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Articles of 2009

A Hall Of A System: Canastota Curiosity

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We've never sat in on a meeting of the screening committee at the International Boxing Hall of Fame, but we suspect the most recent convocation went something like this:

All right, fellas, anybody who thinks Sven Ottke belongs in the Hall of Fame, please stand up.

Okay guys — you can sit down now, Ulf –how about Santos Laciar?

Do I hear a second for Little Red Lopez, anyone?

See you next year.
*  *  *
Although each member of the aforementioned trio had a respectable career, by almost any reasonable standard they're borderline Hall of Fame candidates at best, but in a year characterized by an unusually weak field the new hopefuls have this much going for them: Unlike the other 45 names on the 2009 ballot, they haven't previously been rejected by the same electorate that will pick the inductees for next June.

And say what you will about the credentials of Ottke, Laciar, and Little Red: They may be all that stands between the present unsatisfactory situation and the even more odious prospect of seeing Prince Naseem Hamed paraded through the streets of Canastota next summer.

We've said this before and we'll say it again: It might have made sense in the early days of the IBHoF, but as Canastota enters its third decade as a boxing shrine, the present system mandating the induction of the top three vote-getters in the 'modern' category is basically flawed. If three bona fide Hall of Famers come up in a given year, fine, put all three of them in, but if there are only two — or one, or zero — worthwhile candidates, that's how many should be enshrined.  To do otherwise is to dilute the product — and to cheapen the status of every boxer already represented by a plaque.

And spare us the argument that the induction weekend would suffer in a year in which no recently-retired fighters were added. As last summer's ceremony, when the likes of Bobby Goodman, Hugh McIlvanney, and Larry Merchant joined Lennox Lewis & Co. in the Class of '09 aptly illustrated, a similarly attractive group of inductees from other categories would more than offset the lost revenue occasioned by the absence of the Prince Naseem groupies.
*  *  *
Comparing Halls of Fame is in some respects an apples vs. grapefruits exercise, but since Canastota aspires to be seriously compared to its counterparts in Cooperstown and Canton it might take a few cues from their procedures.

For openers, an eligible candidate failing to garner 5% of the votes in a given year is automatically dropped from the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot the following year. (There is no ballot as such for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but a candidate failing to pass muster one year must go through the entire nominating process again the next.)

But the same tired names, some of whom have been annually rejected for the past two decades, keep showing up on the IBHoF ballot. It ought to be clear by now that if Tippy Larkin and Rinty Monaghan and Al Hostak and Tommy Farr are going to get into the Hall of Fame it's going to be by the old-timers committee. By remaining on the ballot they continue to take up places that might have been allotted to more deserving — and more electable — candidates, but, conceded IBHoF executive director Ed Brophy to The Sweet Science, “to date, no candidate has been taken off the ballot once they have been put on.”

Here's something else that hasn't changed in twenty years: A “modern” boxer is still defined as one whose last fight took place no earlier than 1943. That's 66 years ago, gentlemen; trotting out the same list of also-rans year after year doesn't make sense.
I mentioned to Brophy that over the past year I'd been queried about the Hall of Fame chances of several boxers, and specifically named a few of them — Tony DeMarco, Marlon Starling, Steve Collins, and Dave (Boy) McAuley. (The Ring 4 Boston chapter of the VBA, for instance, became so outraged over DeMarco's continued exclusion that the membership angrily, and officially, renounced its recognition of the Hall.) I made it clear to Brophy that I wasn't acting as an advocate for the aforementioned, but merely asking for an explanation I could pass along.

The answer was that the electorate has never even had a chance to pass judgment on their worthiness for the Hall, because none of their names has ever appeared on the ballot. (And a grass-roots campaign wouldn't help: “There is no procedure for write-in candidates,” said Brophy. “If a name is written in it is not counted.”

(Cooperstown does not count write-in votes either — witness Pete Rose.)

Okay, so how does a boxer get his name on the ballot? That is determined by the Hall of Fame screening committee:

“Nominations (in letter form) are received at the Hall of Fame and forwarded to the screening committee for their review. The screening committee is also in communication with other boxing historians (nationally and internationally) to discuss possible candidates who have achievements in their particular field,” explained Brophy. “The process is ongoing throughout the entire year, and an October 1st mailing of ballots officially begins the induction process.”

(The identities of the screening committee members does not appear to be a matter of public record, and probably shouldn't be, but when I hear a phrase like “other boxing historians” I somehow detect the odor of Bert Sugar lurking behind all this mumbo-jumbo.)
Brophy also noted that DeMarco, Starling, Collins, and McAuley were “all eligible but have not yet appeared on the ballot.”  Now that the process has been clarified, perhaps their proponents should be advised to submit well-constructed letters of nomination. Getting their names on the ballot wouldn't guarantee induction, but at least the electors would have a choice in the matter.
*   *   *
In order to ensure a more informed electorate (which was becoming more and more difficult as the gulf between younger voters and some of these 1940s-era “moderns” widened with each passing year), BWAA president Jack Hirsch this year appointed a three-man committee consisting of Cliff Rold, Jack Obermeyer, and Lee Groves, to prepare a dossier that included the pertinent qualifications of each of the known candidates. (Since it was distributed before the new additions were announced, it did not include Ottke, Laciar, or Lopez.)

The candidates' qualifications were listed objectively. There was no attempt to characterize the negatives of anyone on the list, nor should there have been, but the sum effect was to put the best face on each of them and let the voters decide whether any of them ought to be Hall of Famers.

As is the case with the Baseball Hall of Fame, electors may vote for up to ten candidates. As is also the case with the Baseball Hall of Fame, in practice this rarely happens, simply because there have never been that many deserving candidates. I don't think I've ever voted for more than three, and it's usually been even fewer.  After consulting the BWAA list — remember, we'd seen all of these names before — I'd come to the conclusion that there were no Hall of Famers on it, and had pretty much made up my mind to either skip sending it in altogether, or to return a signed, but blank, ballot.

I may wind up doing that anyway, but the inclusion of the three new candidates no longer makes it a slam-dunk.  One could make some pretty persuasive arguments both pro and con with Ottke, Laciar, and Little Red, but at the very least, unlike the 45 holdovers, they're borderline candidates worth a second look.

Some are going to look at Ottke's perfect 34-0 record and his six-year run with the IBF super-middleweight title and say “He has to be a Hall of Famer!” Others are going to look at the fact that he never had a single fight outside Germany, and avoided many of the top super-middles of his era and decide otherwise.

To be sure, there were a lot of cream-puffs among Ottke's 20-plus title challengers, but didn't Joe Calzaghe (who never left the British Isles during the period Ottke was holed up in Germany) take pretty much the same approach? (In point of fact, David Starie, Rick Thornberry, Tocker Pudwill, Charles Brewer, and Byron Mitchell lost title fights to both Calzaghe and Ottke.)

He's several years away, but few would question Calzaghe's HofF qualifications. On the other hand, that status wasn't confirmed in the minds of many until his last few fights — the unification bouts against Jeff Lacy and Mikkel Kessler, and the 2008 American victory lap that added Bernard Hopkins and Roy Jones to his collection of scalps. That Ottke's career lacked a similar exclamation point may hurt him in the eyes of many voters, but it could be a close call.

Laciar was 79-10-11 in a career that saw him twice win the WBA flyweight title and briefly hold the WBC junior bantam belt, but his resume includes a bit too much home cooking for my taste, and, I suspect, for that of may other voters as well.

He rarely fought outside Argentina, and was 5-4-1 when he did. Consider, too, that 10 of his 11 draws took place in Argentina (the other was in Chile). Given what we know of the inner machinations of Argentine boxing politics and it is reasonable to assume he lost all or most of them, or would have with fair-minded officials, his credentials don't hold up well to scrutiny.

Lopez will get his share of support from those who recall his exciting television bouts from the late 1970s, but there will be some who consider him another “regional” candidate, since the overwhelming majority of his fights took place within a 20-mile radius of Los Angeles. He held the WBC featherweight title for nearly four years, but is remembered even more for his back-to-back losses to Salvador Sanchez than for his 15th-round knockout of Mike Ayala in 1979's Fight of the Year.

Some are also going to wonder why, if he is a worthy Hall of Fame candidate, it took him a dozen years to get back on the ballot once he became eligible again. (If memory serves, he was on the ballot for a few years in the late 80s, but in 1992, a dozen years after his last fight against Sanchez, Little Red tried to come back and was knocked out in two. Those six minutes of boxing at the age of 40 could well turn out to be what keeps him out of the Hall of Fame.
*  *   *
This year's ballots must be returned to Canastota by October 31. One school of thought holds that even among this borderline field, anyone with a chance needs to cash in now, because next year's ballot will include some mortal locks for induction. Looking over the list of those who stopped fighting in 2005, I'd thought so myself until Brophy shed some light on it this week.

It turns out that to be included on the ballot, a fighter must have been inactive for five years before the entire process starts — which explains why Lewis, whose last fight had been in June of 2003, had to wait nearly six years between then and his induction.

For the same reason, the next big spike of heavy hitters will come in the Class of 2011, not next year.  Julio Cesar Chavez (last fight: September 2005) becomes eligible for the 2011 election, as do Mike Tyson and Kostya Tszyu (both June '05). And a year beyond that — provided he doesn't fight again in the meantime — Tommy Hearns will head up the list.
*  *  *
The Baseball Writers Association of America requires ten years of card-carrying membership before entrusting anyone with the Hall of Fame ballot. The Pro Football Writers are even more selective, leaving the entire process in the hands of a select number of veteran writers representing each NFL city. Voting privileges for the IBHoF, on the other hand, are immediately conferred upon a member as soon as he joins the Boxing Writers Association of America.

Since the organization has instituted a vetting process for prospective members, this is no longer the problem it once was. Or so I had thought until I stumbled across a piece on another website a few days ago.

Since there are no objective criteria for Hall of Fame membership, it's pretty much in the eye of the beholder, but to paraphrase the late Justice Stewart, I know a Hall of Famer when I see one — which is to say that the IBHoF is for the Catfish Hunters of the boxing world, not the Jack Brohamers.

And as we've pointed out already, an elector could theoretically vote for up to ten names, even though that would be a pretty silly thing to do in a year when there might not be a legitimate Hall of Famer on the entire ballot.

On this particular website the guy had not only decided to publicly reveal his ballot — which is his right; baseball writers do it all the time — but to reveal, publicly, and without an apparent trace of embarrassment, that he was voting for at least seven candidates.
He's voting for Laciar, for instance, but presumably not for Ottke or Lopez. Moreover, he appears to be of the opinion that Jung-Koo Chang, Yoko Gushiken, Pone Kingpetch, Lloyd Marshall, Myung-Woo Yuh, and Hilario Zapata should all be immortalized in the Hall of Fame.

My initial reaction was probably the same as yours:  “He's kidding, right?

But upon further reflection, it occurred to me that if a lot of ballots like that one showed in up in Canastota next Saturday it could have one of two effects:  It could either force Brophy and the IBHoF to fix the presently flawed system, or it could force the IBHoF to disenfranchise the entire BWAA. ? ? ? ? ? ?

Are there ways to fix these problems? Sure there are.  Brophy isn't intransigent when it comes to these matters.  We weren't the only ones complaining, but a few years ago the Hall went from four to three automatic inductees per year, and we imagine he'd at least consider the following constructive criticisms when it comes to addressing the situation:

1. Reduce the number of automatic inductees again, this time to two — and be prepared to go to one if the situation warrants. This wouldn't limit the number of candidates who could be elected. As is the case with the Baseball Hall of Fame, anyone named on 75% of the ballots should get in — even if that turns out to be more than three.

2. Taking another cue from the Baseball HoF, any candidate not named by 5% of the voters should be dropped from the following year's ballot, ensuring a freshened pool of candidates.

3. The screening process doesn't have to be public, but it should at least have enough transparency that both boxing fans and the electorate understand how it works and why certain names make the ballot and others do not. (In addition to supplying the new candidates, the committee could provide an explanation of how they were chosen and why others weren't.)

4. The full results of the voting should be a matter of record. Both the public and the voters should know not only the support received by the inductees who won, but how close the near-misses might have come. And if the overall results reveal a pattern of miscast votes for unworthy candidates, the BWAA should have it within its purview not only to examine the ballots, but to contact rogue voters and ask them to explain their rationale.

None of these improvements is exactly revolutionary in nature, and none of them is apt to stand the Hall on its head. It's more a matter of change we can believe in.

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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