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Articles of 2009

What A Difference 17 Years Makes

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For the purposes of establishing a historical perspective, let us take a journey back in time to 1993.

Federal agents besieged the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, initiating a bloody, fiery confrontation that left six G-men and 72 cultists dead … South Africa adopted majority rule, effectively ending apartheid … The median U.S. household income was $31,241, and unemployment was at 6.9 percent … An Israeli-Palestinian accord was reached (but, alas, not for long) … The Best-Picture Oscar went to Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven, the Best-Song Grammy to Eric Clapton’s Tears in Heaven … A 13-year-old boy accused Michael Jackson of fondling him, with an out-of-court settlement reached … The Cowboys trounced the Bills in Super Bowl XXVII, the Blue Jays beat the Phillies, four games to two, in the World Series … Actress Audrey Hepburn, jazz legend Dizzy Gillespie, Italian director Federico Fellini and iconoclastic rocker Frank Zappa bade farewell to this mortal coil.

In boxing, the big news that year was Evander Holyfield regaining the unified heavyweight championship by outpointing Riddick Bowe in the second of their three classic matchups, the “Fan Man” bout at Caesars Palace. And for fight fans who believe that good things really do come in small packages, there was Michael Carbajal twice coming off the floor to knock out Humberto Gonzalez in seven rounds to unify the junior flyweight title.

Look around at what’s happening today and one might conclude that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Evander Holyfield slogs on at 47 and is prepping for a January showdown with 41-year-old Francois Botha for a meaningless trinket, Botha’s WBF heavyweight belt, in Kampala, Uganda. Clint Eastwood continues to make good movies, Eric Clapton to strum that ax as few ever have, and we’re still talking about the national unemployment average and the late Michael Jackson. The Phillies were in the World Series again this year and South Africa is going to host soccer’s World Cup.

And, in advance of one of the longest-delayed rematches boxing fans have ever waited upon, Roy Jones Jr. and Bernard “The Executioner” Hopkins participate in separate, Versus-televised bouts Wednesday at different sites around the globe. Should Jones (54-5, 40 KOs) snare the IBO International cruiserweight title held by Danny Green (27-3, 24 KOs) – that fight actually takes place in Sydney, Australia, on Thursday afternoon, allowing for the crossing of the International Date Line – and Hopkins (49-5-1, 32 KOs) gets past Mexico’s Enrique Ornelas (29-5, 19 KOs) at the Liacouras Center in Philadelphia, the two aging legends would vie for profit and legacy on March 13, 2010, at the MGM Grand.

Jones and Hopkins are sure-fire first-ballot inductees into the International Boxing Hall of Fame whenever they become retired long enough to qualify to induction, which could be some time down the road given each man’s disinclination to acknowledge the date on his birth certificate or to surrender the spotlight. The hype machine already is turned on high for Jones-Hopkins II, with representatives of both fighters breathlessly extolling the fighters’ age-defying skills and fact that they’ve been posturing at one another since the second year of the Clinton administration. The Israelis and Palestinians might have made peace for a little while, but RJ and B-Hop never really did.

“I think it’s a big fight, a super fight,” said Richard Schaefer, CEO of Golden Boy Promotions, which handles Hopkins. “I believe it is a fight the American public will embrace. Both of these guys are superstars. They’re ring royalty.

“At this point both Bernard and Roy realize this is the fight people want to see. They don’t want to see Bernard Hopkins fight anybody else, and they don’t want to see Roy Jones fight anybody else.”

There is, of course, a chance that neither man will do what’s necessary to keep the appointed date. Jones is fighting out of the United States for the first time since he got jobbed out of the gold medal at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, so you have to wonder if the scoring Down Under, if the outcome goes to a decision, could possibly be as scandalous as the home-nation nod that went to the South Korean, Park Si-Hun,  Jones punched lopsided in the Olympic final. Hopkins isn’t as likely to be victimized by pencil, but Ornelas has a hard enough punch that the possibility of his landing a wild shot can’t be dismissed.

So what happens if Jones and Hopkins win as expected? Can their rematch be as big or bigger than their initial confrontation, which took place on May 25, 1993, at Washington’s RFK Stadium?

Quite frankly, the fight and the buildup should be greater than the original which, lest anyone forget, was an undercard bout in support of WBA/IBF heavyweight champion Riddick Bowe’s defense against lottery winner Jesse Ferguson. Jones, marked for greatness since his star turn at the Olympics, had not yet achieved superstardom while Hopkins, not far removed from his hardscrabble Blue Horizon days, was an up-and-comer who had yet to firmly establish his ring identity. Few could have anticipated that he would blossom into the immortal he became.

Yet fighters who have not entered their prime can engage in a highly entertaining scrap. Both Jones and Hopkins had demonstrated enough talent that there were those – myself included – who were certain they’d produce more back-and-forth fireworks than could be expected in the main event, in which Bowe was a 21-1 favorite to blow through Ferguson, whose bid for the title was solely the result of his upset of an out-of-shape Ray Mercer a few months earlier. The controversy attendant to Ferguson’s victory – audio of the HBO-televised fight raised questions as to whether a desperate Mercer, during clinches, attempted to bribe Ferguson to tank – gave the pairing a sort of man-bites-dog quality.

Ferguson, a sparring partner to the stars who on his own merits barely qualified as a fringe contender, made the most of his proverbial 15 minutes of fame. When Ferguson weighed in at a taut 224 pounds, 12 fewer than for Mercer, and Bowe came in at 244, the second-heaviest poundage of his career, Ferguson’s co-manager, Seth Braunstein, saw it as proof that his guy was ready to spring another upset.

“This is exactly where we want Riddick Bowe,” Braunstein chortled. “Less-than-perfect condition. Heaviest of his career (well, almost), soft like butter.”

Unfortunately for Ferguson, the buttery-soft Bowe packed fists of iron. He floored Ferguson with a left hook to the jaw late in the opening round. Ferguson arose at the count of nine – or maybe 11, since the official timer seemed a bit slow on the trigger – just in time to be saved by the bell.

It was but a momentary respite. Bowe rushed out to begin the second round, connected with an overhand right and Ferguson was back on the canvas. Referee Larry Hazzard counted to four, decided there was no need to go any higher, and waved off the mismatch after an elapsed time of 17 seconds.

At least Bowe’s victory, as one-sided as it was, featured a couple of knockdowns. Jones and Hopkins, for all their blustery pre-fight talk, each fought so cautiously you’d have thought they were playing chess instead of vying for the vacant IBF middleweight championship.

Hopkins, a 4-1 underdog despite coming in with a 21-1 record that included 16 victories inside the distance, was not nearly as aggressive as he’d been on his way up the ladder. Maybe that was because Hopkins, the ex-con, still thought of himself as the outsider while Jones was the guy with the big name, Olympic pedigree and HBO contract.

“I came up from the bottom of the barrel,” Hopkins had said in the days leading up to the Jones fight. “The odds are always against a guy like me. I wouldn’t know what to do if I was the favorite.

“What’s going to happen when somebody presses Jones? When somebody hurts him? Nobody’s pressed him or hurt him before. I’m going to press him. I’m going to hurt him. I want to see how he reacts.

“I don’t have a gold medal. I don’t have a silver medal. I’m just an inner-city kid who had to overcome a world of adversity. People said I wouldn’t make it to 21, but I’m still here. I was a neighborhood bully. I’d walk down the street and people would scatter. I was a good guy that went bad. Now I want to be a bad guy that went good.

“I’m damn lucky. God loves me. But you know what would really make it great? To be able to walk down the street and have people say, `There goes the middleweight champion of the world.’”

It didn’t happen for Hopkins that night. He lost a lackluster unanimous decision to Jones, who later claimed he was fighting with only one good hand. Whether that was true or not, Jones-Hopkins I was not a time-capsule kind of bout. We remember it not for what it was, but for what it should have been, given the subsequent successes of the combatants.

Hopkins, of course, got a second shot at the IBF 160-pound crown on Dec. 17, 1994, when he traveled to Ecuador to take on Segundo Mercado, a scrap which ended in a draw. When they fought next, on April 29, 1995, Hopkins whacked out Mercado in seven rounds to begin a title reign that would span 10 years and a division-record 20 defenses.

The onetime street tough evolved as his status improved, smoothing some of his rougher edges as he transformed himself into a slick-boxing technician whose stoppages were more the result of accumulated damage than of full-frontal assaults. That he has remained near the top of the pound-for-pound ratings as he approaches his 45th birthday (Jan. 15) is a testament to his guile and resiliency.

But while Hopkins has reinvented himself in some ways, his disdain for Jones has remained constant. Maybe it’s because he blames himself for not going after the preening Pensacola, Fla., native more aggressively, or perhaps it’s because he continues to resent Olympic pretty boys who turn pro with hefty contracts, high visibility and a sense of entitlement.

The 50-50 split, which increases to 60-40 for the winner should he score a knockout, adds to Hopkins’ incentive to take the kind of risks against Jones that he didn’t in 1993. Besides, B-Hop now knows how Jones reacts when he’s hurt. He saw Antonio Tarver and Glen Johnson drill him like Hopkins has hankered to do for these past 17 years. Revenge is a dish best served cold, and this entrée has been kept on ice for what seems like forever.

Jones also has changed somewhat. In 1993, his bravado was leavened by just a touch of humility, a perceived weakness of character he has long since erased.

“There are a lot of fighters I’ve tried to pattern myself after, but I admire (Muhammad) Ali the most,” Jones said prior to the Hopkins showdown. “I also like Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns, Howard Davis Jr., Wilfred Benitez, Marvin Hagler and (the late) Salvador Sanchez. I’ve taken small things from all of them. I don’t try to be exactly like any of them.”

The Jones of today probably would rather sew his lips together than to suggest he borrowed anything from anybody. He would have fans believe he is a creation entirely of his own making, a paragon of ring virtuosity for others to emulate rather than the other way around.

No, these are not the same fighters they were in 1993. In some ways, they’re not as good, in some ways better. But if they’re to go out together, at least it is in the marquee attraction and not as a preliminary.

Let’s hope that Danny Green or Enrique Ornelas doesn’t gum up the works.

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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