Monday, March 19, 2018

Cleaning out the inbox-Sports version

Photo credit: Unknown
It isn't often that women's basketball leads off the inbox.
It also isn't often that a women's basketball team wins 71 games in a row with a national championship and is on their way to the Final Four in Sioux Falls, South Dakota as the number one team in the country.
Now, imagine how rare that it is to have that team come from my hometown and you have the Division II dominating Ashland Eagles.
Head coach Robyn Fralick has a career record of 103-2 (of this writing) and has a unique assistant coach in her husband Tim, the former head coach of Ashland High School.
Barry Fortune of the Ashland Times-Gazette writes of the unique working relationship and how coaches function with a home life built around basketball.
When I grew up, Ashland was more of a hoops school than a football school, so men or women, it's nice to see the hoops programs doing so well there.

More on Ashland basketball as Eric Musselman, the son of Ashland University (then college) legend Bill Musselman, has led Nevada to the Sweet 16 after a huge comeback to upset second seed Cincinnati.
Nevada will play Loyola-Chicago for a trip to the Elite Eight.
If I was Louisville or Pittsburgh (Especially Pittsburgh) -ACC schools with a massive rebuilding project ahead, I would be looking into Eric Musselman as an excellent choice to be their person to attempt to bring back their program to tournament status.

Surprised to see Penny Hardaway as the head coach at Memphis.
I understand that Memphis missed the tournament in both years under Tubby Smith, but in the past flashy hires of former great players without college coaching experience hasn't turned out well (Houston with Clyde Drexler and currently Georgetown with Patrick Ewing and St.John's with Chris Mullin to name just a few), but the one thing that makes me think that Hardaway has a better chance than the others is that he is a Memphis icon coaching Memphis with a built-in recruiting hotbed waiting for him.
I'm not saying Hardaway will succeed, but I like his chances better than others that attempted this in the past.

Eleven Warriors uses the tournament (and adds football) to explain just why entering the Big 10 may be a great idea for dollars, but not such a great idea for success as it looks at the adventures of Penn State, Nebraska, Maryland and of course Rutgers and their struggles with their occasional successes.
When you consider that the Big 10 likely has one more expansion left in them, future contestants may want to measure winning against the bank account...

One passing of note as Ed "the Glider" Charles passed away at the age of 84.
Charles spent most of his career with the Kansas City Athletics, but best remembered by many for his 1969 postseason heroics with many key hits for the Miracle Mets against the Braves and Orioles.
Charles saved the best for last in his career as he never played in the big leagues after the World Series victory.

We wrap with the O.J. Simpson interview,
No, not THAT O.J. Simpson interview- Simpson did one last week that he hasn't done even well before that night in Brentwood as he talked football, his career with the Buffalo Bills, USC, his potential to possibly contend with CTE and even some about his time in prison in Las Vegas.
The Buffalo News managed to get Simpson to talk about these and other things in what I thought was a very interesting piece if only to get Simpson's thoughts on topics other than the murders of Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Boxing Challenge:Ramirez Decisions Imam

Top Rank and ESPN hosted the boxing challenge for an St. Patrick's Day card in New York City that saw two challenge bouts, but the card was more than just the challenge as far as results go with the result being a very interesting night from the "World Wide Leader In Sports"
(Even though that's probably true, doesn't that line always seem pretentious?).

Let's start with the challenge and the most important fight of the evening (technically not the main event, but I digress) as a pretty solid scrap ensued as Jose Ramirez took a unanimous decision over Amir Imam to win the WBC junior welterweight title vacated by Terence Crawford.
The fight was close for the first half of the fight (I had Ramirez winning four of six rounds, but I could have seen 4-2 Imam just as easily), but Ramirez dominated the second half of the fight, badly swelling Imam's right eye and marching forward with aggression that overwhelmed Imam to the point of slowing Imam's ability to return fire.
I had Ramirez a 117-111 winner and despite a ridiculous scorecard that gave Ramirez every round, the decision was a clear-cut and fair one.
Ramirez is mandated to fight the WBC 'interim' champion Regis Prograis, who impressively dispatched Julius Indongo a few weeks back in his next fight, but Top Rank, who hosted Prograis and his promoter Lou DiBella last night, asked if Prograis would be willing to make a defense as the co-main event to a proposed Ramirez defense in his native Fresno, California, where Ramirez draws very impressive crowds and would be expected to do even better as a champion.
That makes sense to build exposure for Prograis and would give some buildup for a Ramirez-Prograis fight that style-wise might be a fight of the year level between the pair of undefeated bangers.

In the "our" co-feature highly rated light heavyweight Oleksandr Gvozdyk dominated Mehdi Amir but didn't impress as much as I expected in winning an interim title that only exists because the WBC allows its champion Adonis Stevenson to do as he pleases (as in no mandatory defenses since 2013).
I had Gvozdyk an easy 118-110 winner, but the victory not only lacked knockdowns, Gvozdyk didn't deliver the dazzling victory as expected.
The win does make Gvozdyk the mandatory contender for the winner of Stevenson's fight against Badou Jack in May, the speed of that fight occurring may be up to the WBC as Gvozdyk (Promoted by Top Rank) brings a lot of danger, but does not bring an excessively large purse for either Stevenson (PBC) or Jack (Mayweather Promotions) along with the promotional (and television) difficulties involved.
I'll believe Gvozdyk fights either (but especially Stevenson) fighter when they enter the ring on fight night.

The promoted "Main Event" that went onto finish the evening in a non-challenge fight saw Irish Olympian Michael Conlan demolish David Berna in two rounds.
Normally a fighter in his sixth fight (that isn't Vasyl Lomachenko) is a preliminary, but Top Rank is attempting to build the appeal to the Irish fan base in NYC of Conlan as he matures as a prospect.
I wouldn't have promoted Conlan as the main event, but as I watched the fight, someone on Twitter raised a great point-had Conlan been the prelim bout, half the crowd would have left and would have taken some of the energy away that wound up being present for the Ramirez-Imam fight.
Looking at things that way, I can see their point.

I watched the undercard on the ESPN app and it was an interesting three fight card (I think there was a fourth, but I took the ladies for Meadows custard before the broadcast started) with three fighters of interest going in and saw a shocking upset with a dose of just how hard it truly is to project a prospect's future-no matter their amateur pedigree.

Four years ago, when Ramon Malpica and I first were getting to know each other, we did a post called the six-round staredown and we picked "Can't Miss" and "Tired of Seeing" for each of the three major promotions.
When Top Rank came up, Ramon picked Felix Verdejo, while I picked Vasyl Lomachenko (don't give me too much credit, I picked Omar Figueroa for Golden Boy's Can't Miss) for the Arum bunch.
Fast forward four years and Verdejo has suffered through motorcycle accidents, injuries, a few disappointing performances along with a thirteen-month layoff before his return against Antonio Lozada.
Lozada had a solid (37-2 31 KO's) record but had never fought outside of Mexico and the once touted Verdejo, who in his rise was an HBO fighter against lesser opponents than Lozada in anticipation of being one of boxing's next stars was relegated to the Watch ESPN app on a stream.
Verdejo was competitive but was in a dogfight against the taller Lozada entering the final round.
I had Lozada leading by a point, but I was completely prepared for a close and arguable decision for Verdejo on the cards.
Verdejo was the house fighter, the bigger name and the guy that was marked for future appearances and I've seen this happen a thousand times, but on this night, Lozada was having none of that.
Lozada took no chances and did what so many fighters should do in similar situations-he took the pencils away from the judges and finished the fight as he dropped Verdejo and pummeled him until the referee was forced to stop the fight with 23 seconds to go.
It was disappointing for Verdejo and his promotion to drop his return bout, but what's really disappointing is more than just one bout.
One loss doesn't destroy a career and all too often in today's boxing, a loss is a bigger deal than it should be (call it the Mayweather Ramification), but it seems like all the issues outside of the ring have taken its tool on a young fighter with loads of ability and I'm very dubious of any idea that we'll ever see from Felix Verdejo what so many thought we would see in the ring.

The other two bouts saw promising junior lightweight Christopher Diaz win by a TKO in the fourth over Braulio Rodriguez, when Rodriguez separated his shoulder (Egads!) and former junior lightweight champ Jose Pedraza win a unanimous decision over Jose Rodriguez in an eight rounder in his first fight since losing his title to Gervonta Davis and first fight since signing with Top Rank.
I thought Diaz looked like he was ready to make his first leap against better competition and Pedraza looked sharp all things considered as well.

The stream call had a different announcing crew and I liked some of what I saw.
I've always been a big supporter of Crystina Poncher calling fights,she knows the sport and just needs the reps in the job to be a coming star and I liked Brian McIntyre's (trainer of Terence Crawford) analysis too as I hadn't been too familiar with him at the mic, but thought he was solid.
I wasn't as thrilled with Todd Grisham, but that could be my bias against former wrestling announcers, although my rap against Grisham (and Showtime's Mauro Ranallo) is that they seem to come into a broadcast with set jokes and stories that they are going to get into the broadcast no matter what and the artificial excitement that seems to always be a staple of the former McMahon bunch when they commentate sports that don't have a predetermined victor.

I'm still just not thrilled with the ESPN/Top Rank main crew.
Joe Tessitore is decent enough but like an average team, he plays to the level of the competition and with Mark Kriegel and Tim Bradley, he is limited in what he has to work with.
Bradley struggles to get his thoughts out quickly and he might be better used as a commentator in between fights or even rounds where he has a little bit of time to get his insights out.
Bradley says some interesting things but could thrive in a different role and especially the same for Kriegel, who was terrific in a roundtable with Don King and Bob Arum recalling their old war stories, but in a live fight environment is just not very good.
I'm not sure how Kriegel got into this position and had enough pull to push Teddy Atlas aside, but someone at the network or promotion must really be fond of him.

In the Boxing Challenge, Ramon Malpica and I each scored two points to move the total to 43-35.
Ramon scored two points for the Oleksandr Gvozdyk win, while I scored one each for wins by Gvozdyk and Jose Ramirez.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Boxing Challenge

The boxing challenge is built around one card this weekend as Top Rank and ESPN features a good ol' throwback to the 80's as Bob Arum and Don King work together in the main event as Jose Ramirez (Arum) fights Amir Imam (King) for the vacant WBC junior welterweight title.

The winner will be facing the talented "interim" WBC titleholder Regis Prograis, but first things first and Ramirez-Imam isn't a bad fight.
Ramirez is the A side of this one as an undefeated and exciting former Olympian but hasn't fought the best opposition with his best win being a knockout win over fellow prospect and equally untested Mike Reed.
Imam was looked at as a rising star after wins over fringe contenders Yordanis Ugas, Fidel Maldonado and Walter Castillo and was the mandatory contender for then-WBC champion Viktor Postol before being shockingly upset by Adrian Granados in what was a fight that was a stay-busy fight while waiting for Postol in 2015.
Inam has won his three fights since them, although none of them against even marginal contenders.

In the co-feature, Oleksandr Gvozdyk is expected to roll past unknown Mehdi Amar in a fight for the WBC's interim title at light heavyweight
Normally. I hate these belts, but WBC champ Adonis Stevenson has spent years fighting weaker opposition and his mandatory for the last two and a half years, stablemate Elieder Alvarez has not pushed for his title shot and accepted money to not fight Stevenson, while the champion fought non-entities.
Stevenson will be fighting Badou Jack in May and supposedly will be mandated to fight Gvozdyk next, although with the politics involved-I would take a bet that you never see that fight occur.

I lead Ramon Malpica in the boxing challenge 41-33.

Vacant WBC Junior Welterweight Title. 12 Rds
Jose Ramirez vs Amir Imam
R.L: Imam KO 3
TRS: Ramirez KO 6

Light Heavyweights. 12 Rds
Oleksandr Gvozdyk vs Mehdi Amar
R.L: Gvozdyk Unanimous Decision
TRS: Gvozdyk KO 4

Joe Thomas retires

The Cleveland Browns lost their best offensive tackle in the history of the franchise and arguably the best offensive lineman (Hall of Fame guard Gene Hickerson might have some support as the top offensive lineman) as well when Joe Thomas announced his retirement.

Some are questioning why Thomas took so long to announce the move and wonder if it cost the Browns potential replacements in free agency (Like those are hanging around on great offensive linemen trees) by waiting.
My guess is that the Browns were in the loop on the decision all along and just decided to give Thomas the wide berth to perhaps change his mind if he wanted to return.
Honestly, I have a feeling that we may not have seen the last of Joe Thomas on the field.
I think there is a remote chance that should the Browns show legitimate signs of improvement to the point of considering themselves possible playoff contenders for 2019 and if the various ailments and injuries heal up enough that Thomas feels good, I could see a scenario that Thomas could consider a comeback then.

Joe Thomas certainly deserved better than one winning season in eleven and that in his rookie season, so he finished his career with ten losing seasons in a row, but that didn't diminish his career and I'd rank him with Orlando Pace and Jonathan Ogden as the best tackle in pro football over the last twenty years.
Pace might have been a better run blocker and Ogden's footwork might have made him Thomas's superior in pass protection, but I might argue as an all-around tackle that Joe Thomas might have been a little better than either, which would be more than enough to send him to Canton in five years.

Joe Thomas leaves Cleveland as one of the last of his kind.
Thomas was a throwback that played all the time, gave back to his community and didn't make headlines for the wrong reasons.
The retirement of Thomas also made me think a bit when I remembered that Thomas not only played his entire eleven-year career as a Brown, but he also spanned the history of this blog.
The blog turns eleven in less than two weeks, but the drafting of Thomas was covered here in the first month and as I look back on that selection that I wrote that "Thomas will be a cornerstone in Cleveland for the next ten years", it made me think about feeling bad for Thomas, but I felt bad for me too.
Thomas might have played for ten losing teams, but I watched and wrote about them all as well- and when an offensive tackle is your best offensive player, not only will you not be very exciting, more often than not, you won't be very good either.

Back later with a preview of tonight's Jose Ramirez-Amir Imam fight in the boxing challenge.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Browns trade Jason McCourty to New England

Bob Levey/Getty Images
The Cleveland Browns didn't add any new players on day two of the official NFL year, but they did jettison one player as the Browns traded defensive back Jason McCourty to the Patriots.

The Browns included a seventh-round pick in this year's draft in the deal and received the sixth-rounder of New England in return for McCourty, who will turn 31 during training camp.

I was mildly surprised with the move, mainly because even with the signings yesterday in the secondary of T.J. Carrie and Terrance Mitchell, the Browns still seemed to need further help and I thought McCourty was arguably the team's best player among the defensive backs last season with 54 solo tackles and three interceptions.
I thought McCourty might be moved to safety with his age and ball skills, I think he has a good chance of making that transition with New England, should they decide to try that move and I thought he would have been a decent option for the Browns there, but when the Browns decided that Damarious Randall was going to play safety and not cornerback after being brought in from Green Bay that McCourty was expendable.

Initially, McCourty was announced as released with a wave of other players, but that was amended to this trade, which moves a pick up one round when New England had interest in acquiring McCourty,
The Patriots have the other McCourty twin (Devin) and the Browns likely decided to do a favor to a hardworking veteran and traded him to the Patriots.
New England may have acted quickly to make a trade before a release as perhaps another team would have claimed him off waivers (New England is next to last in waiver claims).

There were several players released by the Browns today, but only one of note as the team released wide receiver Sammie Coates.
Coates was obtained from Pittsburgh just before the opener with a 2019 seventh rounder for a 2018 sixth-rounder in a trade similar to the McCourty trade in which Pittsburgh received something for a player that they may have released anyway.
Coates never seemed to get on track with Cleveland (He wasn't alone in that) and often seemed listless and finished with only six catches for seventy yards...

Browns sign Carlos Hyde-Free Agency begins

Photo Credit:USA Today
The revamp of the Cleveland Browns under John Dorsey continued on day one of free agency as the Browns signed four players with one of them a pretty big name in former Buckeye Carlos Hyde to plug in at running back.

The biggest news of the day was the retirement of multiple time All-Pro Joe Thomas, which I'll write about on a slow day, so I'll stick to the four newest Browns.

Carlos Hyde is the flashiest name and his signing breaks the longtime unofficial embargo on the Browns, who under the last million administrations seemed to have an aversion to bringing in former Ohio State players.
Hyde signed a three-year contract for 15 million to replace Isaiah Crowell, who signed with the Jets yesterday as the main veteran back on the team.
I say veteran back because whether the Browns draft Saquon Barkley or not, Cleveland will definitely draft a back and more than likely in the second round.
Hyde rushed for 938 yards and eight touchdowns last season for the 49ers, but his yards per carry dropped under four yards for the first time in his NFL career.
Hyde brings a tough hard running between the tackles back that the Browns lacked and that Isaiah Crowell was not going to be so Hyde will be a major upgrade in that aspect of the running game.
Hyde also showed that he has the capability of being a three-down back as last year he caught 57 passes, which was more than Hyde had caught in the previous three seasons combined.
If the Browns can get the type of production from Hyde that he gave to the 49ers, the Browns have signed their best back since the two years that they received from Jamal Lewis in 2007/08.

Cleveland signed a blocking tight end in 31-year-old Darnell Fells, formerly of the Lions to a three-year deal at 12 million dollars.
Fells caught 17 passes last year (three for touchdowns), but is much better as a blocker in the running game.
At 6'7 and 285 pounds, Fells can take on defensive ends and not be overpowered on sweeps and pitches.
The signing of Fells will likely mean the end of Randall Telfer in Cleveland as there is little need for two blocking tight ends on a team and I don't think Seth DeValve can feel too safe as one of the receiving tight ends.
It wouldn't surprise me to see John Dorsey go after a veteran pass-catching tight end and if that comes to pass, it'll be DeValve that is likely to pack the bags out of town.

The Browns signed two cornerbacks and one of them was a surprise- at least at the money that was
shelled out.
Cleveland wasn't able to add one of the bigger names at corner (Trumaine Johnson signing with the Jets was the most painful miss), so they are gambling that T.J. Carrie of the Raiders can up his game to that level after four years in Oakland.
Carrie is getting starter-level money at four years, 31 million, so Carrie is going to have to improve to be worth that contract.
Carrie did start 30 games for Oakland over the last three years, is reported to be a hard worker/good locker room guy and reading Raider sites about him, it seems that their fans are sorry to see him leave, but they are understanding of signing a contract that the Raiders weren't going to be able to match.
I have to admit, I'm a little leery of this one at that price, but after the big names were off the table, the Browns had to sign someone, especially when they announced that recent acquisition Damarious Randall was going to play safety, not cornerback for the Browns and Carrie ranked among the best of the rest...

The Browns finished their day with another depth signing at they inked Terrance Mitchell to a two-year contract.
Mitchell has spent time with Chicago, Dallas and Kansas City in his first four NFL seasons, but didn't break into the secondary with the Chiefs until last season when he started nine games for the Chiefs.
Mitchell made 47 tackles and picked off four passes in his first extended starting action and showed flashes of potential, but the Chiefs have decided to revamp their cornerbacks in allowing Mitchell to leave and trading Marcus Peters to the Rams, so the knock (from what I've read) is consistency.

If the Browns sign anyone today, I'll be writing about the new arrival and if not, I'll likely be writing about the retirement of Joe Thomas.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Browns add three on free agency eve

Free agency wasn't supposed to start until Wednesday, but teams were coming to agreements with players left and right even though they couldn't sign them officially.
It's unlikely, but teams or players that have "agreements" could change their mind before the start of free agency.

The Cleveland Browns were no different as they came to agreements with three linemen- two on the offensive line and one on the defensive side of the football.

The Browns signed two players away from division rivals and both will either be key parts of a rotation or start, although I would imagine they are being signed to start.
Tackle Chris Hubbard was signed from the Steelers and will most likely challenge Shon Coleman at right tackle, although he could move to left tackle in the event Joe Thomas announces his retirement in the next few days.
Hubbard's contract with the Browns is worth 37.5 million over five years, which is sizable for a right tackle, but even if the Browns convince Thomas to return, Hubbard could play right tackle for a year or rotate in and out as Hubbard can play tackle or guard.
Hubbard was more of the latter with the Steelers although he did start ten games for Pittsburgh last season.
Todd Haley is a fan of Hubbard and likely played a part both recommending Hubbard as well as a part of Hubbard signing on his part, so that alone speaks well of him, but I also looked up a few Steelers sites and all of those said that the team would miss Hubbard.
One, in particular, wrote that Hubbard played so well in his replacement of injured.suspended Marcus Gilbert that they knew that they were going to lose him because they couldn't afford him after that stretch of play.
When the team that loses a player talks in terms of wishing they could have kept him, you usually are getting a solid player and I think the Browns have done so with Chris Hubbard.

The Browns added another player to the offensive line as they signed Donald Stephenson to a one year deal for 2.5 million.
Stephenson last played for Denver but was very familiar to John Dorsey as he played for the Chiefs during Dorsey's tenure there.
Stephenson is expected to be a backup and will provide depth as a backup.

On the defensive line, the Browns added Chris Smith from the Bengals on a three-year deal worth 14 and a half million.
The 26-year-old Smith spent last season in Cincinnati after spending his first three years with the Jaguars and finished with three sacks as a rotational piece on the Bengals line.
Smith is mainly a defensive end, although he can play defensive tackle in a pinch and played about a third of the snaps in Cincinnati.
Hopefully, at the cost of Smith's contract, that number increases in Cleveland.
The Cincinnati Enquirer writes that Smith began to develop some pass rush ability with the Bengals and noted that the Bengals wanted to keep him, but the Browns extra salary cap space exceeded what the Bengals could afford to pay.

I'm anxious to see what the Browns can pull off today.
They are reported to be in the hunt for Nate Solder of the Patriots to replace Joe Thomas and Terrelle Pryor to return from Washington to boost the receiving corps, but all of the top cornerbacks that the Browns were going after to boost the secondary signed elsewhere, so the Browns might not be able to sign the caliber of corner that they were hoping to ink to a contract.
We'll see more of John Dorsey's plans over the next few days...