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REST IN PEACE, NICK CHARLES

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450x396-alg_nick-charlesSome people can show you how to live. A very few can show you how to die. Only the special ones can show you both. Nick Charles was special.

A ground-breaking sports anchor at CNN for 21 years and the voice of SHOWTIME boxing for a decade, Charles passed away yesterday at 64, a fighter gone well before his time. For those who loved him, which were many, and for those who just knew him, which was about everyone he ever met, he hasn’t gone anywhere though, because he’s still here in memories of how a man should live and lessons about how a man should die.

The end is never easy, as Charles learned over many years watching fighters do battle. He chronicled brave fighters who weren’t quite fast enough or quite young enough or quite skilled enough or quite lucky enough on a particular night to survive the battle, seeing how they all fought to the end, accepting the consequences before they had arrived but struggling through the pain until there was no more struggle left in them.

That’s how Nicholas Charles Nickeas, known to the world as Nick Charles, faced his losing battle with stage four bladder cancer. He looked it in the eye. He studied it. He fought it with all his might for as long as he could. Finally he said, “All right. You win but that doesn’t mean I lose.’’

Charles first learned in August 2009 that he had been attacked by a cancer that is undefeated. Initially he went to the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, considered to be perhaps the best in the world, and took all the chemotherapy a man could stand to fight back. He did it for himself, for his wife Cory, for his five-year-old daughter Giovanna and for his three adult children from two earlier marriages, Jason, Melissa and Katie.

Unknowingly, he did it for all of us too because he showed those who knew him that while eventually the forces of the universe may beat you down they do not, necessarily, have to defeat you. To the end, Nick Charles had his hand raised. Cancer didn’t win. He did, because once he knew the disease had come back with such a vengeance there was no holding it off – an experience he aptly described as reminding him of the look on Thomas Hearn’s face when he realized nothing could keep Marvin Hagler off him – he gave cancer the slip.

Instead of taking another grueling round of chemo that would have made his last months a misery, he said “Enough’’ and chose to live the time he had left with his family, making every day the best day he could.

He once told a CNN reporter that his disease was “a gift from God where I need to build these memories for (Giovanna), so that I’m not a blur. What is life? It’s 20 per cent what happens to you and 80 per cent how you react to it.’’

And so he spent his final months visiting with friends in person and online, playing Candyland and wrestling with his daughter and making videotaped messages for her future birthdays, ones he would never see, in which he expressed the unadulterated pureness of blind love.

He spent them holding his wife’s hand too and, in a symbolic exercise that reminded us all that life goes on even after you depart, he lovingly researched the purchase of a piano for his young daughter. That piano and the house he recently completed and moved into in Santa Fe, were both gifts and milestones.

He wanted to live long enough to move into that dream house. He did. He wanted to live long enough to see his daughter play that piano. He did. He wanted to live to his 65th birthday too. He didn’t quite make that but the way he lived his life since that deadly diagnosis 22 months ago insured he would live on in the hearts and minds of many people he never met, people who watched him talking bravely but also serenely on CNN about life and death and what’s really important.

He must have said, “Always look for the best’’ more times than anyone in history. Frankly, he probably did that more times than anyone in history too and that, really, was the point of his final years. He didn’t just talk the talk (even though he was paid to talk and talk since the age of 24), he walked the walk.

Nick Charles had been a fighter all his life. First as a kid with a non-existent father growing up poor in a tough part of Chicago, a kid whose epiphany came as a teenager when he was told while working on a produce loading dock to put on rubber gloves and boots and scrub away the rat feces that had piled up. He would revisit that moment often in later years, explaining it was the night he decided he would escape a life that seemed to have him entrapped.

He did, first at Columbia College of Chicago, then as a do-it-all sportscaster at WICS in Springfield, Ill. The day they called to offer him his first broadcasting job they asked him to take a $70 cut in pay from his $200 a week earnings as a Chicago cab driver. He didn’t think twice.

He did it but soon learned he’d have to do more. They said his name was no good for TV, insisting he shorten it to Nick Charles. He did that too and within a decade he was the first sports anchor at a new-fangled idea called CNN.

A lot of people thought Ted Turner was nuts to believe people would watch news 24 hours a day. As it turned out, a lot of people were nuts about news and soon they went nuts over Charles, whose flowing locks, good looks and pleasant style repeatedly had him voted “sexiest sportcaster in America’’ by the Television Fans Association.

Charles and Fred Hickman created “Sports Tonight’’ together at CNN, a nightly sportscast that beat ESPN at its own game for nearly all of the 17 years of its existence. Hickman and Charles were a black and white pairing like nothing TV had ever seen before. Some would say TV hasn’t seen anything like them since either.

They worked together as smoothly as ebony and ivory piano keys and the music they made showed a generation of sports enthusiasts the best of how to report a story and how to present it. They covered everything but always boxing was where Nick Charles seemed most at home.

Maybe that’s because he was a fighter himself, growing up so poor he’d huddle in the same bed with his mother and brother to stay warm when the heat as turned off in the depth of a Chicago winter yet triumphing over a disadvantaged start.

Maybe it was because he understood struggle and pain and respected fighters so much for their ability to accept both and still press on. As it turned out he did more than understand it, he lived it in his own life.

By the end, most of the hair that had once been his trademark was gone. The once rock-hard body had been ravaged, his face was hollowed out by disease and he needed a helping hand from time to time to climb a few steps or to steady him when he stood. Yet when HBO gave him one last turn behind the microphone for a Boxing After Dark show a few months before his death none of that mattered. Behind a microphone he was the same guy he always was that night –  his voice strong, his facts straight, his call precise and his respect for the fighters’ struggle as apparent and as loving as always.

On Saturday he finally had to fold the losing hand that had been dealt him by a power greater than us all but as it turned out Nick Charles won that round too, just as he had all the others.

Sure he died too young, passing away from an undefeated enemy called fourth stage bladder cancer a few months before his 65th birthday but before he passed on he’d lived a life so full he made you feel like it had been given to him by Santa Claus.

From finally finding happiness with his wife of 13 years to finding God in 1992 by virtue of her guiding hand to the joy of watching his five-year-old daughter grow up to play that piano he’d bought her after months of research to be sure it was – as his boxing broadcasts always were – JUST RIGHT! – Nick Charles lived.

He lived to the very last hours, ones he spent looking out on the ruggedly beautiful landscape of his beloved Santa Fe. To the end he chose life. Shouldn’t we all?

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2015 Fight of the Year – Francisco Vargas vs Takashi Miura

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The WBC World Super Featherweight title bout between Francisco Vargas and Takashi Miura came on one of the biggest boxing stages of 2015, as the bout served as the HBO pay-per-view’s co-main event on November 21st, in support of Miguel Cotto vs Saul Alvarez.

Miura entered the fight with a (29-2-2) record and he was making the fifth defense of his world title, while Vargas entered the fight with an undefeated mark of (22-0-1) in what was his first world title fight. Both men had a reputation for all-out fighting, with Miura especially earning high praise for his title defense in Mexico where he defeated Sergio Thompson in a fiercely contested battle.

The fight started out hotly contested, and the intensity never let up. Vargas seemed to win the first two rounds, but by the fourth round, Miura seemed to pull ahead, scoring a knock-down and fighting with a lot of confidence. After brawling the first four rounds, Miura appeared to settle into a more technical approach. Rounds 5 and 6 saw the pendulum swing back towards Vargas, as he withstood Miura’s rush to open the fifth round and the sixth round saw both men exchanging hard punches.

The big swinging continued, and though Vargas likely edged Miura in rounds 5 and 6, Vargas’ face was cut in at least two spots and Miura started to assert himself again in rounds 7 and 8. Miura was beginning to grow in confidence while it appeared that Vargas was beginning to slow down, and Miura appeared to hurt Vargas at the end of the 8th round.

Vargas turned the tide again at the start of the ninth round, scoring a knock down with an uppercut and a straight right hand that took Miura’s legs and sent him to the canvas. Purely on instinct, Miura got back up and continued to fight, but Vargas was landing frequently and with force. Referee Tony Weeks stepped in to stop the fight at the halfway point of round 9 as Miura was sustaining a barrage of punches.

Miura still had a minute and a half to survive if he was going to get out of the round, and it was clear that he was not going to stop fighting.

A back and forth battle of wills between two world championship level fighters, Takashi Miura versus “El Bandido” Vargas wins the 2015 Fight of the Year.

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Jan 9 in Germany – Feigenbutz and De Carolis To Settle Score

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This coming Saturday, January 9th, the stage is set at the Baden Arena in Offenburg, Germany for a re-match between Vincent Feigenbutz and Giovanni De Carolis. The highly anticipated re-match is set to air on SAT.1 in Germany, and Feigenbutz will once again be defending his GBU and interim WBA World titles at Super Middleweight.

The first meeting between the two was less than three months ago, on October 17th and that meeting saw Feigenbutz controversially edge De Carolis on the judge’s cards by scores of (115-113, 114-113 and 115-113). De Carolis scored a flash knock down in the opening round, and he appeared to outbox Feigenbutz in the early going, but the 20 year old German champion came on in the later rounds.

The first bout is described as one of the most crowd-pleasing bouts of the year in Germany, and De Carolis and many observers felt that the Italian had done enough to win.

De Carolis told German language website RAN.DE that he was more prepared for the re-match, and that due to the arrogance Feigenbutz displayed in the aftermath of the first fight, he was confident that he had won over some of the audience. Though De Carolis fell short of predicting victory, he promised a re-vamped strategy tailored to what he has learned about Feigenbutz, whom he termed immature and inexperienced.

The stage is set for Feigenbutz vs De Carolis 2, this Saturday January 9th in Offenburg, Germany. If you can get to the live event do it, if not you have SAT.1 in Germany airing the fights, and The Boxing Channel right back here for full results.

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2015 Knock Out of the Year – Saul Alvarez KO’s James Kirkland

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On May 9th of 2015, Saul “Canelo” Alvarez delivered a resonant knock-out of James Kirkland on HBO that wins the 2015 KO of the Year.

The knock-out itself came in the third round, after slightly more than two minutes of action. The end came when Alvarez delivered a single, big right hand that caught Kirkland on the jaw and left him flat on his back after spinning to the canvas.Alvarez was clearly the big star heading into the fight. The fight was telecast by HBO for free just one week after the controversial and disappointing Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao fight, and Alvarez was under pressure to deliver the type of finish that people were going to talk about. Kirkland was happy to oblige Alvarez, taking it right to Alvarez from the start. Kirkland’s aggression saw him appear to land blows that troubled the young Mexican in the early going. Alvarez played good defense, and he floored Kirkland in the first round, displaying his power and his technique in knocking down an aggressive opponent.

However, Kirkland kept coming at Alvarez and the fight entered the third round with both men working hard and the feeling that the fight would not go the distance. Kirkland continued to move forward, keeping “Canelo” against the ropes and scoring points with a barrage of punches while looking for an opening.

At around the two minute mark, Alvarez landed an uppercut that sent Kirkland to the canvas again. Kirkland got up, but it was clear that he did not have his legs under him. Kirkland was going to try to survive the round, but Alvarez had an opportunity to close out the fight. The question was would he take it?

Alvarez closed in on Kirkland, putting his opponent’s back to the ropes. Kirkland was hurt, but he was still dangerous, pawing with punches and loading up for one big shot.

But it was the big shot “Canelo” threw that ended the night. Kirkland never saw it coming, as he was loading up with a huge right hand of his own. The right Alvarez threw cracked Kirkland in the jaw, and his eyes went blank. His big right hand whizzed harmlessly over the head of a ducking Alvarez, providing the momentum for the spin that left Kirkland prone on the canvas.

Saul “Canelo” Alvarez went on to defeat Miguel Cotto in his second fight of 2015 and he is clearly one of boxing’s biggest stars heading into 2016. On May 9th Alvarez added another reel to his highlight film when he knocked out James Kirkland with the 2015 “Knock Out of the Year”.

Photo by naoki fukuda

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