#Boxing

Arabian Nights – Part 2

No one realised last April just how tumultuous an effect Jarrell ‘Big Baby‘ Miller’s failed drug test would be. The initial reaction was that Anthony Joshua’s U.S. debut had been scuppered by the idiocy of a tier two fighter whose mouth could move tickets.

Fast forward six weeks and Joshua’s shocking, crushing defeat to Andy Ruiz Jr instantly entered sporting lore as one the greatest heavyweight boxing upsets of all time.

To this day, no one truly knows what happened to Joshua in the build up to his defeat to Ruiz on 1st of June, despite talk of concussions in training, a pre-fight panic attack and a general underestimation of his opponent.

On Five Live Boxing earlier this week, Joshua alluded to the fact that he may some day reveal the true story on his YouTube channel. And, while he may be the megastar with the thriving social media presence, he has yet to convince in the build up to this rematch that he has what it takes to overcome the now, highly respected, Mexican, Ruiz.

The first mistake experts – mostly those to the east of West Quoddy Head – made in advance of the June 1 encounter was to completely disrespect Ruiz on account of his doughy body and his wide eyed enthusiasm during fight week. Though hardly intentional, Joshua seemed to buy into Ruiz’ sincerity and seemingly happy-go-lucky comportment, even allowing the Mexican to pose with all four of the then champion’s belts slung over his shoulder.

The next mistake was a failure to look at the form lines. Though not as indicative as horse racing, a fair amount can be learned from examining a fighter’s record in detail. The best indicator on the pre-existing records of Joshua and Ruiz was their respective contests against fomer WBO champion, Joseph Parker, of New Zealand.

Ruiz fought Parker in an away fixture, again a hastily arranged fight, dominated the first half of the fight and fell to a very tight, majority decision in favour of Parker. Ruiz gave Parker, a technically proficient fighter, endless problems, crowding him early and often and it is telling that Parker’s trainer, Kevin Barry, actually tipped Ruiz in advance of the Mexican’s victory in June.

Parker would face Joshua in Cardiff a year or so later in a highly anticipated, if not, highly enthralling contest. Interestingly, in what some perceived to be Joshua’s least exciting performance yet, he won comfortably on points using his reach to control the fight, picking Parker off and rarely getting involved in heavy-duty exchanges.

Joshua’s next encounter saw him severely tested by Alexander Povetkin but his power was ultimately too much and he despatched the then 39 year old – weird the way Joshua takes out big hitters approaching their 40s – Russian in the seventh round. Having savilly taken apart Parker and ultimately breaking Povetkin, Joshua’s natural next step was to enter the cauldron at Madison Square Garden to make his American debut. Anyone with even a passing interest in boxing knows that the Garden, adorned by all-timers like Rocky Marciano and Joe Louis, is where you come to prove yourself in America. Vegas has the money but the venerable hall in New York has the credentials.

There was no doubt that Joshua would have to impress on his U.S debut, particalrly in light of the reasonably held view among American boxing circles that Joshua’s superstardom owed as much to his Adonis-like frame and masterful promotion of the silver-tongued, Eddie Hearn, as it did to his boxing prowess.

Joshua was unified world champion and his fights are invariably entertaining but the American boxing community and the Garden, in particular, are almost scientific in their scepticism before pronouncing the next big thing. And, as Joshua would soon learn, New York City does not provide the home comfort of 70,000 screaming British fans.

The hindsight narrative now is that Joshua boxed too aggressively and should have picked Ruiz off but the stats – provided by Boxstat – suggest that Ruiz is a really busy fighter who doesn’t allow his opponent the opportunity to control the centre of the ring and pick off feeler shots at will.

Ruiz actually threw less punches (235-248) and landed more frequently, (85-72) all while Joshua out jabbed him (49-38). Therefore, while he may not have imposed himself in the manner in which the Klitschkos once did, it’s not as though he completely abandoned the jab.

Still, one would imagine Joshua will have to focus more on this shot as while knockouts will win plaudits, the jab will control fights over 12 rounds. Joshua does not possess the defensive skills of British rival, Tyson Fury, but he is more powerful so if he can marry his obvious explosiveness with ring intelligence, it could go a long way towards overcoming the champion.

If you cast your mind back to June – watch the fight if you’ve 30 minutes to spare – you get the sense that Ruiz was never really badly hurt, notwithstanding the fact he was put on his back for the first time in his career. Look at Ruiz’ face after he goes down in third round; he looks annoyed that he got caught. Within moments of calmly rising he comes forward, catching Joshua with a massive left hook that, unbeknownst to most viewers at the time – including this one – was the beginning of the end.

And then there’s Joshua’s weight which we’ll come to shortly. First, though, there’s the elephant in the room that Eddie Hearn has blissfully brick batted for the past few months.

For those with a not unreasonable quibble that the event is taking place in Saudi Arabia there’s not much to say except that boxing, like all professional sports, is largely guided by money. The fight probably should not be taking place in Saudi but boxing is, and always has been, awash with avarice. Detractors of boxing will use this event as a stick but frankly it’s much ado about nothing. Horse racing has longstanding connections with Saudi Arabia yet this is rarely mentioned.

Promoters have always been unsrupulous and while their only concern is money, they will always hide behind the fact that everything they do is in their client’s interest. In this case, Anthony Joshua’s interest reportedly amounts to €55 million and it would be intriguing to establish how many moralists would turn down this kind of money.

Further, it will be interesting to see if pro golfers – including Phil Mickelson, Shane Lowry and Justin Rose – will be subjected to the same allegations of selling out, which to be fair they have, when the Saudi Invitational takes place early next year. Either way, Andy Ruiz Jr €10 million payout far exceeds anything he has ever earned for a fight so you supect he’d have travelled to Islamabad if the money was right.

Unsurprisingly, there have been suggestions that Ruiz’ victory may have led to excess but he seems to be surrounded by really good people, none more so that his father, Andy Ruiz Sr. Senior noted his dismay when the champion purchased a white Rolls Royce, not because he felt his son should avoid such excesses, but because he felt it would be more wisely invested in property.

Ruiz is neither a one-hit wonder nor a startled up-and-comer. Nor is he surrounded by malevolent, unsrupulous characters like Don King. This newfound ability to purchase fleets of cars and provide security for his family is only a taster and you’d imagine that Ruiz’ appetite for success has only been whetted. And, at 29, both fighters should only be entering their prime now.

As we mentioned earlier, Joshua’s weight has perhaps become the main topic of dicsussion this week. The suggestions, confirmed by Joshua himself, are that the Londoner will weigh in at his lightest since 2015. Without any knowledge of what’s actually gone on behind closed doors with trainer Rob McCracken, it would appear that Joshua’s intention is to hit and move. Apparently he’s dropped 10 pounds and while he’s still a huge man, that sort of loss is surely going to diminish Joshua’s power.

Ruiz, on the other hand, will probably weigh in around 18 stone though there wil be no sniggers at his body shape this time round. He has a proven template from the June encounter so it would be surprising if he moves too far away from it. Ruiz knows he has the hand speed, variety and power to inflict serious damage to Joshua. In round seven last time, clearly on the advice of his corner, Ruiz walked through whatever Joshua had left, knowing that a few more big shots would finish the contest. They did and Ruiz’ life changed forever.

Should Joshua win you would expect Ruiz should be entitled to a third contest but Eddie Hearn probably has bigger fish on his mind. Should Joshua lose again, both boxer and promoter will have an an enormous task on their hands to reinvigorate Joshua’s career and reestablish his legacy. Money surely can’t matter to Joshua anymore so this fight has massive consequences for his career.

All week Joshua has sounded like a man convinging himself that last June was actually a positive step in his career. Tonight he gets a chance to prove it. If both boxers go out with the intention to bang there’s only one winner. But, the sense here is that they decide to box rather than fight, the same man prevails.

Straight Up Sport prediction – Ruiz by KO or TKO

Tips

Andy Ruiz Jr @ 9/4

Andy Ruiz Jr to win round 1-6 @ 11/2

Andy Ruiz Jr to win round 7-12 @13/2

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#Boxing, Boxing

The Legend of the Garden Continues

Hall of famer, Marvin Hagler, once said, “It’s tough to get out of bed to do roadwork at 5am when you’ve been sleeping in silk pajamas (sic)”. Amongst the many theories abounding after Anthony Joshua’s shock defeat to Andy Ruis Jr. last Saturday night, this one may ring most true.  Entourages 20 deep and luxury apartments in Dubai sound great but at some the hunger must wane, the ruthless desire must dim just a little.

In any event, after the massive upset in the vaunted main hall in Madison Square Garden, heavyweight boxing is back to its equilibrium state of chaotic uncertainty. Ruiz Jr, a man you would quite frankly never mistake for an athlete, destroyed an over-confident Joshua to throw the division into disarray and, more importantly, secure his family’s future.

Usually, on nights like this, the champion is caught by an unexpected haymaker – think Hasim Rahman over Lennox Lewis – a one-off punch that cements the underdog’s status in the annals of shock victories. However, Ruiz Jr, whose physique had made him the easy butt of jokes throughout fight week, regrouped after a third-round knock-down to pummel Joshua into submission and shock not just the Garden but the entire sporting world.

Ruiz Jr had the now deposed champion down on four separate occasions, the first of those in the third round being particularly devastating, and the question marks over Joshua’s defence and jaw that have abound since his wild victory over Wladimir Klitschko in 2016 resurfaced.

Boxing, and particularly the heavyweight division, has the ability to frustrate and thrill in equal measure, often simultaneously. The events of the last few months have been no different. Joshua had been slated to make his American debut against Jarrell ‘Big Baby’ Miller, the latter a loud-mouthed, New Yorker who seemed a perfect fit for Joshua.  However, Miller, a 22 stone behemoth, whose stamina somehow endured into the later rounds was found guilty of balls out doping – perhaps in a nod to late 90s Tour de France –  failing tests for HGH, GW1516 and EPO, costing himself millions in the process and leaving Matchroom, DAZN and Eddie Hearn with a huge void to fill.

While it may be hard to believe now, it turns out that Jarrell Miller took all the drugs.

Apparently a $5,000,000.00 purse was placed on the table but the uptake was slow, with the tricky Cuban, Luis Ortiz, reportedly rejecting more money that has ever been placed before him. Enter Ruiz, who made his desire to fight Joshua known to Eddie Hearn via a message on Instagram.  Ruiz had only last fought in April – notably against Alexander Dimitrenko, a perfect tune-up for Anthony Joshua – and was out of camp for only six weeks before returning to work with Manny Robles. Even with this, the experts gave the Mexican American little chance.

Mike Costello and Steve Bunce of the BBC Five Live Boxing Podcast had noted the surprising hand speed of the challenger during last week’s workouts, allied to the fact that Ruiz’ only defeat had come by split decision at the hands of New Zealander, Joseph Parker, two years ago in Auckland. No one viewed Ruiz, to borrow from boxing vernacular, as a bum but he also was barely cracking the major division’s top ten.

Joshua had not been slow to speak of his plans for 2020 when interviewed midweek, not least when his arch-nemesis, Deontay Wilder, had been quick to announce his own rematch with Ortiz and then the much anticipated super-fight with Tyson Fury in February 2020. While it is unquestioned that Joshua allowed his attention to slip just slightly – that’s all that’s required when gigantic men are swinging for you – rumours have swirled about in the fight’s aftermath of the Briton’s preparation to the fight, with some suggesting that he was sparked in sparring less than a fortnight before fight night.

For those who love boxing, the mythos and conjecture form a large part of the post-fight synopsis, and rumours will swirl around until such time as Joshua gloves up and fights again. Until then, questions of a flu, the now infamous sty in the eye, alleged anxiety attacks and a perceived gun shyness will be prevalent.

What is unquestionable is that the tables have turned drastically on Joshua and the braggadocio Hearn in the last six months. Fresh off his stoppage of the tricky but aging Russian, Alexander Povetkin in September, Joshua was issued what appeared to be a legitimate offer – reputed to be worth north of $35,000,000.00 – to face Deontay Wilder in a unification bout for the four recognised heavyweight titles. While Matchroom and Premier Boxing Champions/Al Haymon, Wilder’s promoter, are equally flexible with the truth, it does seem that team Joshua were happy to milk the sold out stadiums in the UK, while basking in the glory of the defeat of the 40 year-old, Klitschko.

When Wilder and Fury sprang their surprise date in L.A. last December, the sense was that Hearn and Joshua had been caught unaware, this time by the wily, Frank Warren. That fight provided one of the best final rounds in heavyweight boxing history and it seemed the big three – Fury, Wilder and Joshua – would engage in a de facto round robin for the next 18 months.

The thrill and anticipation for these fights was frustratingly pierced by ESPN’s move to sign Fury to an exclusive US deal separating him, in a broadcasting context, from Joshua (DAZN) and Wilder (Showtime/Fox). With Fury now in the money, Joshua in possession of three belts and Wilder’s promoters loathe to give up the remaining belt, it felt as if boxing fans would be held hostage to three ridiculously rewarding and divergent financial arrangements.

However, due to fate and the unforeseen intervention of stupidity, drugs and Ruiz’ earnest appeal to Hearn, the division has been flushed wide open once more. And, more importantly, in a twist of fate that no one could have anticipated, Haymon’s PBC signed Ruiz to their stable a mere matter of months ago. PBC has gone from protecting one belt to now possessing all four. Ordinarily, possession is nine tenths of the law, however, in boxing possession is the only show in town.

Joshua may be the most marketable face in boxing – you’ve definitely seen him smiling at you from a bus stop or billboard over the last two years – but if he doesn’t win the rematch with Ruiz later this winter, then the opportunities will dry up almost instantly, unless Haymon and Warren decide otherwise.

In the wake of the drama in the Garden, it has become evident that America is alive to boxing for the first time in years. Sure, Floyd Mayweather’s fights were popular events but there was little of the mystique and the obscure, raw magic that surrounded the sport in the middle of the 20th century. Hard core fans always cared, predominantly the Central American community, but casual fans – the ones who can really effect pay-per-view numbers – are intrigued again.

Even if you are a Joshua fan, there’s something eminently appealing in seeing the quietly-spoken, endearing underdog prevailing over a corporate darling who had arrived on US soil to announce himself to the masses. Ruiz says he has been bullied since he was six over his weight, though you suspect plenty of his tormentors have received the appropriate justice in the years since. More to the point, Ruiz is now at the top table with Fury and Wilder, while Joshua must regroup and prepare for his rematch with Ruiz – announced for November or December – in the knowledge that his career is at a major crossroads.

The suggestion was that Joshua would take Ruiz to the UK but the already unconvinced US crowd will become even more sceptical if Joshua decides to take his ball home after one tough night in boxing’s most revered venue.

Money can surely no longer be an issue, so, if Joshua still wants to create the legacy he has spoken of, he must do so in Vegas or Los Angeles this winter. Steve Bunce thinks the fight will take place in Los Angeles and if Joshua really is the banger he says he is, this shouldn’t be a problem.

While a mega fight between two undefeated champions would have done incredible numbers, the fans will come in droves to see Joshua versus either Fury or Wilder in 2020, not to mention the Ruiz rematch later this year. And, while this sounds incredible, an undefeated record is no prerequisite for greatness. Ali, Foreman, Hopkins, De la Hoya, Pacquiao – all unquestioned hall-of famers with multiple defeats on their resume.

HBO and Sky Sports are as guilty as anyone of promoting the much lauded undefeated versus undefeated contests but the problem is most fighters will enjoy countless easy victories on the way to a 30-0 record. Thus, you get a vacuum where the two or three best in the division circle each other for years until a generally unsatisfactory showdown takes place long after the public’s appetite has piqued.

The 60s, 70s and 80s were a bloodbath, where it would have been quite literally impossible to escape with respect, money and an unbeaten record.

A recurring theme as discussed recently by Kris Mannix and Max Kellerman is that boxers and fans want two different things. Boxers want to make as much as money as possible while, understandably, putting themselves through as little punishment as possible. Fans, however, want the best fights, and for the majority of fans, the best fights are brawls. It’s easy for fight fans to forget that the boxers ultimately want to get out of there in tact mentally and physical and avoiding the best fighters is conducive to this.

The promoters and broadcasters have to deal with the double edged sword they create when lionising their undefeated fighters. Fury v Wilder is theoretically the best fight out there as neither man has tasted defeat but the next instalment of Joshua v Ruiz is, in many ways, more compelling. Ruiz is about to walk away with €20 million plus – and will be subject to patronising platitudes for the next five months. Should he win again, though, he cements his place at the top of the division. Meanwhile, Joshua, who has worked so hard to create the persona of a carefree destroyer now must ignore all his fly by night, celebrity pals, knuckle down with Rob McCracken and reintroduce his brutal side.

Fans had become irked at the reticence of Matchroom to make the Wilder fight. Now, faced with adversity for the first time in years, Joshua can endear himself to the boxing, and general sporting, public by coming back against Ruiz and then potentially putting himself in line for a contest against the winner of Fury-Wilder II.

It’s virtually impossible to chart the course of something so volatile as the heavyweight division. Only weeks ago, conversations on the division were fraught with frustration and irritation. However in the space of seven dynamic rounds, the powerful hands of Andy Ruiz Jr – the most unlikely king of the giants – have suddenly filled the next 12 months with infinite promise.

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#Boxing, Boxing, Tyson Fury

Fury v Wilder: A Turning Point?

Heavyweight boxing rises from the canvas

From the 1920s to the 1990s, boxing’s heavyweight division was to the forefront of not just sports but popular culture, particularly in America.  

The list of great heavyweights includes men who were giants of popular culture in their era: Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano, Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis – all names that have carved their way into sporting lore. For decades, the heavyweight champion of the world was the most famous sportsperson on the planet.

Even when avarice ensued in the 1980s and new governing bodies – WBO, IBF, WBC – were established, the best heavyweight enjoyed the adulation of the masses. However, towards the end of the last century, a number of events occurred, leading to the gradual demise of the heavyweight division.

Mike Tyson’s thrilling, sometimes depraved, journey lurched towards a sickening halt in the late 1990s and Evander Holyfield retired shortly thereafter. With Lennox Lewis’ outstanding career nearing its finale, heavyweight boxing came to be dominated by a pair of robotic behemoths from Ukraine who offered none of the flair or fanfare of their immediate predecessors.

Those men were the Klitschkos – Vitali and Wladimir – and they enjoyed a decade of dominance built on monumental physiques and relentless, metronomic left jabs. Their styles had little aesthetic appeal and they failed to engage with an American audience who still harboured historic bias towards Eastern Europe.

Big and Boring: The Klitschkos

Though Oscar de la Hoya, Floyd Mayweather and Roy Jones Jr were wowing boxing fans a few weight divisions down, the heavyweight division was always relied on to attract the casual fan. And, with a paucity of quality big men, the division descended into relative obscurity.

In all sports, the idiom states that a good big man will beat a good small man. Well, in boxing, the most enthralling sight is two huge men colliding in an eighteen by eighteen feet ring with just a 10 ounce glove for protection. Last Sunday morning, Tyson Fury,took on WBA heavyweight champion of the world, Deontay Wilder, in the Staples Centre, Los Angeles – two men attempting to win back the attention of a once rapt American audience.

The boxing community in America, together with promoters and network executives, were aware that a dull contest would represent a missed and potentially final opportunity to seize the attention of today’s demanding, impatient television audience. Remarkably – as nostalgia tends to mask the sheer number of dull heavyweight clashes – Wilder and Fury were involved in a wild contest that escalated in the final four rounds. The climax of the saw bout saw Fury rise – Undertaker-like- from the canvas in the 12th round after a devastating combination from Wilder looked to have ended the contest.

https://www.sho.com/video/65123/wilder-knocks-down-fury-in-round-12

Indeed, with the exception of Larry Holmes in 1978 against Ernie Shavers, it’s unlikely that anyone has ever beaten the referee’s count after absorbing what Fury did. Wilder’s face showed both bemusement and grudging respect and though a contentious split draw decision followed minutes later, those in attendance or watching at home knew they had just witnessed something special.

The events in Los Angeles would have been keenly observed by Anthony Joshua – WBC, WBO and IBF champion of the world – and his team, led by silver-tongued promoter, Eddie Hearn. Since winning Olympic Gold in London 2012, Joshua has gone on to become the golden boy of British sport. His charisma, power and extraordinary physique have made him extremely popular with the British public and he is an advertiser’s dream.  Joshua enjoyed a narrow escape from a drug conviction in 2011, when a judge told him, ‘prison–or boxing’. Joshua took his chance and hasn’t looked back.

Hearn’s Matchroom Promotions built Joshua up as the novice destroyed all comers. While Joshua’s hype machine gathered momentum, Fury – always a divisive character –went to Dusseldorf in 2015 and defeated Wladimir Klitschko, in the process becoming the lineal heavyweight champion of the world.

However, before their rematch could take place, Fury was banned and ultimately spiralled into a deep hole of alcohol and drug abuse, very nearly taking his life in the process. The British Board of Boxing Control (BBBC) was left with little option but to ban Fury after he admitted to prolonged cocaine abuse.

With Fury suspended, Joshua defeated a Klitschko in decline and became the world’s pre-eminent heavyweight. But, champions are only as good as their rivals. Tyson had Holyfield, while Ali, Foreman, Liston and Frazier all engaged in enthralling contests in the 1960s and 1970s. New Zealand’s Joseph Parker – since proven to be an average fighter-  held the WBO title, while the Alabaman, Deontay Wilder, was relying on an ungainly but hammer like right hand to lead him to an undefeated record and possession of the WBA championship.

Joshua v Klitschko was a brilliantly even fight, not a fight between two brilliant boxers.

The problem,though, was the glaring absence of Fury from the heavyweight scene. Joshua is an immense talent but when people like Eddie Hearn unearth a man both as talented and marketable as Joshua, there is a hesitancy to put him in a ring with a man as unorthodox and dangerous as Wilder. Sportswear companies, watch manufacturers and airlines don’t respond well when the face of their billboard campaigns has been sparked in front of millions of viewers.

If there is a paucity of quality challengers – as was case when the Klitschkos ruled – then promoters can largely do as they please but audiences are wise and predictable fights will not do big office numbers. With Fury absent though, and offering little beyond pithy soundbites, Hearn knew it was his prerogative to mine Anthony Joshua’s cross-generational appeal and make some real money. Admittedly, that is the very essence of professional boxing.

Boxing enjoys a most unusual place in society, offering somewhat of a social dilemma:why do peaceful people enjoy the brutal nature of a boxing match? Perhaps it’s the drama of the event, the contradictory appeal of the glamour and raw brutality, or, perhaps we’re not as peaceful and reasonable as we believe.

This week the grim reality of the fight game came to bear when it was confirmed that former light heavyweight champion of the world, Adonis Stevenson, had been placed in a medically induced coma and may have lasting brain injuries. His injuries came in defeat to Oleksandr Gvozdyk in Quebec City on the same night that heavyweight boxing was rejuvenated. The contrast is jarring. The risks are so real and so obvious and history is littered with hundreds of cautionary tales of men and women who were devoured by the boxing industry. Yet, mystifyingly the show goes on and those who should know better lap it up.

Still, while boxing cares little for its casualties, the return of the fallen great has been mythologised since the 1920s. Thus it was, earlier this year, and after negotiations with the BBBC, Tyson Fury was allowed to return to the ring, with his two-year suspension backdated to 2016. Two barely passable tune-ups followed before Fury and Wilder’s respective management teams were able to agree to last weekend’s contest.

When the fight was made, Team Joshua – none of whom lack for hubris – saw Wilder and Fury as inferior, the ‘B side’ in any future negotiations. Then, Wilder and Fury engaged in the remarkable contest last weekend and now the division is alive with opportunity once more. Unlike Joshua and Klitschko, this was actually a contest between two men in their prime. Joshua is still the main draw but as in bygone days, the pinnacle of the heavyweight division is now populated by a number of extremely talented yet markedly different men.

Whatever the case, events in California have changed the dynamic entirely. How else could Deontay Wilder have ended sitting on a couch beside the mystifying, James Corden? Until Saturday, Joshua and Hearn perhaps rightly thought that Fury and Wilder needed them. Now, however, their rematch will fill Wembley Stadium or a Las Vegas casino and the box office purchases will be like the 90s heydays.

Some people will scratch their heads and struggle to fathom the brutality of boxing but last Saturday’s fight has renewed America’s love for the storied heavyweight division. For the oddly sentimental fans of boxing and the power brokers alike, the bigs are back and all is well in the world once more.

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#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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