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Articles of 2009

Rock Newman Knows The Best Fights Aren't Always Made

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There is a scene in the 1972 film classic, The Godfather, in which Michael Corleone, temporarily exiled to Sicily while his family engages in a bloody mob war back in America, is walking through the hills when he spots a passing beauty and is immediately transfixed.

You got struck by the thunderbolt,” one of Michael’s bodyguards tells him, using a local term for love at first sight.

Boxing fans know a variation of the feeling. Even hard cases have been known to be smitten with a case of man-love for mostly unknown fighters they personally observe for the first time. The new object of their affection might not be leading-man handsome; in fact, he might have a crooked nose and a facial scar or two. But who cares if the fighter in question can punch like a mule kicks, has the requisite amount of skill and charisma, and a predatory style that no doubt would be frowned upon in other areas of polite society?

Ed Schuyler Jr., the retired longtime boxing writer for the Associated Press, had just such an epiphany on Sept. 13, 1971, the night a young Panamanian fighter with jet-black hair, formidable boxing ability and a glee in dispensing punishment made his U.S. debut in Madison Square Garden, on the undercard of a show headlined by Ken Buchanan’s successful WBA lightweight title defense on points against Ismael Laguna. Roberto Duran needed less than a round to wipe out a rugged journeyman named Benny Huertas, and Fast Eddie left the arena believing that he had seen a violent sport’s next big thing. Time would prove him correct; on June 26, 1972, Duran returned to the Garden and brutalized Buchanan in taking his title on a 13th-round TKOL, formally introducing the world at large to Manos de Piedra.

A similar moment of clarity enveloped me on June 23, 2001, when a little Filipino southpaw wrested the IBF super bantamweight title from South Africa’s Lehlohonolo Ledwaba on a one-sided sixth-round stoppage at the MGM Grand. I made a mental note to remember the name of the little Filipino because, well, I had a hunch he just might turn out to be something truly special.

Yes, that would be Manny Pacquiao.

Rock Newman recalled his own brush with the thunderbolt. He was ringside in New Jersey, mesmerized by the destructive power of Tony Ayala Jr., a seething teenaged tornado from San Antonio.

“I saw Tony in an undercard fight when he was coming up,” said Newman, best known as the manager of former heavyweight champion Riddick Bowe. “I saw that incredible fury, that devastating punching power. It jumped out at me. It happens that way sometimes.”

As fate would have it, Ayala was even more brutal beating up women in drive-in restrooms and apartments he had broken into, which led to his 17-year incarceration (he has since made a return trip to prison), forever leaving fight fans to wonder how he might have fared against celebrated contemporaries Duran, Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns and Marvelous Marvin Hagler. Ayala’s manager, Lou Duva, thinks his guy would have been the equal or more of any of the aforementioned legends, but that is speculative. Those fights never happened, so the title of author George Kimball’s engrossing book Four Kings, which details each matchup involving Duran, Leonard, Hearns and Hagler, is not Five Kings. Ayala is the wild card in the deck of our collective imagination, the ace in the hole that never got played in a high-stakes hand.

But Newman has a keener insight into boxing’s might-have-beens than Ayala’s penchant for career self-destruction. He and Bowe made millions of dollars together, the three high points of their association being the Bowe-Evander Holyfield trilogy, the finest three-act passion play involving big men since Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier pushed one another to the limits of human endurance in the ring.

Now, with fight fans in frenzied anticipation of a Pacquiao showdown with Floyd Mayweather Jr., interest spiking crazily in the wake of “Pac-Man’s” domination and eventual 12th-round TKO of highly regarded WBO welterweight champion Miguel Cotto, Newman reflected on the megafights that Bowe might have engaged in, but didn’t.

As wonderful as Bowe-Holyfield I, II and III were, wouldn’t boxing have been better served if “Big Daddy” had deigned to mix it up with Mike Tyson, a product of the same blighted Brownsville section of Brooklyn? And what about Bowe seeking revenge against Lennox Lewis, who beat him in the super heavyweight gold-medal bout at the 1988 Seoul Olympics? That never happened either.

Ask Newman about those missed opportunities for pay-per-view bonanzas and he sighs. “You got a couple of hours?” he asks. “That’s what it would take to go over all the whys and wherefores for those fights never happened.

“When it comes to making big fights, nothing is automatic. The bridge between wanting to see something, and actually seeing it, can be steep and long. Sometimes it’s a bridge that leads to nowhere.”

That “bridge to nowhere” not only is where Bowe-Tyson and Bowe-Lewis became stalled and eventually expired, but it’s the place where the long-awaited rematch of Bernard Hopkins and Roy Jones Jr. got lost for nearly 17 years. It’s where the fight between golden oldies Larry Holmes and George Foreman, which would have done good business, even though both men were in their late 40s, vanished in a puff of smoke.

And if Bowe never got it on with Tyson or Lewis, Newman reasoned, there is at least a possibility that Pacquiao (50-3-2, 38 KOs) and Mayweather (40-0, 25 KOs) will never share a ring. Personalities and contractual conflicts have a way of torpedoing fights that, on the surface, make too much sense to not happen.

Mayweather has filed a lawsuit against Top Rank CEO Bob Arum, his former promoter who now handles Pacquiao, and Arum has countersued. The animosity between Mayweather and Arum is palpable, with insults swapped back and forth as if they were baseball cards.

For his part, Mayweather has suggested that a fight with Pacquiao can happen only if Arum recuses himself from the promotion, which isn’t going to happen, and if he receives a 60-40 split of the available monies, his rationale being that he’s undefeated and Pacquiao isn’t. That won’t happen either.

Trying to negotiate this minefield of nastiness and recriminations are HBO Sports president Ross Greenburg, who believes an equitable arrangement can be achieved if enough money is thrown at the problem, and Golden Boy executive Richard Schaefer, who has a working arrangement with the Mayweather camp and the difficult task of finding enough common ground with Arum to close the deal. Oh, sure, Schaefer and Arum have done business before, but this negotiation figures to be especially bitter and protracted.

“These guys both have huge egos,” Greenburg said, referring to Mayweather and Pacquiao, not necessarily Schaefer and Arum. “But the money we are talking about is astronomical and will set their families up financially for the next century. I think they can be convinced to come to a 50-50 split.

“This fight has to happen. It happened about five times in the ’80s. You think of Ray Leonard and Thomas Hearns. That’s the type of fight this is. This should be our Super Bowl. It will break records, and it will define both guys.”

We shall see. Even Newman believes Pacquiao-Mayweather will take place, but he still daydreams of the massive piles of money he and Bowe missed out on because Tyson and Lewis never signed on the dotted line.

“If we know anything by now, it’s that nothing is automatic in boxing,” Newman said. “If (Pacquiao-Mayweather) doesn’t get made, it will because one of the fighters chooses not to take the fight. It won’t be about money. It can’t be about money. There’s too much of it to be made by both sides for that to be a consideration.

“So, yeah, personalities can come into play. It’s happened before. Look, it’s pretty well-known that Arum and I have never been interested in going out on a double date. That said, Arum, as maddening as he can be at times, is a financially practical person. As a businessman, he won’t let anything personal between himself and Mayweather supersede the bottom line.

“Oh, sure, they’ll be a lot of posturing back and forth, but at the end of the day Arum is too sensible to let past squabbles get in the way of doing what needs to be done.”

Like everyone else, Newman admits to loving the excitement Pacquiao has brought to boxing, a jolt of energy the likes of which we haven’t witnessed since the young Tyson was starching a succession of petrified opponents in the mid- to late-1980s.

“Pacquiao’s incredible appeal is a combination of things,” Newman said. “It’s the absolute passion and fury that he brings into the ring. He has this singular, intense destructive focus. I think there is a realization, and not just by Filipino people, that he’s fighting for more than himself. Every time he steps inside those ropes, he is the heart and soul of a country. It’s almost like every Filipino’s sense of his own worth is tied to Pacquiao’s success. That is an enormous burden for anyone to carry, and I think all of us who watch this guy know that.

“There is a purity to his savagery.”

There is also a certain purity to Mayweather, if a lesser dose of savagery. But it is that which makes “Money” so effective that has Newman thinking he would find a way to take down Pacquiao.

“I’ve observed Floyd Mayweather from the time he was a 4-year-old kid hitting the speed bag,” Newman said. “His boxing IQ is greater than anyone else’s. I’m not saying his skills, power or any of that are best, but his boxing IQ is.

“He simply knows how to win fights. He knows everything there is to know about range, about angles, about how to hit and not to get hit. I think, as an in-the-ring intellectual, Floyd would figure out a way to win this one, too.”

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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