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Articles of 2009

Borges: Chris Arreola Not Ready For Prime Time

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You want to believe. If you have any love for boxing or of an underdog’s story than you desperately want to believe. But, if you have eyes to see, you do not believe.

That is what heavyweight boxing in America has come to in this lowest of all nadirs. You no longer search for the Next Big Thing. You search only for a clone of Buster Douglas.

For Cristobal Arreola to defeat World Boxing Council heavyweight champion Vitali Klitschko Saturday night at Staples Center in Los Angeles would not require an effort like the one Douglas mustered the night he beat up 42-1 favorite Mike Tyson in Tokyo’s Egg Dome. But the shock of seeing his hand raised would be similar. The only difference is a lot less people will be watching.

To say no one cares any more in the United States about the heavyweight division is to state the obvious. Partially this is because of jingoistic feelings of nationalism that find American fight fans turning away once the division began being overrun by a string of Eastern European belt holders like the Klitschko brothers, Nikolai Valuev, Ruslan Chagaev, Oleg Maskaev or young contenders Alexander Povetkin or Dennis Boytsov.

For ethnocentric U.S. fight fans it was bad enough when the giant Brit-Canadian-Jamaican citizen of the world Lennox Lewis, held the heavyweight title. But the recent parade of large but not largely talented East Europeans has left American fight fans both cold and disinterested. The latter, by the way, is far worse than the former and it is a result of the desultory nature of the majority of the victories by this string of Russian giants.

As a group they are easy to lose interest in, each making the other appear better only by the boring nature of their own performances. This recently led HBO analyst Larry Merchant to question his own enthusiasm for Arreola’s talent and chances, conceding it may be based more on wishful thinking than on his undefeated 27-0 record with 24 knockouts. Worse, boxing philosopher and future Hall of Famer Bernard Hopkins explained the heavyweight division thusly last week while in Las Vegas: “We live in a microwave society,’’ Hopkins said. “It ain’t about the family sitting at home with grandma doing the cooking and you say you’re hungry and your Mom says ‘In an hour.’ Now its hit some buttons and you got a four course meal.

“That’s why fighters get knocked out so early. They don’t have a chance to become that sweet peach on the tree. They get picked too soon.  You taste that peach and it’s bitter. It wasn’t ripe.

“They’re pushed by thieving, conniving promoters because they need to produce something that’s not there yet. You got to have something to sell so what they sell is, ‘Maybe he’s a dark horse like Buster Douglas.’ You got to make soup but you ain’t got nothing. You know you got nothing but you still need soup so you boil some hot water and salt. You know you got nothing but now it’s soup.’’

In other words, the undefeated but untested Arreola, in Hopkins’ opinion, lacks the experience and mastery of his craft to match Klitschko (37-2) and ultimately will pay a painful price for it. In short form, Hopkins was predicting the WBC title will stay in the Ukraine and Germany, where Klitschko was first born and now works even though he became a U.S. citizen and splits his time between Los Angeles and Hamburg, Germany.

Most athletes would have never gotten to the soup analogy because they wouldn’t know an analogy from an analgesic but Bernard Hopkins didn’t even break stride when someone said, “You mean he doesn’t have a chance?’’

“You’re a doctor!’’ Hopkins said before adding that the heavyweight division, always so vital to the survival of boxing, was utterly moribund in the U.S., not that it matters any longer.

“People say in boxing if the heavyweight division is dead boxing is dead,’’ Hopkins said. “It’s not true. The biggest fights the last five years have been between 130-160 pounds. The focus now is not where it was.

“The body is off the head. The body is 130 to 168 pounds for the last five years. Boxing will always have its down points, like the stock market, but boxing will survive the heavyweight division, it will survive whether corruption lives or don’t live, it will survive whether the Mafia running it or not.

“American sports fans don’t give a crap about the Klitschkos. When it comes to getting that name brand you got to get sanctioned in the United States first and right now they’re not embraced. It’s not their fault they came along at a time when the heavyweight division is null and void but that’s how it is today.

“This ain’t nothing I’m proud of but at the end of the day their lack of popularity isn’t about the recession. It’s that nobody cares about the heavyweights.’’

Arreola, of course, hopes they’ll care about him by around midnight Saturday. He believes they will because of a short but concussive business meeting with Klitschko on HBO. If he’s right it will mean he found a way to do that which his talent has not hinted he’s capable of, which is defeat one of the world’s top heavyweights. If he’s wrong, well, according to Hopkins no one will care any way.

This kind of disinterest has not been lost on Arreola, who seems like a pleasant enough sort. Neither has the realization that when he’s not being ignored he’s being disrespected by the larger sporting public in America.

“One thing that kind of bugs me,’’ Arreola said this wee. “I feel like I’ve been taken lightly. I feel like they already think that it’s a cakewalk.  Now they already have a date for December.  They can still fight in December, but it isn’t going be for the world title, man.

“I’m gonna win it. I respect Mr. Klitschko.  I respect him as a man and as a fighter, but inside the ring everything is outside the door and it’s time to fight.’’

This is, of course, what Arreola is not only supposed to say, it’s what he is supposed to believe. Considering that he’s not only undefeated but has only been forced to go the distance once (two victories by DQ in addition to his 24 knockouts), it is right and proper that Arreola think a lot of himself. The larger question is should he?

That is where the rubber meets the road and, frankly, where most people believe he’ll meet his Waterloo.

“It’s not gonna go far, plain and simple,’’ he insists. “It’s gonna be a knockout fight and it’s gonna be an exciting fight. It’s something in the heavyweight division that fans have been waiting a long time for.

“Vitali Klitschko has never fought anyone like me; someone that’s willing to take a punch to give a punch, or someone that has a lot of heart and fights with emotions.

“There’s always strategy going into a fight. You have to get inside the jab.  You can’t let him stretch his hands out and you go balls to the wall.  You take the fight to him and make it a fight he’s not used to.

“I’m gonna bring emotion as far as determination to win the title for Mexicans, Mexican-Americans and to keep the title out here in the United States.’’

If Chris Arreola can do that, he will have altered Bernard Hopkins’ perception and probably heavyweight reality in the U.S. He will have become a Mexican-American version of Buster Douglas, an underdog with teeth from a country that seems to have ceded boxing’s most important weight class to foreign invaders.

In all likelihood this will not come to pass. Arreola has never been in with a heavyweight as big or as experienced as Klitschko an say what you might about the champion he can punch when he lets that right hand go and his long jab is far more difficult to avoid than Arreola may know.

In addition, there has always seemed to be something missing with Arreola, something not quite serious about his fitness or his form.

“It bugs me to a point to hear that because they’re just talking (about his conditioning problems),’’ he said. “He said-she said type of stuff. That bugs me. But, they need to come to the gym and check me out and watch me for themselves.  They’ll see what I’m doing and how hard I’m actually working. I just checked this morning and I’m already (2)59 so I’m already good right there. But it does bug me.”

“The main thing for me has been the two-a-days (with strength and conditioning coach Daryl Hudson) and I cut out beer. I’ve just been eating right, a lot of vegetables and greens, chicken and fish and meats. Just the right amount for me. I have a ton of energy and feel great.’’

Saturday night he’ll have to expend a lot of that energy to prove Bernard Hopkins is no prophet. If he does, Chris Arreola will soon profit. If he doesn’t he won’t feel great for  quite a while.

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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