#Boxing, GGG v Alvarez

Golovkin v Alvarez: Preview

After the damp squib in Vegas last month, sports fans can look forward to a genuinely enthralling contest next Saturday night as Gennady Golovkin and Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez finally face off in Las Vegas.

Unlike the bland anomaly of a fortnight ago, GGG and Canelo will meet as the two best at their weight, the famed and storied middleweight division of Leonard, Hearns and Hagler. And, unlike the dross that Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao served up two years ago, Saturday’s fight involves two fighters extremely close to their prime, particularly Alvarez, although more on that later.

Thankfully, since the slippery Oscar De La Hoya and Tom Loeffler were finally able to come to an agreement in the spring, this fight has become the most highly anticipated contest of the year for boxing fans.

Anyone who has paid even the remotest bit of attention over the last three years will be aware of charismatic, prize fighter Golovkin, who has ploughed his way unceremoniously through the peripheral characters of the middleweight division. The top contenders – Daniel Jacobs aside – have sidestepped, talked a lot of shit and ultimately ran from the Kazakh. Honourable mention goes to Billy-Joe Saunders and Chris Eubank Junior.

Aficionados of boxing, the likes of Steve Bunce or Frank Lotierzo, could regale you with the various styles and techniques which pervade the pugilistic art. However, for those of us who watch with something bordering on a keen interest or even occasional viewers, nothing gets the heart racing more than a cavalier puncher who values the strength of his hands over any potential weakness in his jaw. Some fighters come to box, Golovkin largely comes to punch.

There are tales of a barely teenage Golovkin fighting grown men on the streets at the behest of older brothers and based on the subsequent 350 plus amateur fights, young Gennady took to the art with relish. Both older brothers, Sergey and Vadim died in unexplained circumstances serving in the Russian army and according to his promoter Tom Loeffler, Golovkin never divulges on this matter. Undoubtedly, his experiences in the dark early days of post-Soviet Kazakhstan helped form the devastatingly powerful fighter that hides behind relentlessly smiling eyes.

Golovkin fought long and hard to break the US market, not helped perhaps by American suspicion of anything Soviet-era. Aided by Loeffler’s K2 Promotions and veteran trainer, Abel Sanchez, it was sometime around 2014 that fans really began to take to this old fashioned, knock-out artist. Since 2015, having helped himself to three belts and sending Miguel Cotto – himself a future Hall-of-Famer – scurrying down a weight, GGG turned his attentions to Alvarez, the toast of the United States, Mexican community.

Alvarez genuinely appeared to be willing to make the fight happen last year but boxing being what it is, de La Hoya wanted to milk his prized cash cow against some fodder. Saturday night may prove otherwise, but history will probably show that GGG was at his peak in late 2015, then a relatively lightly boxed, professional at least, and definitely barely hurt, 33.

De La Hoya obviously realised this and did not want Canelo’s rebuilding period, after his insipid defeat to Mayweather in 2013, to go unrewarded. Golovkin was absolutely destroying fighters at this stage, former titlist David Lemieux getting annihilated. Instead, in 2016, De La Hoya holding the box office trump card set about organising ‘gimmes’ against the glass chinned Amir Khan and a game but outclassed Liam Smith.

 

In this period, Golovkin stopped Kell Brook, a man currently suffering from an acute case of sour grapes, in a hugely entertaining bout, marketed brilliantly as an actual contest by Sky Sports. The triple champion followed this with a laboured victory in March over the awkward, perpetual motion of the underrated Danny Jacobs. There is an argument based on the performances of the past 12 months that GGG has allowed signs of weakness creep into his game.

Brook, a far smaller man, landed on the champion regularly, although Golovkin could counter by saying that in a trade-off Brook would never win and that he was willing to absorb decent shots to get an open look. Brook’s broken orbital and fight-ending towel from his corner supports this view. What followed in the Jacobs fight, however, would have been more concerning for team Gennady as, despite a fourth-round knockdown, Jacobs actually strengthened as the fight wore on. Some even tried to stretch the argument, fairly implausibly, that had the belt been on the New Yorker entering the ring then the judges might have decided he had done enough to retain.

Alvarez most recent opponent was Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., son of perhaps the greatest Mexican fighter of all time. The fight was built as ‘the Battle of Mexico’ but Chavez brought absolutely nothing to the table and was comprehensively out boxed and bullied by the smaller Canelo. In the immediate aftermath of the bout, it was difficult to establish whether Alvarez had been immense or Chavez almost incomprehensibly, insipid.

The truth, as with most of these subjective judgments, lies somewhere in between. Canelo was rampant, comfortably countering from the back foot, dictating almost every exchange and regularly hurting his enigmatic opponent. Chavez, though, offered an offense that Gandhi would have been proud of and, not for the first time in his career, looked disinterested for large swathes of the contest.

Based on the last 12 months, Alvarez has been more impressive but that merely closes the gap between the two and even though he knocked out Khan in devastating fashion, the Englishman was actually landing plenty of shots. True, Khan never hurt Alvarez but if Golovkin lands with the same frequency, the fight will finish well within the distance.

It will be interesting to see how GGG Alvarez performs at the box office. Mayweather and Pacquiao still possessed remarkable box-office drawing power even in the latter years of their careers. Their recent efforts in a circus event and a dispiriting loss to an Australian journeyman, respectively, prove as much. What of Saturday’s combatant’s though? Alvarez is in his prime and has the adoring Mexican community to draw on, while Golovkin’s style is what the masses want, but will the casual American fan tune in for a clash that is not unreasonably being touted as a potential Fight of the Decade?

If the numbers aren’t great boxing promoters will hardly run for the hills. While there are periodic death knells for the state of boxing – AJ Liebling was already decrying the ruination of live cards by TV coverage in the 50s –  the sweet science is in the best shape it’s been for 30 years.

The heavyweights, for so long ruled by the monolithic Klitschkos, have risen from their slumber and the welterweights, led by Keith Thurman and Terence Crawford are on the cusp of becoming boxing’s premier division. However, what people tend to forget is that the Latin American and specifically, Mexican boxing community is there through thick and thin. Their support is unwavering and boxing will not rise or fall on the back of Saturday’s fight. However, if nothing else, the numbers will establish viewers preference for a sporting contest or a modern day, insubstantial ‘event’, as witnessed last month.

Picking a winner is harder than it first would have seemed. This time last year, GGG would have been a certainty. But, kudos to De La Hoya, he ensured the negotiations were protracted and now his man, a year and three fights later, looks a far better boxer. Perhaps we’ve all looked into the Jacobs fight too closely but recent form is generally indicative. If Golovkin stays patient, no guarantee, he should be able to break Canelo down but the latter is more powerful than many give him credit for and if Alvarez can establish a rhythm and land some early combinations, the Kazakh will have to deal with problems that have yet to be presented to him. That said, the lumbering Canelo is not Jacobs, all awkward movement and body angles, and it’s hard to imagine him not being drawn into a proper fight at some point.

If Golovkin stays patient, no guarantee, he should be able to break Canelo down but the latter is more powerful than many give him credit for and if Alvarez can establish a rhythm and land some early combinations, the Kazakh will have to deal with problems that have yet to be presented to him. That said, the lumbering Canelo is not Jacobs, all awkward movement and body angles, and it’s hard to imagine him not being drawn into a proper fight at some point.

These are two genuine warriors, who have fought competitively against men long before they should have been allowed and the suspicion is that Saturday’s fight will ultimately turn into a brawl. If it does, Golovkin wins hands down but if Alvarez can stay patient and frustrates the bigger man, then it becomes far more difficult to call. Still, I’ve been on the Golovkin bandwagon far too long to depart at the last stop. Golovkin by Decision.

Golovkin by Decision.

S.U.S. Prediction – Golovkin by Decision @ 7/2

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#Boxing, Boxing, GGG

It’s Triple G Time in London

Someone’s ‘0’ has got to go on Saturday night in London. Gennady Golovkin (35-0, 32 KO), whose frustrating pursuit of Canelo Alvarez remains unfulfilled, meets undefeated British welterweight Kell Brook (36-0, 25 KO) for the Kazakh’s WBC and IBF middleweight titles. Brook, IBF welterweight champion, will step up two weights in a matchup that is intriguing for many reasons, and more importantly one that we’ll be able to watch live at a decent hour.

GGG, whose mega-fight with Canelo is still under construction, heads to London for the first time to face what may well the biggest challenge of his career to date. There is no question as to whether it is Brook’s. The Sheffield native has pursued his countryman, Amir Khan, for years now only to be arrogantly dismissed, but after the latter’s career-stalling knockout at the hands of Alvarez in May, it is Brook who is stepping up to an even more daunting challenge against the most powerful puncher the middleweight division has seen for a generation.

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Boxer Kell Brook suffered a serious leg injury after a machete attack in Tenerife in August 2014.

Brook won the IBF Welterweight title from Shawn Porter in August 2014, but just weeks later was the victim of a vicious machete attack during a night out in Tenerife. After a hazy day and night’s drinking, Brook was left with a massive, gaping wound on his thigh that required 32 staples. The events of the night were never truly established but it is to Brook’s absolute credit that he was to return in March 2015 to make the first of three title defences.

Brook will have shed few tears to see Khan get dropped so shudderingly by the far-too-powerful Alvarez. However, Khan, the two-time former world champion was unwavering in the wake of his defeat, stating his intense dislike for Brook as the primary reason that they would never fight. Surely, in boxing of all sports, a hatred for your rival would be a massive carrot to step up and face them.

khan

Amir Khan (l) apparently won’t fight Kell Brook because he doesn’t like him.

Khan, though, as an alumni of future hall-of-fame trainer Freddie Roach’s Wild Card Gym, still has relative box-office draw in the US and would clearly prefer take a loss to one of the stars of the US market, rather than suffer the potential ignominy of defeat to a guy who he has always regarded as being beneath him.

Despite this discord, Khan will not have entered Brook’s thoughts in recent months as he knows he is going toe-to-toe this weekend with a freakishly powerful man. He’ll also be aware that going twelve rounds at the O2 may require the greatest performance of his career to date. While detractors of Golovkin always point to his so-so resume, he has never sidestepped a fight, more he has been forced to endure games of cat and mouse with crafty promoters.

To be fair, anyone who has stepped in the ring with Golovkin in the last two years has been absolutely decimated, so for Golden Boy et al. there is the fear of seeing their top draw get absolutely pummelled. From a practical – see commercial – perspective, it is easier for a boxer to return after defeat to a back foot technician over twelve strategic rounds than it is to pick themselves up from a jarring knockout defeat. George Groves career was completely derailed by Carl Froch’s right hand in 2014, while Khan’s stock, as discussed, has clearly plummeted.

In October of last year, Golovkin ruthlessly took apart David Lemieux, then IBF middleweight champion, in eight glaringly one-sided rounds. Last time out after a blitzkrieg of the mandatory challenger, Dominic Wade, GGG had to listen to some bullshit prevarication from Golden-Boy, who seem to want the champion to come to Mexico City and fight strictly under their stipulations. A bout with Billy-Joe Saunders was never a reality, while Chris Eubank Jr’s chances of a shot at Golovkin seem to have been waylaid by an overly nosy parent.

So, it falls to Brook, an underrated fighter to jump two weights and attempt to pull off one of boxing’s greatest ever upsets. Brook, for whatever reason, never really made it outside the UK market but himself and Eddie Hearn, the chief of Matchroom Sports, have seen a once in a lifetime opportunity present itself.

Brook seem eminently confident going into this fight but in a game where the combatants willingly permit themselves to indulge in fantasy prior to fight night, why wouldn’t he be? For Brook, who has always been a big welterweight, a jump up the weights was probably on the cards, but not two levels and not to face an absolute wrecking ball.

The first instinct, after Khan’s defeat to Alvarez, was to predict an equally grizzly end for Brook. However, Brook will probably never return to 147 pounds so it’s not like he’s just coming up for a look, and he looks physically the match to Golovkin in the flesh. He’s got really good speed, and a great chin  – admittedly against welterweights – but speed and a chin make for good bedfellows.

On the flip side, however, you have to question whether the extra weight will actually equate into a more powerful boxer, yet one who also maintains his speed? What made Manny Pacquiao such an incredible boxer was his ability to win world titles in eight divisions while maintaining both these physical attributes.

More often that not, in any sport, extra muscle equals decreased mobility. After some supreme hand speed, Once Were Warriors antihero  Jake the Mus nonchalantly observed that his fallen foe had used “Too much weights, not enough speed work” and there’s merit in this observation.

In this fight, Brook’s speed is his greatest ally and it appears that his best chance of victory lies in winning a boxing match as opposed to a toe-to-toe fight with Golovkin. The risk with adding this weight is that his greatest attribute is now hugely nullified. Of course, you can argue either way but surely it seems Brook is playing into GGG’s hands by climbing all the way up to 16o. Brook is now, of course, proclaiming that 160 has always been his natural weight but why only make the jump now?

Again, we shouldn’t get caught up in the pre-fight hyperbole and while Brook did look in exceptional shape at the weigh-in, the lingering concern remains that he is stepping up for the first time to face the best there is in the middleweight division.

Brook won’t face the same strength issues as Khan but if this detracts from his speed and allows Golovkin close down the ring early then it’s game over. If Brook boxes patiently for the early rounds and makes it past nine, then this fight is live. Golovkin is coming to fight in hostile territories – though he strikes you as a guy who’d fight anyone, anywhere, anytime – and if the power game doesn’t pay dividends early he may become unsettled.

However, GGG is a brilliantly precise boxer, and his only perceived weaknesses are based on conjecture. Brook is the one who needs everything to go right and even if it does, he may not win.

If Brooks greatest attributes haven’t been compromised then tomorrow night has the potential to be the fight of the year. The feeling is, though, that the jump in weight will come at a price. Golovkin will want to thrill on his UK debut. And we’re inclined to think he will.

Straight Up Sport Betting Tips:

  1. Gennady Golovin to win in the 9th @ 12/1
  2. Both fighters to be knocked down @ 12/1

 

 

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#Boxing, Boxing, Football, Gaelic Games, Golf, Horse Racing, NFL/Rugby, Republic of Ireland/FIFA, Rugby Union, Soccer, UFC

Straight Up Sport Predictions 2016

2015 was, by any comparable standards, an excellent sporting year. In the murky world of sporting politics, there was also the welcome downfall of FIFA kingpin Sepp Blatter and the lurking snake Michel Platini. Meanwhile, we were treated to the rather unsurprising revelations that Russian athletics was involved in systematic doping and Lord Sebastian Coe is a bit of a dick.

The highlights included the New England Patriots winning their fourth Superbowl after a botched play call by Seattle Seahawks on the New England one-yard line. Almost one year later none of Pete Carroll, Darrell Blevins, Russell Wilson or the latter’s usual play-caller, God, have been willing to take responsibility for not giving the ball to this man (this clip comes with a Tipper Gore warning!)

Willie Mullins dominated Cheltenham and but for this fateful fall – horse and jockey will be back with a vengeance in 2016 – the punters, for once, would have had the bookies running for cover.

Ireland secured back-to-back Six Nations championships for the first time ever after the most dramatic day in tournament history, though the year ended on a diminuendo after an injury-depleted side, with the wrong man at out-half, fell to an inspired Argentina.

Meanwhile, Andy Lee dropped his WBO middleweight title in mildly controversial circumstances to Billy Joe Saunders. It was terribly disappointing that the champion did not get an opportunity to make either of his first two defences on Irish soil. Had Lee fought Saunders in Limerick the likelihood is that he would have retained his title, as boxing historically favours a hometown champion in a tight fight.

Carl Frampton twice retained his IBF super-bantamweight championship, while it would be remiss of us not to mention Conor McGregor’s stunning knockout of Jose Aldo in Las Vegas last month.

Whether you care to admit it or not, the country’s greatest success in 2015 was the qualification for Euro 2016. After the 1-1 draw at home to Scotland in June, dreams of a French summer lay in tatters. We remember agreeing as much with a few friends in a Cambridge pub on that dank afternoon.

But, then, along came Shane Long, Irish folk-hero Jon Walters and a few dollops of luck and qualification was realised after a relatively straightforward dispatching of Bosnia. A group comprising Belgium, Italy and Sweden looks ominous but that is June’s problem.

So, to 2016 and a combination of a few of our hopes and predictions for the sporting year ahead.

  1. After much humming and hawing, Manchester United finally rid themselves of Louis van Gaal.

There can’t be a Manchester United fan out there who will miss the dull, turgid aimless crap that has cost the Dutchman £250 million to manufacture. Rumour has it that Ryan Giggs has been in cahoots with Petyr ‘Littlefinger’ Baelish to launch a coup, though, at this point, it seems another despot, Jose Mourinho, will take the reins of this great club. All the while, Sir Matt Busby turns in his grave.

 

LVG

The end is nigh for Louis van Gaal.  (Courtesy of Getty Images)

 

  1. Thanks to the incompetence of others, Arsenal win the Premier League and Arsene Wenger claims that he has been vindicated in investing in a series of shite strikers.

Arsenal definitely have previous when it comes to choking in the second half of the season but at present they appear to be the most error-free side, which by extension makes them the most likely to win the league.

Wenger, to his credit, has been arguably the second best manager of the Premier League era but his sometimes delusional stubbornness has cost the team in the past. Yes, the board love him because the club is in the black but, let’s be honest, the fans couldn’t give a shit about that. They want to win the Premier League.

If Arsenal don’t win this year’s league, then they could be facing a very lengthy drought. There would be a sense of irony as well as a perfect example of the farcical treatment of modern day managers if Manchester City regained the title before coldly sacking Manuel Pellegrini. However, we can see Arsenal just about falling over the line though North London rivals, Spurs, will pose a serious threat.

  1. People accept that Irish club rugby had a great run, stop whining and focus on the international team.

The media of late have been lamenting the death of Irish rugby mainly due to the fact that the French and English look set to dominate the European game for the foreseeable future. Now, first of all, let’s accept that the provinces have seen their fair share of benefactors down the years while the Pro 12 was in an advantageous position regarding qualification to the old Heineken Cup.

We’re definitely not apologists for the European Champions Cup – for one thing, the BT Sport coverage is stomach-churningly ‘old-boy’ and elitist –  and the chips are quite clearly stacked in favour of the shaky Anglo-French alliance. However, like many before them, the Irish provinces have been punching above their weight for years. And, rather than whinge, let’s celebrate this fact.

Many of our finest rugby journalists have gotten in a tizzy of late over the potential downfall of the national side given the perilous state of Irish sides in Europe.

Well, we give you Example A, Wales. Bar the odd good season for Ospreys, Scarlets or Cardiff, the Welsh have a dismal record in Europe. Their domestic game just about keeps its head above water and many of their finest players have departed for more rewarding, foreign bounties.

Yet, for the last eight years, Wales have been a major player, both in the Six Nations and the World Cup. They were probably screwed by Alain Rolland in 2011 and in October their injury-ravaged side came desperately close to toppling South Africa in London.

Ireland need to strike a balance – and lest we forget, Ulster still have a great chance of making this year’s Champions Cup quarter-finals – but Wales have proven that it is possible to produce a top-class national side even when the domestic game is not exactly flourishing.

The next two years should see something of a changing of the guard and there is an abundance of talent coming through; Tadhg Furlong, Stuart McCloskey, Jack McGrath, Kieran Marmion, Jack O’ Donoghue, Garry Ringrose and CJ Stander. Meanwhile, there are the resurgent Craig Gilroy, Paddy Jackson, Tommy O’ Donnell and Andrew Trimble. Not to mention, the currently sidelined Iain Henderson, Robbie Henshaw and Peter O’ Mahony. Little cause for worry, then.

Iain H

With youngsters like Iain Henderson set to take on the mantle, Irish international rugby is in very safe hands.

The provinces may be entering a fallow period but the next four years appear genuinely promising for our international side.

  1. The All-Ireland Football Championship is overshadowed by further ridiculous disciplinary hearings and successful appeals.

The important thing to remember as an inter-county Gaelic football player is that a red card is just a speed bump and a suspension can be overturned if you shout loud enough. One of the most irritating aspects of Gaelic football is that players, and by extension, their managers and county boards refuse to accept suspensions after clearly breaching on-field rules.

Connolly & Keegan

Remember, kids, you can’t get suspended for this. (Photo courtesy of sportsjoe.ie)

Last year’s clear examples were Mayo’s Kevin Keane and, of course, Diarmuid Connolly’s ridiculous, though successful, overnight appeal against his red card for punching Lee Keegan. The technicalities of that case are mind numbing but the lesson is clear: If you get sent off in the 2016 All-Ireland Football Championship, you’ll be the laughing stock of the summer if you can’t get your suspension overturned.

  1. The Republic of Ireland escape the ‘Group of Death’

By our nature, we are strangely complex characters, in that we convey optimism and pessimism in equal measures, usually in the same conversation.

An example being:

“You see the draw for the Euros?”

“Yeah it’s a fucker of a group, couldn’t be tougher.”

“Do you reckon we’ll get out, though?”

“Ah yeah, don’t see why not. Sure, Sweden only have Zlatan. Belgium are a bunch of whinging bastards. And, to be fair, Italy must be getting old at this stage.”

“Yeah, fair point.”

And that is the logic that we will be applying this summer. Remember, Sweden are ranked below Ireland in the admittedly oft-maligned FIFA World Rankings, Belgium do not have tournament pedigree. And, Italy? Well, there’s always Ray Houghton’s roly-poly in Giant Stadium.

  1. Gennady Golovkin gets a chance to decimate a middleweight world champion.

Broken record and all that, we know. Throughout 2015, GGG has grown exasperated as Golden Boy and Roc Nation protected their Latin-American cash-cows, for fear of them taking a beating that would see their market value plummet.

Not this year, though. Golovkin has relocated to Los Angeles and L.A.’s Central American fight community – the majority of the US boxing community – already love him. Golovkin fights in the tradition of the great Mexican boxers and the fans have warmed to this immediately.

To be clear, until his last few fights, GGG has only beaten what’s put in front of him and usually it’s been brave fodder who need a pay cheque. But it’s the way he’s beaten them. Toe-to-toe, stand and deliver. He may yet be found out by a younger, though more experienced in terms of quality of opponent, Saul Alvarez. Or by the erratic, though hugely talented, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. But, either way, let’s see it happen.

Say what you want about Andy Lee but, at least, he had shown his willingness to go straight for Golovkin had he beaten Saunders. Golovkin has been well handled by HBO and promoter, Tom Loeffler in 2015. The all-important US fan base has been carefully cultivated and for Alvarez, Saunders, Cotto and Chavez Jr., excuses are now thin on the ground.

The Four Kings never avoided each other and that’s what made the 80s the golden era of middleweight boxing. After the most overhyped, underwhelming fight of this or any other era took place between Mayweather and Pacquiao last summer, boxing fans deserve Golovkin and Alvarez in 2016.

  1. People will finally realise that Roy Hodgson is a spoofer of Frank Abignale Jr. proportions.

Children of the 90s will recall the brilliant Stephen Spielberg produced cartoon sketch show, Animaniacs. Fronted by the Warner Brothers, Wakko, Yakko and their sweet little sister, Dot, the show also featured the wonderfully, simplistic Chicken Boo sketch.

Each week, the titular Boo would arrive into town, and, thanks to some excellent costumes and a propensity to stay silent, deceive people into thinking he was, for example, a spy or a sheriff. On each occasion, one apoplectic member of the group would plead, unsuccessfully, with his friends to recognise that this was a chicken in their midst, not a man. Eventually, in the last act, Boo’s costume would come off, his true identity would be revealed and he’d be run out of town.

Now,  Roy Hodgson is obviously no chicken but he has provided a masterclass in deceiving people by basically saying nothing and being a gentleman throughout his reign as England football manager.

Remember, this is the man who said before the 2014 World Cup that he believed he had that could win the tournament. Of course, what followed was England’s worst World Cup performance since 1958, which for someone like Graham Taylor would have meant an immediate sacking.

 

Roy Hodgson

That’s a man who knows he’s getting away with murder. Sorry, soon to be, Sir Roy!

 

Now, on one hand, you have to admire the F.A. for their trust in the manager, and invariably international managers get more time in the job due to the fact that they have a specific set of players from which to choose and no transfer window.

However, the odd aspect of Hodgson’s reign is that he is being hailed as this extraordinary motivator and tactician when, in reality, he has done very little with what is actually a very talented squad.

Hodgson, unsurprisingly, wanted his England contract extension to be finalised before Euro 2016 but FA Chief Executive, Martin Glenn has decided otherwise. Sorry Roy, but Chicken Boo always got found out.

  1. Djakadam wins a first Cheltenham Gold Cup for Willie Mullins.

It would hardly be a shock to suggest that the Gold Cup will be one of the racing highlights of the year but we feel this year’s renewal will be one to capture the entire sporting public’s imagination.

Even in the unfortunate absence of last year’s brilliant winner Coneygree – we will forever be loyal followers of the gutsy, Mark Bradstock trained nine-year-old –  this year’s renewal of the Cheltenham Gold Cup promises to be an absolutely thrilling contest.

The King George at Kempton on St Stephen’s Day revealed a couple of interesting pointers: Vautour is a classy horse but he may not have three miles in him; Don Cossack is probably the best of the lot but as his fall proved, you’ve got to jump them (see Annie Power); Cue Card is having a remarkable season but has question marks remaining over whether he can do it at Prestbury Park.

 

Djakadam

Djakadam and Ruby Walsh, seen here after winning last year’s Thyestes Chase in Gowran park. The pair may just finally end Willie Mullins’ wait for a maiden victory in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. (Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images)

 

Meanwhile, last year’s second and this year’s favourite, the Willie Mullins trained, Djakadam, was merely an observer over Christmas. It appears at this stage he will take the route through the long grass via the Cotswold Chase, a route less popular for Gold Cup contenders in recent years.

Recent renewals have been hard to call perhaps because of a perceived dearth of quality. This year, however, there can be no question as to the depth in the field. And, it may finally see Willie Mullins win the one he so dearly desires.

  1. Jason Day, Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth will each win a major, while Tiger will, sadly, call it a day.

The depth of talent in golf is most probably at an all-time high. After his glorious 2014, it appeared that McIlroy would enjoy a reign something akin to Tiger but Jordan Spieth, Jason Day and an unfortunate game of five-a-side put paid to that.

It’s virtually impossible to separate the three, the Official World Rankings aside, so it would come as no great surprise if each of the big three took home a major this year. McIlroy is hurt by the fact that he still has not mastered Augusta but his form at the back end of the year was excellent and for the first time in a while, he may feel that he has something to prove to himself.

Rickie Fowler, Branden Grace, Shane Lowry and the rarely mentioned around here, Brooks Koepka, will have something to say but the battle between Day, McIlroy and Spieth will be the story of 2016.

In other news, Golfing Tiger is dead. Long live Golfing Tiger.

Tiger Woods

2016 may see the retirement of probably the greatest, and definitely the most influential golfer of all time, Tiger Woods. Vintage era Tiger was simply untouchable. (Photo By Jamie Squire/Getty Images for Golfweek)

  1. Conor McGregor continues to dominate U.F.C.

Anyone who has visited these parts before will know how we feel about Conor McGregor. However, to ignore his spectacular 2015, which culminated with the outrageous 13-second knockout of U.F.C. legend, Jose Aldo would be plain ignorant.

Thus far, he has does everything he has promised inside the octagon, and is the unquestioned king of the U.F.C. featherweight division. The jump to lightweight looks likely as he has acknowledged the difficulty of making 145lb as a relatively big featherweight at 5ft 9″.

Aldo McGregor

Conor McGregor delivered on his promise to dominate the UFC featherweight division, culminating in his 13 second K.O. of Jose Aldo. Now, in 2016, it’s up to the lightweight division. (Photo courtesy of Getty Images)

Nonetheless, while U.F.C. fans and Dana White bow down to kiss McGregor’s feet, it will be interesting to see whether ‘the Notorious’ will have to join the queue before getting a shot at the lightweight champion, Rafael dos Anjos.

To McGregor’s credit, he lives and may someday die by the sword and, for this reason, all eyes will be on John Kavanagh’s star turn in 2016.

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