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Articles of 2009

Richard Schaefer: We're Not The Sport Of Smoke-Filled Rooms

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In the last couple of years, I've noticed a practice employed by Golden Boy's Richard Schaefer and HBO's Mark Taffet that I didn't particularly care for. During press conferences, each would point to the stellar pay-per-view numbers put up by Golden Boy fighters, or non Golden Boy boxers on HBOPPVs , and I admit that it came off as boastful to me. Straight up front, I've not been a fan of the pay-per-view model in the sport, it being the least fan friendly arrangement for sports fans, who if they wish to keep track of the best and brightest in the sweet science, need to pony up hundreds and hundreds of dollars to tune in, via pay-per-view. As advertisers drifted further from the sport, turned off by rampant shenanigans perpetrated by shady promoters and inept judges, fans were forced to pick up the financial slack.

Great for you HBO guys, I thought to myself, that you tallied up 12.5 million buys and collected $634 in pay-per-view revenue from 2006-2008.

Whaddya want, Golden Boy, a medal, I grumbled under my breath, because Oscar notched 2.44 million buys when he met Floyd in 2007, and 1.25 million buys when he tangled with Pacquiao in 2008?

Granted, I'm a skeptic, tilting towards the cynical, which I'd argue is a pre-requisite for anyone desiring to be anything resembling a real journalist; one definition of news, you know, is stuff other people don't want you to know about, so one must be inclined to have a set of dubious eyes and ears if one wants to get beyond platitudes and press releases. But all in all, I just didn't see the point in trumpeting the gaudy pay-per-view numbers. Too much time and energy was being spent obsessing over revenue, and growth, not just in regards to the sport of boxing, but in all professional sports, and for that matter, all sectors of life. Must everything be commodified? Can we not enjoy the spectacle of the event, luxuriate in the dynamic displays of strength and will and skill in the squared circle, without digressing into debates and explorations of purses, and buy rates and such? Basically, like a prematurely cranky ranter yearning for the good old days, I wished for a return to the good old days. It turns out, one of those guys that I was taking inventory on, the Swiss banker turned fight promoter, Schaefer, was also yearning for a return to those good old days, to a degree.

In New York City on Wednesday, Schaefer and Taffet presided over a press conference to discuss the Sept. 19 Floyd Mayweather-Juan Manuel Marquez promotion, and yes, boast a little bit about the health of the boxing industry, vis a vis pay-per-view/box office revenue. As I chewed on a hard roll and sipped a Diet Coke at Brasserie 8 1/2 on 57th St., and heard Taffet talk about HBO Pay Per View's stellar run (2006-2008 included three of the four biggest years since HBO PPV began in 1991), and how PPV is now available in 75 million homes, versus 61 million in 2006, and how Mayweather has generated 4.5 million PPV buys and $237 million in revenue in his five PPV bouts, it dawned on me that there was and is a method to this maddening onslaught of bloated figures, and seemingly boastful citations. Schaefer and Taffet aren't tossing out these numbers as an exercise in self-aggrandizement, or to justify themselves as they angle for year-end bonuses from higher ups at Golden Boy (Oscar) and Time Warner (Jeff Bewkes ). No, they are there making a case for the health of the sport, and because this is the language they are quite comfortable with, they are building their case on a foundation of figures. And it further dawned on me, as I sipped on that soda, that Schaefer has been underestimated, to a large extent, in some circles. Sure, there have been fawning articles talking up the ex banker, and how he's helped De LaHoya grow his personal fortune into a budding and diversified empire of real estate, equities, media and entertainment.

But as I sat, chewed, and listened, it struck me that I don't think he's received enough credit, frankly, for landing advertisers, like Tecate and Southwest Airlines. Advertisers have shunned boxing in droves, afraid of being tainted by association by the red light district of sports. In-ring deaths, shady promoters constantly under indictment, manic brawlers misbehaving in felonious fashion, in and out of the ring–why, advertisers thought, should we entangle ourselves into that sordid sports swamp? Well, for starters, the backstories of so many pugilists, coming from humble beginnings, and excelling despite their origins, are compelling and are the definition of feel-good. Also, I don't have a stat handy, but I'd venture to say fight fans can go toe to toe in the beer consumption department with the fans of the Big Four,MLB , NFL, NBA and NHL. And, with the composition of the nation veering towards a Hispanic flavor, marketers of Hispanic-oriented goods and services should enjoy the bang for the buck when they buy into an Oscar De La Hoya, or now Juan Manuel Marquez promotion.

And I hit on a key element to Schaefer's rapid, for boxing, anyway, rise: Schaefer hasn't fallen pray to the old storyline that boxing can't draw advertisers. While just about every other promoter whines about how advertisers see boxing as a radioactive zombie sport, or don't even bother trying to secure big-time ad gets, Schaefer is working the phones, and taking the meetings, and hiring the personnel to make it happen. At Brasserie, Schaefer introduced the media–and ad buyers, and potential ad buyers, like the head of McDonald's sports marketing arm–to Golden Boy chief marketing officer, Bruce Binkow. (“Think of the activations they could do,” he said to me later, of the McDonald's rep.) He detailed some of the promotions cooked up for the Sept. 19 show, and quite frankly, some of the terms he used, like “impressions” and “platforms” reeked to me of new media jibber-jabber, terms used by suits who are desperately trying to assess a different and somewhat barren landscape. The cynic in me says that. But as the editor of a boxing website, as a fan of the sport, as a believer in the entertainment value of high quality pugilism, I was on board. I was listening, and only fiddled with my BlackBerry about four times in an hour. Because Binkow, and Schaefer, and Taffett aren't just throwing around terms to justify their titles, and impress folks with their insidery lexicon. I've been in meetings with new media moguls who use a term that 95% of the people in the room have zero idea what the definition is, and then see everyone nodding their head as if they're all on board, as if the new media mogul just uttered the key to the kingdom of riches in the post advertising-revenue-driven world. When in fact, they are flying as blind as the rest of the poor pilots trying desperately to monetize what they've been giving away for ten years.

Nobody should think that I am doing any anointing here. Bob Arum and his Pacquiao/Cotto promotion should do better business than the Sept. 19 deal. Arum is 78, and he deserves immense props for his longevity, and work rate, which puts men half his age to utter shame. But here's what I see Schaefer doing that stands out to me, and puts him right there behind Arum, a half-step, as the top promoter in the game today: he is passing on some of that ad revenue to the fight fan, and working those partnerships to not only his companies', but also to the fans' advantage. You'll recall that for the De LaHoya-Mayweather fight, you could buy a 12 pack of Tecate  and you'd receive a coupon for $20 off the cost of the pay-per-view. This time around, Schaefer said, he wanted a fight fan to be able to make money on the pay-per-view: that is, if you take advantage of theTecate $25-off coupon (which you get if you buy as 12 pack) and the $30-off coupon good towards some specific brands of snacks, also from Tecate, you could be up $5 at the end of the night. (Maybe more, if you don't tell pals about the rebate scheme, and then charge them a cover charge!) Not bad execution, I'd say, in concept. Many to most folks are going to watch with a few friends, and would be purchasing beverages and snacks anyway, so it's not as though you are being asked to buy five gallons of paint thinner or whatever, to get your rebate.

Listen, I have no problem raking a guy over the coals if and when he screws up. I'm reiterating this point because I get a bit despondent at the dwindling of voices of dissent and critique, which has come about as the newspapers have dwindled and the space given to boxing has shrunk even more. (And some of those who still have a newspaper voice are loathe to do much more than cheerlead.) We've hammered Golden Boy before and as conscientious watchdogs for a sport which has a conspicuous lack thereof, save for the dwindling ranks of media willing to speak truth to power, we will again. But we also have to remember to be as copious with praise when it is warranted as we are with condemnation and critiques. Because presumably, all of you reading this piece, and all of us contributing to the website, like the sport, or at least aspects of it. Bottom line: rebates for fans whose wallets are thin as saltines are a good thing. It shows that Schaefer isn't intent on totally bleeding fight fans dry, that he gets it that we're in a recession, and that he sees the pay per view model doesn't do a good job in terms of growing the sport.

I chatted with Schaefer after he spoke at Brasserie, and offered praise on the rebates, the breadth and depth and inventiveness of the GB marketing and even the solid undercard, which has been a long-time pet peeve of mine. (Why load up pay-per-view with crappy steamroller specials, won-loss padding fights for your prospects, instead of packing a bunch of solid matchups, tossups, to reward your hardcore fans for their patronage? Why not take pride in your product, give people a good bang for their buck, so they are more likely to pony up next time around? Do you all really live by what some focus group tells you, that the PPV buyers are motivated almost totally by the main event, not at all by the undercard, and if yes, do you get it that such focus groups are wastes of time and money and harmful to your reputation?)

I asked Schaefer, in order to confirm my suspicion, why he puts on boastfests like this one, why he just trumpeted the massive buy rates and gloated over the oodles of revenue.

“We do it because I focus on bringing sponsors to the table,” he explained. “If we don't have sponsors, we're never going to get back on network TV. Without that, I'm not saying growing is impossible, but it's very difficult.” Sponsors, he said, are likely to come aboard if they see others before them having a successful experience partnering up with Golden Boy, and potential sponsors love the hard numbers which are easy to regurgitate to their higher ups. The media helps in spreading the good word, then.

Boxing on network, aka “free” TV–Schaefer was preaching to the choir there. Boxing back on free TV is such a needed component if we want to break out of our niche status. You have to pay up dearly if you want to see any boxing on TV, be it HBO, Showtime or ESPN–for basic cable–and the same isn't said for fans or fans to be of baseball, football, basketball and hockey. Schaefer is hoping that promoters will continue to work together, and offer fans clashes they call for, and that he can break down stubborn network programmers who have for too long adhered to the party line, that boxing is too vile, too tainted to show. “If we bring back boxing to network TV, I think we all win,” he said.

Like a grower who burns out his field with the same crop which leaches the same nutrients for too many years in a row, promoters and programmers have burnt out the field of fight fans with their pay-per-view model. Only the most hardcore fan is going to plunk down the $40-55 to see a fight card, and that means casual fans, on-the-fence-sorts who might well take to the sport and embrace it if turned on to some exemplary action, haven't been romanced. Schaefer is in romance mode. He's studying if Twitter, and Facebook , and mobile ads, and in-store displays and events at stores like Home Depot bring new fans to the sweet science. He's actually acting like he's going to be in the sport for another 30 years, and is, here and there, giving back a few bucks, or leaving some on the table, to lure some non-graybeard fans to boxing.

The 47-year-old Schaefer was born in Switzerland and came to the US in 1988. The son of a banker, he rose to a senior position in the bank UBS, but after meeting and hitting it off with De La Hoya, a pal of his wife's nephew, he aligned with Oscar full time in 1999. He's not a charming cad like a Don King, a certified character who is often as entertaining as the matches he promotes; he doesn't possess the knack of an Arum to delight the media with a thoroughly charming and occasionally zestfully acidic anecdote culled from 40 years in the business. He still has much of the buttoned-down banker in him, though he can't dismissed as an all-out stuffed shirt, not if you've seen him chuckle at the times Bernard Hopkins has in public smothered him with love because of superior market returns stemming from wise Schaefer counsel.

Like the best politicians, he has found his stride in doing business with people he spars with; he and Arum have battled back and forth and insulted each other vehemently, but have in the last two years, been able to co-exist, and find common ground–that is to say, they put aside personal and stylistic differences to make money together. “Yes, we said mean things,” Schaefer said. “But I learned from Bob Arum. And I did see the good, the bad, and the ugly. I talked to him the other day. I think he likes me, and I like him. I keep him young and he keeps me sharp.”

I think a bunch of what Schaefer is doing can be instrumental for other promoters, both the established dealmakers and the next generation looking to get some market share moving forward, post Arum/King, even if that is in 2025 or so. Not believing the anti hype about boxing, not giving in to the negative connotations and myths and reputation, is a key. Schaefer really seems to believe in the goodness of the sport, and isn't afraid to extol boxing's virtues to partners, who can aid in spreading the good word about the martial art too often referred to as the red light district of sports. I plead guilty to that myself, that tendency to focus on downsides instead of searching a bit longer for the positive spin. (Though I'd argue that it's wholly necessary for fightwriters to stay skeptical, so they don't find themselves palling around with only the power players and mega-moneyed moguls, while ignoring the plight of the other 98%.) “Too often, we shoot ourselves in the foot,” Schaefer said on the subject of nattering nabobs of negativism. “In other sports, you don't see the owners going at each other like we sometimes have,” he said. “There's an amazing amount of negativity, and it's the fighters, promoters, the media.”

That morning, Schaefer was making the rounds on TV; he went on Fox Business News to talk up the Mayweather-Marquez card, and came off as an atypical, in a good way, representative of the sport: “I want to show people that we're not anymore the sport of these smoke filled rooms.”

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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