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Articles of 2009

Macklin Wins Euro Middleweight Crown

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MANCHESTER, England — When Ricky Hatton announced the formation of Hatton Promotions back in February and then got knocked out by Manny Pacquiao three months later it appeared that the British boxer might have left it until too late to get himself involved in the bean-counting side of the sport. But then this past July Hatton's fledgling company, which had promoted only four club-level cards to that point, signed a long-term deal with SKY television to promote eight nationally televised shows.

The first card under that agreement took place at a cycling arena in Hatton's native Manchester Friday night, and Hatton's longtime sparring partner Matthew Macklin utterly demolished Finland's former champion Amin Akisainen to win the vacant European middleweight title.

Macklin's spectacular win came in one of those rare fights that proceeds just the way it was drawn up on the chalkboard. Knowing the Finn to be a reflexive boxer who would be trying to figure him out in the early going, Macklin baited the trap in the first two minutes, when on at least four occasions he tapped Asikainen with his jab and then dug with a hard right to the body.

Macklin had also correctly surmised that the Finn wouldn't like this very much. As the round entered its final minute, he showed the jab again, and when Asikainan shied to his left to protect himself from what he thought was coming next, and dropped his hands in doing so, Macklin's feinted jab had turned into a hard left hook that slammed against the side of Asikainen's head and sent him crashing to the floor.

Akisainen climbed to his feet, but as he took the remainder of Sicilian referee Luigi Muratore's mandatory eight-count, his vacant stare radiated confusion, and it was at that moment difficult to tell whether he was surprised by the early knockdown or genuinely hurt.

Macklin assumed it to be the latter, and flew at him with both fists flying the instant the referee turned him loose. He chased Asikainen into his own corner, where a right hand put him on his backside. Once again Asikainen got up with several seconds to spare, but seemed more dazed than ever, and Muratore waved it off without completing his count. In just a two minutes and 34 seconds of fighting, Matthew Macklin was the middleweight champion of Europe, joining a distinguished line of predecessors that has included the likes Marcel Cerdan, Laszlo Papp, and Nino Benvenuti.

The Macklin-Asikainen topped an 11-bout card that included performances by other memers of the Hatton Boxing stable, including former British Olympian Joe Murray and unbeaten prospects Rhys Roberts and Scott Quigg.

Following his 2004 victory over Kostya Tszyu, Hatton severed his tie with Frank Warren, and over the next four years his fights were promoted by everyone from Dennis Hobson and Frank Maloney in the UK to Lou DiBella, Bob Arum, Artie Pellulo, and Golden Boy in the US.

Although he is often the dispassionate conscience of British boxing, writer/broadcaster Steve Bunce may have somewhat overstated the case when he described Hatton's new venture in Friday's Independent as “the British version of Oscar De La Hoya's company, Golden Boy.”

That comparison may have stretched the point a bit. To qualify as the British version of Golden Boy, Hatton would have to (a) find some Teutonic who's never seen a fight and put him in charge of the boxing operation, (b) purchase an influential magazine (Boxing News, for instance), (c) start rating fighters and handing out its own titles, and then (d) strong-arm SKY into describing the holders of its belts as “world” champions.

And it probably goes without saying that if the Hitman wanted to fully emulate the Golden Boy model, Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao would already be vice presidents of Hatton Promotions.

But while Golden Boy in its infancy could rely on a bankable asset — its eponymous founder — it is by no means clear that Ricky Hatton will ever fight again, but even if he does, some of the shine may have gone off the mystique with his losses to Mayweather and Pacquiao.  (Of course, De La Hoya lost to the same two guys, and in fact Oscar's record as a Golden Boy fighter was a pretty spotty one.)

That the folks running Hatton Promotions are raw neophytes when it comes to staging big-time fights was evident in the shoddy press facilities. What was labeled the “ringside press” section turned out to be assigned seating folding chairs set up in the audience. In the absence of tabletops and electrical outlets, those covering the the card were reduced to taking scribbled notes, with the lone exception being the enterprising scribe who was able to compose his copy on a mobile phone and send his story as a text message.

That boxing writers use computers in 2009 does not appear to have occurred to anyone connected with Hatton Promotions, including the principal himself.  It does seem nothing short of amazing that Ricky Hatton could have participated in 47 professional fights and never once looked down from the ring long enough to see what writers actually do.

In the wake of the SKY windfall, Hatton used the television money to amass an impressively large stable of Midlands boxers he would need to provide the rosters for his eight upcoming shows and then, apparently, set out to sustain their marginal popularity by making sure none of them lost coming out of the gate. This latter was accomplished by flying in a platoon of Eastern Europeans to provide cannon fodder Friday night. The result was an interminable series of horrible mismatches, so many of which ended so quickly that SKY, with a huge chunk of time to fill, was obliged to show nearly all of them.

“It wasn't a very good night for the boys in the blue corner,” sighed former lightweight champion and current SKY analyst Jim Watt, who before the show was halfway over had exhausted his supply of euphemisms in describing the woeful incompetence of the opposition. The effect, in the end, was to diminish even Macklin's spectacular triumph. Amir Asikainen might be the best boxer ever to come out of Finland, but to the armchair fans watching in British living rooms, he could as easily have been another of the bums from Georgia matchmaker Richard Poxon had rounded up for the other Hatton boxers.

Born in Birmingham of Irish parents, Macklin is the former Irish and British champion, and effectively gave up the latter title for the chance to fight for the Euro crown on Hatton's first televised card. (Macklin, who knocked out Wayne Elcock to win the British title in March, was stripped when he withdrew from a scheduled defense against Darren Barker.) Macklin, who had a couple of fights in the US four years ago, went into the EBU title fight having won seven in a row since he was stopped by Jamie Moore in the tenth round of their British 154-pound title fight in 2006.

Macklin had dominated the early going in that fight, but after staking himself to a big lead, he ran out of gas down the stretch and was stopped as much by exhaustion as he was by Moore. He had resolved to pace himself better in this one, but any thoughts of husbanding his energy were abandoned once Asikainen became so accommodating.

Asikainen had held the European title for 13 months in 2006-07, but lost it when he was stopped in a rematch by Sebastian Sylvester, now the IBF champ, whom he had knocked out a year earlier.

The audience at the Velodrome was solidly behind Macklin. Close to 1,000 of his supporters had come over from Birmingham, and a significant number of his Irish fans had flown in from Dublin as well. A year or two ago Macklin was rated a poor third behind John Duddy and Andy Lee in the Irish middleweight sweepstakes, but at this stage you'd have to say he has vaulted ahead of both, and it wouldn't be surprising to see the new European champion next turn his attention to the lucrative Irish-American market.

Macklin's record improved to 25-2 with the impressive win. Asikainen, who had gone into the fight a slight betting favorite, fell to 26-3.

The evening was otherwise pretty much a clean sweep for Team Hatton. Junior featherweight Joe Murray, the former British Olympian, went to 16-0 with his first-round TKO of Wolverhampton's Delroy Spencer, who is now 11-89-3. Super-middle Martin (no relation) Murray, the 2008 winner of Britain's trash-sport “Prizefighter” series, also posted a first-round TKO of Georgian George Aduashvili (10-6-1), also improved to 16-0.

The closest thing to an upset came in what was billed as an eliminator for Macklin's old British middleweight title, when veteran Cello Randa of Peterborough knocked out previously unbeaten Sam Horton. Randa (18-7) dropped Horton with a huge right hand in the second, and when he got back up landed a two-punch, right-left combination that left Horton, now 13-1, unconscious for several minutes.

The more usual fare was more akin to Mark Thompson's TKO win over his Georgian opponent, Gari Abajian. Referee John Edwards stopped that one in the fifth because Abajian was't punching back, but in truth he could have stopped it almost any time, since Abajean didn't throw a punch from the second round on. Thompson is now 21-1, Abajian 10-8.

Junior middle Denton Vassell (12-0) had to go the distance to earn his win over Romanian Vasile Surcica (3-29-2) in a bout otherwise rendered remarkable only by Surcica's trunks — a pair of plaid Bermuda shorts with three pockets. Referee Mike Alexander, apparently unmoved by the Romanian's fashion statement, scored it a 60-54 shutout.

Norway-based Colombian Andreas Evensen (10-1) scored a fifth-round KO over Italian Gianpiero Contestable (14-2).

Three scheduled 4-rounders all went the distance. Junior lightweights Scott Quigg (15-0) and Roberts (8-0) posted 40-36 shutouts of their respective victims, German substitute Nico Schroeder (4-9-1) and Steve Gethin (11-49-3). Lightweight Anthony Crolla (15-2) outpointed another late sub, John (The Swinton Slugger) Baguley. The Slugger is now 8-16-1.

*  *   *

At the Velodrome

Manchester, England

Sept. 25,  2009

MIDDLEWEIGHTS: Matthew Macklin, 159, Birmingham, Eng. TKO'd Amin Asikainen, 159 1/4, Siuntio, Finland (1) (Wins vacant European title)

Ceilo Randa, 160, Peterborough, England KO'd Sam Horton, 159 1/2, Wordsley, England (2)

Martin Murray, 165 1/2, St. Helens, Eng. KO'd George Aduashvili, 158, Variani, Georgia (1)

JUNIOR MIDDLEWEIGHTS: Denton Vassell, 151 3/4, Arcoats, Eng. dec. Vasile Surcica, 152 1/4, Iasi, Romania (6)

WELTERWEIGHTS    Mark Thompson. 149 1/2, Rochdale, Eng. TKO'd  Gari Abajian,146 1/4, Tblisi, Georgia

LIGHTWEIGHTS: Anthony Crolla, 135, Manchester dec. John Baguley, 138 1/2, Rotherham (4)

JUNIOR LIGHTWEIGHTS: Andreas Evensen, 128 1/2, Bogota, Colombia TKO'd  Gianpiero Contestabile, 127 1/2, Avezzano, Italy (5)

Rhys Roberts, 129 1/4, Manchester dec.   Steve Gethin, 132 Walsall, England (4)

Scott Quigg, 129, Bury TKO'd  Nico Schroeder, 130, Fuerstenwalde, Germany (2)

JUNIOR FEATHERWEIGHTS: Joe Murray, 134 , Manchester TKO'd  Delroy Spencer, 121 1/4, Wolverhampton, Eng. 1)

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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