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Articles of 2009

Floyd Mayweather Plays Media Masterfully

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You think maybe some of the folks associated with Floyd Mayweather’s return to the ring wish that maybe he wasn’t working quite so hard on drumming up interest in the Saturday bout with Juan Manuel Marquez?

Floyd’s rant on Wednesday, which featured slaps at our nation’s race issues, Oscar De La Hoya, US sports fans, US fight fans, HBO’s Larry Merchant and Manny Steward, has made the rounds on the web, and if Mayweather’s aim were simply to get people talking about him, and training their eyeballs on him, then he has certainly succeeded.

The most incendiary portion of his remarks were his comments on his perceived status as a black man in America. “If you're rich, you're a rich n—–,” he said. “If you're poor, you're a poor n—-. If you're smart, you're a smart n—–.  At the end of the day, they still look at me as a n—–.”

The notable sports-snark websites The Big Easy and Deadspin both synopsized Mayweather’s rat-a-tat rant at multiple targets, and concluded that the fighter’s launch misfired.

“You know you’ve worn out your crazy card when those comments fall flat,” the Big Lead’s Ty Duddy wrote.

Over at Deadspin, Barry Petchesky riffed on Floyd’s comment that: “I wouldn't change my life for nothing in the world. There's nothing like being young, black and rich. But there are certain things you think about. If Floyd Mayweather was white, I'd be the biggest athlete in America. The biggest, the biggest. I know that for a fact.”

“That's funny, because the biggest athletes in America are Tiger Woods and LeBron James,” Petchesky wrote. “And the last time a boxer was the biggest name in sports, it was Mike Tyson.”

A thoroughly unscientific sample of friends, neighbors and Facebook pals found most writing off Floyd’s chatter as pre-fight hype. Does he believe what he’s saying? Sure, most seem to think. Is he putting it out there because he knows how to make us keyboard tappers take notice? Sure thing. And it leads one to wonder, how much longer will some of these boldface names that Floyd has taken to task put up with it? You’ll recall he laced into HBO in July 2008, during his hiatus, to the Grand Rapids Press.

“Even a guy like Jim Lampley, he praises Kelly Pavlik — who has won some good fights, he beat Jermain Taylor twice, we have to give him credit for that — but they talk about Kelly Pavlik, a white fighter, like he's the second coming,” Mayweather said. “Or they go crazy over Manny Pacquiao. But I'm a black fighter. Is it racial? Absolutely. They praise white fighters, they praise Hispanic fighters, whatever. But black fighters, they never praise. I've noticed it for a long time but I couldn't say anything because I had to do business with them. I'll still do business with them, but I'm done holding my tongue.”

He did hold his tongue for awhile during his comeback. At his Empire State Building press conference in May, I asked him about that shot at HBO, and wondered if he still felt the same way, or had he buried the hatchet and gotten over it? At the time, in deft political fashion, he refused to re-enter that charged milieu, and threw the question back at me. (I actually do believe that perhaps Floyd does get a slightly rawer deal from media members, particularly Caucasian ones who have trouble identifying with some of his behaviors and pals and such, for the record.) But now we know that the fighter does still hold a grudge against HBO, or at least the announcing team. Till now, Mayweather has been able to minimize his distaste, so he can continue doing business with them, and allow them to play their part in attempting to sell a million pay-per-view buys to his comeback tussle.

So..how much longer will “they” put up with it? Easy answer–as long as Mayweather is a viable pay-per-view attraction, a certified personality who exhibits enough charisma to guest star on “Raw,” and land a national cell phone commercial. People he’s verbally tasered will hold their tongue, as Floyd said he’d been doing, and swallow their pride, and not blast back as some of them must want to. Because it is all, or virtually all, about MAKING MONEY. We all make choices daily, trading our time, energy, effort and yes, sometimes, our pride in exchange for a check. Some just do it in more public fashion, and for more zeroes on their checks.

I have to think Oscar De La Hoya may well be at the top of the blast-back list. You might not have heard what Floyd said about him. No, not at the Wednesday press conference, when he said anything negative Oscar does gets swept under the rug. (Er, Floyd must’ve not seen the NY tabloids having a field day with Goldie photos during that flareup. No under-rug-sweeping was going on…) I’m talking about the night before, on E’s “Chelsea Lately,” the late-night talk show featuring comedian Chelsea Lately. On Tuesday night, Floyd chatted with Handler. She wondered if he might like to put up his leg, and place his foot next to his tush, as she was doing. No thanks, he indicated with a limping of his wrist, people then might think I’m not hetero. Handler assured him that nobody thinks he’s not straight, and then she asked about his trash talking, especially before he fought Oscar De La Hoya in 2007.

“You didn’t like Oscar De La Hoya at all,” she said.

“You wouldn’t like a man who wears fishnets,” Mayweather said.

“I don’t like men who wear fishnets, unless they’re gay and out of the closet,” she said, “then I can support that.”

“Then he hide, he hide,” Floyd said, chuckling.

Just maybe Oscar is cool with Floyd using the allegation of marital infidelities to stir the pot, get us tappers talkin,’ maybe get a few hundred buys tacked on Saturday night. All’s fair in love, war, and publicizing your pay per view, perhaps.

Something else Mayweather said on Handler’s show got me thinking. Kanye West the day before had wrested the spotlight from award winner Taylor Swift in a boozy defense of his pal Beyonce, who didn’t get the award Swift was holding. “It made him bigger. The whole show’s been about Kanye West,” Mayweather noted. Truth. Kanye was on everyone’s lips. The President, even. So what if the consensus was that he acted like a jackass. At least people are talking about him. That’s a short leap to buying his merch. Same deal for Mayweather. People are talking about him. Borges wrote about him. I wrote about. We are hyping his event.

Do I accept or embrace the substance of Floyd’s Wednesday rant? No. Most glaringly, I think his theory on race affecting his popularity is significantly off kilter. A black cabbie pal of mine thinks a good number of black fans will backlash on Floyd, pissed off that he’s whining about his place, while the rate of unemployment among blacks is at 20% in many parts of the US. Most crucial to his lower-than-he-likes-level of acceptance, fight fans don’t take to his style of fighting. Fight fans pay to see compelling, dramatic combat. That’s the bottom line. They will overlook a boring persona, or a tendency towards excessive bragging, or clashes with law enforcement, if you satisfy their desire to see spirited, aggressive combat. But if your style is geared towards defense first, then you can’t expect to be universally beloved, as Floyd apparently does.

It ain’t about race, it’s about punching in the face, basically. Do it hard, and fast, and frequently, against worthy foes, and they will tell you they love you, with their wallets.

But, let’s be clear about this. Floyd doesn’t care what I think. He just cares maybe a bit that I’m spending a little time, and devoting a little space to him. He has a fight to hype, he knows how me and my type operate. He gave us red meat, we took the bait, chewed on it, shared some with TSS U. Did it work? We will know authoritatively when we see those buy rates. In the meantime, I predict his targets’ tongues will be held, because Floyd holds massive sway as the game’s first or second draw. Man’s no fool, he knows he has a free pass to talk some smack, and the HBO crew and Oscar have to grin and bear it to an extent. Or…I have a conspiracy theory brewing in my brain…Suppose Oscar is itching to fight again, and he and Floyd have discussed this, and Floyd’s reference to fishnets is round one in the road to their rematch. Yikes. There I go again, proving at least one of my points, that if Floyd’s aim on Monday and Wednesday was to get his name on peoples’ tongues, then he has succeeded.

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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