Archive for October, 2010

Some things just get better with age

October 26, 2010 6 comments

There is no general consensus in the cricketing world with regards to who is the best batsman in the history of the sport. However, there is a core group of names that are continually mentioned: Brian Lara, Viv Richards, Don Bradman, Sunil Gavaskar and, of course, Sachin Tendulkar.

In a career spanning 21 years, the man known as the Little Master has rewritten the record books. He has scored a record 14,240 runs in test cricket at a very impressive average of 56.96 and has amassed more test centuries than any other batsman in cricket history with 49 (and counting).  Tendulkar is not, however, just a test specialist. He also holds the record for the most runs scored in One Day Internationals (ODI) having accumulated a huge 17,694 at an average of 45.12, including 46 centuries and 93 half-centuries. As if this were not enough proof of his effectiveness in the one-day game, he was also voted player of the tournament in the 2003 World Cup as India finished runners-up.

Whilst such statistics reinforce the view that the Indian is one of the greatest batsmen of all-time, they do not sufficiently illustrate just how good he is and how good he has been for such a long time. Perhaps the greatest bowler in the sport’s history, Shane Warne, described Tendulkar in a recent tweet as “the best batsman or cricketer I played against in 20 years.” He went on to answer the question of whether Lara or Tendulkar is the better batsman by stating: “Sachin wins in my opinion day in day out against pace or spin, awesome against both. He conducts himself on and off field class.” Warne’s former Australian teammate Matthew Hayden went so far as to claim: I have seen God. He bats at no. 4 in India in Tests.” Such glowing praise from his contemporaries is deserved and reveal how revered he is in the cricket world.

Sachin Tendulkar: The best batsman ever? (This image is the property of

One criticism levelled at the likes of Muttiah Muralidaran is their poor (relatively) record against the big sides and the fact that their statistics are padded by performances against the likes of Bangladesh and Zimbabwe.  This does not apply to Tendulkar. Sure, he does average 136.66 against Bangladesh, but he also averages 60.59 against Australia, a team against which he has scored 11 centuries and which has dominated cricket for much of Tendulkar’s career. Moreover he has scored runs all over the world and to prove he is more than a subcontinent flat-track bully, he has scored more centuries away from India (27) than he has at home (22).

“I have seen God. He bats at no. 4 in India in Tests.” 

Matthew Hayden on Sachin Tendulkar.

What really sets Tendulkar apart from the likes of Lara and Richards is his longevity. He made his test debut in Karachi against Pakistan aged just 16 back in 1989. He was bowled in his first innings for just 15 by one of the greatest fast bowlers and exponents of swing in cricket history, Waqar Younis, but was praised for the way he dealt with a series of body blows. The following year, in his second tour, he scored his maiden test century, making 119 not out at Old Trafford. Wisden described the innings as: “a disciplined display of immense maturity.” Since then Tendulkar has not looked back and was named one of Wisden’s Five Cricketers of the year in 1997. He is deified in India to the extent that he is unable to live a ‘normal’ life, yet he remains humble and affable. Every cricket fan will have seen him drive the ball through the covers in textbook fashion more times than they care to remember and play picture sweeps for four, but in 2005/2006, there was a theory that the Little Master’s best days were behind him. Having struggled with a longstanding elbow problem and having failed to make a century in 2006, Tendulkar did seem to be in decline. His career hit an all-time low in 2006 as he averaged a poor 24.27 and made a solitary half-century in eight tests. The Indian team management however recognised that class is permanent and stuck with their talisman. It was a decision that paid great dividends.

His form gradually improved before 2010 became what has arguably been the best year of the great man’s career. In short Sachin Tendulkar is maturing like a fine wine. He recently beat off stiff competition from Virender Sehwag, Graeme Swann and Hashim Amla to be named ICC Cricketer of the Year and also won the inaugural People’s Choice award at the same ceremony. During the voting period, he played in 10 Test matches, hitting 1064 runs, including six centuries, at an average of 81.84. He also played 17 ODIs, scoring 914 runs at an average 65.28 including his record-breaking double-century against South Africa in Gwalior. Not bad for a 37 year old.

The one question mark next to Tendulkar’s name has been whether he is effective in 20-20 cricket. This was a reasonable doubt, until this year’s Indian Premier League (IPL), in which he broke Shaun Marsh’s single season record for runs scored by putting up 618 runs in 14 innings, thus proving his ability in all forms of the game.

The question now is not one of whether Tendulkar is on the slide, but rather when he will start to slide. At the moment there is absolutely no sign of it happening anytime soon and if his last test match performance is anything to go by, a double century against Australia in Bangalore, we may get to see the Little Master pile on plenty more runs yet.

Categories: Cricket

What has the Wayne Rooney saga taught us?

October 22, 2010 6 comments

Unless you have been living on another planet, you will no doubt have seen that Wayne Rooney expressed a desire to leave Manchester United this week. This was almost inevitably followed by a media frenzy, fan protests, a forlorn looking Sir Alex Ferguson in a press conference, opinions from just about everybody connected to the game and finally, the twist of Rooney performing a huge U-turn and signing a new five-year deal at Old Trafford reportedly worth somewhere in the region of £160,000 a week.

The first hint of Rooney’s unrest came before the England-Montenegro match on 12th October when he stated that he was not injured, nor had he been this season. This challenged Ferguson’s assertion that he was carrying an ankle knock. The striker was then left on the bench as his Manchester United side threw away a two-goal lead at home to West Bromwich Albion, promoting speculation that the Scot was far from impressed with being contradicted. The following day, the Sunday Mirror ran a sensational story claiming that Rooney wanted to quit Old Trafford. According to the article, Rooney’s recent philandering and general attitude had caused a rift with Sir Alex Ferguson which was by this point beyond repair.

Speculation then intensified on Monday of this week before Ferguson confirmed that Rooney wanted to leave in an emotional press conference on Tuesday afternoon. He said that Rooney’s agent had informed the club of this back in August and that he “couldn’t quite understand it.” He also made of point of stressing that he had “not had an argument with Wayne Rooney at any time.” He added that the Old Trafford door was still very much open for Wayne Rooney, although he bore the look of a man who held little hope.

The following day Rooney appeared to slam that very door shut as he released a statement which revealed his motives for wanting away from a club he had described as the best in the world just months earlier: “David Gill did not give me any of the assurances I was seeking about the future squad.” Everybody will have their opinion on exactly what he meant by this, but it certainly seemed as if Rooney did not like the direction in which the club is going and perhaps cast doubts over the current squad.

Following this remarkable revelation, the media frenzy kicked in to overdrive. Inter Milan, Real Madrid, Chelsea and Manchester City were all mentioned as possible destinations for the striker, although there seemed to be very little substance to any of the reports. Fans protested at Wednesday night’s match against Bursaspor, with one banner describing him as a “whore.” United fans bombarded the internet with “Rooney is a scouse ****, **** off Rooney” and the like. It certainly looked as if he was going to be on his way.

On Thursday, Manchester United urged patience and held talks with Rooney’s representative Paul Stretford in a bid to put the saga to bed. The protests took a slightly sinister turn as police were called to disperse a group of balaclava-wearing protesters from outside the striker’s home.

Finally, today Rooney dropped a bombshell. He had changed his mind. He now wanted to remain a United player and signed a contract extension that will keep him at the club until 2015. Whatever has been said this week has convinced him he is at the right club and Rooney has cited Sir Alex Ferguson as the reason for his decision: “The manager is a genius and it is his belief and support that convinced me to stay.”

Wayne Rooney will be wearing the red of Manchester United for a while longer yet. (This image is the property of Fox News)

Although Rooney may well now need to get the fans and even some of his fellow players back onside (Patrice Evra is rumoured to be particularly angry), the situation is essentially resolved, at least for the time being. However, one question remains. What has the Wayne Rooney saga taught us?

Firstly, it must be said that Rooney’s conduct leaves much to be desired. The statement he released was ill-timed, not properly thought out and may now have put him in a very difficult position. If we compare his conduct to that of Cristiano Ronaldo prior to leaving Old Trafford, it looks particularly bad.  It is however, symptomatic of modern football. We live in age in which players hold the power (as Ian Holloway so eloquently told us all yesterday) and this week has made that very clear. There was once a time, not that long ago, when Manchester United refused to be held to ransom and Sir Alex Ferguson kicked out anybody who had the temerity to challenge his authority. Those days are seemingly gone. Players are now acutely aware of their value to their clubs, both in terms of transfer value and commercial value. So too are their agents. It is no longer feasible for clubs, even of the size of Manchester United, to let players rot in the reserves to spite them and then let them leave on a free. Consequently, if the player kicks up enough of a fuss, he will eventually get the move or new contract he seeks. This seems to be what has happened with Wayne Rooney as he has got a new bumper contract. Whether he actually ever had any intention of leaving is something that only he knows.

Secondly, we have seen once again why Sir Alex Ferguson is the best in the business. He refused to react in a heavy-handed manner and adopted a conciliatory tone throughout. People spoke of the Stams, Keanes and Beckhams of the past, but Ferguson’s ability to adapt as the game has changed is what makes him the greatest manager alive. He knows that he now operates in a world in which players and agents hold the aces and so he behaves accordingly. In short, he did not let his pride get in the way and throw Rooney out of the door. To do this would have been cutting off his nose to spite his own face and he knew it. Ferguson has what he wants; Rooney in a United shirt.

Perhaps the most important thing we have learned is however, the following: Wayne Rooney is a human being and a young one at that. Football players are major celebrities now and earn vast sums of money, but to think that earning £100,000 a week makes you less human is wrong. How many people contemplate leaving a job because they are not convinced it is the best one for them? How many of them go so far as to go for an interview while still in employment with another company? How many even start a new job before deciding that they have made a mistake and returning to their previous employer. The answer to all of these questions is many.

Wayne Rooney did not conduct himself with the level of professionalism that can reasonably be expected of somebody in his position and he will now have to deal with the consequences of that. But when all is said and one, he has only done what thousands of people do every week, contemplated a change of job and so it seems that Wayne Rooney is, after all, only human.

Categories: Football

The third man is the most important man in the ring

October 19, 2010 3 comments

Boxing is an inherently dangerous sport, after all the aim is to hit another man as hard as you can until he can take no more. At its finest it is an art form, a sweet science, and those fortunate enough to have witnessed the Sugar Rays; Muhammad Ali and Roy Jones Jr. in their primes will not disagree. However at its most base level, it is brutal and, as Chris Eubank delighted in telling us, “a barbaric sport.”

Although they are rare, injuries suffered by the likes of Gerald McClellan and Michael Watson do occur and a few boxers, such as Duk Koo Kim and Johnny Owen are unfortunate enough to lose their lives. Boxing is a very serious and potentially life-threatening business and it is for this reason that that one man in the ring does not wear gloves. His job title? Referee. His job? To do everything he can to make sure a fighter is able to leave the ring under his own steam.

While referees do a sterling job most of the time, there are occasions when one asks oneself: “what is the referee doing?” Unfortunately 2010 has seen two instances of gross incompetence in big world title fights.

The first came courtesy of Arthur Mercante Jr. during the Yuri Foreman-Miguel Cotto fight back in June. Foreman came in to the ring with his right knee heavily strapped and so it was clear that there was some kind of issue with it. In round seven, we found out what it was as his knee gave way from under the Israeli. He rose to his feet but was clearly in pain. To be fair to Mercante, Foreman still looked game but his response of: “come on suck it up kid,” sounded more like an annoying pushy father than a professional boxing referee. The knee gave way a second time in the same round leading HBO commentators Roy Jones Jr. and Jim Lampley to proclaim that the fight was as good as over. Wrong. Foreman again rose to his feet and Mercante could not usher him back in quickly enough. For those who may not be aware, Foreman is a very mobile fighter dependent on his footwork or, as Jim Lampley so succinctly phrased it: “Foreman without legs is like Cotto without fists.” Consequently he took a series of short, jolting punches from the Puerto Rican before the bell sounded to end the round.

The real drama however, unfolded in round eight. Foreman’s knee locked again and he was clearly in no fit state to continue. Seeing this, his corner threw in the towel. Mercante however, refused to acknowledge it (as is his right) claiming that Foreman was game and that he did not know who had thrown the towel. The fight had now officially turned in to a farce. Sure Foreman looked game but he is a fighter with a warrior’s heart. He knows no quit so his corner tried to quit for him. Mercante had other ideas and ordered the fight to continue despite Foreman’s trainer Joe Greer entering the ring (which should have been an automatic disqualification). So, Foreman, who is training to be a Rabbi in his spare time, was left to be a sitting duck for a round longer until one of the most feared punches in boxing, Cotto’s left hook to the body, put everyone out of their misery. It was a shot Foreman need not have taken, in fact he took punches for two rounds that he should not have had to. Fortunately, the only lasting damage done was to the reputations of the sport and Arthur Mercante Jr.

Fast forward four months or so to the Vitali Klitschko-Shannon Briggs fight in Hamburg. England’s Ian John Lewis was the man in the ring on this occasion. It must be said at this point that Lewis is a first rate referee who has performed admirably on many occasions, but this Saturday passed (16th October), he got it badly wrong.

Klitschko comfortably pocketed the first four rounds behind a stiff jab but the problems for Ian John Lewis started in the fifth. It was in this round that Klitschko began to land his trademark booming right cross on the face of his American challenger at will. This continued in to round six, when he also began to bring the left hand in to play. By the end of the round, his jab, jab, cross approach was as successful as it was relentless. Briggs was stunned half way through the seventh before a monstrous right hand at the end of the round had him walking in circles and sagging on the ropes. Luckily for the American (or unluckily as may actually be the case), the bell sounded, saving him from an almost certain knockout.

Shannon Briggs (right) was made to take much more punishment than was necessary on Saturday night. (This image is the property of Reuters)

The Brooklyn native emerged for round eight and the systematic beating continued. Very little was coming back from Briggs and with Klitschko having won every round up to that point, Briggs needed a sensational knockout that never looked like coming. Round nine saw the giant Ukrainian wobble Briggs again and although the referee took a close look at Briggs on more than one occasion, he still somehow did not deem the fight worthy of a stoppage. Sure Briggs had not hit the canvas, but he was taking big shot after big shot from a 240 lbs plus monster without throwing much back. The fight needed to be stopped to save the American from unnecessary punishment. It was not and the last three rounds followed the same pattern with two huge right hooks from Klitschko nearly putting Briggs to sleep in the 12th and final round.

Klitschko unsurprisingly pitched a shutout to retain his WBC Heavyweight strap, but Briggs was too brave for his own good and should have been saved from himself in the eighth or ninth round at the latest. Ian John Lewis failed the fighter on this occasion (although some blame should be apportioned to Briggs’s corner for not pulling their man out) and Briggs wound up in hospital nursing a torn bicep; broken nose and, rather painfully, a broken orbital bone. All one can say is thank God his CT scan did not show up any abnormalities.

In both of these fights, boxers had to take far more punishment than was necessary as the referee failed in his duty to ensure the safety of both boxers as much as he can. These are unfortunately not isolated incidents, just the most high profile examples and as long as such incompetence continues, there will always be the risk of another Gerald McClellan or Johnny Owen. The referee is the most important man in the ring, sometimes he would do well to remember that.

Categories: Boxing

Where will Wayne Rooney be playing next season?

October 19, 2010 Leave a comment

Wayne Rooney’s future has been the subject of much speculation in recent weeks with the Sunday Mirror this week claiming his relationship with Sir Alex Ferguson is now irreparable and that Rooney has told the club he wants to leave.

Ferguson today confirmed that the talismanic number 10 refused to sign a contract extension back in August and stated that he wished to seek pastures new. This is sure to alert the likes of Chelsea; Real Madrid; Barcelona and most worryingly of all for Ferguson and United fans, Manchester City.

He also stated that he had no idea why Rooney has reached such a decision and so every man and his dog are now dreaming up possible reasons ranging from a salary increase to media intrusion in England.

The Scot did add however, that the opportunity for the England striker to remain at United is still there should he have a change of heart.

So the question is not now one of whether Wayne Rooney wants to leave Old Trafford, but rather where will he be playing next season?

Categories: Football

Is T.O. victimised by the media?

October 18, 2010 Leave a comment

Terrell Owens is one of the greatest wide receivers to ever play in the NFL. During a career spanning 14 years (and counting), the man from Alabama has amassed over 15,000 receiving yards and 149 touchdowns (146 receiving, 3 rushing). He is a 5-times All-Pro; has been to the Pro-Bowl six times; was chosen in the NFL 2000s all-decade team; is second on the all-time receiving yards list and third all-time for receiving touchdowns. Furthermore, he is the only player in NFL history to record touchdowns against all 32 teams.

His greatest season arguably came during his two year stint in Philadelphia. In the 2004 season, Owens piled on 1200 yards and 14 touchdowns in 14 games before fracturing his fibula in a game against the Dallas Cowboys. Owens looked set to be out for some time but miraculously appeared in the Super Bowl when the Eagles took on the New England Patriots. Despite being only partially fit, Owens caught 9 passes for 122 yards. However, his brave effort was in vain as Tom Brady and co. prevailed. Soon afterwards, Owens’s relationship with quarterback Donovan McNabb and the Eagles’ management soured and he was forced to seek pastures new, eventually landing in Dallas.

Owens turns 37 this year so one could be forgiven for thinking that his powers may be on the wane. This is however not the case. Following a mediocre season in a poor Buffalo team last year, Owens has started promisingly for the Cincinnati Bengals. In his first five games, he has chalked up 476 yards and two touchdowns, overshadowing star teammate Chad Ochocinco in the process. He piled up a huge total of 222 yards in week four versus Cleveland and followed that up with 102 yards against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers the following week. When T.O. is still capable of performing at this level, one must ask why it took so long for anybody to snap him up as a free agent.

The Cincinnati Bengals eventually took a chance on Terrell Owens

Owens himself provided the answer in last week’s Sunday Sitdown with the NFL Network. During the interview, T.O. raised the notion of ‘perception’ and spoke about how it had affected his career and opportunities as a free agent. His comments seemed to be aimed in particular at certain corners of the media who have portrayed Owens down the years as a trouble causer you can do without and while things may not be quite so simple, it has to be said that Owens has not always helped his cause.

He is infamous for a string of touchdowns which have cost him thousands of dollars in fines and his teams hundreds of yards in penalties. In 2000, he celebrated a touchdown against the Dallas Cowboys on the Cowboys logo at centre field. Cowboys safety George Teague, not pleased with what he saw, took matters in to his own hands and hit Owens. Both were disciplined. In 2002, Owens once again entered the endzone and celebrated in style, this time pulling out a marker pen and signing the ball. He followed this in 2003 by throwing snow at fans in Cincinnati and in 2007, he stole a fan’s popcorn and poured it in to his helmet. Such celebrations are deemed unsporting and excessive and so T.O. has been seen by some as too much of a clown.

A more unsavoury incident that caused Owens’ stock to fall occurred when he was playing for the Dallas Cowboys against the Atlanta Falcons in 2006. Falcons Cornerback DeAngelo Hall claimed after the game that Owens had spat at him. Owens admitted he had, saying that he had been frustrated listening to Hall’s taunts. He was promptly ordered to apologise and fined $35,000.

In September 2006, doubts were cast over Owens’s mental stability when he was found unconscious next to an empty bottle of pain killers. Rumours abounded that the wide receiver had attempted to commit suicide, something which an initial police report seemed to support. Owens and his publicist however denied this. It has never been established what happened, but the incident was an unwelcome blot on Owens’ copybook.

Such antics unfortunately tend to receive more press than sporting achievement in a day and age in which readers are more interested in sportsmen as celebrities than in their sporting talents and it is this that has worked against Owens. His quality is undeniable and somebody of T.O.’s experience and ability should be snapped up immediately on free agency. However, such behaviour has clearly put off some suitors and so it was the Bengals that took a chance on him and it looks at this point like it may pay off. Furthermore, they have managed to get Owens on the cheap. While his assertion that he is basically playing “for free” may well be something of an overstatement, a $2 million a year deal for a wide receiver of such standing is a bargain. It is now up to Owens to prove that he is worth more.

So, does Terrell Owens get a rough ride from the media? Probably not. Although his ability and talent do not get the coverage they warrant, he has brought a lot of the negative press on himself and we unfortunately live in a world where this overshadows sporting talent, just ask the likes of Tiger Woods and Wayne Rooney.

Categories: American Football

Aaron Rodgers: Filling big shoes in Green Bay

October 6, 2010 Leave a comment

When Aaron Rodgers was drafted as the 24th pick in the 2005 NFL Draft by the Green Bay Packers, it was firmly as a back up to longstanding starting quarterback Brett Favre. Five years on, Favre has departed Lambeau Field and Rodgers has established himself as one of the league’s elite quarterbacks. He has a long way to go to emulate the legendary number four, but so far he is making a good fist of it.

In his 16 seasons in Green Bay, Favre led the Packers to triumph in Super Bowl XXXI, defeat against John Elway’s Denver Broncos in the following year’s Super Bowl, broke a whole load of NFL passing records and cemented his place as one of the great all-time quarterbacks. Favre’s star was the biggest in the NFL galaxy and the Lambeau Field faithful adored the man from Mississippi. However, in March 2008, he announced his retirement from the sport. Favre quickly changed his mind, but the Packers by this time had decided that it was a time for a change and so the man who had for so long been their talisman was allowed to leave for New York. This was a bold move by Green Bay’s management. Favre had poor seasons in 2005 and 2006, but not in 2007. In fact, his performance in 2007 was massively improved, with a return of 28 touchdowns against only 15 interceptions. His season passer rating of 95.7 was his best since 1996.

The man charged with replacing the seemingly irreplaceable was a young Californian named Aaron Rodgers. Perfectly built for a quarterback at 6’2 and 225 lbs, Rodgers impressed at the University of California and was tipped by some to be a top-five pick. This did not happen and his slide down the order became one of the draft’s major talking points. Eventually, Green Bay took him with the 24th pick overall and it is now starting to look like an incredibly good bit of business.

Rodgers remained patient in his first three years at Lambeau Field as he saw little playing time and had to deal with Favre’s ‘yes I am retiring, no actually I am not’ game. On one of the rare occasions he did see game time versus Tom Brady’s New England Patriots in 2006, he broke his foot and missed the remainder of the season. Things just did not seem to be going Rodgers’s way. All that changed when Favre was shipped out to New York and Rodgers was given the responsibility of leading the team.

Aaron Rodgers and the man he replaced in Green Bay, Brett Favre (This image is the property of Sports Illustrated)

In his first season, Rodgers impressed, proving his ability as well as his mental and physical toughness. The team however, did not, as it finished with a poor record of 6-10. Nonetheless, Rodgers had proved his ability as a starting quarterback, passing for 4038 yards, 28 touchdowns and only 13 interceptions. This gave him a passer rating of 93.8 in his first season as a starter – more than respectable.

If Rodgers was good in his first season as a starter, he was sensational in his second, leading the Packers to the playoffs with a much improved record of 11-5. On a personal note, Rodgers passed for 4434 yards, 30 touchdowns and only seven interceptions. His passer rating of 103.2 was better than that of Peyton Manning and placed him fourth in the league behind Brett Favre, Drew Brees and Philip Rivers and no other regular starting quarterback threw fewer interceptions (Favre also threw only seven). His yardage total of 4434 made him the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for 4000 yards+ in his first two seasons as a starter. Furthermore, whilst he may not be a mobile quarterback in the Michael Vick mould, he proved his ability to run with the ball when required, rushing for 316 yards and five touchdowns. His performance looks even better when one considers the poor protection he was given by his offensive line which gave up 50 sacks.

It is not fair to dismiss the contributions of other Packers players such as Ryan Grant (who rushed for 1253 yards) and in the likes of Donald Driver, Greg Jennings and Jermichael Finley, Rodgers has very capable receivers. After all, what is the use of throwing a great pass if there is nobody to catch it? However, the fact is that Rodgers was the man charged with taking the Packers to the playoffs and he did. His impressive performances earned him a Pro-Bowl appearance where he ended up starting for the NFC team following an injury to Favre and Brees’s involvement in the Super Bowl. Once again he performed admirably, passing for 197 yards and two touchdowns.

In his first two seasons as a starter, Rodgers has established himself one of the NFL’s elite quarterbacks. His stats stand up against those of Favre, Brees, Manning, Roethlisberger etc. He has a lot to achieve before he can be considered a legend of the sport in the way his predecessor is, but if he can continue to perform at this high level for years to come, he just may be able to retire and say “yep, I filled Brett Favre’s shoes.”

Aaron Rodgers Quick Stats

Height: 6ft 2 inches

Weight: 225 lbs

College: University of California

Games Started: 36*

Passing Yards: 9741*

Passing Touchdowns: 67*

Interceptions: 26*

Passer Rating: 96.8*

Rushing Yards: 639*

Rushing Touchdowns: 11*

*Accurate as of Week 4 2010 season

Categories: American Football

Ryder Cup 2010: Monty’s Major

October 4, 2010 Leave a comment

Today (October 4th) at the Celtic Manor in Wales’s Usk Valley, Europe regained the Ryder Cup as the competition saw action on a Monday for the first time in its 83 year history. The win will mean a lot to golf fans throughout the continent; the 12 players and their families; but to no one will it mean more than it does to Colin Montgomerie.

Montgomerie is one of the finest golfers Europe has ever produced. The man affectionately known as ‘Monty’ has won the European Order of Merit a record eight times; has 31 European Tour Victories to his name (4th on the all-time list); holds a phenomenal Ryder Cup record of 23.5 points & never having lost a singles match and has reached a high ranking of two. The one thing missing from his vast collection of achievements however is a win in a so-called ‘Major.’ He has come mighty close, finishing runner-up at the US Open on three occasions; and once at The Open & USPGA respectively. With his best form seemingly behind him at the age of 47, Monty will most probably never win one now, but today, as captain of the European Ryder Cup Team, Monty finally won his Major.

Montgomerie is a man who commits fully to whatever he is doing and the prestigious Ryder Cup captaincy was no exception, as anybody who has watched him over the last four days will know. He has dashed around the golf course from match to match offering snippets of wisdom at crucial moments; marshalled his team of five carefully chosen vice captains and remained calm when others around him were starting to look a bit flustered. At the end of the first two completed sessions, Europe trailed 6-4 and there were some who surmised that the United States were going to retain their trophy comfortably. Colin Montgomerie had other ideas and worked his inspirational magic. In interviews for TV, both Ian Poulter and Martin Kaymer paid tribute to their captain’s optimistic and rousing speech, instilling them with the confidence to fight back. Whatever he said worked wonders as Europe stormed through the third session to take it 5½-½ and move in to a 9½-6½ lead going in to the singles matches.

Colin Montgomerie gives Padraig Harrington some advice during the 2010 Ryder Cup. (This image is the property of The Daily Telegraph)

Montgomery has pulled off several masterstrokes as captain, one being the selection of Luke Donald as a wildcard. Many questioned the wisdom of omitting world number seven Paul Casey, but Donald repaid Monty’s faith, winning his singles match against the $10 million man Jim Furyk at a point when the US team was threatening to overhaul the Europeans. Another wildcard pick, Edoardo Molinari, won what proved to be a crucial half point against Ricky Fowler to add to the one he won with brother Francesco against Stewart Cink and Matt Kuchar in Sunday’s fourballs. The tried and trusted players such as Westwood; Jiminez and Poulter (who was sensational throughout the tournament) did not let Montgomerie down either, but it is the affable Scot’s singles order selection that deserves most praise.

Despite Europe taking a three point lead in to singles, Monty refused to rest on his laurels. The US front loaded in an attempt to gather momentum, placing Steve Stricker; Stewart Cink and Jim Furyk in their opening three spots. Neither Phil Mickelson nor Tiger Woods (who today played what was described by one BBC reporter as “golf from another world” for ten holes) were chosen as Team USA’s anchor, with Corey Pavin instead opting for Hunter Mahan. Montgomerie kept an ace up his sleeve and selected Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell as his number 12.

This was a stroke of genius from the captain. McDowell proved his mettle earlier this year by winning the US Open at Pebble Beach. He held on in difficult conditions at Pebble Beach to beat Frenchman Gregory Havret by one stroke and was the only player to finish par for the tournament. Montgomerie therefore placed his faith in McDowell to anchor the team and as it transpired, this decision proved crucial.

The US came storming out of the blocks on the final day with Stricker beating Westwood and Dustin Johnson crushing Martin Kaymer. Cink halved his match with the precocious Rory McIlroy and Luke Donald saw off the in-form Jim Furyk. The teams then traded blows as Jeff Overton beat Ross Fisher and Miguel Angel Jiminez defeated Bubba Watson. However, after Woods annihilated Francesco Molinari; Mickelson beat Hanson; Zach Johnson dispatched Padraig Harrington and Edoardo Molinari could only score a half point against Ricky Fowler, McDowell suddenly needed to win to get Europe to the magic 14½ point total. The Ulsterman kept his cool as Mahan duffed a chip shot at the 17th and rolled his putt to within around five feet of the cup. After Mahan missed his putt, he conceded and Europe had regained the Ryder Cup. Monty’s faith in ‘G-Mac’ had been vindicated.

As the 17th green was overrun by jubilant players and over-zealous fans, Colin Montgomerie was nowhere to be seen. This was not an ego trip for Montgomerie, he had not done all this merely to bask in glory in front of the TV cameras, he had done it because he wanted to win for Europe; his players and of course himself. Instead of celebrating on the 17th green, the captain instead opted for a quiet moment of reflection in the clubhouse, presumably to take in what he and his team had just achieved.

As he stood on stage to give his speech, one could not help but notice what a class act Montgomerie is. He was gracious in victory, praising US captain Corey Pavin and the US team, as well as the fans; his own players; his vice captains and the green keepers at the Celtic Manor Resort, who have worked miracles over the last four days. As his speech drew to a close, Monty described it as “the greatest moment of my golfing career.”

Well done Monty, this was your long awaited Major.

Categories: Golf

Don King: The Man, the Myth, the Legend

October 3, 2010 Leave a comment

Don King; DK; The Shock Haired One. Whatever you may choose to call him, Don King is the most recognisable face in the sport of boxing. During his 38 years in boxing, King has blazed a trail. He has promoted over 500 world championship fights; paid 100 boxers $1million or more for a single fight; promoted or co-promoted seven of the top ten PPV events by total buys; become the first promoter to sell a fight to a prime-time TV network for $1 million & $2 million and put on the fight with the largest ever live gate. Much is said about King, some of it true, some of it not. Sport Report takes a closer look at the grand old man of boxing promotion.

The Man

Donald King was born in Cleveland, Ohio on August 31st 1931 into a working-class family. He lost his father at a young age when he died in a work-related accident, at which point his mother moved the family to a middle-class neighbourhood.

As a teenager, King became involved with gambling rackets, first working for other runners, then establishing himself as the most successful runner in Cleveland. King was accepted to Kent State University, but opted instead to focus on business ventures. This proved to be a good decision as King continued to make money, cruising round in flashy cars and wearing the latest fashions.

Things took a turn for the worse in 1954 when King ran in to his first legal troubles. King caught a man named Hillary Brown trying to rob one of his business properties and shot him. Brown died and King found himself facing a murder case. The shooting was deemed to be a justifiable homicide and King was free to continue his business activities. Thirteen years later however, King found himself in serious trouble with the law. King entered a gambling house and saw Sam Garrett, a former employee who reputedly owed King $600 and so King attacked him. Garrett died from his injuries. Witness accounts vary, with some saying it was a sustained beating intended to kill Garrett, while others said King had acted in self-defence. King once again found himself accused of murder and was found guilty. However, the presiding judge reduced the charge to manslaughter and so King served only four years at Marion Correctional Institute in Ohio. While in prison, King focussed on improving his level of education, reading much material from literary classics to philosophy.

Controversy seems to have followed the world’s most famous boxing promoter almost anywhere he has been and King has seen almost as much action in the courtroom as he has in the ring. In 1984, the IRS filed suit against him claiming tax fraud and although one of his associates was jailed, King was acquitted. In 1992, following evidence gathered during an FBI investigation, he was quizzed about his alleged involvement with known Mafiosi such as John Gotti. He pleaded the Fifth Amendment. A further case was brought in 1998 by insurance company Lloyd’s of London, which claimed that King had defrauded it of $350,000 in relation to a cancelled Julio Cesar Chavez fight in 1991.

Then there is the list of charges brought against King by boxers. In 1980, Muhammad Ali sued king for $1.2 million for underpaying him for a fight versus Larry Holmes, but settled out of court for a meagre $50,000. Tim Witherspoon successfully sued King for $900,000 and Terry Norris settled out of court for $7.5 million in a breach of contract case. In September 2009, Nicaraguan wild man Ricardo Mayorga filed a case alleging that King had failed to arrange fights for him. However, without doubt the most famous case came from Mike Tyson who described King as: “a wretched, slimy, reptilian motherfucker, and “a bad man, a real bad man. He would kill his own mother for a dollar. He’s ruthless, he’s deplorable and he doesn’t know how to love anybody.” Tyson believing he had been cheated out of large sums of money by his former promoter, sued for £100 million but eventually settled for $14 million.

Many things in the world of Don King may be shades of grey and somewhat murky, but one thing is crystal clear, nothing is boring when the man known as DK is around.

The Myth

Don King’s flamboyant and outspoken personality means that everyone has an opinion of the man. One commonly held opinion of King is that of a clueless clown who has achieved all he has through skulduggery. Sure, he talks too much and his hair looks like he is permanently connected to a van der Graaff generator. He carries around little flags on sticks and pointlessly quotes verses from the Bible, but a clueless clown Don King is not.

The man has been at the top of the boxing game for over 30 years now and that is no accident. He has been both shrewd and ruthless in equal measure, but what really sets King apart from his counterparts is his fearlessness. DK always backs himself to ‘pull it off,’ a prime example being the Rumble in the Jungle, which will be discussed later. This brash confidence, combined with a willingness to tread on other people’s toes and excellent business acumen, have made King the king of boxing promotion.

The Legend

Whatever your opinion of Don King, it cannot be disputed that he is one of the most famous faces in boxing. Throughout his illustrious career, King has promoted some of the greatest fighters ever to grace a ring including: Muhammad Ali; Joe Frazier; Larry Holmes; Roberto Duran; Mike Tyson; Evander Holyfield; Julio Cesar Chavez; Bernard Hopkins; Felix Trinidad; Marco Antonio Barrera and Roy Jones Jr.

His career in boxing began in 1972 when he convinced Muhammad Ali to take part in a boxing exhibition in aid of a local hospital in Cleveland, but the making of King came just two years later when he fended off a whole host of rivals to secure promotional rights to the highly anticipated George Foreman-Muhammad Ali fight. King was still a relative newcomer to the fight game at this point, but was able to achieve this by offering a previously unheard of fight purse of $10 million. Many were baffled as to how King was able to fund this and some even speculated that he secured the fight first and then worried about how he was going to pay for it. King eventually struck a deal with the government in Zaire and the fight was held in Kinshasa, hence the name Rumble in the Jungle. Whatever King’s methods were, he delivered and the fight became the stuff of folklore as the underdog Ali went on to beat the previously undefeated Foreman by 8th round stoppage.

King cemented his position as the pre-eminent promoter of the time a year later when he put on the Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier rematch. King took the fight to the Philippines and dubbed it The Thriller in Manila. The fight was one of the greatest the heavyweight division had ever seen and Don King Promotions (DKP) had once again delivered the goods.

With his status as the heavyweight division’s leading promoter all but secure, King began to branch out in to lower weight classes by signing the likes of Roberto Duran; Salvador Sanchez; Wilfred Benitez and Alexis Arguello.

The 1980s saw the heyday of Mike Tyson, as the Brooklyn native smashed his way to the undisputed heavyweight championship. Inevitably, it was King that oversaw this meteoric rise and made a fortune doing so. Tyson was King’s cash cow and this, coupled with King’s hold over fighters such as Terry Norris; Aaron Pryor; Meldrick Taylor and Julio Cesar Chavez, made King the most influential promoter in the sport. As if that were not enough, he went outside of boxing and promoted the Jacksons’ reunion tour in 1984.

The King-Tyson partnership eventually ended in acrimony (as mentioned above) but King powered on in to the 1990s, promoting the likes of Gerald McClellan; Marco Antonio Barrera and his new superstar, Felix ‘Tito’ Trinidad.

Don King continued to be a major player in boxing in to the new millennium and although his influence has waned as the likes of Top Rank and Golden Boy Promotions have taken over as the major players, he has still had recent world champions such as Nikolai Valuev; Ricardo Mayorga; Cory Spinks and Marco Antonio Barrera.

The intriguing story with King is this: is he, at the grand old age of 79, about to regain his place as boxing promotion’s top dog? Maybe. He was spotted at Cory Spinks’ fight in August sat next to current pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather and rumours have since been rife that the two are keen to work together. First Floyd must do what King has done expertly on several occasions and beat the law, but if he does and King can then deliver what nobody else has been able to, a Mayweather-Pacquiao fight, his legend will grow further still. Given King’s track record of ‘getting it done,’ it may not be as ridiculous as it seems.

Categories: Boxing