Thursday, December 10, 2009

Bloggin for Dollars...Again

Yeah, it's been a few weeks.

No, I'm not apologizing.

If you're wondering what I've been doing since I last posted, here's a quick rundown:

* Predicting the outcome of the Pacuiao-Cotto fight with frightening accuracy. Click that link again if you think I'm joking. No I'm not clairvoyant. I just really know the sweet science... and sometimes I get lucky.

* Celebrating my 33rd at Babaluu with the Cuban Sunday crew.

* Getting fat on thanksgiving with some help from Harold, Garrett, and my sister.

* Getting ripped with fast company.

But the biggest reason for my absence from this space is that I'm blogging for dollars again, and this time it's about something I love.

The fight game.

This particular idea is three years in the making, a week old on the web and full of value added.

Like video!

Understand that managers in the moribund world of print media live and die by web stats, basing each writer's worth as a human being on the number of hits his or her stories attract. I haven't seen the numbers on this blog yet, but I do know that the Mayweather-Pacquiao post  has generated 48 published comments so far. Granted, it's not ESPN-level traffic (1698 comments and counting for their Mayweather-Pacman story), but its an insane about of feedback for a post on a sport that's supposed to have died five years ago.

MOREOVER... The video embedded above -- the one I KNOW you all clicked on is as of this very moment the third-most popular video at


Barack Obama's Nobel speech has me beat, but for right now I'm enjoying my two-spot lead over Chris Bosh and his new tattoos.

Help me maintain it.

Click again. Comment often. 

The industry's in trouble and some folks are doing desperate things in order to survive.

I'm just trying to build a brand.

One click at a time.

Friday, November 13, 2009

On PacMan and Cotto

I know it's a great week on the gig when they allow me to take a break from the daily trade rumours surrounding Roy Halladay and weigh in on the biggest fight of 2009. Short of them actually sending to Vegas to cover Pacquiao and Cotto live, it's the best assignment a sportswriter and lover of the sweet science could hope for.

I haven't seen every episode of the most recent edtion of HBO's outstanding 24/7 documentary series (it somehow never made it to air in Canada), so I haven't as in tune with the pre-fight buildup as I would like to be. But or months now I've been listening to friends, ex-fighters journalists weigh in on how they think the fight will unfold.

Jason Abelson, founding member of The Fight Network and host of Pound-for-Pound Radio says Pacquiao shreds Cotto, point blank.

Meanwhile, former three-division world champ Felix "Tito" Trinidad says Cotto y su corazon latino will find a way to win.

And what do I think?

I think Pacqiao wins, but at a price.

*Again, a disclaimer. Fight predictions made here are pretty damn reliable, but are neither 100 percent accurate nor legally binding. If you bet based on my predictions but somehow lose, don't go blaming me. Even the World's Greatest makes mistakes. Sometimes.*

Floyd Mayweather supporters might dispute the assertion that Pacquiao is the best fighter in boxing, but there's no doubting that Pac Man's December dismantling of Oscar De La Hoya and springtime destruction of Ricky Hatton make him the hottest boxer in the sport right now. He's improving every time out and packing plenty of power even when he ventures north of 140, and Mayweather's camp has to respect that even if they don't fear it.

HOWEVER, hot does not mean indestructible. 

Shane Mosley was the hottest fighter in boxing in 2001 when the late Vernon Forrest derailed him with a stiff jab and a sick right cross.

In 2008 Cotto, confident and undefeated, was in the same spot -- white hot until Antonio Margarito cooled him off with an 11th-round knockout, breaking Cotto's spirit and, it appears, several facial bones.

But that fight cost Margarito just as much as it did Cotto, because even in winning Margarito displayed weaknesses that Mosley would later exploit -- slow feet, a porous defence and a little too much confidence in his chin. Combine all that with a quick-thinking corner (hey commish, you mind double-checking Margarito's hand wraps?) and it adds up to the worst beating Margarito has ever suffered.

So what's that got to do with Pacquiao?


Pacqiao should win this fight. I'm thinking late TKO (because Cotto cuts) or a fairly close decision. Cotto's stronger and naturally the bigger fighter, but Pacquiao is just too fast and busy and tenacious to lose.

But of everyone Pacquiao has faced since moving up from lightweight, Cotto is the closest to the top of his game. He's experienced but not old, and a better technician than most observers realize. With his jab and his body attack he could give Pacquiao fits, exposing flaws that others might attack later.

OK, not "others." 


Floyd Mayweather.

He may not Kanye West the post-fight interview like Sugar Shane did in September, but you best believe he'll be somewhere in that arena, taking notes, making plans, and moving us all a little closer to the biggest fight the sport can offer.

As long as Pacquiao does his part.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Baseball, Boxing and Say it Aint Sosa

On Baseball

Back on the job, back on the blog.

Didn't mean to leave you guys hanging this long, but I just spent about 10 days off work and offline. I returned full time to the office and the blog on Monday, just in time to realize that baseball (you know, that sport I actually get paid to write about) has no off season. Just a series of meetings, transactions and, above all, rumours to liven the dead time between the World Series and Spring training.

And as they did this past summer, the rumours I care about surround the Blue Jays and their ace, Roy Halladay.

Roy Halladay leaves the mound after his last, last, final last start as a Jay...Perhaps

On Boxing

Of course, if you know the World's Greatest then you know baseball is only half the story this week. And if you know me then you already know the other half is the sweet science -- specifically Saturday's welterweight showdown between Manny Pacquiao and Miguel Angel Cotto.

If this fight doesn't have you excited then you don't love boxing. And if you don't love boxing then you need to watch this fight and let two of the top fighters on the planet change your mind.

Later this week, when I've had a few more hours to think and the guys who pay me have publish a story I wrote recently on the Pacquiao Effect, I'll weigh in on how this fight should unfold. Until then, check out Greg Bishop's highly readable feature in the New York Times about the relationship between Pacquiao and trainer Freddie Roach. I wish I could say my upcoming Pacquiao piece outshines this one, but Bishop's story is likely the best read anyone will pen on this fight, period.

Say it Ain't Sosa

I don't even know what to say for Sammy. 


First saw the image last Satuday, when the GF pulled it up and asked me to identify the man next to buxom brunette.

I couldn't.

I could tell from the background that the photo was snapped at the Latin Grammys, and in my head I ran a slideshow if every salsa singer I could think of and a few I can't even name, and none of them matched the photo.

I was stumped.

Then she filled me in.

Sammy Sosa.


Now, I understand that a man can change. I saw Sammy Sosa morph from a scrawny outfielder with a juicy jheri curl and warning track power to a 220-pound home run machine.

I also watched him evolve from a fringe player at Comiskey, to Wrigley fan favourite when he was bashing balls on to Waveland Ave., to a pariah when people figured out he had some pharmaceutical help in becoming one of the game's premier power hitters.

The one constant through all this change has been Sammy's skin colour.

He was a black dude when he struggled through his early career with the Sox and Rangers, and just as black when he took the witness stand in a congressional hearing about steroid use and suddenly forgot how to speak English.

But now, two years past his last major league game, he's lighter than Julian Bond? 

Did he trade drug tests for paper bag tests?

Makes no sense.

His friends have tried to explain away this latest change in Sosa's appearance, telling media outlets that he's simply undergoing a process that "rejuvenates" his skin.

But scroll up and tell me if that explains why his eyes, which used to be brown, are now Erick Sermon-hazel. Or if it explains why his hand is three shades darker than his face. Or if it explains his hair, which is strangely straight even by jheri curl standards. Back in the day folks called that a "conk," and Chris Rock just made a documentary about how painful, expensive and unhealthy that process is.

But I could be wrong.

I don't know the man or what's motivating this latest change. 

All I know is what I see, and what I see is, frankly, freaky.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Homecoming Again!

Homecoming at the Harvard of the Midwest, and guess who headed back to campus.

Yes sir.

The World's Greatest.

For the first time since 1999.

At the NUBAA party at the Victor Hotel, tipsy and reminiscing. Short guys down front. (LtoR, Brian Rubin, Chris Rooney, The World's Greatest) Medium sized dudes in the middle row. (LtoR: Josh Barnes, Mike Nelson, Gerald Conoway) Tall guys in back: (D'Wayne Bates, Gladston Taylor, Larry Guess)

Caught up with teammates and classmates Friday, watched my Cats SMASH the lowly Hoosiers Saturday, headed to the Victor Hotel to connect again with old friends Saturday night, and then dragged my behind back to the Great White North Sunday.

Right now I'm at the office, exhausted and trying not to use the crutch chronic undersleepers call "coffee" to get through this work day. I can live with a little sleep deprivation. Besides, who needs sleep when you have friends?

Not me.

And seeing so many people looking so good after so long really inspired me. I mean, look at this:

My MAIN man, Q Period Period. Went from dislocating his finger at Day at NU '96 to building the Fuzion Empire. I admire this cat.

And this:

MC with Adrienne Samuels Gibbs, Senior Editor of a revitalized Ebony magazine and most importantly a made woman in the Medill Mafia.

Great times with great people, but at the same time I left homecoming with a bit of a uselessness complex. 

Understand that this is quite different from an inferiority complex, and this weekend had me feeling empowered and inspired. My classmates are some successful folks, and their peer pressure keeps me moving and improving.

No, the uselessness complex arises when you realize that your friends are bright motivated people who apply their minds to important matters. They teach law, or raise funds to build hospitals, or they're inside those hospitals performing surgery.

And me?

I spend my evenings in press boxes, cramming down pregame meals and pecking out stories that, apparently, a robot can write.

I mean, I love my job. If I didn't, I'd do something else for a living. But there's something about being the only sportswriter in a room full of high achievers that makes you wonder whether the world would even notice if you weren't there.

Raise your hand, for example, if you've ever thought to yourself, "Man, I need a  doctor."


Or raise your hand if you have ever needed to call a lawyer. For anything.

If you're older than 25 chances are you have.

NOW ask yourself if you have ever in your life caught yourself thinking, "You know what I need right now? A good sportswriter. If I don't find a good sportswriter right now, my day is gonna suck."

Ok, I'm sure at least one sports editor will read this blog, so you got me there.

But the rest of you?

That's what I figured.

A sobering thought on a tipsy weekend.

But the truth is people still do value stories, even if they are about grown men playing kids games. So a guy like me is still at least somewhat useful, even among the doctors and teachers and other indisputably useful folks who went to school with me. 

And the truth is seeing your friends doing so well inspires you to do even better. So before my next trip to homecoming I hope I can accomplish something that'll exert a little positive pressure on my peers. A book, maybe. Heck, I'd settle for a better blog.

And if I can't do that, I guess I'll but that robot sportswriter a purple T-shirt and in my place. 

Think anyone would notice?

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Super Six Saturday!

Woke up this morning with a simple plan:

To jumpstart my metabolism and get back on the road to ripped after two weeks of relative sloth. Part A of the plan consisted of a trip to the gym, and Part B included a couple of hours at Toronto's Salsa Church.

Last time I was there they said the back of my head was so pretty they took a picture of it.

Toronto Salsa Practice
Also pictured, Stacy "SMB" White, the coolest Canadian Hoosier in all of Indiana.

After that, back to the Penthouse to watch the opening rounds of the Super Six World Boxing Classic.

Like I said yesterday, it's a big deal. And like I said yesterday, even at the height of Maple Leaf Madness I managed to get a non-local boxing story into the newspaper.

But sometime this morning, just before tuning into "Thrilla in Manila," (outstanding...we will discuss here soon) I scrolled through the guide and learned that the football team representing my school, the finest academic institution in the Big Ten would kick off against Magic Johnson's alma mater at noon.

Just that quickly my Super Saturday Sweat-a-Thon turned into a Super Saturday of Sloth. 

Ah well.

As long as it's super. It'll be even more super once my Cats smash the Spartans.
Kickoff is in five minutes.

Settling into the couch right about.......


Friday, October 16, 2009

Boxing Does Something Right

Yesterday we riffed on Bernard Hopkins' full frontal assault on mixed martial arts' manhood, and in response many of my readers -- okay, two of them... all two of them -- pointed out that the frustrating tendency of top boxers to avoid each other isn't exactly macho, either.

Sadly, this might be the closest these two ever come to meeting. As a bodybuilding contest, it's a draw

Point taken. 

As excited as we all are about the resurgence of the sweet science since May 2007, when Floyd Mayweather and Oscar De La Hoya clashed in the biggest non-heavyweight pay-per-view ever, true fans realize that old problems could undermine recent progress. 

Fans both hardcore and casual understand that the biggest fight in the sport in 2010 would be a showdown between Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, provided Pacquiao defeats Miguel Cotto in November. But as the Cotto bout draws closer, the Mayweather fight looks less and less certain. 

As predicted by the World's Greatest in September, Pacquiao's people are looking for reasons not to make this fight happen.

By now we know the drill. A fight we want to see bogs down in negotiations, marketable fighters pursue less lucrative options, and the maddening dance continues.

That's why I'm so excited about the Super Six Boxing World Boxing Classic.

Six of the top supermiddleweights in the world matched in a round robin tournament to determine the division's top fighter.

No bickering over contracts and purses. That's was all done month ago, the eventual settling of differences making this event possible.

No ducking tough opponents to safeguard spotless records. Four fighters enter the tournament undefeated, but all realize an "0" must go.

And no lacklustre matchups giving boxing fans reasons to watch something else. 

Just big fights between top contenders, and an impressive documentary detailing the beyond-the-ring struggles required to put this event together.

How big a deal is this event?

Put it to you this way:

In a hockey-obsessed city, with the the local team attracting unprecedented attention for their unprecedented suckitude, I managed to sell my editors on a story about the tournament, even though it includes neither Canadians nor hockey players.

That's big.

Look for the story in Saturday's Star. And if you can't track down the paper I'll post the link here.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Recommended Reading

Part I – The NFL’s Jackie Robinson
     Now that I think of it I know just who Woody Strode was.
       In grade 11 history class we watched Spartacus, and the only scene that sticks with me today is the one in which the King (can’t remember his name) forces Spartacus to duel to the death against a tall black slave with sculpted muscles.  But instead of finishing off Spartacus, the slave rushes at the king and is killed by soldiers.

     I remember telling my dad that I never knew Romans had black slaves. And now I remember him telling me that the guy who played the slave was Woody Strode, a football star at UCLA and one of the first black men to play in the NFL.
     It’s funny how “facts” can crowd out memories.
     If you’d asked me last week which player re-integrated the NFL in 1946 I would have told you it was battering ram running back and Hall-of-Famer Marion Motley.        
     Would have bet my left pinkie on it.
     And right now I’d have nine fingers because, like the link says, Motley and Bill Willis were the first African-American players to join the AAFC, which didn’t merge with the NFL until 1950.
     It took Alexander Wolff’s story in the Oct. 12 issue of Sports Illustrated to remind me of what my pops had already taught me:
     The Jackie Robinsons of pro football weren’t Motley and Willis, but Strode and Kenny Washington, who signed with the Rams in 1946.
     Both men were stars at UCLA, standouts even among other future pros, so why was it that neither could secure and NFL contracts until they had reached their late 20s? What kind of pressure did the African-American news media apply to the Rams’ ownership to force them to do the right thing? And why has Motley’s story supplanted Strode and Washington’s as the accepted narrative of how the NFL’s unofficial color line was broken after 12 years of segregation?
     Wolff’s piece answers those questions and more.
     Reading it you can only imagine the danger these two pioneers faced as the only two black players in a deadly sport.
     And that is the one (small) beef I have with the piece.
     Strode and Washington entered the NFL as trailblazers but a previously unpublished interview with Strode reveals they didn’t leave the league feeling like heroes.
"Integrating the NFL was the low point of my life," Strode told SI in an unpublished interview before his death. "There was nothing nice about it. History doesn't know who we are. Kenny was one of the greatest backs in the history of the game, and kids today have no idea who he is…If I have to integrate heaven, I don't want to go."
Strong words, and if I could change anything about the piece I’d include a few more on-field anecdotes detailing the reality that inspired them, the flagrant racism these two men encountered and overcame daily at practices and in games. 
     We learn about what they put up with in college – from All-America snubs to cheap –shotting opponents – but I’d like to know a little more about what happened in the NFL to push Strode to the stunning conclusion that he’d rather go to hell than integrate heaven.
     But again, a nit-picking grievance of a strong story.
     Wolff takes a topic that’s been covered relentlessly for a generation and still uncovers something fresh, forcing us all to re-think what we think we know about the integration of big-time pro sports.
     If you have the time, it’s worth a read. And if you don’t have the time, find it.

Discovered this one last month in a bookstore at the Tampa Airport, tucked away in the bottom row of paperbacks in the American History section. Like Wolff’s story, it forced me to reconsider my knowledge of a subject about which I’d considered myself an expert.
Punishment in a forced labor camp, 1930s, Georgia
Photo borrowed from
On one level, the continued existence of slavery in the U.S. shouldn’t surprise a guy like me.
I’ve known for a long time that the Emancipation Proclamation didn’t free us all – that slaves in Union states like Maryland kept slaving right until the end of the Civil War.
      I also knew the Thirteenth Amendment didn’t ban slavery outright, that bondage is still legal in the U.S. if it’s part of a convict’s sentence. A good friend of mine – mentor, author and thinker Gary Freeman – is one of several very smart people working hard to close the loophole, but still it persists.
     In addition to all that many (and I hope most) of us are aware that whites employed numerous techniques – sharecropping, poll taxes, terrorism -- to keep Black citizens in the post-bellum South in a state of near-slavery.

Knowing all that it’s not tough to imagine that Southern states, even after the Civil War, would not just condone, but endorse, encourage and profit from Black bondage.
     That a network of so-called law enforcers would arrest Black citizens on the flimsiest charges, apply a series of fines, then sell these “convicts” to industrialists and plantation owners, who would pay the fine then force prisoners to work until they had satisfied the debt.
     That defined prison terms could morph into endless cycles of debt that bled into lifetimes spent performing soul-sapping, backbreaking, and uncompensated labour.
Breaking rocks, 1930s, Unknown location
Photo borrowed from
     All of that is pretty easy to imagine if you’re familiar with the history of the post-reconstruction South. But imagining is one thing – confronting the jarring reality that all these things actually happened is quite another.
     And this book will jar you.
     Using and meticulous research and in painstaking detail author Douglas Blackmon tells the stories of the men and women on both sides of the system of Neo-slavery that drove much of the South’s economy deep into the 20th century.
     He introduces us to John W. Pace, the Alabama plantation owner who purchased black convicts by the dozen and forced them to work on his farm.
     And to Warren Reese, the U.S. Attorney who was among the first to prosecute southerners for post-bellum slave trading.
     And to Green Cottinham, a black man born free but who died a slave in an Alabama coal mine.
     I know this post is starting to read like liner notes, but understand the publisher didn’t put me up to this.  Understand, too, that I wouldn’t waste space here if the book didn’t move me.
     More precisely, it kicked me in the gut with its brutal and unashamedly honest depiction of genocide for private and public profit, a system that reigned in the south for nearly three generations after the Civil War.
     Pick it up if you get the chance. It’s not an easy read, but it’s an enlightening one.