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Articles of 2009

These Swabbies Deserve A Salute

Bernard Fernandez

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To hear members of their curious and frequently underappreciated profession tell it, cutmen are like those “meatball surgeons” on M*A*S*H. Instead of hanging around an Army camp in olive-green fatigues, killing time and ogling nurses until the wounded arrived with the suddenness of a striking viper, guys (and the occasional gal) with Q-tips protruding from their mouths hang around in the corner wearing satin jackets, maybe applying an Enswell to a puffy eye between rounds until that swollen area breaks wide open and a stream of blood comes gushing out.

It’s when the action gets really hot, and their fighters can’t see for the leakage into their eyes, that cutmen are transformed into Hawkeye, Trapper John and B.J. Hunnicutt. The best of the breed learn to work fast, stay calm and handle pressure well. They don’t even have the benefit of ogling those scantily clad round-card girls; with only 60 seconds between rounds, there isn’t a moment to waste if they’re to stanch the bleeding.

Cutmen didn’t necessarily elevate the careers of such notorious bleeders as Henry Cooper, Chuck Wepner, Vito Antuofermo and Gaetan Hart, but they sometimes kept the gore down so that their guys could stay in the fight long enough to pull out victories that otherwise might have resulted in losses on cuts.

The late, great Ralph Citro, one of the rare cutmen to have been inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame (although not primarily for that function), said his rise to prominence in the field was in direct correlation to the severity of the gashes incurred by one of his fighters, Canadian lightweight Gaetan Hart.

“The guy averaged, like, 43 stitches per fight,” Citro told me in 1989. “That’s where I got my education, and a lot of practice, as a cutman.”

Hart, whose face almost always looked like raw hamburger at the end of his bouts, was involved in another torn-flesh brawl when he took on Ralph Racine on May 7, 1980, in Montreal. Which meant, of course, that Citro was obliged to stick his fingers into those multiple wounds as if he were that little Dutch boy plugging so many leaks in the dam.

“By the end of the fourth round, both of Hart’s eyes were busted open,” Citro recalled. “His lip was cut, he had a cut underneath one eye and his nose was bleeding.”

Understandably, the referee and ring physicians kept glancing at Hart while wearing worried expressions. But Citro somehow kept patching Hart up, round after round, and he continued to answer the bell until he finally stopped Racine in the 12th round.

“After that fight I was wringing wet with sweat and blood,” Citro said. “I came down the steps and Gil Clancy (the Hall of Fame trainer who served as color commentator for the CBS telecast) said, `Great job, Ralph.’ And I said, `Yeah, I didn’t do too bad.’”

Legend has it that a 16-year-old beauty named Julia Jean Mildred Frances Turner was “discovered” by a Hollywood talent agent while sitting on a stool at Schwab’s Drug Store and wearing a tight sweater that accentuated her, um, more womanly attributes. The story probably was a creation of some studio press agent, but what is true is that the pretty teenager was renamed Lana Turner and went on to a long career as a movie goddess.

Citro working feverishly to minimize the damage to Gaetan Hart’s ruined face might not be the equivalent of Ms. Turner sitting on a stool at Schwab’s and sipping a soda, but the bottom line is more or less the same. Lana Turner went on to win an Academy Award, and Citro was invited to become the cutman for the Kronk Boxing Team by Emanuel Steward, who was in the audience that day in Montreal and was so impressed by his salvation of Hart that he gave the Blackwood, N.J., resident a dream shot to work with such high-profile Kronk fighters as Thomas Hearns, Jimmy Paul, Milton McCrory and Hilmer Kenty, among others.

Working the corner of the Kronk stable while wearing the renowned Detroit gym’s instantly recognizable gold-and-red colors, Citro soon was in demand as a cutman to the stars. He went on to service other celebrity clients, including Riddick Bowe for his Nov. 13, 1992, first fight with then-undisputed heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield.

A Holyfield left hook had Bowe’s right eye puffy and swollen in the very first round; an inadvertent thumb to the same eye in Round 8 closed it completely. But Bowe went out for the ninth round with the eye open, thanks to Citro’s expert ministrations, and he finished the fight without further damage.

“Thanks for saving my ass,” Bowe told Citro after he got the decision that made him king of boxing’s heavyweight mountain. The compliment, of course, was merely a figure of speech. Citro’s specialty was saving faces, not derrieres.

Citro, who was 78 when he died in 2004, was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2001 in the “Observer” category, which meant the honor stemmed more from his legacy as a record-keeper than as a cutman. In 1984 he founded Computer Boxing Update (now Fight Fax, Inc.) to accurately maintain fighters’ records, which often were embellished by promoters and public-relations flacks. No longer could a ham-and-egger with a 12-38 record and 17 consecutive knockout defeats be sold to unsuspecting audiences as being 38-12 and the heavyweight champ of some below-the-radar jurisdiction.

But whether Citro made it to Canastota as a cutman or a statistician, or some combination thereof, two things are clear: The very best cutmen too seldom become stars in their own right, and when they do it’s often the result of blatant self-promotion or simply being in the right place at the right time.

The same might be said of trainers, who in the galaxy of boxing’s support personnel are more widely lauded for the contributions they make to a fighter’s success than other members of the corner team. Angelo Dundee would have had a laudable career had the biggest names he worked with been Carmen Basilio, Willie Pastrano and Ralph Dupas, but it is the two superstars who employed him – Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard – that helped raise Ange to the status of an icon.

Conversely, one of the best boxing men with whom I’ve ever come into contact, Bouie Fisher, might have continued to anonymously labor for decades in musty North Philadelphia gymnasiums had not his most apt pupil, Bernard Hopkins, become one of the finest ring craftsmen of his era, in large part to Fisher’s tutelage during “The Executioner’s” formative stages. The skill and accomplishments of the fighter, more so than the expertise of his trainer or cutman, usually serves as the tide that lifts all boats.

One cutman who is primarily known for his work in that field (although he coached the 1959 USA Pan American boxing team) is Chuck Bodak, who was 92 when he died in February 2008. Bodak, who suffered a stroke in August 2007, had a nice mix of well-known fighters – among them, at one time or another, Oscar De La Hoya, Julio Cesar Chavez, Azumah Nelson and Jorge Paez – but his talent for minimizing the damage done by cuts might have been less noticed were it not for his own penchant for making himself part of the story.

With his shaved head, headbands, oversized, Elton John glasses and taped pictures of his fighters on that shiny chrome dome, Bodak was often more familiar to fight fans than some of the boxers whose corners he worked. He frequently was besieged for autographs as he made his way through crowded casino-hotels. That was no accident, either. Bodak, a onetime trainer who not only welcomed the attention, but sought it, wasn’t the kind to slip through back doors.

Not that Bodak had always made the grandstand play. It was his association with Paez, a former circus performer who went on to win the IBF featherweight championship, that convinced Bodak that it was in his best interests to aggressively seek the spotlight. And why not? Paez was a good fighter, but it was his outrageous ring attire, goofy hairstyles and flamboyant mannerisms that made him the Dennis Rodman of boxing, and a greater attraction than his not-inconsiderable talent otherwise would have dictated.

At Paez’s prodding, Bodak bought into the cult of personality and reinvented himself into the somewhat eccentric figure who couldn’t possibly be misidentified with anyone else.

Not as fortunate were some other very capable, very dedicated cutmen who did their jobs without fanfare. But while boxing insiders knew and respected them, the world at large was slower to catch on.

Just this past Sunday, two of the best cutmen ever to come out of maybe America’s best fight town, Philadelphia, belatedly received their due with their posthumous inductions into the Pennsylvania Boxing Hall of Fame.

Jimmy Wilson, also an accomplished trainer, was just 54 when he went to his eternal reward in 1958. He worked with, among others, Ike Williams, Lew Jenkins, Sonny Liston and Johnny Saxton, honing their moves and tending to their cuts.

Fifty-one years after his death, Wilson finally was honored as a Pennsylvania Boxing Hall of Famer along with Eddie “The Clot” Aliano, who was 77 when he died in 1996.  Recognition delayed is always better than recognition denied.

“He wasn’t a jumpy person,” one of Philly’s busier current cutmen, Joey “Eye” Intrieri, said of Aliano, his professional role model. “He was very businesslike and in control of every situation. He never let anything get out of hand. That’s important because in a tough fight, things can get kind of crazy in the corner sometimes.

“Eddie had this ability to stay very calm and to take his time to do the job right, even though he was doing it as fast as he could. I know that sounds like a contradiction, but it really isn’t.

“The fighter has too much to worry about as it is without having to worry about a cut. The crowds yelling at him, the trainer’s yelling at him. Eddie would tell a nervous fighter, `That cut? Aw, it’s nothing. A scratch.’ I mean, it could be as wide as your thumb, but Eddie had this knack for convincing the fighter it wasn’t nearly as bad as it was. And you know what? He’d stop the bleeding, too.”

Perhaps someone should have reminded Evander Holyfield of all this prior to his April 23, 1994, heavyweight title defense against Michael Moorer, a bout for which the “Real Deal” was paid $12 million. Holyfield had a new trainer, Don Turner, who convinced him that cutmen were the “biggest scam in boxing,” and the employment of a cut-stopping specialist was a waste of the fighter’s money. Turner could pull double duty with no problem, he told Holyfield. But then Turner didn’t anticipate a worst-case scenario because, well, he and everyone else knew that Holyfield hardly ever bled during fights.

Thus Holyfield fired cutman Adolph “Ace” Marotta, who had been with him throughout his pro career. Marotta had gotten his start working with manager-trainer Lou Duva, and in the mid-1980s he snagged the prestigious gig as cutman for the Main Events stable of fighters that included such eventual world champions as Holyfield, Pernell Whitaker, Meldrick Taylor and Mark Breland.

Marotta was to have earned $25,000, or 1/180th (or .0053 percent) of his purse for the Moorer bout. But at Turner’s urging, he was cut, if you’ll pardon the expression, from Holyfield’s payroll and corner team.

What happened, of course, almost was to be expected. Holyfield was cut in the fifth round, and the wound reopened in each round thereafter.

“(Blood) kept getting in my eyes,” he complained after he lost his title on a 12-round, majority decision. For his part, the snubbed Marotta couldn’t help but issue an I-told-you-so.

“Don’t ever say to me, `My fighter doesn’t cut,’” Marotta said. “All fighters cut.”

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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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