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Articles of 2009

Kings Gym's 300 Members All Know Ward Will Beat Kessler

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The San Francisco Bay Area was once a great fight town with no shortage of gritty gyms. Today, however, the only one that remains is Kings Gym, a 5,500 square foot facility in East Oakland that is both gloriously unpretentious and old-fashioned.

Although the gym currently has about 300 members, including many pros, amateurs and white collar warriors, it is best known as the home of local hero Andre Ward, 25, who has trained at Kings for his entire amateur and pro career.

Even while traveling around the world with various United States teams, Ward’s heart was always with his hometown gym. On the wall are postcards he has sent from the furthermost corners of the globe.

“The gym is old-school, and I don’t ever plan on changing it,” said owner Charles A. King, a retired railroad engineer. “We might not be the biggest, but we’re the best by far. You won’t see any red carpets, and our trainers will tell you the truth. If you want to learn how to box, regardless of your age or condition, this is the place to be. You’re not going to get hurt, and you’re going to learn according to you own personal timetable.”

Over the years area pros like Jauquin Gallardo, “Irish” Pat Lawlor, Andy Nance, Paul Nave, and Tommy Evans were as much at home at Kings as such visiting luminaries as George Foreman, James “Bonecrusher” Smith and Marvis Frazier.

But no fighter has had as much of a positive impact on the gym as Ward, the 2004 Olympic gold medalist whose 20-0 (13 KOS) record will be on the line when he challenges WBA super middleweight champion Mikkel “Viking Warrior” Kessler, 42-1 (32 KOS), of Denmark on Saturday, November 21, at Oakland’s Oracle Arena.

Their 12 round bout will be part of Showtime’s Super Six World Boxing Classic, and most aficionados are expecting it to live up to its advance billing as a barnburner.

“I’ll say this, Kessler is a great fighter with a great record and a lot of well-deserved respect,” said King, who has known Ward since the youngster, not yet 10, visited the gym with his late father and brother, both of whom seemed a lot more interested in boxing than Andre did.

“Not to take anything away from Kessler, but Andre is going to win this fight. He is the chosen one.”

The deeply religious Ward calls himself S.O.G., which stands for Son of God. Whether or not his faith can get him past someone as tough, talented and durable as Kessler is yet to be determined, but you can bet that King, along with all of the gym members, will be rooting for him loudly and proudly.

“Andre grew up in this gym, so he’s like family,” said King. “We all love him, and he loves us. We know how hard he works, and what he can do.”

On Monday, November 16, the gym hosted a media day. Both fighters worked out and held court with the press, which came from as far away as the East Coast and even Europe. Not surprisingly, the fighters were respectful, even deferential, when assessing each other’s skills, but it was obvious that their competitive juices were flowing.

Ward’s behavior and demeanor is in keeping with the lessons that were subtly imparted on him as a young and impressionable boy during his formative years at Kings. Perhaps those lessons can be best put in perspective by a middle-aged man whose first foray to Kings several years ago was done with more than a bit of apprehension about what he’d encounter there.

While on a trip to New York, Oakland business owner Jim Scalise had taken a boxing class and – exhilarated – wanted to recreate the experience in the Bay Area. Although he didn’t know a fish hook from a left hook (as colorful journalist Mike Marley describes boxing greenhorns), he sought out Kings where he eventually trained for fitness with Frank Guzman, the nephew of former light heavyweight contender Alvaro “Yaqui” Lopez.

“Charles King says he doesn’t roll out the red carpet for anyone, but he sure does in a figurative sense,” said Scalise. “Anyone that walks through the doors is treated like a longtime member. Everyone there was so nice and welcoming to me. If you have any negative preconceptions about boxing, and the people who inhabit the sport, a trip to Kings will give you a whole new perspective.”

It was in this environment that Ward was molded into both the great fighter and the warm human being that he is. King remembers him first coming to the gym as part of the Black Hawks Club, a local sports league that exposed inner city youngsters to different kinds of athletic activities.

In the beginning, all the young Ward did was sit on a bench and watch his older brother and late father work out. When Ward’s father passed away while he was still in his forties, the devastated youngster was taken under the wing of Virgil Hunter, who trains him to this day.

“Virgil took Andre home with him, and treated him like a son,” said King. “Virgil is a very spiritual person, and he instilled that faith in Andre. Together, things really took off from there.”

Before he was even a teenager, the once shy, quiet and introspective Ward won the Silver Gloves and, according to King,” things really started happening.”

While lots of people were surprised that Ward made the Olympic team that competed in Athens in 2004, nobody at Kings was surprised at all. Nor were they taken aback when he emerged from the Games as the lone United States gold medalist.

“We have known Andre since he was a baby, and have seen him just get better and better,” said King. “When he came home with the gold, we couldn’t have been happier or prouder. But surprised? Not in the least.”

Nor will King be surprised when (not if) Ward soundly beats Kessler on Saturday night before thousands of adoring hometown fans. As King sees it, the fight, as well as Ward’s clean-cut reputation, couldn’t come at a better time for Oakland, a once thriving city that now has a reputation for lawlessness and social decay.

It is hard to shake that image, especially after four police officers were shot and killed by a parolee in one particularly disturbing incident earlier this year.

“Having Andre as a representative of Oakland, and Kings Gym, is a real blessing,” said King. “This is his home. He’s a hard worker, humble, honest and down to earth. His humility will fool you. If you didn’t know him, but met him for the first time, you’d never think he was a world champion or a gold medalist.

“Don’t expect anything to change after he beats Kessler,” King continued. “He’ll be a world champion, but he’ll still be Andre.”

Kings Gym is located at 843 35th Avenue, Oakland, California 94601, phone 510-261-2199. Contact Charles King or his lovely wife Celeste by e-mail at: kingsgym4@aol.com

Readers, here's a little background on boxing in Oakland, provided by Showtime PR…

FORTY-TWO YEARS HAVE PASSED SINCE
LAST WORLD TITLE FIGHT IN OAKLAND
 
Curtis Cokes Beat Charlie Shipes On Oct. 2, 1967,
In the Last World Title Fight Held in Oakland;

 
WBA Super Middleweight World Championship
 Super Six World Boxing Classic – Group Stage 1
MIKKEL KESSLER Vs. ANDRE WARD
Saturday, Nov. 21 From Oracle Arena, Oakland
Live on SHOWTIME® at 10p.m. ET/PT

NEW YORK (Nov. 17, 2009)—Forty-two years have passed since the last world championship fight occurred in Oakland, a tradition-rich boxing city that calls one of the world’s top super middleweights Andre “S.O.G.” Ward their own.

“Oakland has a pretty storied history of boxing, mostly in the pre- to post-war era,” says Monte Poole, a longtime columnist for the Oakland Tribune who has covered boxing in Oakland for 25 years. “I would venture to say you would find dozens of world title fights between the 1920s and the 1960s. We have had some good fighters come out of Oakland, but I have to say Andre Ward has got to be considered the best.”

The 2004 Olympic Gold medal winning Ward will try to take away Mikkel “Viking Warrior” Kessler’s World Boxing Association (WBA) 168-pound title come Saturday night in the final Group Stage 1 matchup of SHOWTIME Sports Super Six World Boxing Classic, this Saturday, Nov. 21, at the Oracle Arena in Oakland, Calif. (live on SHOWTIME® at 10 p.m. ET/PT, delayed on the west coast).

You’d have to go all the way back to the evening of Oct. 10, 1967, for the last time a world title fight was held in Oakland. On that night at Oracle Arena, then known as the Oakland Arena, WBA and WBC welterweight world champion Curtis Cokes from Dallas, Texas, beat Mississippi-born Charlie Shipes of Oakland with an eight-round knockout after flooring him three other times during the fight.

“What I remember about that night was we had a tremendous rainstorm,” says Oakland’s Henry Winston, who happened to be promoting his first-ever fight that night. “We had a good crowd and a good show. We had all the big New York media there that night. It was the night New York came to Oakland. I remember Cokes beating Shipes pretty bad. Curtis had a right hand that was atrocious. It was a very smart punch and once he had it perfected Shipes had no chance because he was a come-in type challenger.”

Cokes, who was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2003, would fight again in Oakland the following year having moved up to the middleweight division. He beat Jimmy Lester by unanimous decision at the Oakland Auditorium. Both he and Shipes currently reside in Texas.

Winston, who will be in attendance for Ward-Kessler on Saturday night, said the Cokes-Shipes was his first and last world title promotion. “I did some more fights but they weren’t world title fights,” he said. “I did some at the Oakland Auditorium.”

Winston promoted George Foreman’s first amateur loss in the Oakland Auditorium and worked with Foreman from his start until his comeback while teaming with Shipes, who trained Foreman. He also worked a little with another pretty famous fighter. “I tried to get Muhammad Ali to come to Oakland but it never did happen,” Winston said. “I was promised once that if Ali ever fought in California that he would fight for my promotion but he never did. He went to San Diego and got beat pretty bad by Kenny Norton.”

Poole said he can tell there is a buzz around the city for Oakland’s return to boxing glory. “I sense it, yeah. Andre’s last fight here (against Edison Miranda in May) I didn’t see it until three or four days before the fight. I think next week when the hype machine gets full blast you’ll start feeling more of a buzz and electricity and just people getting into it.”

He added: “I think there are great fighters that have come out of Oakland proper but I think you would have to go back 30, 40, 50 years to find most of them.”

One of those great Oakland fighters was Johnny Gonsalves, a 1950s contender who never got a shot at a world title. Gonsalves, who died in 2007, had a record of 57-21-3 as a pro before retiring in 1962. He was inducted into the World Boxing Hall of Fame in 1995. A favorite for the U.S. Olympic team in 1948, he was beaten in the semifinals of the trials by Wallace Smith, who won a gold medal.

The following story was reported in Gonsalves’ obituary in the San Francisco Chronicle. According to former amateur welterweight Ted Such, who later owned a bar with Gonsalves in San Leandro, Rocky Marciano, the only undefeated/untied heavyweight champion in boxing history, once walked into the bar and announced, “I can beat anybody in this bar — but Johnny Gonsalves.''

Saturday night against Mikkel Kessler, Andre Ward hopes to write his own bit of Oakland boxing history.

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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