Three possible outcomes of Mayweather vs McGregor

…including how McGregor can win!

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After a build up that made WWE look like Japanese Kabuki theatre, the world is enraptured and Connor McGregor vs Floyd Mayweather really could be the biggest fight of all time – commercially at least.

Yet, in the kind of ironic twist only boxing could produce, what will likely be the most watched fight in history is also the least debated fight in history. Anyone thinking with their head believes Mayweather will win. Only those thinking with their hearts feel McGregor will win.

This has not stopped the world talking about the fight though. Even the price of being ringside (which has currently resulted in thousands of tickets still being available at the Las Vegas T-Mobile Arena) and the pay-per-view price ($89.99 in North America) has not dented fans’ enthusiasm for the fight.

Venues showing the fight are selling out across the globe. Las Vegas is full of fans that have travelled thousands of miles to sample the atmosphere as sport’s two most charismatic personalities clash. It is these personalities which have been the talk of the event, along with the record breaking figures it will all create.

Real analysis of the outcome of the fight has become trivial amidst the carnival hype. Any chance McGregor has is being discussed as pure fantasy, whilst the immense likelihood of Mayweather winning has seen his own plans of action glossed over.

Therefore, on the day of the fight, to truly enjoy the occasion, let’s remind ourselves of three possible outcomes.

1) Mayweather to win via knockout

What are the chances? 50%.

Why and how? Floyd Mayweather is simply too precise and too quick, in the mind as well as in the hands.  At 49-0 and as a boxer honed in his profession since childhood by a father and two uncles who fought at a high level, Mayweather’s skill-set is simply too advanced for McGregor, someone who has never actually fought in any sanctioned boxing match.

The undefeated American veteran will be setting up shots from the off, switching the jab from head to body to open him up for right-hands. Floyd will be hitting his Irish opponent so clean and so often it will force a referee or Connor’s own corner to stop the fight by the 8th round.

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Mayweather nearly always enjoys a reach advantage.

Possible spoiling factors? Mayweather is used to a reach advantage against opponents, something he has had over every opponent in the last 10 years since he faced Oscar De La Hoya. McGregor has a significant 5cm reach advantage, meaning Mayweather will need to close the distance to land first, something that at aged 40 Mayweather may not fancy doing, resulting in the next possible outcome…

2) Mayweather to win on points

What are the chances? 40%.

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Mayweather’s most natural style is to remain defensive.

Why and how? Winning a 12 round decision has become Mayweather’s most comfortable way to win a fight. With so much on the line, it would not be surprising at all to see him revert to his safety-first approach. Any kind of success McGregor has could seriously dent Mayweather’s legacy, meaning just like he usually does, Floyd will not take any risks.

Along with this mindset of Floyd’s, Connor McGregor’s toughness and underestimated stamina may also play a role in him lasting the 12 rounds. As he has stated himself, McGregor will not be facing the more taxing all body workout MMA presents and therefore will find 12 three minute rounds of boxing easier than many expect. At the same time, having been subjected to fighters trying to kick, elbow, knee and strangle him, the waspish attacks of the famously brittle handed Mayweather will not be enough to stop McGregor.

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In his rematch with Nate Diaz, McGregor proved his toughness.

In this instance, Mayweather will simply play the role of matador to McGregor’s bull, cruising his way to a unanimous decision win as he has done nine times out of his last ten fights.

Possible spoiling factors? Mayweather has never been one to fight with emotion or worry about entertaining a crowd. But as the self-proclaimed “best ever”, he will surely be embarrassed to have a fighter with an 0-0 record last 12 rounds with him. There is also the chance that McGregor will leave himself so open in a reckless attempt to catch Mayweather that the stoppage will become inevitable.

3) McGregor to win via knockout

What are the chances? 10%.

Why and how? To some, even giving McGregor a one in 10 chance to win is too much. However, the bookies don’t have it that way (currently 4/1 to win) and at the end of the day, McGregor’s skill-set and abilities have to give him some chance.

McGregor is a man with a left-hand as sharp as most boxers. He is undoubtedly powerful (something even Paulie Malignaggi is willing to say about him) and he has timing and precision. To ask if McGregor can transfer this skill-set from MMA to boxing is to ask if there are different dimensions of the science of boxing that have not fully been explored. We have seen McGregor continually refer to Bruce Lee in the build up to this fight and with the great Kung-Fu master in his thoughts, McGregor is likely to come out to Floyd with his legs wide in a hybrid karate stance, arms wide and hands high, taking to the ring with a style different to any boxer Floyd has ever faced.

Many experts feel McGregor needs to constrain his approach and force it into a pressure-fighting style, forcing Mayweather to move back and brawl. The only thing McGregor would be forcing with this is himself, to conform to a style of boxing that has previously caused Mayweather problems against cruder foes (most recently best seen in his first fight with Marcos Maidana). However, by nature McGregor is actually a counter puncher. The thought he could cause Mayweather trouble through direct pressure is to devalue the skill it takes to be a good pressure fighter. Simply, McGregor needs to fight his own game. This usually sees him stalk opponents from range, prodding them with kicks, jabs and body shots, with the aim of opening them up to his murderous left-hand. The problem for McGregor is that he cannot use those weapons against Mayweather. Kicking is illegal and trying to open up Mayweather with a jab or body shots will see McGregor eat right-hands or end up in a rhythm disrupting clinching match (a tactic Mayweather thrives on).

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McGregor needs to punch with Mayweather, not counter him.

So what can McGregor do to win? Be patient. In the MMA game, he is a master at staying in range. This shouldn’t be hard to switch to boxing, as long as he knows what danger this leaves him in. If McGregor tries to open up Floyd with a jab, he will be eating counter rights every time. Instead, he has to remain patient and not throw first. Connor needs to attempt to pull the trigger at the same-time as Floyd; punch with him. This will mean eating Mayweather’s jab regularly but by doing this, he can hope to time a power shot at the same time as Floyd deploys his right-hand or body shots, to land a power punch that could hurt Mayweather. McGregor also has a vicious streak that tells us if Mayweather does somehow get hurt, the Irishman will be all over him looking for the finish.

Possible spoiling factors? To ask someone to be more patient than Mayweather is to ask them to best one of his main traits. With the crowd baying and after eating a jab or four, McGregor may just start chasing the fight, which is when he will leave himself open to any of the aforementioned outcomes.

Overall, McGregor comes out of this as big a star as Mayweather, and it is that which is his true victory. Mayweather has set himself up for the biggest and (on paper) easiest pay-day a boxer has ever had, meaning his most treasured mantle as boxing’s best money-maker is also already cemented.

Nevertheless, whilst both remain winners in this sense, somebody has to lose on Saturday night, and seeing either one of these super-egos humbled will be the victory for millions of fans come the end of this unique event.

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OFFICIAL JOSHUA VS KLITSCHKO PREDICTION

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Surely you all knew this was coming right?

Anyway…

The first thing to think about is why Wladimir Klitschko (the more skilled and accomplished but overall not as good one of the famous boxing brothers) has chosen to take this fight. With his status as the biggest name in the heavyweight division for the last 10 years, he could’ve easily had an easier fight to get a world title back or could’ve retired.

Anthony Joshua provides two things for Wlad in his last days as a fighter. 1) A huge final pay day. 2) Respect for taking such a dangerous fight. No one will ever call Wlad a cherry-picker now. However, this isn’t me saying he is coming to lose, just that it’s like a final hurrah for him. But it’s still a factor. Wlad knows this is his final big test. He will feel no shame in going out against Joshua.

Does this mean Wlad will come in all guns blazing and abandon his cautious often boring style? Hell no! He couldn’t if he wanted to. And he probably does want to, but he won’t. The 18 months off will be good for Wlad. He will be in as good shape as ever (*cough* ROIDS *cough*), age – he is 41 – won’t be an issue. This Wlad will be as good as he’s been ever, which to me has never been that good. I feel he’s only reigned because he fought in the poorest era ever for heavyweights, but right now we’re in the best era since the late 90s.

Nevertheless, Wlad is still a legitimate great and a threat. He’s got good footwork, heavy-heavy hands, a world class jab, and a difficult style to beat – jab-jab-grab as David Haye described it. So he definitely can give Joshua some problems. And I think he will.

Even though he has lots of early KOs, Joshua likes to take a bit of time to find his range. It’s just that as soon as he does, the fight ends right away. It will take Joshua a while to find his range against Klitschko because Wlad is deceptively fast – both with his feet and hands. I expect Joshua to eat a few jabs early and for a period look slightly out of his depth. He can’t beat Wlad like Tyson Fury did in 2015, who is a boxer with more guile than both of the two.

So how can Joshua win? By forcing Wlad to hit the panic button, which won’t be too hard to do. As good as Wlad is, why I don’t rate him as highly as others is because under fire he panics. Against Fury he turned his back at least twice, something you won’t even see most amateurs do. Against guys like Alex Povetkin and Haye (his previous toughest opponents) he simply bear-hugged them any time they came close.

Looking at the fact Joshua has come in at his heaviest weight ever (17.12 stone), he is prepared for Klitschko’s style. He is 10lbs heavier than Wlad and will be looking to out-muscle him when Wlad tries to clinch, so he can control the pace of the fight. One thing we will learn is just how strong Joshua is, and if he is stronger than Wlad, it means he is one of the strongest heavyweights for a long, long time.

Speaking about Joshua’s physical ability is what brings us to what will in my opinion win him this fight; his incredible punching power. Combining both speed and brute strength, his punches – with both hands and with any type of punch – come in such explosive fashion that it is near inconceivable to see anyone taking them for any pro-longed period. It must also be noted, Joshua is not just a great, great puncher, he is also absolutely vicious with it. When he has someone hurt, he goes for the kill in ruthless fashion. We’ve seen him hit people when they are down (which is illegal) and even after the bell (against Dillian Whyte). Joshua fights as violently as any heavyweight since Mike Tyson himself.

Wladimir panics under fire because has been knocked out three times in brutal fashion (the last time was in 2004) before he found his winning style under the tutorship of arguably the greatest boxing trainer ever, Emanuel Steward. However, ever since then as previously mentioned, he has been extremely cautious about taking any punches, and when they do come he panics. And he has never fought a puncher like Joshua. Thus, logic states, when Joshua does unleash, Klitschko will simply not be able to handle it. Both mentally and physically.

This is why I feel Joshua will win, as soon as Klitschko feels his power. This could happen at any time during the fight, but will most likely happen around round five.

There are a few things to consider away from this prediction, which seems to be the consensus opinion.

Firstly, how will Joshua do at tracking Klitschko? The 6ft 6in Ukrainian is more mobile than any heavyweight Joshua will have ever come against. Secondly, with this in mind, as Joshua does try to find his range, he may have to eat a few of Klitschko’s best punches; namely the straight right-hand and the lead-left hook. However, we have seen Joshua take some solid punches from big-hitters like Whyte and also Dominic Breazeale, so unless he is hit with the perfect punch, I think Joshua will handle – and he will need to handle – Klitschko’s power. However, do not be too surprised to see Joshua hit hard and even hit the deck.

As for tracking Wlad down, Joshua is just as fast with his hands if not with his feet, and he also throws combinations – three, four, five and even six punches at a time, all of which will be hard to avoid for Wlad, especially as Joshua shows no fear of firing off when under fire (known as punching with someone). Also, although he has a basic style, Joshua is actually a very intelligent boxer. He always stays calm, even when at his most vicious, and he actually reads opponents to set up punches, which is something most Klitschko victims were not savvy enough to do. Finally, size matters. Joshua is also 6ft 6in and has a one-inch reach advantage, and at the highest level, every little bit counts.

For this reason I conclude there is a 65% chance Joshua wins via knockout. I feel there is a 25% chance Joshua is simply unable to track Klitschko well enough to bring the fight to a conclusive outcome, meaning it will be about which style (Joshua’s stalking-bombing or Klitschko’s jabbing-moving) judges favour or is imposed most, and even in this scenario I see Klitschko taking too much pressure to win the fight. Lastly, I only give Wladimir a 10% chance of knocking Joshua (which is silly for a guy with 53 knockouts but I’ll be the first to admit my silliness should it happen).

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Boxing Pound-for-Pound list 2016

Much disputed, debated and demeaned too, boxing’s pound-for-pound list remains the definitive way to single out the best boxers in the world.

Making the selection for 2016 requires serious deliberation, as changes must be made. 2016 is only the second year in approximately 11 years of boxing that Floyd Mayweather is not at the top of the list.

Mayweather cannot be included on the list simply because he seems to be fully retired – for now, just like during a period between 2007-2009. Whether “Money” decides to sit on his 49-0 record forever and not try for the fabled 50-0 which would break Rocky Marciano’s undefeated reign is something we will likely find out in 2017.

Miguel Cotto, on this list last year due to his middleweight title run before it was ended by Saul Alvarez, and 2015’s two best heavyweights – Tyson Fury and Wladimir Klitschko – did not fight in 2016 either, so none of them can make the list.

This leaves at minimum three places that need to be filled on last year’s pound-for-pound list (which you can see here – https://jazztheory.wordpress.com/2015/08/03/the-10-best-pound-for-pound-boxers-in-the-world-today/). So who makes it into the top 10 pound-for-pound boxers of 2016? Read on to find out.

 

10) Shinsuke Yamanaka – Bantamweight, 26-0-2 (18 knockouts)

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With now eleven defences of the WBC bantamweight title to his name, there is no denying Japan’s Shinsuke Yamanaka a spot in boxing’s pound-for-pound list.

In 2016 Yamanaka had his toughest two fights of his career and won them both well. First he comprehensively out-pointed Liborio Solis, the seasoned former world champion who proved himself world title level when he lost a decision to Jamie McDonnell just eight months after losing to Yamanaka. Then he faced Mexican former world champion Moreno, who took him to a split-decision in 2015 and won via knockout in seven rounds.

At 5ft 7in, Yamanaka is a giant at the weight and literally stands out among the current bantamweight champions as the standout boxer. He is a fast, aggressive, powerful southpaw with a tough style to deal with. However, the boxing world will be hoping he goes for a unification bout in 2017, which is when we will really find out his credentials.

 

9) Carl Frampton – Featherweight, 23-0 (14 knockouts)

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The second name to make his debut in the pound-for-pound list, Carl Frampton is arguably 2016’s boxer of the year, and thus leaping into the top 10.

Firstly in February, Frampton won a close but clear decision win against British rival and WBA super-bantamweight champion Scott Quigg. With that win Frampton unified the WBA with his IBF title (although Guillermo Rigondeaux would disagree with that as the super WBA champion). Following that win, Frampton moved to featherweight to take on undefeated WBA champion Leo Santa Cruz. Frampton won a majority-decision in a fantastic fight.

The Irishman is a really well-schooled boxer, able to implement different strategies to handle different styles. Frampton can do this because he is a very intelligent boxer, whilst he also possesses real power and immense toughness. He finds holes in his opponents games and digs at them. With another year of big fights lined-up for him, Frampton could become a regular in the pound-for-pound list.

 

8) Saul Alvarez – Light-middleweight, 48-1-1 (34 knockout wins)

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The more time that passes with “Canelo”, the more boxing fans realise he is not just a world champion, but a true elite fighter.

A slick, powerful combination puncher, Alvarez is fantastic to watch. Thus far only Floyd Mayweather has shown the capability of getting within his range without being touched by the southpaw’s thunderous hands. Top opposition such as Cuban Erislandy Lara and Austin Trout have been unable to out-box Alvarez, although the Lara fight was very close.

In the last 13 months Alvarez has beaten the legendary Miguel Cotto to win a middleweight world title, knocked Amir Khan clean out with one punch, and forced a referees’ stoppage against WBO light-middleweight champion Liam Smith.

Unfortunately for Alvarez, all anyone wants to see is him against Gennady Golovkin, the monstrous middleweight champion. His promoter Oscar De La Hoya has said on recorded video that he promises that fight happens in 2017. If this is true, by the end of 2017 Alvarez’s place on this list could alter dramatically this time next year.

 

7) Guillermo Rigondeaux – Super-bantamweight, 17-0 (11 knockouts)

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Most fair-weather boxing fans will probably not have seen “The Jackal” fight, while many may not have heard of him at all.

Nevertheless, the lack of hype around the Cuban should not disguise the fact that this may be one of the most talented boxers ever, something Freddie Roach himself stated. Amazingly quick and agile, Rigondeaux is brilliantly elusive, whilst he also possesses a sniper of a left-hand.

However, the lack of hype has affected him in as much it has given a reason for other champions to avoid him. A two time Olympic gold medal winner and a two time world amateur champion, Rigondeaux took to the pro game like a duck to water, winning a world title in just his 7th bout in 2010.

However, the big fights have been few and far in between for Rigondeaux. It is close to three years since his last meaningful fight. In 2015 he kept ticking over with comfortable wins against highly spirited – if not highly rated – contenders.

Other champions like Frampton, Santa Cruz and Quigg have all moved up without fighting Rigondeaux. Although he is currently calling out Vasyl Lomachenko for a fight, at 36, with allegedly over 400 amateur fights behind him, we may never get to find out how good Rigondeaux really is.

However, right now Rigondeaux is still one of the very best boxers on the planet and someone that could be at number one on this list if he gets the right fights.

 

6) Terence Crawford – Light-welterweight, 30-0 (21 knockouts)

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The fact that someone as good as Terence Crawford is not in 2016’s top five shows just how good the current crop of boxers are. An undefeated two weight champion, Crawford is America’s next great boxer and is proving it in every fight.

In between knockout out two perennial contenders in 2016, Crawford faced the undefeated WBO champion, Ukrainian Viktor Postol. In an outstanding display, Crawford completely outclassed him and cemented himself as light-welterweight’s elite champion. Now Crawford has some big decisions to make about when to move up to welterweight where the biggest fights are.

Whatever decision he takes, the rangy and powerful Crawford will be a match for anyone. Crawford is both a great boxer and a great fighter, knowing how to utilise his long reach and really punishing opposition with a variety of shots.

Currently, there is no one in his division that would be given any real chance at beating him, and that is why Crawford cannot be denied a spot in boxing’s pound-for-pound list.

 

5) Gennady Golovkin – Middleweight, 36-0 (33 knockouts)

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“GGG” is already one of history’s most fearsome champions. He is a man that goes about destroying boxers with a calm confidence which terrifies many.

In 2016 Golovkin beat two undefeated boxers. First he destroyed Dominic Wade and then forced a stoppage against Kell Brook. Neither are world-class middleweights, meaning the Kazakhstani still hasn’t got a A-class middleweight to his name yet. As such, there is still something to be proven by GGG, which he can do when he takes on WBA middleweight champion Daniel Jacobs in March 2017.

Nevertheless, Golovkin has proven he is pound-for-pound quality through the manner of his victories. He is going through world title challenges like sparring sessions, man against boy. Some of his knockouts have been frightening and he is doing it with every type of punch; lead left-hook, straight right, body punches. Tough fighters are folding up in the face of his onslaughts.

While the Jacobs fight seems a mere formality, he still needs to get it done. However, the real fight for him is either against Saul Alvarez or a super-middleweight champion. With his unavoidable stalking style, how any of the aforementioned will handle his power will determine just how high up this list the Kazakhstani will go.

4) Vasyl Lomachenko – Super-featherweight, 7-1 (Five knockouts)

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In just eight fights Lomchenko has made it to the top four of boxing’s pound-for-pound list. And the Ukrainian is so good, even his loss contributed to this remarkable rise.

In just his second fight, the two time Olympic gold and two time World Amateur Champion gold medallist was given a shot against world champion featherweight veteran, Orlando Salido. The Mexican grinded out a points victory, clinging on for life in a dramatic 12th round. That single fight seems to have taught Lomachenko everything he has needed to know about the professional game, and he has since looked flawless.

Since then he has won all his fights including beating certified world class talent like Gary Russell Jr and Roman Martinez, and he has done it using a style that is all of his own.

Lomachenko uses angles and footwork in a way that has to be seen to be understood. He is constantly dropping his hands, bobbing, weaving, sidestepping and playing the matador to the bull, whilst often on the front-foot too. On the inside, Lomachenko is sheer murder. He finds punches on the way out of a tie-up/clinch that opponents never see coming, and he does this so often seasoned world champions like Nicholas Walters quit on him (during their fight last month which saw Lomachenko become a two-weight champion).

The only issue for Lomachenko is that his promotional team may look to rush him up the weight divisions. Should Lomachenko let him build his reign slowly, he really could be an all-time great.

 

3) Sergey Kovalev – Light-heavyweight, 30-1-1 (26 knockouts)

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In a legacy sealing fight in November, Kovalev came away second best in the eyes of the judges but best in the eyes of many others.

Depending on how you saw that fight against Andre Ward, the position of Kovalev could be interchangeable with the others around him here. Some feel Kovalev is basic and was/will again be out-boxed by Ward. Others feel he has a physicality that others simply can’t handle. Whichever way you think, Kovalev is no worse than the third best boxer in the world today.

“Krusher” has the kind of punches that breaks through guards and can concuss with even glancing blows. Although he can be somewhat robotic, his tactics are a damn site effective. What is makes him really scary is that he seems to enjoy destroying people.

There is not anyone other than Ward that anyone would favour to beat Kovalev that he could realistically fight. Any of the super-middleweights would be huge underdogs against him, whilst the odds for a rematch against Ward would also likely be evens at worst.

As Ward showed, it takes a lot of character and strength – mentally and physically – to even come close to beating the Russian. How many are capable of this? Not many, if any, and that is why he must be considered one of boxing’s best three boxers in the world today.

 

2) Roman Gonzalez – Super-flyweight, 46-0 (38 knockouts)

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Granted, having spent much of his career fighting in the minimum and light-flyweight divisions the opposition for Gonzalez has been limited. But being a four weight world champion at 29 years old with an approximately 80% knockout ratio cannot be denied.

This is why Roman Gonzalez is the second best boxer in the world today. The only reason he is not at number one, is because after a long career fighting with a hard style to maintain, “Choclatito” is arguably showing signs of aging.

Gonzalez has been near flawless for most of his career and has not had it easy either, going away to Mexico and Japan to fight the best little-men of the world to take his titles.

The Nicaraguan is a smooth power puncher that can finish a fight as soon as he hurts an opponent. In the last 12 months though, Gonzalez did not turn out any of his better performances. Firstly, he mundanely won a decision against 16-2 McWilliams Arroyo.  The biggest of his two fights was a hard-fought win at his highest weight – super-flyweight – against Carlos Cuadras, providing the Mexican with his first defeat, although at times Gonzalez looked like he could end up on the losing side.

Gonzalez is likely to have some really tough fights coming up, considering he is unlikely to move up a fifth weight division and his next opponent will likely be a rematch against Cuadras or Juan Estrada, another Mexican champion that cause him problems.

If he can show better form than he did in 2017, Gonzalez will remain one of the best two boxers of the world.

 

1) Andre Ward – Light-heavyweight, 31-0 (15 knockouts)

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Andre Ward had as many fights in 2016 as he had done in the previous three years, and with this cemented himself as the world’s best boxer.

Firstly, his early year win against Sullivan Barrera looks better as Barrera continues to work his way towards a world title. Then after a routine win against Alexander Brand, Ward survived a torrid start to out-box Sergey Kovalev, in a real clash of elite champions.

Along with all the craft and intelligence we knew he possessed, Ward showed amazing courage, determination and stamina too, in coming back from a second round knockdown and taking the fight to the Russian.

Ward’s is this great because he can both effectively exploit an opponent’s weaknesses and neutralise their weapons.

A real technician, Ward has a great inside-game, enough speed and accuracy to fight on the outside, great footwork and amazing reflexes. An old-school fighter, “Son of God” has not lost a fight since he was 12.

The only fight on the radar for Ward right now is a rematch against Kovalev. In a rematch, it can be assumed a boxer whose game is largely based on reading opponents will come off the better. As such, not only is Ward the best boxer in the world today, he is also likely to remain so.

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Five Boxers to Watch in 2017

Boxing fans will remember 2016 for a year of exciting fights, if not all of the ones we wanted to see.

The two boxers that came out of 2015 with the biggest wins – Floyd Mayweather and Tyson Fury – did not fight in 2016 at all. Gennady Golovkin continued his devastating reign as middleweight king without fighting any of the division’s top names (at no fault of his own), whilst great champions like Manny Pacquaio and Roman Gonzalez continued to rule, if not in the same manner they once did.  Andre Ward and Sergey Kovalev did clash in a true battle of modern greats, but who is the better of the two is even less settled than it was before they fought. All in all, although a lot happened in boxing in 2016, not a lot changed.

With all of this in mind, most fight fans know what they want to see next year. They want to see the heavyweight kings clash. They want to find out who the best welterweight in the world is in the post-Mayweather era. And of course, they want to see Saul Alvarez vs. Gennady Golovkin.

Yet, even with the New Year boxing wish-list set, every year there are always up-coming fighters to watch, those that are just a few fights away from joining the elite of the sport. So here are five boxers to watch in 2016.

 

Gervonta Davis – Super-featherweight, 16-0 (15 knockouts), 22 years old

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“Tank” Davis about to blast a left hand.

Arguably the most talented fighter at Mayweather promotions, Gervonta Davis is a powerful featherweight nicknamed “Tank” for the way he blasts through opponents.

Perhaps unexpected for someone groomed by Mayweather, Davis is a come-forward fighter with an aggressive approach. The southpaw likes to close range with jabs and straight-lefts to get on the inside, where he opens up like a mini-Mike Tyson, unleashing dangerous hooks and pulverising uppercuts. The comparison is not too far-fetched with one look at Davis’ knockout ratio and his highlight reel too.

Because of the emphatic manner of his wins thus far, Davis has been accelerated to a title shot against Jose Pedraza, the skilled Mexican WBC champion, in January 2017. A win for Davis would signal the breakout of boxing’s next potential superstar. However, even with a loss the Baltimore native will have gained great schooling in world title level, and the potential will remain.

 

Tevin Farmer – Super-featherweight, 24-4-1 (Two knockouts), 26 years old

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Farmer in the tiger shorts.

When writing these pieces, I have never before included two people from the same weight division, until now. And that is largely because the remarkable rise of Tevin Farmer simply cannot be ignored.

Allegedly the nephew of the great Joe Gans, an all time great lightweight that reigned in the late 1800s/early 1900s, Farmer looks the epitome of a well-schooled boxer. His footwork, defensive work and athleticism are a sight to behold. He makes opponents miss in a fashion similar to Floyd Mayweather and does it whilst producing a high output of punches too.

Yet this is a boxer who only won seven of his first 12 fights. Farmer puts this down to personal troubles during his formative years as a boxer, and also the fact he did not come into the pro-game with the benefit of a big promotional team, who can guide a prospect through the early stages of a career with careful match-making.

However, the southpaw from Philadelphia has comeback strong and is now on a 17 fight win streak. His eye pleasing style coupled with his underdog story has made him not just a fan favourite but a real celebrity favourite too, with many other fighters and rappers often shouting him out on social media, posting videos of his matrix-esque reflexes on instagram.

Farmer’s rise and popularity is surely to bring him a world title shot in 2017, with many calling for him to be put up against Vasyl Lomachenko in what would be a match-up of extreme boxing talent. Either way, 2017 is to hold big things for Tevin Farmer.

 

Hughie Fury – Heavyweight, 22-0 (10 knockouts), 22 years old

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Fury using his huge jab.

Hughie Fury has quietly and even timidly made his way to world title level in the heavyweight division, in a manner of stark contrast in comparison to his (in)famous cousin Tyson.

Fury is rated 3rd in WBO rankings, with David Haye at 2nd. With Haye likely to pursue a bigger named opponent instead of challenging champion Joseph Parker for the crown, Fury could get a title shot in 2017, and he could just win.

Under the excellent tutelage of his father Peter – who did a great job in guiding Tyson to world level – Fury has developed into a classic boxer of a heavyweight, using his 6ft 6inch frame to utilise his range and pick opponents off. Thus far Fury has been brought through very well, taking on stern tests such as formerly undefeated Andriy Rudenko, the much avoided Fred Kassi and solid gatekeepers like Dominick Guinn and George Arias, all fights guaranteed to have helped him learn. A former World Junior Amateur Championship gold medallist, Fury has undoubted skill as a boxer, although he seems to lack power. However, he is young and has a lot further to develop, as his father openly admits.

Yet, his father also states he is now ready for any heavyweight on earth, and Hughie Fury is a dangerous opponent for any of them.

 

Mikey Garcia – Lightweight, 35-0 (29 knockouts), 29 years old

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Garcia is a master of controlling distance.

 

Why is a former two weight world champion that was just two years ago on every pound-for-pound list included in this list? Because not enough boxing fans realise just what Garcia can achieve in 2017.

If he gets the right fights, Garcia could be a certified top five pound-for-pound fighter.

The former featherweight and super-featherweight champion first showed how good he is by stopping four former world champions in a row during a 12 month period from 2012/2013. At that point, Garcia was being seen as a future pound-for-pound number one.

Then a contract dispute with Bob Arum’s promotional company Top Rank meant he did not fight for 30 months. During this period, many seem to have forgotten just how good Mikey Garcia is. In his first fight back last July he reminded everyone of his prowess, with a knockout win over Elio Rojas.

A typical tough Mexican (fighting out of California), Mikey Garcia is the brother of Robert Garcia, a former champion himself and now one of the best trainers in the world. Mikey has clearly been taught well. He has a very fluid and intelligent style, showing great control of distance and a superb ability to setup shots. He is somewhere between a Juan Manuel Marquez and a Marco Antonio Barrera in terms of style, and has the ability to be remembered as great as the aforementioned Mexican legends.

In 2017 Garcia first faces the very dangerous Dejan Zlaticanin in late January. Should he get past that, look for Garcia to rule the lightweight division and be marketed as a possible opponent for someone like Terence Crawford or Vasyl Lomachenko.

 

Ievgen Khytrov – Middleweight, 14-0 (12 knockouts), 28 years old

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Khytrov has a devastating left-hook.

The latest of the seemingly endless production line of top quality Eastern European fighters, Khytrov could be the heir apparent to Gennady Golovkin.

Whilst there is some dispute from the media about how to spell his first name – Ievgen? Evhen? – there is no dispute about his talent. Khytrov won a gold at the 2011 World Amateur Championship. A year later he lost a controversial decision to Britain’s Anthony Ogogo at the 2012 London Olympics. Another year later he turned pro, and has been steaming towards world level ever since.

A typical Eastern European fighter, Khytrov has a systematic yet aggressive style, liking to constantly stay in range of opponents where he looks for gaps to land his dangerous straight-right and even more deadly left-hook. His style can often neglect his defence, with his posture often straight-up and his hands at chin level. However, thus far it has not really caused him any problems, largely because anyone coming close enough to engage meets with his ferocious power. Along with his power, Khytrov also has a real sense for the finish, becoming bloodthirsty and relentless when he has an opponent hurt.

Khytrov is still working his way into world level but will make a giant leap into it with a win against undefeated American prospect Immanuwel Aleem, when the two meet in January. A win there will show that Khytrov is ready to move directly towards title level.

The Ukrainian has already said he wants to fight Gennady Golovkin and should GGG win his fight against Daniel Jacobs in March, Khytrov will be in the pipeline for what could be an incredible clash of hard hitting European middleweights.

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UFC 205 Preview and Predictions

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They say if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere. As such, the UFC’s have gone all out to put on the best show possible for their first ever event in “The Big Apple”.

The newly reformed UFC team – no longer run by the Fertitta brothers but still led by the affable and abrasive Dana White – have arranged for three title fights, three more former world title holders and over half a dozen more of MMA’s most exciting fighters to be on what is arguably the best card in the history of the sport.

The event is possibly even more exciting than UFC 200, even with the cancellation of two great fights this week. Unfortunately for MMA fans Rashad Evans – perhaps the original MMA poster-boy – will not be fighting American military hero Tim Kennedy for medical reasons. Similarly, winner of TUF and up-and-coming contender Kelvin Gastelum was unable to get even close to the welterweight 170lb limit, meaning he was cut from his bout against the always enthralling and amazingly active Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone.

Nevertheless, this is still an unbelievable show of fights and there are many reasons to watch it, so read on for a preview and prediction of the best bouts.

 

Jim Miller (27-8) vs Thiago Alves (21-10)

Two veterans meet in a fight that is on so early it is only available online (via UFC Fight Pass). Regardless, all MMA hardcore fans will tell you this could easily be the most exciting fight of the night.

Both are past their prime but still looking to continue their careers in the UFC. Miller has just missed out on a title shot for seven years now but is still one of the most talented and toughest in the division. In 2009 Alves took on Georges St Pierre for the UFC welterweight title. To still be here now shows how good both actually are.

For this fight Alves dropped to lightweight in an attempt to prolong his career. Alves missed weight by 7lbs but will still face New Jersey’s Jim Miller, who is looking to further a two win streak to move towards a title shot.

Miller is so exciting he is always on the big UFC shows (e.g. UFC 100, UFC 200). He is a pressure fighter that likes to force opponents into a brawl and look to capitalise with jiu-jitsu. Alves is an ultra-powerful striker, capable of knocking anyone out with anything from a jumping knee to a left-hook. The two will be unable to do anything other than put on a really exciting fight.

Prediction: Alves is way too muscle-bound to have been able to make the lightweight limit. The attempt to even try will have done his war-torn body no good. Jim Miller will end up submitting him after an exciting round or two.

 

Khabib Nurmagomedov (23-0) vs Michael Johnson (18-10)

From two fighters in the twilight of their careers to two in their primes, this is a great bout between two fighters in their primes.

Nurmagomedov, could be the best fighter in MMA today. He has amassed the kind of undefeated record rarely seen in the sport and has done it in flawless fashion. The Dagestani has just seemed too strong and skilled in wrestling for any of his opponents thus far, which includes former lightweight champion Rafael Dos Anjos.

Michael Johnson on his day can beat anyone. With his mix of aggressive Muay Thai on top of a solid wrestling background, as an underdog he has already beaten top names like Edson Barboza and Tony Ferguson. He is also coming off the back of the best win of his career, with a brutal first round one punch knockout against Dustin Poirier.

Prediction: The fact that an impressive win will see cries for him to fight the winner of Mcgregor vs Alvarez will mean Khabib will go out to destroy Michael Johnson. Expect a comprehensive three round beating win for him.

 

Frankie Edgar (20-5) vs Jeremy Stephens (25-12)

The clip of Connor McGregor shouting “who the f*ck is that guy?” in response to a challenge from Jeremy Stephens at a UFC 205 press conference in September went viral around the world.

It was a hilariously blunt and condescending response, typical of the Irish champion. However, he knows who Stephens is and anyone interested in the UFC Featherweight title race does too. An ultra-aggressive fighter with the kind of one-punch knockout power that arguably only McGregor himself has at the weight, Stephens is a threat to anyone in the UFC’s featherweight division.

Taking him on is the veteran and long time face of New York MMA, former UFC lightweight champion Frankie Edgar. When he comes in to his traditional Biggie Smalls track (Kick in the door), the crowd will go crazy for this favourite. Edgar is one of the most skilled fighters in MMA, with excellent cardio, footwork, boxing and wrestling. He has been one of the very best in the sport for at least six years now.

The two clash looking to get themselves back in position to fight the likes of McGregor (if he ever fights at featherweight again).

Prediction: Edgar will be too skilled and after surviving some scary moments, he will come away with a decision win.

 

Chris Weidman (13-1) vs Yoel Romero (12-1)

Weidman is famous for being the man who destroyed Anderson Silva, by knocking him out to win the middleweight UFC title and then breaking Silva’s leg in the rematch by checking a kick.

From thereon, Weidman is only one poor performance (a loss to Luke Rockhold in which he says he was fighting ill) from looking like one of the very best in the world. The New Yorker destroyed the likes of Lyoto Machida and Vitor Belfort in defence of his title, showing brutal ground-and-pound and amazing toughness in doing so.

Yoel Romero is an Olympic games silver medallist in wrestling. His only loss came during his 6th fight, which was at light-heavyweight. Now 39 years old but still in very obviously top shape, the Cuban will know he needs this win to get a title shot in decent time. Since coming into the UFC Romero has won seven fights in a row and is guaranteed a title shot with a win here.

Both have a similar style of coming forward, firing off powerful strikes, and looking to implement their respected wrestling (Weidman being a collegiate All-American), making this a really intriguing and likely gruelling battle.

Prediction: Weidman seems to be able to take the better punch of the two and that will be the only difference in what is going to be a real war. Weidman by late stoppage for the win.

 

Straw-weight title fight: Joanna Jedrzejczyk (12-0) vs Karolina Kowalkiewicz (10-0)

Joanna Jedrzejcyzk is maybe the best female fighter in the world and also one of the best strikers in all of MMA.

Before the age of 30 the Polish has gone on from one of the most accomplished Muay Thai/Kickboxers ever to the best female straw-weight on earth. On top of being quick, accurate and vicious with it, she has an amazing output of strikes, as well as a superb ability to stay/get back on her feet during scrambles. This makes her a nightmare for any opponent.

Challenging her for the title is fellow Pole Karolina Kowalkiewicz. Similarly, her game is also based on a slick and consistent output of strikes, but more from the inside than from the outside, which is where Jedrzejcyzk is at her best. This will see the bout a real chess match that will be about who controls the distance better.

Prediction: Jedrzejcyzk will be driven close in what could turn out to be one of MMA’s great rivalry between two Pole’s ruling a division. On this occasion though it will be the more experienced fighter – Jedrzejcyzk – who handles the pressure better and comes away with the win.

 

Welterweight title fight: Tyrone Woodley (16-3) vsStephen Thompson (13-1)

Thompson is one of America’s best ever kick-boxers (going 57-0) and has adapted to MMA brilliantly. His style is something to behold, seeing him skipping around the ring, hands by his side, only stopping to fire off rapid punches or knockout kicks. After a slight adjustment period, “Wonder Boy” has adapted his unique style to MMA to devastating fashion.

Woodley on the other hand has kept plugging away towards title level in MMA, coming up short a few times before grabbing his opportunity in brutal fashion in his last fight, winning the UFC welterweight title by first round knockout against Robbie Lawler.

Woodley has the perfect tools needed to counter Thompson’s unique style. Woodley is an explosive athlete, a great wrestler and has an unbelievably powerful right-hand. With everything that is on the line in this fight – not only the title but also potentially huge fights against Georges St Pierre or even Connor McGregor – both will be putting it all on the line in what will be a tense and exciting fight.

Prediction: Expect the fight to be uneventful early on but explode into life eventually. At this point Thompson will find his range and pick Woodley off for a late round four TKO win.

 

Lightweight title fight: Eddie Alvarez (28-4) vs Connor McGregor (20-3)

McGregor has been presented with an opportunity for real MMA immortality. No one in UFC history has ever held two titles at the same time. The fact McGregor has gotten it without even defending his featherweight title tells us it is a chance the UFC has gifted him just to profit on the legend that is McGregor.

Alvarez on the other hand has had nothing gifted to him in the UFC. He made his debut against Donald Cerrone, which he lost. From there he has fought two former champions and then the champion (Rafael Dos Anjos) who was on his most fearsome form.

Alvarez has fought some of the best in the world before he even got to the UFC. During his career he has shown amazing toughness, great boxing and also fight intelligence. Even though his natural style is to get on the inside and basically brawl, Alvarez has shown that he knows when to use wrestling to grind out a win.

McGregor has cruised through an MMA career (with the occasional blip) as smoothly as he strikes. However, for all the spinning back kicks, faints and taunts, McGregor largely relies on the knockout power in his left hand to win fights. The problem for opponents is he is not at all predictable with how he throws it; whether it is a straight shot coming from the chest, an overhand, an uppercut or in any other fashion possible. He is also one of the sharpest strikers in MMA history.

Yet, McGregor has not fought anyone like Alvarez before. This is an opponent who has won fights with punches, kicks and wrestling. When McGregor comes to throw, Alvarez will fire three or four shots back at him. This is a very tough fight for McGregor.

The two will clash for what can only be an epic bout and at the end of it McGregor will either be a certified legend, or have his legend end.

Prediction: Alvarez needs to come out more cautious than he has ever done, as usually it takes him a while to find his boxing range, at a time within which he will be vulnerable to McGregor’s speed and power, especially as McGregor has a five-inch reach advantage. McGregor will come out faster than ever, knowing his best chance to finish the fight is early. Alvarez will have no qualms about looking to smother and wrestle during this period, even if it causes mass booing.

 

If – and it is a big if – Alvarez survives the first round or two, the key question is about McGregor’s stamina at 155lbs. He has fought there before but never gone over three rounds. At the 170lbs welterweight limit (vs Nate Diaz), we saw McGregor slow badly from round three. If this happens at lightweight, Alvarez (known for his stamina) will eat him alive, with punches in bunches and a wrestling game that will see him push McGregor back and drain him.

 

This is actually how I see the fight going. Stopping Alvarez with punches has only been done by 6ft 1’ welterweight Nick Thompson nine years ago. Alvarez has survived some real barrages from many top fighters and can do it again, before taking McGregor into deep waters for a late round five stoppage.

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How Sikh issues are easy pickings for British media sensationalism

Once considered the darlings of Britain’s immigrant community, it seems Sikhs are losing this status.

Whereas the great British public were once told – by none other than the most revered Brit of all Winston Churchill – they were highly indebted to Sikhs, modern media is now telling them they should be wary of the same group.

The disciples of Guru Nanak Dev Ji have often been hailed as the UK’s best example of integration, having embedded themselves into the culture and society since first coming to these shores en masse around the 1960s. In recent years though, Sikhs have received the kind of media coverage usually reserved for more commonly maligned communities.

Currently, this is based around an “inter-faith marriage” protest that took place on September 11, in the quiet Midlands town of Leamington Spa. However, these protests have been occurring for years and have been covered in the same manner by mainstream press since 2012.

 

 

“It really must be questioned what any self-respecting journalist or media outlet is doing in consciously aligning Sikh protesters with likes of jihadists.”

 

 

According to most reports, the protesters were armed men, extremists hell-bent on causing racial and religious division, oppressing women and enforcing their will on others by threatening them with bladed-weapons.

This depiction is based on a sensationalist, surface level analysis of the protests, unfitting of something which has been in mainstream media for four years. In the modern day context of religious fundamentalism, it really must be questioned what any self-respecting journalist or media outlet is doing in consciously aligning Sikh protesters with likes of jihadists.

This is not to say that protest itself – which saw 55 men arrested –, or those involved in it, are whiter-than-white. Nor is it an attempt to deflect attention from other issues within the Sikh community.

But it must be understood that the manner of the coverage of the recent Leamington incident is more of a hindrance than a help in the pursuit for a resolution. Headlines of “sword wielding” Sikhs obscured the real issues at hand. Many feel such blatant hyperbole is due to the attention any story about religious militancy gains nowadays. News seems to now be just another commodity in an increasingly extremist capitalist society.

 

 

“Many British-born Sikhs who feel as at home in the UK as any native, are reaffirming themselves with their religion.”

 

 

The fact is that prior to this Sunday past, there had not been a single arrest at any previous protest, despite numerous allegations of violence and intimidation. At Sunday’s protest, even with “sword-wielding” conjuring up images of gladiatorial warfare, not one of the 55 arrests was for violent or threatening behaviour, only for aggravated-trespass. It must also be noted, Sikh Youth UK, the group most linked with the protest, are a community group who have received awards for their efforts in tackling addiction and other domestic problems within the British-Punjabi community.

The protests stem from a huge divide between a passionate Sikh youth and an apathetic older generation. The elders came to Britain with the aim of simply settling in and surviving, to the point of sacrifice. Now, many British-born Sikhs who feel as at home in the UK as any native, are reaffirming themselves with their religion. Led by organisations such as Basics of Sikhi and Sikh 2 Inspire who teach Sikh history and scripture in English, many are now aware of what they should expect of their Gurdwaras (Sikh temples). As such, many feel completely let down by these institutions.

The first thing expected of a Gurdwara is treating the Sikh scriptural Guru – Guru Granth Sahib Ji – in as much reverence as the 10 Sikh Gurus who led the faith from the 15th-18th century. Therefore, knowing Guru Granth Sahib Ji is at the centre of a showcase wedding, where His vows are not heeded or even understood, is paining to many. During the Sikh matrimonial ceremony, known as the Anand Karaj, a couple actually makes vows to the Guru, not to each other.

Without further getting into nuances which are better explained on the respective YouTube channels of the aforementioned educational organisations, the Anand Karaj can only be meaningful to a Sikh that loves their Guru. This is not a fringe opinion. It is backed by a massive majority of Sikh scholars and academics, who all agree with the decrees on the topic stated in the Sikh code of conduct (Rehat Maryada) published in 1950 and by the Akal Takht (the supreme governing body of the Sikhs).

The protesters and their supporters encourage mixed-faith couples to do anything but the Anand Karaj, such as have the civil ceremony in a Gurdwara, followed by a blessing ceremony. However, the thought is that no one should be entitled to the Anand Karaj ceremony simply because they can pay for it, not even those born into a Sikh family. It is something which should only be available to those who have love for the Guru.

How can this be established? Whilst it can possibly lead into the deepest of rabbit-holes, in essence, it is actually fairly simple. Couples should be asked why they want an Anand Karaj. Answers based on tradition or for the sake of a spouse should not suffice. There are also provisions being made for some kind of course to go on prior to having an Anand Karaj, to understand all it encompasses before making the decision to have such a ceremony. Simply, something so sacred to so many should not be made available to anyone at the behest of a cheque, no matter who writes it.

The protests are an attempt to force Gurdwaras to adhere to Sikh protocol. The generally held belief for Gurdwaras going against these rulings is for the financial gain, with the UK Asian wedding industry estimated at being worth around £3billion a year.

 

 

“Writers become overnight experts on something based usually only on an ancestral geographic connection to those entwined in the issue.”

 

 

Many of the UK’s 300+ Gurdwaras are currently in the hands of business-minded elders, who are uncomfortable passing on the powerful positions they are in to a younger generation with different aims. This is the cause of all the problems. What adds fuel to this fire though, is the media coverage of these issues which is more sensational than informational.

It seems pointing at a bunch of brown men with beards and turbans and shouting extremist is acceptable for the sake of a news story, and Sunday’s reaction is not the only example.

In comparison, when a Jewish group tried to enforce a ban on their women driving they were at worst referred to as “ultra-orthodox”, whilst Christian groups who hold aggressive anti-abortion protests do not get called anything akin.

An example of this unfair coverage is a piece in the Daily Mail, from November 2015, which accused UK Gurdwaras of running terror training camps. This allegation was based on a dossier which was allegedly given to UK authorities via Indian intelligence. Yet, the Sikh Council UK found that British authorities said they never received any such document, and as of yet there have been no police investigations based on it.

Nevertheless, the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) did not feel this kind of journalism was a breach of their code of conduct. There are many other examples of British media being quick to associate Sikhs with terrorism/extremism, such as when the Birmingham Mail accused Sikhs of supporting terrorism in April because of the misreading of a flag.

To get away with such blatant disparity, the heads of these media organisations usually invoke a legion of Asian writers to lead the charge at likening the Sikh protesters with the likes of Isis. These writers are given licence to become overnight experts on something based usually only on an ancestral geographic connection to those entwined in the issue. Usually these pieces are simply accusatory, without much depth or analysis. Based on such coverage, the “Sikh extremism” line becomes the simple narrative of a story which is much more complicated.

 

 

“It is only fair those speaking of a growth in “Sikh radicalism” also cover the rise in Sikh philanthropy.”

 

 

Even when looking back at previous stories on “Sikh militants”, the British media still surpassed themselves with coverage on Sunday’s incident. Nearly every headline that pronounced the Sikhs were “armed”, without being clear that the Sikhs were near entirely armed with the Kirpan. The 5 Ks that Amritdhari (initiated) Sikhs must wear is taught on the national school curriculum, and has been for decades. Therefore, mainstream journalists should – and most likely did – know that thousands of Sikhs are literally always armed. The police said they found one weapon which was not a Kirpan, but until it becomes clear what that one weapon is (as many things Amritdharis wear could be seen as weapons) it is unfair to assume the intention of having it there.

There has never previously been headlines about “armed Sikhs”, even when many Amritdharis were arrested at the #SikhLivesMatter protest in London. This leads many Sikhs to the conclusion that the headlines were wilfully ignorant. Sensationalism does sell after all.

Something that many seem uncomfortable with is the fact that clearly, many British-Sikhs are becoming more adherent to their faith. Mainstream media seem to highlight this growing adherence only through protests or political conflict.

What is not highlighted is the positive impact this is having. There has been a massive growth in street langar feeds, with over 10,000 free meals served a week all over the UK by Sikh organisations. Groups like Khalsa Aid and United Sikhs are doing more international humanitarian work than ever. Last year the Guru Maneyo Granth Gurdwara opened a free multi-million pound education centre, entirely built and paid for by volunteers.

It is only fair those speaking of a growth in “Sikh radicalism” also cover the rise in Sikh philanthropy. The Sikh Press Association are constantly churning out examples of this kind, so a source for such stories is now there.

The internal struggle going on between different generations of Sikhs has definitely exposed many problems within the community. Just as exposed however, is the contempt with which media can treat a minority group. Sikhs simply hope others recognise that one area of conflict based on a single ceremony does not negate the many inclusive, egalitarian facets of the Sikh faith, and therefore warrant the sensationalism which we are now regularly seeing.

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The courageous tale of CM Punk

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This weekend CM Punk will attempt to make the huge leap from WWE superstar to UFC fighter without stumbling into the brutal realms of humiliation that are only accessible through MMA.

Having spent the last 16 years as a professional sports entertainment actor/wrestler, Punk (real name Phillip Brooks) will be making his professional MMA debut at the UFC 203 card, headlined by a heavyweight title fight between Alistair Overeem and Stipe Miocic, in Ohio on Saturday night.

Punk has been handed the opportunity based purely on his own popularity, which is part of the reason he still wishes to be called CM Punk while competing. Although one of the biggest stars the WWE has produced in recent years, Punk is hardly one of the more domineering characters that has left fans wondering how he would do a in real fight, in the way Brock Lesnar did.

Yet, something gave him the urge to want to try and compete in the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Thus, nearly two years after announcing he had signed a multi-fight contract with the UFC, today Punk will finally take to the cage for the first time.

 

“What Punk is doing arguably makes him the bravest man in sports today.”

 

The move is car crash TV at its finest, or perhaps worst. Take away the celebrity aspect of seeing one of the WWE’s most popular characters step into the world of professional combat and the intrigue lays in watching a man doing something that is simply very, very dangerous.

There is no hidden, long-time honed talent behind the decision, nor is there any obvious physical gifts that Punk possesses that could lead anyone to think he will be a natural at the highest level of combat sports. Nor is there any clear financial incentive or fame boosting opportunity for Punk here. The move is purely about him taking up a challenge he always wanted to try out.

This is not like when Michael Jordan tried out baseball or Dwayne Chambers tried rugby. It is unlike any of the times celebrities/sportsmen have tried out a new career. Punk has gone from nowhere to the highest level of martial-arts in the world, without doing anything in between. And the repercussions for doing this could be devastating.

As such, what Punk is doing arguably makes him the bravest man in sports today.

This may seem like an outlandish statement, especially whilst the Paralympics is going on (although some would say it is patronising to call those athletes “brave” – but that’s an article for another day). However, when Punk’s move is compared to others in a similar position who made the same choice, it becomes apparent just how courageous it is for Punk to be stepping into the famed UFC octagon on Saturday night.

 

“Brock Lesnar – who actually lost on his UFC debut – entered MMA as one of the most decorated collegiate wrestlers in American history. Punk has no such background.”

 

Firstly, there is actor Jason David Frank, mostly – or perhaps solely – known for his role in Power Rangers, the popular children’s TV series. He also went from pretending to fight on TV to attempting to do it for real in a cage. When he did it though, the level that the Green Power Ranger fought at was a lot lower than the UFC. In fact, if the UFC is the Champions League of MMA, Frank fought in the bottom end of the Championship on his debut. He also did it having already been inducted into the World Karate Union, alongside none other than Chuck Norris. Frank had one professional fight in 2010, won impressively, and hasn’t fought since.

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Jason David Frank, the Green Power Ranger

Then there is Brock Lesnar, who did actually make the jump from the WWE into UFC and look like he belonged there, for a while at least. Once again though, Lesnar made his debut at a level significantly lower than the UFC, fighting on a K-1 Heroes card, taking on an opponent with a losing record. After winning in the first round by spectacular ground-and-pound knockout, Lesnar was signed to the UFC where he ended up winning the heavyweight title, in between getting submitted, knocked-out and failing a few drugs tests, with one of these failures coming as recently as July at UFC 200. Overall though, Lesnar’s MMA career was a huge success for someone who only had a few years of training, compared to those he was competing against who had spent a lifetime working towards UFC level.

For those that see this as a precursor to what a WWE star can achieve in the UFC, note that Brock Lesnar – who actually lost on his UFC debut – entered MMA as one of the most decorated collegiate wrestlers in American history. Punk has no such background. Also, Lesnar is a 6’3 man-mountain with a level of brute, explosive strength that very few people on earth can match. Similarly, this is why other big men with comparable size and strength took to the sport of MMA too; namely Bobby Lashley, Dave Bautista and Bob Sapp. Punk visibly does not have the kind of obvious raw strength of these men, which made them dangerous in at least some respects for any opposition.

Then there is the likes of Herschel Walker and James Toney, both of whom made their MMA debuts at a high level, comparable to what Punk is doing.

NFL American football legend Walker had two bouts in 2010/11 with Strikeforce (an organisation which was deemed second only to the UFC at one point) at the age of 48 and 49 within a one year period, winning both by referee’s stoppage. Walker’s success was only surprising due to his age, as his physical gifts as an athlete were always recognised, whilst it was also known he had been training in martial-arts throughout his life, gaining a black-belt in taekwondo.

James Toney came into the UFC on the tail-end of a boxing career which saw him widely recognised as one of the best of his generation. Having been very vocal for years about his belief he could beat any MMA fighter in any kind of fight, he was given the chance to prove it in 2010 at 42 years old. Pitched against the blue-collar hero and MMA legend Randy Couture who was 47 himself at the time, Toney was quickly choked out before a rapturous crowd and has not fought in MMA since.

 

“One look at his opponent tells us it is far from a novelty fight.”

 

Looking at this unorthodox selection of those that made unexpected jumps into the world of MMA, it is clear Punk lacks both the obvious physical gifts and the martial-arts experience that saw the aforementioned athletes given a chance to compete in MMA. His martial-arts background goes no further than some karate and kickboxing lessons as a teenager. His participation in MMA is purely based on a passion to compete.

This is not to say he is going into this competition under-prepared or unskilled. Four years ago Punk started jiu-jitsu training and he has now spent approximately two years training under one of the best coaches, alongside some of MMA’s very best fighters at the Duke Roufus MMA Academy, led by Mr Roufus himself.

However, the long delay from the moment of signing (December 2014) to making his debut also says a lot more about how far away he was from UFC standards when he signed, although now his trainer is completely confident in Punk’s chances to succeed. Overall though, it is fair to say Punk is at best a low-level novice in the sport of MMA, about to make his debut on the biggest platform available in the entire sport.

Many of the MMA’s most respected voices have spoken of their distaste in regards to the Punk situation, in a manner never previously seen, even when amateur street brawler Kimbo Slice got his UFC opportunity. The likes of UFC commentator Joe Rogan and former heavyweight champion Frank Mir have called his participation in the UFC “ridiculous” and “a novelty” respectively.

The funny thing about such proclamations is that this would make more sense if it was just a novelty fight. But one look at his opponent tells us it is far from a novelty.

Image result for andrew flintoff novelty

Cricketer Andrew Flintoff had a novelty fight four years ago.

British sports fans will recall cricketer Andrew Flintoff having a single professional boxing fight in 2012 after his cricket career ended. He nearly got knocked out in it, barely surviving to scrape a points win from a low-level journeyman. This was a novelty fight, with the aim being only to gently test Flintoff, in a manner not too dangerous for him.

Punk has not been given such a pass on his debut. To compound his issues, he is taking on a good young prospect. Mickey Gall is 2-0, 14 years younger than 37-year-old Punk and desperate to make the most out of an opportunity to give his career a super-boost. A spectacular finish to the fight from Gall will see it go viral around the world and his name become one of the most mentioned in MMA in the world. The motivation for Gall to win is huge.

Punk is seriously up against it and nigh on mad for taking such a chance. Nevertheless, the old saying that “volunteers make the best soldiers” should be remembered in thinking about this bout.

What this means is that Punk’s desire in taking up this challenge must account for something. We may not know if Punk will stand and strike or try to grapple opponents, and we definitely do not know if he is good at either. What we do know though, is that Punk wants to test himself. His desire to do this cannot be questioned. Most in his position would by now be looking to crack Hollywood. Punk is looking to crack some heads.

To what extent Punk feels he can be competitive remains to be seen, partly because no one knows how good he will be, including himself. This means we don’t know how long we will be seeing him compete either.

Brock Lesnar was clear about wanting to only fight the best and after the losses and serious injuries mounted, he retired, save for the random UFC 200 comeback which ended in a failed drug test. Herschel Walker always said he just wanted to experience MMA and never wanted to pursue a run for a title, which he could have done considering the star power his name brings. How many fights Punk has and what he intends to achieve is as of yet unclear, even to himself probably. So it can be safely assumed, a lot will depend on his showing tonight.

From the UFC’s perspective, the signing of Punk was done to rake up pay-per-view figures. The UFC pursued him as a signing as soon as he said was considering taking up MMA. It is a business decision that could lead to the sport itself being degraded should Punk lose emphatically. But in this industry, money talks, and the new owners of the company – WME-IMG having just bought the UFC of the Fertitta brothers for $4billion – will only care about the numbers.

 

“The debut of CM Punk will definitely be remembered, but memorable for what reason remains to be seen. “

 

In essence, Punk’s debut is just about an American celebrity risking his health and his dignity to take up something that was always a dream of his to do. With the whole journey being captured on film too, the situation is wholesomely American.

MMA – or more specifically the UFC – has allowed for many a memorable event, featuring many a great star. The debut of CM Punk will definitely be remembered in this category, but memorable for what reason remains to be seen.

Post event, should the memes begin cascading through social media timelines, the decision to allow Chicago native Phillip Brooks to fight in the UFC may look utterly stupid. However, there is a thin line between bravery and stupidity. For now, whilst we still can, we should admire Punk for treading so heavily between the two, no matter which side of the line he falls into come the end of the night.

CM Punk’s debut can be watched live on BT Sport from 1am (UK time) on Sunday night.

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