Nick Charles was in his element Saturday evening at ringside calling a fight on HBO with many friends by his side. Calling fights and some of the best have been nothing new to Charles. Except the fight he called in the Adrian Phillips Ballroom at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City was different and sentimental.
As has been known for the past few years, the 64-year old Charles is in a battle fighting with Stage 4 bladder cancer. He has been in pain many times and away from calling bouts for Showtime and their popular ShoBox boxing program. So this is not just a story about HBO borrowing Charles for one night.
It is about a man battling for his life and a will to continue. HBO granted Charles the opportunity to call a co-feature on their “Boxing after Dark” telecast, the NABF-NABO Featherweight championship bout between Matt Remillard and Miguel Angel Garcia, prior to featherweight champion Yuriorkis Gamboa defending against Jorge Solis.
Rick Bernstein executive producer of HBO Boxing, and a longtime friend of Charles, read a recent story about Charles wanting to call one more fight. There is no telling how much longer Charles has to live. The doctors have told him there is little hope and Charles is now on what doctor’s label a “holiday” from undergoing further chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
So the gracious and extended offer went to Charles. He was elated and had no concerns regarding how much he would be paid or if he would be paid. He never asked and didn’t care. There was no talk about rival network Showtime lending one of their lead voices to HBO. This night, for the moment, Charles was away from the pain and all smiles with his many friends in boxing.
He made the trip from Santa Fe New Mexico to Atlantic City. Medications were packed and he handled the long trip well. Over the years Charles had no problems taking long trips and logged thousands of frequent travel miles as an accomplished sports broadcaster with CNN, with HBO on their original TVKO pay-per-show telecasts, with other boxing promotions and Showtime. But this trip was treated with extra precaution and care.
He worried, but during the week as Charles settled in at the boardwalk casino town, his battle with cancer for the moment was forgotten. He handled the pre productions meetings well and once at ringside handled it like a pro. You expected nothing better as his HBO colleagues for the night knew it would be different, special, and emotional.
So there I was, this writer entering the press room at Boardwalk Hall. Thinking that Charles would already be at ringside or in the HBO production room, Charles, instead, was at a table reviewing his notes, doing research, and talking briefly with those that love him. His extended family of friends in the boxing media wished him well.
“A familiar face,” he would say to yours truly. He knew the name. His face was frail, hair thinner from all of those chemo treatments, and the voice raspier and lower. You could not shake his hand because it was sensitive from all the treatments a cancer patient endures.
“I am so nervous,” said Charles. Yet he did his thing and we allowed him to continue preparing without making reference to his condition.
You don’t know what words to offer a colleague who has no idea how much time is left. Just like a member of the family that has gone through the same thing, all you can do is offer comfort and thank them for being a loving and caring individual.
And as this writer said to Charles, “God Bless and be comfortable. I will always value your friendship and professionalism.” Because Charles would never turn down an offer to be a guest on a radio program, or for an interview providing prospective about an upcoming fight on showtime or any other network,
“I was happy for him,” said Bob Papa the lead announcer for HBO Boxing after Dark telecasts. “Nick is someone I always looked up to. I was amazed the way he handled the production meetings all week despite his health issues. He is someone I always looked up to as a broadcaster.”
Papa and Charles did some pre tape production at ringside before the HBO telecast went on the air. Remillard and Garcia entered the ring and Charles took a seat next to Roy Jones Jr. and Max Kellerman. This writer situated a few rows in back of the HBO team could see how important this call was for Charles. He looked at his notes, smiled, and it was a routine day at the office.
Said Papa when the night concluded, “I never experienced anything like this in my career with the exception of 9/11.” He was referring to doing a Giants football broadcast with radio partner Dick Lynch who was still mourning the loss of his son, a victim of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack at the world Trade Center in New York City.
It was a sentimental and emotional evening, in particular to all of those with the HBO crew. Papa had some final thoughts with Charles on the air before Charles would sit and also watch Gamboa defend his title. Papa told Charles and viewers how inspirational he has been to us all. Charles, realizing that this indeed could be his last fight, thanked HBO for granting him the opportunity.
And with media and fans still in the building, with one final fight to go after Gamboa defended his title, Nick Charles said goodbye and thank you to his broadcast colleagues and friends at ringside.
He, Papa, Jones, Kellerman, and HBO executives took a picture at ringside that surely will be a great memory in years to come. Charles slowly walked away to hopefully get a peaceful and painless night of sleep and prepare for a safe trip home.
Perhaps one day the miracle of medicine will find a cure for cancer. But for this one night we all saw what can be done for a good friend and colleague of boxing. For what can be done for any individual that is suffering and coping with the situation Nick Charles continues to battle.
HBO should be commended for providing Charles the opportunity for one last call. And we should all look at life differently, in a more positive way when thinking about Nick Charles today and tomorrow, also offering a prayer to him and his family.