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Articles of 2009

Juan Manuel Lopez Weighs In Ahead Of Saturday Scrap

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Undefeated world champions JUAN MANUEL “JuanMa” LOPEZ and YURIORKIS GAMBOA will be serving hard shots of tropical punch when they defend their titles, in separate fights, headlining “Island Warriors: Latin Fury 12,” Saturday, October 10, broadcast Live on Pay-Per-View from the WaMu Theater in the “Mecca of Boxing,” Madison Square Garden.  Lopez will be defending his World Boxing Organization (WBO) junior featherweight title against top contender and Tanzania native ROGERS MTAGWA.  Gamboa will be defending his World Boxing Association (WBA) featherweight belt against Panamanian strongman WHYBER GARCIA. The televised portion of this boxing extravaganza will begin at 9 p.m. ET / 6 p.m. PT with two exciting 10-round bouts – undefeated Top-10 heavyweight contender ODLANIER SOLIS of Cuba against two-time world title challenger FRES OQUENDO of Puerto Rico, and super welterweight contenders PAWEL WOLAK of Poland against CARLOS NASCIMENTO  of Brazil.  These eight sluggers boast a combined record of 182-25-2 (132 KOs), a winning percentage of 87% and a victory by knockout ratio of 73%.

Top-10 middleweight contender and New York fan favorite IRELAND’S JOHN DUDDY will also be featured, on the non-televised undercard in a 10-round middleweight bout.

JuanMa gave his thoughts on the upcoming bout, and what might come next, on a conference call last week.

TODD DUBOEF (President, Top Rank):  We are real excited about this event.  As you know, we have a real forte of developing fighters and having young prospects.  Even though we are in the middle of football and in the middle of the baseball playoffs, we think this is the right place to be.  I am going to use October like we are at the beginning of the year for guys like JuanMa and Gamboa and Solis, Wolak and Omar Chavez, guys that are all going to be on this great show.  We think this is a significant show for everyone to see their progress.

PETER RIVERA (PR Best Boxing, JuanMa co-promoter):  We are very excited.  We all know that Top Rank has done a great job building fighters such as Miguel Cotto and it has worked.  We are expecting a lot of Puerto Ricans at the fights.

JUAN MANUEL LOPEZ:  I just want to let everyone know that I am very grateful for this opportunity to be on this great show.  I have worked very hard preparing myself for anything and everything that can happen in the ring.  I know Rogers Mtagwa is a tough guy but I am ready for him and I am more than ready to do battle.

Is there an incentive fighting on the same night as Israel Vazquez knowing that may be a future fight?

JUAN MANUEL LOPEZ:  Without a doubt I am going to be rooting for him to win.  I am going to win on the same night and I do look forward to fighting him in the future.  I know there are a lot of good fights out there and my company is going to be making those great fights for me.  Yes, that is one guy I would look forward to fighting if there is an opportunity to do so.

Caballero has been saying a lot of things about you…

JUAN MANUEL LOPEZ:  Right now I am just concentrating on my fight with Mtagwa.  I know he is out there and I’m looking forward to shutting his mouth up once and for all.  I am just looking forward to October 10 and there are some big names out there that I can fight and whoever is next, is next.

Fighting in New York?

JUAN MANUEL LOPEZ:  The opportunity to fight in New York is obviously a pinpoint market for a Puerto Rican.  It is a great opportunity for me and I didn’t expect it to happen this soon.   I am just very happy that it is going to be coming up and I am going to fight in such an important arena.

Gamboa in the future?

JUAN MANUEL LOPEZ:  As you may know I am doing this and maybe one more fight at 122 and I am looking forward to going up to 126 and it is a fight that has been mentioned and a fight that is out there and if it can be done, great.  It is a great challenge for me and I think it is a great fight for both of us.

Will he watch Gamboa fight in the dressing room or watch later?

JUAN MANUEL LOPEZ:  I will be focused on my fight in the dressing room but I may take a couple of glances at the TV.  If the fight comes and it happens…I do know him very well.  I have had the opportunity to see him fight a few times and I know how he fights and I know what he likes to do.  There is no doubt in my mind that when we do fight I can beat him but it will be a tough fight.

TODD DUBOEF:  I just want to mention that this will be the first time that there will be a TV blackout into the locker room so he doesn’t get distracted.  Yes, I was joking, but obviously he has to perform and I wouldn’t throw away not considering it because he’s got a big road a head of him.  He may just have one more fight at 122 and October 10 is a big performance for him.

Is JuanMa excited that he is the centerpiece and all fighters want to fight him and no one else?

JUAN MANUEL LOPEZ:  It is a big compliment when people talk to me like that, about me being the centerpiece.  It is not only me, my company has worked and my team has worked to put me at this point in my career and now it is up to me to do what they expect me to do.

TODD DUBOEF:  It is true that he has to do what he has to do but through our relationship with Peter Rivera or PR Best Boxing.  We develop these business models around these young men that they become the epicenter of where the storm is.  There are people out there that know where the money is and the fighters are the biggest attraction.

JUAN MANUEL LOPEZ:  We take this one step at a time and we make sure everything is right and everything is correct as we move ahead.   The opportunities are out there but we have to take them one step at a time.  We can’t run to them, I know I am not a rookie any more but I am not at the elite level yet and I need a big fight that will put me at the elite level.  I am working towards that we are all working towards that.  Just take my time and make it right and make it perfect.

Strengths and weaknesses of Mtagwa?

JUAN MANUEL LOPEZ:  He is a guy that comes at you and throws a lot of punches.  He is kind of awkward and throws punches from a lot of directions and he plans to overwhelm you with punches.  But he also leaves himself open so you can counter-punch him and you can get some real good punches at him – he’s not a good defender.  I think if I put my punches together I think he is a guy that I can knockout.

How is this going to be different for you to fight in the Mecca of Boxing?

JUAN MANUEL LOPEZ:  It is very important for me to look great and to show everyone in New York, not only the Puerto Ricans but everyone that is there who comes to see our fights that I am a good fighter and I can do something special.  I am looking forward to doing something very impressive because I do want to go back to the big building.  I do want to fight in the big building and hopefully soon.  Not only that, but I want to show all the people watching these great fights on TV.

Define great…

JUAN MANUEL LOPEZ:  I like to show them a little bit of everything.  I know I’m a great defensive fighter.  I know I’m a great offensive fighter.  Everyone knows my power.  I like to show them a little bit of everything that I can do.

Fighting in the Garden atmosphere…

JUAN MANUEL LOPEZ:  We all want to be like Cotto fighting in the big arena at Madison Square Garden, that’s what we all look forward to.  That’s what I look forward to and I have to work hard to get there, but don’t doubt me, I will get there.  I will have one of those great fights there.

They always talk about the great Puerto Rican fighters that fight at the Garden, how do you feel being compared to that?

JUAN MANUEL LOPEZ:  It is a great honor to be compared to Trinidad and Cotto and Gomez.  People that compare me to them – it is a great honor.  I know they have heart to get to where they did.  I know how hard I work to get to where I am.  I know if I work harder I will be at the same level as those guys.

TODD DUBOEF:  There are two kinds of clock with these young fighters in this business.  One is their marketability clock and one is their boxing ability clock.  When we have a guy that is in the epicenter of these big fights being done with the different types of opponents that he has in front of him, we have to take both of those things into consideration.  Mtagwa is going to be a fight that you are on pins and needles with.  He had a run of three or four first round knockouts and that was great for his marketability, but the truth is what did it do for his boxing ability?  We don’t know.  So these types of matches are the types that will test him, make him a better fighter and an attraction at the same time.

Have you done anything different to prepare for Mtagwa?

JUAN MANUEL LOPEZ:  I think of a couple of guys that were bigger and stronger that have moved down to fight me, I’m thinking of (Gilberto) Bolanos (2006) and (Hugo) Dianzo (2007). They were tough fights and difficult fights but I think I am very prepared for those types of fighters now.

I have not had the opportunity nor the opponent that has made me use all of my skills that I have.  I think that I have all the skills that I need in the ring, I just haven’t had a fighter pressure me to make me use all of my boxing skills yet.  There will be a time in my career and if I go up to 126 I’m sure there will be some guys there that my take my power away but I will be the same action fighter that I am now.

Do you worry about taking too many punches with his high-action style?

JUAN MANUEL LOPEZ:  It is a style that has done well for me and I don’t think I’ve been in trouble in any of my fights.  I don’t think I’ve been in any unnecessary wars yet.  I like to give the fans a good show and I do the best that I can, but if there comes a time that I have to do something else to win, I will.

What is the difference preparing to fight in the Garden compare to Puerto Rico, if any?

JUAN MANUEL LOPEZ:  The fight preparation is the same.  Obviously the night of the fight because all of my family can be there and all my kids can be there.  We do feel that we are away.  I do love fighting in Puerto Rico and having the great backing of my family and everyone involved.  But I do know that it is important to go outside and get people to know me.

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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