Expertise's Politics and Sports Blog

Tuesday, March 08, 2005
The Contender.

(Photo: Yahoo's "The Contender" Page)

I've been waiting for NBC's "The Contender" to premiere for weeks.  Similar to Spike TV's "The Ultimate Fighter", which trains mixed martial arts contestants instead of boxers, "The Contender" features 16 boxing upstarts who get a chance to be trained by Sugar Ray Leonard for a chance to win $1,000,000.  The last two fighters will face off at Caesar's Palace in May.

Created by Sylvester Stallone, "The Contender" is definitely the real deal.  Stallone and DreamWorks spared no expense in making this a top-notch affair.  All of the boxers have nice living quarters, they have legendary trainers on hand to help them improve their skills, and they train in a state-of-the-art gym.  Viewers will really like the fights, in which weigh-ins and press conferences are done beforehand with real boxing journalists, and there was a pretty large crowd for the first fight. 

However, I can't say I'm excited about the rounds being edited.  While they were edited perfectly, and I understand them trying to do so because of time and dramatic effect, it would have been good to see them unedited for boxing fans to sit back and be able to accurately judge the rounds for ourselves.

All of the contestants have a "Rocky"-like story.  They're placed in two groups:  West Coast and East Coast fighters.  A number of them have wives and children to make a living for.  Some come from boxing families, and others just come from the streets and had it hard growing up.  Unlike "The Ultimate Fighter", where the MMA guys are literally shut off from the outside world (no television, no clubs, just training at the house), "Contender" actually encourages the fighters' families to live with them during their time there and are featured throughout the show.  This adds a really emotional twist to the show, as viewers get to know everything about the fighters' backgrounds and are able to understand what the families are going through.

Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing depends on the perspective you're looking from.  No doubt it brings more drama and emotion to the show; no doubt that's the angle Stallone is trying to reach, and it makes it more entertaining.  But I doubt boxing purists will approve of that much interaction the families actually have in the show.  In the first episode, both families were with the fighters almost up to belltime.  That could distract the fighter and possibly make him a little more nervous than normal.

For example, the first episode's main event pitted East Coast fighter Peter Manfredo Jr. vs. West Coast fighter Alfonso Gomez.  You could see the contrasting qualities of the two fighters.  Gomez was considered the underdog, while Manfredo was considered one of the strongest fighters from the East because of his record (21-0).

However, the West Coast team won the challenge, which meant they got to decide the fight.  While the West fighters were discussing it, Gomez immediately stepped up to the plate and offered to fight Manfredo.  The West thought he was biting off a little more than he could chew, but they eventually relented.

Gomez, in retrospect, had everything going for him.  He had no family to worry about making a living for, his father was his trainer, who was a former boxer in Mexico, and he had time to hype himself up for the fight.  Manfredo had brought his wife (Who was that hotness. Whew.) and his baby girl with him.  His father, who was a former boxer as well, didn't come with them.  I also suspect Manfredo didn't expect to fight first.

All of this had to play into Manfredo's psyche, and it showed in the fight.  Gomez went to him and challenged Manfredo as soon as the bell sounded, and it seemed that Manfredo was taken aback by his aggression.  He didn't respond, and Gomez continued to stay busy, using uppercuts and jabs to start the fight.

Manfredo seemed as if he was ready for the second round, and popped Gomez with a hook that hurt him the rest of the round.  At one point, it seemed as if Manfredo would stop Gomez, and Gomez had a cut above his right eye to close out the round.  I think the fact that Gomez came out strong in the third round probably demoralized Manfredo, because he didn't do anything for the rest of the fight.  Everything he tried to do, Gomez took it, and brought something better.  Gomez never really hurt Manfredo, but constantly frustrated him with his aggression and his constant busywork.  From the third round on (it was a five-round fight) Manfredo couldn't find anything that worked and Gomez won by unaminous decision.

Check out Tommy Gallagher's commentary of the fight on Yahoo's "The Contender" page, which I find easier to read than NBC's official website.  He comes to almost the same conclusion I did, in that attitude was the deciding factor of the fight.  You can also watch the fight here.

The next episode is Thursday at 8PM EST on NBC.  I expect the West Coast to be a little cocky after that surprising win this week, and from the teasers they gave for next week, the sparks that flew at the press conference between an East and West Coast fighter might turn into a fire.  Word is, there's going to be an altercation on the training grounds.  George Foreman will visit the guys on Thursday as well.  I hope to watch it and give a recap on it as well.

Posted at 04:47 am by Expertise
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Super Sunday recap.

Folks, you won't find a sports day better than the one we received this past Sunday.

In college basketball, the number one ranked team in the nation who was undefeated going into their last game of the regular season against an unranked team that will more than likely miss the NCAA Tournament went down in flames.  Along with them, the number three team in the nation, Kentucky, and the number seven team in the nation, Kansas, both fell to unranked teams. 

Meanwhile, the number two team in the nation, North Carolina, rallied from nine down with 3 minutes left to score 11 straight points to win a thriller at the Dean Dome.  And the number four team in the nation, Wake Forest, hit a floater in order to pull out the win against NC State, albeit the game resulted in the suspension of their top player for dirty tactics.

Is this a precursor to March Madness?  Possibly.  It's hard to see one round in the tourney equal this, much less one day.  But it is good to see a lot of teams playing hard at the close of the season, because next Sunday will probably be one of the most controversial selection shows ever, and no team is really safe.

Illinois's backcourt weaknesses shone against Ohio State.  While a UNC team without McCants was still strong, they all have to contribute on the offensive end because McCants is their pure shooter.  Duke can't beat a team that is equally physical or more physical than them.  Wake Forest is lacking in the front court.  Kentucky will have problems on neutral courts.  One of Kansas's key starters is injured with an ankle sprain.

If you are a bubble team that's slumped down the stretch - Maryland, West Virginia, Georgetown, and Indiana, for example - you couldn't be too happy with what went down Sunday.  But hey; the selection committee has to pick 65 teams.  Hope some of the mid-major favorites win their conference tourneys (especially Holy Cross, Pacific, Winthrop and Davidson). 

Add to that an emotional finish to golf's Doral Open, where Tiger Woods beat Phil Mickelson in a playoff to regain his number one world ranking.  Is Tiger back to form?  We'll see at the Masters.

And the week is only going to get better.  Conference championships go on throughout the week, as Gonzaga and Old Dominion (much to the relief of bubble teams, as OD had to do it in overtime) stamped their tickets to the tourney on Monday.  Most of the major conferences will start on Wednesday.

I'll talk more about the bubble teams - who's locked in, who needs a great conference tournament performance, and who's bubble has already burst - before the ACC tournament starts Wednesday.

Posted at 03:02 am by Expertise
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Sunday, March 06, 2005
Folks, this says it all:

(Photo:  AP/Gary Broome via ESPN)

This kid deserves all the accolades he's getting tonight.  All I ask is that he doesn't go pro after this season.

Posted at 10:24 pm by Expertise
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I'm going to liveblog this the rest of the way.

16:00 - Carolina is dominating the paint, as too much Sean May and Jawad Williams for Shelden Williams to handle.  However, Duke's superior arc shooting is keeping them in the game. 

May's first half line:  17pts, 9 rebs, 3 asts.  Great first half, and I think if he can continue it he'll have a strong argument for ACC player of the year.

13:00 - Both teams need to get a hold of this game, as they're starting to play sloppy.  Duke is doing a better job defending in the paint, as Randolph got three blocks in this half despite having three fouls.  On the other end, Shelden Williams is starting to find his stride in the paint.

9:00 - Carolina's playing like garbage right now.  Not taking advantage of open jumpers, and they're allowing Duke to have their way with them in the paint.  And take note that Reddick hasn't done anything in this half.  While Shelden Williams is having a great defensive day, the refs are letting a lot go.  I'm not going to say WHY that's happening right now.

And as I'm typing this, Randolph gets his fourth foul.

6:00 - Melchionni is looking like a pro, or at least that's what Carolina is allowing him to look.  Every one of the threes he's hit in this game have been wide open because they are trying to keep Reddick pinned down.  It's time for Roy Williams to change game plans because that isn't working.  Carolina's also continuing to miss open shots.

4:00 - Shelden Williams is going to work, as he continues to make some great shots in the paint for Duke.  Only problem is, he keeps missing free throws.  That could hurt them as the clock runs down.

If Carolina could actually hit half the open jumpers they've missed, they'd probably would be up by double digits.  Instead, they're down by four.

3:00 - Duke is up by nine.  Once again, they leave Melchionni wide open for the three.  Carolina looks confused, and no one can buy a basket.  The one thing that went for the Heels is that Randolph has fouled out, which will open up the paint.  But it may be too little too late.

1:44 - May makes it a two point game after being fouled in the paint.  They are now starting to press, which is frustrating Duke.

27 tics - there must be an angel on Carolina's shoulder, because they were able to steal the ball and call the timeout.  Here we go..foul on Nelson, Carolina goes to the line.

17 ticks - Unbelievable.  UnFREAKINbelievable.  Felton misses his second ft, Williams gets the rebound, puts it back up, hits a basket and the foul...hits the free throw, carolina up by 2.   
CAROLINA WON MY GODDDDDDDDD....everyone is storming the court!!!!  You can't see nothing but BLUUUUUEEEEEEEEE

Posted at 05:23 pm by Expertise
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More upsets.

Florida beat Kentucky today with a very impressive performance by Alvin Robertson and some clutch shooting by Matt Walsh.  That means the number one and three teams going down in flames today.

Add the number seven team in the nation to it.  Mizzou beat Kansas by four today.

My first thoughts on the Carolina game:  May is playing huge in the paint, but the backcourt needs to step in and get some shots in from the arc.  Duke is already in foul trouble, which will cause problems down the stretch and there is no one for Duke that can handle May right now.  Carolina started slow, but they are starting to make this a ballgame.

Posted at 04:36 pm by Expertise
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Folks, I'm trying to calm myself down.

I just saw the huge upset by Ohio State defeating the THEN-undefeated Illinois Fighting Illini by one point.

An outstanding game.  Ohio State never gave up, even though they were down by double digits at the half.  In the last 2 minutes of the game, they got some huge baskets to roll in along with a big block on the defensive end.

At the end, Matt Sylvester was the hero, hitting the deciding basket from beyond the arc to give Ohio State it's only lead with 5 seconds left, and a couple of defensive stops put an end to Illi's undefeated season.

Ohio State won't get into the dance this year, but they just closed their season with a win they'll never forget.  I'm sure they won't mind that as a consolation prize.

UPDATE:  I bet Deron Williams would like to take this back from earlier in the week.  And I suppose this website can be shut down too.

College basketball is the focus of the day.  I'm watching Kentucky vs. Florida right now, and I will be ready for Duke at Carolina; hopefully I'll have some kind of voice left after that.

You know, sometimes you got to love CBS.  CBS Sports, that is.

Posted at 02:13 pm by Expertise
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Niger cancels emancipation ceremony.

Check this out:

The government of Niger has cancelled at the last minute a special ceremony during which at least 7,000 slaves were to be granted their freedom.

A spokesman for the government's human rights commission, which had helped to organise the event, said this was because slavery did not exist.   

It is not clear why the government, which was also a co-sponsor of the ceremony, changed its position.

According to the BBC, there are over 40,000 slaves in captivity in Niger.  Of course, the government denies this by using the "see no evil, hear no evil" method, and that's why this ceremony was cancelled.

Hell, why have a ceremony?  Just let them go free and be done with it. 

Posted at 05:26 am by Expertise
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Saturday, March 05, 2005
Payton's back in Boston.

Well, when I heard about Gary Payton being traded from the Celtics to Atlanta I thought it was a stupid move by the Hawks, who really wasn't getting anything out of it because Payton would not resign with them at the end of the season.

My bad.  That was dumb of me; I forgot what league I was talking about.  You see, this is the NBA, where players don't have to report to the team they're traded to if they don't like it.  Thus, Payton probably never stepped foot in Hartsfield Airport.  And what does Atlanta do?  They cut him so he could resign with the Boston Celtics.

You can't really blame Payton for this.  This is a "don't hate the player, hate the game" kinda thing.  After all; the option was given to him, and he looked out for his own interests.  Payton and Walker hustled the Hawks, and now with the trio of Payton, Pierce, and Walker, they are a threat to go deep in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

The blame goes to the Hawks, who has been "rebuilding" ever since they got rid of Steve Smith and Dikembe Mutombo and fired Lenny Wilkens five years ago.  They knew Payton wasn't going to play in Atlanta, because he almost pulled that stunt in Boston at the beginning of the year.  If he was skeptical going to Boston, you had to know Payton felt he was too good to play with the worst team in the league.

So let's see what Atlanta got out of all this:  they got Gary Payton, who didn't show up and had his contract bought out; Michael Stewart, who hasn't shown up and wants the same thing (who the hell is he anyway?).  So that leaves Tom Gugliotta and a first round draft pick.  They would have been better off cutting Walker from his contract and just be done with it all.  At the very least, the Celtics organization should say "thank you" to those dopes in the Hawks front office. 

Meanwhile, Hawks "fans" can look forward to another 11-70 season next year. Yay.

Posted at 05:50 am by Expertise
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Thursday, March 03, 2005
The Senate filibuster.

Several Democrats continue to moan and groan about the Republicans' latest attempts to neutralize Senate filibusters.  One of the latest, done by Senator Robert "Sheets" Byrd from West Virginia, resulted in a rebuke by the Anti-Defamation League.

"We, unlike Nazi Germany or Mussolini's Italy, have never stopped being a nation of laws, not of men," Byrd said. "But witness how men with motives and a majority can manipulate law to cruel and unjust ends."

Ignore Byrd's Nazi reference - and the irony of him discussing it - for a second.  Byrd's comments on how the Republicans "manipulate law" don't hold water once you look at the history of the filibuster.

You see, the process of how filibusters are used have changed over the decades.  It has evolved from a legislative stunt where a senator has to stand and continue speaking until the bill was taken off the floor or cloture (where 67% of the present Senators voted to take the floor from the speaker) was approved.  Even then, cloture wasn't approved until 1917, which meant that one Senator could hold up Senate progress as long as he was physically able to.

Robert Byrd understands the importance of the filibuster because he implemented one in order to block the Civil Rights Act of 1964; a filibuster that lasted 14 hours and thirteen minutes.  He would have continued if it wasn't for Democratic Whip Hubert Humphrey finally negotiating the necessary 67 votes to gain cloture, forcing Byrd off the floor.  It was only the second time in Senate history that a filibuster had been beaten through cloture.

But even filibusters those days are more reasonable than today. After all, speaking for over 14 hours isn't a walk in the park. Filibusters then required you to stand up and use physical exertion.

Today's filibusters don't. All you have to do is simply say "I'm filibustering", and the only way the blocked legislation can come to the floor is through cloture.

Why? Because only the "threat" of a filibuster is sufficient enough to keep legislation from coming onto the floor. After all, Senators have to constantly meet very important lobbyists, attend Washington dinners and fundraisers, and make their trips all over the world. Judicial nominees? Presidential appointments? Doing their jobs? That's not important enough.

Now the Republicans are trying to pass what they call the "nuclear option", which will reduce the cloture requirement from 60 to a simple majority of 51.  This pretty much kills the filibuster entirely, because a filibuster's power is to be used as a final option for legislation that will pass if placed on the Senate floor.

Personally, I don't like the nuclear option.  I think filibusters should be allowed to stay in the Senate.  However, place it back in the old school setting:  force Senators who use it to get their butts up in front of the chamber and talk until their hearts' - or healths' - content.  Republicans need to grow some backbone and force the Democrats to put up or shut up.

Posted at 09:02 pm by Expertise
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Wednesday, March 02, 2005
The problem with college basketball officials.

Without dwelling into the Cheney goon incident again (which I'm tired of hearing about), the biggest problem I have with it wasn't necessarily the fact that Cheney decided to execute this stunt.  Rather, I am surprised that the officials seemed as if they were impervious to it and didn't realize this was going on.

As I stated before, if the officials would have been doing their job, Ingram would have been out of that game within three fouls, and that's allowing one to slide.  All of Ingram's fouls were hard shots, and could have easily been seen as intentional or flagrant.  All it takes is two of those for Ingram to be ejected.

As long as most college officials have been calling basketball, there's no doubt in my mind that these officials recognized this too.  So why didn't they call it?  Ultimately no one will ever know the answer, since officials are not allowed to talk to the media about their games, but I think it comes down to a combination of things.

First, the officials don't run that floor, particularly if you have a popular or "legendary" coach on it.  Cheney qualifies as one of those coaches, and there are several others.  Those kind of coaches are allowed to literally get away with murder on that court, and they won't get teched, and often influence officials' future calls.  Ever notice an official standing right by a bench talking with a coach during a free throw?  That's what's going on.

On the Triangle's sports station, 850 The Buzz, afternoon drive time host and program manager Adam Gold has had two great interviews in the last two days:  one with a writer with ACC Sports Journal and another that I've forgotten.  Anyway, one of the key topics they've discussed is the lack of respect shown by coaches in the ACC towards officials and the resulting high turnover of officials within the ACC.  A lot of heat was placed on ACC officials supervisor Fred Bearcat by Gold as well.

One thing Gold and others have brought up are the F-bombs that have been hurled by Coach K and Maryland coach Gary Williams onto officials and there are constant confrontations on almost every call by those coaches and sometimes by the assistant coaches.  Sure; criticism can go towards those coaches, but it also should be placed upon the ACC head offices and officials for allowing this kind of disrespect to go on.

The very first time a coach hurls a profanity, he should be teched.  Period.  End of story.  And then he should be told to sit his behind down and not to get up for the rest of the game, or he'll be ejected in accordance to basketball regulations.  But those coaches have won national championships in a conference that consistently is one of the best in the nation every year, and thus pressure will be placed on the game officials to allow them to act in that manner.  After all, no one wants a coach to be ejected out of a game.  But that's precisely what has to happen if college basketball - ACC, A-10, or whomever - wants to get a hold on the officials problem.

I was listening to former NC State standout Chris Corchiani on Gold's show vent his frustration about basketball officials, saying the best officials are the ones that you don't realize are there.  I agree with that, but the most important thing is that the officials have control of that court first.  That can't happen if you have everyone and their mothers disrespecting you; from the players on the court to the people in the stands. 

Thus, why stay in the ACC, where you are going to be subjected to tons of stress and harrassment, when you can go to the SEC or another D-1 conference that has less egos involved and the officials can control the games a little better, and possibly has a better support base?  You might not make as much money there, but at least you won't have to risk a heart attack.

Gold has come up with the idea that officials should be able to talk to the media in press conferences after the game.  The only problem with this is that internal problems within the conferences must be addressed first.  Also, there are just some things that are not going to be addressed due to the politics behind them.  That's just a fact of life, albeit sad.  But if the officials don't mind addressing some situations in a game, I don't see anything wrong with that once some problems are fixed.

Contrast this to the NBA.  Last night, Rick Carlisle was ejected from the Pacers/Bucks game.  When's the last time you've heard of that happening to Krzyzewski, or any other ACC coach?  College basketball has allowed the coaches to become bigger than the game, and the game is what's suffering.

Posted at 05:59 pm by Expertise
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