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Articles of 2009

Ray Robinson, Pacman, Ali Is Third-Greatest Ever Voting Over, Debate Begins

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Over 500,000 votes worldwide have been tallied and the results are now in. What they prove is that while time marches on one constant remains in boxing – the unassailable greatness of Sugar Ray Robinson.

While many might quarrel with the idea that Manny Pacquiao is a greater fighter than Muhammad Ali, as the voters in The Greatest Ever Boxer competition decided by putting the Filipino Flash ahead of Ali in the vote for all-time greatest boxer, no one could eclipse Robinson, who fought his last fight 44 years ago and has been dead for 20 years yet lives on not only in the minds of fight fans but in the deep respect held for his vast set of skills.

Robinson was the only fighter nominated in two weight classes – welterweight and middleweight – and won both divisions in balloting to name the greatest fighter of all-time in each of the eight original weight divisions. Ali was named the greatest heavyweight, which would have pained my father deeply because he went to his grave believing Joe Louis would have whipped Muhammad’s ass, an argument we engaged in many times from the time Ali first appeared on the heavyweight radar in the mid-1960s to well past his retirement.

That is part of what keeps the sport alive despite its best efforts at self-immolation. Every generation has its favorites and fiercely defends them. With Pacquiao at the peak of his world-wide fame after defeating Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton and Miguel Cotto in his last three fights in ever more spectacular fashion, his supporters hit the internet hard. Pacquiao got 56 per cent of the vote in the featherweight division, easily surpassing Willie Pep, who got 15 per cent and Salvador Sanchez, who received eight per cent, and ended up with more votes than Ali, which boggles the mind.

Having had an uncle who was a close friend of Pep’s, an older brother who believed he was second only to Robinson in boxing skill and having been exposed to many films of him in his prime the thought of a Pep-Pacquiao fight is intriguing because there could not be two more contrasting styles. Pep was the consummate boxer and Pacquiao the constantly stalking puncher. This would have been speed vs. power but the guy with the power also has enough speed to have made it interesting. Hard to say who would win but it would have done big business on pay-per-view.

The same is true if Sanchez got in with the winner because anyone who ever saw him fight would argue neither Pacquiao nor Pep would have been a lock against him.

For my money the heavyweight vote was disappointing but predictable with Mike Tyson finishing second to Ali, a testament to celebrity and ESPN highlights over cold, hard facts. Ali received 48 per cent of the vote in that division, Tyson 18 per cent and Rocky Marciano 11 per cent. The latter is also surprising because even though Marciano was the only heavyweight champion to retire undefeated (49-0) many believe Louis, Jack Dempsey and Jack Johnson would have all been his master.

For my taste it is Ali, Louis and then take your pick, as long as the pick isn’t Tyson. Tyson is a guy who never got off the floor to win and was stopped by Buster Douglas, Evander Holyfield, Lennox Lewis, Danny Williams and Kevin McBride. Did I forget anybody?

He was not only not the second best heavyweight of all-time, he wasn’t even the second best heavyweight of his own time in my mind, behind at least Holyfield and Lewis. Just to refresh the memory he was 0-3 against them.

It was to me astounding to see Pacquiao finish ahead of Ali in the overall vote but just as my Dad would passionately make the case for Louis over Ali, surely Pacquiao’s fans will argue pound-for-pound his skills rival Ali’s. Below is a list of the top three finishers in each division with a word or two on each voting.

World's Greatest Ever Heavyweight

1. Muhammad Ali 48% 2. Mike Tyson 16% 3. Rocky Marciano 11%. Enough said on this category but I would have gone with Ali, Louis and Dempsey.

World's Greatest Ever Light heavyweight

1. Roy Jones Jr won with 37% of the vote over No. 2 Archie Moore, the oldest man ever to win the title, at 17% and No. 3 Joe Calzaghe at 14%. Calzaghe retired undefeated and is a tweener in that the bulk of his work was done at super middleweight so to me, Moore was clearly No. 1, knockout artist Bob Foster No. 2 and Gene Tunney, who retired with a 65-1-1 record, 45 Kos and also the heavyweight title to his credit, third.

World's Greatest Ever Middleweight

1. Sugar Ray Robinson 47% 2. Marvin Hagler 24% 3. Bernard Hopkins 12%.

I have to admit some bias here because of a long association with Hagler but to me again the vote should have been clear: Robinson, Hagler and Harry Greb. Hopkins once said to me when I asked who he wished he could have fought out of all the all-time greats and he said “Hagler.’’ I asked who he thought would have won. Out of respect he replied, “I don’t know but it would have been a great fight. We would have both ended up in the emergency room.’’ When I later saw Hagler I related that conversation and his face turned stone cold before he said. “He’s right about one thing. We would have both been in the emergency room. I would have gone there to visit him.’’ That’s why I love Marvelous Marvin.

World's Greatest Ever Welterweight

1. Sugar Ray Robinson 39% 2. Sugar Ray Leonard 36% 3. Oscar de la Hoya 10%.

Hard to argue with the first two but come on with De La Hoya. I am a great admirer of him both as a boxer and as someone who has given much to the sport without once besmirching it. But third best welterweight of all-time? I think even De La Hoya would say “Huh?’’

To me the debate would be between Barney Ross, Mickey Walker and Thomas Hearns with Walker getting my vote.

World's Greatest Ever Lightweight

1. Roberto Duran 33% 2. Henry Armstrong 22% 3. Floyd Mayweather 14%.

I would have reversed the first two but can’t quarrel with them as clearly the best. My number three would be Benny Leonard, who fought in the 1920s, and is widely seen by knowledgeable students of the fight game as one of the greatest boxers of all-time. Having said that, Mayweather would have done well in any era. Would have loved to see a Duran-Mayweather match because of the contrasting styles.

World's Greatest Ever Featherweight

1. Manny Pacquaio 56% 2. Willie Pep 15% 3. Salvador Sanchez 8%

If you reversed Pep and Pacquiao I would be well satisfied and  couldn’t really argue all that loudly for anyone other than those three at the top of the list.

World's Greatest Ever Bantamweight

1. Wilfredo Gomez 32% 2. Ruben Olivares 12% 3. Carlos Zarate 10%.

I agree with the first two choices in that order. Although I have great respect for Zarate I would have chosen Panama Al Brown, a guy from the vast long ago but a guy old fight guys used to talk about with great admiration and respect.

World's Greatest Ever Flyweight

1. Ricardo Lopez 27% 2. Jimmy Wilde 20% 3. Michael Carbajal 12%

This is a “wilde’’ group. I always thought Lopez was very underrated on pound for pound lists because of his size, or lack of it. When you retire undefeated that tells me you were a baaaad boy, especially if  you fought as often as he did. My choices would have been Wilde, who many historians rank among the greatest fighters of all-time, first; Lopez second and Miguel Canto third. I am mystified by Carbajal finishing above Canto and some of the other nominees, most especially Khaosai Galaxy, who was 49-1 with 47 knockouts. Galaxy defended the WBA title 19 times, winning 16 by knockout. Carbajal would have been his 17th had they ever met.

I feel nearly as strongly about Pascual Perez over Carbajal. Yet having said that there is no denying Michael Carbajal’s popularity and his historical position as the first guy of his size to earn a $1 million payday and bring recognition to the smallest men in boxing.

There are my final choices. I’m sure you have your own. Let the arguments begin.

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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