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Articles of 2009

He Was More Than A Contender

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NEW YORK — It began with Archie McBride, the heavyweight contender Budd Schulberg managed almost sixty years ago, tolling the final 10-count, and ended with a solo from the great jazz trumpeter Jon Faddis while behind him on the stage, a slide show provided vignettes depicting Budd Schulberg's remarkable 95-year life. Several hundred relatives, friends, and admirers gathered at the Society for Ethical Culture in New York on Saturday to say their final goodbye to the Boxing Hall of Famer, Academy Award-winning screenwriter, and acclaimed novelist who had passed away on August 5.

Budd's son Benn served as the promoter and ring announcer for his father's final main event, while a succession of heavyweights from the worlds of boxing, literature, film, and drama, whose tributes were interspersed with television clips depicting seminal moments in Schulberg's career(s), provided the undercard for the three-hour event.

Just as his first novel WHAT MAKES SAMMY RUN had rendered Budd persona non grata in Hollywood circles in 1941, the 1947 publication of THE HARDER THEY FALL guaranteed a frosty reception in certain ringside circles. It was along about this time that Schulberg, having already made the transition from lifelong fight fan to boxing writer, took on his first and only hands-on involvement in the sport he had recently scourged by agreeing to manage McBride, at the time an up-and-coming heavyweight from Trenton, whom at one point Budd got to 19-2 and a position in the heavyweight rankings.

Schulberg had had a ring erected in the barn of his country home in Pennsylvania which he converted into a training camp. What he had not foreseen was that the remote location would occasionally discourage the usual suspects from traveling from the busy gyms in Philadelphia and New York to box with McBride. One such occurrence came at a critical stage in McBride's career — on the eve of Archie's 1955 fight against Floyd Patterson, and in the absence of other sparring partners, Budd had to put on the gloves himself. The sparring session ended predictably, with the fighter bloodying his manager's nose. A few nights later Patterson would bloody Archie's, knocking him down three times on the way to a seventh-round stoppage.

The TKO to McBride was a rare loss for Budd, who was 2-0 in bouts with Ernest Hemingway and Norman Mailer, but Benn Schulberg provided an account of another. From the time he was old enough to stand, the Schulbergs pere et fils had engaged in family sparring sessions at their Long Island home, with Benn flailing away at his father, who was obliged not only to fight while on his knees, but to simultaneously provide a blow-by-blow narration of the bout in progress. The tradition continued for several years, by which time Benn had not only somewhat improved his boxing technique, but advanced through several weight classes. One morning, Benn related, he cut loose with a left to the body followed by a right that knocked his surprised father, by then well into his 70s, ass over teakettle, producing divergent responses from his parents.

“Gee, Benn, I think you just broke my jaw,” said his father.

“That's it. No more fighting!” ordered Betsy Schulberg, whose word was law.

ON THE WATERFRONT, for which Budd received the Academy Award, might not have been in the strictest sense a “boxing movie,” but Marlon Brando's character Terry Malloy is the ex-pug who “coulda been a contender,” and at Budd's insistence, a trio of charter members of the Bum of the Month Club —  Two-Ton Tony Galento, Tami Mauriello, and Abe Simon — were cast as burly longshoremen in the film. One highlight of the program was the telecast of the 1954 Oscar ceremony, when, after director Elia Kazan and Brando had already won their statuettes, Bob Hope and Brando opened the 'Best Screenplay' envelope and summoned Budd from the audience to receive his. (And let history record that he didn't even try to look surprised. He knew what he'd done.)

Pete Hamill recalled having first met Budd at the 1962 Sonny Liston-Floyd Patterson fight in Chicago, an occasion far more memorable for the press room cast publicist Harold Conrad had assembled than for the barely two minutes of action in the ring. “You'd look in one direction and there would be Norman Mailer and A.J. Liebling,” recalled Hamill, then just in his second year as a newspaperman, “and you'd look the other way and there would be Nelson Algren and James Baldwin and Budd Schulberg.”

(Liebling, recounting the same scene in the New Yorker, wrote that “the press gatherings before this fight sometimes resembled those highly intellectual pour-parlers on some Mediterranean island; placed before typewriters, the accumulated novelists could have produced a copy of the Paris Review in forty-two minutes.”)

Hamill also recalled that on the evening of June 6, 1968, he and his brother Brian had driven across Los Angeles to pick up Budd in their rental car, and driven from there to the Ambassador Hotel, where Robert F. Kennedy would be speaking once the returns were in from that day's California primary. Budd, said Hamill, remembered the hotel from his youth as the scene of some memorable Hollywood debauchery. Both Hamill and Schulberg were waiting in the kitchen that night when Sirhan Sirhan shot Kennedy. Hours later, once the east coast deadlines had passed, everyone reconnoitered, still battered by the shocking assassination. Everyone was grieving, but Schulberg made it his particular point that night to console Hamill, who he knew had lost a close personal friend.

The poet (and Miles Davis biographer) Quincy Troupe, as it turned out, had another memory of Budd and RFK's final days. Two days before the candidate was killed, Budd had brought the candidate by 9807 B Street to visit Watts 13, a byproduct of the Watts Writers Workshop Budd had founded in response to the 1965 Watts riots. The premises consisted of a modest inner-city house, fronted by what Troupe, perhaps the most prominent product of Schulberg's Watts initiative, described as “a really tiny lawn.”  The poet Jimmie Sherman, another workshop member, had made the cultivation of the lawn his personal project.

“It was his pride and joy,” said Troupe. On the day of the visit Schulberg and Sen. Kennedy stepped out of a large black sedan. Budd, aware of Jimmy Sherman's vested interest was careful to go around by the walkway. RFK decided to short-cut across the lawn.

“What the hell do you think you're doing?” thundered Jimmy Sherman. “Get off the goddamn grass!”

The presidential candidate, remembers Troupe, “jumped.

“But he when he came inside he talked with all of us, and more important, he seemed to listen.”   Budd recalled that later that day in Kennedy's hotel suite he spoke of initiating a federally-sponsored program based on Schulberg's concept in Watts.

Gene Kilroy, Muhammad Ali's old camp facilitator, noted that although Howard Cosell and others climbed on the bandwagon later, Budd Schulberg had been Ali's first and most prominent defender, railing against the injustice when the champion was stripped of his title and his boxing license for his stance against the Vietnam War.  And Bert Sugar recalled attending a fight at Foxwoods a few years ago, when Budd arrived to discover that there were no remaining seats in the press section. There were, however, a dozen empty seats in an immediately adjacent ringside area.  Upon inquiry, a spokesman for the Mashantucket Pequod tribal nation explained that the seats had been reserved for “The Elders.”

“Elder? Show me somebody who's more elder than Budd,” replied Sugar, and the 92 year-old Elder got his seat.

There was also a film clip of a Budd's appearance on “Person-to-Person” with Edward R. Murrow. Watching Murrow conduct the entire interview while puffing on his trademark smoke, I found myself thinking that modern-day New York laws probably would have ordered Murrow's cigarette to be airbrushed out of the picture.

My turn to speak immediately followed the Murrow interview. “Does Bloomberg know about this?” I asked.

Budd, who had stayed busy right up to the end, was involved in recent years in a couple of intriguing projects that never quite got off the ground — Spike Lee's documentary on Joe Louis and Max Schmeling, based on a screenplay Budd had written, and a film version of WHAT MAKES SAMMY RUN, which Ben Stiller had optioned more than a dozen years ago. Both Lee and Stiller recalled that, although no one was more aware of the Purgatory in which Hollywood scripts can reside for years, there were regular phone calls asking about the status of the films. And both seemed equally contrite that the projects didn't come to fruition in Budd's lifetime.

When they showed up for their first story conference in Hollywood, Stiller recalled, the retyped script circulating around the table had somehow omitted the title page notation “based on the novel by Budd Schulberg,” which didn't exactly get the relationship off to a flying start.

“Ben Stiller, fresh off 'The Cable Guy.” Jerry Stahl, fresh off a park bench in MacArthur Park,” Stahl, Stiller's writing partner on the SAMMY project,” recreated the scene at Budd's memorial. “I in retrospect, I can imagine how thrilled Budd Schulberg, the man who wrote ON THE WATERFRONT, must have been to have a couple of giants adapting the greatest work of his lifetime.”

“But still, we stayed in touch, years after there was any real talk of mounting the movie,” said Stiller. “Whenever I’d re-connect with Budd, he’d look at me with those alarmingly blue eyes. “Well…?”

“And I’d just sigh and say 'Not yet, Budd, not yet.”'  I had to get over the feeling that every time we saw each other we were both reminding ourselves of the unfinished business between us, and the frustration we both felt. I don’t know if I ever did.

“I gave him an award a couple of years back at a film festival in Culver City,” added Stiller. “I dropped it off the podium, of course, and Budd just laughed. At some point he really could have just said, 'Enough of you Stiller, and your pseudo Sammy crusade. You had my baby, and you didn’t get it done!!' It would have been easy, even expected. But he didn’t. Never. He always asked how my dad was, or how the project I was working on was going.”

Spike Lee, who expressed similar remorse over having to repeatedly offer similar responses when Budd asked about their project, recalled that it was only after committing himself to the Louis-Schmeling film that he fully realized that he'd be working with a living piece of both boxing and Hollywood history.

“Budd knew Joe Louis. He knew Max Schmeling,” said the filmmaker. “That was impressive, but then when I found out he'd personally arrested Leni Riefenstahl, wow!”

(The apprehension of Hitler's favorite filmmaker came in connection with Schulberg's naval service in World War II and its aftermath, when he was charged with compiling the photographic evidence presented at the Nuremberg Trials.)

Steven Berkoff, the British director of the stage version of ON THE WATERFRONT that played to rave reviews in London's West End earlier this year, announced his pride at having “directed the first production of ON THE WATERFRONT performed in English.  When that one sailed right over the heads of pretty much the entire audience, Berkoff (who also played Johnny Friendly in the London production) had to lapse into Hobokenese to explain the joke.

There were messages from Hugh McIlvanney, the Boxing Bard of Scotland, from Andy Griffith (whose first starring role had come when he played Lonesome Rhodes in Budd's A FACE IN THE CROWD), and from Christopher Plummer,  whose film debut had come when he was cast in Budd's WIND ACROSS THE EVERGLADES. (Plummer recalled his astonishment at Budd's capacity for alcohol, and his own performance by saying “Burl Ives was great, I was terrible.”)

Nephew K.C. Schulberg recalled last February's trip with Budd and Betsy from London to Paris — the morning after opening night for the London WATERFRONT play, which had been followed by an all-night piss-up with Berkoff and the cast. And Budd's niece, Chris O'Sullivan, read a heartfelt message from Budd's younger sister Sonya at the New York memorial.

Dr. Nicholas Beck, who authored a 2001 biography of Schulberg, recalled that in its first incarnation when it was written as a short story for Liberty magazine, WHAT MAKES SAMMY RUN had been entitled WHAT MAKES MANNY RUN. It was changed at the suggestion of Budd's father B.P. Schulberg, who feared that Emanuel “Manny” Cohen, the man who had replaced him when he was dumped as head of Paramount Studios, might interpret it as “an act of petty revenge.”

So Manny became Sammy, but the name change backfired in the end anyway. By the time SAMMY came out as a book, Budd was working for as an in-house screenwriter for Samuel Goldwyn.  An underling, pointing out that Sammy Glick's initials were also SG, convinced Goldwyn that Sammy had been based on him, and Budd was fired and ordered off the MGM lot before he even knew of the accusation.

Ivan R. Dee, the Chicago publisher who in recent years reissued THE HARDER THEY FALL and published several collections of Schulberg's boxing pieces, said that to appreciate how good a writer he was one had only to compare his work to that of the other, “supposedly respected” boxing writers, whose work he described, I believe, as uniformly vapid. Dee presumably thought he was doing a service to Budd's memory, but it wasn't a very smart thing to say in a room full of boxing writers.

In the late 1960s the Broadway composer Frank Loesser had written the score for a Broadway adaptation (SENOR DISCRETION HIMSELF) of a short story by Budd, but Loesser (GUYS AND DOLLS; HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING; THE MOST HAPPY FELLA) died in 1969 before it could be finished, Jo Sullivan and Emily Loesser, the composer's widow and daughter, performed a moving duet of the play's show-stopper, “You Understand Me.'

SENIOR DISCRETION HIMSELF was revived five years ago at the Arena Stage in Washington, under the direction of Charles Randolph Wright, who suggested engaging the Los Angeles-based Chicano ensemble Culture Clash to complete Loesser's unfinished book and libretto. Culture Clash co-founder Richard Montoya came East to confer on he project, and met with Wright and Schulberg at one of those swank restaurants in the Hamptons.  The trio was standing near the front door when one of those celebrity wannabes who flock to the Hamptons each summer pulled up in to the front door in his Mercedes. Assuming that the Mexican-American standing beside the African-American must be a valet parking attendant, he wordlessly tossed his car keys to Montoya and rushed inside.

Wright said that Budd, having watched this exercise in profiling unfold before his eyes, turned to Montoya with what sounded more like an order than a suggestion.

“He looked at Richie and said, “Keep them!”

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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