The Ship Be Sinking

Mouth Almighty

Forever on the cusp

Swagger is a funny thing – the aura of invincibility that can surround a person or a team can make them fearsome to oppose…it can take a person or group of modest means and transform them into a force of nature. Unfortunately for the USMNT, they discovered that those auras can be remarkably fragile when contested by a determined and fearless opponent…of course, it also helps if said opponent fields a team worth more than the GDP of most mid-sized countries.

I watched the Confederations Cup final in my usual watering hole during the Premier League season, a fine place called Nevada Smith’s. I got there an hour before kickoff – any later, and I likely would not have gotten in the door. It was almost an entirely pro-USA crowd, much of whom were the usual lot that support the New York Red Bulls (I went to one NYRB game at Nevada’s at a friend’s insistence – it was this season’s opener, and it was the only time anything serious has ever kicked off at Nevada’s in my presence…suffice to say that they have an element among them that I don’t care for…let’s just agree to blame it on New Jersey and move on), and they were as boisterous as always. The “Yes We Can” chant was probably inevitable, in retrospect.

In the end, yesterday’s game had striking parallels to the 2002 World Cup as a whole, and the opener against Portugal in particular. You may remember that in that match, the USA blitzkrieged Portugal for three quick goals before clinging on to dear life for the 3-2 win. Unlike in that game though, the Yanks made it to the halftime interval with the 2-0 lead (it’s too bad it wasn’t three – none of the reports mention this, but we did have some chances to make it so in the first half). In 2002, the Portuguese pulled one back almost immediately after going down 3-1, but the States held and held until the 71st, and then held some more until the final whistle. Let’s face it, though…as good as Portugal are, they are not Brazil.

More tellingly, though, the US in 2002 played Portugal, South Korea, Poland and Mexic0 to get to the quarterfinals. Portugal was a win, Korea a draw, and Poland an absolutely hideous 3-0 loss. They of course beat Mexico in the round of 16, only to valiantly lose to Germany in a match they could and likely should have won. Hmm…a valiant loss to a soccer superpower in a match they should have won…why, that sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

When the nuclear winter comes and the only matches to be played are between teams of mutant cockroaches, the epitaph of our national soccer program will be “Forever on the cusp of greatness, but never to grasp it.” Admittedly, it’s a damn sight better than being aggressively awful (read as: 1950-1989). It’s certainly an improvement on barely qualifying for Italia 90 and then getting steamrollered in three straight punchless losses in the first round. But, in another sense, it’s almost worse to have a glimpse of Eden and not be allowed in. If you support Malta for example, even scoring a goal against a bigger soccer nation (read as: everyone) counts as a glorious triumph…the Maltese supporter will never know a feeling like yesterday’s galling conclusion.

To be fair, though, that supporter will also never know a feeling like the first half. It was like the Portugal game, only better. Looking at the teamsheets before the game, this was on paper a potential embarrassment (you know, like the one the same opponents inflicted on us in the group stage). However, while I will never be confused with Landon Donovan’s Biggest Fan, you have to tip your cap to him – his workrate in this tournament has been immense, his heart and desire beyond reproach. As for Clint Dempsey (of whom I may indeed be the Biggest Fan), he’s ghosted through long stretches of almost every game, only to come up aces when an opportunity comes along. There was always at least a small chance with them out there, and the US counter-attacked brilliantly on two occasions to make those chances happen.

Jonathan Spector (who also had a great tournament before being overwhelmed by an ocean of yellow shirts in the second half of the final) sent a raking ball into the area, and Dempsey’s volley was nothing short of majestic.

Seriously, if a space alien came down to Earth for the first time and you asked it to point out the player in white who plays in the world’s top league, it wouldn’t have a hard time doing so. I (heart) Clint Dempsey.

Anyway, Donovan’s goal may have been even better – an imperious and opportunistic bit of smash-and-grab forward play culminating in a wonderful finish against the grain of Julio Cesar’s net.

I’d be lying if I said I remember large stretches of the match…but I do know that both goals resulted in a crazed hysteria of spilled beer, pogoing up and down like lunatics, and throat-rending screams. The singing was filled with bravado, the air already that of a celebration rather than a job half-finished. I was of two minds, even in the boozy haze – most of me felt that the Yanks would hold on, but the nagging voice in my head told me that the Brazilians would likely make tactical changes at halftime (say what you will about their manager, Dunga…but you can’t say that he is a stupid man) and that Bob Bradley would have to make the right counter-moves.

Dunga vs. Bob Bradley is a mismatch on the level of…well…Brazil vs. the United States.

Anyway, as mentioned, I will have to leave it up to other commentators to break down the X’s and O’s of what Brazil did differently. I’ve read some who claim that they used the wings more and that our guys didn’t close down their fullbacks effectively enough. The only trouble with that is that we didn’t close down the wide players in the first half, either…or against Spain for that matter. Bradley ended up specifically telling the press that they deliberately conceded the wide areas to Spain and let them hit in as many crosses as they wanted (in the belief that Oguchi Onyweu and Jay DeMerit would clear them out). That worked against Spain, and it worked in the first half of this game…I don’t think that was the issue.

The truth is that the backline started getting beat with more regularity on attacks that they quelled earlier on. I believe it to be some combination of fatigue and lack of experience in playing this many high-profile games back to back. Besides that, the Brazilians passed and moved more intelligently – they surely took our guys lightly in the first half (and after the abortion of a game in the group stage, why wouldn’t they?).

The other problem, of course, was momentum. If the Yanks had gone 10 minutes of the second half without conceding, I don’t believe the 2-0 scoreline would have ever changed. It was obvious that Brazil’s plan was to storm out of the gates, get a quick one, and then use that momentum to carry them on to the 2nd and 3rd goals. Sure enough, DeMerit was just a tad too slow to close down Luis Fabiano, and his brilliant turn-and-shoot was perfectly placed in the corner. Tim Howard had no chance…and after that, neither did our boys. The game was over, and we were a dead team walking.

I wasn’t the only one to know it, too. It’d be too far to say Nevada’s was a morgue, but the noise level plummeted after the goal. There were some defiant attempts later to keep it going, but not for a good 5 minutes after the goal at least. It was the ultimate in sucker punches, and the team never recovered.

From there, it was one-way traffic on Howard’s goal. As good as Brad Friedel is, as good as Kasey Keller was, neither of them are in Howard’s league. Bruce Arena’s decision to play the ancient Keller instead of Howard in the 2006 World Cup is one that causes a homicidal rage in me to this day. IT WAS SO FUCKING OBVIOUS, BRUCE. *sigh* Anyway, he proved his stature as a world-class goalkeeper with that performance. There will be those who will disagree because Alex Ferguson gave up on him way too soon, and others because he had the gall to be born American. Whatever. Howard is one of the top 5-10 goalkeepers in the world today, and you can’t tell me otherwise. He was magnificent, and it was sad that his efforts didn’t get the reward they deserved.

Of course, we all know what happened from there. It’s still too soon, and I really don’t feel like talking about the game itself any longer.

That said, the most heartening thing to me was the interviews that Donovan gave after the game. Instead of playing it off as a wonderful effort and “anyone could have won on the day”, he made it clear that no one on our side felt that this was good enough, and he stated that these are the games that they have to win if they are to make it to the next level. He’s right. The other thing that has to happen is Bob Bradley has to be fired. Right now.

Actually, that’s one of the worst things to come out of the Yanks’ strong showing in this tournament – it probably saved his job. He is a fine coach at the MLS level, but he is far out of his depth here. On the face of it, a casual observer would look at his results and think he was doing a good job. In reality, the 0-0 with Argentina, the win over Spain and many of the qualifying wins of our region have more to do with heroic individual displays from Howard, Donovan and Dempsey more than anything else.

Right now, the USA has the deepest talent pool in its history (and would be even deeper if the clowns at the US Soccer Federation hadn’t chased away Neven Subotic, who now plays for Serbia, and blown it with Jersey-born Guiseppe Rossi, who plays for Italy). The ability is there, but someone has to be able to teach this team how to play together, how to pass and move and actually keep possession of the ball when up against top-level sides. Bradley is a nice guy, but he’s not that guy. If this defeat has taught us anything, it’s that we will never grasp that promise of greatness without someone who’s done it all before leading the way. For the love of god, PLEASE HIRE JURGEN KLINSMANN. I don’t care how much money it takes, the guy lives in California and is currently unemployed…MAKE IT HAPPEN.

June 29, 2009 Posted by | Other Soccer | 4 Comments

Sigh

Last one for tonight, I think.

Arseblog today has a good post on Arsenal happenings…and a bit in there about salary caps for players, spurred on by the potential transfer of Eto’o and the reports of what Man City may be paying to lure him. While I can see where some of the fury comes from it’s not a position I’ve ever agreed with, at least so far as it’s animated by disgust at the actual size of the salaries as opposed to the effect unregulated competition can have on competitive integrity (I’ve said before that American sports are socialist, not an original observation- that’s meant as a compliment). I’ve given my more specific objections before, but here’s an additional one: it’s difficult for fans of a team like Arsenal in particular to call for salary caps and such, since so many players at Arsenal are on very nearly equally ridiculous wages. I don’t have the list to hand and these things tend not to be fully disclosed, but let’s assume that there’s at least one and maybe more players at Arsenal on 80,000 a week- that’s the usual figure reported for Adebayor.

The average teacher in the UK makes 32,000 a year or so, according to a quick Google; a player on 80,000 therefore makes approximately two and a half times a teacher’s yearly salary in a single week, or 130 times that salary in a year. A player on 200,000 makes approximately 6.25 times the teacher’s yearly in a week, or 325 times that in a year. Those figures are not exactly the same, of course- but is the difference between wildly immoral to the point of needing legal prohibition and just the cost of doing business that fine? In Either case we’re still talking about triple-digit multiples of the yearly salary for an average lower middle-class to middle class person, earned for what most would call a far less socially useful activity. If you’re a fan of a lower-level team whose players are semi-pro or else professional on wages comparable to that of a teacher and you believe in a salary cap as policy, I still would strongly disagree with you; but at least on the level of fandom, you wouldn’t be a hypocrite. If you’re a fan of a team which routinely pays 80,000/wk to players and calling for a salary cap, you’re both contributing to the problem yourself by paying in much of the money used to fund those wages and benefiting from the thing you condemn by enjoying both the entertainment and the success deriving from the players which your club has purchased at the wages you consider obscene.

You could of course argue that it would be impractical for a single club to unilaterally disarm by voluntarily capping wages at a low level and accepting the competitive penalty for doing so; that it should be the role of a Europe-wide body to institute rules for all clubs; and that it asks too much of fans to think that they should desert their club over these issues or else encourage it to pursue a counter-productive plan for purely moral (or moralistic) reasons. I would agree with all of that as reasonable; and that’s why I won’t criticize here City’s owners for playing hard and fair under the rules as they stand, or City’s fans for enjoying Eto’o’s brilliance next year if he indeed joins them.

As I believe I’ve said, I think in the long term the most viable system is a combination of a European Super League, serious player unionization, major profit-sharing on a Europe-wide basis, and probably a North American-style collectively bargained overall revenue split system. That combination at least will go some way towards stabilizing the competitive integrity issue, which is probably essential in the end albeit politically impossible in the short term. But if people believe there’s ever going to be a serious reduction in top end wages- ones which are triple digit multiples of yearly middle class salaries- they’re likely to be disappointed. So long as people pay to see this sport, the money will have to go somewhere, and it may as well be to players and not team owners.

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And speaking of such, this latest gambit by Usmanov is really remarkably poorly done. As the Guardian makes clear, the potential gain for him is obvious- send out a capital-raising call, hope that in a down economy it won’t be fully subscribed, use the dilution of other equity stakes to increase his overall share of the club, and set the whole thing in motion by using fan unrest and frustration with Arsenal’s lack of movement in the transfer market in recent years as the goad by advertising it as a way to increase Arsene’s budget. The hand’s been misplayed slightly since Arsene’s already signed one player in this window, but more than that- the attempt is clumsy, and more than a little transparent. Usmanov appears persistent, but at this point it’s difficult to read moves like this as anything other than a sign of weakness: Stan Kroenke has played things quietly and in a conciliatory manner and managed to substantially increase his holdings in the club, while Usmanov is reduced to launching what is essentially a publicity stunt and cheap theatrical from without. A man who chooses such poor means is a fool or desperate, and he’s not a fool. I think he realizes the game is slipping away from him, and is looking for a long-shot play to change the state of affairs.

June 29, 2009 Posted by | The Arsenal | | Leave a comment

Thoughts On Arthur Abraham

I will apparently not be sleeping anytime soon, so- writing.

Showtime’s contribution to boxing this weekend was a special edition of Shobox showcasing Arthur Abraham against an opponent I had personally never heard of in Mahir Oral; but as Sean’s always put it, just because you haven’t heard of them doesn’t mean they’re not good, and Oral turned out to be a very solid opponent albeit one without the power to do much real damage or the stamina to go 12 again a banger like Abraham. To his credit however he won several of the earlier rounds and I believe managed to hurt Abraham slightly on a few occasions, and generally put up a good fight before being deleted in the 10th. King Arthur looked a bit more sluggish and unsteady on his feet than I’ve seen him be in the recent past, and it’s pretty easy to believe his long struggle with making the middleweight limit is really starting to take its toll as he nears age 30.

In this fight as in any other by either man, Abraham’s performance will be evaluated in light of what it says about how he’ll do in a potential fight with Kelly Pavlik, and vice versa. Personally, I only saw small flashes here and there which did anything to change my long-held opinion that Abraham is all wrong for Pavlik and likely to win any contest between them. If they were to meet at 160, given how weight-drained Abraham looked at times in this fight I could now I suppose see as more likely a scenario in which Pavlik, using the power which a fighter like Oral can’t muster, throws a counter right hand over a jab early before Abraham gets warmed up, catches him and knocks him out. The odds aren’t great, but Pavlik is aggressive in straight lines and Abraham won’t circle and make Pavlik change directions much. If that scenario doesn’t play out however, it’s hard to see how Pavlik does enough damage to win the fight: Abraham’s high guard picks off a ridiculous percentage of punches coming his way, and if the fight takes place at 168 I have little doubt that Abraham will have the gas tank and durability to go many rounds. When Pavlik throws, he throws wide and reckless; Abraham throws much more technically sound straight shots with a much more defensively responsible focus, and he hits with thudding, damaging power. Either man could win a fight by KO, but I think the most likely result is a 12 round clear UD for Abraham who’ll give away a few early rounds as he often does to gauge his opposition, then simply begin to get off first and more accurately, wearing the American down. The defense is the difference, and only one man can attack without making himself a target.

Hopefully it’s a fight we’ll see soon, because it’s arguably in both men’s best interests to make the fight. Abraham could hang out in Germany, pounding both stiffs and unknown decent fighters like Oral alike for pretty good money; but he should be favored over Pavlik, and if he wins that it’s probably both a big payday up front and the chance for more to come on PPV. Pavlik shouldn’t be favored over Abraham, but he could win the fight, and it would probably be the biggest available payday for him. He’s got a fanbase, but not a big enough one to make fighting, say, Carl Froch more than a marginal proposition for a fighter who has aspirations to be a major-money player in the sport. If the fight is good and competitive- and it almost certainly will be- then there’ll be money in a rematch, especially (I hate to say it) if Pavlik loses controversially in Germany and the rematch can be finagled back over here to someplace like Atlantic City. It would be a risky fight for both men, but it’s a risk that’s worthwhile for both especially when you consider how few big-money cards they each have left to play at 160 or 168.

EDIT: Wow. You see a lot of weird names in boxing, but Oral apparently contrived to fight someone or something named Attila Kiss, a mighty man with a mighty 8-53-3 record at the age of 26. It’s like the European version of Reggie Strickland, with a name fit for use by any self-respecting metal band. A round of applause for this man.

DOUBLE EDIT: In related fun if you look through Reggie Strickland’s preposterous record, you’ll find he once boxed MMA fighter Chris Lytle, losing a 6 round decision. If you’re trying to do some sort of fighting sports version of the Kevin Bacon game, take note of this.

June 29, 2009 Posted by | Boxing | Leave a comment

Ignorancy

Yeah, well, with the day I’ve had it’s not like I was going to get to sleep at a reasonable time anyway. Let’s blow off some steam:

The fuck is THIS guy’s deal?

I mean, beyond that fact that it ignores and insults all US soccer fans by vaguely and half-assedly implying that they’re not REALLY Americans, and ignores and insults all the immigrant and children-of-immigrants Americans who love the game, and has no relevance to any actual facts past or present, it’s a great article.

Look, if perpetually losing was going to make Americans embrace soccer en masse as some sort of challenge or new excitement, the fact that we sucked catastrophically between about 1960 and 1990, were brutally humiliated at the 1998 World Cup and performed badly in the 2006 version would have done it. And yet, when has soccer attracted the most attention in the mainstream in recent history? 1994 when we hosted the World Cup and did well, 2002 when we did exceptionally well by the standards of a team at our level, and recently when we beat Spain. Perhaps there’s a connection, an unforeseen link between success and popularity. Quick question- when has America cared most about hockey, another relatively niche sport? When against all odds our national team beat the Russians and then the Finns in 1980 to win the Olympic gold. Despite all its issues hockey is almost certainly bigger in the states now than it was in 1979 overall. Does anyone think it would be bigger still if we’d lost that game? Does anyone think the NHL would have been briefly considered one of the Big Four north American sports leagues without that moment?

Moreover, let’s look outside soccer again to basketball and reverse the roles- if the US hadn’t been beaten in international play both in individual games and in tournaments, would basketball be anywhere near as big a world sport as it is today? If we were still ripping apart teams like Spain and Argentina without interruption, would they have half the interest they have now in roundball? Or would Manu Ginobili be a fast left wing for River Plate and Rudy Fernandez a tall, rangy striker for Almeria today? How about another example totally outside this context: when has mighty Brazil cared most about, say, boxing? Unless there’s something that’s totally slipping my mind, it was when Eder Jofre or Acelino Freitas were in their primes, winning belts and knocking out great fighters in the name of their homelands, in Freitas’ case draping himself in the flag of Brazil after fights. The same might be said of the Philippines when Flash Elorde was king, or now when AJ Banal and Rey Bautista follow in Manny Pacquiao’s footsteps. I could name you probably ten other similar situations- Indonesia and Chris John, Ukraine and the Klitschkos, Japan and the Kamedas/Daisuke Naito, etc. If none of those fighters had existed and carried the flag for their nation, would those nations have ever paid attention to the sport?

Of course not. With the exception of the centralized training centers run by Russia and China at various times, nations become good at sports because a dedicated if small group of followers in a given country promote, practice and eventually master the sport well enough to beat the dominant power at it, popularizing the sport in the process. That’s been the story over and over again from the growth of soccer in the 19th and early 20th centuries around the world and the quests by local groups to beat English sides (see “The Ball is Round” by David Goldblatt), to the development of basketball in Latin American and European nations as described above, to the development of baseball in Japan. A sample quote on the last from Wikipedia:

“However it wasn’t until the team from Tokyo University started playing that the sport took hold in Japanese culture. In 1896 the team defeated an American team from the Yokohama Country and Athletic Club 29 to 4. It was the first recorded international baseball game in Asia. After that victory, several other universities in Japan adopted the sport and it quickly spread throughout Japan.”

Would we be watching Daisuke Matsuzaka and Ichiro Suzuki today if it weren’t for victories like that and the success of Hideo “Two No Hitters” Nomo in the majors? Of course not. If there’d been a Japanese-equivalent whinger in 1896 whining about how Japan didn’t deserve to beat the legendary United States at a game Americans love so much, and had said whinger gotten his way, the baseball world would likely be deprived of one of it’s leading nations and the game as a whole would be poorer. But, you know, the moral good would be served, man- they didn’t “deserve” it. Two last points:

1. No matter how much you may wish it to be otherwise, sports are only tangentially and accidentally a morality play. The Right Team wins only if they’re the better team; and as often as not, the nature of fans and media is to try and find ways to make the better team into the Right Team, with a lot of after-the-fact mythmaking. Two years ago, if the Boston Celtics lose in the finals, do we hear all the paeans to their great ability to put egos aside and mesh as a team? If the Lakers had won, would we not have read exactly the same articles about them with Kobe subbing for Paul Pierce in the role of Offensive Star Who Sublimates His Game? If the US had lost today, would this terrible article have been written, saying that would not have deserved the win?

[Warning: it gets political here. Seriously.]

2. The actual emotional bottom line of this piece is the bottomless capacity of some liberals* to look down on their own country and to find it impossible to emotionally identify with it. For the VAST majority of fans (I am clearly an exception in the small minority on this) following sports is a matter of very strong emotional identification with a team; and this is all the more important and powerful when the team in question represents the land of your birth or a home freely chosen. To cheer for the US National Team is, obviously, patriotic if you’re an American; what’s more, it’s open patriotism- loud patriotism, fervent patriotism, unforgiving and unashamed patriotism (it’s also safely channeled appropriate patriotism). When someone writes that the US team didn’t “deserve” to win because “if we had won, most Americans would have shrugged their shoulders–“of course we won”, he’s making a statement baldly contradicted by historical facts across multiple continents and multiple centuries, a statement that’s so at odds with easily-researchable reality that it seems explicable only as emotional projection- especially when you factor in his little bit of mind-reading on behalf of a couple of hundred million people. When he writes that we need “to start loving the game the way that everyone else does”, he tips his hand. America needs to become like the rest of the world; sports, and particularly soccer, will be a measure. When we love soccer enough to win at it, we’ll be enough like the rest of the world to deserve it. What else is this but an expression of the author’s lack of ease with American patriotism, and his wish that America might be something different?

You can see the way the arguments flow from this sort of worldview. This seems to be the sort of person who argues for single-payer national insurance not because it’s better at containing costs or more socially just than our current system, but because Scandinavia does it; who argued for the Kyoto treaty to be signed not because of the merits and the pressing nature of the problem, but because so many other countries had signed it; who argues against the death penalty not because it’s far too often prey to false convictions and applied in a racist fashion, but because the only other countries which use it have hideous governments like Saudi Arabia’s. It’s effectively an extensive and only semi-disguised argumentam ad populum which will convince only the thoughtless and slothful on its own. It gives liberals a bad name because it’s a weak argument whose emotional appeal is essentially to shame, and because it leads to a tendency to lazily conflate difference or minority status within the world community with inferiority. From there you’re only a half-step away from the idea that the problem with America isn’t that we’ve often followed really stupid policies domestically and abroad (which we have at times from any perspective, including that of pure national self-interest), but that Americans aren’t enough like, well, Brazilians. And so you end up with this article. And if you don’t think this sort of thing is motivated largely by American liberal guilt- find me the Australian equivalent of this article, because they’re not any more enthusiastic about soccer than we are for the most part. They just don’t tend to assume that it represents a colossal national character flaw. For that matter find me an article which suggested it was somehow wrong for Argentina to win the 2004 Gold Medal for men’s basketball despite hoops being far from the most popular sport in the country, or a person who thought Italy’s loss in the finals of that tournament said something about Italian national character. Only America produces these sentiments, from others and from some of its own; thus do some critics of American exceptionalism unwittingly base their claims on a foundation of the very thing they seek to assail.

Patriotism should be about more than getting your way in policy disputes; embracing soccer should be about more than a wish that other people in your country were more like you and less like, well, themselves. Sports are both more and less than a kindergarten- grade morality play. Life is complicated. Learn to love it and think deeply on it, or run the risk of writing stuff like this article.

*Emphasis on SOME. Not “most” or “many” or “a good number”- some, by which I mean a tiny minority. And keep in mind, I’m fairly liberal myself.

ADDENDUM: Don’t judge Ta-Nehisi Coates’ blog by this goofistry. He rarely if ever writes on sports and this post was by a guest blogger. Coates himself is usually excellent and always thought-provoking. For all I know Serwer himself is usually better than this on serious topics and on posts which aren’t dashed off quickly as a guest-blogger. Let’s hope so.

June 29, 2009 Posted by | Other Soccer | Leave a comment

Normal Death

I recognize this probably won’t mean much to non-pet owners, but my cat died tonight suddenly so it’s likely posting will be a bit less frequent for a while. What can I say? My pets are like part of my family.

June 28, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

S.S. Inevitable Pulls Into Port

“egad81 says:
June 25, 2009 at 12:21 am

UFC is the MMA equivalent to Nazi Germany.

Floyd Mayweather makes 25 million + a fight and can do whatever he wants… MMA Guys make almost nothing to start and to take away their little bit of sponsorship money is ridiculous.

I can see Zuffa stand point when it comes to online casinos as they company is owned by casino people…. but clothing sponsors? I dont get it.”

Do I need to say anything here, really?

June 28, 2009 Posted by | MMA | Leave a comment

Normal Life

Marcos Maidana KO6 Victor Ortiz

It’s not natural to be a boxer. Few people if any grow up thinking they want to be punched in the face for a living, to take shot after shot in training with no check coming in regularly, to get stitches routinely and watch the scar tissue creep across your face, to constantly watch what and when you eat, to run the risk of brain damage. It’s not a sport for normal people, or frankly for people with options in life or any sense of proportion. For all that it can be beautiful and skilled and live up to that old moniker of “the sweet science”, it’s far more often brutal and ugly and physically destructive to the men and women who give so much to it. It demands more than is right from those who lace up gloves, more than most who watch them from home or occupy seats at the arena will ever have to give, and that’s why I don’t criticize fighters almost ever for quitting. Tonight Victor Ortiz found out something about himself: that he’s a smart kid, a nice kid, the sort of person who with the right breaks and the right backing could go far and do both well and good in many walks of life; but he’s probably not a fighter. There’s no shame in that, indeed there’s probably something respectable in having the sense of proportion and common sense to know that for him, it’s not worth it to run the risk that by age 50 he won’t remember how to get back to his home or even much about the fights which made him famous.

I just hope that after this performance- where he showed great skill and some real heart, but not the quality of a great fighter- that Ortiz is honest with himself about who he is. If tonight was a total fluke (which I doubt) then having lost in a great fight to a very good fighter is certainly not going to derail his career over the long term. But if what he said after the fight is true about not thinking he should be taking this kind of a beating and not wanting to go out on his shield, then I hope he gets out now because unless you’re Willy Pep or Pernell Whitaker, you’re going to go through fights like this if you want to be among the best. Among the persons watching from around ringside were Oscar De La Hoya and Shane Mosley, both great fighters, both of whom have had and been defined by the absolute wars in their careers; even Amir Khan who was also ringside has shown early on the ability to come back from a brutal KO loss to defeat a Hall of Famer two fights later. In terms of physical talent Ortiz is in that general class, but he doesn’t appear to have the same attitude. As they say, a man’s got to know his limitations, and boxing is not a sport for reasonable people.

June 28, 2009 Posted by | Boxing | 3 Comments

Insights From the Wrestling Observer

“Aren’t you supposed to do the job in your last match in the territory and put someone over that is on the way up?

I thought the match made perfect sense. Of course if Huerta wins, then it was stupid booking.”

– Dave Meltzer on the booking of Gray Maynard vs. Roger Huerta, and redefining the phrase “tongue in cheek.”

June 27, 2009 Posted by | MMA | Leave a comment

NHL Draft

I’m really not the guy to provide any analysis of this on the merits, so I won’t try- I will, however, say something about the TV presentation. And that something is, for however long these two leagues may exist, the NHL needs to never again hold their draft the day after the NBA holds theirs because the NHL looks like a total fucking clown show in comparison. Announcers who garble simple words or stumble over them, or else throw out inexplicable phrases (“I punched you in the pants a million times!!!”); ambling, rambling presentation which takes forever to get to the point; horrifically bad attempts from everyone involved to speak French; the commissioner coming out to an enormous chorus of boos from the most passionate hockey fans, a day after David Stern received cheers from the NBA’s most passionate; the apparent need for picks to be made from the stage by approximately 37 people from each franchise including in one case the owner’s child, each of whom must walk up in single file, and who must thank the host city for its hospitality and congratulate the Penguins; the terrible, terrible visual quality of the telecast and the ugly, half-decorated arena set-up; the tendency to focus on (sorry, it’s true) the ugliest fans they could find in the crowd. The whole experience makes the league look like a third rate organization, closer to arena football than any of the other big time sports in North America.

The worst part is, nearly all of these things are controllable and correctable. I mean, you can’t do much about the fact that your draftees all look like 12 year olds and are mostly visibly terrified by the process, and at this point Gary Bettman could cure cancer while juggling supermodels on stage and still get booed, but the basic telecast issues are easily fixable. The NBA and NFL have figured this out (the MLB draft is different for various reasons) and thus managed to build their draft into a television spectacle which creates media interest, builds stars out of the draftees, and generally is an easy positive PR bonus for the league and many of its teams every year- it’s even specially targeted to do so for the teams which suck the most and thus need the most help. The NHL draft still feels like it’s stuck in the 80’s somewhere, like an off-camera event targeted to whatever city they happen to hold it in and which someone accidentally pointed a camera at. There’s no urgency to move through the process, no strong focus on who the players are and what they bring to the table, the fans don’t give a shit unless they’re cheering the home team or booing Toronto or Bettman, and the quality of the announcers- probably the key part of one of these shows- is just abysmal. I’m actually sitting here missing Mark Jackson and (I’m serious) finding an all-new appreciation for how good Stuart Scott is in his role on the NBA’s show. Watching the TSN guys is like watching an NBA draft broadcast by nothing but Andy Katzes and Dick Vitales, all useless or commonplace observations pitched a half-tone beneath hysteria. They honestly come off as unlikeable and annoying human beings, which in all likelihood they’re really not. But on this show….

Oh and incidentally, Chris Pronger to the Flyers? Has any trade in the history of this league been more inevitable?

And since I’m mean, here’s a running list of terrible turns of phrase from tonight’s show. No clue who said what, they may as well all be the same guy. Quotes are approximate, and anything that’s not a word is due to one of the announce crew having incredible difficulties with language all night.

“Drah-ah-ah-ah-muh”

“I punched you in the pants a million times!!!”

“Not that it wouldn’t have meant more to the other two, but it meant more to John Tavares”

“Do we have a trade to talk about? I don’t believe so.”

“Here’s Brian Burke and Bob Gainey discussing the Vincent Lecavelier Rumors….”
(Burke) “The rumor is he’s going to you or the Islanders”
(Gainey) “Yup.”

“Colorado, I’m not trying to crush your party but this kid’s good.”

“Get your skates sharpened at Snarklseysparmpsing”

“You wanna talk about character?” (highlight of the player boarding someone head-first)

(An inane, rambling bilingual wharrgarble of a tribute to Luc Robitaille from the stage, which had nothing to do with the draft)

“Drumitalbullfinzhers”

About a Swedish draftee:
(Announcer 1) “He’s an elite, elite athlete”
(Announcer 2) “He didn’t play in the Swedish Elite League”

“Ekman-Larsson is the first European to go in the draft, we should make that point” (He was pick #5, another Swede went #2)

All of these were from the first five picks. No Buys.

June 26, 2009 Posted by | Other NHL | Leave a comment

….

Everyone who failed to inform me that you could get tickets to the NBA draft on Stubhub has failed me- I had been assuming everyone there was cousins, friends, nephews, hangers on etc. of NBA executives. I am so completely totally going next year. If I have to fly home from school, I’m doing it. I don’t give a fuck. I’m already stuck sleeping in the train station in Philadelphia for UFC 101; this would be nothing. I have a lack of perspective, and I’m unafraid to use it.

June 26, 2009 Posted by | Other NBA | Leave a comment