Monthly Archives: April 2010

Where have you gone, Iceman?

2007 world champion and former McLaren and Ferrari driver Kimi Raikkonen is once again the subject of F1 rumor mills.  The Iceman is one of my favorite sports personalities of all time.    For considerable parts of his F1 career, he was the fastest driver/car combination on the track, and the coolest guy off it.  Along with Keke Rosberg and Mika Hakkinen, he continued the unique tradition of Finnish drivers with illustrious careers in F1.  He’s also received his fair share of criticism for being too relaxed and unpassionate in his approach to racing in F1.  Personally, I think the criticism is shortsighted, but you be the judge:

That was him in the post race press conference at Brazil in 2007 after he just won his first and only world championship.  I acknowledge he was unusually restrained and unemotional about what he just accomplished, but that’s why he’s the Iceman.  Ice cold, no mistakes.  He’s inspired a league of impersonations by his fans, here’s my favorite:

The kid absolutely nails it, as does his lispy young friend playing the interviewer Peter Windsor.  But make no mistake, Raikkonen is anything but a boring or uninteresting person.  Here’s a nice montage of his body of work:

The Top Gun-esque undertones and unintentional comedy in that clip is priceless.

So where is Kimi now you ask?  Well, he originally was supposed be finishing out his 4 year contract for Ferrari, but they decided to prematurely terminate it after the 2009 season.  They felt that he was no longer the faster driver between himself and teammate Felipe Massa, so they decided to sign archrival and double world champion Fernando Alonso in his place.  He was self-admittedly not as fast as Massa during the 2008 season, and the 2009 season was a write off for both Ferrari drivers largely due to the F60’s lack of pace.  Raikkonen did, however, score the team’s lone win at the legendary Spa circuit in Belgium.  But you know how those Italians can be, I’m guessing Luca di Montezemolo wasn’t too ecstatic over the lack of passione in the Iceman’s disposition.  Despite being one of the fastest and most experienced drivers in F1, he failed to secure a seat with another team for this season, although if Schumi didn’t make his comeback with Mercedes, it’s likely he would’ve ended up there.  Instead, Kimi is now rally racing in the WRC series, where he’s had his share of growing pains.  Here’s one last clip of him racing in Mexico this past March.

He seemed a little flustered after that tumbler, maybe he’s finally cracked!  Anywho, the Flying Finn is strongly linked with a comeback in 2011, and Red Bull is rumored to be one of the teams vying for his signature.  A Vettel/Raikkonen pairing would be an absolute powerhouse driver duo, and I’m assuming this means Mark Webber would be the odd man out at Red Bull.  Whatever he decides, the important thing is that he continues to race, which means the world won’t be deprived of his priceless interviews with the media.  I’m sure the Iceman himself would say that whatever happens in the future he’s not going to worry about it and for sure he’s just going to enjoy racing cars and that if he does return to F1 then he’ll be excited about being back and racing and that it would be nice to be world champion again.

MP

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It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

“April showers bring May flowers.” – Mr. Koenig, my high school history teacher and former mayor of the Agoura Hills.

It’s late April, and we are quickly approaching the best time of the year to be a sports fan.  NBA playoffs, soccer league & tournament conclusions, the Monaco & Turkish Grand Prix, the Tour of California for the first time in the month of May, and for those who care enough, hockey playoffs and the start of baseball season.  The 2010 sporting season bloom will be particularly special for a number of reasons, but which one will stand out as the most memorable?  Here’s what(and who) I’ll be watching:

King James & his L-Train posse

Lebron is objectively the best player in the NBA today, and he could very well be the G.O.A.T.  He can affect every aspect of the game, and his own game is starting to reach its peak.  His Cavs first round matchup with the Bulls is a small gift from the hoops gods, although there’s realistically no chance the Bulls will advance.  But it’s still the best first round series worth watching.  Lebron has already scored 37, 40 and 39 in the last three games, and it’s possible he could have a 50-10-10 game real soon.  Derrick Rose & Co. will put up a good fight, but in the end they’re just men amongst a King.  Witness.

Kobe & Pau Gasol’s power struggle

If the Lakers are going to repeat this year, it’s Gasol, and not Kobe, who needs to be rock for the team this year.  Kobe will always be the main attraction in LA, but you can already see that he’s starting to age and break down a little.  Kobe has been taking some questionable shots lately, which he tends to do when he wants to assert his control and leadership over the offense.  Gasol has been the more consistent and disciplined player this year on both sides of the ball, and Kobe should acknowledge this.  But he won’t, we know that.  And now Kobe has to deal with scoring phenom Kevin Durant and an electric group of young talents, including fellow Bruin Russell Westbrook, Jeff Green, and rookie reserve James Harden.  The Thunder trounced the World Champs 110-89 in Game 4, and it seems quite possible that this series could go to game seven, and could come down to a single play.  But Kobe has plenty of help around him, he just needs to use it.  Except for Fisher, the starting five is good enough to all take turns anchoring the offense, and Kobe should let everyone do what they do best.  Feed Bynum in the post, run picks and screens with Gasol, kick it out to Artest and Fisher occasionally, and just run the offense, Black Mamba.  Like Phil says, triangle.

Chelsea’s reascendancy in English soccer

You know the words, “Blue is the color…”  Chelsea just trounced Stoke City 7-0 to maintain their 1 point lead over Man U in the Premier League.  Chelsea is also set to defend their FA Cup title against Portsmouth on May 15.  If the Blues manage to pull off their first ever domestic double, then they will have redeemed what seemed like just weeks earlier a lost season.  Next week’s match against Liverpool is the final major test, will we rise to occasion?

Another epic Barca comeback?

So Barca got outplayed and outscored 3-1 in the first leg of their Champions League semifinal against Inter.  It was startling to see the Barca machine get picked apart and outplayed for the better part of 90 minutes.  But do I expect to see them to put on a show when they face off again back at Camp Nou?  Absolutely, because that’s what they’ve done in every big match the past two seasons.  But really all I care about is being entertained.

Jenson Button, the new #1 at McLaren

Button just won his second race of the season at the Chinese GP with a master class demonstration of managing a wet race from the front.  Many pundits, including the almost always wrong Eddie Jordan, predicted that Button’s decision to move to McLaren would be an egregious mistake by the current world champion, but Button has silenced his critics with some inspired yet calculating drives.  Lewis Hamilton has been equally, if not more, electric behind the wheel, yet you get the sense he’s sightly unnerved by his teammate’s early success.  We could see a repeat of 2007, when Hamilton and double world champion Fernando Alonso fought out a bitter intra-team rivalry, which concluded with both McLaren drivers missing out on the Drivers championship by one point to Ferrari driver Kimi Raikkonen.  But it’s 2010 now, Raikkonen is out of F1, Alonso took over his seat at Ferrari, and Button and Hamilton are the two most recent world champions.  Button and Hamilton have repeatedly voiced their respect and admiration for each other, but it’s evident both are focused on asserting their supremacy within the team.  So far, the advantage goes to Button, who’s won two races already to Hamilton’s zero.  The prospect of an entire season of Brit on Brit racing action makes me giddy, and one can only dream of Button and Hamilton’s girlfriends Jessica Michibata and Nicole Scherzinger having to coyly sit next to each other in the paddocks as their boytoys duke it out on the track.

Personally, I think Button takes it yet again, but I think it’s safe to say there are no losers in this contest.

Michael Schumacher’s last stand?

The comeback of Michael Schumacher to F1 was hailed in the racing community as the return of the Master to his domain.  Think Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan, or Lance Armstrong.  His return, however, has been anything but a procession of race wins.  He’s consistently struggled all season to match the pace of his promising young teammate Nico Rosberg, and he currently stands in tenth place in the Drivers championship.  Mercedes recently announced they plan to unveil a redeveloped Mercedes W01 that they hope will better suit Michael’s driving style.  If it works, then Schumi could be the driver to watch for the rest of the season.   If it doesn’t, then it’s possible that Michael will re-retire at this season’s end, despite his three year contract to drive for Mercedes.  If he does prematurely re-exit F1, which would likely be for good this time, what kind of damage will he suffer to his legacy?  Would it reopen the discussion topic of who is greatest F1 driver of all time?  I say no, I refuse to say no, but only time will tell.  Clearly the heat is on the German, will he wilt under the pressure or rise above it and reaasert his reign over the F1 universe?

MP

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Round 4: The Brits occupy the Far East

Apologies for the extended delay since my last post, but with two tax paper deadlines, the last days of law school, and 420, the time just seemed to fly by.  And if you haven’t heard, parts of western Europe were taken under siege when the Eyjafjallajokull glacier erupted in a volcanic explosion last week.

The ash from the eruption shut down most of the air traffic, but thankfully the F1 circus was making the last stop on its Oceania/South Asia opening leg of the season in Shanghai for the Chinese Grand Prix.  And predicted for the race weekend was yet again more rain.  Boy, oh boy.

Qualifying:

Ni hao from Shanghai, which has been host to the Chinese GP since 2004.  There are rumors that if the turnout for next year’s race, which is the final one in a 7 year contract, is as bad as this year’s, then that may be it for F1 in China.  Not exactly the best return on the most expensive F1 circuit ever constructed, which was built for about $450 million back in 2004.  One of the unique characteristics of the circuit is the 1km long back straight between Turns 13 and 14.  Here’s Red Bull driver Mark Webber to showcase the track in his ultra cool simulator.

The other rumor floating around the paddocks is Red Bull’s alleged illegal ride height adjustment system.  Red Bull has been understandably coy about the whole situation, even mocking the accusations.  Red Bull is 3 for 3 so far this season in qualifying, if they manage to make it 4 for 4 then maybe the other teams will quit with the finger pointing and focus on making improvements to their own aerodynamic package.

Guess who takes it?  It’s Vettel yet again with a superb final lap to take P1 for the third time this season.  The Vettel/RB6 combination is the fastest on the grid, and if it wasn’t for a bad spark plug and a faulty suspension component, it’s conceivable that he would have won all three races so far.  Instead of recapping the action, here’s a chart of all three qualifying sessions and the drivers’ times.

Pos. # Driver Car Q1 Q2 Q3
1 5 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1′36.317 1′35.280 1′34.558
2 6 Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault 1′35.978 1′35.100 1′34.806
3 8 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1′35.987 1′35.235 1′34.913
4 4 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1′35.952 1′35.134 1′34.923
5 1 Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1′36.122 1′35.443 1′34.979
6 2 Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1′35.641 1′34.928 1′35.034
7 7 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1′36.076 1′35.290 1′35.180
8 11 Robert Kubica Renault 1′36.348 1′35.550 1′35.364
9 3 Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1′36.484 1′35.715 1′35.646
10 14 Adrian Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1′36.671 1′35.665 1′35.963
11 9 Rubens Barrichello Williams-Cosworth 1′36.664 1′35.748
12 17 Jaime Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1′36.618 1′36.047
13 16 Sebastien Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1′36.844 1′36.149
14 12 Vitaly Petrov Renault 1′37.031 1′36.311
15 23 Kamui Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1′37.044 1′36.422
16 10 Nico Hülkenberg Williams-Cosworth 1′37.049 1′36.647
17 22 Pedro de la Rosa Sauber-Ferrari 1′37.050 1′37.020
18 15 Vitantonio Liuzzi Force India-Mercedes 1′37.161
19 24 Timo Glock Virgin-Cosworth 1′39.278
20 18 Jarno Trulli Lotus-Cosworth 1′39.399
21 19 Heikki Kovalainen Lotus-Cosworth 1′39.520
22 25 Lucas di Grassi Virgin-Cosworth 1′39.783
23 21 Bruno Senna HRT-Cosworth 1′40.469
24 20 Karun Chandhok HRT-Cosworth 1′40.578

A few interesting points to note is Liuzzi’s dropping a big dud in Q1, who attributed his poor session to “traffic.”  Oh whaaa, are your Puma velcro racing shoes strapped too tight?  And what about Schumi yet again getting outqualified by teammate Nico?  What’s even more surprising is the gap between Rosberg and Schumi has grown, and not shrunk, since the beginning of the season.  The not so subtle change in Schumi’s demeanor has been interesting to observe.  In the past, Schumi was much more inaccessible and short at times with the media, which belied his uber-determined and steely racing nature.  Now, he seems more upbeat and jovial, even happy almost to just be racing again.  It’s as if he forgot how to be his old self, and he lacks that edge he needs to push his car to its absolute limit.  Today’s qualifying was under dry conditions, but rain is predicted for tomorrow’s race, could we see a repeat of last season when Vettel took his first win under rainy conditions?

Race Day:

So it’s not exactly raining, but there is moisture in the air.  None of the teams have decided to switch to intermediate tires before the start of the race, I assume they’re operating under the mantra that the rain comes when it’s on the track.

Turn up the volume for the start of the Chinese GP!  Oop, it looks like Alonso jumped the start, he passes both Vettel and Webber going into turn 1.  Webber takes 2nd from Vettel, and there’s a crash involving Liuzzi, Kamui Kobayashi, and Sebastian Buemi.  The safety car comes out, and a parade of cars come into the pits to take on intermediate tires.  Martin Brundle just commented that Bridgestone is using a softer compound for the intermediate tires this season, so their durability in semi-dry conditions could be suspect.  Hmm…

Lap 6:  Hamilton and Vettel pit again, tire prophet Brundle foresaw that it was premature to switch to intermediates.  Hamilton and Vettel literally go side by side entering and leaving the pit lanes.  Save it for the track, boys.

Lap 10:  Hamilton passes Webber, he is flying right now and working his way through the grid.  He should be grateful for his F-duct, it seems to be paying off on overtaking opportunities at the end of the 1 km long straight.

Lap 12: Hamilton passes both Vettel and Sutil, who’s been holding up the cars behind him.  Vettel and Webber both get by Sutil a lap later.  Force India may be getting stronger, but it’s obvious they’re still a step slow to the leaders.

Lap 17: Hamilton is now dueling with Schumi, and makes the pass after 3 laps of stalking his tail.  Epic stuff.

Lap 18: Vettel takes his shot at Schumi, and passes him with relative ease.  Did we just witness the torch being passed?

Lap 20: Alonso and Massa go side by side literally inches from each other into the pit lane, and Alonso takes the inside lane and cuts off his teammate.  Enzo Ferrari must be rolling over in his grave after that stunt.  Ferrari chairman Luca Di Montezemolo commented afterwards that the incident wasn’t an issue, and that both drivers know they race for Ferrari and not for themselves.  I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Lap 26: Hamilton passes Schumi again, and sweeps both past Petrov and Kubica a few laps later.  Kubica is currently the driver with the most buzz around him, his name has been mentioned as a possible replacement at Ferrari if Massa doesn’t resign after this season.  I honestly don’t understand the speculation, Ferrari has invested a lot in Massa, and if they managed to convince the FIA and FOTA to allow three cars per team then they would almost certainly sign MotoGP champion Valentino Rossi.

Lap 30: Alonso, Webber, Vettel all pass Sutil, who manages to fend off Schumi.  Part of me still doesn’t believe that Schumi is no longer the GOAT, but the burden of proof is now on him to show that he still has it.

Lap 31: Webber makes a sublimely smooth pass on Barrichello.  Vettel may be the fastest this season, but Webber and Hamilton have been the most compelling drivers to watch.  Hamilton has put on overtaking clinics at Australia, Sepang, and now Shanghai.  He’s also been the focus of controversy both on and off the track, but it’s undeniable that he’s been the engine of this season’s drama and intrigue.  It’s almost as if he’s been racing this season with something to prove, despite being the youngest ever world champion.

Lap 37: Rosberg is holding off Hamilton in a literal back and forth battle with Hamilton over three laps.  That was some classic F1 action, two elite drivers racing wheel to wheel in dynamic racing conditions.

Lap 38: Race leaders Button, Rosberg, and Hamilton all pit for likely the last time.  Hamilton ends up passing Rosberg on the pit transitions.

Lap 56: Massa passes his former mentor Schumi, who runs his car off the track.  Oof.

Button and Hamilton take McLaren’s first 1-2 finish of the season!  That was a nearly flawless race by Button, and Hamilton turned in another spirited drive to take his second podium.  Vettel and Webber manage to salvage 6th and 8th place, who have to be disappointed with the their result after securing the two top spots in qualifying.  Button now leads the Drivers championship by ten points over Nico Rosberg, who is leading a pack of six drivers separated by ten points.  McLaren also leaps forward to the top of the Constructors standings, it’s a good day to be an Englishman in China.

A big factor in today’s race yet again was each team’s pit stop strategies, and Button yet again made the right call to not prematurely take on intermediate tires in semi-wet conditions.  I submit as evidence a chart of every drivers’ pit stops in the race, both Button and Rosberg benefited from riding out the first stint of the race on slicks.

Driver Pts
1 Jenson Button 60.0
2 Nico Rosberg 50.0
3 Fernando Alonso 49.0
4 Lewis Hamilton 49.0
5 Sebastian Vettel 45.0
6 Felipe Massa 41.0
7 Robert Kubica 40.0
8 Mark Webber 28.0
9 Michael Schumacher 10.0
Team Pts
1McLaren 109.0
2Ferrari 90.0
3Red Bull 73.0
4Mercedes GP 60.0
5Renault 46.0
6Force India 18.0
7Williams 6.0
8Toro Rosso 2.0
9Sauber 0.0
10Lotus F1 Racing 0.0
11Hispania Racing 0.0
12Virgin Racing 0.0

Next stop on the circus is Valenica for the start of European leg of the F1 calendar.  Word on the track is Mercedes is planning to unveil a custom updated Mercedes W01 for Schumi, but will it be enough to catapult him back into contention?

MP

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Goal of the Year

19 year old Danny Rose made a wonderkid debut for Spurs in his first Premier League game against the Gunners.  He scored a goal in the 10th minute with an absolute cannon blast of a volley.  Prepare yourself:

Granted Almunia was out of position, but this is the kind of stuff dreams are made of.  This is what inspires you to play several hours of FIFA 10 to try to recreate the same goal.  It’s not however, the best strike ever, but it certainly does deserve a spot somewhere in the pantheon of great goals.

Now Drogba may be my favorite striker and all around player at the moment, but Roberto Carlos is the greatest striking back of all time, and I will never forget his absolute cannon(and magic wand) of a left foot.  Here’s a highlight of some of his boomerang benders:

#1 is objectively the greatest, but #2 is arguably more difficult because of ridiculously narrow angle he had on the goal.  Watching these plays feels like reading the phrases from the bible of soccer, they are demonstrations of how the game should be played.  Carlos expressed his desire to play for Brazil one last time in this summer’s World Cup, so please Dunga, just let him play.

April 15th!  Happy Tax Day!  Don’t forget to file your return or extend.  But remember, it’s an extension to file your return, not an extension on your tax liability due, so 1040-ES estimated payment that shit if you think you owe Uncle Sam.

MP

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The Spider and The Prodigy wilt in the Abu Dhabi heat

What the hell happened on Saturday?  No, seriously, what the hell is going on around here?  For the first time ever the UFC took its circus act to hot and humid Abu Dhabi for UFC 112, and it was by far the weirdest night of fights I have ever seen.  If you’ll indulge me, here’s my retrospective live blog of the evening’s events:

6:50: Just ordered the card on my trusty Comcast receiver, but the picture is blank, which is odd considering they usually broadcast the Countdown program hyping the matchups.  Oh well, I need to sauce the wings anyways, my friend Danny is on it.

6:55 : Still no picture, we tried resetting the receiver, and now we’re screwed because it’s taking forever to reset.  No need to panic just yet.

6:58: Most of the programming schedule is uploaded, but the UFC card is still missing from the scheduled programming.  My friend Matt shows up, and we’re starting to stress just a tad.

7:03: Still no luck.  So we’ll miss Joe Rogan and his psychedelic drug charged commentary.

7:10: Buffalo wings have to be one of the greatest snack while watching a sporting event.  You know what would go even better with the wings?  The fights!

7:25: Now we’re starting to become despondent about the situation.  Seriously, we have a situation on our hands.  Matt and Danny are both trying to get in touch with Comcast to find out what the hell is going on.

7:35: Matt is on hold with Comcast.

7:45: Matt is still on hold with Comcast.

7:53: Josh and Danny lost all interest now in the fights and are talking fantasy baseball.  I kind of want to punch Josh in the gut for not caring, but he’s a friend, so he gets a pass.

7:57: Matt finally gets ahold of a Comcast rep, and our worst fears are confirmed, all of California apparently is blacked out of the UFC event.  We decide to just drink beer, and I’m trying my hardest to not cry into mine.

8:03: Tonight was supposed to be awesome, and so far it’s been the worst Saturday night ever.  But at least my beloved Chelsea made it into the FA Cup final.  “Blue is the color…”  I feel blue.

8:20: Someone heard our prayers, we have picture!  I can’t recall the last time I felt such an overwhelming sense of elation.  I chugged a beer in celebration.

8:25:  So apparently Comcast won’t charge me for the fights because of the partial blackout, and we didn’t miss any of the main cards, so things went from terrible to looking pretty good.  Just another reminder that life is full of twists, and it’s important to enjoy the ride.

8:29: First fight of the night(for us) is the historic matchup of two MMA legends, former welterweight champ Matt Hughes and Renzo Gracie, son of Robson Gracie, grandson of Carlos Gracie, nephew of Carlos Gracie, Jr., and grandnephew of the late Helio Gracie, the patriarch of the Gracie family and founder of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, and in many regards a religious figure for an entire legion of fight disciples.  And yes, every Gracie I just mentioned is a Jiu-Jitsu practitioner.  Hughes fought and demolished Renzo’s cousin Royce Gracie, son of Helio, at UFC 60 back in 2006.  This is an emotionally charged grudge match between two fight families, which always makes a fight more intriguing.

8:31: The staredown was very respectful, so there isn’t animosity between the two, but rather mutual admiration I suppose.  Touch of gloves, and they engage.  One would expect a grappling fest between these two world class practitioners, but so far in the first round it’s been a stand up battle.  A little unexpected, but it’s early, and they’re probably just feeling each other out.  Both are throwing pawing jabs, Hughes lands a few low kicks, and not much else.  That was a draw of a round.

8:37: They pick up where they left off, which means both are throwing a lot of ineffective strikes.  Hughes is finding a home for his leg kicks, and Gracie is trying to land power punches to the body.  How is it we have yet to see a takedown attempt from Hughes, or Gracie trying to pull guard somehow?  The crowd also seems confused, as there is a mixture of cheers and boos.  Another uneventful round, I give it to Hughes for being more active, but not because he’s been more effective.

8:43: Final round, and both fighters are still intent on keeping it on the feet.  Gracie looks like he’s starting to gas, which isn’t surprising considering he’s 44.  Gracie is revered in the MMA community for his contributions as an instructor, and something tells me that after he watches his performance tonight he’ll decide to focus on teaching, and that it’s time to hang up the gloves.  Gracie falls to the floor from another leg kick, and he comically asks Hughes to help him up, and Hughes obliges.  Hughes finally decides to push the pace, and starts to unload, and Gracie drops to the floor, and the ref steps in and calls off the fight.  Hughes helps Gracie stand up, and we might have just witnessed the last fight of a legend.

8:48: So I think my deep fryer affectionately named Wall-E has fried his last wing.  I’ve had him for over five years, and he’s brought a lot of joy to many people during his life.  I’ll probably buy another fryer sometime soon, but Wall-E will always hold a special place in my heart.  I’ll never forget him, but there comes a point where you have to say goodbye. Goodbye friend, and godspeed.  Maybe I’ll see you in another lifetime as a baking pan.

8:49: Time for the co-main event, “The Prodigy” and lightweight champ BJ Penn, vs. Frankie “The Answer” Edgar.  Props to Edgar for staying true to his Jersey roots with his nickname selection.  BJ walks into the arena to his trademark Hawaiian-themed entrance music, if you haven’t heard it before here’s a clip:

8:52: Matt mentions that BJ didn’t do his usual Hawaiian arm raise at the weigh ins, and he looks somewhat subdued during his walk in.  Hopefully this isn’t a sign of things to come, but it’s been a frustrating night so far, so I’m not sure what to expect.  BJ is a favorite of both Matt and I, and while he’s had a checkered history of disappointing performances, he seems to have reached a new phase in his career where he’s focused on establishing his legacy as the greatest lightweight champion and pound for pound fighter in MMA history.  BJ may not be the most athletic, strongest, or intimidating fighter, but he is undeniably one of the most naturally gifted.

8:55: Fight is underway, and Edgar comes out with his trademark constant lateral movement and in and out presence in the pocket.  BJ comes out in his usual neutral engagement stance, where he’s neither backing up or stalking his opponent, but where he simply stands in the center of the octagon and looks to throw jabs and power counterpunches.  Edgar is throwing a buffet of straight shots and leg kicks, and he looks relaxed and loose in the cage with the Prodigy.  Close round, but everyone agrees that BJ took it.

9:01: 2nd round, and like the Hughes/Grace fight, both fighters pick up where they left off, and it’s a stand up battle yet again.  The difference here is both Penn and Edgar possess high level standup skills, which means we’re not watching a battle of futility, but rather a highly tactical engagement.  Edgar is definitely more active, and towards the end of the round he manages to throw Penn to the mat, but the champ gets up almost instantly.  Another close round, Edgar definitely looks like he came to fight for the title, but I don’t think he’s done enough so far.

9:07: 3rd round, and it’s more of the same.  I’m starting to get a little concerned that BJ hasn’t been able to engage and inflict any significant damage, and Edgar is so wily that I imagine it would be difficult to try to take him down.  I honestly don’t know who’s winning the fight so far, it’s a toss up, but you have to give some deference to champ, no?

9:13: We are now in championship round territory, and again it’s more of the same, with Edgar circling effectively both left and right and constantly peppering Penn with strikes.  Matt just speculated as to when BJ arrived in Abu Dhabi and whether he’s jet lagged from the time zone difference, and I responded by saying I was sure that BJ came early.  Ha.

Fourth round is more of the same, and my consternation over BJ possibly losing this fight grows with every second.  I’ve got a consternation, and at this point the only prescription is more beer.

9:19: Fifth and final round, and BJ comes out throwing, but Edgar ducks under his punches and knocks him on his back.  BJ quick gets back to his feet, but he’s visibly slower at this point, and Edgar looks as fresh as he did in the first round.  The clock is ticking, but neither are exactly looking for a big knockout finisher.  The bells rings, the fight is over, and Edgar raises his arms to indicate he felt he won the fight.  I don’t agree with him, but it was an extremely close fight, and my bias towards BJ is at work here.  Edgar was certainly the more active fighter, but to win the belt, you have the beat the champ, and he didn’t do enough in my opinion.

9:22: Edgar is the new lightweight champion!  Fuck!  Edgar won a unanimous decision, which was somewhat surprising, but not as shocking as one judge giving Edgar every round.  Edgar was certainly game, and he thoroughly frustrated BJ, but it seemed like BJ didn’t take Edgar that seriously, or perhaps he just couldn’t light his inner fire tonight for whatever reason.  The truth is I like Edgar, but the fact that he previously lost to Gray Maynard, who is still undefeated but hasn’t challenged for the title yet, looms in my mind.  How can Edgar be the champ if he couldn’t defeat another contender in his weight class?

9:28: Time for the co-main event, featuring middleweight champ and World’s Most Dangerous Man Anderson “Spider” Silva vs. Demian Maia.  I’m not quite sure what to expect from Spider tonight, except for a victory barring a freak flying scissor heel hook.  Spider absolutely put on a show in his last fight against Forrest Griffin, but the last time he fought a jit-jitsu specialist was Thales Leities, and in that fight Spider looked unwilling to engage or put himself in harms way, despite his clear dominance on the feet.  Did I just jinx this fight?

9:31: Spider just went through his humility routine before the fight, bowing to all four sides of the audience, and then bowing to Maia.  Spider is a true martial artist, and his respect for the fight game is unparalleled, but some of this also seems to be a little bit mental warfare before the fight even starts.

9:33: Here we go!  Spider comes out with his trademark Ali-like footwork, and Maia looks unsure of how to engage.  About two minutes in, Spider starts kneeling, he’s taunting Maia at this point.  Spider lands some front kicks, and even throws in a spinning back kick, and Maia looks like he’s just seen a ghost.  Spider lands a flying left knee to Maia, sending him to the mat.  Spider taunt his opponent some more, and the round ends.

9:39: Start of the second round, and yet again it’s more of the same.  Maia tries to engage to no avail, Spider throws some strikes and then taunts his opponent.  He even starts trash talking to Maia, beckoning him to try to hit him.  Umm, Mr. Spider, he’s been trying, the problem is you’re a freak of nature and he simply can’t.  Spider has done this in the past, but he’s taking it to a whole new level.

9:45: Third round, and I’ll say it again, more of the same, nothing more needs to be said.

9:51: Fourth round, ditto.  The taunting has somewhat subsided, but the crowd is getting really restless now.  They even start chanting welterweight champ’s Georges St. Pierre’s initials to the tune of “GSP! GSP!,” voicing their preference for the Canadian over the Brazilian.  The talk of a super megafight between Spider and GSP have gone on for what seems like years now, and if Spider needs a real opponent to actually show up to fight, then that’s exactly what Prez Dana White needs to do.

9:57: Final round, and Maia’s left eye is now fully shut.  You would think Spider would capitalize and finish Maia, but unsurprisingly he doesn’t.  In fact, towards the end of the round, referee Dan Miragliotta actually warned Spider for stalling.  Whatever, the fight is over, Spider won, and none of us are exactly sure what we just saw.  Dana White even failed to place the belt around Spider’s waist as the decision was announced, which was a clear act of disapproval.  I don’t blame him, Spider is the greatest of all time, so why does he feel the need to embarrass his opponent and himself?  I get that he wants to make it clear to everyone that he is the best, but score, don’t spike.  He apologized to the audience in the post fight interview, but it’s too little too late at this point.  I’m exhausted, and it’s time to head out to our friend Sal’s big 3-0 party, and after what we just witnessed, who knows what’s in store for the rest of tonight?

(Sidebar: Sal’s party was great, everyone drank beer and ate tons of potato chips, vanilla wafers, and peanut M&Ms.  Happy!  Tonight was a great success!)

MP

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King James vs. Messidona: Who’s better?

Witness!  Watching Lionel Messi earlier this week play his virtuoso act against Arsenal in their Champions League quarterfinal match was the most brilliant display of soccer I can ever recall watching in my adult life.  He may have had more brilliant displays of dribbling and more impressive individual goals, but his performance on Tuesday was nothing short of genius.  In case you missed it, here’s the recap of the master at his craft:

GOAL! GOAL! GOAL! GOOOOOAAAAAALLLLLLLLLL!!!

What he’s doing out on the field is ridiculously absurd when you consider that he’s only 5’7″, he’s 22 years old, and he was diagnosed with hormone growth deficiency when he was 11.  Fast forward a decade from then, and he’s the greatest player alive today, and arguably the greatest of all time.  It’s difficult to compare him to any other current player, as he does things on the field that no one else is capable of doing.  Many soccer pundits and analysts logically draw comparisons of him to Diego Maradona, who himself anointed Messi his successor, but that’s not doing justice to either.  Messi is his own individual, and he expresses himself on the field through his own singular character.  Simply put, he is like no other, he is Messi, and there is only one.  And then I started thinking, who, if any, does he remind me of in the rest of the sporting universe?  Again, there is only one, and his name is Lebron James.

Watching Lebron from his inception as a professional athlete has been one of the most gratifying experiences a sports fan could ever hope for.  Like he clairvoyantly stated, he is more than an athlete, he is more than an entertainer, he is a global icon.  Lebron, like Messi, in his short career has rewritten and redefined the barriers of what an athlete can do playing sports.  Watching him play is an act of viewing a visual symphony of power and athleticism with a touch of flair.  He evokes the same emotions as Messi, that of sheer exhilaration and excitement.  Here’s just a glimpse of what he’s capable of doing to a captivated audience of 20,000 people.

Everyone ride the L-train!

I could try to go on about how one is more thrilling to watch than the other, but that would just be a bunch of nonsense and filler words.  I love watching both equally, they embody what makes sport so beautiful.  So instead, I’ll just leave you with some clips of the two to decide who you prefer.  But in the end, it’s about being entertained.  So sit back and enjoy the show.

We are all witnesses.

MP

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Round 3: A partially wet and rainy Malaysian Grand Prix

No bye week after the Australian Grand Prix, boy oh boy, which means two straight weekends of F1 action.  This week the circus took its act to Sepang for the Malaysian Grand Prix.  The Sepang International Circuit was the first blank canvas racetrack designed specifically for F1 by German architect Hermann Tilke.  Tilke has since gone on to design six other F1 circuits, which makes him the unofficial F1 architectural oracle.  The circuit is a favorite among the drivers, despite its unusual layout with a pit straight that is separated from the back straight by just one hairpin turn.  Enjoy this onboard lap with Felipe Massa:

Sepang is notorious for its unpredictably torrential weather patterns, and it looks like this year’s race will be no exception.  Racing in the wet is a completely different animal from racing in the dry, and up until the weekend the practice sessions were relatively dry, so it’ll be interesting to see how the teams deal with the track if and when the rain starts coming down.

Qualifying

Unlike the weather in Australia, the rain is coming down steadily on the track, so it should be a wet qualifying session.  Not all of the cars, however, are lined up on the pit exit, one can only speculate as to what the teams’ strategies are for Q1.  Both Ferrari and McLaren are MIA, either they’re expecting the weather conditions to change in a matter of minutes or they’re confident they can advance to Q2 without setting too many laps.  I assume it’s the latter, but it’s a risky move considering the wet conditions could wreak havoc on the drivers’ ability to complete a consistent lap.

Speaking of storms, BBC pundit Eddie Jordan is sweating up a hurricane, as his choice of a light blue dress shirt was an absolute miscue in the sweltering and humid heat.  Mark Webber, after his disappointing result at Melbourne, looked strong in all of the practice sessions, consistently setting chart topping times.

Jenson Button is off the track and his car is bottomed out on the gravel, so no Q2 for him.  After his performance in Melbourne, there’s no way I can dismiss his chances of mixing it up on Sunday, but his work day just got that much harder.  Hamilton isn’t faring much better, and after flubbing his second to last flying lap, he also fails to make to Q2.  Alonso and Massa equally struggle to keep their cars on the track, and they both also miss out on Q2.  I can’t recall the last time both Ferrari and McLaren failed to get a car into Q2, I’ll attribute it to a combination of unpredictable weather conditions and a hubris-induced brain fart.

Schumi is struggling yet again, the Regenmeister is perhaps no more, which is a sad realization for both Schumi and his legion of fans.  Schumi’s comeback is uncannily similar to Lance Armstrong’s, the parallels between the two are reflective of both athletes’ larger than life personas and equally large egos.  Both are uber-confident and highly driven competitors, both won seven championships in their respective sport, and both made their comebacks after three year layoffs.  So will Schumi match Lance’s accomplishment of a third place finish in last year’s Tour De France by coming in 3rd in the Drivers championship?  At this rate, I think Schumi would be happy with that result.

Webber takes pole position!  Red Bull decided to hedge their options and put Vettel on full wets and Webber on intermediates for Q3.  Webber set the fastest lap of the session by more than a second, so his qualifying victory is more attributable to fortunate tire selection rather than pure speed.  Rosberg outshines Schumi yet again, coming in 2nd, and Vettel rounds out the top three.

Race Day:

Pre Race: There’s a 50% chance of rain, but it’s not coming down just as of yet.  In the words of Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali, the rain comes when it’s on the track.

Start: Turn up the volume for the start!  Webber and Vettel both get away clean, but Vettel’s start is slightly better and he takes the lead going into the first turn.  Both Hamilton and Massa get great starts and both move up seven places in less than half a lap.

Lap 2: Massa is holding up Button, and Alonso capitalizes and swoops past the Brit.  Nice teamwork boys, now work together and keep it clean.

Lap 4: Hamilton passes samurai pilot Kobayashi, Hamilton has now moved up from 20th to 10th in just four laps.  Timo Glock spins out and is stuck on the gravel trap, and his day is prematurely over yet again.  He almost took out Jarno Trulli with him, but the Italian manages to keep his Lotus running and avoids any damage to his car.  That little exchange was a microcosm for both the Lotus and Virgin teams, it’ll be interesting to see if Virgin can bridge the gap to their upstart rivals, or at least finish a race for starters.  Baby steps, baby steps.

Lap 7: Hamilton passes Petrov, and on just one straight he goes from one side of the track to the other three times to break the tow on Petrov.  He didn’t swerve unpredictably, so it wasn’t dirty, but it certainly shows how desperate Hamiton is to protect his position.

Lap 10: Button pits first, taking on a set of primes.  Interesting decision to pit so early, I guess he felt his option tires weren’t holding up that well.  Schumacher is crawling on the track, and he retires his Mercedes for the first time this season due to a suspension failure.  His comeback has been far from perfect, and his disappointing weekend only adds fuel to the fire that Schumi is not what he used to be, and that he may never be his old balls to the wall and driving on the limit self.

Lap 24: Vettel pits, and just edges out Hamilton coming out of the pit exit lane.  Vettel looks unfazed by his cold tires, and incredibly starts pulling away from Hamilton almost immediately.  Webber pits a lap later, and his right front wheelman has trouble with his torque gun.  Hopefully this isn’t an ominous sign of a wheel flying off.

Lap 41: Massa and Button are dueling for 7th place, and meanwhile Alonso is closing in fast on both of them.

Lap 43: Buemi passes Barrichello.  Meh.

Lap 44: Massa breaks though and passes Button.  Alonso is up next, Button is feeling the heat from the Ferraris.  Forza!

Lap 54: Button has been holding Alonso off for ten laps now, Alonso makes a last ditch dive past Button into Turn 1, but goes far too deep past the apex, and then suddenly his engine blows a cylinder.  This has been a forgettable weekend for the double world champion, he will lose his top spot in the Driver’s championship standings, but I’m confident Alonso will bounce back.

Finish: Vettel finally takes his first win of the season!  His win was long overdue, Red Bull earned a superb 1-2 finish with Webber finishing 2nd, and Rosberg rounds out the podium.  Red Bull has gotten a lot of deserved flak for their reliability, but it’s easier to make a fast car reliable than to make a reliable car fast.  And congrats to Lucas Di Grassi and Virgin Racing for finishing their first ever F1 race, I wonder if Branson is going to hail today as the beginning of a new era in F1.

Here’s the race chart of the leaders, as you can see Vettel pretty much controlled the entire race from start to finish.  Impressive.  Also below is the standings of the Drivers and Constructors championships.

Driver Pts
1 Felipe Massa 39.0
2 Fernando Alonso 37.0
3 Sebastian Vettel 37.0
4 Jenson Button 35.0
5 Nico Rosberg 35.0
6 Lewis Hamilton 31.0
7 Robert Kubica 30.0
8 Mark Webber 24.0
9 Adrian Sutil 10.0
10 Michael Schumacher 9.0
Team Pts
1Ferrari 76.0
2McLaren 66.0
3Red Bull 61.0
4Mercedes GP 44.0
5Renault 30.0
6Force India 18.0
7Williams 6.0
8Toro Rosso 2.0
9Sauber 0.0
10Lotus F1 Racing 0.0
11Hispania Racing 0.0
12Virgin Racing 0.0

Seven drivers separated by only 9 points?  Looks like the Drivers championship is going to be a wide open race, the question is who is going to assert themselves and seize hold of the top spot?  And Adrian Sutil is ahead of Schumi?  This is 2010, not the twilight zone, what the hell is going on around here?  See you in two weeks for the Chinese Grand Prix from Shanghai, 再见!

MP

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