stopped boxing Freddie worked as an assistant trainer under Futch, and then, after Eddie's automobile accident, took over as head trainer for a few of his boxers. Next thing you knew he was the head trainer for a couple of world champions, and was regarded as one of the bright young minds in the business.

It was along about that time that Freddie told me Joey had so taken to the telemarketing business that he'd quit his job and started his own telemarketing company.

“I can't believe it,” said Freddie. “He's making more money than I am.”

Barbara Roach eventually moved to Las Vegas and into the house Freddie had built there. Once Freddie's base of operations became the Wild Card Gym in Hollywood (where he was eventually joined by Pepper), she remained in Vegas, where Joey could look after their mother the way she'd always looked after them.

Just as Freddie went on to become a superstar in his field, so did Joey in his. Freddie won three Trainer of the Year Awards (and already has a leg up on a fourth), but Joey was pulling down million-dollar purses even before Freddie was. He employed over a hundred workers at his telemarketing firm, and owned so many cars he could pick his ride of the day by color-coordinating it with his clothes. He had two college-age kids by his first marriage, and there was no way in hell either of them was ever going near a boxing ring.

A few weeks ago he had told Freddie it was time to relax and enjoy life. He planned to sell his business and retire by the end of 2009.

Last week Joey and his wife Jacqueline returned from a family vacation in Michigan. On Saturday morning Jackie woke up, and when she looked at her husband in the bed beside her, the first thing she noticed was that he had turned a ghastly shade of blue. Joey Roach had, at the age of 47, died in his sleep.  Although the cause of death has yet to be determined pending an autopsy, a heart attack is suspected.

It was left to Barbara Roach to break the news to Freddie and Pepper. Freddie, who had been training Manny Pacquiao for his Nov. 14 date with Miguel Cotto, immediately suspended camp.

“She's trying to be a trouper, and Freddie is trying to be strong,” said a close family friend. “But you know how close they all were. You can imagine how hard this has hit them.”

Arrangements have yet to be finalized pending the autopsy, and while there's no indication Joey had the slightest reason to suspect that his days might be numbered, he had recently addressed the subject in terms that some might find surprising.

“When my time comes,” Joey had said, “I think I'd like to be buried back in Boston — next to my father.”

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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