The Ship Be Sinking

Mouth Almighty

Friday Roundup- Weekend Fights, Avery, Wigan, Etc.

I seem to have come down with something loathsome, so this will be done bullet-point style. Probably more on Sunday after the fights.

– Arsenal vs. Wigan this weekend, with William Gallas out and Amr Zaki doubtful for Wigan. Zaki may end up being the key man for this one- he’s been splendiferous all season and yet another makeshift arsenal back four will have their hands full with him if he plays. Early “”it is understood”-style sources indicate Kolo may step into the side. That will be interesting to see, both if he does, and if he’s partnered by Silvestre or Djourou if so. My sense remains that he’s being marginalized and probably forced out of the club and the transfer rumors are a natural product of that, but these things are never settled until physicals are passed so a few good games here and there may prove a road back for him, especially if the Gallas out rumors are themselves true. I hope so. Either way, once again, it’s all flux at the back.

As for the rest of the game, Myles Palmer had a good article touching on a variety of things, the most currently germane of which is the bit about the one-dimensionality of the Arsenal attack. Wigan are an average side overall, but one in the top half of the table for goals allowed and generally an organized, professional outfit of the sort which has proven a challenge to the team before; given the issues in the Arsenal defense this is a game with real danger to it. You can pretty much assume Arsenal will control the majority of possession out of the gate and pressure hard throughout the first half, but the worry is that this could be one of those games where they can’t control or defend against a good counterattack and drop points on a 2-1, 1-1 scoreline. A goal in the first half may be crucial for Arsenal.

– So Ronaldo almost joined Arsenal in 2003. I imagine many fans will have the usual vituperative reaction to this, but let’s be serious: in a squad where room can be found for William Gallas and Eboue and Robin van Persie’s occasional viciousness and Denilson’s burgeoning diving prowess, he’d have been treasured and defended much as they are. Probably more so than he has been at United, given Arsene’s style. Stories like this have been out there for years of all the players Arsenal were in for early in their careers- Ronaldo, Robinho, Kaka, etc.- and were subsequently outbid on; all I take away from this one is that it’s a reminder that Arsene is a great talent evaluator but also more than a little pennywise and pound foolish in negotiations. I choose to hope that the introduction of Ivan Gazidis to help on that front will help solve the issue.

– Sean Avery ended up getting 6 games and counseling from the NHL. The tell here is the counseling aspect; it’s there entirely for PR purposes (does anyone really expect Captain Dickhead to have an epiphany on the couch?), which should tell you why he got suspended in the first place. The NHL right now is in danger, as always, of falling down the slippery slope towards boxingville in this country where the only time they attract serious public notice is when the media can tell the “another black eye for…” story, and Avery is always a good pretext for one of those. The NHL, thanks to Canada, will never get as far down that road as boxing but the league really doesn’t need this stuff cropping up while the economy tanks and several of Gary Bettman’s treasured mid-market southern American franchises begin feeling the pinch. The league also really can’t afford to alienate any of its fan demographics in the least, and my sense- wholly unsupported by statistical evidence, so take for what it’s worth- is that hockey relies on female fans more than, say, the NFL or NBA or MLB does.

That said, he absolutely should be suspended, and as a fan I applaud the Dallas Stars and their serious handling of this (if not the initial 4 year contract he got- wow, in retrospect, was that bonkers). Sports being what they are this is lost on many fans, but what Avery said was VILE. It was misogynist and based on the idea that women exist to be used and lose value when they have been, and in my book that’s every bit as bad as racism, for which there would be no question about a suspension. When you consider that Avery’s remarks were clearly prepared and said off the ice and not in the heat of competition, and that he lied to his own team about whether he was going to make them- this can’t be allowed to pass. It’s an open and shut case of bringing the game into disrepute. I won’t speculate on where Avery goes from here, other than that I think it’s a good bet he’ll be traded around the deadline to a team with a soft rep looking for a boost, but I will say that the NHL needs to stay on this guy. There’s always a tendency with a player in any sport who constantly breaks the rules or acts in an unsportsmanlike manner to eventually get tired of dealing with him and to prefer to ignore his issues rather than deal with the headache. The NHL needs to make it clear that either he gets his shit together, or he’s looking at 10+ games of unpaid pine time a year.

– Knicks and Nets both play tonight, against Atlanta and Minnesota respectively I’ll try and catch these two in between sneezes, as several of the matchups look intriguing. In particular, I’d like to see Kevin Love vs. Brook Lopez if they end up guarding each other, as well as get a first look this year at Atlanta.

– And finally, Saturday is THE BIGGEST FIGHT OF THE YEAR OH MY GOD DE LA HOYA VS. PACQUIAO!!!!!111 As much as I love these sorts of events, I am officially tired of the hype train on this one. Undercard is nothing much to speak of- mostly prospect showcases, by which I mean squash matches. Sergio Medina vs. Juanma Lopez could be mildly competitive although most people including me expect Juanma to vaporize him in relatively short order. Beyond that, well- this is a one fight card. But what a fight. I’ve been a big fan of this one since it was announced due to the various plotlines; it plays almost as a bizarro version of Couture-Lesnar, as here you also have a young, physically dominant fighter taking on an old warhorse who is legendary but has danced with retirement in recent times and has been inactive of late. The difference here is that the younger fighter is the one giving up the size, but is also far more established than Lesnar was; and De la Hoya, while still a strong competitor, hasn’t had the string of success of late which Couture had going into the Lesnar fight. So how does this one play out?

I’ll say up front that I expect Pacquiao to win, probably by decision, probably something like 117-112. The current public sense appears to be that De La Hoya is the favorite; the betting line as I type this is DLH -165. As near as I can understand it the thought behind a DLH victory is that he’s the larger man and the more powerful puncher and how can a fighter who started his career at 107 pounds compete with an opponent who once won a title at middleweight (160)? the bigger name and bigger star also always gets some extra money on him. And yet…well…Oscar may win this fight yet, but that’s really total hogwash. A list of facts:

*DLH started his own career at 135 pounds and is not exactly a natural middleweight cutting down.

*His “middleweight title” was a total robbery over the painfully average beltholder Felix Sturm, who would go on to achieve the commanding heights of futility in being knocked out by Javier Castillejo.

*The last meaningful KO of Oscar’s career came in 2002 against a half-shot Fernando Vargas; the only people he’s knocked out since then have been professional punching bag Ricardo Mayorga and 5,000 year old mummy Yory Boy Campas. It may just be possible that his power is overrated.

*People make much of Pacquiao starting off at Junior Flyweight (108); what gets noted less often is that he did so in 1995 when he was 16. He’s no more a “natural” 108 pounder than De la Hoya is a middleweight; in their maturity and primes Pacquiao is probably a natural 135 pounder and Oscar a welterweight, which is a difference, but not a chasm.

*This doesn’t get noted in isolation often, but since he burst on the worldwide scene with his destruction of Lehlo Ledwaba in 2001, Pacquiao has lost exactly once. It was to Erik Morales, a fighter he went 2-1 against, by close decision. Pacquiao, if he were hit by a meteor tomorrow, would be a first-ballot mortal lock hall of famer; I’m not sure how many people have really realized this. I think you can even make the argument, if you take into account the points in their careers in which each men fought their best opposition, that Pacquiao has had the better career. DLH has famously never beaten a HOFer who was in his prime at the time; Pacquiao has both Marco Antonio Barrera and Juan Manuel Marquez in that category.

What, really, does Oscar have going for him? 12 pounds or so of natural size and probably slightly better power as a result is all I can really come up with. He’s going to be brutally out-quicked; the best individual punch in the fight is probably Pacquiao’s straight left; Pacquiao is always in remarkable condition, while Oscar famously fades late; Oscar gives up 6 years of age; and it’s been a long time since Oscar fought a guy who really went for war and threw combinations at him and tried to HURT him. Steve Forbes was maybe the closest, but was brutally outclassed even as he managed to touch Oscar up and break a bone in his face; Mayweather was a jab-and-flee defensive fighter in their fight; Mayorga was a skill-less lunger who loaded up; Hopkins spent most of that fight timing him; Felix Sturm and Shane Mosley 4 and 5 years ago is maybe the best answer, but both of those guys fought measured boxing contests and didn’t have Pacquiao’s dynamism and pressure. I don’t think people realize how unusual a challenge this is for Oscar. In the end, I think speed kills; Oscar will win some early rounds as Manny adjusts to the size and the timing, and after that Oscar’s going to think three men are punching him. He’ll probably hurt Pacquiao late with something, but not be able to finish; in the end, he’ll accept another honorable defeat to go with the ones to Hopkins and Mayweather. Don’t underestimate Oscar’s willingness to accept a loss; he’s had more than Pacquiao, especially recently, and I’m not sure he’s willing anymore to go to the places he may have to to knock out a killer like Manny if he’s down on the cards late in the fight.

I expect, whatever happens, that it’ll be a good fight.

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December 5, 2008 - Posted by | Boxing, Other NHL, The Arsenal, The Nets, The NY Knicks

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