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Articles of 2009

Haye Salivating At Thought Of Klitschko Money, First Must Face Ruiz

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If John Ruiz finds a way to upset WBA heavyweight champion David Haye next spring in London it will not be the biggest upset in boxing history. The biggest upset in boxing history might be that such a victory would make him a most unlikely three-time heavyweight champion.

John Ruiz? Muhammad Ali? Who would have ever thought?

Asked to ponder that reality for a moment last weekend in Las Vegas, the newly crowned WBA champion seemed to see the absurdity in what that says about the heavyweight division these days but then shrugged his ample shoulders and said diplomatically, “He’s not brilliant at any one thing but he’s good at everything.

“He’s a lot better than people think. Because of his awkward style people look at him not as a threat but as an annoyance but he won the heavyweight championship twice so he must be doing something right.

“He has a good chin. He takes a good punch. He’s awkward in a way that you can’t get good shots off at him. I won’t look by Ruiz. I made that mistake early in my career (when he was stopped by aging Carl Thompson five years ago before later winning the cruiserweight title). The toughest fight of my life will be John Ruiz. If I don’t think that I’ll under-perform.’’

Many have argued Haye (23-1, 21 KO) already did that two weeks ago when he won the WBA version of the title in appallingly lackluster fashion from 7-foot Nikolai Valuev. Haye did his best (or worst) Ruiz imitation that night in Germany, hugging and holding Valuev much of the time and throwing so few punches the bout was compared unfavorably with the night five years ago when Chris Byrd and DaVarryl Williamson fought a heavyweight title fight that brought pacifism to boxing.

Haye’s athleticism was such that he negated what little ability Valuev possesses but he did it with more caution than a bank loan officer. His lack of interest in exchanging fire with Valuev was clear even though he did stun the stumbling Russian giant in the final round of what would become a majority decision for Haye.

He had promised much more after successfully avoiding fire in a different way earlier this year against both of the Klitschko brothers and his failure to deliver was not easily excused, even after he said he broke his right hand in the second round on the top of Valuev’s head.

Haye has always talked a great fight, which is how he got himself into position to fight the Klitschkos in the first place after moving up from the mostly ignored cruiserweight division, but he still has to prove he’s willingly to fight as loudly as he speaks against the sport’s hardest punching opponents, especially considering his recent heavyweight history.

Haye was scheduled to fight Wladimir Klitschko in June for the IBF title but pulled out claiming a back injury. Soon after it came to light that the British cable television company that was guaranteeing Haye’s purse, Setanta, had gone bankrupt. Haye insisted the two were not related. Certainly not.

Then he somehow landed a shot at Klitschko’s big brother, WBC champion Vitali, several months later only to pull out of that bout after it had been announced, claiming he’d never signed a contract and hence was going to accept a better deal to step in with Valuev. Perhaps so but the Klitschko’s believe he used them both to maneuver himself into an easier title shot and there seems to be some circumstantial evidence to support their opinion.

Whatever the truth of that, from a business standpoint both moves were sound if unappealing to fight fans. Haye was facing the possibility of being paid only a fraction of what he thought he was worth to face either Klitschko because it appeared he lacked any real power in the marketplace. Conversely, he agreed to at least one of those fights and then claimed a questionable injury.

Now that he holds the last remaining portion of the title not controlled by the Klitschkos, Haye believes his financial as well as fistic time has come. All he has to do is get by Ruiz, who has proven to the likes of Evander Holyfield, Hasim Rahman, Kirk Johnson, Fres Oquendo, Andrew Golota and others that that is not as easy as it might seem. Haye concedes this but then quickly dismissed the idea of an upset.

“I’ll knock John Ruiz out,’’ he said between lengthy dissertations on why he fought so cautiously against Valuev and what he will do to the Klitschkos if and when he gets his hands on them.

The latter was really the point of Haye traveling to Las Vegas last weekend in the first place. He was there to be handed his WBA title belt by his new promoter, Oscar De La Hoya, and to meet and greet HBO executives, with whom he hopes to forge a multi-fight deal and earn millions of dollars in the near future.

That will not come from a Ruiz fight however because HBO’s suits and on-air talent have long disparaged the only Latino in history to win the heavyweight title. The fight may do big numbers in England but finding an American television outlet for it willing to spend real money will be difficult, although no longer impossible because of HBO’s cozy relationship with De La Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions.

But the larger issue for the talkative Haye remains the Klitschkos and the likelihood that if he dispatches Ruiz he will be able to broker a multi-million dollar unification fight with one of them. In an ideal world for Haye, he would win that fight and then make even more for the ultimate unification with the last Klitschko standing, adding the promotional twist of having beaten up one of the brothers on the road to the other.

None of this is lost on Haye, who is a clever fellow both in the ring and out. He knows how to promote himself and as a cruiserweight he knew how to fight well enough to unify the title in spectacular fashion before moving up to the heavyweight division.

Despite having had only one real heavyweight fight – a quick dispatchment of trial horse Monte Barrett – Haye has in a year landed deals to fight for all four versions of the title with all three of the champions, a remarkable feat he was quick to acknowledge last week.

“They say no one knows who I am so they get most of the money,’’ Haye said. “If nobody knows who I am how did I get offered title fights with all three champions in less than six months?’’

Good question for which the only answer is well, John Ruiz has won the heavyweight title twice and fought for it 11 times. To say there is a paucity of talent in the division is to overrate the talent and under rate the meaning of the word paucity, so these days in the division all things are possible.

Still, Haye knows where he stands. At the moment he is one fight away from not necessarily negotiating parity with the Klitschkos but to being on a far more level playing field than they hoped for when this all began a year ago because he now wears the one thing they most want – the last remaining semi-legitimate heavyweight title belt.

“The Klitschkos are my target,’’ he admitted. “That’s the biggest fights, the biggest paydays, the biggest everything. Those are fights a lot of people want to see not only in the UK (where Haye was born and bred) but over here (in the US), in Germany, all over the world.

“When they check their bank accounts after this guy Vitali is fighting (Kevin Johnson) next, they’ll realize how much they could have got with me.’’

Asked if he was confident a deal could be made with either Klitschko now that there is a good deal of bad blood between them after his disappearing act, Haye smiled the knowing smile of someone who understands what leverage means in the boxing business.

“If they’re willing to come to the table with some respect (it can),’’ Haye said. “Last time I came to the table with nothing. Now I’ve got something. I’ll get four or five times what I would have done with the Wladimir fight.

“If they’ll sit down and talk seriously we’ll see who brings what to the table and who gets what cut. They felt I didn’t bring anything to the table but Wladimir went and fought (Ruslan) Chagaev and UK and US TV pulled out. He fought Chagaev for peanuts.

“I don’t mind going to Germany to fight them. I won both my world titles abroad (France against Jean Marc Mormeck and Germany with Valuev). I don’t need home comforts to win a title. I won a decision in Germany, where nobody wins a decision.’’

To get to the Klitschkos however, he first must beat the 37-year-old Ruiz, who is 5-4-1 with a no contest (against James Toney after Toney tested positive for steroids after winning a decision from Ruiz) in heavyweight title fights and will be fighting for the WBA title for a remarkable fourth time.

Haye said all the things he should have said about his next opponent, who took step-aside money to allow Haye to fight Valuev yet there didn’t seem to be any real conviction in his cautionary tone. The reason he was in Las Vegas last weekend, he knew, was not to talk much about a mandatory defense against John Ruiz but rather to drum up interest in a showdown with the brothers Klitschko by next fall.

“They’re about the same,’’ Haye said when asked to evaluate the Klitschko’s abilities. “Both have their own assets. Wladimir is a lot faster, a lot looser. He’s a lot more gunshy, too.

“Vitali holds his ground more. He can take a better shot. He’s a lot older and not as mobile as his younger brother. I know I won’t be breaking my hand on their heads. I’ll be breaking their heads on my hands. That’s a difference.’’

It’s also another way to sell a fight he hasn’t gotten to yet. For it to happen, he better worry about John Ruiz’s head – and his hands – first.

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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