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Articles of 2009

Can Jermain Taylor Take Cocky Frochy Down A Peg?

George Kimball

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NEW YORK – Three days before their fight for the World Boxing Council super-middleweight title will inaugurate Foxwoods’ MGM Grand Arena as a boxing venue, the Carl Froch-Jermain Taylor-Lou DiBella-Mick Hennessey traveling road show arrived, en masse, into the Big Apple Wednesday afternoon, replete with a couple of barkers from the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal nation. It rolled through Times Square and convened at a midtown Manhattan eatery renowned for its boxing ambience, its large steaks, and its surly waiters.

As he gazed out at the packed room it seemed clear enough that Froch had never been in the presence of so many cameramen, publicists, scribes, and Pharisees at once.

Taylor, of course, has, though not recently, and he readily admitted that he was rather enjoying this return to the limelight.

“I’ve been here before, and it’s a great feeling to be back,” said the man who was once the undisputed middleweight champion of the world. “For my last fight against (Jeff) Lacy I didn’t see none of you reporters there. Just a couple of cameras. And come to think of it, those were the throwaway kind.”

For the benefit of those still attempting to come to grips with Froch-Taylor’s place on the contemporary boxing landscape, promoter Lou DiBella attempted to lay down a prospective storyline — that Saturday night’s title bout at the Connecticut casino is about “names,” which is to say that Taylor will be trying to get his back, while Froch will be seeking to establish his credentials here in the colonies.

This was before Lou got totally carried away with himself and started trying to tell a room full of people who know better “Neither one of these guys has ever taken a step backward,” and, as his nose really started to grow “You’ve never seen Jermain Taylor in a bad fight.”

Huh? Kassim Ouma? Cory Spinks?

Still, DiBella’s was a well intentioned ploy, but it is perfectly understandable that the attempt to trade on Froch’s anonymity wasn’t a notion the visitor seemed anxious to entertain.

Cornered and surrounded by a clutch of reporters the minute he walked into the upstairs function room at Gallagher’s, the Englishman was almost immediately asked by an American writer whether he had come to fight in the US so that the world will know who he is.

“The world already knows who I am,” pointed out Froch for the fellow’s edification. “I’m the world champion.  Jermain Taylor happens to be my mandatory. That’s why I’m here. As the champion, it’s my duty.”

Of course, truth be told, he didn’t have to  rush right into this one, either. Froch could have taken a safer first defense back in Nottingham and made a million or so from British television, but when it all was said and done it would have meant little in the big picture he envisions – a win Saturday night, followed by unification bouts against Lucien Bute and Mikkel Kessler “and whoever the WBA champion turns out to be. I don’t even know right now,” confessed Froch.

A year older than Taylor at 31, Froch is a well-spoken young fellow, a product of an education at Loughborough University in Sheffield who confesses to playing a passable Johnny Cash-style guitar as an avocation. He has been a professional for seven years, during which he has defeated each of 24 men placed before him. And it isn’t as if somebody just handed him the belt he’s defending on Saturday.

“I’d worked my way up to become the WBC mandatory, which put my into position to fight Joe Calzaghe,” said Froch. “But Joe Calzaghe gave up the title rather than fight me. I think he knew what I knew: That he was all wrong for me. I fight very well against southpaws. Joe Calzaghe was the best fighter in the world, but he didn’t want to fight me. And there was a reason Joe Calzaghe didn’t want to fight me.”

Actually, there were several of them, very few of them having to do with Froch, but that contention is part of the package – a fighter DiBella describes as “arrogant,” Taylor as “cocky.” Froch prefers to describe himself as “confident.”

“And if I don’t have confidence in myself, who is going to believe in me?” he asks.

There are doubtless some among his countrymen who do share his confidence, but it isn’t as if he has arrived on these shores with the collective hopes of the British people riding on his shoulders, a la Ricky Hatton and before him, Naseem Hamed. Froch certainly enjoys more support than, say, Michael Jennings, the earnest but hapless British welterweight who came over to try Miguel Cotto in February, but even the books back in Nottingham make him a 3-2 underdog, and until ITV rang in with a late deal to pick up the fight on a tape-delay basis, Froch’s first title defense wasn’t even going to be shown on British television. (His connections had cobbled together an arrangement to show it on internet pay-per-view at roughly $15 a pop. Not exactly Calzaghe numbers.)

Once Calzaghe abandoned the WBC title to fight his last two bouts in America, and as a light-heavyweight, Froch was matched against Haitian-born, Quebec-based Jean Pascal, whom he solidly outpointed in their battle for the vacant belt in Nottingham last December. The pair apparently emerged from that fray with renewed respect. When Froch set up training camp on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls three weeks ago, Pascal became his principal sparring partner, and by all accounts performed a creditable Taylor impersonation.

Pascal, incidentally, could own a world of his own by early summer. He bounced back from the Froch loss by knocking out Pablo Nieves at the Montreal Casino on the afternoon of April 4, and now appears headed for a challenge to another Montreal immigrant, Romanian-born WBC light-heavyweight champ Adrian Diaconu. (Having watched Diaconu’s plodding performance against Canadian journeyman David Whitthorn a few hours after Pascal disposed of Nieves, the champion appears to be every bit as much the ordinary plodder he seemed when he first saw him in Boston seven years earlier. Diacono-Pascal, a joint promotion of InterBox and Yvon Michel, will take place at the Bell Centre, probably the second weekend in June, and we like Pascal’s chances.)

Taylor seems willing to give Froch his props (“He’s the champion. He has the belt. You have to respect that, and I take my hat off to him for putting his title on the line here in America), but there’s one thing I know how to do that he’s never done – and that’s take a belt from someone.

“Sure, he’s a cocky fighter – now,” said Taylor, who has been there and done that. “He hasn’t lost yet. But he’ll learn.”

If Froch seems a trifle brash, Taylor exudes a quieter confidence of his own.

“I’m not making any excuses for the fights with Kelly Pavlik, but there’s nothing like the big one, and once I win Saturday night, the next one will be even bigger. I respect that Froch came over here to fight me. He didn’t have to come. But I’m back – and I’m not playing with this thing.”

Taylor recognizes that the 168-pound division he finds himself part of today is probably deeper and more talent-laden than the 160-pound roost over which he ruled a couple of years ago, with a multitude of big fights awaiting the winner. (Unlike Froch, Taylor was at this point unwilling to enumerate them. “I’m not looking past Carl,” he said, “but ask me that same question right after the fight and I’ll tell you something then!”)

Bute, who seems eminently beatable among the other super-middle  claimants, is high on the list of both participants, but don’t count on that one happening just yet. Although the Rumanian-born Montreal resident presently owes Librado Andrade a rematch in his mandatory, Don Majeski, who does the matchmaking for Bute’s Canadian promoters, said Wednesday that the winner of the co-feature of Saturday night’s co-feature between Allan Green and Carlos De Leon Jr. would likely produce Bute’s next opponent, in a July fight at the Bell.

We’d like the Froch-Taylor winner’s chances (and for that matter, the loser’s, too) over Bute, and both DiBella and his British promotional counterpart Mick Hennessey say they’d be willing to go to Montreal for that matchup. And, having committed itself to three telecasts from the Bell Centre since October, so, obviously, would Showtime.

But first things first.

“Jermain Taylor is going to be very disappointed Sunday morning, because I’m sure I’m taking this belt back with me to England,” vowed the confident Froch.

Froch’s trainer, former Commonwealth middleweight champion Robert McCracken, also voiced “confidence.” On the other hand, no one would accuse McCracken of cockiness in rating his man’s chances against Taylor:

Said McCraken: “I’m pretty sure we’ll still have the belt after the fight.”

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

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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Articles of 2009

No One Is Leaving This Stage Of Negotiations Looking GOLDEN

George Kimball

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Early in his political career, the young Lyndon Baines Johnson served as a congressional aide to Rep. Richard Kleberg, the wealthy owner of the King Ranch who was elected to seven consecutive terms in the House of Representatives, at least in part because he often ran unopposed.

One year an upstart rival politician we'll call Joe Bob had the temerity to challenge Kleberg in the Democratic primary, resulting in the convocation of the Texas congressman's staff to plot an election strategy. Several ideas were kicked around before Kleberg himself came up with a brainstorm.

“Why don't we start a rumor that he [copulates with] sheep?” proposed the politician.

This was a bit over the top, even for Lyndon Johnson. The future president leapt to his feet and said, incredulously, “But you know Joe Bob don't [copulate with] sheep!”

“Yeah,” replied the congressman, “but watch what happens when the son of a bitch has to stand up and deny it!”

******

Events of the past week or two have seen the Floyd Mayweather camp adopt a similar tactic with regard to Manny Pacquiao.  But if introducing what would appear to be a red-herring issue — the debate over drug-testing procedures — to the negotiating process was intended as a negotiating ploy, it would appear for the moment to have backfired.  The idea might have been to force Pacquiao to go on the defensive, but Pac-Man instead responded with his stock in trade, the counterpunch — in this case the multi-million dollar defamation suit he filed against the Mayweathers, pere et fils,, with the U.S. District Court in Las Vegas on Wednesday.

In boxing even more than in life, you never say never, but you'd have to say that Pacquiao-Mayweather is a dead issue right now, at least in its March 13 incarnation. Bob Arum says Pacquiao is prepared to move along to another opponent, and Mayweather is supposedly looking at Matthew Hatton in England.

We'll believe that when we see it, for at least three reasons: (1) There would hardly seem to be enough money in that one to make it worth Floyd's time, (2) He's going to have to put so much into preparing a defense to this lawsuit that he mightn't have time to train and (3) He'd get a better workout if he stayed in Vegas and boxed one of Uncle Roger's girl opponents.

*****

Colleagues on this site have already done a good job of dissecting this process. Ron Borges is absolutely correct in noting that in the midst of all the posturing that's gone on, you'd be a fool to accept at face value anything coming out of any of the parties' mouths. And Frank Lotierzo is spot on in noting that if you had absolutely no desire to actually get in the ring with Manny Pacquiao but were still looking to save face, you'd do pretty much exactly what Mayweather has done. Which is to say, talk tough while you get others to run interference with a series of actions seemingly calculated to ensure that the fight doesn't come off.

But left almost unscathed in all of this heretofore has been the convoluted role played by Golden Boy — by CEO Richard Schaefer, by the company's namesake Oscar the Blogger, GBP's subsidiary enterprise, The Ring, and at least a few of the lap-dogs and lackeys whose favor GPB has cultivated elsewhere in the media.

In late March of 2008, Shane Mosley and Zab Judah appeared at a New York press conference to announce a fight between them in Las Vegas two months later. As it happened, the BALCO trial had gotten underway out in California that week. That day I sat with Judah and his attorney Richard Shinefield as they explained that they intended to ask that both boxers agree to blood testing in the runup to the fight. Citing Mosley's history with BALCO and its products The Cream and The Clear (which Shane claimed Victor Conte had slipped him when he wasn't looking), Shinefield and Zab, noting that Nevada drug tests were limited to urinalysis, proposed that the supplementary tests be administered by the World Anti-Doping Agency.

Want to know what Richard Schaefer's response to that was?

“Whatever tests [the NSAC] wants them to take, we will submit to, but we are not going to do other tests than the Nevada commission requires,” said Schaefer. “The fact is, Shane is not a cheater and he does not need to be treated like one.”

But the fact is that Mosley had a confirmed history as a cheater. Manny Pacquiao does not. Yet in the absence of a scintilla of evidence or probable cause, less than two years later Schaefer was howling that the very integrity of the sport would be at risk unless Pacquiao submitted to precisely the same sort of testing he had rejected for Mosley.

And you thought it was Arum who was famous for saying “Yeah, but yesterday I was lying. Today I'm telling the truth!”

Schaefer, by the way, defended his 180-degree turnabout by saying he is now better educated on the issue. He couldn't resist aiming a harpoon at the media by adding that many sportswriters “don't know the difference between blood and urine testing.”

Don't know how to break this to you, Richard, but sportswriters, who have had to deal with this stuff for the past twenty years, probably know more about drug-testing procedures than any other group you could name.

*****

Now, the reasonable assumption would be that by assuming the role of the point man in this unseemly mess, Schaefer was insulating his boss (De La Hoya) and his fighter (PBF) by keeping their fingerprints off it while he made a fool of himself publicly conducting this snide little campaign.  

And yes, Money would have stayed out of the line of fire had not a two-month old, expletive-filled rant in which he described the Philippines as the world's foremost producer of performance-enhancing drugs not exploded on the internet at the most inopportune moment. That the lawsuit was filed less than 24 hours after “Floyd Meets the Rugged Man” overtook the Tiger Watch probably wasn't a coincidence.

And we're assuming that this Dan Petrocelli, the lawyer who filed Pacquiao's suit, knows what he's doing, because if there were an even one-zillionth chance that somebody could credibly link Manny to PEDs, then it was a pretty dumb thing to do. You could ask Roger Clemens about that.  Clemens' transformation from Hall of Famer-in-waiting to nationwide laughingstock didn't come from the Mitchell Report. It came from his wrongheaded decision to file a lawsuit against Brian McNamee, which in turn threw everything open to the discovery process.

*****

De La Hoya, in the meantime, was playing both sides of the fence. He let Schaefer play Bad Cop as he distanced himself from the negotiating process, but simultaneously was sniping away at Pacquiao from his First Amendment-protected perch as a Ring.com blogger.

“If Pacquiao, the toughest guy on the planet, is afraid of needles and having a few tablespoons of blood drawn from his system, then something is wrong…  I'm just saying that now people have to wonder: 'Why doesn't he want to do this?' Why is [blood testing] such a big deal?' wrote Oscar the Blogger. “A lot of eyebrows have been raised. And this is not good.”

Ask yourself this: Exactly what caused those eyebrows to be raised, other than the innuendo coming straight from Oscar's company?

Providing De La Hoya with a forum from which to dispense propaganda  only begins to illustrate the hopelessly compromised position from which The Ring continues to operate. They might as well give Schaefer a column, too, while they're at it.

Nearly seven months have elapsed since we last visited the Ring/Golden Boy relationship, and at the risk of winding Nigel up, it might be useful here to note that in the midst of last June's discourse, The Ring's editor offered a laundry list of the magazine's covers since the De La Hoya takeover as a demonstration of Golden Boy's restraint.

After listing them, Nigel Collins wrote “that's 28 covers over the course of 21 issues, of which Top Rank had 12 fighters, as opposed to eight for Golden Boy and eight for other promotional entities. Obviously, The Ring has shown no bias to Golden Boy when it comes to magazine covers.”

It had never even been suggested that the conflict of interest extended to the magazine playing favorites in choosing its cover subjects, but since Nigel brought it up it is probably worth noting now that of those eight covers given over to “other promotional entities,” two were of David Haye, whose promoter was properly listed as “Hayemaker,” but who had also signed a promotional deal with Golden Boy in May of 2008. (Just last month GBP issued a release in De La Hoya's name in which it described itself as “Golden Boy Promotions, the United States promoter of World Boxing Association Heavyweight World Champion David Haye.”)

And even more to the point, in four other issues Nigel Collins offered in evidence the cover subject was Floyd Mayweather (Independent), although what has transpired with regard to the Pacquiao fight doesn't make Money look very independent at all, does it?

We don't regularly keep track of these things, but in making sure we didn't misquote  Oscar's Blog we also came across a representation of the January 2010 issue on The Ring's website.  The picture on the cover of the Bible of Boxing is of the Golden Boy himself, and the cover story “De La Hoya: The Retirement Interview.”

Wow! Now there's a hot topic for crusading journalists.

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