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Articles of 2009

Is Clottey Catching Cotto At Just The Right Time?

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Miguel Cotto’s rumble with his uncle Evangelista sounded a heckuva lot more interesting than just about any heavyweight title fight we’ve seen in the last few years, didn’t it? Such passion, such fury…why couldn’t most of Wladimir Klitschko’s recent foes have summoned half that energy and zest for combat?

Family squabbles can go from 0 to 60 on the lunacy scale when a rift ruptures. When a livable gulf explodes into a canyonesque vacuum that can’t be filled by any amount of mediation or heart-to-heart fence mending sessions, sometimes folks throw hard objects through their loved ones’ Jaguar windshields. Better that, I say, than a piece of lead aimed at a noggin, instead of a rock at an automobile. That’s my lengthy way of saying…Hopefully with some time elapsed, Miguel Cotto and his father’s brother will be able to be in the same room without trying to take each others’ head off, and perhaps even look back on their April brouhaha, and chuckle at their ineffectiveness at conflict resolution.

But the Miguel Cotto I saw on Wednesday at a press conference at Madison Square Garden to hype his June 13 showdown with one of boxing’s most underrated hitters, Joshua Clottey, that Cotto hasn’t been able to move past the family fracture. He looked spent, like he needed an IV of espresso to snap out of a mental funk, as he took questions from the NYC fightwriter mafia. If Cotto and Clottey were to throw down this weekend, I’d not be afraid to throw a few bucks down on the underdog Clottey, who looked to be locked into a mindset of joyful anticipation at the prospect of getting his chance of a lifetime.

But there will be plenty of time for the 28-year-old  Cotto (33-1, 27 KOs; sole loss to Antonio Margarito July 2008) to get the recent bloodline battle out of his head. For eight weeks, the Puerto Rican hitter will train in Tampa, Florida, and one presumes he may well emerge from that camp in a better frame of mind and body than he has in some other camps, when he sparred with his trainer as heatedly as he did with his paid sparring partners. For that reason, I see Cotto as a 60-40 favorite to take down Clottey. I see a distance fight, with conditioning and will being the most important factors in deciding a victor.

Since 2006, five of Clottey’s seven outings went the distance. Since 2006, five of Cotto’s nine outings went the distance, or ended in the second to last round. Clottey will be in Cotto’s face, and will try and grind him down. The Ghanian does not have the power to stop Cotto. And in 38 pro tiffs, Clottey (35-2, 20 KOs; last bout was a win against Zab Judah last August) hasn’t been stopped; I don’t see the pugilist Cotto doing the deed in June. Cotto will take a UD, with a margin of two or three points, at the end of the night.

Then again, that aura that Clottey dispensed at MSG…the 32-year-old New York appears to be in a zone of confidence that should worry Cotto fans.

As a matter of fact, when asked what a win over Cotto would mean, Clottey didn’t deliver the expected response, and say that he was thinking only of the present, of what he had to do to hand Cotto his second loss. He said that a win over Cotto would get him another marquee tussle, with Shane Mosley.

“I know Cotto’s gonna hit me,” said Clottey, the IBF 147 pound champion. “I can take his punches, but I don’t know about him taking mine.” He also said he lusted after a rematch with Antonio Margarito (he lost a UD12 to Margarito in Dec. 2006, a fight he was winning until he hurt his hand). “I want a rematch very badly,” he said. If Clottey’s hand gets raised on June 13, we can look at his forward-thinking, and concede that his foresight was the product of a prepared mind. If he loses, we are likely to decide that he may have gotten ahead of himself…

As TSS told you earlier, Cotto will be trained for the time being by the unknown Joe Santiago, a trainer of Puerto Rican amateurs, who has been with Cotto for three fights as a conditioning coach and nutritional consultant. They will work together in Tampa, away from the tug of family ties in PR, though Cotto said he might still hire on another, presumably more well-known tutor. Would he ever reunite with Evangelista? “I don’t know, I don’t think so,” he said.

Cotto made it clear that he didn’t want to belabor the matter concerning he and his uncle’s violent clash. He also said he never considered putting off the bout. Both he and Clottey chose not to re-enter the Margarito/MargaCheato fray. “I prefer to keep in my mind he had a good night against me in Las Vegas,” Cotto said of the tainted boxer.

Promoter Bob Arum told TSS that he thinks the split with the uncle could really help Cotto, removing an element of distraction. Cotto is on the same page. “I feel less pressure” with Evangelista’s exit, he said. “I hope the less pressure gives me the opportunity to train better.”
Early on, I referenced Cotto’s seeming funk, so I was curious how much he is still digging the whole not-so-merry-go round of the fight game, the political beefs with his promoter and his familial squabbling. How much longer, I asked Cotto, will you keep fighting?

“A year and  a half, two years,” he said. Cotto’s contract with Arum is up in 2010, and two months ago, it looked like a done deal that he and Arum would go the way of Miguel and Evangelista, though perhaps without the Jaguar modification. But on Tuesday, it sounded like Arum had done some skilled PR work to heal wounds. “(Me and Top Rank) are good, like always,” he said. “We’ve always had a good relationship.” ‘Cept that time two months ago when you were furious that Arum seemingly took Margarito’s side..but I digress… “When the contract is finished, I will sit with Top Rank and negotiate,” the current WBO welterweight titlist said.

I am not afraid to gush a little bit, and tell you all that I have been quite impressed with the newest head of the NY athletic commission, Melvina Lathan. Partly because she wasn’t afraid to publicly gush about Barack Obama’s improbable, wondrous win in November, but also because she isn’t afraid to depart from the script, and just speak her mind on boxing matters. She said she would’ve been harder on Margarito than California was if his hand warp shenanigans occurred in her jurisdiction two months back, and on Tuesday, she again showed that she is capable of displaying a knack for not simply mouthing platitudes and fill in the blanks banalities. “I thank HBO for making this a straightup HBO fight, and not a pay per view,” she said. “It’s a good thing.” Halle-frickin-lujah! Rather than appearing to be a mouthpiece for the cable behemoth, she actually spoke up for the long term good of the sport and the shrunken wallet of the average fan who has been forced, if he or she wanted to watch premium fights, to pay hand over hand over fist for it in the last five years. “These guys are fit and ready and they can bang,” she said of Cotto and Clottey.

Arum noted then that 60% of tickets for the event are scaled at $50 or $100, which is reasonably reasonable in this day and age.

Clottey, during his turn at the mike, showed a load of class, as he stated, “I am sorry about what happened between Miguel and his uncle, everything will be fine.” That said,  he wasn’t just in warm and fuzzy mode. “It’s going to be a war in the ring,” he promised.

Cotto then took to the mike, and he articulated what his wan demeanor suggested. “This is not one of the great moments of my career,” he said, “but I will work on climbing out.”

SPEEDBAG Martin “Bazooka” Kovzelove is one of those dudes I see at almost every big press conference and I have never taken the time to figure out who he is and what he does. Turns out he’s a cut man who is owed some money by the folks at Dum Dum lollipops. About ten years ago, Bazooka was in Gleasons Gym, and there happened to be a commercial shooting there. Larry Holmes and Gerry Cooney were starring in the spot for Dum Dum lollipops, and a production guy tapped Bazooka to be in the spot. Not a speaking role, but after a couple of hours of production, he had a few bucks coming to him. He’s still waiting for his check. To make matters worse, that Dum Dum spot never ran, Bazooka thinks, so he didn’t even get a chance to see his mug on the tube. Bazooka said he asked Larry about the spot a few years later, and Holmes didn’t really recall the shoot. One presumes that Larry got his check, because that man would remember the shoot if the Dum Dummies still owed him dough….

—Had a nice chat with former lightweight and junior lightweight champion Joey Gamache. The Maine-iac has been apprenticing under Manny Steward the last couple of years, soaking up Manny’s ways in camps for Jermain Taylor, Kermit Cintron, Andy Lee and Jonathan Banks. Now, trainer Gamache is ready to make his own mark. He’s looking for a few good men to mold and help reach the promised land. “I’m looking for guys with desire, and dedication and discipline,” he said. Fit that bill? Call him at 646-245-8084.

—I gushed earlier about Lathan. Here’s a bit more gushing. I truly believe this woman is looking to make the most of her position, and will look for ways to help some of those boxers who aren’t able to yank themselves up by their bootstraps; who may have fallen on hard times; who may be feeling the effects of blows absorbed in decades past, and are having a hard time making their way in the United States’ health care system which is stacked in favor of the wealthier folks who are afforded employer-provided health insurance coverage. Lathan is putting together a financial planning seminar which will run on May 18 at Pac U in NYC. Fighters past and present can attend, free, and get some advice on how to make the most of their earnings. Check back with TSS; we will have more specifics on the seminar, and more details on Lathan’s plans to encourage some of those who have benefitted the most financially from the sport of boxing to establish funds and programs for those who have served the sport, without enjoying a financial windfall.

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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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