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Articles of 2009

The Whimpers Of Boxing's Hollow Men

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So this is how the world ends. Not with a bang, but a whimper.

-T.S. Eliot, “The Hollow Men”

“The Hollow Men,” a 1925 poem written by Eliot, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1948, is not about boxing, per se, but it might well have been had its creator made one or two minor revisions.

For every Matthew Saad Muhammad and Arturo Gatti who are celebrated for reasons that have little to do with ring generalship and superior skill-sets, there are boxers who have been bestowed with breathtaking physical gifts yet lack those resolute qualities that endear them to fight fans who understand that superstardom is a delicate balance of talent and gumption, of a dancer’s nimbleness and a warrior’s iron will. While many might marvel at an athlete’s natural ability, there is a tendency to more admire that which emanates from some deeper recess, where courage and defiance dwell.

Boxing is not alone in this separation of the tangible from the intangible. It’s easy to imagine tennis great Jimmy Connors as a racket-wielding Gatti. In a sport where many players’ conservative strategy is to keep a point going long enough until their opponent makes an unforced error, Jimbo, not quite as luminously talented as, say, Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe, threw himself into every point, hitting the ball hard and flat and going for winners at every opportunity. You almost had the impression that, instead of playing a final-set tiebreaker to determine the outcome of a close match, Connors would just as soon go bare-knuckles with the guy on the other side of the net. First one to put his rival down or to draw blood wins.

If he were a fighter instead of a gambling-tainted baseball player, scrappy hit king Pete Rose no doubt would be in the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, N.Y., instead of waiting for the call from nearby Cooperstown that probably will never come. It’s easy to imagine legendary Chicago Bears linebacker Dick Butkus as a heavyweight beast, maybe an amalgamation of George Chuvalo’s want-to and George Foreman’s devastating power. If you think all those early Mike Tyson victims wore an expression of terror before the opening bell, check out the NFL Films archives for the “Oh, crap!” look on the faces of running backs who slid into a hole only to find it filled by a snarling Butkus, eager to rip their heads off.

The reverse of such mentally resilient athletes might be Scottie Pippen, who petulantly refused to return to the court with 1.8 seconds remaining after Chicago Bulls coach Phil Jackson tapped Toni Kukoc instead of Pippen to nail the game-winning shot a few moments earlier in a March 1994 game. (Michael Jordan was off playing minor-league baseball that season.) Former Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds outfielder Dave Parker was for a time the most talented player on the planet, but, upon signing his first guaranteed, multimillion-dollar contract, he packed on 40 pounds in the offseason (and not of muscle; this was baseball’s pre-steroid era) and soon became a frequent visitor to the disabled list. Parker’s plaque is not hanging in Cooperstown any more than Rose’s is.

And then there is boxing, where the gap between talent and desire is accentuated to a point where it becomes a Grand Canyonesque chasm into which potential Hall of Fame careers can plunge and vanish.

Remember us – if at all – not as lost

Violent souls, but only

As the hollow men

The stuffed men

It must be stated that everyone who enters boxing does so with the understanding that there is a certain occupational risk involved, that pain must be absorbed as well as dispensed. No one who voluntarily enters the hurt game should be dismissed as a “stiff,” “tomato can” or any other term used to denigrate those with enough stones to make that lonely walk to the ring and step inside the ropes. Even frequent losers – maybe especially frequent losers – accept punishment as part of their job description, offering bits and pieces of their bodies in exchange for purses. If there is any taint, it is on those who decline to at least go down fighting, who have become so acquiescent that they no longer give more than a perfunctory effort in bouts in which their best effort might have yielded a winning lottery ticket. There is no shame in a fighter devolving into a trial horse or a journeyman, however you want to phrase it, just so long as he doesn’t come to see himself as a designated victim, even if the rest of the world does.

But there is a higher standard to which those with actual skills are and should be held. If there is a possibility of becoming something truly special, or moving up and out of a particular comfort zone to a higher place where the rewards are more substantial as are the risks, then a real fighter goes for it with all the heart and determination he can muster. Before anyone can hope to call himself great, he first has to dare to be great.

Some who never quite make it into the inner sanctum fail because of a lack of discipline; they eat too much, drink too much, snort too much, have a weakness for the ladies or the high life. Tony Tubbs and the late Greg Page were temporary alphabet-soup heavyweight champions with formidable boxing expertise, but too often they showed up with jiggly love handles lapping over the waistbands of their trunks, a sure sign that shortcuts again had been taken in training. Not every fighter is physically predisposed to have the sculpted physique of Michaelangelo’s David, but sloppy-fat heavyweights have no one to blame but themselves when their potential goes largely unfulfilled. The same holds for those in lower weight classes who continually rise above their natural fighting weight because they couldn’t lay off the pasta, beer and dessert.

Other gifted fighters are too sensitive or passive for their own good. Some simply don’t subscribe to the theory that when the going gets tough, the tough get going. They fold up like a tent when, after mowing down a succession of lesser foes, reality-check time arrives and they’re matched with someone who is capable of firing back and has no intention of backing down. It is always interesting to see how a fighter who is used to imposing his will on overmatched opponents reacts when he finally is cut, contused and realizes that it is the other guy whose will is being imposed. This is the moment of truth, the point where the best of the best rummage around inside themselves to find the inspiration to elevate above their present circumstances. The Muhammad Ali of the “Rumble in the Jungle” and the “Thrilla in Manila” is as revered for that stage of his boxing life as was the younger, more lithe model who disassembled Cleveland Williams on what probably was the night when his extraordinary abilities reached their zenith.

In any other field, Gerry Cooney and the late Floyd Patterson would be lauded for the compassionate human beings that they are and were. Once confronted with adversity in the ring, though, the more gentle sides of their nature exposed a vulnerability that could be exploited.

Cooney had that wrecking-ball left hook, a weapon maybe even as lethal as Joe Frazier’s, and he used it to chilling effect when he was able to dominate early and settle into frontrunner’s mode. But once Larry Holmes – just ask him if “Gentleman Gerry” could bang – shook off Cooney’s biggest bombs, as he had shaken off those from Earnie Shavers, the Irish-American slugger noticeably wilted. After his first loss, he found himself apologizing to everyone he felt he had left down, even though no apology was necessary. He had done his best that night, but it wasn’t good enough. It happens. But instead of coming back better for the experience, Cooney, his aura of invincibility shattered, was never the same, and not even his laudable work with FIST (Fighters’ Initiative for Support and Training), the organization he founded to assist indigent boxers, fully negates the public’s impression that he somehow was a fraud. But that is too harsh an assessment; he merely allowed the introduction of self-doubt to chip away at his hard outer shell until there was little of it left to protect him from the fists of Michael Spinks and George Foreman.

The same might be said of the reserved and polite Patterson, who was empathetic in victory (kneeling in concern alongside Ingemar Johansson after he knocked him out with a leaping left hook in the second of their three meetings) and embarrassed in defeat (he left the building disguised in a fake beard and dark glasses after losing his heavyweight championship on a first-round knockout to Sonny Liston).

There are no eyes here

In this valley of dying stars

In this hollow valley

This broken jaw of our last kingdoms

It might be a thin line, indistinguishable to some, but there probably is a distinction between those, like Cooney and Patterson, who are too nice to be in a sport where a certain cruelty can be a professional advantage, and those who have a ticker problem.

Saying a fighter has “no heart” is the ultimate insult, along the lines of labeling someone a racist, pedophile or serial killer. It suggests a soldier who remains in a foxhole while his comrades are advancing on the enemy, or a timid passer-by who ignores the pleas of a fellow citizen being mugged or raped. You don’t necessarily have to be a fighter to be a hero, yet there is a reason we look up to regular folk who do what they have to do in moments of crisis. But those who are paid, sometimes quite handsomely, to engage can become objects of derision when they back down from a challenge or find some excuse for staying on the sideline.

Remember when British featherweight “Prince” Naseem Hamed was going to become HBO’s Little Big Man? The dynamic southpaw from Sheffield, England, was knocking everyone out with punches delivered from unusual angles, creating a groundswell of anticipation for his next ring appearance. He was depicted as Mike Tyson in a more compact package, a destroyer who spoke brashly and backed up his braggadocio with action. In his first fight outside the United Kingdom and for HBO – remember all those huge billboards and banners all over midtown Manhattan? – Hamed retained his WBO 126-pound title on a fourth-round knockout of Kevin Kelley in Madison Square Garden on Dec. 19, 1997, a slam-bang affair in which each man went to the canvas three times.

But Hamed shrank from boxing after he was dominated by Marco Antonio Barrera in losing a 12-round unanimous decision on April 7, 2001, at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. His unorthodox style didn’t bother the technically superior Mexican fighter in the least, and as round after round passed it became apparent that the air was being let out of Hamed’s inflated ego. He fought only once more, retiring with a 36-1 record that includes 31 victories inside the distance.

A host of British writers have endorsed Hamed’s candidacy for inclusion in the IBHOF, and his accomplishments are as good or better as some of those who already have been enshrined. But there are a number of skeptics, at least on this side of the pond, who can’t get past the fact that he more or less gave up, not only against Barrera but on boxing once he realized he wasn’t superhuman, as he had deluded himself into believing.

Is that any more a transgression than Roberto Duran’s No Mas surrender in his second matchup with Sugar Ray Leonard? Ah, but the “Hands of Stone” scrubbed away much if not all of his shame but fighting on and on and on, reaffirming his valor any number of times in any number of arenas. Mistakes can be made, even one so egregious as to quit in the ring, but elite fighters as a rule are not predisposed to permanently take their leave with the matter of their very honor in doubt. Duran quit once, but no longer is perceived as a quitter; Hamed quit on himself and his sport, did virtually nothing to reverse that impression and is forever likely to wear the scarlet letter Q.

Between the idea

And the reality

Between the motion

And the act

Falls the shadow

Cameron Dunkin was voted Manager of the Year for 2007 by the Boxing Writers Association of America. He has overseen the careers of fighters who have pulled guns on him, who abused their talent, who were incorrigible in every way that a psychologist can catalogue. But he continues to confound himself by remaining true to his guys, even though they have not always been true to him. In that way, he remains one of boxing’s most dogged optimists. Dunkin recently signed WBO junior welterweight champion Timothy Bradley in the belief that he will be one of the fighters whose story will have a happy ending, following much success in and out of the ring. Then again, Dunkin always dares to believe that will be the case whenever he adds to his managerial retinue.

“When boxing is in your blood, it’s hard to walk away from it,” he said. “But it can break your heart sometimes.”

The latest fighter to disappoint Dunkin is Anthony “The Messenger” Thompson, the junior middleweight from Philadelphia who had been with him since turning pro in 2001. Thompson was USA Boxing’s top-rated fighter in his weight class and a favorite to make the 2002 Olympic team that competed in Athens, Greece, but he had bills to pay and children to support, so he went for the money early.

Dunkin, who admits to being smitten by Thompson’s skills dating back to his amateur days, was more than willing to back someone he saw as a sure thing, a future world champion and possible superstar who someday would make a substantial return on his relatively modest investment.

“Anthony had so much talent, and he’s such a nice kid, too,” Dunkin said recently. “I really wanted him to make it, and I really thought he would make it.”

By the time Thompson was 11-0, he was regarded as a hot enough property that Dunkin didn’t have much difficulty convincing Bob Arum to sign him to a promotional contract with Top Rank, the company that holds paper on several of Dunkin’s fighters. At a press conference in Philly to announce Thompson’s addition to the Top Rank team, Arum even went so far as to say “I think this kid has a chance to become the best fighter ever to come out of Philadelphia … A lot of things can happen. Anthony is a baby. But he has the skills and the temperament to be the best fighter Philadelphia has ever seen.”

A lot of things can happen? Oh, they did. And almost immediately. Not only did Thompson’s Hebrew Israelite beliefs prevent him from boxing from sundown on Friday until Saturday night, but, in his first bout under the Top Rank banner, a fifth-round stoppage of Dumont Welliver, he vomited before leaving the ring and again soon afterward.

Following Thompson’s second fight for Top Rank, in which he whacked out Sammy Sparkman in four rounds, he skipped the ESPN2 postfight interview because he had to get to a rest room, pronto. Diarrhea.

Advised that Thompson had a penchant for such bodily functions before or after almost every one of his bouts, a grim-faced Arum said, “We will get to the bottom of it. All I know is that if he can fight this well when he’s sick, imagine what he can do when he’s well.”

Maybe Thompson wasn’t feeling queasy on Feb. 28, 2004, but Arum probably was after the Philly fighter who was going to make fans forget Joe Frazier, Bennie Briscoe and Bernard Hopkins was stopped by Grady Brewer in three rounds. That express lane to superstardom had become a minefield of obstacles, and Top Rank eventually cut Thompson loose.

Dunkin kept the faith, though. He still believed when he talked Chris Middendorf, CEO of TKO Boxing Promotions, into signing Thompson to a five-year promotional contract. In short order “The Messenger” signed a contract for a rematch with Brewer, the first man to beat him, for the fringe IBO 154-pound crown on Aug. 22 in Pala, Calif.

A couple of weeks before the fight was to take place, though, Thompson began acting erratically in training, then he stopped showing up.

“Bozy (Thompson’s trainer, Derek “Bozy” Ennis) called and told me, `You’d better be careful, Cameron. He’s going to do it again. I’m telling you, he’s scared to death of (Brewer),’” Dunkin said.

Thompson, who now says he is retired, claimed he had been fighting “partially blind” for three years and that, unbeknownst to his handlers, he had undergone LASIX surgery that had restored his vision.

“He was never blind in one eye. He passed every eye exam since he now claims to have had a problem,” Dunkin said. “When I spoke to him, I said, `Anthony, if you don’t want to be a fighter, it’s OK. Just don’t b.s. me anymore.’

“Was he blind when TKO gave him that poor little Mexican guy, Luis Lopez, who Anthony knocked out in, like 50 seconds of the first round? He got $7,500 to fight that bum and I didn’t even take my percentage; I gave Anthony all the money.

“Any time you put him in with somebody who throws back, he pulls out and can’t see. But if you put him in with another Luis Lopez for $7,500, I guarantee he’ll have 20/20 vision.”

Thompson received a $2,000 advance on his $15,000 purse, which Dunkin said he has eaten. “I’m out $68,000 and the years out of my life I spent on this guy,” he sighed.

Not that he claims to be conversant with the works of T.S. Eliot, but Dunkin can relate. Another whimper, another hollow sound to mark the end of one more boxing journey began but never really completed.

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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