Redskins, Colin Kaepernick, and the End of Jay Gruden Era

Jay Gruden era will not be officially over until after the season is over but it is unofficially over.  When the Giants, the New York Football Giants, had a 34-0 lead at halftime, my first thought was how does a team with a shot at the playoff be this unprepared to play?  Part of the problem was injuries but if there was a team they should be beat that would be the Giants and their best receiver, Odell Beckman, Jr. wasn’t even playing.  The game ended when Sanchez threw his first of two picks that came back for a touchdown, the players knew they weren’t going to score and the defense simply gave up.  The whole team did or they did until the fourth quarter when Josh Johnson racked up 240 yards by himself, threw on touchdown and ran for another.

Watching this and the first thought was this what the Redskins offense would have looked like if Kaepernick was playing.  A running quarter back who would give the depleted offensive line a break and maybe make a few plays to keep the defense off the field.  I am not fan of Kaepernick activism and to quote John Lennon, “You won’t make it with anyone anyway if you keep carrying pictures of Chairman Mao” and that decribes Kaepernick who once showed up in Miami in a Fidel Castro T-shirt.  Needless to say, the Dolphins passed on him and signed Jay Cutler instead.  Not that they benefited from Cutler but better than explaining to many of Dolphins fan base that you signed some, commie loving, Castro loving player.

Redskins could have signed him and they wouldn’t be worse off than they are now.  Fans wants victories and a franchise starved for a playoff spot, it would have been worth the effort to sign him and if he flopped, so what.  You gave it your best shot but Sanchez flopped and now Skins are out of the playoff spot.  A season that four weeks ago was looking magical is now over.

 

Fury and Wilder, The Fight

Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury fought an entertaining fight in which most pundits viewed Fury as the winner. This was not the controversial decision everyone made it out to be.  Many of the rounds were close and while Fury fought a good defensive battle, most of the rounds were decided by one punch or two. The closet to dominant rounds according to Compubox numbers for Fury was the third in which he connected on 11 punches to 4 for Wilder and the tenth in which Wilder was credited with only one punch landed to Fury’s ten punches. Contrast those rounds to Wilder dominant rounds in the ninth and twelfth round in which he sent Fury down.

Dan Rafel of ESPN had the fight in favor of Wilder 114-112 and I could easily see that decision and the 113 to 113 draw was equally reasonable since this card had Fury winning 7 rounds but when you lose two rounds by 10-8, which is negative four points for those rounds.  115 to 111 card was reasonable since that judge had Fury winning 9 rounds and that is not reach either.  Could you give Wilder 7 rounds as one judge in his scorecard 115-111?  Yes, you could since many of these rounds were simply too close and throughout the bout Wilder was the aggressor.  There is no doubt that the two knockdowns matter since on the 113-113 card, those two knockdowns matter as the judge gave two 10-8 rounds as he should have.  Those two knockdowns allowed Wilder to keep his version of the titles as if Fury had not been knockdown twice, he would have won the fight.

So let not pretend this was outrageous robbery for it was a tough fight to score but the majority of pundits had Fury winning in spite of the knockdowns.  I leaned toward Dan Rafel’s card and I could easily live with any of the other cards.

There was two things that came out of this fight. One is that Fury is an underestimated boxer who limited Wilder to 17% connect rate and six punches per round just as he limited Wladimir Klitschko to 4 connects for round.  His mobility is surprising for someone who is 6’9” and he slipped many punches.  While he never had Wilder in trouble, he did some effective counterpunches in spot but he was not consistent in landing punches.  While he landed 25% of his punches compared to Wilder 17%, he only landed 84 punches and many of his power punches were hardly devastating punches.  Wilder landed the two big punches of the fight and nearly ended the fight in the final round as Fury was laid out on his back but he got up.  What helped Wilder with the judges was that he was the busier fighter as he threw 430 punches to 327 punches.   This doesn’t mean that judges should give a fighter credit for throwing punches if they are not effective and many rounds, Wilder threw haymakers that missed their target and his jab inaccurate.  Fury’s defensive skills were impressive enough to win the fight and if he didn’t get knock down, he would have prevailed.

Wilder weakness on the other hand showed up including throwing his right hand in haymaker fashion. Many of his right hands were telegraphed and avoided by Fury.  His failure to set up his right hand with an ineffective jabbing hurt him.  He could not set up his right hand often but twice and those two times showed what happens when he does connect.   His power was his strength but his boxing skills still needs refining.  Fury at times made Wilder look amateurish and wild misses with his right hand were frequent.

Should we have a rematch? Yes, since Wilder as a fighter needs to defeat decisively Fury in a rematch or many fans will view Wilder as a beneficiary of a bad decision. For Fury, he came close to winning a heavyweight title and should be given a second change since there was enough controversy.  Hopefully they won’t make us pay 75 dollars for the privilege.

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Another bout was that got no headlines was the Oleksander Gvozdyk-Adonis Stevenson in which Gvozdyk dominated from the third round as he connected on accurate punches and put the pressure on the 41 year old Stevenson.  In the eleventh round, he nailed Stevenson with combination that sent Stevenson to the ground and the referee stopped the fight.  Stevenson reign as light heavyweight is over and now he clings to life as he was admitted to critical care.  Last report is that he is an induced coma and hopefully he will survive and recover.

Jarrett Hurd stopped a game James Welborn with a devastating body shots.  Welborn jumped on Hurd and forced him to the rope at the beginning of the fourth round before he got nailed with a counter body punch that stopped Welborn in his track.  Jermell Charlo challenged Hurd for his Super Welterweight belts and who knows what will happen if Jermell Charlo wins his next bout later this month.

 

Jacobs Prevail by Tom Donelson

Danny Jacobs edge past former sparring mate and undefeated Sergiy Derevyanchenko for the IBF Middleweight title.  He won by a split decision as two judges had him winning 115-112 while Julie Lederman had Derevyanchenko winning 114-113, disagreeing with her father who had Jacobs winning by a wider margin that the judges. I had 116-111.

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Both fighters knew each other after sparring over 300 rounds and while Derevyanchenko came in with a 12-0 record but he also had 20 plus fights in the World Series of Boxing that did not count in his professional record.  Derevyanchenko was noted for the being an aggressive fighter but over the first half of the fight, Derevyanchenko showed restraint in his attack and with good reason. Throughout the bout, Jacobs launched vicious body shot and it didn’t help Derevyanchenko that he went down on a flash knockdown on a Jacobs’clubbing right hand near the end of the first bout.  Derevyanchenko did manage a combination in the second round that shook Jacobs up but from that point, Jacobs showed overall better skills and ring generalship as he moved and gave himself angles to hit Derevyanchenko.  Derevyanchenko fought a competitive fight and many pundits had the fight closer than I had.  Each round was competitive including the first round until Derevyanchenko hit the canvas at the end of the round.

Danny Jacobs escaped from being trapped on the rope while keeping much of the bout in the center of the ring.  Derevyanchenko did not match Jacobs hand speed and nor did he cut off the ring as well as he could but then Jacobs mobility has much to do with that.

There were moments that Derevyanchenko got the better including a solid left hand and right hand combination in the tenth round and he took the final round but it was too little too late, at least on my card.  While Harold Lederman had this fight in favor of Jacobs, other of the HBO team including Roy Jones and Max Kellerman warned the audience that while Harold had it easily in Jacobs favor, the judges would have it closer. They did and Harold own daughter disagree with her father on who won.  Now Jacobs want Alvarez to unify the title.

HBO is now leaving the fight game and by the end of the year, there will be no HBO covering boxing.  For years, Showtime has surpassed HBO and other just as ESPN and Fox sports covered the sport.  HBO was the king of boxing coverage for over four decades and if there was a big fight, HBO had it.  Over 1100 fights were seen on HBO since 1973 but over the past few years, Top Rank and Premier boxing took their business elsewhere and many of the bigger stars moved to Showtime, leaving HBO with very few big fights.  Over the years some of the greatest performed on HBO including Lennox Lewis, Roy Jones, Oscar De La Hoya, Sugar Ray Leonard and Tommy Hearns.  The last big stars left on HBO was Saul Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin, who will now be free agents.

For me, a decisive shift from HBO to Showtime was the Showtime Super Middleweight tournament and over a period of three years, Showtime had some of the best fighters in the 168 pound fighting each other and it was here that Andre Ward became a star as he won the tournament and became the king of the division.   HBO is no longer part of boxing but boxing may benefit from this as there are other who are willing to broadcast more matches.  My own bias is that covering Showtime boxing was more fun and their announcers were more accessible.  I remember covering a SHOBOX and I had the chance to interview the late Nick Charles and Steve Farhood, and found them both not just knowledgeable about the sport but down to earth.  I will miss Harold Lederman who often explained the nuance of scoring and hope he lands somewhere.  Jim Lampley is staying with HBO, so his career as play by play announcer is over but Max Kellerman may end up back at ESPN.   Boxing will survive and with Showtime, they have will a network that will promote the sport that HBO failed

Iowa Consistency by Tom Donelson

Kirk Ferentz has become one of my favorite coaches and two decades ago, I became a Hawkeye fan.  For many Iowans, Iowa is their professional team and Saturday is their day to love their Hawkeye with tailgate parties beginning in the morning.

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Kirk Ferentz is not the greatest coach in college football but he is a good coach and Iowa understand that in Ferentz, they have a coach that fits their state and their expectation.  The reality is that most college teams are Iowa and not Alabama.  Alabama is a super team that expect to win championships and very few schools actually are truly contenders.  Most teams finish 8-4, 9-3 or maybe a few will win 10 games and make a bowl game.  Iowa is one of those teams that almost every year goes to a bowl games while winning an average of 8 games.  Since 1979, Iowa has had only two coaches, Hayden Fry and Kirk Ferentz.  Fry has won 143 games over 20 years and retired with most victories of any other head before Ferentz won his 144 victory the first game this year.   Ferentz and Iowa have been competitive since the turn of the century including winning more games than SEC power Tennessee and as many as Notre Dame.   Over the past five years, Iowa has defeated Nebraska four times and all of the victories by double digit.  Nebraska was once a leading power and when it joined the Big 10, it was presume that Nebraska would add another power team to the Big Ten. Instead, Nebraska has drifted back to the pack in a weak Big Ten West.  This year Nebraska is off to a 0-4 start and now is starting to rebuild.  Scott Frost, the new head coach and a former Nebraska star, want to rebuild Nebraska to its glory days of Tom Osborne but the question is Nebraska can actually return to its glory day or will they be a eight, nine or occasionally ten victories and occasional major bowl game and will Nebraska be satisfied with being like Iowa?

For four decades, Iowa have had two head coaches, big victories and a few bowl wins, averaging nearly 8 victories per year.  Bowl victories in the Ferentz years included victory over SEC powers such as Florida and Louisiana State, so Iowan fans have managed to enjoy their team, knowing that that at least team will have a winning record and go to a bowl game.  Iowa fans travel to bowl games and many bowl games love to have Iowa knowing the fan base shows up.

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Most college teams are like Iowa and not Alabama, teams that will have good years, a few bad and maybe magical year. Iowa in 2015 had a magical year finishing the regular season 12 -0 followed up by a pair of 8-5 records which included a victory in the Pin Stripe Bowl in 2017 along with a big upset of Ohio State 55 to 24.

Alabama fans expect their team to be in the playoffs and Clemson fans have similar expectation. Notre Dame fans for years have had similar expectation and yet since the turn of the century, Notre Dame has not been much better than Iowa and while Notre Dame have been to a final, Alabama merely crushed the Fighting Irish and this year, they are looking to be in the playoffs again. The Irish name gives the advantages when selection time comes but Iowa program has been as good as Notre Dame over the past two decades.

In the 1990’s, Tennessee was a National Champion and now they are no better than Iowa as a program.  Notre Dame was a national powerhouse but haven’t won a national title since 1988, and the meantime, Iowa has had only two coaches who led their team to success, bowl games and consistency.  Iowa has settle for consistency and sent players to the NFL, and Fry assistant coaches have become head coaches in their right including Bob Stoops, Bill Snyder and Kirk Ferentz.

The lesson for college fans is to be satisfied with what they have. Iowa has developed a successful program that has won 489 wins over the past four decades, several bowl victories and sent several of their players to the NFL.  The problem that many schools are not as satisfied with who they are as they fire coaches and start all over.  Nebraska is now in the same position as Iowa but fans will not forgive Frost if he doesn’t return Nebraska to the glory days of National titles.  Bo Pelini was fired despite averaging 9 victories and winning at 70% rate.  After getting fired beating Iowa, Nebraska Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst arrogantly responded, “We are supposed to beat Iowa.”  Last year, Eichorst got fired after Nebraska lost their third straight to Iowa, all by lopsided fashion and Nebraska was only 19-19 after Pelini was fired.  What Iowa gives their fans is consistency and stability, virtues rarely appreciated.

 

Joshua Beat Povetkin by Tom Donelson

Anthony Joshua once again showed that he may be the best heavyweight in the world as he defeated Alexandra Povetkin and it was not an easy bout as the 39 year old Povetkin nailed Joshua with a combination that open a gusher of blood from Joshua nose in the first round.  Joshua may have fought the rest of the fight with a broken nose but certainly, the blood flow from his nose hampered his breathing.

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Povetkin proved competitive through the first six rounds as he landed solid combinations and pursued Joshua through the first half of the fight as he attempted to get inside of the bigger Joshua.  I had Povetkin winning the first two rounds and the halfway mark, I had the fight even.  Throughout the sixth round, Joshua started to take command as he threw and connected on double the punches while Povetkin looked tired.

Povetkin pushed the pace but Joshua adopted to the Povetkin and fought like the taller fighter as he started to pump his jab to establish the real estate between the two. In the first round, Povetkin wobbled Joshua knees with a left uppercut and he landed numerous punches that shook Joshua up but Joshua jab started to control the fight as the fight proceeded.  Joshua proved vulnerable as Povetkin proved an able competitor but Joshua height and power proved decisive.

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Joshua understood that Povetkin could end his championship and used his jab to set up combinations.  The jabs went to the body and to the head and while defense was not perfect, he started to block many of Povetkin’s shots coming his way. By the fifth round, Joshua controlled the pace of the fight and by the end of the sixth, it was Povetkin who was wilting.

Joshua ended the fight in spectacular fashion as he landed a right hand that nearly sent Povetkin head spinning 180 degrees and after three more power shots, Povetkin went down.  Povetkin barely got back up and the referee could have easily stopped the fight but he gave the further Povetkin one more shot but it didn’t matter.  One more Joshua combination had Povetkin reeling and his corner threw in towel to surrender before any further damage was done.

Joshua did what champions are supposed to do, finish off an opponent but there were flaws but also positive development.  The flaws could be seen in the first round as he got nailed with power shots and his knees wobbled as a result.  The positive is that he adjusted and used his jab to re-establish control of the real estate between him and Povetkin who had more difficulty getting inside.

The ending came suddenly and without warning, which is what great punchers do.  One punch and the fight is over.  While Povetkin looked weary going back to his corner at the end of the sixth, he did not look in trouble. The only fighter who looked in trouble over the first half of the fight was Joshua in the opening round and Povetkin landed significant power shots.  Over the first half of the fight, Povetkin laned more than double the power shots than Joshua while Joshua landed nearly 11 times more jabs and that is where the fight was won.

With a potential Wilder-Joshua fight over the horizon in 2019, the Heavyweight division is becoming exciting once again with fighters that fans want to see. From 2004 through 2015, the Klitschko brothers dominated and most of their fights were in Europe, invisible to Americans fans and the lack of American heavyweights to challenge for the title dampened the excitement of American fan even further.

Now Deontay Wilder is challenging Joshua as the best of the heavyweights and he has a date with Tyson Fury, whose last big victory was his upset over Wladmir Klitschko and has won his two warm up fights in his comeback.  If Wilder wins, then we are set up for the first big mega fight in the heavyweight division since Lennox Lewis fought Mike Tyson back in 2002.

Joshua has the kind of appeal that fills up football stadium in Great Britain and when was the last time any American fighter filled up a Stadium.   Wilder now must get past Fury and while he is the favorite, Fury will be a tough fight for Wilder, a big fighter who is awkward, something that Klitschko found out when he fought Fury.   If Wilder beats Fury which is he favored to do, then the big fight is on.

Whit Merrifield, the Best Baseball Player You don’t Know

Whit Merrifield is the best baseball player that no one knows about and one reason is that he plays in Kansas City for one of the worst team in baseball.  Merrifield came up to the Royals in 2016 and since then, he has hit .292 including over .300 this year.  Over the past two seasons, he has hit 33 homers and stolen 70 bases plus he has played not only a very good second bases but has proven to be valuable player in the outfield.

What Merrifield has done is to combine the classic utility player, playing many positions while proving to be a solid hitter.  At the age of 29, he is in the prime of his career and presently his 36 stolen bases leads the league.  One player that he compares is to Ben Zobrist who is presently hitting .312 but a lifetime .267 hitter and Zobrist has played in two World Series for Kansas City and Chicago in 2015 and 2016.  Zobrist, like Merrifield, plays multiple positions and plays them well but so far Merrifield is the better hitter.

If Merrifield was on the New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox, he would be a household name but being in the Midwest and on a last place team in the worst baseball division, no one knows how good he truly is.  The question remains, how long does Merrifield stay a Royal? Right now he is under control until 2021 but there is always talk about trading him for multiple prospects.

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What should the Royals do?  They should keep him since he can play so many position but as a lead up batter and combined with Mondesi who has shown both power while hitting for average.  These two at the top of the lineup could the most potent one two punch. They can not only hit for power but also two of better base stealers in the game today.  That means those behind them are getting a lot of fast balls if they are on the base path, which benefits hitters down the line up and

The Royals are few years from competing but this year, younger players brought up showed potential just as Ryan O’Hearn who has hit 11 homers in less than half of the year along Hunter Dozier who added 11 homers. They still have Salvador Perez who is the game best catchers and there are young pitchers just as Brad Keller who look like they belong in the majors.

Merrifield is the best Royal player who can do about anything, hit for power and in Royal stadium that means not just homers but power to the gaps.  He is an excellent baserunner and fielder.  He is a Royal building block for the future.

 

 

 

Triple G’s vs Alvarez by Tom Donelson

The second Golovkin-Alvarez was closer than their first bout and while I won’t say that Golovkin was robbed in this fight, he better understand he will never fbeat Alvarez short of knocking him out. I had Triple G’s the winner in the first bout 115 to 113 but this bout was closer as Alvarez pushed the action and as HBO Roy Jones noted that Alvarez pushed Golovkin and that unlike any previous Golovkin fights, Alvarez stalked triple G’s.   In their first bout, Golovkin threw 200 more punches as he did in the second bout but in the first bout, he landed nearly 50 more punches than Alvarez and power punches were nearly the same.  He out punched Alvarez in 10 of the 12 rounds and this was why many were disappointed he wasn’t awarded the decision.

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In this bout, he landed twice as many jabs as he did in the first fight but Alvarez landed nearly twenty six more power shots than Golovkin and Golovkin landed more punches in 7 rounds as compared to 4 for Alvarez and one even.  The perception of Alvarez more aggressive stance gave judges the reason to award the fight to Alvarez and the closer nature of the rounds aided Alvarez in the decision.  There were rounds Alvarez won in which he landed fewer punches because he landed effective power shots.

I had the fight even and many pundits including ESPN Dan Rafael had the fight even while others had like Bleacher Reports had it 116 to 112 for Golovkin.  This fight was closer than the first one and it was Alvarez who improved and adopted from the first fight.

In the seventh and eighth round, Alvarez looked stronger and it was Triple G’s who looked exhausted as the younger Alvarez appeared to be taking command. In the tenth round, and eleventh round, it was triple G’s who dominated the actions, it was Alvarez who look to be wilting.

Both fighters gave it all they had in the final round as both fighters landed big shots but over the last half of the round, Alvarez held the advantage and I had him winning the last round.   What we saw in the last half of the bout, was both fighters showing sign of wilting only to come back.  So the big question left to answer who won and we don’t have a clear answer.  Golovkin barely won the first fight but the judges awarded a draw with one judge giving it to Alvarex 118-110 while the other two had a more reasonable score with one judge scoring it 115-113 in favor of Golovkin and the other a draw. The latter two scores were reasonable even if I disagreed with the final decision draw.  This bout was better scored as two judges had it 115-113 for Alvarez and a third had it a 114-114 draw.

The bout was that close and it could easily have been scored the other way and Golovkin given the majority decision.  What we learned is that both fighters are close to each other in talent and skill.  Alvarez has quicker hands and showed in this bout, he could adjust his strategy.  Golovkin follow the same strategy as he did in the first fight, depending upon his jabs and just as in the first fight, he connected on double the jabs.  The only difference is that Alvarez connected on more power shots and he also stood his ground more often and victory came due to his change in tactic, Alvarez moved slightly ahead in the eyes of the judges and as Roy Jones noted, Triple G’s found himself on his back foot.  So who won? I had it even but the majority of ringside has it for Golovkin but many also had it a draw. It was a tough fight to score and unless Team Alvarez decide that two fights is enough, there should be a rematch and maybe this time not in Vegas. The Barclay Center in Brooklyn will be a good place where maybe Golovkin will have a home court advantage.

Osaka Defeats Williams: An End of Era and the Beginning of Another By Tom Donelson

The youthful Naomi Osaka swept Serena Williams 6-2, 6-4 in the US Open final. This was considered an upset but maybe it was a signal that one era is over and new era is beginning.  Williams made it to her second major final in a row this year but she lost both finals in dominating fashion.  At Wimbledon, Angelique Kerber swept past Serena 6-3, 6-3 and Osaka game was no different as she was easily the better player in this match.

Serena Williams managed to finish in two straight finals but at the age of 36 years, she have exceeded the age where most Tennis players decline in their skills and rating but she managed to still be one of the best in the world returning from her pregnancy.  For Williams, it is about getting to 24 Major titles to tie her with Margaret Court, but that 24 is proving elusive.  Williams still is competitive but she is no longer the Queen of Tennis and before her pregnancy, it was often it was Serena vs. the rest of field but now she has come back to the field.

Osaka is 20 years old and she told the rest of the Tennis world that she is not just a champion but she may be ready to take over the Woman Tennis world.  Not only did she blow away Serena in the finals but before that, she blew Madison Keys off the court in semi-final.  Much of the post-match centered on Williams’ trouble with Carlos Ramos, the chair judge, who called a coaching violation on Williams for receiving coaching from her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou and later, they got into another row in which Ramos rewarded Williams a game penalty and it took attention from the Osaka’s victory.

The US Open may be known years from now as the Open that marked the end of Williams sister era and the beginning of new era in which younger players now begin their own reign led by Naomi Osaka.

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