Saturday, March 30, 2024

Boxing Challenge: Estrada Unifies, Valdez wins

    Top Rank and ESPN+'s card from Glendale, Arizona featured two excellent fights at the top of the card with plenty of action.

In the main event, Oscar Valdez won the interim WBO junior lightweight title by a seventh-round knockout over Liam Wilson.

Normally, I don't acknowledge interim titles but Valdez will become the full champion sometime in May when Emanuel Navarette fights for the WBO lightweight title and is unlikely to return to the division, so will vacate the title.

I had Valdez slightly ahead at the time of the stoppage (58-56) and I thought the stoppage was a little early but Valdez was in command of the fight and it was an understandable decision.

Both fighters sustained facial damage and Valdez's face blew up for the second fight in a row, so there are still questions about how long Valdez will hold up in the future.

In the pre-fight, both WBC junior lightweight champion O'Shaquie Foster and IBF featherweight king Luis Alberto Lopez each mentioned future challenges against Valdez, should he emerge victorious, each could be a possible opponent later this year.

In the co-feature, Seniesa Estrada survived a stern test from Yokasta Valle to add the IBF and WBO minimumweight titles to the WBA and WBC titles she owned previously to win a unanimous decision.

All three judges' scores were the same as mine, 97-93 for Estrada, who outboxed Valle from the southpaw stance for most of the fight but Valle's straighter punches often found a home and under different rules (twelve-round fights or three-minute rounds) Valle might have won the decision as she was the stronger fighter down the stretch.

I'd like to see a rematch but that might be a hard sell for Estrada, who entered the fight with extensive emotions towards Valle's trainer, Gloria Alvarado, and Valle's promoters, Golden Boy, for her previous connections with both, and she could decide to move up in weight to junior flyweight or flyweight.

Valle was the more aggressive fighter so the crowd did have pockets of boos after the fight but I thought Gloria Alvarado's postfight comments were a bit out of line when you consider the personal issues that were involved.

Women's boxing does need to tweak one major issue and while I have always said the two-minute rounds prevent knockouts, a case can be made for the two-minute rounds adding more excitement.

The WBC seems to be the holdup on moving to three-minute rounds as many of the stars of the sport are asking to happen but I think that the best compromise could be for championship fights to stay at two minutes but move them from ten to twelve rounds.

It isn't perfect but I think it would be reasonable.

Lightweight Raymond Muratalla looked a little flat in winning a unanimous decision over Xolisani Ndongeni by scores of 99-91, 98-92, and 97-93, with my score agreeing with the final score listed.

Muratalla did not look dazzling against Ndongeni, who fought well but was unable to hit hard enough to keep Muratalla off him and was fortunate to make the final bell as Muratalla turned up the pace in the latter rounds.

Boxing Challenge

TRS: 32 Pts (3)
Ramon Malpica: 32 Pts (4)
Vince Samano: 15 Pts (0) 

Boxing Challenge

  The boxing weekend is filled with matches in the boxing challenge on Saturday and even adds an intriguing battle of heavyweight prospects on Sunday for good measure!

The long-awaited debut on Amazon Prime for PBC takes place Saturday night and while I don't think the card is PPV-worthy, I do think it's a very solid card. 

In the main event, WBO junior middleweight champion Tim Tszyu will attempt to add the WBC title to his collection against Sebastian Fundora for that organization's vacant title.

All four of the sanctioning bodies have moved on from Jermell Charlo, so the WBC has decided to place their full title on the line since they have the chance to hop on the Tim Tszyu train earlier than they might have expected.

The fight was originally scheduled to be a non-title fight between Tszyu and former welterweight champion Keith Thurman as the WBO deemed Thurman unworthy of fighting for their title since "No Time" is chronically inactive in the ring, although not with his tongue, and had never fought at junior middleweight.

So when Thurman predictably pulled out of the fight, PBC inserted Fundora, who hasn't fought since being knocked out by Brian Mendoza last year, in his place and the WBC sanctioned it for their vacant title, ignoring the fact that Fundora and Serhii Bohachuk were fighting for that title already on the card.

Bohachuk was moved down the card to fight Brian Mendoza for the "interim" title, which questions why an interim title is needed when the actual title is decided on the same card but hey it's the WBC and it's business as always.

Tszyu-Fundora is a better fight than Tszyu-Thurman would have been and although Serhii Bohachuk was screwed over a bit, the card is better for the switch, and two titles are unified as well.

The WBA junior welterweight title is at stake in the co-feature as champion Rolando Romero defends for the first time since his controversial title win over Ismael Barroso was handed to him by referee Tony Weeks in a stoppage so awful that I struggle to remember a worse ending against Isaac Cruz.

Barroso was promised a shot at Romero after Barroso won the interim title when Romero was injured but Isaac Cruz is a bigger name, so of course Barroso is shoved aside.

Cruz has won three straight since his close loss to Gervonta Davis but he didn't look strong in his only fight of 2023, a split decision over Giovanni Cabrera.

This could be a wild fight with Romero's swipes and Cruz's aggressiveness but I could also see this ending in a lopsided affair for Cruz.

Either way, Romero will have to show more than he has in his career thus far for him to win this one in my opinion.

The middleweight division has become so weak that the WBA champion (and I say that loosely) Erislandy Lara is forty years old, hasn't fought in twenty-two months, hasn't faced a world-class opponent since 2019 (a draw against Brian Castano), hasn't beaten anyone of note since a 2017 decision over Terrell Gausha, and has never defeated a top ten middleweight.

For all of that, Lara is the FAVORITE against Australian challenger Michael Zerafa, who owns two wins of note, knocking out former WBO welterweight champion Jeff Horn in nine rounds before losing the rematch, and a one-round knockout of Anthony Mundine, a former junior middleweight contender, who was almost forty-six at the time!

The less said about this as a "championship" fight the better.

The opener of the PPV will see Julio Cesar Martinez defend his WBC flyweight title against Angel Cordova.

Martinez has defended his title twice since losing to Roman Gonzalez at junior bantamweight but has been caught in limbo by several cancellations of a planned mandatory defense against McWilliams Arroyo.

The unbeaten Cordova enters the fight after his best win as a pro, a close decision win over former WBO light flyweight champion Angel Acosta last April.

Amazon is offering two fights to Prime members for free with the aforementioned minor junior middleweight title between Serhii Bohachuk and Brian Mendoza among them.

The title may be questionable but this fight isn't as Bohachuk's 23-1 record reads with all of his wins by knockout and his only loss is by knockout as well, an eighth-round KO to Brandon Adams.

Mendoza always comes to fight as shown by his knockout wins over former champion Jeison Rosario and his stunning come-from-behind knockout of Sebastian Fundora as well as his last fight, giving a very game effort in losing to Tim Tsyzu by unanimous decision.

This should be an action-packed fight for sure.

The other free fight is promising teenage middleweight Elijah Garcia against veteran Kyrone Davis.

Garcia was very impressive in stopping Armando Resendiz in eight rounds on the Canelo Alvarez-Jermell Charlo undercard last fall, while Davis is a veteran that most remember from taking a pounding for seven rounds from David Benavidez in 2021.

At the same time, DAZN and Golden Boy are in Inglewood, California with a world title main event as the oft-invisible WBA cruiserweight champion Arsen Goulamirian makes his American debut against former WBO super middleweight champion Gilberto Ramirez.

Ramirez dominated Joe Smith in his cruiserweight debut in his return from his only career loss to Dmitry Bivol to qualify for this chance.

Goulamirian won his title in March 2018 and has defended his title four times, all in France and all against lesser contenders, so when you consider an unbeaten champion that has held his title for six years and yet he is an extremely unknown quantity.

In the co-feature, welterweight contender Alexis Rocha attempts to rebound from a devastating defeat against Fredrick Lawson.

Rocha took a severe beating from Giovanni Santillan last October and was stopped in six, losing his eventual mandatory shot at the WBO welterweight title either with Terence Crawford or in a fight for the vacant title if Crawford would give the title up.

Lawson was stopped in one round in his last outing against Vergil Ortiz in what was another terribly early stoppage by referee Tony Weeks in what will hopefully be the last time that Weeks ends a fight early.

Lawson is handpicked for Rocha's return to be successful, so if Rocha shows some struggles against Lawson, the Santillan fight may have caused damage to Rocha so he may not return to his previous level.

Peacock takes over on Sunday with a Boxxer-promoted battle of two unbeaten British heavyweights for the British and Commonwealth titles that will boost the victor up the ratings with Fabio Wardley fighting Fraser Clarke.

Wardley has fought more often (seventeen to eight), Clarke has the better victories with wins over veteran trial horses Mariusz Wach and Bogdan Dinu, both have wins over fellow Brit Nathan Gorman (the only two losses of Gorman's career), and Clarke was the better amateur, winning a bronze medal in the 2020 Olympics.

This seems to be a fifty-fifty fight because we don't know how either man will take a punch or how good either really is, so I'm looking forward to this one.

Boxing Challenge

WBO and Vacant WBC Junior Middleweight Titles. 12 Rds
Tim Tszyu vs Sebastian Fundora
Ramon Malpica: Tsyzu KO 8
TRS: Tsyzu KO 9
Vince Samano: Tsyzu KO 6

WBA Junior Welterweight Title. 12 Rds
Rolando Romero vs Isaac Cruz
R.L: Cruz KO 11
TRS: Cruz Unanimous Decision
V.S: Romero Unanimous Decision

WBA Middleweight Title. 12 Rds
Erislandy Lara vs Michael Zerafa
R.L: Lara Unanimous Decision
TRS: Lara KO 8
V.S: Zerafa Split Decision

WBC Flyweight Title. 12 Rds
Julio Cesar Martinez vs Angel Cordova
R.L: Martinez Unanimous Decision
TRS: Martinez Split Decision
V.S: Cordova Unanimous Decision

Junior Middleweights, 12 Rds
Serhii Bohachuk vs Brian Mendoza
R.L and TRS: Bohachuk Unanimous Decision
V.S: Mendoza Unanimous Decision

Middleweights. 10 Rds
Elijah Garcia vs Kyrone Davis
R.L: Garcia KO 8

WBA Cruiserweight Title. 12 Rds
Arsen Goulamirian vs Gilberto Ramirez
R.L and TRS: Ramirez Unanimous Decision
V.S: Ramirez Split Decision

Welterweights. 10 Rds
Alexis Rocha vs Fredrick Lawson
R.L: Rocha Unanimous Decision
TRS: Rocha KO 6
V.S: Lawson Unanimous Decision

Heavyweights. 12 Rds
Fabio Wardley vs Frazer Clarke
R.L: Wardley KO 8
TRS: Wardley KO 5
V.S: Clarke KO 4

Friday, March 29, 2024

Boxing Challenge

    After two tepid boxing weekends, this weekend is filled with fights, so many that I'm separating the Friday night card from the Saturday versions to preview.

ESPN+ and Top Rank have a very nice card for Friday from Glendale, Arizona with three challenge bouts with impact for the future.

In the main event, Oscar Valdez will meet Liam Wilson in a junior lightweight fight that technically isn't for a world title but could become one soon.

Valdez and Wilson have lost to WBO champion Emanuel Navarrete in excellent fights, and should Navarrete succeed in his match in May for the vacant WBO lightweight title against Denys Berinchyk, the winner of this fight for a minor WBO title would likely be promoted to the full championship, so there is plenty at stake here.

Both fighters accounted themselves well against Navarrete with Valdez losing a unanimous decision and Wilson losing by ninth-round knockout but has a case that he should have won after dropping Navarrete in the fourth round and Navarrete being given one of the more egregious long counts in recent memory allowing him to survive.

Wilson has won twice since his loss to Navarrete, while Valdez will be fighting for the first time after his defeat, so it'll be interesting to see how much Valdez has remaining in his return to the ring.

Style-wise, this should be an exciting battle, and on resume, Valdez has a huge edge with the key questions being- did Wilson merely catch lightning in a bottle against Navarrete, and did Valdez leave much of his remaining skills in the ring against Navarrete and may not be the same fighter from now on?

The co-feature will see the first women's bout in challenge history in a strawweight unification between WBA/WBC queen Seniesa Estrada and IBF/WBO boss Yokaska Valle.

I'm not the most knowledgeable women's boxing fan and we won't have an abundance of women's fights for the challenge but the top fights in the sport may be added in the future.

So, why now?

Because I love Seniesa Estrada's fighting style and enthusiasm for the sport, and she appears to be everything right with boxing- I like her. Sue me.

I've only seen a few fights of Valle but people more familiar with her than I am say that this is an excellent fight and far from a squash match for Estrada.

The other bout will pit talented lightweight contender Raymon Muratalla in a ten-rounder against Xolisani Ndongeni.

Muratalla has looked the part of a future champion in his two most recent wins, stopping Diego Torres and Jeremiah Nakathila while Ndongeni was stopped in eight in January by junior welterweight contender Arnold Barboza in his only outing against top competition.

It will be interesting to compare how Muratalla fares against Ndongeni against Barboza's performance against the native of South Africa.

Boxing Challenge

Junior Lightweights. 12 Rds 
Oscar Valdez vs Liam Wilson
Ramon Malpica: Valdez KO 8
TRS: Valdez Unanimous Decision
Vince Samano: Wilson Unanimous Decision

Women's Strawweight Unification 12 Rds
Seniesa Estrada vs Yokasta Valle
R.L and TRS: Estrada Unanimous Decision
V.S: Valle Unanimous Decision

Lightweights. 10 Rds
Raymond Muratalla vs Xolisani Ndongeni
R.L: Muratalla KO 9
TRS: Muratalla KO 6
V.S:  Ndongeni Unanimous Decision

Happy Anniversary

       Seventeen years.

I find it unbelievable that I have done this for seventeen years. 

Through changes in sports, teams, coverages, hobbies, real life, work schedules, and changes in the family, for the last seventeen years, TRS has been part of my life and it's hard to believe.

I haven't written quite as often over the last year, some due to the changes in my work schedule and also my changes in sports.

Baseball barely interests me anymore and I never thought I would write or say those words.

There have been several factors in why that occurred, ranging from the pandemic to the MLB takeover of the minors and their results changes to fan interaction, to their rule changes (I hate the extra innings rule and National League adopting the DH), and just to the general despicability of Rob Manfred.

I don't miss it as much as I would have ever thought.

My Devils interest has decreased a little but that's more because I've found that while I enjoyed watching the team every game, what I really enjoyed was sharing something with Rachel, when her interest declined, mine did as well without consciously knowing!

My Cavaliers' interest and viewing are high but I hardly watch college basketball because of the various problems in college sports with conference changes, lost rivalries, players leaving far too early, and less quality of the game all adding up due to a drop in interest.

I'm still a diehard Browns and Ohio State football fan and while Boxing has its problems, I still cannot pull myself away from the fight game.

The surprising new entry has been, thanks to Fred Landucci, English soccer and Newcastle United.

I have become such a fan of Newcastle that if I had anything to contribute, I would cover them here,

I don't know enough about the game to feel like I was adding anything and for the first time, I can enjoy watching my team and have fun rather than analyze the team.

Outside of sports, I still enjoy the cleaning out the inbox items, the occasional personal piece when the mood strikes me and I've always said when this becomes a grind, I'll stop doing it.

It's still fun for me, I don't always have the time as I once did.

Time to wrap up with the normal thanks to my family, friends, and anyone else who happens to stumble by and give TRS a chance.

It's gratifying when someone tells me that they enjoyed something that I have written and while only a few of you have been around since the beginning, I owe a lot to whomever reads this book of thoughts, memories, and opinions.

It's been an amazing seventeen years with people coming into my life that mean so much to me (and will very soon) and people leaving it as well, some of those dearly missed.

If you know me personally, I'm sure that you know that I struggle with positively looking at things but I'm in a place that is pretty good right now, and while I'll never be one of those "turn that frown upside down" people, I have many people and things around me to be very positive about.

Thanks for reading and onto year eighteen next year with more good news to come!

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Forgotten Superstars: Steve Watson

      I've been watching old Denver Broncos games on YouTube (Remember it was the Broncos who were the team of my youth) as I do other things and it made me want to write about my favorite Bronco on offense from childhood- wide receiver Steve Watson.

The Broncos weren't always known for offense in the seventies and eighties.

In fact, when Sears sold the NFL jerseys in their catalog at that time, Denver was the only team to have a defensive player jersey (53 Randy Gradishar) as their representative, so the "Orange Crush" defense was the star of the team.

Still, Steve Watson took over the top receiving option from Haven Moses in his third season in 1981 and was the go-to pass catcher for Craig Morton as he ended his career and for the first formative years of John Elway as well.

Watson made the Broncos in 1979 as an undrafted free agent from Temple but only caught six passes in each of his first two seasons in Denver before his breakout season in 1981.

In 1981, the first season of Dan Reeves's coaching career and the final season of Craig Morton's quarterbacking career, Watson caught sixty passes for 1,244 yards and a league-leading thirteen receiving touchdowns as he made his only Pro Bowl in a breakout year.

Watson wouldn't be selected to another Pro Bowl but he continued to rack up receiving yards with 555 (in the nine-game strike season), 1,113, 1,170, and 915 in the following four seasons for the Broncos.

It was Steve Watson who was the go-to receiver for a developing John Elway as an intermediate threat and occasional long-ball target.

Watching these Denver games during a time when the football wasn't in the air as much as it is today, Watson's ability to get open deep as well as on shorter routes makes me think that he might have been more effective in today's game.

Watson's numbers dipped a little in 1986, catching forty-five passes for 699 yards and he played only five games in 1987, catching eleven passes in what would be his final season.

Watson finished his career with over six thousand receiving yards, three hundred fifty-seven catches, and a very good average of seventeen yards per catch.

I wonder if Watson had come along a few years later with his skills perhaps the Broncos would have won one of those lost Super Bowls under Dan Reeves as he would have given the team the bigger receiver that the team lacked with their quicker smaller pass catchers such as Vance Johnson and Mark Jackson.

And now, why Steve Watson was part of my childhood fandom.

You see, the local newspaper would every year or so mention Watson in the local sports section as his grandparents lived in Hagerstown.

That was the connection to Watson and I remember every time we made our weekly run for supplies, I tried to wear something Bronco-related on the remote chance that I would run into these people (remember this was in an era that wasn't easy to acquire items from a non-local team) who in my early teenaged mind would see me, talk to me, and make a connection with someone that knows a Denver Bronco!

In a shocking development, none of that would occur and I'm not a Broncos fan anymore but Steve Watson is still one of my favorite players and we welcome him to the Forgotten Superstars series. 

Sunday, March 24, 2024

Browns sign D'onta Foreman

      I was hoping that the Cleveland Browns would add one more running back to their position group and I was pleased to see the signing of D'onta Foreman, formerly of the Chicago Bears.

The six-foot, two hundred and thirty-five pound Foreman will bring a bruising back that can run between the tackles and help with short yardage situations if Nick Chubb isn't ready for the early season portion of 2024.

The twenty-seven-year-old Foreman has played for four teams since Houston drafted him in the third round in the 2017 draft from Texas but his best seasons have been his most recent- 2022 with Carolina and last season with the Bears.

Foreman rushed for four hundred twenty-five yards and four scores in nine games with the Bears on one hundred nine carries last season, and rushed for over nine hundred yards in 2022, so he's a solid back that brings something to the Browns that Jerome Ford and Nyheim Hines both lack.

If Nick Chubb can return close to form. then Foreman will be a situational player but should there be anything that keeps that from occurring, Foreman could be a horse for the Browns or at least able to share time with Jerome Ford.

Ford was effective at times last season but his ability to carry the heaviest load is questionable.

I've liked Foreman as a back and thought he's been a bit underrated and underused in his career.

Sometimes in sports, there are players that you always think just need a chance and always hope it will be your team that provides that chance.

The Browns are giving one to D'onta Foreman. 

Monday, March 18, 2024

Browns sign Tyler Huntley

       The Cleveland Browns created a mild surprise by signing veteran quarterback Tyler Huntley to a one-year contract at the veteran minimum with incentives to be reached if he plays more often.

Huntley was a Pro Bowl selection in 2022 when he started four games for an injured Lamar Jackson and many of the top AFC quarterbacks were unable to play in the game, so the league dipped down to add Huntley to the roster.

The 6'1 Huntley was signed by Baltimore as an undrafted free agent in 2020  from Utah, and played all four of his professional seasons there, completing sixty-four percent of his passes for 1,957 yards, eight touchdowns, and seven interceptions in that time.

Huntley is more noted for running than passing, although his style does approximate DeShaun Watson as it did Lamar Jackson in Baltimore.

Now, the four-man quarterback room for training camp looks settled with Watson, Jameis Winston, Dorian Thompson-Robinson, and Huntley with roughly the same skillset and style, although Winston is more of an outlier as with the bigger arm and lesser mobility compared to the others.

One could look at this in two different ways.

The first is that Watson and Winston are safe and the battle is between Thompson-Robinson and Huntley for the third spot as Winston is the veteran player that the Browns lacked behind Watson last year until they brought in Joe Flacco in case of injury to Watson.

The other possibility is that it's Watson in the top slot, Thompson-Robinson is locked into the third spot and the true battle is for the experienced veteran spot between Winston and Huntley with both players signed to one-year contracts.

Either scenario is possible and which one occurs may come down to how highly Andrew Berry and the Browns value Dorian Thompson-Robinson, who they drafted in the fifth round in the 2023 draft.

If the Browns are sold on DTR as their eventual backup, as they were last season, coming out of training camp,  and don't want to risk losing him then it could be Winston vs Huntley.

If the UCLA product's stock has dropped in their eyes and the Browns have learned from last year's experience seeing the need for a veteran and would be willing to risk losing him on waivers to keep three veterans, then it could be Thompson-Robinson vs Huntley.

In any event, the Browns signing of Tyler Huntley has placed a new variable on the quarterback situation.

A few days ago, things seemed to be cut and dried, now there will be a competition somewhere at quarterback- if only the participants knew who their opponent would be.

Sunday, March 17, 2024

Cleaning Out the Inbox: Passings

         We return for another edition of tributes to recent passings.

Goodbye to Steve Lawrence at the age of 88.

I'm not sure you could have been a child of the seventies who watched network variety shows and not known Steve Lawrence and his wife Eydie Gorme.

The husband and wife duo appeared on what seemed to be every variety show at one time or the other but I always wondered why.

They weren't stars that had hits on the charts or even had songs that I knew from the past, they were just there- as constant guest stars.

Turns out Lawrence had five top-ten hits in the early sixties including a number one with "Go Away Little Girl" (which was covered by Donny Osmond in the seventies) but preferred working night clubs, acting on Broadway and film (including his cameo as producer Maury Sline in the original Blues Brothers), and working with Gorme.

A very interesting life.

Goodbye to Eric Carmen at the age of 74.

Also known as a prolific songwriter, Carmen was the lead singer with the Raspberries in the early seventies, whose hits included "Go All The Way", which reached number five on the United States charts in 1972.

After the breakup of the Raspberries, Carmen moved to romantic ballads as a solo artist with "All by Myself" reaching the second spot on the U.S. charts and would reinvent himself again in the mid-eighties with "Hungry Eyes" from the "Dirty Dancing" soundtrack, also reaching the second position on the U.S. charts.

Goodbye to Dave Ritchie at the age of 85.

The long-time Canadian Football League coach for the B.C. Lions, Winnipeg Blue Bombers, and Montreal Alouettes, Ritchie won two Grey Cups with the Lions in two stints, twelve years apart, winning the Cup in 1994 and 2006.

The 1994 Grey Cup is arguably the most heated CFL title game of all time as it would match the Lions against an American opponent for the first time in league history in the Baltimore CFL Colts.

Lui Passaglia kicked a field goal on the final play to give the Lions the win and the championship.

Ritchie finished his CFL career with a record 108-76-3.

Goodbye to Ed Ott at the age of 72.

Part of the Pirates catching platoon for their 1979 championship team, Ott is more remembered for things that had nothing to do with his on-field play.

Ott slid into second on a double play attempt against the Mets in 1977 into Felix Millan.

After the two exchanged words, Millan hit Ott with the baseball in his hand, Ott grabbed Millan and slammed him across his knee, injuring Millan and ending his career.

Ott, when serving as a coach with Houston, grabbed Reds pitcher Rob Dibble in a chokehold that left the much larger Dibble turning blue while in the choke.

Ott's other note? His five letters/two names are the shortest in major league history.

Goodbye to U.L.Washington at the age of 70.

Washington spent most of his career with the Royals and was known for the ever-present toothpick in his mouth, even as he played in games!

Washington was one of three players to make the majors from the Royals baseball academy along with Frank White and Ron Washington (no relation), and Washington was on first base just before George Brett's homer in the famous "Pine Tar Game".

Goodbye to Wayne Wilson at age 66.

Wilson was the twelfth-round selection of the Houston Oilers from Shepherd College in 1979 but was released in the final cut and claimed by New Orleans, where he would play for eight of his nine seasons in the NFL.

Wilson was used as a pass receiving back and as a special teams ac in this career but Wilson was the Saints leading rusher in 1983 when he rushed for 789 yards and nine touchdowns for New Orleans.

Wilson was the first player in Saints history to notch 1,000 yards in rushing, receiving, and kick returns for a career.

Friday, March 15, 2024

Browns sign Free Agent Depth

     The Cleveland Browns continued to add players for depth in their need areas and being free agency, the Browns lost a few players as well.

The most intriguing to me was at linebacker where the Browns signed former Pittsburgh Steelers first-round pick Devin Bush to compete at linebacker.

Bush spent four seasons with Pittsburgh, which was somewhat disappointing to Steeler fans, who thought Bush was going to be their next standout linebacker after an excellent rookie season.

Bush tore his ACL in 2020, ironically in a game against the Browns, and hasn't been the same player since the injury

Bush spent last season with Seattle, playing in thirteen games but in his final three games, Bush looked to be gaining confidence, finishing with fifteen solo tackles, fifteen assisted tackles, and four for loss.

Bush is noted for his run defense and hard-hitting but much of his problems with the Steelers were in his pass coverage, so Bush would have to improve quickly to be a three-down linebacker.

Still, Bush is worth a flyer on a one-year deal and perhaps his production could finally equal his potential.

The Browns also seemed to be in the market for another veteran defensive tackle to replace Jordan Elliott in the rotation and they signed one in Quinton Jefferson, who had six sacks for the Jets last season.

Jefferson played four seasons with Seattle after being drafted in the fifth round in 2016 but has played for four different teams (Buffalo, Las Vegas, a 2nd stint in Seattle, and the Jets) in the previous four seasons.

Jefferson's six sacks would have placed him second on the Browns last season, so if he could approach that number this season, the Browns would have a solid contributor.

I do wonder about the one-year contract to fullback/tight end Giovanni Ricci though,

The Browns lost Harrison Bryant to the Raiders in free agency Bryant was a receiving tight end more than a blocking tight end and Ricci caught one pass last season for two yards for Carolina.

At 240 pounds, Ricci is more H-Back than fullback or tight end, so unless Kevin Stefanski wishes to use some different portions of his playbook, I'm not sure I see the fit for Ricci.

Cleveland also signed cornerback Tony Brown, formerly of the Colts, in an attempt to replace Mike Ford on special teams after Ford signed with Houston.

Brown played for Browns special teams coach Bubba Ventrone in Indianapolis and is regarded as excellent in his role on those units.

Brown missed the final three games last season due to the Colts suspending Brown for violating team rules, so hopefully, those issues are left in Indianapolis.

Andrew Berry made his big swing with the trade to acquire Jerry Jeudy, so most of his free agency maneuvers have filled holes created by free agency.

Lose Jordan Elliott, and add Quinton Jefferson.

Lose Mike Ford, and add Tony Brown.

Lose Harrison Bryant, and add Giovanni Ricci.

Lose Sione Takitaki and Anthony Walker, and add Devin Bush and Jordan Hicks.

And biggest of all, Lose Joe Flacco and add Jameis Winston.

Only the addition of Nyheim Hines doesn't fit the bill, and it more than likely still does as the Browns aren't likely to retain Kareem Hunt.

I would grade most of these as lateral moves, although I think the potential is there for the Bush/Hicks pairing to be an upgrade over Takitaki/Walker.

However, except for Giovanni Ricci over Harrison Bryant, I don't see any severe downgrades either.

So, it seems the Cleveland Browns have decided to mostly stand pat other than trading for Jerry Jeudy in an attempt to improve at wide receiver and run it back with the same cast along with the hopes for DeShaun Watson to return to his form from his time in Houston.

That's risky but I really don't see much of a choice.

In the perfect world, they would add another quality receiving option, another defensive lineman, and another running back in case Nick Chubb doesn't bounce back to his peak.

Nyheim Hines brings a pass catcher out of the backfield, so the Browns may look at Hines as their added offensive threat but Hines isn't the same factor as a ball carrier and although Jerome Ford had his moments last season after the injury to Nick Chubb, I'm still not sold on him as a bellwether back if needed.

For the most part, free agency will take a pause for a while as we transition to draft talk with the Browns having one final year without a first-round pick as they finally finish paying the mortgage on DeShaun Watson.

Tuesday, March 12, 2024

Browns sign Nyheim Hines

   Day two of the free agent period saw the Cleveland Browns add a running back and an offensive tackle to add depth at two spots with starters that are returning from injury, re-signed a player for the offensive line and defensive line, and lost a defensive lineman as well.

The biggest name was former Bills running back Nyheim Hines, who signed a one-year contract worth up to 3.5 million.

Hines missed all of 2023 after an off-season injury from a jetski accident and split 2022 between the Colts and Bills.

Hines was drafted in the fourth round from N.C. State in 2018 by Indianapolis and has been a productive pass-catching back, catching 240 passes in his career.

Hines also has been a productive punt returner in his day, having returned four punts for touchdowns, two of those in 2022.

If Hines is healthy, he could bring much-needed return ability to a team in need of it and would be a third down receiving back who could prove very helpful.

Still, with the questions about Nick Chubb's return from his own injury and the erratic play last season from Jerome Ford, I'd think the Browns could use another back.

I wrote yesterday about the defensive line and hadn't heard about the status of Shelby Harris or Jordan Elliott.

Harris will be returning as he announced on Twitter but I haven't seen the terms of the contract.

As for Jordan Elliott, Elliott signed a two-year contract with San Francisco worth ten million.

The third-round pick in the 2020 draft from Missouri, Elliott never reached full-time starter status for the Browns, although he was a steady member of the defensive tackle rotation.

Cleveland hopes last season's third-round choice Siaki Ika will be able to make the rotation next season but I still think the Browns will draft another defensive tackle or sign another veteran in free agency.

The Browns also addressed the offensive line by re-signing veteran backup Michael Dunn to a one-year deal with terms unannounced and tackle Hakeem Adeniji to a one-year deal.

Adeniji played three seasons with the Bengals before signing with the Vikings last season, playing in four games.

Both players are depth players that can play guard or tackle with Dunn having the ability to play at center as well.

I'm glad the Browns kept Shelby Harris but it is clear the Browns are going to run back the team pretty close to the one from 2023.

We will see if that is good enough. 

Browns sign Jameis WInston

     The Cleveland Browns made sure that they had a veteran alternative at quarterback to DeShaun Watson going into 2024 but it wasn't the player that their fan base preferred as the Brown signed former top overall pick Jameis Winston from the New Orleans Saints to a one year contract worth up to 8.7 million dollars.

The decision to sign Jameis Winston means that the Browns will not re-sign Joe Flacco, which ends the veteran's miracle run in Cleveland that saved the 2023 season and allowed the Browns to reach the playoffs.

Winston was the first player selected in the 2015 draft from Florida State by Tampa Bay and spent five seasons in Tampa before moving to the Saints for four seasons, making ten starts over that time.

Winston played in seven games for New Orleans last season, throwing two touchdowns and being intercepted three times with 264 yards passing backing up Derek Carr for the Saints.

Over his career, Winston has thrown 141 touchdowns and 99 interceptions, thirty of those interceptions in his final season with Tampa Bay, when he also threw his career high in touchdown passes with thirty-three.

At 6'4, 235 pounds, and a booming arm, Winston has all the skills and can make all the throws but he has been prone to the interception at the wrong time as the bugaboo for his career.

Winston turned thirty in January, so he's still not an old player and what I like about the signing is that Winston reminds me a lot of Joe Flacco- big in stature, power arm, but not the most mobile quarterback at this stage of their career, and needs solid protection in the pocket.

And one more- Winston is not Joe Flacco.

Cleveland fell in love with an aging quarterback who spent most of his career playing for a rival as he saved a season that seemed to be yet another Browns season going down the drain.

That's a good thing and created a slot for Joe Flacco in Browns lore which will never be forgotten.

However, each season creates a new story and DeShaun Watson is going to be a major, if not THE major story of next season I can understand why the Browns wouldn't want a situation where Watson struggles a bit, and here comes the chants for Joe Flacco.

While I can understand those reasons, it does seem a little (just a little) ungrateful to not allow a player who did so much and seemed to want to return the opportunity to do so.

The Browns can deny the Flacco fans were a factor and while it might not have been the biggest factor, it had to be in play for an organization that knows that their fan base is still divided over DeShaun Watson.

I'm fine with Jameis Winston, it makes sense and I understand why but there is a part of me that believes in sentiment and wants to see Joe Flacco in Cleveland.

Football is not a business for sentiment.

Back later with more Browns additions and subtractions.

Browns retain D-Line Pillars

     The Cleveland Browns strengthened their defensive line last year moving it from a team weakness, aside from Myles Garrett, in 2022 to what would be a strength in 2023.

However, they have four contributing players who were eligible to leave through free agency.

I'm not sure about the status of Shelby Harris or Jordan Elliott although I didn't see either name on the transaction wire, but the Browns did re-sign the other two players in defensive end Za'Darius Smith and defensive tackle Maurice Hurst.

Smith signed a two-year contract worth 23.5 million to return after his first season in Cleveland after being acquired from Minnesota.

Smith played in sixteen games as the Browns' main pass-rushing threat opposite  Myles Garrett, finishing the season with five and a half sacks, which was mildly disappointing in my opinion but far from terrible.

Smith turns 32 in September, so he'll have to play well next season to stick around for the second year of the contract, I'd suspect.

Maurice Hurst was one of the most pleasant surprises of the season because the Browns really didn't know how well Hurst would play after playing only two games in 2021 for San Francisco and missing all of 2022 with a torn bicep.

Hurst would go down to an injury after thirteen games but played very well in stuffing the run along with a sack and a half and an interception.

I am concerned about Hurst's staying healthy when you look at his entire career but keeping Hurst with Dalvin Tomlinson retains some of last season's rotation along the interior of the defensive line.

I have mixed feelings about the Browns attempting to keep Shelby Harris and Jordan Elliott, cost depending of course.

I liked Harris's play a lot last year but he will be thirty-three before next season.

Elliott's play improved over his previous seasons but the Browns will need to make room for 2023 third-round draft pick Siaki Ika, who barely played last season.

If Ika progresses enough, the Browns could feel comfortable in signing one more defensive tackle but who knows how the Browns feel about him currently.

Cleveland lost one player as cornerback Mike Ford signed with Houston on a two-year contract for 4.5 million. 
Ford occasionally played in dime packages, starting once and intercepting one pass.

Ford was signed last off-season and was a key contributor on special teams.

Ford will be missed on those units, so look for the Browns to attempt to add a veteran player from somewhere with special teams experience. 

Browns Linebacker Shakeup

      The free agency period started with the Browns re-signing two key defensive linemen (more on the
retentions later in the week) but it was the linebackers that saw the most action with one player signing in Cleveland and two veteran Browns departing Northeast Ohio.

The new arrival is veteran Jordan Hicks, who signed a two-year contract valued at eight million dollars from the Minnesota Vikings.

Hicks will turn thirty-two before training camp and will be entering his tenth NFL season, four of those with Philadelphia where he played for Browns defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz after being drafted by the Eagles in the third round in 2015, three with the Arizona Cardinals before his two most recent seasons with the Vikings.

Hicks started thirteen games for the Vikings last season, finishing with sixty-one solo tackles, a sack, and an interception.

Hicks hasn't played fewer than twelve games in the last six seasons, so he's durable and able to stay in the lineup.

Hicks knows what Jim Schwartz wants in a linebacker and while he's not an exciting playmaker like Jeremiah Owosu-Koramoah, Hicks is a solid, steady player that isn't all that different than either of the players that the Browns lost in free agency.

Cleveland lost Anthony Walker, who signed with the Dolphins, and Sione Takitaki, who was picked up by the Patriots.

Walker played three seasons for the Browns after being signed from Indianapolis and was loved by his teammates but I saw a player that rarely made big plays and in twelve games last season, Walker made only twenty-three solo tackles and just one for a loss.

Takitaki played five seasons in Cleveland after the Browns drafted him in the third round in 2019 from BYU.

Takitaki returned last season from a severe knee injury to play in fifteen games (seven starts) finishing with forty-five solo tackles, two sacks, and an interception last season.

Takitaki was also helpful on special teams, so the Browns will be looking through free agency, draft, or undrafted free agency for a linebacker who can cover on special teams.

Is Jordan Hicks a big upgrade over Anthony Walker or Sione Takitaki? 

Probably not but he's a mild upgrade over either.

Back later with the Browns other moves that saw them lose a key special teams player and re-sign two key members of the defensive line. 

Monday, March 11, 2024

Cleaning Out the Inbox

     The cleaning of this week's inbox starts with a familiar theme here at TRS- The ownership of Bob Nutting and the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The Athletic writes about the Nutting regime and the Pirates with their typical tightness and lack of player development over the last few seasons.

One person is quoted as being told in the past to wait one day before making a trade to save an extra $30,000, a pittance in today's game, and how former GM Neal Huntington was forced to take money out of his major league salary budget to pay for upgrades to the team spring training facilities in Bradenton.

It also mentions that with the constant analytics wave in the game last season when cornerstone third baseman Ke'Bryan Hayes struggled, he needed more faith in then-hitting coach Andy Haines. He worked with AA Altoona hitting instructor Jon Nunnally and improved his numbers dramatically.

Nunnally was then released by the Pirates in the off-season.

The Pirates' farm system has had its struggles, especially with questions about the top overall pick in 2020, Henry Davis, who has been questioned about his defensive ability to stay at catcher, and his bat at at a corner position after hitting .213 with seven homers in sixty-two games last season with Pittsburgh.

One source may have summed the Pirates under Nutting- "They are comfortable being mediocre".

The Athletic also writes of the recent run to the 5th (field of sixteen) round of England's FA Cup by Maidstone United, who play in the National League South, which is the sixth level of English football/soccer.

That is (for those of you who watched the FX series Welcome to Wrexham, one level below Wrexham's spot during the first two seasons of the series) almost at the level of semi-pro status.

Maidstone United upended four teams higher than their level including a win over Ipswich Town, a third-place team in the Championship league, which is the English equivalent to Triple-A baseball.

Maidstone's wins will add roughly 750,000 dollars (U.S) to their funding which will go a long way toward improving the club or their facilities. writes of the iconic CNN letters outside the former CNN Center in Atlanta being removed from the building's top and from ground level near the facility's entry.

CNN moved from the CNN Center back to the original home of the network a few miles away last year and the building has been sold, so the signs needed to be removed.

The sign was a tourist attraction and was often a stop for photos with the sign.

The worst thing about the Covid pandemic for me personally was the forced cancellation of a scheduled trip in which my room was reserved in CNN Center, ending plans to tour CNN Center and visit the college football hall of fame, which is located down the street. writes "The ups and downs of a small-town basketball star" which covers the life of Rick Mount, the all-time leading scorer at Purdue, and ABA player after leaving the Boilermakers.

Mount is from Lebanon, Indiana, where Mount's father, and Mount's son each starred at the local high school and Mount's post-professional career in the small town where he grew up with its pros and cons.

It's a very interesting read about what happens when the cheering stops and you are still living where you were the town hero.

Sunday, March 10, 2024

Browns obtain Jerry Jeudy

      Andrew Berry decided to return to the scene of his greatest trade since taking charge of the Cleveland Browns by trading for a wide receiver with a team dealing with salary cap issues.

Amari Cooper worked out spectacularly and while Elijah Moore didn't make the impact that the Browns hoped for, Moore wasn't a total bust either, so it wasn't a surprise that Andrew Berry returned to the wide receiver trade well to bolster DeShaun Watson's weapons.

Berry and the Browns sent fifth and sixth-round picks to the Denver Broncos for wide receiver Jerry Jeudy, whom the Browns hope will provide the deep threat they have lacked since the days of Josh Gordon.

The Browns traded the fifth-rounder they acquired for Baker Mayfield from Carolina and their own sixth-rounder.

Cleveland still has their own fifth-rounder and still owns two sixth-rounders from Arizona and Baltimore.

Jeudy had been connected to the Browns by rumors before the in-season trading deadline but Denver decided to keep their 2020 first-rounder from Alabama and wait for the off-season before exploring a trade.

Jeudy caught 54 passes for 758 yards with two touchdowns last season and is under contract for the 2024 season at a cap hit of 12.99 million after Denver picked up his fifth-year option last spring.

The Browns are expected to attempt to re-work Jeudy's contract to help create cap room and commit him to more than a one-year rental.

Jeudy hasn't been the star that Denver and many expected after being drafted but he's been decent and in Cleveland, will be slotted as the number two receiver opposite Amari Cooper as the deep speed threat that the Browns have been missing for years.

Where this does affect the receivers is that one of the current roster is likely to be elsewhere, if not two.

Cedric Tillman and Elijah Moore will be the third and fourth receivers, and I bet the Browns use either their second or third-rounders on another pass catcher.

Assuming the Browns do that, that player makes the team, so unless the Browns decide to keep six receivers David Bell may be the player on the outside looking in.

Jerry Jeudy was a disappointment for Denver but if used as a deep threat in the offense and as the number two receiver, I believe he could be a successful player in Cleveland. 

Saturday, March 9, 2024

Boxing Challenge: Joshua ends Ngonnou in two!

    Francis Ngannou proved a lot in his split decision loss to Tyson Fury last year but what he may have proven yesterday is that Fury either took him very lightly or the WBC champion is past his best days.

While we will wait to see that for sure in May with Fury's fight with Oleksandr Usyk coming then, Ngannou definitely proved that he is out of his league against a prepared and motivated top heavyweight as former champion Anthony Joshua knocked Ngannou down in the first and second before a right hand from hell ended the fight with a definite contender for knockout of the year.

Ngannou may given the fight of his life to an underprepared and fairly inactive Fury but he was no match for Joshua, who was fighting for the fourth time in a year and looked razor-sharp against a relative novice in the sport.

Ngannou was completely puzzled by Joshua's jab and had no options for getting inside on the taller Briton.

The Joshua dispatching of Ngannou likely ends Ngannou's boxing forays for the time being as he is likely to return to the MMA league where he is the heavyweight champion.

As for Joshua, he's clearly the world's third-best heavyweight and his increased activity has sharpened his skills.

In the co-feature, Joseph Parker won a minor title and more importantly, will move into the WBO mandatory contender position by majority decision over Zhilei Zhang.

Zhang scored both knockdowns in the fight in the third and eighth rounds but was reluctant to follow up and gave away the final four rounds by refusing to throw punches allowing Parker to peck away to pile up points.

The fight was far from thrilling but there will be a rematch as contractually stipulated should Parker earn the victory.

The judges' scores for Parker were 115-111 114-112 (same as mine) and even at 113-113.

Before Anthony Joshua's win, the fighter of the night may have Israil Madrimov, who annihilated Magomed Kurbanov in stopping him in five rounds to win the vacant WBA junior middleweight title.

I picked Kurbanov, who had the better wins and competition, and Madrimov had been out of the ring for eighteen months, which made me lean towards the upset.

Madrimov couldn't miss with his left hand and he dominated every aspect of the fight and while the stoppage may have been a bit early, it was a matter of time before the fight ended as Madrimov was that dominant.

Madrimov needs to fight more often and be seen more but he has the talent to be a future star.

I haven't had time to watch Rey Vargas retaining his WBC featherweight title over Nick Ball. 
Ball scored knockdowns in the eighth and eleventh rounds with the cards reading 114-113 for Vargas, 116-110 for Ball, and even at 113.

Ball was expected to face WBA champion Raymond Ford, if he had won, on the Matchroom vs Queensbury card later this year but Ford was on social media with the comment saying he thought Ball won, and he is still willing to fight Ball on that card.

Boxing Challenge

TRS: 29 Pts(2)
Ramon Malpica: 28 Pts (1)
Vince Samano: 15 Pts (0)

Friday, March 8, 2024

Devils revamp Goalie room- For now.

    The Achilles heel for the disappointing season of the New Jersey Devils has been their goaltending and while those problems haven't been solved immediately or even at all, at least the team is trying something.

The second of the two trades for netminders saw the Devils send Vitek Vanecek and their 2024 seventh-round draft pick to the San Jose Sharks for Kaapo Kahkonen.

The twenty-seven-old Kahkonen has also had his problems this season with a GAA of 3.81 and a save percentage of .895 for the Sharks.

Now keep in mind that the Sharks are terrible and even worse defensively, so Kahkonen faced a lot of rubber every night with very little defensive help available to him so that has a huge chunk of the blame for the one goal per game increase in GAA since Kahkonen left Minnesota three years ago.

I suppose the numbers could be excused by the Sharks' ineptitude and Kahkonen will be a free agent at the end of the year, so look at it as a month-long get-to-know-you session for the cost of a seventh-round pick.

Vitek Vanecek was in the middle of a dreadful season, which was unfair to a degree as the team and fans may have expected too much after a solid 2022-23 season.

Vanecek's 23-24 season doesn't look much different from Kahkonen's (3.18 GAA, .890 save percentage) but Vanecek is a year older, the Devils would have been on the hook for another year of Vanecek's contract, and those stats on a team better than San Jose show the Devils aren't giving up much for their look-see at Kahkoken.

While obtaining Kaapo Kahkoken doesn't solve the problem, his statistics in Minnesota were strong, and perhaps at 27 with a more talented team around him, perhaps there is a little bit of hope for the Devils here.

And if not, they moved a contract away by trading Vitek Vanecek.

The trade that seems to make little sense to me (at the cost) is the trade with Montreal for veteran Jake Allen.

Allen is under contract for next season, cost a third-rounder in 2025 that has the stipulation that IF Allen plays forty or more games next season AND the team that has Allen (covering Montreal in the event of a trade) next season makes the playoffs, the third-rounder becomes a second-rounder.

Montreal will pay half of his salary, so that's something but this seems like a lot for a thirty-three-year-old player with a 3.65 GAA and a .892 save percentage (numbers very similar to Vanecek, who I couldn't wait to get rid of).

I suppose it's possible the Devils could try to land a better goalie in the off-season and move Allen, or even keep Allen as a number two option for a while to see how things progress next season but I'm not excited for the time being.

New Jersey finished the day with the trade of defenseman Colin Miller to Winnipeg for a fourth-round pick in 2026.

The thirty-one yeat old Miller has four goals and four assists this season for New Jersey as a steadying influence defensively and is the type of player that always seems to be coveted by playoff contenders.

2026 is a while away but a very fair return.

I'd say this was a pretty average day for Tom Fitzgerald.

I like the Kaapo Kahkoken trade and the Miller trade was a fair return.

I'm not so crazy about the Jake Allen trade and while the Tyler Toffoli trade wasn't a poor deal, I think the Devils might have done a little better had they drained the deadline a bit.

Overall, going by the letter grade system, I'll say C for now with the potential for a higher grade with good play from either new goalie.

Devils trade Tyler Toffoli to Winnipeg

    The New Jersey Devils traded for Tyler Toffoli in the off-season, thinking that Toffoli would be the scorer that the Devils needed to lift a young playoff team to the next level.

Toffoli has done his job with 26 goals and 18 assists. However, the Devils haven't held up their end of the bargain and with Toffoli's ability to test the free-agent market, Tom Fitzgerald decided to get something for Toffoli as he shipped him to the Winnipeg Jets at the trade deadline.

New Jersey will receive the Jets' third-rounder in the 2024 draft and Winnipeg's second-round pick in 2025.

The Devils will pay half of Toffoli's contract for the remainder of the season as part of the trade.

Toffoli did his job as a force around the net but he's not a strong skater and on a team built around speed, there were times that Toffoli's skating was a hindrance and made one wonder how good of a fit with the team.

All of that said, it's tough to turn down a guy who puts the puck in the net consistently but the Devils and Toffoli weren't close to a contract extension, so moving him makes sense, especially when you consider the Devils gave a third-rounder and Yegor Sharangovich for Toffoli to begin.

Sharangovich has scored twenty-five goals for Calgary this season but he struggled last season and it's hard to criticize the team for including him in the trade, so this is good value for Toffoli, all things considered- good value but not great.

Some trades just don't work out and it's not always on the player, Toffoli put up the numbers that the Devils expected but he didn't exceed them although it wasn't due to a lack of effort.

Was it Lindy Ruff? 

Maybe, hard to say but the Devils have something for a player that they would have lost for nothing in a month after a non-playoff season.

It may be grasping for straws but it is something.

Tom Fitzgerald wasn't finished dealing with the Devils making three more trades.

I'll be working on these over the next day or so.

Boxing Challenge

  The boxing weekend starts and ends on Friday afternoon with another great show from the Middle East, this time from Riyadh Saudi Arabia.

In the main event, former three-title heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua continues his possible road to another try at the championship against MMA champion Francis Ngannou.

Joshua has been active in the last year, as this will be his fourth fight in eleven months, so Joshua is sharp and won't be entering the bout out of shape.

Joshua also won't be overlooking Ngannou as Tyson Fury did, and Fury was knocked down by Ngannou before winning a close split decision in their fight.

I think Joshua takes Ngannou seriously and controls the fight but Joshua has been stopped and Ngannou can crack, therefore the interest in this fight.

The co-feature is also in the heavyweight division and a key crossroads fight as Zhilei Zhang defends his minor title and mandatory contender slot in the WBO against former WBO champion Joseph Parker, who is coming off the biggest victory of his career.

Zhang beat up Joe Joyce twice to the point of perhaps ending Joyce's career as a title contender but he can be lumbering in the ring and a talented boxer may be able to dance rings around him, which happens to be how I'd describe Joseph Parker.

Parker revitalized his career in his last fight by dominating Deontay Wilder and ruining the long-awaited Joshua-Wilder fight which would have been the likely main event on this card had Wilder defeated Parker as most expected.

This fight will answer questions for each fighter.

For Zhang, did he meet the perfect style for him in the aggressive but slow Joe Joyce?

Or is he a true title contender?

For Parker, has he found a second life in his career with his association with Tyson Fury?

Or was he the fortunate fighter to catch a possibly faded Deontay Wilder before anyone else?

One of the junior middleweight titles surrendered by Jermell Charlo will be awarded to the winner of a very intriguing pairing of unbeaten as Israil Madrimov faces Magomed Kurbanov for the WBA version of the crown.

Madrimov, a former Olympian, hasn't fought since July 2022 after a technical draw in the second of his two fights with Michel Soro, and the two Soro fights are his only two fights in the last three years.

Kurbanov hasn't fought since December 2002 but holds the better victories of the two with decision wins over two former WBO champions in Patrick Texieira and Liam Smith.

WBC featherweight champion Rey Vargas defends his title against mandatory challenger, Nick Ball of England.

The smooth-boxing Vargas lost his last fight, a decision to O'Shaquie Foster for the vacant WBC junior lightweight title, while Ball dominated former junior featherweight champion Isaac Dogboe to win the eliminator last November by unanimous decision.

Should Ball win, it's rumored that he could unify titles with recently crowned WBA king Raymond Ford on a Saudi Arabian card later this year that will pit five boxers from Eddie Hearn's Matchroom promotion (Ford) against five from those promoted by Frank Warren (Queensbury boxing).

Boxing Challenge

Heavyweights. 10 Rds
Anthony Joshua vs Francis Ngannou
Ramon Malpica: Ngannou KO 6
TRS: Joshua Unanimous Decision
Vince Samano: Ngannou KO 9

Heavyweights. 12 Rds
Zhilei Zhang vs Joseph Parker
R.L: Zhang KO 8
TRS: Parker Unanimous Decision
V.S: Zhang KO 6

Vacant WBA Junior Middleweight Title. 12 Rds
Israil Madrimov vs Magomed Kurbanov
R.L: Madrimov Unanimous Decision
TRS and V.S: Kurbanov Unanimous Decision

WBC Featherweight Title. 12 Rds
Rey Vargas vs Nick Ball
All: Ball Unanimous Decision

Wednesday, March 6, 2024

Dean Wade ? Cavaliers snip Celtics

  I'll admit it.

I actually said, "I'm going to give this about another two minutes of game time to see if there is any chance and then we will ( I was sitting with Cherie) watch YouTube videos".

After all, the Cavaliers were down thirteen to the best team in basketball, the Boston Celtics, who were on an eleven-game winning streak, and Cleveland was playing without Donovan Mitchell, so it didn't seem like as much of a quitter's mentality as much as accepting a likely ending to move on with the evening.

And as I watched, one of the most memorable quarters in Cavaliers history was about to unfurl.

Dean Wade is one of those players that I've never been able to see what the Cavaliers have seen in him.

I mean, Wade is a role player with limited minutes a night but Cleveland often seems to expect him to be more than he is when injuries hit or be able to fill a role on the roster after a transaction that he's not capable of filling.

Cleveland's rally from twenty-two down in the fourth quarter is the largest fourth-quarter rally in franchise history and to have Dean Wade of all people lead that rally against the best team in basketball is beyond belief.

Wade scored twenty points in the fourth quarter, which was more than the Celtics team scored in the quarter, hitting five three-pointers, and then after Cleveland turned the ball over on back-to-back possessions which allowed Boston to regain the lead by one, it was Wade with the offensive rebound and slam that gave the Cavaliers the eventual winning points.

However, Boston had the final shot, and it would be so Cleveland to play so well without their stars (Evan Mobley left the game in the third quarter with a sprained ankle) and when Jayson Tatum missed with 0.2 seconds to go but was fouled by Darius Garland with what looked to be minimal contact, it seemed to be business as usual.

J.B. Bickerstaff appealed the call and when the review was made, Tatum's leg kicked out to make the contact, and the call was overruled and Boston didn't have enough time to win the jump-ball and call a time-out for a desperation toss.

Cleveland's 105-104 win along with last week's buzzer-beater against Dallas has to rank among the most memorable regular-season wins in franchise history and they occurred exactly one week apart.

Time will tell how long the Cavaliers can continue their terrific play if they can keep it going in the postseason, or are they peaking too soon but for one night, Dean Wade was unstoppable- few people in life get that feeling even for one night. 

Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Devils fire Lindy Ruff

     After what I saw watching the New Jersey Devils lose on Sunday to the Los Angeles Kings, I thought the time may have come for the end of the Lindy Ruff era in New Jersey.

Fans had been hollering for the scalp of Ruff for weeks with the Devils disappointing this season and currently needing to jump three teams to make the postseason, which doesn't seem likely at this point and they got it Monday as Tom Fitzgerald dropped the axe on Ruff.

Former Vancouver Canucks coach Travis Green was promoted from assistant coach to serve as the interim coach for the remainder of the season.

Green coached the Canucks for four and a half years, making the playoffs once, winning one series in the Covid-19 season.

It seems like it's too late to salvage this season with twenty-one games to go and seven points out of the playoffs but I think the move had to be done mainly to get the stink out of the team and give them a fresh start for next season.

That's not to say all the blame for the season goes on Ruff.

Tom Fitzgerald's off-season moves made sense at the time and I still have no issues with the transactions that were made, my problems then and now were these- gambling that Vitek Vanecek could repeat his 2022-23 season ( I was in the camp of that being unlikely) and hoping that Akira Schmid could build off his postseason play and continue to develop (I thought this was possible but not guaranteed) in net to give the Devils solid if unspectacular goaltending.

Lindy Ruff didn't injure Dougie Hamilton and he didn't injure Jack Hughes for portions of the season but he tended to play questionable veterans too much (Brendan Smith for one)  at the expense of players who are hoped to be part of the future contender (Alexander Holtz as an example), and what I was surprised to see from a coach with so much experience most was that Ruff just seemed to run out of any ideas to change a season that has been spinning its wheels in the mud.

Lindy Ruff was given every chance to turn the tide and even more chances than he deserved but for the final twenty-plus games, the New Jersey Devils have reached a fork in the road that will tell the tale of who is to blame for a season with unfulfilled promise.

Was the problem created by Tom Fitzgerald by managing a roster that while skilled, lacked physicality?

Or will the team come together and prove that the problem was Lindy Ruff's use of that personnel and his game management?

The answer to that question may not salvage or ruin the season but it may decide the future of Travis Green, Tom Fitzgerald, and some members of the roster in New Jersey. 

Monday, March 4, 2024

Cleaning Out the Inbox: Wrestling Passings

  I've had a few of those tributes in the inbox for months and never seemed to have the right time to write about them, so I decided (despite the length of time for some tributes) to write about them in one post devoted to the wrestling world.

A few of these gentlemen might deserve a post all their own and the first tribute almost certainly deserves one.

Goodbye to Terry Funk at the age of 79.

Terry Funk spent fifty-two years in the wrestling business between his first match in 1965 and his final bout in 2017 and had several incarnations of his career that each might be remembered most fondly to the age of the fan recalling Funk.

A fan from the seventies might remember Funk as the "bodyguard" against contenders for his brother Dory Jr.'s NWA title or later in the decade during his own NWA title run.

A fan in the early eighties might remember Funk's terrific series in Memphis against Jerry Lawler, one in the middle eighties, his WWF tenure against the Junkyard Dog, and his title challenges of Hulk Hogan.

A fan of 1989 or the early nineties favorite memories of Funk would be of his WCW time and his classic attempts for Ric Flair's title, and the early 2000s might be the run as the aging veteran gunslinger helping to build ECW out of their bingo hall in Philadelphia.

And any of those versions of Terry Funk would be more than correct as a personal choice.

For me (and I didn't even include his stardom in Japan for All-Japan Pro Wrestling), my favorite Funk version was the WCW version that famously returned from retirement with his attack on Ric Flair in the ring after Flair regained the championship in Nashville.

Known for his crazy "bump-taking" and often-manic interviews, Terry Funk re-invented himself so effectively so often that one could make an argument that without really changing his name or character Terry Funk may have been the most successful without a complete revamp.

Funk was a huge influence on many in the profession, most notably Mick (Cactus Jack) Foley and the late Dick Slater, who was regarded by many as being "More like Terry Funk than Terry Funk" often to his own detriment.

Terry Funk was able to transition to the faster-paced style of pro wrestling through the eighties better than older brother Dory Jr, who while a beautiful technical grappler never seemed to connect to the quicker pace and emphasis on interviews as Terry was able to.

Terry Funk is generally in most long-time fans' top ten wrestlers of his time and his style continues on through the wrestlers today.

Goodbye to Adrian Street at the age of 82.

The Exotic Street was known for his flamboyant style that hinted at homosexuality ( in actuality Street was married to Miss Linda, his ring valet) and his David Bowie-like glam rock outfits.

Noted for his real-life toughness, Street never stated he was gay but would walk the line with wrestling fans of the day despising him for his effeminate nature.

Street also released a few albums with his singing including his ring entrance song "Imagine What I Could Do To You".

After leaving wrestling, Street and Miss Linda opened a business making wrestling gear and selling equipment to wrestlers.

Goodbye to Killer Khan at the age of 76.

Masashi Ozawa was huge for a Japanese wrestler, so coming to the United States as Mongolian giant Killer Khan made financial sense and in 1981, Khan arrived in the WWF as the heel challenger of the month against WWF champion Bob Backlund, managed by Fred Blassie, and he dropped down the cards following his unsuccessful title attempt.

That was until a May 1981 match vs Andre The Giant, when Andre suffered a broken ankle getting out of bed the next morning which was attributed to Kkan's off-the-top rope kneedrop in the storyline and made Khan a star instantly worldwide.

Khan and Andre would feud throughout the nation (but especially in the WWF) usually ending with Khan taking the ride in the series-ending Mongolian Stretcher Match.

Khan's fame would enable him to headline in Mid-South and World Class before a final quickie return to the WWF where he memorably choked out Outback Jack before a short 1987 series against Hulk Hogan before Khan retired later that year.

Goodbye to Ole Anderson at the age of 81.

Anderson was one of the original Four Horsemen with Ric Flair, Tully Blanchard, and Arn Anderson for Jim Crockett Promotions in the mid-eighties but was far more than only a Horseman both in and out of the ring.

Anderson was half of the "Minnesota Wrecking Crew" with his "brother" Gene, who terrorized Southern wrestling for the seventies and early eighties, infuriating crowds to the point where Ole was attacked with a knife by a fan in Greenville, South Carolina cutting several tendons in his arm that needed to be surgically re-attached.

Anderson won the NWA world tag titles with Gene on seven occasions and another with Stan Hansen and had his best days with the Mid-Atlantic and Georgia territories, where he often served as "booker" and owned a small piece of the Georgia promotion until it was sold by the majority owners to Vince McMahon and the WWF in 1984 to gain its television slot on WTBS.

Anderson would memorably tell Vince and his wife Linda to F-off when they arrived at the WTBS studio to introduce themselves to the company and it was after that event that Anderson would move to JCP and tag with "Nephew" Arn as the New Minnesota Wrecking Crew and eventually the Four Horsemen.