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Articles of 2009

RODRIGUEZ’ DEATH REMINDER OF HOW MUCH BOXERS RISK (

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There is a scene in The Godfather– the 1972 classic I reference often because it’s such a damn fine example of moviemaking and also because of its parallels to so many situations that crop up in our everyday lives – in which war hero Michael Corleone offers to murder the drug kingpin and corrupt police captain who had conspired for a hit on Michael’s father, Mafia boss Vito Corleone. The would-be hit turned into a near-miss (Vito survives) and the nervous plotters arrange for a meeting with Michael, in a public place, to broker a peace between the warring mob factions.

Michael’s older brother, Sonny, disregards consigliere Tom Hagen’s advice to make the peace and decides that the plotters need to be executed, for revenge. Michael volunteers to be the triggerman, a suggestion Sonny at first rejects. War heroes often do their killing at long range, Sonny notes, but for this job Michael would need to pull out a hidden pistol and do the job up close. And up close is an entirely different matter.

I have personally attended three boxing matches in which one of the fighters suffered fatal injuries, but the first two did not impact me nearly as much as did the third, in which Mexican-born, Chicago-based super bantamweight Francisco “Paco” Rodriguez suffered a brain bleed in his 10th-round stoppage at the hands of Teon Kennedy. The highly competitive bout took place this past Friday night at Philadelphia’s Blue Horizon and was for the vacant USBA 122-pound championship.

After referee Benji Esteves Jr. waved the slugfest off and a wobbly Rodriguez went back to his corner, he sat on his stool, looked up at his older brother, Evaristo Rodriguez Jr., and said, “Dude, I’m getting a headache. I’m sleepy … tired.’ And then his body went limp.

Within minutes, the 25-year-old Rodriguez, a married father of a 5-month-old daughter, was being strapped onto a gurney and rushed to nearby Hahnemann University Hospital for emergency surgery to relieve pressure on his bleeding brain.

Two days later, after hospital officials advised members of the Rodriguez family that Francisco’s injuries were so severe that all brain activity had ceased, the painful decision was made to unhook him from the machine that was allowing him to breathe. The five-time Chicago Golden Gloves champion passed away minutes later, becoming the first fighter in Philadelphia to die as the result of injuries sustained in a fight since Jody White succumbed after a fourth-round knockout by Curtis Parker, also at the Blue Horizon, on March 21, 1978.

J Russell Peltz promoted Parker-White as well as Kennedy-Rodriguez and he said the memory of each will always stay with him. What had been an incredible main event, with two-way action so scintillating the near-sellout crowd gave the combatants several spontaneous ovations, took a 180-degree detour into tragedy.

“Parker really turned it on in the third round, but White was allowed to come out for the fourth,” Peltz said in recalling the previous ring death. “I remember thinking, `Why isn’t the corner stopping the fight? Or the referee?’ The fight did get stopped, (White) went to his dressing room and his body just shut down. He was dead on arrival at St. Joseph’s Hospital.”

But if Jody White was in way over his head against Parker, what should anyone do when the stricken fighter is giving as good as he gets? When the ring physician checks on him after almost every round and sees no evidence he is in any particular distress? Is there blame that can and should be assessed, or is it just one of those cruel accidents that happen periodically when two men swap punches inside a roped-off swatch of canvas?

As the only representative of a major news organization (my paper, the Philadelphia Daily News at ringside, the task of reporting on Francisco Rodriguez’ doomed struggle to survive primarily fell to me. It was the front-page story in our Monday editions and there were several follow-up articles. Given the Rodriguez family’s prominence in Chicago boxing circles, Francisco’s death also was major news there.

The other two death fights I attended were different. They involved undercard guys whose participation in a big-time event headlined by a superstar wouldn’t even have been notated were it not for the fact that were so grievously injured. When an unconscious Jimmy Garcia was removed from the ring at Caesars Palace on May 6, 1995, the victim of an 11th-round TKO by WBC super featherweight champ Gabriel Ruelas (Garcia died on May 19), I was probably 30 yards removed from his corner instead of the 3 feet I was for Rodriguez. The marquee attraction – Oscar De La Hoya vs. Rafael Ruelas in a lightweight unification bout — had yet to come on, so Garcia’s desperate straits received only a mention in the fight report I filed that night.

But, as Sonny Corleone might say, up close is different. It’s personal. I spoke to Francisco Rodriguez’ relatives, to his handlers, and one thing immediately became clear. This was someone’s son, brother, husband, friend. He was the father of an infant girl. There was heartbreak in the voices of the people I interviewed, enough tears to float an aircraft carrier, and initially a refusal to believe that any of this could actually be happening. If enough prayers were offered up, surely Francisco would open his eyes, smile and assure those who had rushed to his side that everything would be all right. But prayers aren’t always answered. Sometimes – thankfully, not often – boxing matches become fights to the finish. Death is the shadow that hovers over everyone who enters the ring and accepts danger as an occupational risk.

I never knew Francisco Rodriguez. I never got the opportunity to speak to him. Oh, sure, I would have interviewed him after the fight, which Kennedy was leading by narrow margins on all three judges’ scorecards at the time of the stoppage. I probably would have asked him about the trouble he found himself in during a shaky first round, how he had survived that round on a questionable eight-count given by Esteves (who ruled that Rodriguez had avoided being knocked down because he was held up by the ropes, even though he hadn’t touched the ropes), and how he rallied after that with a furious body attack. I’m sure I would have asked him for his thoughts on Kennedy, one of the brighter prospects to come out of Philly in recent years.

Instead, I asked the tough questions of myself. Why had I become so emotionally involved in the plight of this dying fighter and not by that of Jimmy Garcia? How close do you need to get to someone, even a stranger, to feel empathy?

Certainly, no member of the Rodriguez family is assessing blame for what happened. Boxing is the business Francisco chose, and it was with the full understanding that bad things can and do sometimes happen in a fight. Good things happen, too. Those who take up the trade have an appreciation of the rewards that can accrue with success, but they also understand the risks.

“I talked to Russell Peltz, the promoter,” said Alex Rodriguez, one of Francisco’s managers,  and his other older brother. “I told him I don’t know this Kennedy guy, I don’t know what he’s feeling now, but I hope he understands that my family is not upset at him. I hope he goes on to achieve everything my brother wanted to achieve. I wish him nothing but the best. He’s a good fighter, and I know Paco would not want him to stop doing what he does because of this. Fighters fight. You can’t stop being who and what you are.”

It is a message that has been conveyed for as long as there has been boxing. Fighters fight. They do what they have to do, and, hopefully, both men walk away at the end whole and healthy.

In his 1969 autobiography, Sugar Ray, the great Sugar Ray Robinson reflected on his June 24, 1947, welterweight title defense in Cleveland in which challenger Jimmy Doyle was pummeled so thoroughly that he died.

“The idea is to hit your opponent, to batter him if necessary,” Robinson told his collaborator, Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times sports columnist Dave Anderson. “If you don’t, he’ll hit and batter you. Every so often, a boxer dies. Whenever that happens, some people like to shout that boxing should be outlawed, that it’s unnecessarily brutal. Most of the time, the shouters are politicians who know it’s an easy way to get their name in the newspapers. But an occasional death doesn’t mean a sport should be abolished. If that were the case, auto racing should be abolished. So should football.”

Interestingly, Rodriguez’ death comes amid a flurry of positive boxing news that refutes the notion that the sport is, well, dying. Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s comeback victory over Juan Manuel Marquez did quite well on pay-per-view, Manny Pacquiao’s domination of Miguel Cotto did even better, and the buzz attendant to a Pacquiao-Mayweather matchup, which is being negotiated, already is that of a thousand angry hornets’ nests. In Philadelphia, the iconic Bernard “The Executioner” Hopkins will make his first appearance in his hometown in seven years when he takes on Mexican tough guy Enrique Ornelas this Wednesday, a tune-up for his long-delayed 2010 rematch with Roy Jones Jr.

Even at the local level, boxing is enjoying something of a rebirth. Kennedy-Rodriguez was the best fight staged in Philly in several years, and Peltz said the city’s talent is rising to a level that hasn’t been seen in some time.

A boxing death, however, always serves to tamp down enthusiasm and causes a civilized society to rethink its value system. It happened after Emile Griffith bludgeoned Benny “Kid” Paret past the point of no return in 1962, when Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini put down Duk-Koo Kim for the permanent count in 1982.

Jay Larkin, the former boxing chief at Showtime, recalls his own crisis of conscience after the pay-cable network televised the Gerald McClellan-Nigel Benn fight in London on Feb. 25, 1995. The back-and-forth action – Benn retained his WBC super middleweight title on a 10th-round knockout — was so spectacularly entertaining that Showtime cited it as its Fight of the Year. But McClellan was left brain-damaged, blind and confined to a wheelchair, where he remains to this day.

“I gave a lot of thought to my getting out of the business after that fight,” Larkin said.

Larkin continued to approve good matchups, and Mancini – who remains conflicted to this day about his role in the death of Duk-Koo Kim and its aftermath – continued to fight them, at least for a while. But there is collateral damage whenever someone dies in the ring, and even the winner of such bouts is often psychologically scarred. After Kim died, his grieving mother committed suicide by ingesting a bottle of pesticide and, not long after that, the fight’s referee, Richard Green, also took his own life.

“It was horrible,” Mancini said. “People – some very young – would come up to me and ask what it’s like to kill somebody. I couldn’t believe the lack of compassion. I still don’t.

“The only thing that kept me going is that I relied on my faith. I prayed and prayed. I prayed for peace, and I made peace with what I’d done. I asked God to forgive me, and I think He did.

“You tell yourself that this is the business you chose. You seek answers, but you don’t always get them. Mostly, I asked myself, `Why him and not me?’ I’d only recently won the (WBA lightweight) title. I had the opportunity to financially secure my future and, fortunately, I was able to do that.

“But after that fight, I lost my zest for boxing. And without that zest, that passion, I knew it was the beginning of the end for me. I was already looking to get out. Besides, my style wasn’t made for having a long career anyway.”

Mancini said he would be glad to counsel the Rodriguez family and Kennedy if they sought him out.

“I knocked out guys after the Kim fight,” he noted. “I had guys in trouble along the ropes. But I knew if I froze up, that probably would be me getting the worst of it. And once that happens, once you become afraid to just let it go, you’re finished as a fighter.”

Peltz points out that the deaths of Paret and Kim led to stricter safety regulations which are more stringent and less flexible than can be found in most team sports. He said he’s seen football players get their “bell rung,” head woozily to the sideline where they had smelling salts waved under their nostrils before being sent back out on the field again. Concussions and how to treat them are the new hot-button issue in pro football.

“In boxing, you get knocked out, you have to undergo a thorough medical examination and be held out for 60 days,” Peltz said. “If that were the case in football, there probably wouldn’t be an NFL. There wouldn’t be enough players left to field a team.”

Sports, especially contact sports, carry a certain implied risk. Is boxing any more dangerous than, say, auto racing? Would Dale Earnhardt be around today had he learned to hook off the jab instead of trying to maneuver a race car at 200 mph around a banked oval in heavy traffic? Marathoners have been known to drop dead because of the stress placed on their internal organs. Should we ban distance running? Mountain-climbing? Bull-fighting? Spear-fishing off the Great Barrier Reef, which can turn aquatic adventurers into a shark’s lunch?

And it’s not just standard athletic activities that draw us in. If safety were our only concern, someone surely would have prevented daredevil Evel Knievel from trying to jump his motorcycle over all those parked buses, the fountains at Caesars Palace and the gorge at Snake River Canyon. Circuses would be precluded from using animal acts (trainers can and sometimes are attacked by lions and tigers and bears, oh my) and trapeze and high-wire performers. You can get killed up there and, by golly, even the great Karl Wallenda fell from the tightrope and to his death.

We watch because of the skill of the participants, because they do what most of us can’t, and because there often is a riveting element of danger. We live vicariously through others, a community of spectators imagining ourselves as that wide receiver coming over the middle to snag a high pass, the NASCAR driver accelerating toward the checkered flag, the boxing champion who stands toe-to-toe with a fearsome rival and lands that payoff punch first.

Francisco Rodriguez never won a professional title, but he leaves this life better for having passed our way. Seven of his harvested organs are going to five recipients, including one of his kidneys to his gravely ill uncle, a gift of life that further imprints upon me his worth as a human being.

“My brother had a perfect heart, perfect lungs, perfect kidneys, perfect pancreas,” Alex said. “Because of him, other people will have a chance for better health, more birthdays, the fulfillment of their own dreams. Paco is going to continue walking through this world in them.”

If there has ever been a nobler sentiment expressed in boxing, or anywhere, I have yet to hear it.

Those interested in making a contribution to the Francisco Rodriguez Estate Fund, can do so at Chase Bank branch, using account number 707331062. You’ll feel better for having done it. I know I did.

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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