In recent years, Bellator fighting championships has solidified its hold as the nation’s #2 Mixed Martial Arts promotion, behind only the UFC in terms of revenue and exciting fights. Well, revenue, anyway. After last Thursday’s Bellator 90, in which there were six fights and six finishes on the main card alone, Bellator has strengthened an already compelling argument that it can deliver the goods.
This coming Thursday, Feb 28—as in, the day after tomorrow—Bellator is coming to the Santa Ana Star Casino in Bernalillo. Several local fighters are on the card, including boxer Holly Holm, who will be taking her third MMA fight against Katie Merrill.
Holm comes in as a favorite, at least in terms of hometown sentiment and big fight experience. But in the world of MMA, both Holm and Merrill are newbies. Merrill has a ground game, if she can get the fight there. Holm, one would expect, wants to keep it standing. The decorated boxer has a mean kicking game as well as boxing, having ended her first MMA fight via kicks to her opponents’ legs. Holm’s world-class striking will be a lethal asset as long as she can stay on her feet. If she gets tested on her back, the hometown crowd will surely be gritting its teeth.
However evenly matched it is, Holm has the most to lose. Just ask Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal, who came in as a heavy favorite and ended up on the wrong end of a highlight-reel knockout. “Mo” came out with his hands low, as if he believed merely having Jeff Mayweather in his corner would grant him powers of immunity. Emanuel Newton ended that fantasy with a perfectly placed spinning backfist that hit the “off switch” as perfectly as a single punch could.
Holm, we assume, won’t be bogged down with that kind of hubris, even though she has an even better striking coach in her corner, Mike Winkeljohn. And I can attest that she will come in shape. I saw her last night at Wink’s Gym, where she trains and teaches a weekly cardio heavy bag class. (She won’t be teaching this Thursday; the gym will be closed because everyone will be at the fight).
She wasn’t there to train last night, but to hold pads for a teammate. I briefly chatted with her, and she was relaxed. She may have a lot more to lose than her opponent, but if she couldn’t handle that kind of pressure, she wouldn’t be a fighter.
Tomorrow, look here for updates on some of the other local fighters on Thursday’s Bellator card at Santa Ana Star.
The 2013 National Basketball Association's All-Star Weekend in Houston is officially in the books, and the League, after suffering through a lockout-shortened season last year, is back on track in a major way. While LeBron James is playing at a record-breaking efficiency rate and the Lakers have stumbled in ways that no one expected, the regular season has been full of drama. Tony Parker of the San Antonio Spurs might be having his best season ever and the Oklahoma City Thunder, after shocking the League by trading James Harden have quietly put together one of their best seasons. The Boston Celtics are in the midst of proving the Ewing Theory as valid, going 8-1 in games since star point guard Rajon Rondo went down. And the Chicago Bulls are sitting in fifth place in the Eastern Conference despite Derrick Rose being far from returning to the court.
In the midst of this tumultuous return-to-glory season, the NBA's just-over-halfway break is a welcome change of pace for the competitors. On Friday night, things kicked off in the most relaxed way possible: an All-Star game in name only, celebrities and ex-players attempted to show off their skills. Amongst the players this year: Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who played professionally in Australia, and comedian Kevin Hart, who makes a habit of winning the MVP trophy in these games, whether he has the best game or not. Theoretically, after the celebs get off the court, things are supposed to pick up a notch. Formerly called the Rookies versus Sophomores Game, All-Star Friday night's last event has been rechristened the Rising Stars Challenge. The reason? The NBA wanted to break up the 1st and 2nd year players, making for a more competitive game. This year's game showed that intentions don't always follow format. The Rising Stars game's final score was 163-135.
Things were planned to pick up on Saturday night, but once again didn't necessarily live up to expectations. After the much-maligned Shooting Stars challenge, the guards took to the floor for the Skills Challenge. The only safe bet was that defending champ Tony Parker wouldn't want to win again in order to avoid being asked back next year. Damian Lillard won the event with a time of 29.8 seconds. After the presumable rookie of the year got his trophy, the anticipation for the next two events continued to build. Normally a snoozable event, the Three Point Contest had received a little press for the grassroots Twitter campaign of Matt Bonner. Bonner's dedication to the event paid off when he made the final round, but he couldn't overcome the red-hot shooting of last year's ROY, Kyrie Irving. Last but not least, the Dunk Contest was supposed to be filled with pure dunkers, despite a lack of star-powered names. While Gerald Green got things off on the right foot the first dunk of the night, the contest quickly descended and shooting sunk to less than 30 percent. Granted, some of the dunks were incredibly difficult, but it's hard to maintain enthusiasm for something when the misses are piling up. Terrence Ross of the Toronto Raptors eventually took the crown from last year's champ, Jeremy Evans, despite an amazing so-cheesy-it-was-good dunk where Evans jumped over a painting of himself dunking.
When Sunday finally rolled around, the elements were all in place for a great game, the cream of the basketball crop getting to play fast-paced ball without any of that pesky defense getting in the way. The game never descended into the trap of a blowout that makes viewers tune out and players give up on anything other than one-on-one clear outs and dunk contests. The biggest attention gatherers were the MVP-performance of Chris Paul and the stifling defense that Kobe Bryant played on LeBron James down the stretch. More than anything else, those two factors led to the West triumphing over the East, with a final score of 143-138.
The NBA's regular schedule returns on Tuesday as the players make ready for the second half of the season and the push to the playoffs.
In making a furious comeback over the Falcons, San Francisco firmly established their young quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, as a foundational piece for the future. After recordinga performance in last week's game against the Packers that tops the list of rushing yards for a quarterback, Kaepernick continued his hot streak, matching Matt Ryan in efficiency, if not in yards thrown. The 49ers got the all-important W, and coach Harbaugh's decision to switch Alex Smith out of the quarterback position in favor of Kaepernick seems validated. The 49ers will be appearing in their sixth Super Bowl. They have won all five of their previous big games. They are the only team in NFL history to have an undefeated Super Bowl record. It's a lofty record to rest on the shoulders of a young man who took over the team during their sixth game of this season. However, he's proved himself to be more than capable.
In stark contrast to San Francisco's reliance on a young QB, the Baltimore Ravens showed that their defense still reigns supreme. Their leader, Ray Lewis, announced that this season is his swan song. He is just about set up to exit the stage on a perfect note. The Ravens smashed the Tom Brady-led Patriots. Humbling the would-be dynasty with a smothering defense in the second half, and leading to the Patriots' first ever defeat at home after leading at half. Baltimore is far from a one-note team. Generating plenty of heat from the QB position, they've gotten more from Joe Flacco than ever before. The 5 year veteran has hovered right around the same completion rate for each of his seasons, but he's played with a loose air this postseason that is reflected in this Super Bowl appearance. This mixture of Flacco's experience on offense, and Lewis' veteran status on defense combines to make the Ravens a tough out.
For now, the two teams will retreat to their respective corners and cede the spotlight to the Pro Bowl, while their coaches plot strategy. But next week, as media day approaches and the teams arrive in New Orleans, the bright lights will appear even more frequently as we all prepare for something unseen: brothers coaching against one another in a Super Bowl. Fortunately, the teams match up well enough to justify all the hype it's going to get. The San Francisco 49ers get the early edgeas 4-point favorites, proving that sometimes, the little brother can have an advantage.
Last Thursday the local media was invited to open workouts at Jackson/Winkeljohn MMA academy, and to interview the teams fighters that are competing this weekend in Chicago’s United Center on UFC on Fox 6. Albuquerque-born Flyweight John Dodson will battle Demetrius Johnson for the title in the main event. Also on the card, Donald Cerrone fights Anthony Pettis at Lightweight, and Clay Guida makes his Featherweight debut against Japanese star Hatsu Hioki. Check the paper on Thursday for a full story. Meanwhile, please enjoy these video interviews.
It's official in all but the most limited capacities now: Oprah Winfrey has confirmed that Lance Armstrong confessed to using performance-enhancing drugs. The interview was apparently so intense (or somebody really needs the ratings so badly) that it's going to be split into two parts. The first half will air tomorrow night, as originally planned, but the second half will be shown on Friday, extending Lance's confession into movie-length territory. This seems appropriate for a used-to-the-publicity Armstrong. When he was diagnosed with cancer and subsequently told that there was a significant chance he wouldn't live, he beat the odds. After that, he went on to win an unprecedented seven Tour de France races in a row. After retiring from the sport in 2004, he made a comeback that went better than anyone had a right to expect. He maintained his innocence all that time, despite the cloud of PEDs hanging over cycling in general, and the news of other winners being stripped of their titles. He continuously flaunted his 100% pass rate of the United States Anti-Doping Agency's tests, despite claims from others that he shouldn’t have been able to do so.
But last year, when news broke that the World Anti-Doping Agency and its U.S.-based affiliate had finally accumulated enough evidence against Armstrong, he retreated. He said he wouldn't be “hounded anymore.” He said he wouldn't legitimize their witch hunt against him. And the general public started to doubt. They started to waver in their commitment to the man who made cycling a topic at all in America. And most of all, there were some who felt duped. Not just by the sporting accomplishments of Armstrong, but by arguably the biggest category of his life, the one thing conspicuously missing from his bio thus far: his super successful charity, Livestrong.
It's hard to separate the story of Lance Armstrong, world-renowned cyclist and recently-admitted doper, from the story of Lance Armstrong, cancer survivor and advocate. Some argue that it's impossible. Because of the amazing work that Armstrong did in raising awareness of the disease and the incredible funds his foundation has raised in fighting its spread, his doping case doesn't seem to be as clear cut as the baseball Hall of Fame voters seem to think their era's cloud is. There were claims, after the news broke last year about Armstrong's doping, that Livestrong donations increased. There were also individuals who said they felt cheated and they wanted their donations back.
And therein lies the rub in the case of Lance Armstrong. Some feel "hoodwinked" and others feel like his inspirational message trumps all else. Why is he confessing to Oprah now? We won't know until everything's out, and the show doesn't air its first part until tomorrow. But as contrite as Armstrong may be, as much as he may want to focus on moving forward with triathlons or re-focusing on the good the Livestrong foundation does in its fight against cancer, there will be some who never forget or forgive. Armstrong doesn't always put his best foot forward and it will be interesting, to say the least, to see where he goes from here.
After a heartbreaking first-of-the-season loss to South Dakota State at home last Saturday and a drop from bothnational ranking polls, Alford’s pups have a lot to prove in tonight’s game.
Cincinnati, averaging almost 80 points per game and over 46 (that’s right, 46) rebounds per game, is one of the last undefeated team in the nation. However, none of these wins have come over ranked opponents, and this team, while clearly strong, hasn’t exactly had a chance to prove itself in what some are calling a “cupcake schedule.”
UNM, with its second-best start in school history at 12-1, had outrebounded other teams by an average of 5.3 points and held opponent shooting to 40.1% from the field leading into Saturday’s catastrophe. With a deep bench, high endurance and a strong defensive bite, this Lobo team has proven itself a worthy opponent in the early-season race.
There is no doubt about it, sparks are going to fly in the east-meets-west matchup between one team looking to hold onto its reputation and another trying to regain it. Let’s just hope the Lobos come in fierce and fighting.
Catch all the action at 7 p.m. on ESPN2 or follow along on the ESPN scoreboard. Let’s get ready to throw our Lobo hands in the air and hoooowl!
For the majority of the teams in the National Football League, the playoff picture is beginning to take shape. On the AFC side, things are relatively clear-cut. The New England Patriots, Houston Texans and Denver Broncos have clinched the AFC East, South and West, respectively, and the Baltimore Ravens have claimed the North.
The New York Jets, the ugly step-sister in the eyes of New Yorkers infatuated with the Giants are out of the playoffs, and have benched their quarterback. The big-sister Giants, don't forget, won the Super Bowl last year in a dramatic fashion.
On the NFC side of the football divisions, the Green Bay Packers have secured the North, as has become habit for the publicly-owned team. The Packers are looking as strong as ever, but perhaps not as strong as the San Francisco 49ers, who have sealed at least a playoff berth in the NFC West, and are well thought-of in the ESPN Power Rankings. The 49ers and the Packers both have favorable schedules to end the season.
The Atlanta Falcons have ruled the NFC South's roost so far and sent a bruising message last week to the Giants and, perhaps, the rest of the NFC East as well. But that's where things get confusing.
The Washington Redskins, Dallas Cowboys and those champs from last year, the New York Giants, are all tied at the top of the NFC East with records of 8-6, leaving this competitive division as the last playoff knot to untie. And with only two weeks of regular season games left to play, the schedule makers have done football fans a huge favor by making sure that, even if next week is relatively calm, exciting rivalries are short in coming.
The last week of the regular season will bring over-hyped (and almost mathematically eliminated) Philly to the home of the Giants and, most importantly, Dallas to Washington. By scheduling these division rivalries at the end of the season, the NFL succeeds in two respects. First of all, neither the Cowboys nor the Redskins will be resting any players who should otherwise be playing. They'll want every able body to fight for playoff position. Secondly, we get super-compelling TV to watch, even when some of the other games that week (The Jets in Buffalo, anyone?) aren't going to be very interesting.
With the Lobos' victory over the Valparaiso Cruisaders last weekend, they improved to 10-0, their best start since going 12-0 back in 2009. Fans are extremely happy because there is a high chance that they can at least match that opening record this season.
This Lobo team is just as deep as last year's and possibly even deeper. Alex Kirk sat last season out due to an injury, but has started this season off with some exciting play that has helped earn the Lobos the number 17 spot in the Associated Press top 25.
"They are being mentally challenged right now," head coach Steve Alford said in the post-USC victory radio interview in reference to the final exams that the players were focusing on. But he admitted that they would also be physically challenged in attempt to keep their undefeated record alive. Challenging the players during finals week paid off with another victory, and we'll just have to wait and see how it affected them academically.
The next three games that the Lobos play are games against unranked opponents that should add more victories to their impressive resume. In fact, the next game that should pose any challenge will be when they face the 11th ranked Cincinnati Bearcats on the road. Starting with this game on the Dec 27th, the Lobo's schedulewill increase in difficulty as they move into conference play soon afterwards.
This year, the Mountain West Conference is arguably the most competitive it has ever been. While the Lobos are definitely one of the best teams in the conference, there are several teams that would like to take the conference championship away from them this year.
San Diego State is currently rankedjust below the Lobos in the AP top 25. This makes sense considering last year the Lobos were able to win two out of three matches against the Aztecs. There are also the UNLV Runnin' Rebels and the Wyoming Cowboys who are going to give the Lobos tough matches. While Wyoming is not currently ranked, there is a good chance that they will be because they are receiving votes in both the AP top 25 and the USA Today Coaches polls and have also started out with a perfect 10-0.
With high expectations this year, the Lobos are going to have to practice hard and show some true resilience as they face the stiff competition of conference play.
This past weekend, the National Hockey League should have been entering its ninth week of the season. While ESPN's front page for the NHL touts their collaboration with EA Sports on an innovative video game, no simulation highlights package is going to cover up the fact that the NHL, having canceled their season through mid-December's All Star Break, is in a precipitous position.
When the NHL announced that it was scrubbing the All-Star Game, the season should have already been under way. In truth, this has been a long time coming. Some hockey fans might even claim that it's a remnant from the previous lockout.
The poll results on ESPN's article, although far from scientific, speak strongly to people's beliefs that there will not be a hockey season this year. The commissioner of the NHL, Gary Bettman, has taken his fair share of the blame for this lockout. But there will always be those who look at the situation from the outside and think any players refusing to play a game for thousands—or hundreds of thousands—of dollars are the greedy ones. With the NHL Players’ Association union chief, Donald Fehr claiming that the sides are close to working out a deal and Bettman claiming the opposite, it's hard to know what exactly is going to happen with this season.
Stars such as Sidney Crosby are reportedly looking into playing overseas. This is a fine option if you're one of the most marketable names in the entire league, but doesn't help many more than the top ten percent of the NHL. Having gone witnessed one recently, NBA fans are familiar with situations such as JR Smith's delayed return from China and the troubles that might be associated with playing outside the U.S.
The back-and-forth of professional hockey has been more of a rule than an exception in comparison to other leagues, but that doesn't excuse the lack of progress by now. Bettman's palpable anger at a recent press conference is merely the latest salvo in a war that's been waged since he took over as commissioner of the league. It's also a sharp reminder that the NHL is the only major sports league in America to ever miss an entire season. Seven years ago, the entirety of the 2004-2005 season was lost to labor disputes.
With rumors circulating this morning that that more games had been canceled, the NHL is teetering on the brink of furthering its own irrelevance and setting back most, if not all, of the gains that had been made since that lost season.
Major League Soccer has officially put the 2012 season to bed. In a rematch of last year's finals, the Los Angeles Galaxy beat the Houston Dynamos 3-1 after scoring all three of their goals in the second half, two of which were penalty kicks.
The game, of course, was a fitting cap to David Beckham's career, which is all anyone can talk about when it comes to soccer. In America, we're still waiting for a transcendent star to break the glass ceiling of soccer's appeal to the masses. Many thought it would be Beckham, but while plenty are finding reason to celebrate in his going out on top, there have been rough patches in his MLS career as well.
The simple truth is that soccer, even at its post-Beckham level, is nowhere near the popularity of the four major sports in America. Football is king. There are a myriad basketball and baseball purists. Even hockey, a virtually unheralded sport in New Mexico, has regional swells of popularity. By pure television rankings of championship events, the Super Bowl crushes all the sports combined. An estimated 111 million Americans tuned in to the big game last February. The last baseball championship, where the San Francisco Giants swept the Detroit Tigers, managed 15.5 million viewers for Game 4. The Miami Heat’s triumph over the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 5 nabbed 18.4 million viewers. When the Los Angeles Kings beat the New Jersey Devils in Game 6, the NHL only wrangled five million viewers. This year's MLS Cup meanwhile, backtracking on the progress they'd made last year, managed only a 0.7 Nielsen rating. This translates to just over one million viewers.
Experts have offered suggestions about how to improve the ratings, but it still remains that soccer is averaging significantly fewer viewers for its championship game than the NCAA women's college basketball championship game, which is dismissed outright by many sports fans. It seems to be a chicken or egg problem: sponsors aren't going to spend money supporting a game that isn't bringing sets of eyes to the tube, but without that money and hype, how will people be attracted?
David Beckham was going to be that answer. For now, the question remains unsolved. But don't feel bad for Beckham. He's going to play for another year somewhere before returning to MLS with some sort of managerial or ownership role. And don't pity the Los Angeles Galaxy. Joining the NHL Kings, they're now the reigning champs of a sport that few might be tuning in for, but which still allows plenty of room for growth.