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Articles of 2009

Ron Borges' 2009 Wish List

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Boxing officially begins the New Year this week and while the sport continues to have its problems there remains much to be hopeful about.

Frankly, the biggest hope may be the faintest. It is that some heavyweight finally emerges from the dark cloud that has enveloped the division for so long and finally captures the imagination of the public. It has been so long since Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, Riddick Bowe and, to a lesser extent, Lennox Lewis thrilled fight fans that one begins to wonder if the heavyweight division still exists.

This is not simply because all the reigning title holders are European (the Brothers Klitschko and Nikolay Valuev) although in a country as parochial as the United States that doesn’t help. It is rather that which ever one you’re watching at any given moment convinces you he’s worse than the guy you saw before him, who you were quite sure had to be the worse guy in the division. This is not a good thing for boxing.

The hope here then is that some time this year the brash Brit David Haye, the former cruiserweight champion who has charisma, crushing power and a cracked chin emerges to win one or more portions of the title and ends up in a showdown with Klitschko the Younger (Wladimir). That would at least be a fight of interest and if Haye found a way to win it, his personality alone would help revive the sport.

In this country the division will never really matter again until someone in red, white and blue becomes both a legitimate challenger and a fearsome puncher and that isn’t happening any time soon judging by the pretenders out there at the moment, but Haye would be a bombastic breath of fresh air…assuming his chin doesn’t implode when struck with authority by a true heavyweight. That may be a tall order but he has the kind of concussive one-punch power that can counter even a chin made of limestone…at least until the night someone hits him flush so we have to hope for the best there, but that’s part of what makes him interesting.

The news that promoter Bob Arum has found a new Spanish language television station for the boxing shows he used to showcase on Telefutura until that network pulled the plug at the end of the year was welcome, but do you have Azteca America on your cable lineup? At this point, it’s better than nothing, but it’s a step down from the ‘’Solo Boxeo” shows and seems another warning sign that if the people making the most money off the sport don’t begin to invest some of it back into the game at the grassroots level one of these days boxing will be like Oklahoma in the ‘30s – a dust bowl.

But wait a minute! This was supposed to be about good news so I digress. If 2009 is to be a good year for prize fighting the first thing the sport needs is a return of its greatest practitioner of the day – Floyd Mayweather, Jr. His self-imposed exile has achieved what he hoped – it cost his father a lot of money he would have made preparing Oscar De La Hoya to try and beat his son in a rematch. Now it’s time to get back  to work in the hopes that he will face the winner of the Manny Pacquiao-Ricky Hatton fight in May, assuming it comes off as planned.

It seems Mayweather is too fast for Pacquiao and Pacquiao’s trainer, Freddie Roach, really has no interest in the fight but wasn’t Oscar De La hoya too big for him? Not!

It is that kind of mystery and fodder for debate that fuels interest in a sport like boxing and so Mayweather’s return is crucial. So, too, is it that Pacquiao defeat Hatton spectacularly. If he does, Pacquiao may have no real choice but to face Mayweather because there will be a clamoring for that fight – a pound-for-pound showdown between Mayweather and the man who replaced him as that mythical champion – Pacquiao.

Frankly, I’d be just as happy to see Pacquiao face Juan Manuel Marquez a third time to unify the lightweight title though, assuming Marquez survives what could be a tough challenge from former champion Juan Diaz this year.

Diaz is neither as skilled nor as fast as Marquez but he is a relentless warrior who will make it a fight. If Marquez wins, a third match with Pacquiao would be one of the 2009 highlights because their first two matches were the kind of classics fight fans still argue about because no one can say for sure who won.

Speaking of lightweights, one would hope the sport is smart enough to get Nate Campbell into the mix as well because he is both a guy who can fight and an entertainer and there is a shortage of both around these days. Campbell, Pacquiao, Marquez and Diaz could fight a year long round robin and it would be compelling TV, although don’t count on it because it would make too much sense.

Like many fight fans, I could watch Israel Vazquez and Rafael Marquez fight every Friday night and be well satisfied but I’d like to see undefeated young Juan Manuel Lopez, Edwin Valero, Joan Guzman and even aging Joel Casamayor get into that mix as well. Get them all fighting each other and you’ve got good fights and growing interest if properly promoted and showcased.

Word is Paul Williams will end up fighting the well used up and seldom pleasing Winky Wright next. Explain to me why this is happening beyond the fact that Wright has connections with Golden Boy Promotions? Fans of actual fighting have little interest in seeing Wright any more and they didn’t have all that much interest when he was at the height of his skills. So why risk Williams, who has great potential, in what can’t be anything but a stinker fight?

Anyone who is paying attention understands HBO climbed in bed with Golden Boy some time ago but that match is ridiculous and does boxing no good. Williams against middleweight champion Arthur Abraham would for a lot of reasons and that’s where the promotional effort should be made but it’s not going to happen any time soon.

Despite the sad night Kelly Pavlik had against Bernard Hopkins he’s back defending his middleweight title early this year and one has to hope that Pavlik, Williams, Abraham and the often ducking Felix Sturm, who apparently hasn’t seen a leading middleweight contender his management wants him to fight, could create some buzz for that division if they’d just square off with each other and settle a few things.

That’s what makes the Vic Darchinyan-Jorge Arce Feb. 7 showdown on SHOWTIME exciting. It not only will be a concussive contest in which judges will not be necessary but counting to 10 will be, it’s also a reminder that a guy like Darchinyan, who beat down Crisitian Mijares in his last outing and is now taking on more heavy iron in Arce, is what drives boxing. At its best, the fight game is about confrontations between equals, not mismatches of young vs. aged, or talented vs. not so much. That is what we’ve gotten time and again in recent years and, frankly, the sport can’t take much more of it.

This brings me to Shameless Shane Mosley vs. Antonio Margarito. Why are we doing this? Mosley couldn’t draw flies when he was young and a dominant lightweight. Now he’s old, not dominant and appears to be heading for a fall if he keeps pushing his luck against Victor Conte and the BALCO scandal. It’s pretty obvious reading stories by folks with access to Mosley’s grand jury testimony that he’s a cheat and he knew it. So why does he get rewarded with a Margarito fight while Barry Bonds can’t get a job as a DH? Because it’s boxing, that’s why.

There are several things one should want to see this year, including the emergence of a challenger who doesn’t carry an AARP card for light heavyweight champion Chad Dawson, a rematch between cruiserweight champion Tomasz Adamek and Steve Cunningham on a network willing and able to showcase them, a rematch with Margarito for Miguel Cotto (assuming he really wants one) and a match between Jermain Taylor and Mikkel Kessler.

I wouldn’t mind seeing a bit more of Michael Katsidis too, even though his defense is worse than Stephon Marbury’s. I’d like to not see Joe Calzaghe, who has no reason to press on, and I’d like to see a bit less waist line on heavyweight hopeful Chris Arreola. I’d like to see Don King use his considerable promotional gifts to make something big out of the talented but barely known Devon Alexander and wouldn’t it be great if the Western world got to know featherweight champion Chris John? Right now he’s a myth to most people, an Indonesian we know can fight but who is seen in the U.S. by so few people one begins to wonder if he’s really Sid Finch.

One of the beautiful things about boxing is when fresh faces start to rise. This could be the year for Victor Ortiz, Yuriorkis Gamboa, James Kirkland and the slow moving but talented Andre Ward. It’s also, we should all hope, the year young welterweight champion Andre Berto becomes a household name because he’s got the talent, the smile and the personality to become a star if he can get some exposure and the right fights.

In fact, as critical as I’ve been about Mosley, a proposed Berto-Mosley fight made sense because it could have been the classic case of the young star on the rise doing so at the expense of someone who used to be somebody but is now less of that than he once was. With Mosley unavailable, maybe promoter Lou DiBella should consider putting Berto in with Zab Judah, who is another guy who, like Mosley, still has some talent but is walking on the shady side of the street and so would be a good, hard test for Berto.

It’s the kind of fight Berto should win if he is who we think he is but it would also be the kind of hard test a young fighter needs to fulfill his true potential in sport’s harshest landscape.

Oh, by the way, wouldn’t you love to see another meeting between Kendall Holt and Ricardo Torres this year? Who knows what will happen but one thing is sure – somebody is going to end up on the floor. Let the winner fight Tim Bradley and the junior welterweights would be alive and kicking too.

The point in all this is to urge the people who finance the fights, profit from the fights and make or break fighters and the fight game – HBO, SHOWTIME, Setanta and Sky in England, ESPN, German promoters Peter Kohl and Wilfried Sauerland, England’s Frank Warren and the U.S.’ Richard Schaefer, Bob Arum, Don King, Lou DiBella, Dan Goossen, Art Pelullo and Joe DeGuardia – to dedicate one year of their life to a sport that has made all their lives far more comfortable than most of the fans who they keep asking to support them regardless of what they give them back.

Readers, please feel free to add your wish list for the Boxing Year 2009, and beyond, via a comment…

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Articles of 2009

UFC 108 Rashad Evans vs. Thiago Silva

David A. Avila

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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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