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Articles of 2009

Sweet and Sour on Saturday Night

Springs Toledo

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Ricky Hatton recently told the Manchester Evening News that he “looks at boxing from a different angle now and it is dying a death compared to the fashionable Ultimate Fighting Challenge.” Paulie “Magic Man” Malignaggi, whom Hatton defeated last year, made similar derogatory comments Saturday night that did no favors for the sport that gave him a name, an identity, more money than he’d ever have earned with the high school diploma he doesn’t have, and a stage to indulge his eccentric tastes of fashion.

Nevertheless, his outburst was only a minor distraction from what really was a career-defining performance.

Boxing has always been the red light district of sports, but those pulling the strings have green eyes, and they are rightfully concerned about profits being eaten away by those bald guys with cauliflower ears who like to kick and grapple. Mixed martial arts offers a spectacle of combat that is more primal in its brutality. Although the level of skill and intensity of training matches that of a professional boxer, the event itself is often more violent with flying knees, elbows, assorted arm bars, and strangulation. The Octagon is simply more barbaric than the ring.

In boxing, sweetness defeats savagery. Saturday night’s card proved it. Almost.

Danny “The Golden Child” Jacobs, 22 years old, has been building a reputation as a puncher after seventeen professional bouts. This is a long-standing tradition for hot prospects routinely fed a dozen or so set-ups whose undeclared expectation is to fall down upon contact. Teddy Atlas has been criticizing this tradition for years now and not without reason. When a prospect has had a wealth of amateur experience, Atlas believes, he is ripping off the public when he faces a parade of moonlighters, glass-Joes, and no-chance Charlies. But Teddy is forgetting something: Boxing is psychological. It is the prospect’s fragile human ego that is being fed. Get a kid to believe in his power and Descartes famous principle moves towards fruition (“I think [I’m a banger] therefore I am”). Get a kid used to winning and you give him something to stand on, an edge. That edge is confidence. Tests come later. Precisely how much later is an open question; as is the line between “building confidence” and “coddling”.

With ten fights in the last twelve months, Jacobs has been fighting at a rate that would impress Fritzie Zivic, but he is smart enough to know that Ishe Smith was going to be harder to chew on than the potatoes he has steadily mashed since his debut. Ishe is a relatively experienced bull; and Jacobs decided to don the red cape of the matador. His pride, however, is not the kind that prevents him from retreating; in fact, the boxer will call it “adjusting distance.” True boxers don’t want to join the Rockettes –if their hands aren’t moving then the event becomes a snore fest, the crowd begins to boo, and future purses risk shrinkage. So Jacobs’ arms moved as frantically as his legs, and he threw bales full of punches to the body and head, though not balefully.

Ishe threw some hurting shots, but seemed tense and angry. He was tired at the end …all that tension wore him out. His chief second was Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, a great light heavyweight from the 70s and 80s. He exhorted him –“stop looking at him! He ain’t got three arms!” With notions of winning becoming bleaker, Ishe began to express his anger in other ways –swearing and posturing. At the end of round seven, Ishe hit Jacobs about three times after the bell but didn’t receive a point deduction. He should have. Oddly enough, in round nine, Ishe threw a shot at the bell and earned a point deduction. He shouldn’t have. Evidently, justice traveled slowly but landed with a leaden fist.

Jacobs’ speed was fair, the force less so, but it was an impressive display of natural talent. Natural talent ain’t skill, and he does need to tighten up on fundamentals. He not only habitually dropped his right hand, he also lingered in the corners and on the ropes enough to invite and receive unnecessary punishment. Danny boy is green. Ishe was landing left hook, right cross combinations that would have sent him from glen to glen and down the mountainside –had his chin been less than it was.

Southpaw Robert “The Ghost” Guerrero’s performance against titlist Malcolm Klassen made Danny Jacobs look like the novillero that he is. Guerrero was a supreme torero (matador) and he disrupted and dazzled Klassen with 1200 punches en route to a unanimous decision. Guerrero contended with a far worse challenge outside the ring when his wife Casey was diagnosed with leukemia in November 2007. She is now in remission. He spent six weeks training at Big Bear, CO, and spent much of that time in existential reflection. In March of this year, Guerrero quit against Daud Cino Yordan and was roundly criticized for breaking a cardinal rule in the warrior code. Luckily for him, he was cut again in the seventh round –an ugly slice an inch outside of his left eye. He was also cut in his previous fight, which he won, but these two cuts called to mind what the ancients called “blood atonement.” Sins are atoned, or washed away, by blood. Make no mistake, to the everlasting boxing god who sits atop a golden stool and speaks thunder through a platinum mouthpiece, quitting the ring mid-fight is a mortal sin.

The sight of Guerrero’s dripping eye should have been encouraging to the South African Klassen. Before the fight he was brimming with confidence and bravado and spoke of the former champion as nothing more than a soon-to-be unconscious launching pad for Klassen’s glory. Guerrero proved that ghosts are incorporeal, but not immaterial. Faced with a complicated array of angles and elusiveness, Klassen was forced to turn and reset throughout the fight. He couldn’t find his man and fought like a predictable bull. The Guerrero victory was almost a foregone conclusion by the 8th round.

The main event featured Paulie Malignaggi (26-3) as a live underdog who promised a lively continuation of the pattern set by Jacobs and Guerrero and a confirmation of the thesis about sweetness overcoming savagery. “Like a matador,” he proclaimed before the bout, “I will control the Baby Bull.” His confidence in himself never wavered although his confidence in getting a fair deal in Texas was lower than the belly of a rattlesnake. After all, Juan Diaz (35-2) was not only the hometown hero; he was also a Golden Boy fighter in a Golden Boy promotion. Even the ring was against Malignaggi –an 18 foot puncher’s ring. The weight stipulation was 138½ and Paulie has been struggling to make 140. Worse still, three of four officials were Texans or had ties to the region –the referee Laurence Cole and Raul Caiz, Sr. and Gale Van Hoy, judges. The Brooklynite looked underneath ten gallon hats and said that “the deck is stacked.” And he was right.

Paulie is true to himself. After losing to Hatton when trainer Buddy McGirt threw in the towel, he went into a gloomy seclusion. He emerged and fired Buddy. New trainer Sherif Younan has been with him for three fights now and if his instructions Saturday night are indications, the man is an excellent fit. His exhortation between rounds to stay out of the corners and off the ropes, to box from the outside and operate from the middle of the ring is precisely what a pure boxer needs to hear lest he get aspirations. Younan seems to understand Malignaggi’s psychology.

Diaz did what Diaz does –he fought aggressively with a high-volume of output and got banged up in the process. Both fighters were cut. Malignaggi was cut over the left eye in round one, while Diaz got an abrasion over his left eye from a right uppercut in the second round and later got a head butt that opened another cut near the first.

In the eighth, Paulie’s trunks began to descend. His underwear was white, and thankfully, clean. HBO’s Bob Papa reduced Max Kellerman and Lennox Lewis to silence when he said “Boxing After Dark and the moon is coming out!”

In the eleventh, Jack was chasing Jill, though steadily bleeding now. Paulie’s purple knee-highs and long fringe shimmied like a psychedelic grass skirt as Diaz bore forward trying to find a home for his left hook and right cross. Paulie fights with his lead shoulder hunched up and his lead hand at hip-level while the other hand is draped across the chest. Someone should dissuade him from this stance. He likes it, but it doesn’t like him. Paulie has sloping shoulders. Fighters like Diaz can land the right because his shoulder cannot hunch up enough to block the shot –and he’s got a neck like an ostrich.

The fight was close even if it was pretty clear who won. If you were a judge who preferred ring generalship and defense, Paulie was your man. If you were a judge who preferred effective aggressiveness, Paulie was still your man.

Most impressive was the fact that the slickster outpunched the pressure fighter, out landed him, and got more bang for the buck. The last few rounds saw the Baby Bull spending too much time defending his eye and not enough time attacking the leaf in the wind that was stabbing him with a left jab and dinging him with effective though less frequent rights.

It should have been the third declaration of the supremacy of matadors over bulls. But it was not. As Diaz’s mother cried and prayed for a miracle from her ringside seat, the most impressive of the night’s three matadors listened as the scorecards were read. Raul Caiz, Sr. saw the bout 115-113 for Diaz. David Sutherland of Oklahoma saw 116-112 for Diaz. Gale Van Hoy’s scorecard read 118-110, Diaz. Paulie’s outspoken concerns were vindicated in front of thousands. He doffed the red cape of the matador and donned the mantle of a prophet. Unfortunately, the predicted woe was his own.

Diaz was gracious in victory and asked the crowd to applaud for Paulie Malignaggi.

Paulie threw a tantrum. “Boxing is full of [expletive],” he hollered into Max Kellerman’s microphone, “the only reason I do this is for the payday. Boxing is full of [expletive]!” Exit matador, enter enfant terrible.

Malignaggi had a right to his outrage, though he would have been well-advised to keep it specific. We all have a general responsibility to malign inept judges and unscrupulous promoters, and cast the malocchio on those increasingly irrelevant alphabet soup organizations with their silly trinkets –but we have just as much of a responsibility to honor the Sweet Science. It transcends them all.

HBO’s “Boxing After Dark” almost offered a triple confirmation of how sweetness overcomes savagery in the ring. It’s too bad it ended on a sour note.

…..

Springs Toledo can be reached at scalinatella@hotmail.com.

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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