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Articles of 2009

Joey Gamache's Final Fight, For Truth, Justice: Part 2

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After suffering his second beatdown as a pro, to Gussie Nazarov in 1994, Joey Gamache and those close to him searched for reasons why.

The easiest and most popular deduction to make in situations such as this, is: it's someone else's fault. That someone can be the promoter, for not giving you enough time or money to train properly for the fight; the officials working the fight, who had it in for you from the start; your wife, or ex wife, for nagging you and keeping you from concentrating completely on the task at hand; your trainer, for coming up with a subpar gameplan, which didn't play to your strengths; the matchmaker, for matching you up with a foe that didn't allow your strengths to stand out. That's a partial list, of course; historically, bad breakfasts, lumpy hotel beds, excessive Vasoline and poisoned water bottles have been affixed blame after a man's plans go awry. All are explanations–never “excuses”– the reasons given for a loss are simply explanations for that bad outing, which of course must be seen as an aberration, not a symptom of that most common disease which afflicts us all but ravages an athlete in particularly cruel fashion, aging.

Nazarov was a 28-year-old Russian who'd never fought in the US before he came onto Joey's turf, in Portland, Maine on Dec. 10th, and he got down to business in bone-breaking fashion at the outset. He broke Gamache's nose with a vicious left hook midway through the first and dropped Gamache twice in the second round. The second time, Gamache tried to beat the count, but the rest of his body over-rode his balls.

“I have absolutely no excuses,” Gamache said after. “He surprised me. He was exceptionally strong. He tagged me early and he rocked me. I just never got on track. Not at all. I came into this believing in myself. Not overconfident, but very confident. I worked as hard as I could. Sacrificed. And the better man won.”

Joey Gamache is one less afraid to buck tradition, and focus on the most logical suspect in the hunt for the reason why he'd lost another high profile bout: himself. So after Nazarov gave him the business, and he conceded that Nazarov was the superior fighter on that night, he started looking in the most logical spot for answers: the mirror.

Did I get old, he asked himself.

Do I have too many miles on me?

Has the game passed me by?

Was I really all that I was advertised to be, or not?

He wondered if it was time to pull the plug on the romance, if a breakup with boxing was the smart move. The rollercoaster ride in the sweet science had started off pleasant enough, and took some thrilling turns. The 1991 WBA super featherweight title win over Jerry Ngobeni in Lewiston was a trip. The WBA lightweight title victory over Chil-Sung Chun the next year, also in Maine, no one would ever be able to taint that memory. But the next bout was the loss to Tony Lopez, and the ride got rougher still with the Nazarov effort.

He asked himself those questions, but some people around him thought it wiser to find another villain. As so often happens, they locked in on the guy that sounded a bit different, who didn't blend in seamlessly, a fella who by virtue of a congenital inability to suppress his righteous indignation, especially when it came to the fight game, his sainted yet imperfect betrothed.  Some folks around Gamache pointed the finger at Johnny Bos, the advisor who'd been instrumental in getting Gamache to a certain place. They'd been together, the soft-spoken Mainer and the easily excited Brooklyner, since Joey was 3-0 as a pro. Bos got him some gigs on undercards in France, and had stuck together ever since. “He had three fights in Maine and was kind of in limbo,” Bos said. “I got a call from the Acaries brothers in France. They were looking for an American Frenchman to build up. I didn't have anybody. I thought Joey was Italian.” Joe's dad, Joe Sr., he and Bos didn't mesh. Two men with sturdy ideas of the right way to do things, quite sure that their method is far and away the wisest. Joe the younger was caught in the middle, a nice guy not inclined to take a side, break a tie, keep both sides in line, even though it was his tuchus on the line in the arena.

The Bos-Gamache pairing worked, by and large, and it's not like Gamache couldn't have tucked in with a more mainstream advisor. Bob Arum and Don King both dangled dough and promises in front of Joey’s nose. One good thing about Bos, he knew a bit about roller coaster love affairs; he’d been married to boxing since he was about ten. He missed school many days, but never the Gillette Cavalcade of Sports, the Friday Night Fights of the late 1960s. The game was a pretty good wife to him, for the most part. It kept him out of as much trouble as he’d likely have found without an intense vocational focal point, and gave him something to latch on to when his boozing and drugging threatened to overwhelm him in the 80s. “Boxing's always been a sport for the down-and-out people,” he said once. “My kind of people. Me.” But sometimes rather than faithful spouse, boxing played the part of cruel mistress. Bos loved and loves boxing so much, he wants it to be the best it can be. Instead of going along, and getting along, he’ll launch into a spiel morning, noon or night about the sports’ inefficiencies. The gloves, the number of rounds, the refusal to allow lidocaine shots to fighters with balky hands, Bos will critique his mistress mercilessly, and she has not taken it mutely. Boxing has answered back, shoved Bos back, withheld favors from the man. He will tell you he has been blackballed, and since you know the depth of his knowledge in the game, even though you have no concrete proof that he has been blackballed, you do not dismiss his claim. Knowing what you know about the game, and life, today, you don't dismiss his claim.

Back in 1994, boxing hadn't yet beaten Bos down, or brought Gamache to the the scene of the final battle of his career as a prizefighter, the New York Court of Claims. But the sport was testing him, on a daily basis, querying his mettle. He'd answered, by taking on drywall jobs, just a week after the Nazarov loss. Maybe, he thought, this is it. Maybe I was what the detractors said I was. Maybe this is my place, hanging sheetrock. I can do it in my sleep, and expectations are manageable.

But the siren beckoned. Questions weren't erased as tried out the 9-to-5 laborer life. How do I want to go out? On a bum note? Or on my terms, with my head screwed on straight, no girlfriend problems, or issues with my dad hanging in the air, distracting from the task at hand? So down went the drywall, and on went the gloves.

Gamache exiled himself to New York, and took on a new manager, New Jerseyite Lenny Shaw, to make things happen, do some dealmaking for another title shot, as Bos set up soft and semi-soft touches to get his confidence back, and get him acclimated to 140. That he did, with the help of Tim Bonds and Tony Enna, both of whom he beat twice in a one-year span in 1995-1996. Gamache won a minor-leagueish title, the WBU junior welter crown, on March 31, against Rocky Martinez, then 20-1 but with a record built on a flimsy foundation. The money was nothing to write home about, let along buy a home with. He beat Martinez in front of maybe 600 people at the Sullivan Gymnasium at the University of Southern Maine, made 20 Gs. After, Gamache still had questions. In a boxer, being a ponderer typically isn't a great trait. Having a philosophical bent, being prone to mull issues over, instead of simply accepting, and concentrating on positives, can be self destructive. After the Martinez bout, Gamache still lay in his bed at night, and stewed. “I want to take some time off and evaluate this fight,” he said.  “I want to know if it was me or whether he was just that good. I was standing still too much. I don't know why.”

That question lingered, but Gamache's pride overrode some of the likelier answers. Aging was why. Mileage. The way of the world. It's a younger, fresher man's game. Gamache was 29, positively aged in the lower weight divisions, especially for someone with over 100 amateur bouts under his belt. But he submerged the questions as Bos got to work on a money fight. He employed a technique we all do, of benign delusion, and told himself that once his personal life smoothed out, his ring performances would benefit. Long term boxers often fall prey to a dangerous mindset, that of the “I am owed a fat payday.” They have devoted scads of hours, and allowed relationships to wither, and tortured themselves, and deprived themselves, and possibly harmed themselves neurologically down the line for so long…so they believe a payoff bout is owed to them. In a perfect world, it would be owed to them. But there is often no direct correlation between what someone is owed, and what they receive. That mom two doors down from me, the one with four kids, the one whose husband died of a heart attack at 44, who cleans houses five days a week, and works in the convenience store on Saturday and Sunday so she can keep her kids in a nice, safe neighborhood, she deserves a windfall. She deserves a big pile of money, if we're rewarding people based on their effort, and their decency. That friend of a friend who works for the hedge fund, the kid whose dad pulled a load of strings to get him into Princeton, and then into the firm even though he majored in cocaine and date rape in college, the guy who pulls down more in a quarter than that lady down the street will in her lifetime, this guy deserves a smackdown, so he can get a taste of how the Have Nots live. But ours is not a merit based world, and this is why so many are attracted to the idea of an after life where the scales of justice aren't tipped by power or money, where bad people get their due, and good souls receive what is rightfully theirs. A fighter who early on understands and accepts that the equation of effort + time + talent = fat payoff is the exceptional path, not the normal one, is ahead in the game.

Bos hunted it down, that back-to-the big-leagues bout, and put out some calls. Julio Cesar Chavez, the legend who was now on the slippery slope of the downside, coming off his first loss to Oscar De La Hoya, was needing a dance partner. At 34, Chavez had just two losses on his ledger, to Frankie Randall in 1994, and De La Hoya (TKO4). Chavez wanted to hold onto the baton, keep his run as the reigning idol to Mexican fight fans and to Hispanics intact. De La Hoya, at 23, had already picked up three crowns (WBO feather, WBO lightweight, IBF lightweight), but fight fans wondered if he had the stones enough to get the better of the vet taking part in his 32nd title fight. He did, from minute one, and he opened up a sick gash on his left eye which caused the ring doc to stop the proceedings in the fourth round. After the tussle, Chavez grasped for an explanation, and offered an all-time great: his three year old kid had head-butted him three days before the fight, and opened a cut on his tattered visage. Another handful of formerly devoted Chavez devotees drifted away from their icon, finding his parade of excuses unseemly. But he marched on, as there was pride to buoy, and the taxman to satisfy. Four months after he had his baton yanked away from him by the Golden Boy, Chavez was booked into a slide-stopper, a bout to arrest the inevitable snowballing slide. “The payoff, that was an element in taking the Chavez fight,” Gamache says. “That was the biggest payday of my career, $250,000.” But taking the Chavez bout was by no means purely a fiscal play. Gamache saw a fighter in decline. “He wasn't getting any younger. This is my way back, I thought, my fight back to the big leagues. It was the right time to catch this guy. I saw it as an opportunity for redemption for my two losses.”

So Chavez vs. Joey Gamache was booked, two guys looking to redefine their role in the sport, their worth as an athlete. They would fight on Oct. 12, 1996 in Anaheim, California. The bout wouldn't go Gamache's way, but he would leave Anaheim answering a question in his mind about his worth as an athlete, a fighter, a man.

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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