NBA Summer Preview: Southeast Division

Again, we are having a guest writer in for some fun, easy NBA summer team previews.  I have no inside knowledge whatsoever and these are just meant to give an idea of where teams are at as a whole as we head into draft and free agency season. This is part 2 of the series – click below for previous versions:

 

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Miami Heat

  • 2015-16 record: 48-34
  • Finish: 3rd place, eliminated in second round
  • Team Leaders
    • Scoring: Chris Bosh (19.1)
    • Rebounds: Hassan Whiteside (11.8)
    • Assists: Goran Dragic (5.8)
    • Blocks: Hassan Whiteside (3.7)
  • Restricted free agents: Tyler Johnson
  • Unrestricted free agents: Luol Deng, Gerald Green, Udonis Haslem, Joe Johnson, Amare Stoudemire, Dwyane Wade, Hassan Whiteside, Dorrell Wright
  • Draft picks: None

Last season overview: The Heat may have been the 2nd most talented team in the Eastern Conference last season, with a veteran group that included Bosh, Wade, Deng, Dragic and the midseason acquisition of Joe Johnson. Unfortunately, Bosh missed the second half of the season with serious medical issues. Despite that, Wade’s craftiness and a nice boost from Dragic along with the improved play of Whiteside got the team past the Hornets in the first round and saw them push the Raptors to 7 games before running out of gas.

Summer outlook: With most of their team as free agents, and no draft picks, it’s a big summer for the Heat. Wade isn’t expected to go anywhere, though you never know. Hassan Whiteside will likely look for a max contract and will be a hot commodity around the league – expect him to be the biggest decision the Heat make this summer. With the number of free agents and the uncertainty around Chris Bosh’s future, this team could either look exactly the same or completely different next season – it very much remains to be seen.

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Atlanta Hawks

Atlanta Hawks

  • 2015-16 record: 48-34
  • Finish: 4th place, eliminated in second round
  • Team Leaders
    • Scoring: Paul Millsap (17.1)
    • Rebounds: Paul Millsap (9.0)
    • Assists: Jeff Teague (5.9)
    • Blocks: Paul Millsap (1.7)
  • Restricted free agents: Mike Muscala
  • Unrestricted free agents: Kent Bazemore, Kirk Hinrich, Kris Humphries, Al Horford
  • Draft picks: 21st, 44th, 54th

Last season overview: The Hawks regressed slightly from their monster 2014-15 season last year, falling into status as a good but not great team that never really had a shot to win the title. They have a strong starting five (Horford/Millsap/Korver/Bazemore/Teague), a mix of veteran and young talent and a team focused approach to the game, but they never really felt like much of a threat. They took out the Celtics in six games in the first round and then promptly got swept out the playoffs by the Cavs.

Summer outlook: Another team with some decisions, the Hawks are seeing a couple of key pieces (Horford/Bazemore) become unrestricted free agents. There’s also been much speculation around a Teague trade for quite awhile now, given the emergence of backup guard Dennis Schroder. Very curios to see what they decide to do.

 

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Charlotte Hornets

  • 2015-16 record: 48-34
  • Finish: 6th place, eliminated in first round
  • Team Leaders
    • Scoring: Kemba Walker (20.9)
    • Rebounds: Marvin Williams (6.4)
    • Assists: Nicolas Batum (5.8)
    • Blocks: Marvin Williams (1.0)
  • Restricted free agents: Troy Daniels, Jorge Gutierrez
  • Unrestricted free agents: Nicolas Batum, Tyler Hansbrough, Al Jefferson, Courtney Lee, Jeremy Lin, Marvin Williams
  • Draft picks: 22nd

Last season overview: The Hornets overachieved by any measure last season – Walker turned in a Most Improved-worthy campaign, Williams finally fulfilled some of his potential, and free agent signings Batum and Lin outperformed expectations. Coach Steve Clifford ran a tight ship and the team played the right way. They lost a four way tiebreaker for third place and wound up with the 6 seed, giving the Heat all they could handle before losing on the road in Game 7 to get eliminated in the first round.

Summer outlook: The Hornets have a lot of decisions to make as well this summer, with some major players hitting unrestricted free agency. Their priority will likely be Batum, who really made major steps in an advanced role this season.

 

Washington Wizards v Golden State Warriors

Washington Wizards

  • 2015-16 record: 41-41
  • Finish: 10th place, missed playoffs
  • Team Leaders
    • Scoring: John Wall (19.9)
    • Rebounds: Marcin Gortat (9.9)
    • Assists: John Wall (10.2)
    • Blocks: Marcin Gortat (1.3)
  • Restricted free agents: Bradley Beal
  • Unrestricted free agents: Alan Anderson, Jared Dudley, JJ Hickson, Nene, Ramon Sessions, Garrett Temple, Marcus Thornton
  • Draft picks: None

Last season overview: The Wizards were one of the league’s bigger disappointments last season. After making a 2nd round playoff run in 2014-15, the east side Dubs took a huge step back, getting off to a slow start to the season and playing catchup the rest of the way, ultimately falling short of the playoffs. Coach Randy Wittman lost his job over it, and an overall ugly campaign for a veteran team and a lack of draft picks this summer leaves them with a murky future.

Summer outlook: The Wizards will look to lock up Beal, John Wall’s talented but oft-injured running mate, to a long term deal this summer. They also will look to make a franchise-altering pitch to free agent and hometown kid Kevin Durant, but failing that, hard to see where they go from here.

Trail Blazers Magic Basketball

Orlando Magic

  • 2015-16 record: 35-47
  • Finish: 11th place, missed playoffs
  • Team Leaders
    • Scoring: Nikola Vucevic (18.2)
    • Rebounds: Nikola Vucevic (8.8)
    • Assists: Elfrid Payton (6.4)
    • Blocks: Nikola Vucevic (1.1)
  • Restricted free agents: Dewayne Dedmon, Evan Fournier, Andrew Nicholson
  • Unrestricted free agents: Brandon Jennings, Jason Smith
  • Draft picks: 11th, 41st, 47th

Last season overview: The Magic were a talented, exciting, young and flawed team that made strides and took the next step towards getting better last season. Their young talent – Vucevic, Oladipo, Payton, Fournier, Hezonja, Gordon – is a strong collection that has a bright future, and though they missed the playoffs, they showed flashes of real potential.

Summer outlook: After a very strange parting of ways with coach Scott Skiles after just his first season, former Pacers head coach Frank Vogel comes in to make his mark. It will be interesting to see where they go from here and whether they continue to build by having their young talent develop, or whether they look to turn some of their assets into veteran players to start winning now. Either way, this is a team that looks ready to start to make that next step.

 

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HBO PPV Recap: Canelo ends Khan’s Night with a Slobberknocker

 

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Well, if nothing else, if you plunked down $70 for the HBO PPV on Saturday night, or caught it out at a bar, you certainly got your money’s worth of action. The main event was a fun one for as long as it lasted, ending in a spectacular Canelo knockout. Of the three (really solid) undercard fights, two of them ended in knockouts. Was Khan’s lights getting turned out really a huge surprise? No, not really. But with pay-per-view matchups so often disappointing in recent years, the action in-ring – along with Canelo afterward seemingly manning up and agreeing to take on the best middleweight in the world, Gennady Golovkin, post-fight – made this a solid night for boxing.

 

Fight Recap: Canelo Alvarez KO6 Amir Khan

Boxing: Canelo vs Khan

In a fight that played out as perhaps the best possible version of the matchup going in – smaller, faster boxer with weak chin moving up in weight to face the slower, but bigger and more powerful fighter – Canelo Alvarez (47-1-1, 33 KO) made good on his promise and advantages. Amir Khan (31-4, 19 KO) began the fight by boxing beautifully, using his otherworldly handspeed to whip shots right into the Mexican’s face and then circling away. Khan pretty clearly took the first two rounds, as Canelo’s power shots tended to catch nothing but air.

Canelo started doing a bit better in the third round, thumping Khan to the body and beginning to cut the ring off. For the most part, however, Khan was able to get away from any major power shots from Canelo, using a couple of quick combos to slide in and out of the pocket and riding his skill to be competitive. For a fighter who has typically been known to stand in and throw a bit too much for his own good, defense doesn’t exactly come natural to him – you could see him thinking in the ring. However, he was executing a smart game plan quite well, and though Canelo was picking up steam I had had Khan up 48-47 (3-2 in rounds) heading into the 6th.

Although Khan was up on the scorecards, the momentum was turning heading into the sixth and in that final round Canelo began to reach Khan and cut the ring off from him. Finally, a probing Canelo jab took Khan’s attention and focus away for a second, and as the Brit blocked it and began to load up on a check left hook of his own, Canelo came in with a drilling right hand, a perfectly placed slobberknocker that whipped its way to the side of Khan’s head and ended his night immediately. Canelo, feeling the force with which he had just crushed Khan, dropped to his knees to make sure his opponent was OK. The heavily favored Mexican superstar adds another nasty knockout to his highlight-reel.

Afterwards, and justifiably so, the talk was all about what’s next for Canelo – and it seems the media and fans won’t let him off the hook, as every topic of conversation centered around GGG. Even Khan and his trainer, Virgil Hunter, in their postfight interview, seemed emotional about the prospect of Canelo avoiding the Kazakhstani monster. This seemed to have a visceral effect on Canelo, who somewhat defiantly proclaimed that he wasn’t “fucking around” and was ready to get in the ring with GGG. I’m sure that topic will be discussed to death in the coming months, but at least for Saturday night, good for Alvarez for seemingly not being afraid of the challenge.

One more note on this fight before we move on: afterwards, the three judges’ scorecards were revealed, and it turns out two of them had the fight going Canelo’s way. One of those cards had it 4-1 in Canelo’s favor, which is despicable. I’m glad the knockout happened – not just for entertainment, but so we had a decisive victor – but again, boxing reminds us that it is a huge asshole.

Fight Recap: David Lemieux TKO4 Glen Tapia

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In a fight that was basically guaranteed fireworks from the start, Canadian puncher David Lemieux (35-3, 32 KO) was too much for New Jersey’s Glen Tapia (23-3, 15 KO), who saw his corner throw in the towel on him and stop the fight after a tough knockdown in the fourth round.

The stoppage was probably a smidge early in most circumstances, but in this case was warranted. Lemieux was another level of brawler, too much for Tapia to handle, he came at him hard and he came fast, winging scary-looking punches at him and knocking Tapia around the ring for much of the bout. Tapia was outclassed in there, and he’s a kid who is probably too tough for his own health – in a knockout loss to James Kirkland, a cross-eyed and woozy Tapia stood for about 5-10 seconds too long and allowed Kirkland to tee off on him as he stood unprotected. That knockout was one of the worst in recent memory in terms of worrying about the health of the losing fighter, as Tapia may have taken serious and permanent damage in the loss. Given this history, his corner made a nice call here.

For Lemieux, the deserved victor, it serves as just another reminder of what he’s capable of. He’s going to make a nice career for himself – he’s a fun fighter to watch, has star looks and charisma, he goes into the ring to finish his opponent and he’s pretty well skilled. He proved emphatically back in October that he isn’t on Golovkin’s level as a champion, but as a contender or second-tier champion, Lemieux is going to be a fun one to watch.

Fight Recap: Frankie Gomez UD10 Mauricio Herrera

Sometime the Wolf Score: Gomez 100 – 90 Herrera

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In a somewhat surprising blowout, 24-year old prospect Frankie Gomez (21-0, 13 KO) utterly dominated veteran fighter Mauricio Herrera (22-6, 7 KO) over ten rounds. Gomez looked like the better man from the start, getting the better of every exchange, never looking hurt and marking up Herrera’s face throughout, to the point that Herrera was sporting two nasty cuts under his eyes, like grotesque football face paint.

The fight itself didn’t raise pulses or change lives, but it did prove that Gomez is for real. Herrera is not a champion-level fighter, but he is a very solid veteran who has held his own against real fighters. He lost a disputed hometown decision to the undefeated Danny Garcia, and has had numerous other losses that could have – or should have – been wins. Herrera is legit, and him looking so overmatched either means that Gomez is for real, that Herrera is done, or a combination of both. We’ll see where Gomez goes from here, but a ten round blowout decision over Mauricio Herrera is nothing to sneeze at.

Fight Recap: Curtis Stevens TKO2 Patrick Teixeira

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Curtis Stevens (28-5, 21 KO) is a fighter who has nasty, game-changing power, a nasty left and not much else. However, at a certain level, that power can be enough. Stevens has gone through a litany of nicknames, most of them terrible – Showtime, It’s My Time, and the latest, the eye-roll worthy Cerebral Assassin – but his first was perhaps the most fitting: Chin Checker.

Stevens doesn’t have a championship-level future, but he can serve as a true chin checker for up and coming prospects and contenders, and perhaps that is the role he was meant to play. Where Golovkin was able to eat his shots flush and keep coming, lesser fighters can’t, which is what we saw on Saturday night as 25-year old Brazilian prospect Patrick Teixeira (26-1, 22 KO) quickly found out. Despite towering over Stevens (Teixeira had a stark 4-inch height advantage), Teixeira could not handle the Brooklynite’s power, and could not make it past the second round, really quickly looking embarrassed and out of place. Here’s hoping Teixeira finds another line of work, or goes back to his home country and finds guys to fight who can’t spark him like Stevens did this weekend.

Fighting Words: Young Fighters Shine On Showtime; Brook and Russell Jr. Dominant

In boxing, and in life, there is no such thing as immortality. The top dog will not always be the top dog–time catches up, and youth and power will eventually overtake experience. Always.

Boxing’s history is littered with people waving their hands over their head and freaking out over the future of the sport as the top superstars get old and begin slowing down or retiring. The sport was to die after Mike Tyson. Then Roy Jones Jr. Then Oscar De La Hoya. Now, boxing’s two biggest draws and stars, Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather, are still at the top of the mountain but getting long in the tooth. Their twilight doesn’t seem so far away.

That said, there are numerous young guns out there, up and coming, salivating for their chance to be that star. The sport will find them, as it always does. Who it will be, we don’t know yet–Canelo? Lomachenko? Wilder?–but the young talent in the sport is strong, and it will always persevere. Last night on Showtime, two young fighters with their name on the list of up and comers made emphatic statements as they continue on the long road that leads to the top.

Fight Recap: Kell Brook RTD4 Jo Jo Dan

In Sheffield, England, hometown 28-year old IBF welterweight titleholder Kell Brook (34-0, 23 KO) looked spectacular in a one-sided beatdown of challenger Jo Jo Dan (34-3, 18 KO), mopping the floor with an overmatched, helpless and amateur-looking Dan in four rounds before Dan’s corner mercifully stopped the bout after the fourth round. Dan, a tough fighter with limited power but quite a bit of experience, didn’t belong in the same ring with Brook from the opening bell.

Brook, in his first fight since taking the title from Shawn Porter in a rough and ugly affair, was also returning to the ring after getting stabbed by a machete while on vacation in one of the strangest stories I’ve heard in quite some time. Something about Brook’s explanation of the incident (summary: Brook went to some strange man’s house at 3 AM after being out drinking on vacation, alone, and the guy abruptly went nuts and stabbed him with a machete) doesn’t quite add up, but I digress.

Brook looked strong and outclassed Dan in every single way; he was stronger, faster, more skilled. Every big power shot Kell through landed flush, and he dropped Dan twice in the second and fourth rounds, leaving the challenger flopping on the floor, dazed and frustrated, and struggling helplessly to his feet. Given that Dan is a decent welterweight, it clearly showed Brook to be a class or two above.

Who’s in that class with Brook? Well, Kell called out Amir Khan after his fight, a matchup that would certainty be a major event in Britain and a fascinating match wherever you call home. Brook also claimed he wants to fight the best (the Mayweather-Pacquiao winner, perhaps) but that seems to be a pipe dream for now. At the moment, Brook seems to be continuing to build his name, but his skills and incredible in-ring composure point to good signs for the future and someone who has the potential to be a top pound for pound fighter down the line.

Fight Recap: Gary Russell Jr. TKO4 Jhonny Gonzalez

In the nightcap on Showtime, much-hyped former featherweight prospect Gary Russell Jr. (26-1, 15 KO) exceeded all expectations by flooring and outclassing the always-tough, veteran champ Jhonny Gonzalez (57-9, 48 KO), swiping Jhonny’s WBC title in the process.

Gonzalez is no world-beater, but he is a tough veteran who had the belt after knocking out former pound-for-pound ranked champ Abner Mares in 2013. He isn’t particularly fast, or has world-beating skill, but he does have one-punch knockout power and is always dangerous, and Russell Jr. impressed by wiping the floor with him and getting him out of there within the first third of the fight.

Russell Jr. is a fighter with immense talent (he has arguably the fastest hands in the sport) who has deservedly taken criticism for a lack of quality competition on his record, as he fought a murderer’s row of nobodies and club fighters for years after being named the 2011 Prospect of the Year. In his first step-up fight against a similar world-level fighter, he was beaten decisively by Vasyl Lomachenko, resulting in fans calling him a hype job and dismissing him as a legitimate top contender.

Russell Jr. proved at least some of his critics wrong last night, as he was too much to handle. His speed is still on another level (Gonzalez looked like he was fighting in water for much of the fight), his power showed up last night and when he saw his opponent hurt he wasn’t afraid to go for the finish and get it. He still has work to do–Paulie Malignaggi, commentating for Showtime, astutely observed that Russell Jr.’s speed is great but he only knows how to throw at that one speed and doesn’t vary his punches, meaning world-class fighters can start timing his shots.

That said, the 26-year old fighter gave a great account of himself and looks to be a player in the suddenly stacked (and young) featherweight division, a group of fighters that features the previously mentioned Lomachenko, rising star Nicolas Walters, and others. He is one to watch, so long as he keeps up his level of competition.

Fight Recap: Jermell Charlo UD10 Vanes Martirosyan

Sometime the Wolf Score: Charlo 94 – 96 Martirosyan

In a highly technical affair that featured at least seven rounds that could have gone either way, Jermell Charlo (26-0, 11 KO) kept his perfect record intact as he saw the scorecards go his way. I had it scored 6-4 in rounds to the always game Vanes Martirosyan (35-2-1, 21 KO), but don’t have a problem with a 6-4 card the other way. One judge gave 7 rounds to Charlo, which I think is a little much, but think as the more marketable fighter seeing the scorecards go Charlo’s way isn’t a huge surprise.

Anyway, Jermell Charlo (the more technical of the two twin Charlo brothers) showed his technical, fighting effectively off the back foot and behind a stiff jab, while Vanes chose to attack the body and get 1-2 pot shots in there on his faster opponent where he could. Almost nothing separated these two fighters–neither ever looked particularly hurt, except in the 8th round when Vanes took an accidental headbutt that nearly closed his eye, and it felt like they could fight for 20 rounds and each man would take ten.

Nevertheless, it’s Charlo who gets the win on his record and moves on, while Vanes likely entrenches himself into gatekeeper status.

Charlo, too, is a prospect, along with his brother, who is one to watch in the future. I’m not sold on him yet–his brother has more knockouts and an arguably better resume–but you can’t argue that the 24-year old is oozing with potential, another young lion aiming himself to the front of the pack.

He, like Brook, Russell and the other young fighters building their name, may fail and wind up also-rans, and most do. But one or two of them may wind up true champions, pay-per-view stars, legends in their own time. They are the future of the world’s oldest sport, and the future appears to be in good hands. It’s why we watch and why we invest so much time and passion into a sport that has never loved us back.

Fighting Words: Boxing Makes Network Return on NBC

This post is a little late going up by oh, five days or so, but this blog doesn’t really pay the bills so all three of you reading this will probably just have to deal.

Boxing made it’s return to network television this past Saturday, as NBC hosted the debut of the powerful Al Haymon’s new ‘Premier Boxing Champions’, a new venture in the sport of boxing and an effort to create a new power structure within the sport. For the past few years, the mysterious Haymon has been signing fighters in droves to his stable of clients, and has developed a reputation of getting his fighters high paydays and soft matchups. He first partnered with Golden Boy and Showtime as the avenue for his fighters after being blackballed by HBO, and has now appeared to have collected enough financial funding to effectively bring his huge stable of fighters to non-premium TV by buying airtime on networks like NBC, Spike TV, CBS and others.

It’s an interesting twist for the sport, which has been relegated to niche sport status with most of its major events taking place on PPV or the premium cable channels (HBO, Showtime). Can the sport survive on the terrestrial networks and basic cable channels? Is there enough appetite to make it more of a mainstream sport? It remains to be seen, but it’s an interesting development to say the least.

The debut of the PBC series had two solid-looking matchups on paper, and went off well, with reports saying it drew over 3 million viewers and led the networks in the coveted 18-to-49 demographic. It was an event die-hard boxing fans rallied behind as it signified a hope that the sport wasn’t dying, and NBC put their muscle behind it to make it seem like a major event. Al Michaels as the host of the show, and the iconic voice of Marv Albert and name of Sugar Ray Leonard (regardless of what you think of how they performed) lent the show an air of legitimacy, something that in this sport is a bit harder to come by. The production value was through the roof, and the show looked slick, professional and like a, well, real sport.

At the end of the day though, what’s going to determine the success or failure of this venture and of boxing as a whole is the fights themselves. How did they do? Well, there were mixed results. Here is our recap.

Fight Recap: Keith Thurman UD12 Robert Guerrero

Sometime the Wolf Score: Thurman 118 – 109 Guerrero

The main event featured young budding star Keith Thurman (25-0, 21 KO) face off against tough veteran Robert Guerrero (32-3-1, 18 KO) in a rough affair where neither guy walked out looking pretty but having gained the admiration of the fans. The fight started off rather slowly as the rhythm was established quickly: Thurman was the faster fighter who landed the stronger punches, and he used his precise movement to land sharp power shots that continually snapped the more plodding Guerrero’s head back.

Guerrero found some success in the third round, managing to get inside and land a few nice shots, but the most damage was done during an accidental headbutt (an accident that often happens in Robert Guerrero fights) that wound up giving Thurman a really gross looking hematoma that puffed out the left side of his forehead grotesquely. Perhaps not what the executives at NBC wanted to see at their first national show, but it did add some drama early on to a fight that lacked it, especially given Thurman re-establishing control from the fourth round on.

In the ninth round, Thurman floored Guerrero hard, no small task given how tough “The Ghost” has been throughout his career. Guerrero was wobbly back on his feet, but managed to last the round and survive a Thurman onslaught in an attempt to finish the fight after smelling blood.

The tenth round is where fans were made. Guerrero picked himself up out of his corner and came out in berzerker mode, muscling Thurman into the ropes and turning it into a rough and tumble, phone booth affair, locking foreheads with Thurman and firing short punches at each other with barely room between them to take a breath. Despite never feeling like he was doing serious damage, it created some compelling drama and showed incredible heart, which is what this show needed at the end of the day. While the announcers oversold it a bit live–this was far from a fight of the year contender–it still brought decent excitement to a card that needed it after a horrid opener (more on this in a bit).

Thurman got on his bicycle for the last few rounds out of what seemed like respect for Guerrero and his big chin, and took his deserved decision victory with raised arms as the bell rang to end the fight. Though he didn’t get the stoppage, it was a big win for Thurman on a major stage–Guerrero is someone who’s never been stopped before, is a top-level welterweight and a tough motherfucker. Thurman had him hurt badly during the fight, and while you’d like to see him close the show, he fought well and handled the adversity in the fight strongly.

For Thurman moving forward, I’d like to see them continue to build him and match him strong with other top-tier contenders, eventually angling him for some big fights. Though Shawn Porter’s stock is much lower than before, that’s a fight that’s still really interesting to me. The division is also stocked with other talent, from Marcos Maidana, to Timothy Bradley, even the loser of May’s Mayweather-Pacquiao bout. A lot of roads to go for ‘One Time’ from here.

For Guerrero, this fight cements his status as a solid high-level gatekeeper but ultimately an also-ran contender in the division. He’ll never be the top fighter in the division–the fact that he got a 2013 shot at Floyd Mayweather is a total joke–but he’s a good measuring stick for up and comers like Thurman, and he will always have his chin and his heart.

Fight Recap: Adrien Broner UD12 John Molina Jr.

Sometime the Wolf Score: Broner 119 – 110 Molina Jr.

The opener of this bout promised some action, as the ‘budding’ star, the always-controversial Adrien Broner (30-1, 22 KO), fought a clear B-side in John Molina Jr (27-6, 22 KO), a fighter who had lost two straight and five of his last eight but was expected to provide for some drama given his game-changing power. Last year, in a similar talent mismatch, Molina lost to power puncher Lucas Matthysse in a barnburner of a match that was named by some as the Fight of the Year.

This fight not only didn’t live up to any sort of meager hype it had, it also quite possibly risked setting boxing back 30 years. As the opener of boxing’s return to network TV, the fight was a complete turd, with Broner clearly outclassing Molina but content to just potshot and not be overly aggressive, and John Molina seemingly forgetting how to box, doing absolutely nothing each round except for occasionally winging desperate right hands that started below his hip and ended by swiping the air literally feet away from Broner’s mass.

The fight was so disastrous that I scored the last round 10-10, as neither man deserved the round. Molina had gotten blown out the entire fight yet never threw a punch in the final minute, and Broner literally chose to run around with his hands up like an idiot instead of engaging for the last 30 seconds. It was a joke, and both fighters deserved the angry boos the crowd rained down on them. Not the way I’m sure NBC would have wanted to start their boxing offerings, but so goes the sport–you really never know.

From here, hopefully Broner steps up his level of competition following three straight bounce-back level fights following his loss to Marcos Maidana, but I’m just not sold that he’s the superstar he was supposed to be. He is talking trash with Amir Khan on social media at the moment, and that fight is at least intriguing.

Molina looks like he’s done after that beating by Matthysse. Don’t think I need to see him in a high-level fight, ever again. Hopefully he enjoys that NBC money and finds another line of work.

Other TIdbits/Thoughts on the Show

  • AL Michaels is all class. He just brings it. Loved him as host and would love to see him as play-by-play
  • Marv Albert was very rust as the play-by-play man, but he has a legendary voice. Give us a good, back and forth fight, and get him some reps, and we can hope for some legendary calls
  • One limitation on network TV is that they’ll never be able to show us the corner men talking to their fighters–way too much foul language going on there. That is sorely missed and very noticed, but otherwise the fight production was good
  • Thumbs down to having fighters walk in by themselves with no entourage with Hans Zimmer music playing. Walkouts are a time-honored tradition and a good glance at a fighter’s personality. With this kind of thing, we miss things like Tyson Fury singing himself to the ring last weekend, or anything Prince Naseem did. The no in-ring announcer in favor of a disembodied voice was a miss too
  • Interested in seeing how this moves forward, and if the ratings continue to stay high. There weren’t a lot of advertisers during this first show–if they can’t draw sponsorship, this won’t last long. Here’s hoping it works, however you feel about Al Haymon and his growing empire.

NBA Last Night: Random Thoughts

I work in the sports marketing industry, often closely with athletes, and am thus well versed in most sports of note in USA (and some sports not of note–like my weird passion for boxing). While the pugilists have taken my heart as an adult, my first love sports love was basketball.

I don’t write much about basketball, or football, or soccer, given the fact that the blogosphere (is that a word? sounds right) is already over saturated with people talking about these big time sports. If you want to read about what happened last night in an NBA/NFL/MLB game, there are 500,000 websites you can go to for this, plus discussion forums, social media outlets and radio/TV shows. It just ain’t that different, and you don’t need me to tell you that Kobe Bryant is getting old, or LeBron James is really good, or the Spurs play a cohesive and professional brand of ball.

But, every once in awhile, if the weather is shitty or I’m tired or the NBA is offering free League Pass for the first week of the season, I’ll spend a night in and consume what constitutes as a ‘shit ton’ of basketball. Last night was one of those nights. Here are my Random Thoughts from last night.

  • The Charlotte Hornets are back, and you know what? It’s good to have them. Seeing that team suiting up in that Hornets teal was one thing, but seeing that beautiful honeycomb court and seeing a fired-up crowd for their opener last night against the Bucks was a welcome sight. After years of playing in front of dead-energy crowds with a D-League nickname and jersey, seems like there’s a spark there. They’ll be fun, too, and their game was the best of last night with Kemba Walker hitting two huge Sam Cassell-balls-sized shots last night at the end of regulation (game-tying three) and overtime (game winning 20-footer).
  • The Bucks are a fun watch and they have a lot of young talent, but Christ do they play stupid basketball. They ran two horrendous plays when they had the bar towards the end of both regulation and overtime and they shit the bed with both of them. This is also at team that relays way too much on a mediocre player like Brandon Knight to make plays for them down the stretch. This needs to stop.
  • The Bulls will be dangerous this year. Their frontline (Noah-Gibson-Gasol-Mirotic) is straight nasty, and they’ve filled their role spots with shooters in Dunleavey, McDermott and the like, something they’ve never had in the Rose era. Rose himself looked explosive and fast last night, though very rusty. The burst is there, and once he gets his timing and feel back, it looks like he may be able to be close to the player he was before blowing out his knee that fateful day in May two years ago.
  • The Lakers are a trainwreck and they aren’t even the fun kind. They are a team with an old Kobe and a bunch of 11th men. Things went from worse to legendarily bad with the news that top pick Julius Randle was lost for the season after just one game. They may be legitimately the worst team in the league this year.
  • How in God’s name did the Brooklyn Nets lose to Boston last night. And a blowout at that! Amazing.
  • Last night the Pacers started: Roy Hibbert, Luis Scola, Chris Copeland, CJ Miles and Donald Sloan. That’s who they started. Just because they beat the Sixers, a team not even trying, does not make this better. That is sad.
  • The Rockets are very top-heavy this year, but if they stay healthy, they can play with anybody. Just doesn’t feel like they have enough bench to get it done, but in the playoffs with shorter rotations, they might be OK if Dwight Howard can stay out of foul trouble and Trevor Ariza continues his hot shooting. What scares me is that their backup center is undrafted rookie Tarik Black and their backup point guard is Isiah Canaan, Jason Terry is playing important minutes and Kevin McHale is their coach. Let’s see how far the Howard/Harden combo can carry them.

That’s it for now. Next time I’ll actually write thoughts down while I’m watching instead of making it up the next day, because I totally thought of some wicked hilarious shit that I can’t recall today.

Fighting Words: Kell Brook Derails Shawn Porter Hype Train in Clinch-Filled ‘Meh’ Fest

Boxing has had a rough, rough summer. After a 2013 that consistently delivered great fights and seemed to rejuvenate the sport, 2014 has been decidedly more ‘meh’, and this latest run has been particularly punishing for fight fans. Between horrible officiating leading to unsatisfying fights (Rios-Chaves), atrocious mismatches (Garcia-Salka, which even I skipped) and even blowout fights in matches that looked good on paper (Cotto-Martinez), being a boxing fan is like being in love with a girl who constantly cheats on you and puts out once a year.  You know you should move on to something better and more fulfilling, and all your friends are urging you to leave her and start dating this other girl who will treat you better (‘MMA’, or ‘football’) but you just can’t let go. 

Shawn Porter vs. Kell Brook was a ray of hope. The IBF titleholder Porter (coming into this fight at 22-0-1, 15 KO) had just firmly stamped his name on the boxing map with two big wins against name welterweights by decisioning Devin Alexander and completely demolishing the pillow-fisted Paulie Malignaggi. His name had been thrown around as perhaps one of the next young stars of the sport, a future Floyd Mayweather opponent, a muscle-bound dynamo on the path to greatness. Brook (who entered the ring with a record of 32-0, 22 KO) was a talented British champion with a puffed-up record whose best previous win was against European-level Vyacheslav Senchenko, who has once been stopped by the aforementioned Malignaggi in Paulie’s only TKO win since 2003.

Going into the fight, it looked like a relatively evenly-matched bout between two rising boxers, with Porter as the slight favorite. Alas, last night, boxing again failed to put out. 

Brook (in red) and Porter spent a lot of time like this last night.

Fight Recap: Kell Brook MD12 Shawn Porter

Sometime the Wolf score: Porter 113 – 115 Brook

This fight turned out to be a stylistic nightmare. Porter has made his bones by using athleticism and strength (he is built like an NFL running back) to leap in and wing wild-looking haymakers from crazy angles, at times bringing his hands up from his hips to drill guys upside the head. He found success in doing this in a controlled fashion against Alexander, and turned the knob up to 10 in his match with Malignaggi. Porter knew Malignaggi didn’t have the power to hurt him and he abandoned all pretext of boxing and rushed in, jumping with reckless abandon into Paulie and wiping him quite literally out of the ring with a powerful frenzy of flying muscle and fists. His blowout against Paulie, a veteran fighter who had held his own against some of boxing’s best, started murmurs of stardom.

Brook, who might have the worst nickname in the history of civilization (“Special K”), clearly had watched the gametape of Porter’s fights and came into the ring with a plan to neutralize Porter’s onslaught. Every time Porter jumped in to start winging his power shots from up close, instead of stepping backwards and ceding ground Brook would hold position and tie Porter up, smothering his power and frustrating him. Porter was winning early rounds on activity alone, as seemingly boundless energy caused him to sort-of ineffectively land some of his frenzied shots before getting tied up. But the rhythm (or lack thereof) of the fight was set: Porter leaps in, Brook lands a quick left and ties up. They wrestle for a while. Referee separates them. Porter leaps in. Brook lands a quick, sharp counter and ties up. They wrestle for a while. Referee separates them. Etc.  

This continued on and on for 12 rounds, though Brook started landing a few more of his sharp potshots and Porter landed much less in the second half of the fight, when Porter’s constant bouncing, leaping and wasted aggression caught up to him and he got winded. This is where Brook started taking rounds clearly and separated himself in this fight. Two judges ended up having it pretty clear to Brook, while one had it a draw, giving Brook the majority decision win. 

And there’s the rub. As soon as Porter’s infighting weapon was neutralized by Brook, Porter had nowhere to go. He doesn’t know how to box from the outside, and failed to find a plan B. You can’t take away the kid’s accomplishments, and you can’t immediately brand him a bust after one loss, but Porter looked far from great last night. On the other hand, Brook fought a smart fight and deservedly took the belt, but didn’t exactly make a lot of new fans with the way he fought. After the fight, Porter asked for a rematch. No thanks. 

The book is now out on how to fight Porter, and until he adjusts, we can expect a clinchfest every time he steps up to face real competition. He will be around and have his chances, as he’s only 26 years old, but after Saturday night he will need to work his way back to where he was on Saturday morning. Let’s hope Brook takes some big fights now that he’s a beltholder and doesn’t sit on it with defenses in England against no-name fighters. I’d like to see him in with someone different stylistically and see where he goes from here. 

Fight Recap: Anthony Dirrell UD12  Sakio Bika

Sometime the Wolf Score: Bika 110 – 117 Dirrell 

I’ll be quick talking about this one, because it was a fucking horrendous fight. This was a rematch of these two fighters’ draw from last December, and it was a terrible, foul-filled clinch fest that did not resemble boxing. Dirrell (27-0-1, 22 KO) was clearly the better technical fighter than Bika (32-6-3, 21 KO), which is not hard to do because Bika has no technical ability at all to the point that I am hesitant to call him a boxer. Bika grabs, holds, headbutts, elbows, wrestles and occasionally will throw a wild arching haymaker that has no semblance of technique and starts so far behind him that it arcs like a McDonald’s sign. 

There’s nothing that happened in this fight worth talking about. I’ll leave it to exasperated referee Jack Reiss, who was the highlight of the fight, to explain what was going on in there: “Stop this holding bullshit,” he said to the fighters as he separated them for the 400th time mid-fight. “You guys look like shit doing this.”

Fight Recap: Omar Figueroa TKO9 Daniel Estrada

This fight, the opener for the Showtime card, was easily the fight of the night. Underdog Daniel Estrada (32-3-1, 24 KO) came to fight and had a ton of heart.  Highly-regarded prospect Omar Figueroa (24-0-1, 18 KO) was faster, stronger and more technically proficient then Estrada, but Estrada was able to pull him into a firefight with some precise counterpunching. Figueroa has a lot of potential, and is a great offensive fighter, but his defense needs some work. 

The two fighters clashed heads in the 8th round, opening a nasty gash over the left eye of Figueroa that looked nauseating. With their man up on the cards (I had him up 78-75 at this point, while all three official judges had him up wide as well), Figueroa’s corner was trying to talk the referee into stopping the bout at that point, which would have sent the decision to the scorecards since the cut was a result of an accidental headbutt. The doctor wasn’t having it though, and sent the fighter out for the 9th round. No doubt extra determined to finish the fight, and with blood streaming down the side of his nose, Figueroa launched a devastating right hand that floored Estrada seconds into the round. With Estrada on wobbly legs and with cloudy eyes, Figueroa closed in for the kill and finished him with an unanswered flurry of punches.  Here’s the finish:

Figueroa stops Estrada (GIF courtesy of SB Nation)

Still not sure how far Figueroa goes–he clearly has talent, but there are defensive holes to his game, and he has had problems with his hands breaking in the past. That said, if he continues to fight this way, he will make for some interesting fights, so he is one to watch. 

Other Notes and Thoughts From Last Night

  • Intriguing heavyweight prospect Deontay Wilder (32-0, 32 KO) didn’t look great in his stay-busy victory over fat guy Jason Gavern (25-17-4, 11 KO)–who, if nothing else, was entertaining for 4 rounds before retiring on his stool–but it seemed like Wilder was purposely carrying Gavern rounds as he kept his devastating right hand in his pocket and was content to jab his way through rounds to “get rounds”, a concept that doesn’t really make sense. Wilder could have stopped this fight at any time and there is nothing worthwhile to take from it. The best moment of the fight was when referee Weiss (probably the MVP of yesterday’s show, to be honest) looked at the hard-breathing Gavern and asked him if everything was all right, to which Gavern quipped “Do you have any oxygen?”
  • Lightweight contender Jorge Linares (37-3, 24 KO) absolutely brutalized journeyman Ira Terry (26-12, 16 KO) in the second round of their match to the point that Terry was left moaning in pain and writhing on the ground. Was a great shot but tough to watch. Linares is immensely talented and is an offensive dynamo but has a questionable chin and paper thin skin that cuts easily. His defense and skin (sounds weird to say that) are his downfall, but otherwise he is a really enjoyable fighter to watch.
  • This is really the last relevant fight card until September. And, as is tradition with every major PPV fight, I have friends getting married on the night of the Mayweather-Maidana rematch, which is horrible. That said, unless I want my girlfriend to break up with me I will have to attend this wedding with a smile on my face, but I hope to actually find a way to watch that fight and write about it on here, as Mayweather fights are one of the few days on the calendar that average sports fans and not just boxing diehards care about the sport.

Fighting Words: Las Vegas Officials Mar HBO Boxing Card; Kovalev Takes Care of Business in Atlantic City

Photo Credit: Chris Farina/Top Rank

The worst possible topic of conversation, outside of politics and the weather, is complaining about officials in a sporting event. It doesn’t matter if the complaint is about unfair referees in football, foul calls in basketball or a blind ump behind home plate, nothing is less interesting than complaining about how something was officiated. The verdict can’t be changed, it is what it is, and after all, we don’t watch sports to watch the officials. 

Unfortunately, last night’s Boxing After Dark on HBO cannot be discussed without talking about officiating, judging and all that can be wrong with boxing. For such a simple sport that is supposed to be decided solely by two men and four gloves, too often a third party decides to make themselves the story. Last night’s show, a split-site tripleheader with two fights taking place in Vegas and one in Atlantic City, was marred by these outside factors and made it impossible for the card to be discussed without also talking about the officials, which is a goddamn shame. It’s painful that I even have to write about this when I’d rather just talk about boxing, but so goes this particular sport.

Fight Recap: Brandon Rios WDQ Diego Chaves

Vic Drakulich. There, I led off with the star of last night’s main event, the referee who chose to make himself the story. I can only hope that as he Googles himself this morning he’s satisfied with how front and center he is in every discussion about this fight. 

The fight itself promised a fan-friendly matchup, as Brandon Rios (32-2-1, 23 KO) and Diego Chaves (23-2-0, 19 KO) were fighters with styles that were supposed to mesh to create some fireworks and action.

Rios is an action fighter, a plodder without much nuance to his game, who puts his head down and slowly moves forward, unafraid to take a few shots to the face in order to give a few back. He claims to ‘love’ getting hit, and shows this during fights by plastering a big grin on his face every time he takes punishment.  His chin is the stuff of legend. Unfortunately, in recent fights he’s been doing more taking than giving, as coming into last night he was riding a two-fight losing streak, with decision losses to Manny Pacquiao and Mike Alvarado (and really actually had lost 3 of his last 4 fights, as he was gifted a questionable decision against the unknown Richar Abril in 2012).

Outside of the ring, Rios does not seem to be the smartest guy even for a fighter, and in recent times his speech has seemed to be slower and a bit slurred, a sign of being punch drunk. While not necessarily surprising for a guy who fights with Rios’ style, it is highly unfortunate to see in someone who is only 28 years old, and certainly makes one question how much longer Rios should really make his living as a prizefighter.

Chaves is more of an unknown in the U.S.; a destroyer and knockout artist in his native Argentina (a country fast becoming known for its hard-hitting boxing exports) who had only had one prior major network U.S. fight previously, a competitive late-round KO loss a year ago to rising star Keith Thurman. 

The two fighters got things started as expected, as they met in the middle of the ring and let their fists fly. Chaves, being the more mobile fighter, kept distance well and took the first round, while Rios, lookied to get in close and stick his face into Chaves’ shoulder as he winged punches from inches away and nicked the second on our scorecards. So the fight went, back-and-forth as Chaves tried to maintain a distance and Rios looked to press foreheads throughout. When Chaves was able to maintain space between himself and the always coming forward Rios, he would take the round, while thudded punches onto Chaves’ body to try to slow him down and keep him within his reach.

Drakulich announced himself in the third round, as he took a point off of Chaves for holding, which was an egregious point deduction. Later, in the fifth round, a point was taken off Rios for hitting on the break. In the 8th, Drakulich took yet another questionable point from Chaves for holding when the fighters got tangled with each other and the fight devolved into a mess of grappling, rabbit punches and the two fighters cursing at each other from across the ring. 

Following a completely out of control 9th round in which Chaves tackled Rios to the ground (again, Drakulich lost complete control of this one), Drakulich decided to step in and disqualify Chaves (wearing white shorts) for this:

Rios later claimed that Chaves was gouging his eye during the grappling, but this is not how you want to see a main event fight end. Chaves was up a point on two of the three official scorecards at the time of the stoppage, meaning that the fight was hanging in the balance going into the last two rounds. Sometime The Wolf had Rios up 76-75 at the time of the stoppage. 

After all is said and done, Rios comes out with a questionable win that won’t be remembered for anything but the questionable stoppage, three point deductions, and referee Vic Drakulich giving himself the top billing. Extremely unsatisfying fight, particularly one with such promise. All this fight was missing was a good referee.

Fight Recap: Sergey Kovalev TKO2 Blake Caparello

Let’s just get this straight right now: Sergey ‘Krusher’ Kovalev (25-0-1, 23 KO) is a monster and hits like a mule. He has never been past eight rounds because knocks out just about everybody he’s ever fought. He has actually beaten a man to death in the ring during a 2011 match in Russia, a horrifying and sad event that has not seemed to change his aggressive style at all. He still is not a huge name on his own despite his power and HBO’s push to make a star of him, and thus has found it nearly impossible to get a big name fighter to step into a ring with him, which is why he was fighting Australia’s Blake Caparello (19-1-1, 6 KO) last night, a guy I literally have never heard of in my entire life. 

There is light at the end of the tunnel: prior to this fight, dual titleholder and 49-year old wonder of the world Bernard Hopkins (55-6-2, 32 KO) agreed on a contract to fight Kovalev, pending a Kovalev win last night. That fight, which I’m sure we’ll talk about in future posts, is phenomenal news for boxing fans. 

With no reason to get in rounds and make it last, Kovalev made quick work of the overmatched Caparello, who is also notable for being the whitest person to ever step inside of a boxing ring (I thought they had sun in Australia?). After taking the first round to find his range, and suffering a flash knockdown after taking a punch while getting his foot stepped on, Kovalev dropped Caparello early in the second round with a crushing touch to the liver.

Caparello crumpled to a knee, then got up and basically retreated in the corner and covered up, suffering two more knockdowns before referee Sparkle Lee (yes, the referee was named Sparkle) stepped in and stopped the fight. It was a workmanlike stay-busy performance from ‘Krusher’, with a name-making fight against Hopkins on the horizon.

Fight Recap: Jessie Vargas UD12 Anton Novikov

Sometime the Wolf Score: Vargas 114 – 114 Novikov

This was a close scrap between two guys with very little power, that was again marred by Las Vegas officials as a fight that could have gone either way went heavily to the house fighter Vargas, with all three judges scoring a ludicrously wide decision in his favor. I don’t have a problem with having either fighter edging this fight, but having such a wide decision makes one feel like this outcome was sadly predetermined.

Vargas (25-0, 9 KO), who somehow holds a title belt of some sort, is a fighter they keep selling to us as being good and someone who clearly has talent, almost never fails to underwhelm. He started the fight last night off well and taking the first three rounds, showing a crisp, hard jab that continually snapped his opponent’s head back while continually moving out of the way of danger and absorbing minimal punishment.

Novikov (29-1, 10 KO) then began to find his own range as his body shots began to slow Vargas down and he was able to get inside and catch Vargas. Vargas’ output dropped off a cliff from the fourth round on, as he began to get stung by punches from Novikov and stopped looking like the overall smoother fighter. It was a back and forth fight but with minimal drama, as neither guy had the power to seriously hurt the other. Both fighters seemed to know the fight was close going into the last rounds, and the last few rounds were the most engaging of the fight as both tired fighters summed up the energy to try to close strong. Sometime the Wolf scored this fight a draw, but as mentioned I could have seen this as a close decision either way.

Alas, when the wide scorecards were read, we were just left to feel bad that Novikov came halfway across the world to participate in a predetermined fight. It’s boxing, and the sport at its cynical worst is an insult to the intelligence of its fans. This insult was on display last night, loud and clear.

Other Notes and Thoughts From Last Night

  • Brandon Rios looked kind of flabby to me last night. He’s never been the most cut guy, but he was not in his best shape last night. I wouldn’t mind seeing him against Alvarado in a rubber match fight, but otherwise I strongly feel he should retire sooner rather than later.
  • Andre Ward was commentating from Vegas last night, and for being one of the best boxers in the world he really can be insufferable and insanely unlikeable, which I suppose isn’t a surprise from a man who gives himself the nickname “Son of God”.
  • Kenny Bayless, a phenomenal referee, was working the Vargas fight. If he was the one in charge of the Rios-Chaves match instead of Drakulich, who knows what we’d be talking about today?
  • Is there a more unsatisfying ending in sports than a questionable disqualification? It takes away the drama and closure of a proper finish, neither fighter ends up happy, and forever taints the fight itself. There were good moments in last night’s main event, but all anybody will ever remember is three point deductions and a DQ. 
  • Are these boxing posts too long/detailed? Should each fight recap be its own post? Let me know, either in the comments or via email. Sometime the Wolf is still young, and any reader feedback will help me shape this into hopefully something interesting.