Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Mayweather's "cheap shot" not so cheap

I've wanted to update for the last few days, but thanks to an annoying habit of getting sick every time the weather changes, I just haven't felt up to it. Now that I'm back to full strength, posts should be back to a regular basis.

Saturday night I sat down and watched the Floyd Mayweather / Victor Ortiz fight, which has to be one of the strangest, yet most entertaining, sports-related things I've seen in recent memory.
For those of you who aren't aware, many people are calling it one of the most bizarre ends to a title fight, ever. Midway through the fourth round - after "Money" Mayweather had maintained control through most of the fight - Ortiz began battling back and had Mayweather reeling in the corner. In a midst of his punch combinations, Ortiz dropped boxing etiquette and went for a headbutt, busting open Mayweather's lip. Everything stopped for a moment as referee Joe Cortez broke the two apart, warned Ortiz with a point deduction and then made the two tap gloves. 
Floyd "Money" Mayweather drops Victor Ortiz with
a 1-2 combo punch for the win after a headbutt
from Ortiz prompted a brief stop in the match.
Source: AP
That's when things got weird.
Ortiz went to apologize, even going as far as to plant a kiss on Mayweather's cheek. Although Cortez wasn't looking directly at the two fighters, the fight was still on. Mayweather was ready to keep fighting while Ortiz kept his hands to his side. Spotting the opportunity, he decked Ortiz with a left and then a right, and that was that. The ref counted to 10, and Mayweather's record improved to 42-0. 
Some people argued that it was a cheap shot, that Mayweather took advantage of Ortiz, that he should have shown more class by waiting until his opponent was ready, etc. After everything was said and done, it was a legal shot, and I say that's enough. 
What was Mayweather supposed to do, stand back and let the guy who just headbutted him get ready? The referee initiated the restart, and Ortiz kept his hands down. I may not know much about boxing, but I do know that protecting yourself is a big part of it. Granted, the avid boxing fan is probably upset about the whole thing.

Floyd "Money" Mayweather stands in the ring after
knocking Victor Ortiz to the mat with what some
people are calling a "cheap shot."
Source: AP
But if Ortiz is going to ignite the situation with a headbutt, he'd better be ready when the fight goes on. 
Perhaps I'm biased in this, because I was pulling for Mayweather when the fight began. Like I said, I'm not a hardcore boxing fan by any means, but the guy entertains me. His tirades, his attitude, his flashiness - he backs all of it up once he steps in the ring, and that's all that really matters in boxing. That's why I like him. Michael Jordan was the same way, and look at how people adore him. 
And despite all of the knocks against his ego, Mayweather is ultimately good for the sport of boxing. Even if people are buying pay-per-views and tuning in to root against him, they're still watching. I don't think the average person has cared as much about boxing since the days of Mike Tyson, much for the same reasons.
The post-match interview with HBO's Larry Merchant didn't do much to help Mayweather's reputation, either. Within moments, the welterweight champ ranted and raved about how the 80-year-old Merchant never gave him a "fair shake" and how HBO should fire him. How did Merchant respond? "If I were 50 years younger, I'd kick your ass!" 
That's great TV.
After the match, Floyd "Money" Mayweather tells
80-year-old Larry Merchant that he never gets
"a fair shake" and refuses the interview.
Source: AP
Again, I'm no boxing fan, so I can't say that he's disrespectful to the sport or that he's desecrating the history of it all, because I truly don't know. But as someone who sat down to watch a pay-per-view, it was all worth it. It was entertaining, thrilling, controversial - all things that will have me coming back for more. So thanks to Mayweather's ego, the absurdity of rapper 50 Cent carrying his titles to the ring for him, the "cheap shot," and the rant afterwards, I will probably keep up with boxing now more than ever. Those may not be the best reasons to start following a sport closely, but it's true. 

On a side note, I truly hope Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao come to an agreement about facing one another. Pacquiao is scheduled to fight Juan Manuel Marquez next month, but no matches have been announced by either he or Mayweather after that. They're the two most popular boxers right now, and they're both in the same weight class, which is unprecedented. Hopefully it gets squared away and the boxing world gets to see what it wants. 

Monday, September 12, 2011

Thoughts from NFL Week 1 (cont.)

Is Cam Newton really that good?
Despite rookie quarterback Cam Newton's national championship-winning season at Auburn last year, there were a number of questions whether or not his playing style would translate to success at the professional level. After watching the Heisman Trophy winner's performance on Sunday, many of those questions have been answered.
Carolina Panthers rookie QB Cam Newton
threw for a rookie debut record 422 yards
in a 28-21 loss to the Arizona Cardinals Sunday.
Source: AP
Although the Carolina Panthers fell to the Arizona Cardinals, 28-21, it wasn’t due to a lack of trying or talent on Newton’s part. The 6-foot-5 play-caller completed 24-of-37 passes for 422 yards – the most ever by a rookie in his debut – with two highlight reel touchdown throws to wideout Steve Smith.
Arizona eventually took control of the game with a pair of fourth quarter scores, putting them up by a touchdown with minutes to play. The Panthers had a chance for a tie with a 1st-and-10 opportunity at the Arizona 11, but couldn't come up with the right play to score. Regardless of the outcome, Newton looked like he belonged in the league.
In the weeks leading up to the start of the season, everyone expected the Panthers to ease Newton into their system by primarily keeping the ball on the ground. Instead, Newton threw the ball 37 times while their running back tandem of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart notched a combined total of only 19 rushes for 56 yards. So much for easing in the rookie.
The impressive thing about Newton's official debut wasn't the numbers he put up or the throws he made, but instead it was the poise he showed. The No. 1 draft pick showed he was worthy of that distinction, stepping into the starting quarterback role with almost no problem. He did throw an interception into double-coverage earlier in the game, but everything else Newton did on Sunday looked almost like it was exactly what he wanted to happen.
At times he looked like a veteran quarterback, sticking in the pocket when protection broke down instead of forcing unnecessary scrambles or bad passes. Although Newton has the ability to get out and run, he stuck to the game plan and it made him look like a star. Some of the passes he made - especially the two TDs to Smith - looked effortless.
Don't get me wrong, I don't expect Newton to put up 400+ yards every single game or to become the league's top quarterback overnight. He's still a rookie and there's still a lot of learning that he needs to do. But for now, the question of whether or not he's really that good has been answered.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Thoughts from NFL Week 1

From Thursday night's season-opener to Sunday's all-day football marathon, the NFL has already provided plenty of story lines to keep an eye on for the next five months. In just a few days, the 2011-2012 season has already begun to take shape. Granted - as I sit here midway through the fast half of the Redskins-Giants game - the first week isn't even over yet, but that doesn't mean there aren't some things for NFL fans to consider.

Is there any team in the NFL that relies on one player more than the Indianapolis Colts depend on Peyton Manning?
Colts starting quarterback Peyton Manning
will miss at least 2-to-3 months while he
recovers from neck surgery.
Source: AP
I don't think so. The 35-year-old's status for the season is now in doubt after undergoing his third neck surgery in 19 months just days before the start of the season. With an expected recovery time of two to three months, it's not out of the question that Manning will opt to miss the entire year and come back stronger in 2012.
So in his absence, the Colts signed 38-year-old Kerry Collins out of retirement and gave him the reigns of the offense with just three weeks to learn the playbook. Needless to say, that move didn't pay off in Week 1.
Collins's stats (16-of-31, 194 yards and a touchdown) don't necessarily show that he played badly, but the 34-7 loss to division rival Houston Texans tells the whole story. Indianapolis gave up 34 straight points to Houston - who was without starting running back Arian Foster - before Collins finally tossed a 6-yard touchdown pass to Reggie Wayne with 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter and the game well out of reach.
It's not that Collins isn't a good quarterback. He has proven to be a very good back-up and at times, a serviceable starter. In fact, he played well during his time with the Tennessee Titans. But for the Colts to sign this guy, who was already retired, three weeks before the season starts and put him in charge of the Indianapolis offense - what did they think was going to happen?
The starting quarterback position for the Colts isn't like any other job in the NFL. If anyone has even taken the time to watch one play with Manning at the helm, it's like watching a painter working on his masterpiece. Even if it's as simple as a run up the middle, Manning barks out orders, calls for adjustments from his offensive line and audibles into something he might like just a little bit better. Every. Single. Time. And it works, too. The former Tennessee Volunteer is easily the smartest quarterback in the league, and his knowledge of the Colts playbook is ridiculous.
No other team in the league relies on a single player as much as the Colts rely on Manning. If the Most Valuable Player award was actually given to the league's MVP, Manning would win it every year. For Indianapolis to sign Collins and give him three weeks to step into Manning's shoes only sets him and the rest of the team up for failure.
While Peyton Manning (left) misses the next several months
recovering from neck injury, it's up to 16-year veteran
Kerry Collins (right) to fill in the void.
Source: Getty Images
It's going to be interesting to see where they go from here. I'll be back later with more story lines from Week 1, so check back in a few hours for more.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Should college athletes get paid?

Former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel
resigned in May after several of his
players were caught selling team
memorabilia to a local tattoo parlor.
The other day I was having a conversation with someone about the start of college football season and who we thought would do what, when the conversation turned to Ohio State and all of its recent troubles.
For those who don't know, the Buckeyes had an interesting summer. In May, Jim Tressel resigned as head coach after 10 years and a national championship amid reports of his players receiving improper benefits from a local tattoo parlor in exchange for jerseys, trophies, etc. Long story short, Ohio State broke several NCAA laws because its players wanted free tattoos.
"If the NCAA paid college athletes, wouldn't that get rid of most of its problems?" my friend asked.
It's a question that the NCAA has had to face more recently than ever, and a question that may never have a clear answer. It's a touchy subject but I, for one, don't think so.
College athletes do get paid. There's no way you can justify that college athletes don't get paid when the university provides full scholarships, room and board, book costs, lab fees and whatever else comes with being a college student. Many of the advocates for paying players insist that the money the university provides doesn't cover the necessary needs of living. It would be one thing if Ohio State's players were pawning bowl game trophies so they could afford milk and bread at the local supermarket, but they weren't. They were selling memorabilia so they could get free tattoos.
But if you pay players, how do you determine how much? If you pay them all the same, then what's stopping someone from seeking more cash from outside - and illegal - sources because they want to make more money than their teammates? Then again, perhaps the university will pay each player by his value to the team. How then do you reasonably justify paying the star quarterback more money than an offensive lineman, despite them investing the same amount of time during practice and in games? There's more trouble to be gained by paying college athletes than if the NCAA keeps the system the way it is.
Also, people argue that it's not fair for players to have to attend college, go to class and adopt a student-athlete lifestyle in the first place before they can turn professional. What they don't understand is that nobody is making these players do anything. If you're the best high school basketball player in the country, there's nothing that says you have to enroll in college. With the new age requirement nowadays, players can't jump straight to the NBA ranks, but there are other options. Go play overseas, enter the NBA's Development League or, hey, join the job force until you're old enough to enter the draft. But don't enroll in college and then break NCAA laws by taking money because you don't think you're receiving the proper reimbursement for your contributions.
Keep in mind, these athletes agreed to cooperate with NCAA rules when they became college students. It's not like there was some unreadable fine print that tricked them into that situation. They knew what they were getting into.
College isn't just about getting a degree and then beginning a career, either. It's a place where, although a piece of paper at the end of four years can justify you getting a job, you hone your skills and try to become better at what you want to do in life. In using myself as an example, I want to be a journalist. I chose to attend college because that was the right choice for me to continue doing what I wanted to do. I could have found ways to write without doing that, but I knew a college degree would certainly help in the future. Once I was there, I spent hours and hours working for the university's student newspaper. I worked hard during my time there, and now I feel I'm a much better writer than if I hadn't. I dedicated my time in college to working toward what I wanted, which is a mindset college athletes looking for money may want to adopt.
College athletes should forget about trying to make money for the time being and worry about getting better on the field. If they do that, perhaps they'll have a better chance at turning professional and making tons of money when the time is right. If they don't, and let's just say they get caught accepting money, then they will most likely lose all chances of playing for that school again. There goes playing time, there goes weight room workouts, there goes getting better, there goes making it to the pros, there goes a multi-million dollar contract. Because you want a free tattoo? It seems like college athletes don't even think about what they're jeopardizing when they take money and break NCAA rules.
Now don't get me wrong, I don't think all college athletes take money. In fact, I'd say a 99 percent probably don't. But it's the other five percent that just doesn't get it. Do what everyone else in college does. Go to class, do what you need to do, suffer through meals of cold pizza and Ramen noodles and then turn professional when the time is right. Until then, just play by the rules.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

College football finally arrives

It's finally here.
Since the NFL's lockout prevented me from getting my usual football preparation fix during the summer, and baseball season seems to go on for years, it means the arrival of college football is that much sweeter.
Tonight marks the beginning of the college football season, with 15 match-ups slated for this evening. Though only two teams in tonight's games rank in the top 25 (UNLV at No. 11 Wisconsin on ESPN, No. 20 Mississippi State at Memphis), it doesn't really matter. What does matter is how awesome it will be to finally see some people in pads hitting each other for real. The NFL preseason has been underway for weeks, but everybody knows those games are more for warm-up than anything.
The college game seems a lot purer, anyway. Despite Miami's recently-publicized troubles in their failure to follow NCAA guidelines, college players are - for the most part - playing because they simply like to play. There's no $500,000 bonus waiting in their locker if they catch a certain amount of passes, no Cadillac Escalade in the driveway and no endorsement deals. I may be a bit naive, but I guess deep down, I hope college players play to be the best and forget about pro careers and money - at least for a little while.
With college football, there's so much more excitement in the NFL because there's no (or shouldn't be) money involved. I care more about who is in the race for the Heisman than who just got a huge paycheck. I want more conference battles than free agency talks. And for me, NCAA Football is much more fun to play than Madden.
With the start of the college football season comes excitement, pride and history.
I, for one, can't wait.