Archive for June, 2009

MMA Manifesto – UFC Undisputed Review

June 30, 2009

Forgive me if you’ve heard this before, but it must be said again – UFC UNDISPUTED IS A FANTASTIC VIDEO GAME. In fact, it is the best fighting game I’ve ever played and one of the best sports games I’ve had the pleasure of bashing the buttons to.

What makes the game so fantastic is the realistic way that it portrays MMA. A large part of that is due to the graphics, which are stunning. All your favourite fighters are rendered true to life, right down to the tattoos and cauliflower ears. Mike Goldberg, Joe Rogan and Bruce Buffer are all along for the ride, so the audio is true to life also. And, most importantly, the action is about as realistic as you can get, without actually getting your face punched or kicked in. Of course there’s blood and cuts and contusions, and the knockouts are as gruesome as they are in real life, with limp, twisted bodies hitting the canvas. Transitions, clinching, striking and submissions are just as realistically rendered and fairly easy to pull off and get the hang off. But, like in real life, it’s the knockouts that are the real seller here.

While most of the big name UFC fighters are in the game (as well as some surprise additions like Tito Ortiz and Andrei Arlovski), the career mode is the feature of the game you’ll probably get the most enjoyment out of. You create your own fighter, decide on what disciplines he will specialize in, and then hop into the Octagon and fight your way up the ranks until you get a title shot.

Of the top of my head, there really isn’t anything wrong or needs improving in the game – it is about the best representation of MMA that a video game is capable of at this point in time (I’m sure after a couple of more years of innovation this game will look archaic). UFC Undisputed is an addictive game – the type of game that you can pop in one evening and before you know it the sun has come up the next morning (or so I’ve been told). And of course I’d want my faithful readers to become addicts also, so I’ve included helpful links below to go and grab a fix yourself. – PS3: UFC 2009: Undisputed – XBox: UFC 2009: Undisputed – PS3: UFC 2009 Undisputed – XBox: UFC 2009 Undisputed


The Old to the New

June 26, 2009
Apparently the NBA held their annual draft last night. It’s hard to remember that when all the current talk revolves around a guy who had his draft day in the sun almost two decades ago. A lot of that has to do with the fact that this year’s draft was weak in talent. But mostly it is due to the fact that SHAQUILLE O’NEAL STILL MATTERS!!!!

How do I know that he still matters? Well, everyone is talking about him, that’s how. Even non-basketball fans are coming up to me to mention that Shaq got traded. ESPN interrupted their draft coverage last night to run a live interview with the big man, who didn’t let us down by somehow interjecting shout-outs to both Michael Jackson and Stanley Roberts in his answers.

But is Shaq the answer for Cleveland? Like most moves made by GM Danny Ferry, it is a move in the right direction but it isn’t enough. It seems Ferry has the right idea but just doesn’t take it far enough. Look no further than the Mo Williams deal. He knows that LeBron needs help to win a title, but he just doesn’t get him enough help. Now this is in no way stating that the trade for O’Neal is a bad move – they got an All-NBA big man (which is a necessity to win a title) for next to nothing. And the talk of Shaq coming off the bench for Cleveland is just ridiculous – there are still only a handful of big men that would justifiably take a starting spot away from Shaq, and with all due respect, Zydrunas Ilgauskas is not one of them. So O’Neal is a definite upgrade in talent for the Cavs.

The only way that this becomes a bad move for Cleveland is if they think that acquiring O’Neal is enough to put them over the top. Yes, Shaq had a career resurgence of sorts last year in Phoenix, but a large part of that was due to the Suns training staff (considered the best in the business) coming up with a program that kept the big man healthy. Last I checked, the Suns Head Athletic Trainer Aaron Nelson and his staff wasn’t included in the trade, so will Shaq Fu be able to play a full season and a long playoffs for the Cavs? O’Neal also doesn’t address the need for an athletic big man that can run the floor and guard Dwight Howard over the course of a seven game playoff series. Just ask Steve Nash – Shaq transforms your team into a plodding, half court oriented unit.

Despite all this, Shaq does improve the Cavs and will help take some of the load (both on and off the court) off of LeBron’s muscular shoulders. But this move doesn’t make them a better team than Orlando (especially now that they have added Vince Carter) or Boston with a healthy Kevin Garnett. Trading for Shaq could become the new Mistake by the Lake if Ferry is fooled into thinking that Diesel makes them a championship contender. While Shaq is an answer, he’s not THE answer.

R.I.P. G.O.A.T.

June 25, 2009

For my draft preview scroll down. With the sad news of today, I felt it fitting to post this video of one of the greatest performers of all-time helping save the great sport of basketball.

Let Us Guide You

June 23, 2009

Can’t wait until Thursday’s NBA draft kicks off? No worries – Dr. Snuggles invented a time machine for me and I’ve already checked out all that went down in this year’s draft. Here’s the highlights:
7:01pm – David Stern’s decision to grow a beard as a favour to Mrs. Stern immediately backfires as all in attendance and the millions watching at home panic, still associating a bearded Stern with the 98/99 NBA lockout. Fearing the League was going bankrupt, Kobe, LeBron, Chris Paul and Dwight Howard invoke the Stern Beard clause in their contact, opt out and sign with teams in the Macedonian Superleague.
7:05pm – With bloody pieces of toilet paper still on his hastily shaven face, Stern announces the first pick of the draft. The Clippers traded their pick to Portland for a t-shirt. L.A. GM Mike Dunleavy is seen wearing a “I Traded Away The #1 Pick And All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt” shirt the rest of the evening.

7:15pm – Five security guards are taken to hospital after a swarm of screaming, crying, fainting teenage girls wearing Jonas Brothers t-shirts try to rush the stage after Ricky Rubio gets picked. Afterwards, Rubio causes an international incident in his press conference by claiming to be “bigger than Jesus”.

7:30pm – After being selected by Washington, Stephon Curry claims that he thinks he can play the point guard spot in the NBA. This same refrain is uttered by Tyreke Evans, Jrue Holiday and Jeff Teague. Several noses immediately start to grow.

7:35pm – The Knicks select a player with Michael Jordan’s scoring ability, Bill Russell’s defensive skills and Magic Johnson’s passing game. The New York fans boo.

7:40pm – As Brandon Jennings is congratulated by Stern after being selected, Dick Vitale rushes the stage. Screaming “NCAA Antichrist” he attempts to forcibly make Jennings repent with his hand on a NCAA media guide.

7:50pm – Still waiting in the green room to hear his name called, a hungry DeJuan Blair eats Austin Daye. Afterwards he complains that he’s still hungry.

8:00pm – Stephen A. Smith says “HOWEVA” for the 758th time in an hour, breaking the world record of 757 held by Stephen A. Smith.

8:15pm – While flying above the Atlantic on his way to join his new Macedonian team, Vardar 2000 Osiguruvanjes Skopje (that’s a real team name – look it up), LeBron hears about Stern shaving off his beard. He desperately tries to get out of his contract but it is too late – his new team has already dispatched its donkey to the airport to pick him up.

8:30pm – Despite Tyler Hansbrough still being undrafted, a 7-foot Ukranian teenager who only took up the sport last week is selected. Dick Vitale’s head explodes.

8:45pm – God has a hard time concentrating while playing in his Thursday night bowling league due to the incessant interruptions of every drafted player thanking him.

9:00pm – To the joy of Vitale’s headless body, Hansbrough is finally selected. Psycho T dives onto the stage and subsequently begins to bleed profusely.

9:30pm – Backstage, Brandon Jennings struggles reading the teleprompter while taping NBA public service announcement because he lacks the quality seven month college education his draft peers enjoyed.

10:00pm – The second round begins – five Gjorje’s, three Milanko’s, two Jorge’s and a Teflek are selected. All are described as “Nowitzki-esque” by Fran Fraschilla.

10:55pm – Desperate to come home with more than just a lousy t-shirt, the Clippers swing a trade for a late second round pick. They promptly select Austin Daye, currently being broken down by DeJuan Blair’s stomach enzymes.

11:00pm – The draft ends. Chad Ford goes 0-60 in his mock draft.

Choose Your Own Adventure

June 20, 2009

Some teams have all the luck. David Robinson gets injured, the Spurs subsequently have a bad year, end up with the #1 pick – voila, Tim Duncan – 4 titles, thank you very much. The Raptors luck into the #1 pick in the first year that the NBA age minimum takes effect, so instead of getting Greg Oden or Kevin Durant they end up with Andrea Bargnani. Then there is the case of the Memphis (nee Vancouver) Grizzled Bears. Things should be rosy in Memphis – they had the best odds of winning the Oden sweepstakes in 2007. Or if Lady Luck didn’t shine down on them they’d end up with Durant at pick #2, right? Wrong – pick #4 – Mike Conley Jr.

Why is all this relevant now you ask? Well, there is considered to be one prize in this year’s draft – Blake Griffin – and once again the Grizzlies will be on the outside looking in, picking at #2. Which should mean that they can grab the second-best player in the draft and be on their way. It’s not so easy though. The player many consider to be the numero dos player in the pool, Ricky Rubio, doesn’t want to play in Memphis. Whether this is due to a dislike for funky soul music or for the King of Rock N Roll is not known, but what is known is Ricky’s people are saying no to him playing in Graceland.

Which brings us back to a simpler time in history. The year was 1999. Hip hop music was still alive, but on life support. We all were sitting around waiting for the certain Apocalypse to come once the clock struck 12:00am on January 1st, 2000. And the Grizzlies were located up in the beautiful, cosmopolitan city of Vancouver. The Grizzlies were allergic to winning during this time (some things never change) and, due to this, had the second pick in that year’s draft. They grabbed the dynamic guard out of Maryland, Steve Francis. Big problem. Being picked by Vancouver made Stevie very, very sad. He was going to be homesick way up there in Vancouver. Plus, he claimed God didn’t want him to play there. Obviously the Grizzlies couldn’t argue with that and, with their hand being forced, shipped Steve to Houston for spare parts.

So the situation with Rubio is not virgin territory for the Grizzlies franchise. Turns out Francis wasn’t worth the trouble – whether Rubio is will be answered in a few years. But the Grizzlies say that if they determine that Ricky is the player that they want they are going to take him with their pick, agents be damned. Which is commendable – teams shouldn’t be held hostage by players or agents refusing to play for them. But, on the flip side, shouldn’t players have a say in where they will play? The rest of us normal Joes get to decide where we want to earn a living – no one tells your mom which street corner she is allowed to work (sorry – low blow) – so why can’t the truly gifted do the same? Yes, to be a professional athlete is a privilege and players should feel blessed to be able to have that job, regardless of where they are assigned to play. But, do you think a doctor or lawyer feel blessed to be able to do their job and would be willing to practice it wherever they randomly were assigned? No – they know they have their job due to busting their butts through school and have earned the right to live and work where they choose. And an athlete has earned their job by busting their butts on the playing surface of their choice and in the weight room.

So, despite enjoying the NBA draft immensely, I believe it should be eliminated. If we live in a free market society then athletes – just like everyone else – should be free to sell their wares to whoever they choose. But this would cause fatal damage to the most important thing in sports – competitive balance – you argue. Not necessarily. Teams are still bound by a salary cap and a limit to the number of players on their roster, so all the top available prospects couldn’t all join the same team to form a superpower. Plus, all players have different agendas and priorities in terms of their career. Shockingly, winning isn’t the most important thing to all ballers. Many guys would rather play loads of minutes on a crappy team than limited minutes on a contender. And to further prove that all players have different preferences, Rubio would rather play for Sacramento than Memphis or Oklahoma City. Apparently he sees something positive about the Kings that is lost on the rest of us. Plus the ego of many players would not allow them to play second fiddle to anyone, especially another rookie. So the salary cap, player preferences and most importantly EGO would ensure that all top players wouldn’t form like Voltron on the same team.

But, all this is is a Utopian dream that will never come true. So, in the meantime, what should Memphis and Rubio do? I say they both do what is right for them, which is what any of us would do if put in the same situation. So save your hate for Memphis or for Rubio and his agents – it is not their fault, it’s the systems. Besides, who can really stay mad at a face like this?

It Takes A Village

June 16, 2009

As painful as it is for me to type these words, truth must rule the day – KOBE BRYANT IS ONE OF THE GREATEST PLAYERS OF ALL-TIME. Just where on the greatest of all-time list he falls I’m still trying to figure out – perhaps that will have to be a post for another day. The talk show host on the sports radio show I appeared on today claimed that Kobe is better than Bird, but I’m not conceding that just yet.

Despite being poked and prodded by the media into admitting that this title is special to him because it came without Shaq, Kobe commendably didn’t fall into the fifth estate’s trap and admit it. This was a smart move by him for several reasons -admitting that would belittle his contribution to the three rings he won with Shaq, it would undermine his current teammates’ abilities (“I don’t need Shaq to win a ring, I can win it with a bunch of scrubs”), and despite Shaq and Kobe pretending that everything is lovey dovey between them now, we all know that they still hate one another.

But it takes more than one player to win a championship (just ask LeBron, or Jordan in his early days), and the Lakers secondary performers are as much to thank for this title than Kobe. Too often all the praise or blame for championships won or lost are heaped upon the star player, when in reality no player wins or loses a championship on their own (with the possible exception of Hakeem in 1994). So while Pau and company deserve much of the credit for the championship this year, Kobe also deserves credit for the three rings he won already. Most people (myself included) totally dismiss the fact the Kobe already has won three championships due to the fact that Shaq was on that team. But it wasn’t as if Kobe was just along for the ride – in the 2001 Finals he averaged 25/8/6 and in 2002 his numbers were 26/6/5. So while we give Kobe praises for this year’s title, now is also a good time to look back and give the man long overdue respect for the Lakers triumphs in 2000, 2001 and 2002.

My fellow Kobe haters, don’t feel bad – we had a good run. We denied the man his due for much longer than we ever could have hoped. But now that all has been said and done, this championship has allowed Kobe to come out from under Shaq’s massive shadow and take his rightful place among the games all-time greats. So here’s to you Mr Bryant – you are a king among men. Now excuse me while I go vomit.

MMA Manifesto – When The Music’s Over

June 14, 2009
If you are looking for my normal basketball musings (or if blood makes you queasy) scroll down to yesterday’s post about Brandon Jennings and Ricky Rubio. For it is once again time for another edition of the MMA Manifesto.

MMA is a brutal sport. The physical side of the brutality goes without saying – it is on full display in the ring or cage for all the world to see. The behind the scenes brutality – having to negotiate with the George Steinbrenner/Vince McMahon of the MMA world, Dana White, in order to be able to fight in the top promotion must be equally as tough. But another brutal aspect, which has been coming more and more to light recently, is deciding when a fighter’s career is over.

Deciding when to retire is normally a problem for most athletes, especially the great ones. At least in team sports it can be a gradual process – a former star can extend his career by a few years by taking on a lesser role with a team. Still, the danger exists to overstay your welcome and stay in the game longer than you should.

Easing yourself out of the sport isn’t an option for MMA fighters – you’re not able to call time out during a fight and substitute in a younger fighter to take your place for a few minutes. All the cliches actually hold true in the cage – kill or be killed, only the strong survive, etc. If your skills, stamina, strength or reaction time declines at all you’ll find yourself seeing stars instead of being one. There really isn’t any margin for error in the win/loss department either – lose a couple of fights in a row and you may not get another shot at righting the ship. Which is the position four former titans of the sport, all on the wrong side of 30-years-old, currently find themselves – Chuck Liddell, Tim Sylvia, Andrei Arlovski and, as of last night, Wanderlei Silva.

Silva’s slump has spanned three years and two different fighting promotions. After getting knocked out in his last two Pride fights, Silva has gone 1-3 in the UFC. Not exactly a good position to be in for a soon-to-be 33-year-old. Surprisingly you aren’t hearing too many calls for Silva to hang up the gloves, like you did for Liddell after his last loss. Which is good news for the Brazilian – where else is a guy named The Axe Murderer (the greatest nickname in sports) who has a giant tattoo on his skull going to find a job? Silva fought very hard during Saturday’s bout against Rich Franklin, and, despite Franklin winning a unanimous decision, the win very easily could have been given to Silva. Which goes to show how precarious a job in MMA is – if the judges had awarded the fight to Silva we’d be talking about whether or not Franklin should hang up the gloves.

Here’s hoping The Axe Murderer gets back on the winning track in the middleweight division, especially with the bad blood brewing between him and former training partner Anderson Silva. Or, if worse comes to worse, maybe the UFC can steal an idea from the world of pro wrestling – Wanderlei Silva vs. Chuck Liddell in a “Loser Leave Town Retirement Match” (because a hair vs. hair match would pretty much be pointless).

Don’t Believe The Hype

June 13, 2009

As the Lakers continue their inevitable march towards a title, and, subsequently, force me to admit that Kobe Bryant is one of the greatest players of all time, strangely my thoughts have turned to the NBA draft. Actually, it probably isn’t that strange, considering the other sites I write for and the radio stations I appear on consider me a “draft expert” (why I couldn’t become an expert on something more profitable is beyond me). Unfortunately this year’s draft is not just weak in terms of talent – its also lacks many interesting storylines or intrigue, besides where the most exciting player in the draft, Ricky Rubio, is going to end up. Well Brandon Jennings just made things a whole lot more interesting when he screamed out DON’T BELIEVE THE HYPE.

In case you are too lazy to click the above link, Jennings has declared that Rubio is all hype and that himself, along with several other American point guards, are better than the Spanish sensation. BJ also went on to say that he can’t wait to play Rubio in summer league. Now Jennings has given this year’s draft some much needed flavour, just like his choice in hairstyle added spice to last year’s McDonald’s All-American Game.

The fact that I disagree with Jennings is beyond the point. In fact you’d be hard-pressed to find many NBA GMs or draft experts that would select Jennings over Rubio in the draft. But to succeed in anything – especially in sports or the arts – you have to have a good deal of confidence and ego. And the whole lead up to the draft – with the workouts and interviews with various teams – is nothing more than a job interview for the prospects. So it would be pretty stupid for Jennings to state that he thinks that another player – let alone another point guard – is better than he is. But, nonetheless, to come out as vehemently against Rubio is quite surprising. Yes, Rubio is a product of lots of hype, but he can back it up with his play, on both ends of the court. Whether it is in the Euroleague, the Spanish pro league (ACB) or in the Olympics, Ricky has excelled as a teenager playing against grown men.

Who the better player is of the two isn’t the real point here. The point is that Jennings has thrown down the gauntlet and has sparked what could become a long running rivalry. The NBA is a league built on head-to-head matchups, but most of them, with the exception of Kobe vs Shaq back in the day, involve combatants who not only respect the other player, but are friends with him off the court. You very rarely get players badmouthing a rival nowadays so truly tense rivalries are hard to come by. All the hugging, chit-chatting and camaraderie among opponents on the court in today’s NBA eliminates alot of the drama and intrigue from the game. If the players don’t seem to care too much about the proceedings, why should we as fans? That is why I wasn’t upset by LeBron storming off the court after being eliminated by Orlando this year. Sure it was poor sportsmanship, but at least he showed that he cared and wasn’t willing to be buddy-buddy with his executioners. Hopefully Jennings and Rubio can bring some of that passion and bad blood back to the game.

So lets hurry up and get these playoffs over and get the summer leagues going. Then we can see if the Rubio hype is real or if don’t believe the hype will be a sequel.

The Kid is Alright

June 9, 2009

Not that he needs my help, but I feel the need to come to the rescue of Courtney Lee. It is in no way Lee’s fault that Orlando finds itself in a two games to none hole in the NBA Finals. Comparing his last second alley oop miss to Nick Anderson bricking four free throws in Orlando’s last Finals appearance, as some writers have done, is ludicrous. Lee’s shot was far from an easy layup, and since when did he become the Magic’s go-to guy? Isn’t it enough that a rookie from a small college is being asked to guard the most dangerous scorer in the game – Kobe Bryant – on the sport’s grandest stage? No, the Magic have far graver problems than Courtney Lee’s play.

Like the fact that Dwight Howard has more turnovers than field goals made after the first two games. That is a mind blowing stat. As a friend stated to me in an e-mail after Game 2, “Dwight Howard is no Shaquille O’Neal – not even close”. Truer words have never been spoken (or typed in this instance). Making his first Finals appearance, going up against one of the greatest centers in NBA history – Hakeem Olajuwon – the 23-year-old O’Neal averaged 28 points, 12.5 boards and 6.3 assists. So it goes without saying that Howard is not the second coming of Shaq Attack. Is it unfair to compare Howard to Shaq? If Howard wants to be a championship-level center, then there is no one better to compare him to than Shaq. And if he wants to get himself onto Shaq’s level, then the man needs some post moves. Howard’s big problem in this series is that when he gets the ball in the post he doesn’t immediately attack – he waits and subsequently gets himself double teamed.

Which brings me to the question of whether or not Howard is, or ever will be, a championship-level big man. After his 40 & 14 performance in the close-out game versus Cleveland it certainly looked like he was. But now that the lights are shining brightest – and where legendary players become legends – Howard is shrinking away. It wouldn’t be so much of a concern if the doubts concerning Howard were based just on the past two games. However, his lack of a post game, over reliance on his athleticism and strength, and lack of a “killer instinct” were all knocks on him going into this series. His putrid performance thus far have done nothing to quiet the detractors. And even if he does turn things around the rest of the series, it probably is too late for Orlando, and possibly for his reputation.

So the blame for the Magic squandering a win in Game 2 – on a night when Kobe either wasn’t able or willing to dominate – shouldn’t fall on Courtney Lee’s shoulders. It should fall squarely on Superman’s broad frame.

The Gang That Can’t Shoot Straight

June 5, 2009

I’m in the middle of the ocean as I type this, which is fitting considering the Magic couldn’t throw a ball in the ocean last night if they tried. When a team known for its shooting touch shoots less than 30% from the field it will always add up to a L in the win/loss column. But things could be alot worse for Orlando. They could have shot well and STILL lost – then they would have something serious to worry about. As it stands now, they can just chalk up Game 1 to a cold shooting night and expect things to be back to normal on Sunday.

What should be of more of a concern for the Magic is the way Kobe Bryant is playing. To say he is playing like a man possessed is an understatement. All his talk about it not being important to him to win a title without Shaq is a lie – he feels he needs it to solidify his legacy, just like the rest of us feel. The Magic players had no answer for Bryant in Game 1 and seemed clueless after the game as to how they should go about stopping him. Their whole “not much you can do but hope he misses” approach to things after the game doesn’t bode well for Orlando. Neither does the fact that pretty much only Kobe went off last night for the Lakers – only two other L.A. players even scored in double-figures – yet Orlando still lost.

Nor does it bode well that Rafer Alston is already complaining about losing his rhythm while he is on the bench and Jameer Nelson is in the game. So while things aren’t as bad as they could be with Orlando, they certainly aren’t magical either.