Mike Camel Larry.
It’s not a bad post, but it strikes me as in some respects an example of where the serious boxing fan has an advantage over the serious MMA fan- the Dana White stuff in particular. The MMA fan asks- is White “honest” or is he “a promoter”? Why is there not more neutral media? The boxing fan knows that the reality is that everyone in the fight game has their angle, and often times the psychology and motives are complex. For instance, White strikes me as being in some ways the most obvious example of one of the more interesting psychological ticks all good promoters share: he has an absolutely amazing habit of convincing himself that what he really thinks and what’s best for the sport is what’s also in his own best interest. He’s not being dishonest, per se; he’s just very fluid in his ability to convince himself of the complete certainty of a position, and then sequentially the complete certainty of another, different position on the same issue. It’s a highly intelligent form of bullshitting in that it involves semi-volitional self-deception, impressive if not exactly admirable. Bob Arum is boxing’s master of the art (“yesterday I was lying, today I’m telling the truth”), and if you’ve watched his career (or Vince McMahon’s, or Don King’s, or Oscar De La Hoya’s, or etc.) and have an interest in the psychology of promotion you’ll recognize the trick immediately.
The same in effect goes with the media angle. The MMA community has a touching faith, for the moment, in the possibility of unbiased media, while the boxing fan knows that Golden Boy owns the Ring, Dan Rafael works for a company which also telecasts and pays for fights, Boxingtalk’s head writer used to concurrently manage fighters and so forth. MMA got a touch of this sort of slightly seamy interrelation in the whole WAMMA/Sam Caplan/rankings bias nonsense, and they can expect to see a lot more of it in future unless MMA really breaks through to the mainstream. Bias still exists at that level of course, but at that point it’s more personal agendas and issues than wholesale use of niche media as a promotional device for a sport with a hardcore fanbase. As it is, internet MMA fans should probably be more glad than they are that Dana White frequently convinces himself that he hates them- if he could make up his mind to consistently manipulate them instead and use access as a tool to control coverage, much of the current incoherence of the MMA blogosphere could rather easily be converted to UFC-favorable coverage, I suspect.
2. Bobby Lashley fighting Saturday reminds me that sometimes we don’t really appreciate the utter weirdness of Brock Lesnar. I put it to you: has there been any champion in the history of fighting sports of all kinds (boxing, wrestling, MMA, kickboxing, san shou, arm wrestling, etc.) who had less experience and skill when he won his first major title, or when he headlined his first major event? In many ways Lesnar is a creature of his era, representing a major step forward in the evolution of the heavyweight division of the sport towards gigantic mountain-sized men who cut to make 265, and being the first serious athlete of this class has allowed him to get away with things almost no one else has and which fighters similar to him in the future won’t be able to. He’s a bit of a revolutionary figure for the sport, and not just the marketing of it. He may also end up having a truly bizarre career arc if the diverticulitis doesn’t get him first: in his early 30’s, he’s clearly and by his own admission beginning to decline athletically; but his size remains a constant, and because he’s starting from a historically low skill point relative to his level of success he has farther to go and more room to improve in that area than almost anyone else at the championship level in combat sports. It remains to be seen if he’s capable of adjusting his style as Randy Couture did over time, but if he is he could end up being around a much longer time than most expected him to be when his career began.
Ironically I almost expect, if that happens, that Lesnar will end up looking in 5-10 years if he’s still around a lot like the evolutionary Mark Coleman- just a huge, bear-strong man with limited speed who throws guys down and never lets them up, slowly mauling them in the process. If his submission awareness improves to the point where he offers few if any opportunities for sweeps, escapes or submission attempts, he’ll have a gameplan which is almost perfectly suited to the aging fighter: he can control the pace from top position, emphasize strength which is often the last athletic attribute to go, and just grind guys to death. His standup will have to improve, but in some respects he has the potential to be heavyweight MMA’s George Foreman by that point- old but still huge and scarily powerful, with excellent reach. If he continues to develop his accuracy in particular, he can compensate for declining speed by enticing opponents into close range, where he can begin to use feints to set up takedowns, or the threat of takedowns to set up loaded punches. Given his acknowledged trainaholic personality, if his body holds up this seems like a real possibility to me. I have this recurring sense than Brock Lesnar vs. Rolles Gracie is going to be a gigantic fight about 2-3 years from now.
It amazes me to no end that there’s a population out there complaining about Herschel Walker’s level of opposition. For fuck’s sake. On the sporting level, it’s his pro debut. 99% of fighters fight a bad opponent on their pro debut. On the promotional level, Walker was scheduled as a stunt freak show fight to draw interest to the show and the promotion; why on earth would you match him up hard in his FIRST FIGHT after 12 weeks of training? Do you hate money? Third, on the athletic level, people are complaining that Nagy looked smaller, so Herschel had an unfair advantage. HE’S A 47 YEAR OLD ROOKIE, you think maybe that was a help for Nagy? And on, and on. These are legitimate complaints about, say, Bobby Lashley, who has 5 pro fights and much more training time and a stronger fighting background and has faced various degrees of jabroni so far; they are both illegitimate and completely beside the point in regards to Walker. What, are people afraid he’ll be pushed into title contention too quickly? It’s HERSCHEL WALKER. I have no idea how this becomes an issue to people in the first place.
And furthermore, there is one thing which needs to be banned from MMA fan usage permanently because it’s as much of a douchbag flag-flown-high as “that’s how I roll” at this point: “can.” No one says can anymore, no one in boxing has used that term regularly since fedoras went out of style, and it’s starting to get applied to everyone who isn’t currently a champion. It’s a witless short-circuit to conversation because it sweeps vastly different types of fighter into the same class even if they have little practically to do with each other, and when it’s important to make distinctions between them to understand the sport. Example: Jimmy Ambriz and Wes Sims, Bobby Lashley’s suggested and actual opponents, both got called cans a lot this week; but one would have been an acceptable choice for an opponent while the other was a blunder.
Both were prohibitive underdogs to Lashley, as they should have been and as a good matchmaker would want them to be if the goal was for Lashley to squash someone on TV to build himself as a star. Whether that’s the best goal at this point is another discussion. But the intent in that case is to have people walking away from the fight going “wow, Lashley killed some guy!” Ambriz, largely an unknown but with a few names on his record, is perfect for this in some ways- just experienced and big enough to look impressive going down, but not enough so to draw particular attention to himself; overmatched, but not famous for being so. A useful blank canvas for Lashley to paint his progress on. Sims is anything but that: he isn’t good, but he’s FAMOUSLY not good given his recent TUF exposure; if Lashley crushes him he’s just doing what’s expected, and if he doesn’t he’s failing. Worse than that, Sims is a character, a weird-looking too-tall pro wrestler who makes a spectacle of himself everywhere he goes and ensures that the attention is on him, which he predictably did tonight by trying to do pro wrestling spots with Lashley early. He distracts from the story you’re trying to tell, which is “Lashley killed a dude”, and instead makes it into “Wes Sims from TUF lost to Bobby Lashley.” Now, this is not the end of the world or a massive mistake by any means; but it’s an important distinction to be made, and one which you’ll never pick up on if you just call both guys “cans” and go back to scratching your ass.
And there’s your dose of grumpy for the weekend.
KO of the fucking year, right there. Hooooooly shit that was amazing. I didn’t think anything could top the Wes Sims Graeco-Roman knuckle lock spot, but there it was.
This, this is amazing, on several levels. For one, I would have assumed the work of a Leeds-supporting artist would have looked like a cross between Jackson Pollock and the Lascaux cave paintings.
They send Herschel Walker to do the press tour for his freak show fight- fair enough. But they send him out to do it in suits, mostly photographed from the head up, like he’s got something to hide. Then the weigh in comes and produces this.
JAYSUS. Physique isn’t the same thing as fighting ability obviously, but it’s going to go a hell of a long way towards getting people to A) take this more seriously and B) remember it and want to watch if they realize that Herschel Walker is maybe the most ridiculously sculpted 47 year old on the planet. For better or worse looking the part means a lot, and if nothing else Walker looks the part to a shockingly high degree.
No preview post for Strikeforce this time, some of these guys I don’t know well enough to get in depth with and I’m still feeling crap as well. Quick Picks:
Diaz over Zaromskis
Cyborg over Coenen
MAN-HOOF over Robbie Lawler
Fuck it, I’ll pick Herschel.
Lashley over the gerbil, although the -1200 odds on Lashley are ridiculous. That’s the line from a Jose Canseco fight, not one between two legitimate pros.
Hieron over Riggs
No picks past there.
For only the second time I can remember, I have been compelled to send an e-mail to the Sports Guy in reference to one of his columns. I don’t remember what the first one was (and it wasn’t printed, so I’d have no reason to recall it), but this most recent occurrence was regarding his piece on tortured franchises that went up today. He put the San Francisco Giants at No. 6, and stated that we may be the most underrated tortured franchise out there. This is what I wrote to him in response:
As a Giants fan, I can’t agree with our status at #6 of your list of tortured franchises. With just about all of them, either their consistency of losing is too crushing for words, or they’ve had a series of events in big games that are just…well…just unfair.
The Giants can’t make that claim. They’ve been consisently mediocre for much of the SF-based history, so the constant losing bit is out. As for unfair, whose fault is it that in Game 7 of the 2002 Series, we sent out a guy with a 12-16 record to try and win the game?
Whose fault is it that currently, one of the best staffs in baseball has to depend on a constant parade of injury-prone, over-expensive hackers who can’t hit for power and can’t play defense?
We’re not tortured, we’re badly mismanaged. If you want to talk underrated, Brian Sabean is quietly one of the worst general managers in sports. It’s nor torture if we have it coming.
It’s the same stuff that John Perricone over at the always-excellent Only Baseball Matters harps on about all the time. Dave Roberts. Ray Durham. J.T. Snow. Randy Winn. Edgar Renteria. Freddy Sanchez. Joe Nathan for Double Play A.J. It goes on and on and on, and I think it would be churlish to whine about our lot when our recent playoff history basically amounts to this:
1987: Lost the NLCS 4-3 to a St. Louis team that went 95-67. The only thing you need to know about Game 7 here is that St. Louis sent 11-9 Danny Cox to the hill, and he was clearly the better pitcher. Atlee Hammaker was 10-10 that season, walked 57 opposed to 101 Ks, and had an ERA+ of 92. Spectacular. Then again, the rotation was in such a state that season that the third-winningest pitcher on the staff (with an 11-7 record) was the fucking CLOSER, Scott Garrelts. In short: we had this one coming.
1989: Skated through the NLCS 4-1 thanks to noted horror villain Calvin Schiraldi (instead of killing teenagers, he murdered the dreams of actual tortured franchises instead). Got obliterated 4-0 in the World Series by the 99-63 Athletics, who were frankly so much better than us the margin of victory did not flatter them. Sure, the earthquake meant that Dave Stewart and Mike Moore got to pitch twice each, but they had Bob Welch (17-8) and Storm Davis (19-8) waiting in the wings. They had such an embarrassment of riches that even at a young and optimistic age, I knew we had no shot right from the off.
1997: Out in the wild card 3-0 to the eventual champion Florida Marlins. Fire sale or not, they were better than us and deserved to go through.
2000: Out in the wild card 3-1 to the World Series finalist New York Mets (94-68). Again, they were better than us in every facet and deserved to go through.
2002: Already covered. The starting rotation sucked and we got to the World Series on the strength of Bonds and Bonds alone. Next.
2003: Out in the wild card 3-1, again to Florida. Again, they were better. End of.
Tell me again how we’re tortured?
If Arsenal have an NBA equivalent, it’s the Chicago Bulls.
– A recent history of dominance, now past, drawing on the services of two of the most gifted offensive players of all time alongside a rock-solid defense.
– Following that a period of many years spent struggling while developing young players (Denilson, Diaby, Eddy Curry, Tyson Chandler, Derrick Rose, etc).
– This development project in both cases has led to several notable hits, several even more notable misses, and an intense fear of allowing any of that young talent to be exchanged for or replaced by more talented ready-made stars.
– Financial considerations have been an important influence at times with both clubs’ decision-making.
– There have been high profile defections of players who have subsequently to one degree or another failed to thrive elsewhere (Mathieu Flamini, Alex Hleb, Ben Gordon).
– And a few high-profile exiles who have (Lassana Diarra, Elton Brand).
– Both have looked amazing at times (Bulls pushing the Celtics to 7 games last year, Arsenal making a CL Final) only to be ultimately, narrowly but definitively, defeated by the eventual champion in the top competition in their respective sports.
It’s not a perfect comparison obviously, partially since their respective leagues are so different and their actual playing strategies so at odds these days (Bulls: slow, turgid, defensive; Arsenal: possession, possession, let’s win 3-2). I’m not sure if this means anything or if there’s any lessons to be learned other than that sometimes you need to pull you thumb out and actually go for it, but it interested me anyway. It’s the sort of thing which I notice more when I’m sick, which I am again. Blah.
Not being selected for the all-star team backup slots does not mean the coaches think you have a small penis. It is not personal; they are not saying stuff about your mom. It is ok to uncoil your fists, it is ok to dry your tears. Tomorrow will come a new day. You will love again. You, too, are a child of the universe.
Every year this goes on, and every year I think the same thing: everyone using the word “snub” should be chained to a rock Prometheus-style at halftime of the game so their livers can be pecked out by the Hawks’ mascot.
A few last musings on this situation….
So let’s review: he’s a convicted felon with a history of major knee injuries, who hasn’t played a full season in three years (47 games total in that span) is coming off of one of the longer suspensions in league history for a gun crime, and is anchored in place by a ginormocolossal contract with years to run and tens of millions of dollars still to be paid on it. I once again rest my case that he is the least desirable NBA property out there. Someone will take him eventually, I’m sure, as the NBA is nothing if not a museum of perpetually optimistic suckers; but who? And WHY? is there even a destination which makes sense? Arenas never had the talent to be a #1 guy in the league in the sense of someone who could be the best player on a championship team, and what talent he did have has been partially sapped by his long struggles with injuries. His biggest selling point was as a charismatic star for a team with no ambition, good enough to keep the team OK and marketable enough to keep seats full of asses. But how marketable is he now after this situation? You can say Allen Iverson for a positive comparison, but Iverson A) got his team to the finals once and B) was healthy all the time and C) never got suspended for most of a season and D) was a unique and exciting player to watch in a way Arenas isn’t and E) never handled himself in this embarrassing a fashion and F) managed to make himself an institution in the city where he spent most of his career and now plays once again. And despite all that, he still barely found a place to play this season after one bad year. Arenas has already changed teams once, by all accounts wants out of Washington, and has spent most of the last three years in that city as an injury report rumor. It’s doubtful they’ll exactly bend over backwards to keep him or do him any favors, and with so many issues clouding his future it’s hard to see where, if anywhere, he really fits.
So what’s the endgame? Buried in ESPN’s reporting but not yet highlighted is the idea that the leading proponent of buying out or voiding Arenas’s contract might be… Arenas. It would be a massive gamble, but when you think about it it’s not actually that crazy in some respects. The bridges are burnt in DC, and drawing this thing out for months and months and months while the Wizards try to get some kind of value is of minimal benefit to both sides. By backing a contract void (or more likely accepting a low-percentage buyout), Arenas rehabs his image and rebuilds his marketability in part; and then he’s loosed into a free agent market with more money stored up by desperate teams than any other in recent memory. It’s a virtual guarantee of someone wildly overpaying him (early guess: the Nets, because what else is left to screw up?) and would lock him into a contract again before the CBA expires and the league is swallowed by the dread wolf Fenrir. He likely would lose some money on this path, but at this point he’s just choosing between bad options- if this one costs a few more dollars, it may help save his sense by reducing the amount of BS he’ll have to firewalk through on his way to his next team, wherever that is.
There is one major drawback: For Arenas to make back a reasonable portion of his old contract in the short term, he’ll have to play the same role for his next club: seat-filling crypto-star on a bad team. The trouble is that at this point in his career his best role is pretty clearly as a secondary star, something like a Vince Carter in Orlando. If Arenas was willing to take a lesser contract to fill that role for, say, Cleveland, he could have an excellent run over the next few years which would go a hell of a long way towards reestablishing his name and reputation within the game. In fact, it might even be possible for him to do so for 3 years, prove that his knee still functions, and cash in at a decent level one more time with a last major contract at age 31. Grabbing at what’s available in the short term might net him more money up front, but if he ends up as the bargain-basement “dear God, we need a name…sign anyone!” Plan-Z free agent option for the (Knicks, Nets, Bulls, etc.) and spends the following 3-5 years failing miserably and acting like, well, like he acted in Washington, chances are that it’s for him in the NBA- guaranteed it is if his knee goes sideways one more time. NBA GMs are dreamers as a rule; they love to talk about upside, potential, the ceiling of a player- they love to imagine what can be, and they love to sell that to their customers. It’s a bit of a necessity in a league which is less forgiving than any other in terms of determining who the best really is. Arenas has profited handsomely from that tendency in the past, as few players possess his sort of “can drop 50 on anyone” scoring explosiveness. GMs need something to hang those dreams on though, and right now pretty much all the things of which NBA dreams can be made are negatives for Arenas- health, character, age, history of being on winning teams, etc. It’s easier to imagine how much of a problem Gilbert can be than how much he can add to a team.
That’s the thing about the league: as with many things in life, reputation matters. Not in a nebulous way, but in a hard and concrete dollars-on-the-table sort of way. Research has been done which has shown that for equal production players drafted higher have consistently longer and better-paid careers than players drafted lower; it’s well known that most GMs and coaches would rather fill out the back ends of their rosters with players they like and can trust than slightly more talented n’er-do-wells; and there are few better things a player can do to enhance their market value, rightly or wrongly, than be part of a winning team. Arenas for much of his career has bucked that trend, riding pure talent to the 17th highest salary in the league this year despite being a crazy-go-nuts former 2nd round pick who’s only made it into the playoffs 3 times in 9 seasons and out of the first round once. But with circumstances and choices letting the air out of his balloon, Arenas is starting to find out in more ways than one that the rules which apply to others- even other professional athletes- now apply to him as well. Personally I’m hoping to see him suited up opening day of next year as a wingman for one of the NBA’s biggest stars, kicking off phase two of his career on the right foot; but I kind of expect I’ll be reading about how he scored 27 on 10-26 shooting in a loss for one of the league’s sad sacks. Here’s to being surprised.