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Articles of 2009

VIRGIL HUNTER: Andre Ward Will Be Heavyweight Champ



The holidays are here and Andre Ward started the festivities early. He got a golden belt from Denmark when he dominated Mikkel Kessler last month in Oakland, CA to win the WBA Super Middleweight championship.

But instead of gloating on the victory, Ward and the rest of his camp refuse to be complacent. The man spitting wisdom in the newly crowned champion’s ear, counseling against excessive self pride, is Virgil Hunter.

Ward’s long time mentor and godfather has garnered recognition as one of the more respected up 'n coming trainers in boxing. And anyone that knows Hunter will tell you that he never hesitates to speak his mind.

Hunter has high hopes for his prized protégé, including becoming a champion in multiple weight divisions. According to Hunter, the capacity of Andre Ward’s ability is nowhere near its peak.

“I think Andre is at 60% of what he is capable of. And he is a champion. Most fighters that become champion for the first time do not have much room for growth. But there is so much more canvas to build on with Andre.”

How is he sure?

“Andre only has twenty one fights. Who did Kessler fight in his 21st fight? Who did Pavlik fight in his 21st fight? Who did Calzaghe fight in his 21st fight? It is hard to answer. Andre has been fighting high caliber fighters for years but people do not give him credit for it. Anytime Andre has been in there when the money is on the line, he has won, convincingly. He has never had to win a close fight.”

Hunter went further to profess his ultimate goal for Andre Ward.

“By 32 years old, Andre Ward will be heavyweight champion of the world,” says the confident trainer. “He has always beaten guys bigger than him, even in the amateurs. If Andre gets to 200 pounds naturally and maybe grows an inch taller, he could become heavyweight champion absolutely.”

To put it lightly, the heavyweight division has had its better days. With the average 215 pound fighter getting massively outweighed by the Klitschkos, Valuev, and Arreolas of the world, there are some boxing insiders that feel like there should be a super heavyweight division in order to balance the landscape. However Hunter sees it differently. He believes that some of the massive heavyweights are only doing a disservice to themselves because they do not train to maximize their potential.

“I believe in the prototype heavyweight, the Joe Louis type, 6’3 or 6’4, 210, 215 pounds. If a heavyweight could fight at that weight, that is enough to beat any 6’7, 240 pound fighter out there. I think that heavyweights should all get their body fat measured and have an expert analyze their best fighting weight. You see, the extra weight is causing them to lay their punches in, instead of snapping the punches in. There is no weight limit on a basketball player, but each one of them knows that there is a weight for them to be their best at.

“Chris Arreola is a great example. I believe in Chris’s ability to be heavyweight champ. If he can get his weight under control, I think that he has the ability to beat any heavyweight out there. He used to box at a lighter weight in the amateurs and that means something.

“I am trying to inspire him. I think that if he got the weight under control and really disciplined himself, he could be a champion. He should be a champion because he has the skills.”

Get close enough to Virgil Hunter and you could about boxing for hours. The man has a passion for watching classic fight tapes. Yet, as much as Hunter knows about boxing, he is still considers himself a student of the game. He especially enjoys learning the evolution of Hispanic boxing. From the rugged boxing style of Carlos Palomino to the boxing technique of Salvador Sanchez, Hunter thinks that the progressions of hispanic fighters are a thing to behold.

“I am a connoisseur of Hispanic fighters. I study Hispanic fighters more than any other nationality. The Hispanic fighters in particular are a culture of evolution. In the past, there was one way that was required of you (Hispanics) to fight, and that was for blood and guts. Then Salvador Sanchez came along. He was one of the first Hispanic fighters that could move, slide, and counter. Then when Chavez came along, he had ingredients of a lot of greats in the past. He had a little bit of Sanchez in him, as well.

“Now you see the influence of the African American fight philosophy in the Hispanic fighters, and vice versa. Look at Juan Diaz, Timothy Bradley’s trainer; he is doing a hell of a job.”

Ward’s recent win over Kessler has given Hunter some much deserved recognition as an elite trainer. The victory shocked most. But all Hunter could say is I told you so.

“Every one was talking about Kessler’s power. And to the untrained eye, what Andre does in the ring seems like finesse. But there was no way in the world that Kessler is stronger than Andre, and it showed.”

Although Ward and Hunter are proud of their recent achievement, they refuse to take anyone lightly, especially potential opponent Jermain Taylor. After getting knocked out for the third time in five fights in October against Arthur Abraham, many in boxing expected Taylor to withdraw from the Super Six tournament and announce his retirement.

Meanwhile Lou DiBella, Taylor’s long time promoter, and friend, stated last week that he refuses to be involved in Taylor fights any further because of his desire to go on fighting. Ozell Nelson, Taylor’s trainer, recently said that Jermain is staying in the tournament. Despite all of the uncertainty, Hunter says that they will not play a waiting game.

“Taylor is extremely dangerous without a doubt. We do not overlook him by any means. No sir,” said Hunter. “He has everything to gain. They talk all that mess about him (Taylor) being washed up. But he has a belt to go after. This is a serious fight. We are not going to underestimate him because there is too much at stake. I think he is banking on the fact that maybe Andre does not punch as hard as Abraham or Froch,” Hunter said.

“You know, Taylor was winning that fight against Froch. And he was doing very well against Abraham. We are already starting the mental preparations for Jermain Taylor, fighting a guy that other people want to write off. We are not writing him off. Taylor is in the right spot, fighting for a world title.”

The Super Six Tournament has captured the attention of the boxing world. But Hunter thinks that some of the fighters in the tourney are becoming a bit too friendly with one another before they get it on. When asked about a press release before the Kessler/Ward fight that printed Carl Froch’s prediction that Kessler was going to defeat Ward, Hunter was rather curious about Carl Froch’s kind gestures towards the Danish fighter.

“I thought it was amusing that Carl Froch is trying to compare himself to Kessler before he is getting ready to fight him. Froch said that they were the same breed, no nonsense, get straight to the point type of fighters, they like fast motorcycles, they have a lot of things in common, and have each others' phone numbers, things like that.

“I feel like Kessler is going to take his belt. I think Kessler is going to win and Froch is looking for an out. Froch is implying that the only one that could take his belt is a man that is just like him, playing the friendship angle. He is trying to side up with Kessler. I do not mean any disrespect towards any man because that is not right. But you have to stand alone in this tournament.”

To further prove his point, Hunter compared Froch and Kessler’s “friendship” to the close relationship Andre Ward and Andre Dirrell have had for over a decade.

“The only guys in this tournament that are true friends are Andre Dirrell and Andre Ward. They came up together in the amateurs. Dirrell’s grandfather and I have been friends for years. So it is a different situation. Froch and Kessler did not come up together. Kessler is in Copenhagen and Froch is from England.”

Ward’s victory over Kessler has prompted many to place him as the best fighter in the 168 pound weight class, and a favorite to win the Super Six Tournament. However, Hunter senses much more to prove for the rising star.

“I don’t rate Andre as the top Super Middleweight. I rate Froch, Abraham, Dirrell, Taylor, and Bute ahead of Andre. They were champions before he was. And the only way I would rate Andre ahead of those guys is if he beats them. I am not going to rate him above anybody that he has not beaten. So to me, they are above him. I think Dirrell and Abraham and tied for number one in the division, Froch number two, Bute is third and Taylor is fourth. I also got Allan Green above Andre. I only rate Andre above who he has fought. Like I said, he is only at 60% of his potential. And that is the beauty of it man, we have a lot to work with.”

Opponents have been questioning Ward’s ability and licking their chops to put a blemish on his record since he won the gold medal in the 2004 Olympics. But they have found little like luck so far. Now that he is a champion, there will be even more potential combatants wanting to take the title out of his hands. However, Hunter says that he is ready to unleash a plan to counterpunch the critics with a shocking blow.

“I have already told people, that when Andre becomes champion there will be very few people that go the distance with him. You know, I listen to people talk about his punching power, but I think that he can hit just as hard as anybody out there, and they (the critics) don’t know that. Now that he is a champ, and you include that extra twenty five to thirty percent of confidence, I am going to start calling for the knockout. You see, I never used to call for it before. But believe me he could knock out anybody out there. And he could hit as hard as anybody out there. But the critics don’t believe that. They will believe that when it starts happening.

“We are getting ready to unveil something, and they don’t even know what’s happening. Ain’t that funny…? Ward is a fighter that nobody knows about. They can’t predict him. They can’t put a finger on him. They don’t even know what to say.”


Articles of 2009

UFC 108 Rashad Evans vs. Thiago Silva



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



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 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



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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