Pinnacle Pacman? Not quite, but good enough: Pacquaio bests Bradley in Welterweight Title Rematch

Only true sporting legends can delay the onset of father time. Last night 35 year old Filipino boxing superstar Manny Pacquiao proved this once again, defeating Timothy Bradley a man five years his junior in a hotly anticipated WBO Welterweight Title Rematch. Make no mistake about it, Pacquiao is not the same fighter who blasted his way to world titles in a record eight weight divisions, dismantling some of his generation’s most decorated fighters in the process. Nevertheless, his measured and at times dominant display against an unbeaten, high calibre opponent in Bradley screamed “I’m not done yet!”

The narrative heading into Pacquiao vs Bradley II set the scene for a heated, high stakes encounter. The first time the pair stepped into the ring on June 9th 2012, Bradley was awarded a controversial split decision, much to the chagrin of not only the fans in attendance but seemingly everyone and anyone around the sport of Boxing. In the two years between their first and second bouts Pacquiao and Bradley’s Imagefortunes have contrasted massively. Bradley evolved from an unheralded fighter into one of Boxing’s recognised pound for pound best. He showed extraordinary guts and determination in his first outing after the Pacquiao controversy, winning a  bruising war against hard hitting Russian Ruslan Provodnikov ; enduring multiple knockdowns on his way to a unanimous decision. Pacman on the other hand tasted yet another defeat, a frightening knockout at the hands of Mexican legend Juan Manuel Marquez, who to make matters worse, Bradley went on to comprehensively beat a year later. Although he ended his run of consecutive defeats with a win over Brandon Rios in Macau China, Pacquiao’s inability to knock Rios out drew a collective sigh from Boxing’s cognoscenti. Questions began to be raised: had age completely caught up with a man who at his best was the most devastating boxer of his generation? A politician, devoted Christian and family man, had Pacquiao outgrown the sport of boxing? Had the killer extinct that famously saw him leave Ricky Hatton a crumpled mess on the canvas left the Filipino ?

Once the bell rang for a return bout with Bradley these questions were emphatically answered. It became clear Manny may be old but he certainly isn’t finished. Bradley applied pressure on his opponent in the opening rounds of the fight taking up a much more aggressive approach than in their first meeting, making for some exciting back and forth action. As the fight wore on however, Bradley went from measured and effective to inefficient and clumsy (he later cited a calf injury as the reason for slowing down); the Californian missed a number of wild, looping right hands whilst Pacquiao dominated the middle to late rounds with vintage flurries and combination punching. The knockout both fighters promised in the pre-fight pageantry and build up may not have arrived but in the eyes of many, justice was served. As Pacquiao knelt in his corner following the fight, the scorecards read 116-112, 116-112 and 118-110 in his favour- vindication at last. A step slower, but wiser and more tactically astute, Pacquaio may be far from the peak of his powers but he still is a notch above your average prize-fighter.

Stan of Steel: Wawrinka snatches Australian Open Title

Stanislas Wawrinka is the 2014 Australian Open Men’s Singles Champion. In the minds of many heading into today’s final this was an improbable result. Each and every statistic seemed tilted in favour of his opponent; 27 year old 13 time grand slam champion Rafael Nadal. Rafa led the pair’s head to head 12-0 with 0 sets lost and looked primed to continue his domination of his 28 year old opponent, not to mention his sprint into the record books. Victory would have made Nadal the first since 1969 (the beginning of the open era) to have won each grand slam at least twice. The stage was set for a bout of superlatives surrounding another legendary Nadal display. What we didn’t count on heading into the match was the law that governs all sport: anything can happen. Despite a courageous performance, Nadal succumbed to back spasms and an opponent whose play at times was nothing short of pulverising.

Carrying momentum and confidence as a result of his epic quarter-final win over many people’s pre-tournament favourite Novak Djokovic (9-7 in the fifth set), Wawrinka started his first ever grand slam final without a trace of nerves. He harassed Nadal with booming strikes off both his backhand and forehand wings, rushing out to a 4-1 first set lead. He then closed out the set in emphatic fashion: hammering an ace out wide to claim the opener 6-3.

Rather than let up, Wawrinka began to loosen up in the second set. He broke Nadal’s serve once more with a picturesque backhand return winner, spread-eagled on the stretch. The whispers of an upset were beginning to become rumblings. Then came the pivotal moment in the match – after netting a forehand at 30-0 up while 0-2 down in the second set, Nadal immediately clutched his back wincing. Although he managed to win the game the signs were ominous. The world number one took a medical time out that angered not only Wawrinka but also the crowd who proceeded to boo him when he returned to the court.  Was this a ploy to waste time and halt an in form opponent?

The answer to that question was provided instantly, Nadal’s physical struggles were painfully obvious to see. He began to pump in first serves at pedestrian speeds and his movement was limp and slow; 6-2 Second Set Wawrinka. “Give Up” cried a member of the crowd Nadal, beaten and battered must have been tempted to do just that and become the first man to retire in an Aussie Open final since 1990, but then he wouldn’t be the great champion that he is. What followed was one of the most bizarre sets of tennis in recent memory. Wawrinka flustered by his opponent’s refusal to give in began to lose his hold on the match and seemingly his mind too. As Stan began to disintegrate Nadal forced his way back into the contest; a slew of unforced errors by Wawrinka combined with a series of blistering winners by the Spaniard who had no choice but to go for broke resulted in a 33 minute surprise third set for Nadal.

With Nadal surging Wawrinka needed to re-assert his dominance in the fourth set and take home the Norman Brooks Challenge Cup before things got messier. That’s exactly what he did – the Swiss struck a forehand up the line to break serve in the 6th game of the set and inch into a 4-2 lead. But Nadal clung on, delaying the inevitable with a final bout of resistance. He broke back immediately to win what would be his last game of the match. Then with the score at 4-3 Wawrinka once again pounded Nadal with a forehand down the line for a 5-3 lead. When his three match points arose; Wawrinka seized the first with, you guessed it, another forehand down the line past his helpless opponent.

Wawrinka’s celebrations at the end of this dramatic battle were muted. His achievement however cannot be understated. Under the guidance of his coach Magnus Norman, Wawrinka has found the mental strength to crack the code and become the first man outside of tennis’s’ “big four” to win a grand slam this decade. His forearm tattoo reads: ”Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.” It has served him well. The man dubbed “Stanimal” for his ferociously aggressive tennis has been much maligned throughout his career. Seemingly content as Swiss Number 2 and a sidekick to the legendary Roger Federer, he finally emerged from his compatriot’s shadow, blasting his way into the limelight to claim a 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 victory.

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Floyd Mayweather vs Saul “Canelo” Alvarez Video Preview

September 14th it’s on. Boxing’s pound for pound number 1 Floyd Mayweather (44-0) will duel with the rising Mexican phenom Saul “Canelo” Alvarez (42-0-1) at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. The hype level is off the charts for what will be the biggest fight of the year, with several box office records under threat. This preview video created by the the formidable Gorilla Productions does the fight justice.

 

Five for Flushing Meadows: U.S. Open Predictions

It’s late August and once again time for the grand finale of the tennis grand slam season; the U.S. Open. Trying to come up with five solid predictions for the Open is a hard task given the unpredictable nature of the last grand slam we witnessed at the All England Club; Wimblegeddon as some have dubbed it, but here it is: my attempt to forecast a fortnight in Flushing Meadows

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1)Starting with the obvious perhaps, a final between the two top female players in the world, Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka is on the cards. “Vika” edged out Serena in an entertaining encounter a week ago in Cincinnati to snatch the title.  Elsewhere this year Serena has been…well Serena. Enjoying a career year in terms of match wins, the world number one has stormed to a mark of 60 wins and 4 losses. However, it is Azarenka who boasts the best record in all of women’s tennis on hard courts (25-1) and a grand slam win on the surface at the Australian Open. The pair’s superiority on hard courts and the absence of a certain Maria Sharapova who is out injured means you shouldn’t be shocked in the slightest if Williams and Azarenka square up for a second straight final on the tournament’s second Saturday.

2) Roger Federer should limp into the quarter-finals despite having recently slipped down the rankings to 7th in the world. Out of sorts and jaded are two words that you wouldn’t normally associate with the Swiss master but since his second round loss at Wimbledon to little known Ukranian Sergiy Stakhovsky he has been just that.  After being bounced early in minor tournaments, Hamburg and Gstaad, he finally managed to string 4f61two wins together last week in Cincinnati. Despite his horrendous year (By his lofty standards) so far it is well known that Federer loves the bright lights and speedy courts of New York City. As a 5 time champion he’ll have plenty of memories to draw inspiration from and should successfully navigate his way through the draw, tip toeing around any upsets to reach the quarters where he could be met by a familiar foe: Rafael Nadal.

3) It’s taken a long time but the face of men’s tennis is finally getting a little younger. This youth charge is being led by a trio of talented 22 Year Olds; Milos Raonic of Canada, Jerzy Janowickz of Poland and Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria. Remember these names. All three have had their signature moments this season; Raonic reaching the final earlier this Summer at home in Montreal to break into the world’s top 10, Janowickz blasting his way into the Wimbledon Semi-Finals the first man from Poland to do so and Dimitrov upsetting the world number one Novak Djokovic in Madrid. Come tomorrow the race is on. Who will make their mark at Flushing Meadows? The highest ranked of the three, bomb serving Raonic? The versatile, elegant Dimitrov? Or the 6ft 8 man who moves like he’s 8 inches smaller whilst also serving bombs, Janowicz? One MilosRaonicthing is certain; at least one of these prodigious talents will make the headlines.     Jerzy-Janowicztennis-dimitrov-543x199

4) Laura Robson is unlikely to replicate last year’s run- cue the sighs of resignation from British Tennis fans. Robson’s journey into the top 30 of the women’s game (her career high is 27) has yielded some eye-catching results this year, most notably reaching the last 16 at both Wimbledon and the Australian Open. When Robson hangs up her racket she’ll most certainly remember her unexpected breakout success last year at the U.S. Open. Behind her hefty serve and forehand she toppled two grand slam champions in three days, Kim Clijsters and Li Na, smiling all the way. Things aren’t looking so sunny for Robson this year though. Coming off the back of a wrist injury, the 19 year old has only played one tune up match in preparation for the tournament. Not even the zeal of youth can make up for a lack of match fitness and with a rematch against Li Na on the cards, the third round looks to be the limit for Robson.

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5) Novak Djokovic should find a way to stop the Nadal hot streak in the final despite all the headlines screaming  “Nadal the man to beat” and rightfully so. This season we’ve witnessed the rise of “Nadal 3.0. the hard court avenger”. Since his return from injury in February he has been beastly. So beastly that he remains undefeated on his most hated surface: the North American hard courts – winning back to back titles in Montreal and Cincinnati. Hold on though, before we all jump on the Nadal bandwagon it is worth pointing out that this is New York, this is a hard court slam, and this is Djokovic territory. He is likely to reach his 4th straight final in New York, most likely beating the defending champion Andy Murray in the semis. There barring an upset, he should face Nadal in their 3rd U.S. Open final, with one win apiece from the first two. The reason I feel Novak will overcome the surging Spaniard is simple; Nadal needs to play his absolute best to beat Djokovic on a hard court. He did just that in the semi-final of the ATP Masters 1000 event in Montreal, but can he produce that same efficient and aggressive tennis over 5 sets? The jury is still out on that one.Image

Un-Boltable

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For 9.77 seconds Bolt silenced the whispers surrounding the 100 metres, storming to Gold at the World Championships

On the biggest stages the biggest stars always perform. Usain Bolt, the poster boy for entertainment and excellence in track and field, proved this once again with an emphatic victory in the 100 metre final of the Athletics World Championships in Moscow. On an evening that was very much billed as Bolt vs the Record Books,and a depleted field of opponents, the great man did not disappoint. A typically self-assured display saw Bolt cross the line in a time of 9.78 seconds; later rounded down to 9.77; impressive given the damp track and rainy conditions.

The finale: Bolt celebrating with the Jamaican flag draped around his shoulders in his trademark “to di world” pose after yet another global championship final victory belied the controversy that had dogged the build-up to the event . It has been a dark year for athletics’ blue riband event. There was no hiding the fact the fact Tyson Gay the man who had run the three fastest 100 metre times of the season, including a blistering 9.75 at the U.S. Championships, was missing from the field. The sporting world was shocked when he announced on 14th July that the had failed an out of competition drugs test and that he would subsequently withdraw from the world championships. As if that wasn’t enough, on the same day it was also revealed Asafa Powell, the fourth quickest 100 metre runner of all time had tested positive for the banned stimulant oxilofrine. Although Powell would not have competed at the 2013 World Championships, revelations of doping on what was perhaps the darkest day in the history of 100 metre sprinting since Ben Johnson was stripped of his Gold Medal at the 1988 Seoul Olympics left a bad taste in the mouth and lingering questions surrounding the credibility of the event.

With three of the four quickest men of all time having been banned for some sort of infringement of IAAF anti-doping rules and regulations, fears persist about Bolt’s ability to avoid falling foul of the testers. After all Powell and Gay both claim they were unaware of their transgressions and that people in their respective camps “let them down”, somehow allowing banned substances to enter their bodies. Bolt’s answer to the dreaded doping question was emphatic on and off the track. He stated; ” I am confident in myself and my team, the people I work with. And I know I am clean.” He also pointed critics to his track record arguing  “If you were following me since 2002 you would know that I have been doing phenomenal things…I was the youngest person to win the world juniors at 15. I ran the world junior [200] record 19.93 at [17] … I have broken every record there is to break, in every event I have ever done…I have shown everything throughout the years since I was always going to be great.”Image

It was fitting that yesterday Bolt’s main antagonist was none other than Justin Gatlin. The 2004 Olympic Champion is perhaps the sport’s most hated “drugs cheat”. He returned to the circuit in 2011 after a four year ban for testing positive for testosterone.  In the eyes of many he has played the role of pantomime villain ever since. Barking “let’s go” on the start line, it was obvious Gatlin was pumped up and confident. He even had an early season victory over a still rusty Bolt in Rome to his credit. The stage was set for good vs. evil, Bolt vs. Gatlin. The starting gun sounded and Gatlin sprang out of the blocks and powered through the first half of the race, leaving Bolt playing catch up. Then the 6 time Olympic gold medallist did what he does best; making use of his long, regal strides and swallowing up the track with each step. He eclipsed his American rival and the rest of the field to regain the World Championship he forfeited to Yohan Blake via a false start in 2011. Gatlin finished second in a time of 9.85 seconds and third was Bolt’s Jamaican compatriot Nesta Carter who clocked a time of 9.95 seconds. British hope James Dasaolu slumped to an 8th place finish despite his promising semi-final run. Nevertheless, based on his sudden ascendency this year one can be sure that it won’t be long before Dasaolu gets the chance to improve on that lacklustre display. For now we can rest assured that in a season soured by doping scandals and on an evening dampened by pouring rain, Bolt’s prowess erased the harsher details of recent events. In 10 seconds, (9.77 to be exact) we were treated to a stunning visual reminder of the 26 year old Jamaican’s mastery of the 100 metre sprint.

The Destiny Man: Andy rides Murray Mania on his way to ending the 77 year drought

Exactly 365 days ago Andy Murray stood on the Wimbledon Centre Court, battered, emotional and barely able to complete a tearful post-match interview at the end of a four sets loss against the great Roger Federer. His tears led to a wave of home support and sympathy; at his lowest point he well and truly succeeded in uniting the nation behind him for the first time in his career. Nevertheless, a gaping hole remained on his resume – his and indeed the nation’s goal of winning at least one of tennis’s four grand slam titles remained elusive. Fast forward a year later and Murray Mania is in full swing; the 77 year wait is over. The road to redemption that started with Murray overcoming Federer in a Wimbledon rematch to win an Olympic gold medal and outlast Djokovic for his maiden grand slam title at the U.S Open ended in triumph this afternoon and Britain rejoicing. Magical Murray now holds two of the four grand slams after defeating Novak Djokovic 6-4, 7-5, 6-4 in an action filled, high intensity back court duel. A straight set win yes, yet anything but straightforward.

Djokovic and Murray’s encounters  have gained a reputation for their intense physicality, the pair lived up to their billing once again on Centre Court this afternoon engaging in a number of energy sapping rallies in the match’s early stages . As soon as the first set commenced one thing became clear: Murray’s march to the title would not be easy; it would take guts, heart and confidence under pressure. Thankfully all these traits were present in a gritty display by the Scotsman. A tense opening set saw the pair trade breaks of serve before Murray took charge, slamming down an ace to take the opener 6-4. Djokovic’s attempts to play aggressive tennis with his normal laser like precision often fell short of the mark. Was he feeling the effects of his 4 hour 43 minute semi-final skirmish with Juan Martin Del-Potro or was he simply up against an inspired opponent on his way to rewriting the history books? The normally clinical Serb squandered a 4-2 lead in the second set to fall into a hole that from which there was no escape. Not since Henri Cochet in 1927 had a man overturned a 2 set deficit to clinch the title. He well and truly had his back against the wall, up against millions of expectant Britons, the record books and a determined foe. Rushing out to a 2-0 lead in what would be the final set; Murray looked ready to run away with the contest before the inevitable Djokovic fight back. In the whirlwind final few games Murray dropped his level of play drastically allowing Djokovic to reel off  4 straight games. The doubts began to creep in; maybe Britain would have to wait one more year. Andy didn’t think so. He drove a running forehand past Djokovic who stood stranded at the net after one of his many attempted drop shots to halt his opponents momentum and reclaim a break of serve before levelling the score at 4-4 and again breaking the Djokovic serve for a 5-4 lead .Then came the grandstand finish; in a way the final game summed up Murray’s rise to the pinnacle of his sport: long drawn out, difficult but ultimately worth it. A heart stopping final game saw Murray squander 3 Championship points before a netted Djokovic backhand on lucky number 4 secured a victory for the ages.

At last the numbers game is over; it took the world number 2 a hard fought 3 hours and 10 minutes to end 77 years of hurt in his 18th encounter with a worthy adversary. Today we saw the zenith of a sparkling 8 year career which saw the name Andy Murray etched in history as the first British Wimbledon champion since Fred Perry in 1936 – arise Sir Andy perhaps?Image

Hitting Bigtime: Broner’s Big Night

8196199606_e4efa5b6c7_sAs the sun sets on the prolific careers of Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather, a 23 year old from Cincinnati is blazing a trail through the fight game. It’s surely only a matter of time till the world knows the name Adrien Broner. Opinion amongst boxing fans is split on Broner’s controversial antics, from the rap concerts during his ring-walks to the ceremonial hairbrushing and fake marriage proposals after emphatic victories. Cocky is an understatement when it comes to describing how the number five pound for pound boxer in the world (in The Ring Magazine ratings) conducts himself. One thing is certain however, the man nicknamed “The Problem” backs up his other worldly arrogance with other worldly talent. The most accomplished young fighter in boxing, Broner takes with him into tonight’s bout against Welshmen Gavin Rees an undefeated 25-0 record (21 Knockouts). Few give his British foe a chance and a closer look at the match up tells us exactly why.

The Match-Up

Broner has outstanding power and speed which Rees could struggle to deal with despite the latter’s impressive record as a former WBA light welterweight champion with 37 wins and only 1 loss. In his last fight against Antonio DeMarco number one Lightweight in the world at the time; “The Problem” put forth a masterclass winning by an 8th round technical knockout, Broner’s accurate punches reduced a formidable opponent to a crumpled and bloodied mess. The vast majority of boxing analysts believe Rees will take a similar approach to DeMarco and try to pressure the 23 year old by constantly moving forward. The results could prove disastrous; walking into the eye of Broner’s storm of venomous hooks and flurries could result in the Welshmen who has never been sent to the canvas in his career suffering his first knockout.

So what are the chances Gavin Rees a relative unknown from Newbridge, Wales takes down Boxing’s youngest phenom? 80-1 odds and a whole host of observers suggest none at all. Broner, for all his talent, has not quite entered the stratosphere of boxing megastars yet. A blockbuster display in New Jersey tonight could help elevate him to were he wants to be; alongside the man he calls his big brother, Floyd Mayweather at the top of boxing’s pound for pound mountain.rees