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Articles of 2009

THE KIMBALL CHRONICLES: Waiting For Budd

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Until he was cast in the role of former light-heavyweight Terry Malloy for last summer's two-night performance of Budd Schulberg's ON THE WATERFRONT in Hoboken, Jason Cerbone's most noteworthy fight experience had come in the men's room of the Bada Bing Club, where James Gandolfini beat him within an inch of his life in a 2001 episode of “The Sopranos.”

So how convincing is Cerbone as a boxer? It's difficult to tell one way or the other from the brief fight clip included in Garry Pastore's WAITING FOR BUDD, but Cerbone seems to show a decent jab, effective enough that despite giving away close to a hundred pounds and clutching a script in his right hand, he still had Big Pussy backing up.

And the best part of it was, Budd Schulberg got to watch him do it.

*  *  *
WAITING FOR BUDD had its debut screening on October 29, the final night of the New York International Film Festival, and was enthusiastically received by a select audience that included several members of the Schulberg family, festival judges, and much of the cast. A splendid little gem, WAITING is on one level a documentary about the making of a play and on another a tribute to its iconic author, who attended the second and final night of the star-crossed Hoboken production barely a week before his death. And if one has created the impression that WAITING FOR BUDD might be characterized in some quarters as “The Sopranos” meets “On The Waterfront,” in the words of George Foreman, “they're only saying that 'cause it's true.”

The four principal male leads — Cerbone (Terry), Vincent Pastore (Johnny Friendly), Al Sapienza (Charlie) and Robert Funaro (Father Barry) — are all veterans of the classic HBO series.  Both Cerbone's (Jackie Aprile Jr.) and Vincent Pastore's (Salvatore “Big Pussy” Bonpensiero) characters met unfortunate demises as the victims of mob hits, while Funaro's (Eugene Pontecorvo) hung himself in despair after an unsuccessful attempt to resign from the family business. At least two other “Waterfront” cast members, Garry Pastore (who in addition to directing and co-producing WAITING FOR BUDD, played Big Mac in the Hoboken play), and Arthur Nascarella (Pop Doyle) had also had  prior “Sopranos” roles.

(Lest we appear guilty of profiling here, it might also be noted that 11 members of the 19-character “Waterfront” cast, including Robin Paul, who played Edie Doyle, have also been featured in various incarnations of “Law and Order,” whose bad guys are less ethno-specific.)

In another of those serendipitous degrees of separation, just a year before Rod Steiger (the original Charlie) passed away in 2001, Sapienza, the Hoboken Charlie, had portrayed Steiger's son in “A Month of Sundays.”

The casting, in fact, appears to have been in many cases the outcome of a series of a happy accidents, since most of the actors were chosen following open auditions at the Mayfair Hotel on June 25. (“Who wouldn't want to do 'On the Waterfront?” noted Garry Pastore, who was inspired by the response to the casting call to corral the cameras and record subsequent proceedings on film.)

The New Artists Theatre Company had been founded by Vincent Pastore, Licato, and Puccio. Cousin Garry was there to read Father Barry's and Terry's lines back to the other actors. The deaths that day of Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett cast something of a pall on the proceedings among the show-biz crowd.

“Then Chuck Zito arrived, insisting that he wanted to play Terry Malloy,” recalled Pastore. “Now, Chuck is this huge, muscle-bound guy who's sixty years old (only 57, actually) and he's gonna play Terry? and I told [“Waterfront” director) Frank Licato “we really ought to be filming this.

“I just found it so hysterical that Chuck wanted to play Terry,” recalled Pastore. “It planted the seed about shooting footage, because I was sort of amused by the cast of characters who kept coming in to audition. Some were good and some not so good, but they all had heart and gave it their best shot.”

Once filming began, the bulk of the task fell to Fokke Baarssen, a Dutch student at the New York Film Academy, who initially hired on as a production assistant/intern with the Hudson Film Group, but proved to be so valuable that he was in the end listed as Cinematographer and Film Editor for Waiting For Budd.

*  *  *
Rehearsals took place in New York on July 8th and 15th.

The script used was not Schulberg's Oscar-winning screenplay but a stage version written for an ill-fated Broadway run a decade and a half ago that lasted only slightly longer than the two-night stand in Hoboken last July. In the Broadway version, for which Stan Silverman shared writing credit with Schulberg,  the 'incidental music' was composed by David Amram.  Ron Eldard (“Doubt”) played Terry and David Morse Father Barry, while Charlie was portrayed by — you gotta love this — James Gandolfini.

When that play closed after just eight performances, the $2.5 million it cost its backers was at the time a Broadway record for non-musicals.

Last summer's concept was to use professional actors in a staged reading, and in a unique setting — on the same New Jersey waterfront where Schulberg's original masterpiece had been set, and where the 1954 movie had been filmed, but it was not without its own difficulties. Pastore's partner, executive producer Deborah Mello became so ill she was hospitalized a week before opening night.

In advance of the performance, the local media had been invited over for a 'press' day at the waterfront stage, where several members of the cast would be made available for interviews. When the appointed time arrived, not a single newspaper or television station showed up. Only later did Pastore learn that they had all been pulled off the story to deal with the bombshell events of the day — that Hoboken Mayor Peter Cammarata had been among those taken down on corruption charges that morning.

“Here we were doing a play about corruption on the waterfront in Hoboken and our press day gets spoiled because the mayor was busted for corruption,” Pastore noted the irony.

Following just a couple of weeks of rehearsal, the July 28th opening night al fresco performance, with the New York skyline serving as a backdrop, was by all accounts  a success. Had the second night proceeded so seamlessly, admitted Pastore, “we probably wouldn't have had a movie,” but mother nature intervened to provide the dramatic tension necessary to drive the second half of the 30-minute film.

*   *  *
On July 29th, 2009 the entire metropolitan area was besieged by a day-long monsoon of biblical proportions. Their faces glued to the screen, Pastore and Licato looked like a couple of guys trying to read tea leaves as they hopefully stared at a Doppler radar screen in a fruitless search for a break in the weather.

Waterfowl were already swimming around in what would have been the stage. Puddles several inches deep had formed on the seats from which the audience would have watched, in the unlikely event an audience had braved the rainstorms at all.

“This is not good,” Pastore reflected as he watched the ducks swim in the newly formed pools on the stage. “This is not comforting.”

By early afternoon it had become apparent that the performance would have to be canceled unless a suitable indoor location could be procured on short notice.

Someone came up with a small auditorium — to be precise, it was the physics lecture auditorium  at Stevens College, but upon reaching that venue, Licato realized that it would be hopelessly inadequate.

“I hate it. We're going to have to cancel,” the play's director sighed to the film's director. At that point Pastore reminded Licato that Budd Schulberg was already on his way to Hoboken.

“Budd's coming? He's definitely coming here?” Licato seemed to immediately reconsider. “I guess even if we have to play just to Budd, we have do do it.”

There seemed to be little choice in the matter.

“The show must go on, right?” agreed Garry.

At this point Licato asked about sound and lighting equipment. Both, it turned out, had been delivered to the school by truck a few hours earlier, but VIncent Pastore made a unilateral decision to send the gear back to Uncle Junior.

“We'd been setting up the stage, Vin and I with a few wooden kegs and crates set for dressing, and a sound guy moved the set dressing to put up this big, ugly oversized speaker that looked like it could be used for a Stones concert,”  recalled Garry Pastore.

Lapsing into his Big Pussy mode, “Vinny pretty much told him to take a [bleepng] hike,” said Garry. “Maybe it wasn't in the nicest tone or choice of words, but it was actually very comical.  I wished I'd had the cameras rolling then, but if I had, Vinny probably would have smashed it at that point.”

“The rain was coming down so hard you couldn't even ask anyone to stand there with a sign to redirect the audience,” recalled Garry Pastore. “Besides, who would have seen it?”

Rounding up the cast proved equally challenging. Some of them had been informed, erroneously, that the performance had already been scrapped. Many of the actors lived in Manhattan, a circumstance which was complicated by the fact that the tunnels were flooding and the George Washington Bridge was hopelessly backed up.

At the Lincoln Tunnel it was even worse than that. With police limiting traffic to a single line of vehicles, all of mid-Manhattan had succumbed to gridlock.  Facing a delay of several hours, Funaro resorted to ingenuity. Donning Fr. Barry's collar, he explained to the cops that he was due to give last rites to Runty Nolan and say a Mass in Hoboken. (Which was, in one sense, true.) In light of this clerical emergency, his car was escorted to the head of the line and Funaro was shortly on his way to Jersey.

*   *   *
The lecture hall had a capacity of 200. Somehow, the word got around in Hoboken, and the show was completely sold out, with standing room only. Budd Schulberg, accompanied by his son Benn, was a late arrival, and was introduced to a standing ovation by the audience.

“The people were in absolute awe of him,” said Pastore.

So was the cast.

“To be able to perform in front of an icon like Budd Schulberg — and to think that it almost didn't happen, Wow!” marveled Robin Paul.

“It was like Burbridge reciting the words back to Shakespeare,” said Joe Dandry. “The fact that I was able to do that is something I'll never forget.”

Word trickled backstage that Schulberg appeared to be “beaming” as he watched the show. When the Oscar winner (and Hall of Fame boxing writer) was later asked about the Hoboken production, he said, “I thought they did an excellent job. I was very pleased.”

Schulberg autographed programs for those who had braved the storm to attend that night. One of them had the temerity to ask him to compare Jason Cerbone's Terry to Marlon Brando's.

Schulberg resisted the temptation to answer “he coulda been a contender.”

“Well, nobody's ever been as good as Brando,” Budd replied with a soft chuckle. “But I liked what (Cerbone) did with it very much.”
Eight days later the 95 year-old Schulberg was dead.

“We got to perform 'On the Waterfront' in front of Budd Schulberg for the last time,” said Garry Pastore, “and what started out as really an incredibly shitty day turned into a night I never, ever will forget, not in my lifetime.”

*  *   *
“For some odd reason, this play was meant to be done, and this little film was meant to be made. Where it goes from here is anybody's guess,” said Pastore.

For the nonce, Pastore's plan is to continue entering WAITING FOR BUDD in film festivals here and abroad. The eventual hope is that it will wind up on television, if not on HBO, Showtime, or PBS, then at least “on a station that really cares about Budd and his legacy, said Pastore. “I know it's a longshot, but if we could win a few awards, maybe we could go for the grandaddy of them all. Since this film is dedicated to Budd, wouldn't bringing home one more Oscar for him be a perfect addition to his legacy?

“As our tagline goes, 'Some things are just meant to be.'”

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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