More often than not these days when I read a really good article on a subject I know little about, it’s by Wetzel- he’s a fine writer and has a gift for getting to the heart of the import of a matter and looking at it from an entirely rational, real-world measured perspective. The mainstream sports media could use more like him.
One major talking point after United-Arsenal seems to be the pedophile chants aimed at Arsene Wenger. It should be said: they’re disgusting, uncalled for, pathetic, and the people who take part in them are total morons who deserve the scorn and opprobrium of their fellows. It should also be said: Arsenal fans sure do love that song about how the Tottenham manager’s mother is a whore, and having that one in the repertoire isn’t exactly a thing to take pride in. Football and society would be a whole hell of a lot nicer if all songs along those lines were stricken, but calling for police action and bans is not only a bad idea, it’s a good bit more dangerous than the chants themselves- invoking the power of the government to regulate speech because someone said something mean is a step down a very ugly road. A case can be made for it when the subject is race given the history of racial violence and group-based oppression, but that’s very much not what we’re talking about. This is just a group of idiots being mean, and if we’re going to ban football fans for that then there’s going to be a whole bunch of empty stadia this season.
UFC 102 ended up being a pretty darn good show, and I’ll do analysis once I’ve had a chance to rewatch it without poker and rum as factors, but I feel I should acknowledge that Jeeeeeeeeesus was I bad on picks tonight. 0-for-the-entire-main-card. I really, really sucked tonight!
That said, it was really nice to see several fighters on the border of things do so much for their career tonight- Brandon Vera proved he can beat a solid fighter at 205 when put under pressure, Jake Rosholt proved he can hang with legitimate fighters at the UFC level and has a far wider range of skills than I’d credited him with, Thiago Silva proved he could come back from his first KO loss and beat a top fighter at 205, and of course- Nog, who proved there’s far more left in the tank than I and many others had believed there to be. Guys like Keith Jardine and Randy Couture will be back as they’ve long since proved their value and mettle, but for those four these wins most likely make all the difference for their careers. Frankly, in most of those cases I’m happy to be wrong.
On the bright side, it turned into a fine game by the end.
There’s probably going to be a lot more to say about this game in the next few days as we wait to find out if Wenger’s facing a touchline ban and for any other fallout, but my overwhelming impression just after is that there’s actually a lot to be encouraged about in this one. In terms of quality of play, there was absolutely no difference between the two sides, and when you face the defending champions on their own grounds without your second-best player, that’s a very good sign. A foot lower on Van Persie’s free kick and this probably goes down as a very famous victory; at the Emirates with Fabregas on and Diaby off, this is 3 points. That’s a far more even state of affairs than prevailed at the end of last season, and it’s a mark of the progress which appears to be taking place and how close this Arsenal team remains to greatness. That said, there are two obvious and major negatives to take away, and they should be noted:
– There’s a school of thought- see Myles Palmer- which sees Arsenal right now as a battleground between mature professionals and Arsene’s urchins. Expect to see a great deal of comment along those lines upcoming, because this game fit that narrative as closely as any could. A lead won through a really brilliant individual play from Andrey Arshavin; a lead gifted to the opposition through one of the most ridiculous own-goals you’ll see from Abou Diaby. The contrast is glaring enough so that even if you don’t buy the narrative wholly (which I don’t), there’s a temptation to concede that there’s the germ of truth in it. I like Diaby in general; I thought it was impressive the way he rebounded from the own goal to create a chance shortly thereafter, and he seems like a generally decent sort of guy. But he’s now in his 5th season with Arsenal (has it really been that long?) and he’s still a guy who looks brilliant twice a year and can’t be counted on the rest of the time. I wish him the best, but after this season if things don’t improve it’s probably best for everyone for him to be moved on to somewhere in the upper reaches of the French league.
– Emmanuel Eboue has had one of those weeks which encapsulates his entire Arsenal career. He’s played very well of late and been an important and useful part of the team, but when things were most desperate and someone needed to create something today at 2-1 down, he took one of the worst and shabbiest dives I’ve seen in quite a while, and was justly booked for it. Beyond the impact it did or did not have on the individual game, at a time when Arsenal are trying to defend on principle the insane witchhunting of Eduardo, for one of his teammates to execute such a blatant act of cheating in such a high-profile game was madness. It was selfish, and it demonstrates that at the end of the day Eboue has all the talent needed to play for Arsenal, and none of the class. He’s the only player I’m embarrassed to watch on the team.
Still, this game was nothing like the brutal beatings Arsenal suffered towards the end of last season. There’s much to take away that was positive, and the fact remains that with Arshavin in the side Arsenal can beat anyone, anywhere, at any time; one loss shouldn’t be too discouraging. The season is long, and I still believe that if if there’s some depth brought in before the closing of the window that the title can be won this year. Arsenal looked the better side for most of the game and nearly won away at Old Trafford; meanwhile United’s offense continues to sputter when they’re not being gifted things and Liverpool are losing games they shouldn’t and having to come from behind against Bolton. Chelsea look awesome for the moment but there’s very many games still to be played for them, time enough to become leg-weary and tune out the manager the way they did last year with largely the same group of players. This result is disappointing, but it’s disappointing only because the team and the fans know that Arsenal could just as easily have run away with this.
From Dan Rafael’s chat today:
Dan can you please answer this, intereted if you knew the gate and the ppv buys for the Jones/Lacy fight?
They have no put out the PPV numbers and I doubt they will since it will be pretty low. They’d be thrilled with 50,000.
Puts UFC 101’s 850,000+ figure in perspective.
Bit over the top? Yeah, maybe, but the spirit is entirely correct- Eduardo clearly dived, but his dive was no different than a thousand other dives before and likely to be the same as another 20 dives still to come in this year’s competition. There’s zero precedent for suspending a player over this, and so far as I know there’s not even a relevant rule which allows for suspension over what’s a simple yellow card offense if detected. This whole “case” is a tower of hypocrisy built on a foundation of xenophobia and media hysteria, three things which each pose as much or more of a danger to football than a single dive in a single game which had absolutely no effect whatsoever on the final result. A rational and intelligent governing body would use this incident as a chance to retrain referees, or hire additional assistants simply to track and watch for potential dives, or bring in video review and rules changes for retroactive punishment; UEFA instead appears to have decided that there’s no need to improve things for the future when a bit of ad hoc mob justice will do nicely for the moment.
Frankly, I think they have a lot more to be embarrassed about right now than Eduardo does.
A few thoughts on a few groups:
Arsenal-AZ Alkmaar-Olympiakos-Standard Liege
Among the weakest of all possible groups for Arsenal here-even the travel won’t be too bad, and Olympiakos and Liege both simply aren’t serious competition at this level. Alkmaar may be Dutch champions, but that means less now than ever before and the year before that they finished 11th; this will be their first ever CL competition. Frankly, Arsenal couldn’t have done much better and will probably romp through this group so easily that they’ll be resting players and sending urchins like Wilshere and Ramsey out before long. That could mean a great deal given the restricted squad size and perpetual injury issues at Arsenal- and there’s a chance that if the board recognize this for the near-guarantee of making the knockout stages that it is, that there may be more willingness to spend and address those issues.
I have watched enough Munich this season to say with comfort that they are by no means guaranteed passage out of this one. Their defense is utterly shabby for such a big-name club, Rensing in goal is the German David James (on his better days), and this latest version has already shown a worrying ability to perform not just down to but below the level of their opposition with a loss to newly-promoted Mainz. Basically, for a regional behemoth, they kinda suck- and if they’re the major scalp taken at this stage I won’t be shocked at all given the quality of the theoretical #3 team here.
But really though- how long has it been since one of the groups was THIS crap? Sevilla are pretty decent but could easily have come third in several other groups, Stuttgart…they’re just not that good at this level. Like not at all, and they’re now without former go-to forward Mario Gomez. Rangers are useless in the CL and largely always have been. Urinary University or whoever that is from Romania are just another unknown Romanian side like the FC Trimspa crew Stuttgart beat to get here. They’ll try to pick someone off in their creepy vampire-haunted home grounds and lose everywhere else. Frankly it’s a bit shocking that two teams are going to come out of this group, and all that really does is ensure that a couple of major clubs will get a bit lucky in the next round as well.
VfL Wolfsburg-Manchester United-CSKA Moscow-Besiktas
United SHOULD get through here pretty easily…but. Wolfsburg actually are a VERY good side with a solid defense, fine goalkeeping and a multi-faceted and skilled attack which I suspect can be effective against just about anyone. There’s a lot of travel and some tough away fixtures here for United, and early in the season their attack doesn’t look to have entirely figured out how to thrive without Ronaldo and Tevez. If a few bounces go against them away and they can’t break down a few defenses at home, there’s an outside chance of a shock here.
Barcelona-Inter-Dynamo Kiev-FC Rubin Kazan
Only two teams can go through here, but the games between them should be a great deal of fun.
Same as the above, although there’s always a chance of Marseilles picking one of the teams above them off and snaking though, especially if Madrid take too much time to assimilate all their new pieces or Milan find it tough going without Kaka. Kaka returning to Milan as well should spice up that meeting.
All in all, a very interesting draw, and a good one from an Arsenal fan’s perspective (or a neutral’s).
Between now and the end of the season, you’ll probably see and if you’re unlucky read several hundred articles about how football has gotten “too corporate” or “the spirit has gone” or something along those lines. Standard things-were-better-in-the-old-days complaining. When you read those, keep this in mind, because that sort of thing represents a substantial chunk of what the good old days were as well.
I’m not in a spot where I can watch the Arsenal-Celtic game at the moment, but I’m reading two MBMs to keep up. So far both have bewailed an apparently totally egregious Eduardo dive for a penalty, and now following a second goal Eboue has been booked for excessive celebration for pulling his shirt off. Simultaneously, a Celtic player is booked for a reckless challenge, and another had previously been pulled off at the half due to being a potential danger over anger at the dive. There’s still 30+ minutes left in this. Are Arsenal TRYING to start a bench-clearer? Why are you diving and behaving in an unsportsmanlike fashion in a home game when you’re already 2, 3 or 4 up in the tie?
Ok, now I’ve seen the play, and it’s as bad as described. Eduardo does not have a history of this so there’s no point in going over the top on him, but the fact of the matter is he cheated, at home, 2-0 up in the tie, against a vastly inferior side. That is, simply, horseshit; but it’s the kind of horseshit you have to expect from professionals these days. What really bothers me is that he’s going to get away with it: with the lack of video replay and/or officials who have the ability to discern and the balls to card for diving, cheating essentially pays in football at the moment. Indeed you could make a solid case that it’s tacitly encouraged by the manifest refusal to get serious about enforcing rules and penalties regarding it. At the moment the only real regulation is the assurance that other professionals will cheat in exactly the same way, so the next time Wayne Rooney or Robbie Keane or Steve Gerrard suddenly takes flight against Arsenal, here’s a play to keep in mind before anyone begins moaning about the tragedy of it all.
Can you imagine if United or Chelsea had done something like this in the beatings they administered to Arsenal last season? We’d have never heard the end of it among the cries for Drogba or Ronaldo to be deported. Eddie will get away with less criticism because he seems like such a nice guy, but the fact that even such a generally gentlemanly player as him thought this was a smart thing to do that he could get away with- correctly so- says it all, really. Frankly, until a manager pulls his team off the pitch in response to this type of thing nothing will change I suspect.
I’m about 10 times more interested in this card than I really should be, I have to say. The main event is a fight about nothing between two guys past their prime, one who may be completely done and the other who may be moving out of the weight class, and yet for historical and human drama purposes it’s immensely compelling all the same. Below that every televised fight has some intriguing aspects to it, and the untelevised stuff has some fun matchups, UFC returnees, comebacking names, etc. Just a solid card.
Format stolen from Wikipedia because open source, fool.
* Heavyweight bout: Randy Couture vs. Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira
Rumors. Like Kelly Pavlik’s possible drinking issues which got blown up by Dan Rafael in his chat last Friday, they will tend to out in time- even the best camps aren’t really airtight, not with an army of reporters and gambling touts sniffing around constantly, and not when camps often have their own reasons for leaking, say, an injury before a fight. There’s rumors that, healthy or not, Big Nog has been getting whacked in training for this one- not reacting well to punches and not getting out of the way of them, looking more like the version which fought Frank Mir than was hoped for. Is that true? I have no clue. But true or not it speaks to the basic question that will be answered in this fight: is Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira a shot fighter?
Despite his advancing age, you essentially know what you’re getting with Randy Couture: solid standup, great wrestling, excellent athleticism for a 46 year old (and probably average for fighters in general), a decent chin and good but not great cardio, and a positive genius for gameplanning. A guy who knows every trick and is prepared for every eventuality. Like his boxing equivalent Bernard Hopkins, Couture has entered a zone where he’s basically proved that he’s just not ever really going to “get old”; year by year he’ll get slightly less effective and eventually be unable to compete with top guys, but it’s highly unlikely that he’ll ever just fall off the table one day. His clinch-based game’s not essentially based on pure athleticism, so time erodes it less than some other styles. None of this is true of Nogueira, sadly, and if nothing else this fight ought to establish to a new generation of MMA fans the truth of the old boxing saying that ring age and chronological age aren’t the same, indeed aren’t much more than loosely linked. As Mike Coughlin put it on his 5 Star Radio podcast, the 13 year age gap between these two means that Randy is technically old enough to be Big Nog’s FATHER, but you’d never know that to watch them fight or look at them these days.
What does “shot” mean? It’s worthwhile to define the term, since it gets thrown around a lot. There’s no hard and fast rule to it, but when I use it I intend to refer to a fighter who, through accumulated abuse, the passage of time, or some unknown reason has had a marked and severe decline in both their general athletic ability and in particular their capacity to handle strikes. Sometimes it’s simply an effect of a fighter getting old and time taking its due; more often it’s an essentially neurological phenomenon with a variety of associated manifestations including slurred speech, odd blinking patterns, stiff and locked legs during fights, etc. To give an example, Forrest Griffin was destroyed in his last fight, but he’s in no way shot; he just got beaten by a vastly superior fighter. Chuck Liddell however, sadly, is shot; his speech patterns are not quite what they were, and most obviously his ability to take a punch isn’t half of what it was three years ago. To further clarify, take someone like Mark Coleman- is he shot? I would say no, not close actually. The evolution of MMA has in many respects passed him by and he’s failed to diversify his game which has hurt his effectiveness, but he can still take a punch and throw a takedown and compete with solid fighters at his weight. “Shot” really has little to do with skills; it’s an essentially physical and athletic phenomenon.
Which brings us back to Nog. The man’s skills are not in question, and I have no doubt that as a trainer or in a BJJ exhibition he retains all his knowledge, skills and guile; the question is, does he have the athletic potential anymore to utilize those skills effectively in a competitive match? Being unable to avoid and thus getting dropped repeatedly with jabs and flicking strikes by Frank Mir suggests not, but the bottom line is that, rumors notwithstanding, we just won’t know until the fight starts. But all of my instincts say that Nog in done, to be honest; there’s too many reports from too many people, some reputable (Oliver Kopp of Tough Talk podcast, for example) who’ve met Nog of late and said that he seems neurologically damaged for me to ignore them. No doubt the infection he was recovering from when he fought Mir slowed him and made him look worse than he actually is (was?), but the reality is that he’s looked progressively worse in each of his three UFC fights and looked far below even low-level UFC quality against Mir. Even if he’s 50% better than he was that night he’s still running on empty at the title contender’s level, and Couture in particular is a bad matchup for him: Randy’s a decent grappler especially defensively, he’s a far superior wrestler and can keep it standing if he wants, and unless Nog looks like a totally different fighter Couture will likely get the better of the standup as well- he’s an accurate puncher and Nog has zero head movement at this point. Nog’s always going to be dangerous on the ground but if he can’t get it there any more I don’t know who he can beat, and even if it gets there for a second Couture is too smart to linger the way Sylvia did.
Couture takes a 3 round decision 30-27, in a fight which ends up being kind of sad. There’s a chance, albeit not a good one, that this could be Big Nog’s last fight- the man’s just taken an awful lot of pounding over the years and at a certain point letting him go out there to receive more, especially if he’s not truly competitive at the top anymore, is just cruel. If Nogueira looks shot against a man 13 years his senior, that’s a powerful statement about the combined effect of all those wars.
* Light Heavyweight bout: Keith Jardine vs. Thiago Silva
Let’s be up front about this: I really, really don’t buy Thiago Silva as a top guy yet. Like at all. He’s only 26 right now and has time to develop to that point, but as of right now that’s a hope for the future and the Jardine fight is at best the first step in that process. Silva’s UFC fights so far have been: a win over James “Remember Him?” Irvin, he of the 4-4 (counting a DQ win) UFC record and drug/injury issues; a win over Tomasz Drwal, a solid guy but not a top fighter; a win over Houston Alexander which started Alexander’s current 3 fight losing streak; a win over Antonio Mendes who is currently mired in a 4 fight losing streak including the Silva fight; and a loss to Lyoto Machida in one-sided fashion in his first real step-up fight. This is, let’s be clear, NOT a record to be ashamed of, or material for a “Thiago Silva sucks” argument; what it is, however, is the record of a guy who’s clearly established himself as better than journeymen, but has not yet established himself as able to compete with top ranked contenders in a deep division.
Keith Jardine, meanwhile, is…Keith Jardine, a random-result generator who’s made a solid career out of metronomically alternating winning and losing, beating people he really shouldn’t beat (Chuck Liddell, Forrest Griffin) and losing to people he really shouldn’t lose to (Stephan Bonner, late-career Wanderlei Silva, Houston Alexander), having a long series of close fights and close decisions punctuated by a pair of spectacular quick TKO losses. It’s a record as weird as the style of the man it’s attached to, which includes a 2-1 mark against former 205 champions for a fighter who’s never even gotten a title shot.
This one should be a standup contest (on the ground I suspect they negate each other), and there’s a lot of factors at work there. Can Silva come back from a brutal first career KO loss? Can he solve Jardine’s odd style well enough to land a killer shot? Can Jardine’s chin hold up against a guy who can really crack? And here’s another one for you: can Jardine hit hard enough to make Silva flinch? For a guy known as a striker, Jardine’s actually got precisely one KO win in 3 1/2 years and 10 fights in the UFC, and that came 2 1/2 years and 6 fights ago. I have this recurring image in thinking of this fight of Silva coming out at 500 MPH and basically Wanderlei’ing Jardine- it’s the kind of plan Silva would fight to, it’s arguably the logical thing for a guy coming off a bad KO loss to do, and anyone who’s watched Jardine knows that he’s susceptible to the quick blitz but that his survival skills improve as the fight wears on. That said, the longer the fight goes, the better it likely is for Jardine whose assets as a striker tend to tell over time as leg kick damage piles up and frustration takes its toll- and it’s probably worth noting that it’s been over 3 years since Silva saw a third round, so his cardio is a bit of a question mark.
A tough fight to call. This feels like the sort of fight which Jardine loses, but he’s got Greg Jackson helping him gameplan for a fairly predictable fighter, so… Jardine, decision, 29-28ish. Whatever you do please don’t put money on this one, and bear in mind that The Dean is one of my oddball favorite fighters which may be influencing my pick.
* Middleweight bout: Chris Leben vs. Jake Rosholt
Nope, I’m not buying Jake Rosholt just yet. His wrestling base is, obviously, fucking outstanding as a 3 time D1 national champion, but the rest of his game is years behind and it’s almost certainly too soon for him to be in the UFC right now. I understand why he is given financial and contractual considerations and the folding of WEC’s higher weight classes, but having him in now is going to result in him losing to some guys who 3 years from now he’ll tear the heads off of and I suspect Chris Leben is one of them. Rosholt’s submission defense is sketchy as he lost his last fight to a guillotine choke as his coaches audibly screamed at him to “watch the guillotine!”, but perhaps more importantly for this fight is that if you go back to Rosholt vs. Nissen Osterneck, you’ll notice that Rosholt has very, very little in the way of standing strike defense either. In that fight he made a habit of wading through a flurry of strikes from Osterneck (who had little power) to throw one or two back or go for the takedown, and if he tries that against Leben they’ll be picking his teeth out of seats in Row F. Rosholt can win this of course if he’s improved his head movement and uses that movement for no other purpose than to get the takedown, and maybe losing last time out will drive him towards that kind of no-nonsense gameplan.
If so he’ll be a different fighter than the one I’ve seen so far, and for that reason I’ll take Leben. 2nd round KO, big left hand.
* Middleweight bout: Nate Marquardt vs. Demian Maia
Up or down? Demian Maia fights are always easy to analyze because the dynamic is always the same: Maia is better than anyone else in MMA for grappling at 185 pounds, so if they roll he will win eventually. Standing his striking is not nearly as bad as it’s sometimes said to be but he’s no more than average which puts him behind most if not all major middleweight contenders; and let’s be honest, every strike Maia throws is essentially a feint designed to put someone in a position to be taken down. Marquardt will be by far his biggest challenge so far, a gigantic middleweight moose of a man who’s solid in all areas and has only been submitted twice in competition- once a decade ago, and again 5 1/2 years ago. I suspect Marquardt will have a pronounced strength advantage in this one which will probably prove most useful in keeping the fight standing… if Marquardt wants to go that route. He SHOULD win this; but part of me can’t get away from the image of Maia pulling guard, Marquardt lingering a bit too long, and then comes the triangle.
In fact, let’s go with that- Maia, triangle from the bottom, 2nd round.
* Light Heavyweight bout: Brandon Vera vs. Krzysztof Soszynski
Continuing this card’s theme of “guys who aren’t as good as they seem like they should be”, here’s Brandon Vera in another win-or-go-home fight. In theory Vera has greater technical striking skills, a longer reach, probably more ways he can win… but at the end of the day, it’s a fight, and I just think Krzysztof is a stronger guy who wants it more. I watched Vera vs. Keith Jardine last night and was struck by two things: first, it’s not nearly as bad a fight as I remember it being, and second- Vera really is just an incredibly passive guy at times when facing an aggressive opponent. Jardine fought most of that fight with a bum knee and couldn’t throw his usual leg kicks, but he kept the pressure on Vera which seemed to remove all semblance of a game plan for him from the equation. Vera got in some decent counter shots here and there, but for the most part he moved little and waited for Jardine to do something first, and thus ended up actually losing to an essentially one-legged man in a butt-kicking contest through being outworked. I can something very similar happening against Krzysztof- a lot of clinch work, a lot of dirty striking, a lot of the Polish Experiment getting in and out with one lunging shot at a time, picking his spots. I just don’t trust Vera to beat a man who’s really trying to beat him at this point, even though Vera clearly has the better skills and more natural talent of the two. Vera finds ways to lose.
Krzysztof Soszynski (which I learned to spell in the course of writing this!), 3 round decision, 29-28.
* Middleweight bout: Ed Herman vs. Aaron Simpson
Simpson, eh? Let’s go with Herman, a more well-rounded and established fighter.
* Heavyweight bout: Gabriel Gonzaga vs. Chris Tuchscherer
The Brazilian Cave-thing is just much, much better than a guy who’s best known as Brock’s pal and a victim of YAMMA Pit Fighting. GNP, round 2.
* Heavyweight bout: Justin McCully vs. Mike Russow
Coin flip. Let’s go with McCully- more experienced.
* Heavyweight bout: Tim Hague vs. Todd Duffee
Not hugely impressed with Hague, no defense to speak of; let’s take Duffee. KO, early 2nd?
* Middleweight bout: Nick Catone vs. Mark Muñoz
Munoz should be the much better wrestler, and after getting Cro-kicked into oblivion by Matt Hamill last time out I imagine Munoz will probably be in the mood to take this one down. Throw in that he’s probably the larger and stronger man coming down from 205, and Munoz should ride out a fairly easy decision here.
* Lightweight bout: Marcus Aurelio vs. Evan Dunham
Wouldn’t put money on a 36 year old coming in on short notice, so let’s take Dunham.
And there we are. Looking forward to this one- I expect this to be one of those cards where the quality sneaks up on you. Should be newsworthy, at any rate.