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Articles of 2009

Andre Ward Aiming To Shock The World



A boxing gym is not always the prettiest place in the world, but there isn't always a direct line between beauty and effectiveness.  The gym, in all its squalid glory, is the place where champions are built. King’s Gym in Oakland, Ca, the headquarters of Andre Ward’s training camp for his fight on November 21st, is no different.

Ward is attempting to acquire star status by defeating Mikkel Kessler, his toughest opponent to date, and Kings Gym is where he lays down the ground work.

Inside the building off of 29th and 35th street, the white walls are plastered with pictures of past great champions and old fight posters. Photos of Joe Louis, Sugar Ray Robinson, and Julio Cesar Chavez are placed next to a poster of Foreman vs. Ali, not to mention a huge banner across the back of the room, which spotlights Ward’s 2004 Olympic gold medal. There are boxing images everywhere. I scoped the room in search of enough space to place another fight poster and did not find much unused area.

It was both interesting and entertaining walking through the gym as I waited for Ward to arrive. The place has a smell of sweat and old rusty, but perfectly usable, dumbbells. The weights are placed in the front, and the ring is in the back of the room, surrounded by five heavy bags and a few speed bags.

A couple of heavyweights were sparring as I walked in. Funny thing was that I felt that I was the only one paying attention to them besides their corner man.  All the other gym members were doing their own thing. There were a couple of guys lifting weights, a young lady shadowboxing on her own, and another young amateur, who happened to be Ward’s god-brother, jumping rope like an expert. The sense of the boxing culture and family-like environment was clearly there.

The place reminds me of the part in Rocky III when Apollo Creed took Rocky to Los Angeles to train with the other fighters that had the “eye of the tiger,” except Kings Gym was not as dark.

Actually the gym was lit up pretty nicely. Members of the Showtime production team were there to set up for their countdown show to promote the Super Six Tournament, and Ward’s upcoming bout with Kessler. As soon as Ward walked in and greeted people in the gym including myself, he was asked to go upstairs into the locker room for an interview with the Showtime team.

There was no Jim Gray, Gus Johnson, or Al Bernstein in sight; instead,  Ward was being asked questions by the same guys that were setting up the lighting arrangements near the ring downstairs. He was up there for what seemed like an eternity. One member of Ward’s camp said, “I don’t know what is taking so long. They are probably only going to use about five minutes of what he is saying.”

Meanwhile Virgil Hunter, Ward’s trainer, and the rest of the camp were waiting patiently. During the waiting game, Hunter had a few choice words about the upcoming Ward/Kessler fight. The ultra confident trainer laughed confidently when I asked him if he thinks Ward is going to knock Kessler out. “Let’s just say that my fighter is going to hit him real hard,” Hunter said. “My guy can hit. You have heard what they said. They say that he is a slick boxer. But I think Andre is the strongest puncher in the super middleweight division.

“You see Kessler is a good fighter and he is very good at what he does. But there has been no evidence of Kessler coming out of the box.”

The box Hunter is referring to begins with the way Kessler plants his feet. Hunter feels like Kessler has a very wide stance and does not have much range on his punches. Hunter said that Kessler like to lure people into his “box” in order for him to land more accurate, and solid punches, otherwise Kessler is reaching and tends to get caught. Hunter also thinks Ward will keep Kessler off balance, and he used the Edison Miranda fight as an example.

“Miranda said it himself,” Hunter says. “He said ‘I did not think it was going to be this hard. I spent 75% of the fight trying to find where this guy was.’ Andre does that to you. He is fast, athletic, and powerful.”

For the Kessler fight, Hunter is taking the blueprint of Joe Calzaghe’s attack against Kessler and putting his own twist on it. Calzaghe won an entertaining but one sided fight over Kessler by using his speed and keeping his hands in Kessler’s face. But the Welshman did not use much power. And power is what Hunter thinks will be the difference between Calzaghe and Ward against Kessler. The trainer believes that Kessler does not respect Ward’s power or his chance to win for that matter.

“I know he did not want to come across the water. But he did not feel like he was going to be challenged. At the press conference Mikkel said that he does not think Andre has any power and I was happy because that is going to play right into our hands.”

As our conversation about Ward/Kessler turned into a debate the greatness of Joe Calzaghe, and about how Roy Jones has evolved as a fighter, and whether or not Jones has a chance to defeat Bernard Hopkins, I look to my right and notice Andre Ward shadowboxing alone in the ring. Hunter and I both glance at Ward and continue to talk boxing. Then the discussion returns to focus on the 2004 Olympic gold medalist. “Let me tell you one thing about that guy in the ring,” Hunter states as he gestures towards Ward. “He does not think anyone could beat him. And that is the key right there.”

After another few minutes of going back and forth with me, Hunter walks into the ring, throws on the mitts and puts his young fighter to work. As Ward circles the ring and hits the mitts, Hunter follows him, and talks in his ear after every thudding punch. I cannot make out what Hunter is saying in there, but it was obviously getting Ward fired up. The shots that Ward was throwing were getting harder and harder.

Combination punches, POW, POW, POW. There were other people working out in the gym. But at that time, it seemed like the only noise that could be heard was coming from that ring. And it was about a twenty minute session with no breaks in between, mind you.

Afterwards, Ward went from the heavy bag to the speed bag and did a few other routines before I had a chance to speak with him for a few minutes. (According to my mind clock, Ward trained for about an hour without taking breaks and was yet to be finished).

Do you work on the same things everyday I asked him? “Everything just gets monotonous. I don’t do the same things every day but things just get monotonous in training. I never really stop training during the day. It is constant. I just want to go in the fight,” Ward said. “I am ready to go to war right now.”

How do you stay motivated?

“I keep myself motivated by what is up ahead. I mean, if work gets monotonous it doesn’t mean that you stop working. Winning the championship of the world, and how it is going to change my life, that’s it right there. That is enough to get me motivated right there.”

Back to Hunter, the trainer stated that Kessler has little chance for victory, and the only chance Kessler does have to defeat Ward is if we see a Kessler that we have never seen before, which in his mind is practically impossible. However, Ward had his own thoughts on the possibilities of a Kessler victory.

“In my mind I don’t think he is going to win even if we see another Kessler,” Ward said. “He is going to make some adjustments. The way he fought Calzaghe is different from the way he fought Librado Andrade. He will be slightly different but at this point, it doesn’t matter. I am putting in the work. I am ready to go to work. I am ready to fight. I am ready to do what I need to do to bring this belt home. That’s it.”

Ward also relishes the fact that Kessler his little respect for his power.

“I don’t know what it is. But Miranda said the same thing. Miranda said that he did not think it was going to be this hard. My most powerful weapon is being underestimated. I don’t know if I am going to be underestimated after this fight. I don’t know what it is but we’ll see.”

About his weight, Ward feels like he is on the right track come fight night.

“I am right where I want to be. You can’t be right there. I learned this from Bernard Hopkins,  you have to train on something. You need extra pounds to train on. You have to have some calories on you. You can’t be at 169 right now when you are fighting at 168, it does not work like that. But I am right where I want to be three weeks before the fight.”

Hunter spoke of an interesting note about their game plan going into the fight. He does not believe in his fighter going in the ring with a textbook like assignment to dissect his opponent. Hunter would rather rely on Ward’s athletic ability and instincts to take over the bout.

“There is no real game plan. You don’t want your fighter going in there thinking about a plan because things change in a fight. There is going to be adjustments. And we have been working together for so long, that we see the same things,” Hunter said. “Sometimes he comes back to the corner and says ‘Did you see that?’ And I agree with him by nodding my head, uh huh.”

No matter what Ward and Hunter plan to do, it is clear that they are taking Kessler very seriously, and they are motivated to, in their own words, “shock the world” on November 21st.

“This tournament is not set up for us to win,” Hunter said. “When we win this fight I think it is going to change a lot of things.”

Articles of 2009

UFC 108 Rashad Evans vs. Thiago Silva



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



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 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



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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