Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Latest

Sorry about the long delay between posts, but I've been preoccupied with real-life over the last few weeks to the point that I haven't had time for pro football or MMA or just about anything else.

Over the last few weeks, we've seen the training camp and the preseason crawl by with little to focus on. For the Jets, the Revis hold-out saga continues with little in the way of concrete information about a resolution. Dallas Morning News columnist Tim Cowlinshaw made news on Sunday when he claimed that "credible sources" had informed him that Revis would be reporting to camp by Wednesday, and that a new deal was imminent, but no one has been able to confirm that story and Cowlinshaw looks like a fool at this point, at best.

As for what's taking place on the field, the Jets first-team defense has looked pretty solid, and it looks like the secondary is adjusting to life without Revis. The defensive starters gave up one big play against the Giants, and smacked the Carolina Panthers' starters last Saturday night.

The offense is a different story. We have yet to demonstrate we can run the ball with the same effectiveness we did last season, and I have been thoroughly unimpressed with Mark Sanchez thus far. Like most Jet fans, I really want Sanchez to excel, and I'm looking for any proof that he's showing the improvement necessary to legitimately make the 2010 squad contenders down the road. However, I'm still seeing a young QB with happy feet in the pocket, a guy who forces the ball in the middle of the field, and a terrible ballhandler.

Ballhandling is one of the most underrated skills of a good quarterback. When your QB drops into play-action, he should have the ability to freeze the secondary in the middle of the field. He doesn't have to be a Houdini who makes the free safety take several steps in the wrong direction while faking out the cameraman (like Chad Pennington did when he was at his best), but it shouldn't be obvious to a guy on his couch (like me) that it's a fake before he even reaches the tailback. A good QB should look the same on a seven-step drop, whether it's run or play-action. Sanchez looks like he's anxious as can be, like he wants to score 4 touchdowns on each throw. Perhaps Brian Schottenheimer should slip him a sedative before Friday night's tilt against the Redskins to calm his ass down.

I'm not hung up on the numbers Sanchez puts up in the preseason, I just want to see the development in action on the field, the type of development that experience should bring. And I'm still waiting, by and large. Regardless of what happens with Revis, the Sanchez issue controls the Jets' destiny this season. If he doesn't progress significantly, no defense will be strong enough to make us legit contenders.

At least we had some good news this week, as the Jets made Nick Mangold the highest-paid center in the league, giving him roughly $55 million for 7 years. Mangold is our best lineman, and is headed to Canton if he can keep up the pace he's established as a young player. He is also a true leader, a guy who was in the walk year of his deal, yet came to camp because he knew his presence would help whoever won the left guard competition in camp. He took the responsibility that a leader must shoulder, putting the needs of the team before his immediate financial gain. If Mangold isn't one of your favorite Jets, he damn well should be.

Are you listening, Darrelle?

Sunday, August 8, 2010

UFC 117: A day of reckoning for lay and pray

I'm finally well rested after a long night at the bar, where me and a few hundred of my closest friends witnessed one of the most dramatic finishes in the history of MMA. The pay-per-view broadcast had six fights.

Roy Nelson vs. Junior Dos Santos

Roy Nelson is a former winner of The Ultimate Fighter who had ridden consecutive first round finishes to last night's bout for a title shot. Dos Santos is a devastating striker who has finished most everyone he's fought. Nelson's claim to fame is his huge belly, which he uses when he has top position to wear down whoever he's fighting. The belly makes him look like an oaf, which causes him to receive less respect than he deserves as a legit contender.

Dos Santos controlled this fight with superior striking from the start, and stayed aware of keeping the fight standing. Nelson seemed content to trade once he couldn't get a takedown, and paid a stiff price. He was pounded for 15 minutes in a lopsided decision. I wish Nelson would lose the 60 lbs. he would need to drop down to light heavyweight. It's bad for the sport that a guy who doesn't take fitness very seriously can rise this high in the rankings. If he cared enough to drop the weight, no one at 205 would want to face him. He's that skilled.

As for Dos Santos, he had a solid gameplan and worked it nicely. He gets the winner of Brock Lesnar and Cain Velasquez for the belt. Whoever he winds up facing will not want to trade with him.

Matt Hughes vs. Ricardo Almeida

As great as Matt Hughes has been for as long as he's been great, I must confess that I'm not much of a fan. He's a great fighter, but his performances on The Ultimate Fighter as coach left me feeling like he's a bit of a meathead. Suffice it to say that when he gets beat, I typically don't shed tears.

His match with Almeida, the BJJ black belt, looked like it may be interesting on paper, as Almeida was looking for revenge for Hughes victory over Renzo Gracie back in April. Hughes dropped Almeida with a left hook, then slapped on an anaconda choke from an unusual position until Almeida was out cold. Easy win for Hughes.

What's next for Hughes? At 36, you have to wonder where he goes from this fight. This win puts him back in the conversation at 170, but I'm not sure he can beat anyone in the top 5, which leaves him either as a gatekeeper for the division, or he can continue to beat on other old guys in MMA, whichever he prefers.

I'd like to see him fight Jon Fitch.

Clay Guida vs. Rafael dos Anjos

Speaking of gatekeepers, I've always felt that Clay Guida was the perfect gatekeeper at 155. If you can't beat him, you're not a legit contender. No one in MMA comes with the pace and energy of Guida, so if you're not prepared for him, he will overwhelm you. It's almost impossible to look like the aggressor against him.

Dos Anjos looked good for 2 rounds, scoring with some impressive feet, but the fight was still very close when Guida took him down in the third and dos Anjos tapped seconds later, claiming an injury to his jaw. Apparently, Guida had landed a punch in the first round that did the damage that led to the submission.

Guida legitimately believes that he is improving and will eventually rise to the level of contender and champion. But, while his recent record has been stellar, I need to see more victories against elite guys at 155 before I would give him a title shot. Guida is beloved by the UFC fan base, so his success is a good thing for Dana White and company.

He also has kept his long hair, which my wife says makes him look like Captain Caveman, which she repeats with the requisite call whenever he appears in the octagon, vibrato included.

Stefan Struve vs. Christian Morecraft

Since there were some early finishes early in the card, the UFC went to their normal practice of replaying a fight from earlier in the night, which is usually a highlight reel KO or a crazy finish. This one did not disappoint.

One of the great things about MMA is that a fighter can win every second of a fight in completely dominating fashion, make one mistake, and get beat. This happens so often that it's not necessarily surprising, but it never fails to disappoint. In the first round of this fight, Struve was dominated so completely that the doctors almost stepped in after the first round. Struve had several officials, referee Herb Dean, and several doctors analyzing his gigantic bottom lip, which looked like a cross between a swollen inner tube and Mush Mouth from Fat Albert.

Both fighters began the second round throwing bombs, but a right-left-right from Struve dropped Morecraft, and Struve ponced on him with further punishment until the fight was stopped. Spectacular stuff. The bar erupted. Maybe the most fun moment of the night for the whole place.

Jon Fitch vs. Thiago Alves

This fight was a rematch of a June 2006 fight that Fitch won easily, and this fight was almost exactly the same. Alves didn't make weight, failing to lose an additional half pound, which speaks volumes about what a difficult cut this must have been for him. This was easily the most boring fight of the night, as Fitch would take Alves down, then try everything he could to keep him there, which is like watching paint dry.

This style of fighting is commonly known as "lay and pray". Lay and pray is most often used by fighters with a wrestling background who recognize that their best chance of success is to take their opponent down, then control their posture with superior wrestling skills.

I enjoy every aspect of MMA, and watching two great ground guys mix it up can be as exciting as any highlight reel knockout. But, if you lay on your opponent and don't improve your position, you should be stood back up. When a fighter is attempting a lay and pray strategy, he will try to demonstrate to the ref that he is still working effectively with all kinds of pitty-pat striking that does nothing to hurt the opponent or finish the fight (foreshadowing!). Anyone who has followed the UFC knows that Dana White can not stand that shit. He wants to see fights finished.

Fitch won the battle, but may be losing the war. White was non-committal about giving Fitch another title shot with GSP after last night. How can you blame him? The crowd booed their way through all 15 minutes, and there's no reason to believe that Fitch would have a better chance at beating St. Pierre than the last time, when he was hammered for 25 minutes.

Chael Sonnen vs. Anderson Silva

By now, if you've been near a television in the last 24 hours, you've seen what will go down as one of the great fights and finishes in the history of MMA. Sonnen has spent the better part of the last 3 months ripping Anderson Silva to anyone who would listen to him, boldly stating that he would take Silva down and pound on him for 25 minutes.

To anyone who has watched Anderson Silva destroy everything in his path for the last four years, all of this babbling from Sonnen sounded ridiculous. Silva hasn't just been winning, he's severely hurt almost everyone he's fought to the extent that they're not the same fighter afterwards.

Chael Sonnen was not kidding. He caught Silva with a straight right hand early in the first round, then proceeded to win the next 23 minutes of the fight, mostly with a combination of dominant positioning and submission avoidance. Sonnen landed a tremendous amount of strikes, an MMA-record amount, if you are to believe Yahoo sports. While any contact from hands can be considered a strike, the majority of this fight consisted of Sonnen laying on Silva, trying to convince the referee that he was being effective enough to avoid being stood back up, where Silva is dominant. There were so many pitty-pat strikes that much of Sonnen's offense elicited laughter from the assorted throng at the bar where we were watching the fight.

Towards the end of the fourth round, a flurry of elbows from Silva opened up a nasty cut on Sonnen's eyebrow, and, even though Sonnen was far ahead, he looked far worse than Silva when they went to the final round. Sonnen was so far ahead at the start of the fifth round than Silva needed a finish to keep the belt. Silva finally was able to land a significant enough elbow from the bottom to slide his legs into a triangle choke. When Sonnen adjusted for the triangle, he gave his arm up, which Silva gladly locked onto, forcing a tap and keeping his belt.

Unfortunately for Sonnen, his MMA experience has been like Groundhog Day. He has been submitted so often from a dominant position that it's almost expected at this point. An MMA promotion can go a long time and not get a fight like last night, so one would expect Silva-Sonnen 2 within six months. For Anderson Silva, he earned a respect and admiration in victory that wouldn't have come without the public seeing him as less than invincible. At age 35, we may have already seen the best he has to offer.

I would imagine we will see the Sonnen rematch, a fight with Vitor Belfort, and possibly one with Jake Shields before Silva hangs it up. The longest win streak in the history of the UFC survived for a while longer. And the UFC continues to deliver in ways that most other sports, even combat sports, can not.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

On my way to watch UFC 117

Sometime tonight or early tomorrow I will have a recap of tonight's festivities in Oakland, where the highly irritating Chael Sonnen tries to become champ in a loaded card at UFC 117. I'm on my way out to watch. Until then...

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Training Camp begins...without Revis?

By all accounts, it appears that Darrelle Revis intends to miss the start of training camp, risking the $20 million in guarantees he has left on his current deal. With the premier of Hard Knocks less than 2 weeks away, this storyline is sure to dominate the show.

I have a confession to make...I fucking hate talking about contracts. They are the easily the most boring aspect of pro sports. I don't know who is right in this scenario, and I don't care. The facts (or as close as I can estimate) are that, from the Jets' point of view, Revis held out for a deal his rookie year, and now that his base pay is low for this season (which he wanted, a front-loaded deal), he wants more money. He has three years left on a deal that he wanted so badly, he held out for it. And now it's not good enough.

From Revis' point of view, he's set to make a base salary of $1 million a year, and, since he's the best player on the best defense, he deserves to make more than the highest-paid player at his position, who makes about $15 million a season. After witnessing the horrifying injury that former Jet Leon Washington suffered last year, it doesn't serve Revis to perform for such a low amount of money, with no further guarantees. Plus, GM Mike Tannenbaum promised him a new deal, and if the Jets can't guarantee the new contract against injury and skill (which they can't within the rules set in place in the absence of a cap), then they need to pay him a lump sum to keep him happy.

Can the Jets do that? Sure, they can pay him a lump sum bonus to try to make him happy, but I doubt they will. Owner Woody Johnson and Tannenbaum don't want to set a precedent with the other Jets who are unhappy, and they feel like if Revis can do this to them now, what happens if the team wins a championship? Can't the whole team hold them hostage the same way?

The 400 lb. gorilla in the room is the Jets cash flow position currently. There is plenty of speculation that the Jets currently lack the resources to pay a lump sum to Revis, given the fact that they've just built an enormous new stadium and have yet to sell all of the PSLs that they thought would go like hotcakes. Perhaps there isn't enough in the till to fork over a huge bonus currently.

Where do I stand? Normally I'm on the side of the player in situations like this, since they assume so much risk just lacing them up every week. I think Revis is picking the wrong time to make this stand, and he's going to do irreparable damage with a portion of the fan base that wants players to honor their contracts, regardless. All I care about is the well being of the team. If Revis does anything to screw this season up, I'll be pissed, and I won't be alone.

I'm not like most football fans my age (and younger). Most of the fans in my age group are going to spend countless hours over the next few weeks analyzing every preview magazine and website they can get their hands on for an edge in their fantasy football draft, which will happen sometime in the next month.

I don't play fantasy football.

In fact, the idea of rooting for the Bears' third WR to have over 55 yards receiving this week so I can win a "matchup" with another couch potato doesn't interest me in the least, and runs contrary to everything that football is supposed to be about. I could just see myself having to draft Wes Welker or Brandon Marshall, or another skill position player on a rival team, then rooting for that player to perform, against the best interests of the Jets.

I don't need fantasy football to make the game more interesting to me. I almost feel bad for the guys (and girls) that do. There is plenty happening every Sunday in the fall to hold your interest if you like football without having to play make-believe GM with 9 other people.

Because I give my full attention to a real team as opposed to a fantasy team, perhaps I have more invested in this situation than most. If it goes bad, as it has before, there is no rooting interest in place to take my mind off of the disappointment.

I hope Revis shows up for camp today at 5:30 pm, so he's not technically a hold-out, but I'm not holding my breath. Like most Jet fans, I just hope the situation works itself out before it becomes yet another distraction for the 2010 team.

RIP Jack Tatum

There was sad news earlier this week as Raider legend Jack Tatum passed away from a heart attack at age 61. Tatum had worked for the NFL in recent years as part of the "fashion police", the group comprised mostly of ex-NFL players who enforce the uniform dress code on Sundays, which results in fines against players who don't conform to standards.

Tatum is mostly known for his hit on Patriot WR Darryl Stingley in 1978 that left Stingley paralyzed for the rest of his life. Although the hit was clean and there were no fines or suspensions as a result of the hit, Tatum became synonymous with violence in pro football, and was never given the consideration he should have received for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

In Tatum's autobiography, They Call Me Assassin, Tatum told a story of being turned away at the hospital when he went to visit Stingley after the incident, and never returning. To this day, many of Stingley's teammates are still angry with Tatum. Ex-Patriot QB Steve Grogan even went on the radio to blast Tatum this week (classy!).

The young fan of today's NFL has a tendency to overrate today's player, while ignoring the contributions of past greats to the game. Jack Tatum is never going to receive the credit he deserves as one of the best free safeties of the seventies, and well as a cornerstone of one the best franchises of that period. The seventies Raider teams were excellent in the secondary, and Tatum had as much to do with that as anyone else, including Hall of Fame CB Willie Brown.

It's not easy to be remembered for your worst moment, no matter what it is. I'll always try to remember Tatum as a devastating hitter and a winner.