The courageous tale of CM Punk

Image result for ufc CM Punk

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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The first day of the rest of the league

After last season, nothing can ever be written off again. From here on, absolutely anything is possible. And that’s why this Saturday is the first day of the rest of the Premier League.

At odds of 5000-1, Leicester City’s title win last season is perhaps the most remarkable sporting achievement ever. So this season, as much as the usual suspects have improved, we really have no idea what to expect.

One of the main reasons Leicester won the league was because of the removal of the Ferguson bar, something mentioned in a previous article on this page (https://jazztheory.wordpress.com/2016/05/14/three-hidden-factors-behind-leicesters-title-win/). So what last year’s sporting miracle did was essentially hit the reset button. The power vacuum that came post-Ferguson has now seen all contenders realign, back to the starting block, each having to prove themselves from scratch. Expectations this year are truly sky-high for all teams. After a few years of mediocre title winning teams (a Man City that couldn’t compete with Europe’s elite, a Chelsea team that got progressively worse from 2014-2016 and a Leicester team many thought would get relegated), we will truly see a start of a new era of English top flight football.

With Leicester’s heroic rise from relegation battlers to champions, all teams must be looked at considering the best case scenario. At the same time, looking at Chelsea’s nearly equally astonishing drop from champions to mid-table mediocrity, we must also consider the worst case scenario too. So to ease you back into the chaos of Premier League football, check out these predictions on the most unpredictable league in the world.

 

Arsenal

Best case scenario: Arsene Wenger’s world class players stay fit, the rest of the squad live up to their potential and the team win the league, comfortably.

Worst case scenario: The gap in quality between them and the rest of the league has been shortened so much they finish outside of the top four, and the Wenger era ends in disgrace.

Young talent to watch: 20-year-old Alex Iwobi, is a forward full of pace and skill in typical Wenger fashion. Also, it is now or never for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, now 22 and at the club for five years. Finally, injuries will allow Calum Chambers to show what he really has to offer, other than perfectly gelled hair.

Image result for ozil sulking

Second season syndrome: Arsenal’s player of the season Ozil will do as much sulking as starring without a new big name forward to excite him, with one eye on a move to the likes of Bayern Munich as he continues to refuse to sign a contract extension.

Season’s star: Look for Jack Wilshere to show his undoubted ability at a time where he is being doubted more than he has ever been.

Prediction: 5th. Without a marquee signing the pressure on Wenger is only going to grow. An implosion must be coming and this could be the season for it.

 

Bournemouth

Best case scenario: They can’t do a Leicester as they lack the tough characters the champions have, but they have enough quality to be anywhere from 5th-8th.

Worst case scenario: A relegation battle, but survival.

Jordan Ibe

Young talent: New signing Jordan Ibe was one of Liverpool’s most highly regarded recent youth products. Manager Eddie Howe will be looking to get the best out of the 20-year-old electric winger. Lewis Cook, signed from Leeds, is a highly rated 19-year-old defensive midfielder, battle-tested in the lower leagues.

Second season syndrome: Joshua King was hailed as he played 31 league games last season, getting six crucial goals. This season, with Callum Wilson and Max Gradel fit, he will do well to start half as many games.

Season’s star: Athletic centre-back Tyrone Mings will vastly improve the joint second worst defence in the league last season, after he missed the entire campaign due to an injury on his debut.

Prediction: 11th, which is a big improvement on 16th last season. The squad is so much stronger with players back from injury and also more experienced.

 

Burnley

Best case scenario: Survival.

Worst case scenario: Propping up the rest of the league.

Young talent: 23-year-olds Michael Keane and Jon Flanagan (on loan from Liverpool) both have big club pedigree and real potential to become established Premier League quality defenders.

Burnley rely on Andre Gr.ay for goals

Second season syndrome: Former Brentford forward Andre Gray will do superbly to match even half of his 23 goal tally from last season.

Season’s star: Goalie Tom Heaton is an England squad regular and captain of Burnley. With the form of Joe Hart having hit rock-bottom recently, he will want to do all he can to remain in the Premier League to contend for the England number one shirt, whether as an individual or with Burnley.

Prediction: 17th. Manager Sean Dyche comes back into the Premier League more experienced and will be able to grind out enough results to just about avoid relegation.

 

Chelsea

 

Best case scenario: The players click under Antonio Conte’s style and the club gets back to where they belong; fighting for the league title.

Worst case scenario: Players become disenchanted with Conte’s authoritarian style and defensive tactics, causing a revolt and another season of mediocrity, outside of the top four.

Young talent: Kenedy, the fleet footed Brazilian is likely to be moulded into a left-back/left-wingback under Conte’s watch, in a position he could make his own.

Second season syndrome: N’Golo Kante will find it as difficult to be as devastatingly effective in his terrier like style without the balance he had in the Leicester midfield. Continuous changes in personal and formation will counter his efforts.

Season’s star: Diego Costa is a player perhaps cost Jose Mourinho his Chelsea career with his underperforming, tempestuous displays last season. However, Conte has proven he knows how to get the best out of a powerful striker and Costa will benefit from that this season.

Prediction: 6th. Conte will cajole and coax his team as far as possible but find some players hearts just aren’t in it, whilst others’ legs just aren’t up to it.

 

Crystal Palace

Best case scenario: A squad with a little bit of everything, if the likes of Connor Wickham and Wilfred Zaha really step-up the team could push for a top four finish.

Worst case scenario: The team remain inconsistent and fail to address the lack of goals in the team (last season they were the worst scoring team outside of the relegation zone), forcing them into another relegation battle.

Connor Wickham; still a young talent.

Young talent: Big, strong and explosive, 23-year-old Connor Wickham had a storming end to the season and will be a guaranteed starter at number nine this season.

Second season syndrome: Wayne Hennessey has just come off probably his best season ever – as undisputed number one for both Wales and Palace – only to find himself likely to fall behind Steve Mandanda, the French international that was Marseille’s player of the season last season.

Season’s star: Club captain Scott Dann is 29 and in the prime of his career. One of the most underrated defenders in the league, Dann will know his performances won’t go unnoticed by new England boss Sam Allardyce. Also, Andros Townsend will become the team’s main attacking threat this season.

Prediction: 13th. Alan Pardew has vowed to let the team become an offensive force. Full of pace and skill, they will give any team a game, but lack the goals or defensive depth to push for Europe.

 

Everton

Best case scenario: Romelu Lukaku stays and Ronald Koeman helps him, Ross Barkley, Gerard Deulofeu come of age, and Everton do a Leicester to win the league.

Worst case scenario: Lukaku leaves, Barkley and the rest of Everton’s mercurial talent remain inconsistent and the team remain in mid-table no-man’s-land.

Young talent: With John Stones leaving, another great defensive talent in left-footed, athletic and composed Brendan Galloway will be looking to make his own place in Everton’s backline.

Second season syndrome: The number of games, goals and assists Leighton Baines gets has dropped every season for the last four (only two goals and one assist last season), and with the emergence of Galloway, he will slowly be faded out of his certified spot at left-back.

Season’s star: Ashley Williams will go into this season as confident and as good as ever, with the faith Koeman has shown in buying him to replace John Stones and a great Euro 2016 for Wales.

Prediction: 9th. Koeman has proven himself an outstanding manager and will improve an already good team. However, the team will still lack the fearlessness needed to best the big boys.

 

Hull City

Best case scenario: A team with lots of Premier League experience, the club could survive with ease.

Worst case scenario: The manager situation sees them start disastrously and end with them relegated by April.

Young talent: 22-year-old Scottish left-back/wingback Andrew Robertson won lots of acclaim for his first season in the Premiership in 2014/15. Now, even more established in the team, Robertson returns an even better player.

Second season syndrome: Abel Hernandez revelled in the Championship last season, scoring 20 goals as Hull won promotion but won’t find Premier League defences as easy to crack.

Season’s star: The central midfield partnership of Jake Livermore and Tom Huddlestone (former Spurs teammates too) is one of the more impressive parts of the Hull team. Both will shine in a solid team built around their complimentary abilities (Huddlestone’s ball play and Livermore’s tenacity).

Mike Phelan lacks managerial experience.

Prediction: 20th. The team will find it too hard to recover from the loss of Steve Bruce as manager, especially without an experienced replacement as Mike Phelan takes the helm in an interim position.

 

Leicester City

Best case scenario: Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez perform at the same level as last season and the back four remain solid, resulting in a top four finish.

Worst case scenario: The pressure of expectation, the extra games and their best players keeping thoughts of a big money transfer in the back of their heads results in a big Chelsea-esque drop.

All eyes on Musa.

Young talent: 19-year-old left-back Ben Chilwell has been scouted by every top club in England and may get a chance to show why. 20-year-old winger Demarai Gray is a huge talent that Claudio Ranieri is helping to blossom. But all eyes will be on the explosive talent of 23-year-old Nigerian Ahmed Musa.

Second season syndrome: Riyad Mahrez will feel the loss of N’Golo Kante more than anyone. Kante’s tremendous work-rate allowed for Mahrez to play higher up the pitch than a normal winger in a midfield four would. With this loss and extra attention from markers, Mahrez will not be able to replicate last season’s terrific goals and assists figures.

Season’s star: Teams will be giving an extra 10% to beat the champions and Leicester will find this hard to handle. Captain Wes Morgan will have even more to do this season and may just cement himself as one of the league’s best centre-backs.

Prediction: 8th. In recent years both Liverpool and Manchester United have seen league campaigns suffer due to Champions League participation, whilst no team has retained the title since 2009. Add these facts to Leicester’s inexperience and light squad and it a drop to mid-table is likely.

 

Liverpool

Best case scenario: Jurgen Klopp finds the right balance between attack and defence, Daniel Sturridge stays fit and Liverpool win the league.

Worst case scenario: Defensive frailties from last season remain and the team’s attackers don’t gel, resulting in a finish outside of the top four.

Sheyi Ojo.

Young talent: 18-year-old Sheyi Ojo showed so much ability in just eight games that Jurgen Klopp sold Jordan Ibe to make space for the skillful winger. 20-year-old Marko Grujic is considered one of Serbia’s best young talents and is one of the only true defensive midfielders in the Liverpool squad, meaning he has a real chance to get decent game time.

Second season syndrome: Georginio Wijnaldum starred for Newcastle last season, scoring 11 goals from midfield. In this Liverpool side packed full of players who play in his position already though, the Dutchman is likely to struggle to get regular game time.

Season’s star: Sadio Mane is a perfect Klopp player. Great at pressing defenders, full of energy and able to score as much as he assists. Mane will be a real Anfield favourite.

Prediction: 7th. This is a team that lacks balance but has as much ability as any side in the league. The problems with Daniel Sturridge could get worse as Klopp is again talking about players needing to play through pain. A lot depends on keeping a consistent back-four.

 

Manchester City

Best case scenario: Pep Guardiola improves City in the same way he did Barcelona and Bayern Munich, making them more tenacious, better in possession and bringing the best out of the forwards, resulting in an absolute cakewalk of a title win.

Worst case scenario: Not winning the league because Guardiola’s style doesn’t transition well into the Premier League due to the intensity of playing more games than his teams usually do, against opposition more willing to impose direct football on them. Vincent Kompany and Sergio Aguero failing to stay fit will affect this.

Young talent: Kelechi Iheanacho seems to have been given the position of second striker behind Aguero, meaning the 19-year-old Nigerian will get lots of opportunities to play. Meanwhile winger Leroy Sane is being looked at as the next German superstar in the making, which is as high as expectation can get.

Second season syndrome: More like final season syndrome, Yaya Toure may not have the work-rate Guardiola – the manager that sold him at Barcelona – demands from his players at 33-years-old.

Kevin De Bruyne.

Season’s star: Intelligent as he is dynamic, Kevin De Bruyne will improve even further under the guidance of Guardiola, meaning he may be seen as one of the world’s very best by the season’s end.

Prediction: 3rd. The club want a European trophy and Guardiola will get City close but at the expense of some crucial Premier League results.

 

Manchester United

Best case scenario: Jose Mourinho reinvigorates the club. Zlatan Ibrahimovic becomes the goal-scorer the team have needed. The young players keep improving and Paul Pogba shows he’s worth £89million. And the team win the league.

Worst case scenario: Ibrahimovic looks as old and slow as Wayne Rooney. The nerves under pressure remain and another struggle to make the top four ensues.

Young talent: Along with the obvious standouts, Timothy Fosu-Mensah is definitely worth a mention. An 18-year-old able to play in any defensive position, the Dutchman has great awareness for a teenager, is extremely athletic and excellent feet for a defensive player.

Rashford will play on the wing more than as a striker.

Second season syndrome: Marcus Rashford looked at his best when playing upfront last season, where his movement, skill, pace and finishing ability saw him become a revelation. This season he will only be played as a number nine when either Ibrahimovic or Rooney are unavailable, meaning he will have less impact from a wide position, where he is more likely to find playing time.

Season’s star: Paul Pogba will show a level of ability as a central midfielder not seen in the Premier League since Yaya Toure was in his prime, and the likes of Paul Scholes, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard along with others before him.

Prediction: 1st. Mourinho with a squad this good and only the league to focus on will result in United once again being champions of England.

 

Middlesbrough

Best case scenario: A mid-table finish for one of the most talented squads to have been promoted from the Championship.

Worst case scenario: A bad start leads to low confidence and ultimately relegation.

Young talent: Centre-back Ben Gibson has played 100 Championship games in the last three seasons. The 23-year-old Boro youth-product is a 6ft 1in England defender in the making.

Second season syndrome: Uruguayan playmaker Gaston Ramirez was superb for Boro as they finished second to Burnley in the league. This season, when Boro fail to dominate games as they did in the Championship, he will struggle to have a similar impact.

Negredo.

Season’s star: Alvaro Negredo looked superb for a time at Man City, with his build and technique giving him a real edge against Premier League defenders. As the main striker for Boro now and still only 30, the Spaniard will shine once again.

Prediction: 18th. The club have been waiting seven years to be back and the fans but the team will rely on players not cut out for a relegation battle, and that will see them quickly exit back into the Championship.

 

Southampton

Best case scenario: New manager Claude Puel maintains what Mauricio Pochettino and Ronald Koeman had going on and the team challenge for places in Europe.

Worst case scenario: There is an almighty collapse due to the continuous sales of first team players, leading to a relegation battle.

Young talent: 22-year-old Nathan Redmond is one of the best young English wingers today. Since going from Birmingham to Norwich he has progressed and he will again at Southampton.

Fonte may be tired after an epic Euro 2016 campaign with Portugal.

Second season syndrome: Jose Fonte is on the high of his life after playing a key role in Portugal winning Euro 2016. However, his summer exploits will catch up to him physically and the lack of a defensive screen in front of him (Victor Wanyama being sold to Spurs) will see him not at his best this season.

Season’s star: Charlie Austin becomes the clubs main forward with Graziano Pelle leaving. With the likes of Redmond, Dusan Tadic and Jay Rodriguez providing him with the ammunition, we could see Austin getting enough goals to be in the England squad this season.

Prediction: 12th. The team is good enough not to struggle but their years of over-achievement may finally be over.

 

Stoke City

Best case scenario: Their quality forward line gel and destroy lots of teams, pushing them towards a top four finish.

Worst case scenario: Their best players remain inconsistent. Manager Mark Hughes fails to establish a solid defensive unit and the club fail to challenge for Europe.

Egypt's Ramadan Sobhi is in line for a move to Stoke

Sobhi is very highly rated.

Young talent: Egyptian winger Ramadan Sobhi is just 19, with barely over 50 games worth of professional experience. Yet, he comes with the reputation of one of Africa’s best young talents. Hughes loves exciting players and Sobhi could become a fan favourite.

Second season syndrome: Signings such as Gianelli Imbula and Joe Allen mean that halfway line hero Charlie Adam won’t surpass the peaks he reached last season.

Season’s star: Joe Allen will be hungry to show Liverpool should not have sold him and this Stoke team have a role just perfect for him to excel in.

Prediction: 10th. The team is good enough to challenge higher up but rely on too many players that can’t maintain form.

 

Sunderland

Best case scenario: David Moyes does what he has proven he can do and gets an average squad challenging for Europe.

Worst case scenario: The squad lack enough quality to get out of the relegation zone and go down.

Young talent: Adnan Januzaj, the 21-year-old Belgian winger signed on loan from Manchester United, showed his best form under Moyes and will look to prove he’s as good as he once briefly looked.

Second season syndrome: John O’Shea is the club captain but at 35 the club are looking to replace him and have made the signings to do so.

Season’s star: Patrick Van Aanholt was superb at left-back last year for Sunderland. The talented 22-year-old Dutchman signed from Chelsea will only go from strength-to-strength from now.

Prediction: 14th. Moyes will be able to manage a fresher Sunderland squad to safety with ease.

 

Swansea City

Swansea’s season depends on Sigurdsson.

Best case scenario: The likes of Gylfi Sigurdsson and new signing Fernando Lorente find their best form and carry the team to challenge for Europe.

Worst case scenario: The loss of a man who has been at the heart of their defence for eight years – Ashley Williams – sees them become too defensively frail to survive in the league.

Young talent: Borja Gonzalez (also known as Borja Baston) is a 23-year-old Spaniard that was on the verge of a national call-up due to scoring 18 league goals for Eibar last season. He is quick, has great feet and is so good he may not be at Swansea too long.

Second season syndrome: Nathan Dyer comes from winning the league at Leicester (on loan) to the bench of Swansea and possibly even the transfer list.

Season’s star: After a difficult few seasons in England, Jefferson Montero will be raring to go this season and has the ability to be one of the league’s standout players.

Prediction: 16th. Italian stalwart Francesco Guidolin will keep the team solid enough to survive, even if their better players don’t perform.

 

Tottenham

Best case scenario: An improved squad seeing no end of season drop off, resulting in a title winning season.

Worst case scenario: Harry Kane misses a large chunk of the season through injury. Champions League games take their toll. Spurs fail to make the top four.

New signing, Dutch international Janssen.

Young talent: Vincent Janssen is 22-years-old and ready for a new challenge having just starred (28 league goals) in Eredivisie. The forward will be the man Spurs look to for goals when Harry Kane is not on the pitch.

Second season syndrome: Danny Rose was superb at left-back last season but comes into this season perhaps with a knock to his confidence after playing for England during their dismal Euro 2016 campaign. Tough games in the Champions League may expose some frailties in his game.

Season’s star: Victor Wanyama played for Mauricio Pochettino at Southampton. He is a tenacious midfielder that will revel in Pochettino’s high-pressing game.

Prediction: 2nd. Pochettino has gotten his team in a really good place, with many players performing as good and as consistent as they have ever done. But they still won’t win the league.

 

Watford

Best case scenario: The team maintain the defensive resilience (joint second best defence outside of the top six) they showed under Quique Flores and the Troy Deeney-Odion Ighalo partnership continues to provide goals, giving them a comfortable mid-table finish.

Worst case scenario: Yet another managerial change (Italian Walter Mazzarri now in charge) causes the team to lose their tactical understanding. The Deeney-Ighalo partnership doesn’t get as many goals this year. Relegation.

Jerome Sinclair.

Young talent: Jerome Sinclair signed from Liverpool in another move that shocked many. Hardly given a chance with the reds, Sinclair is a very highly rated 19 year old forward.

Second season syndrome: Ighalo’s goals faded out after a blistering start to last season. This season he will be marked out as Watford’s danger man this year, meaning more attention on him and therefore less goals.

Season’s star: Isaac Success, last season’s player of the year for Granada, is Watford’s big money signing this season. The Nigerian winger is skilful, quick and capable of the spectacular.

Prediction: 19th. The team are on their 8th manager in just five years. This kind of inconsistency has to take its toll on the players. And with teams now knowing how much of a threat Watford’s forwards are, they will struggle this season.

 

West Brom

Best case scenario: Tony Pulis does what he does best and pushes his squad as far as they can go, resulting in a top 10 finish.

Worst case scenario: The fans turn on Pulis to such an extent the club are forced to sack him after a bad start and the Baggies get relegated.

Young talent: Jonathon Leko is an 18-year-old Congolese born forward that has been a star of England youth teams. Another product of the WBA academy, Leko has been touted for big things and will be in the first team squad this season.

McAuley’s best days are surely done.

Second season syndrome: Gareth McAuley just had arguably the season of his life last season due to his good form for both club and especially in being one of Northern Ireland’s standout players in Euro 2016. However, at 36 years old, surely the only way for McAuley now is down.

Season’s star: Nine goals in his debut season was a good return from Salomon Rondon, the Venezuelan striker bought from Zenit St Petersburg. This year, now more comfortable with the style of the league, the club may be able to get more out of the ultra-strong Rondon.

Prediction: 15th. With only one addition (winger Matt Phillips from QPR) to a tiny squad of just 22 players, (which includes three goalkeepers), the club will really struggle without more signings.

 

West Ham

Best case scenario: Dimitri Payet proves himself the best player in the league, the defence improves and the goals fly in from their forwards as West Ham do a Leicester.

Worst case scenario: The club fail to find the right balance between defence and attack, whilst adapting to a new ground takes its toll on the pitch, resulting in a finish outside of the top six.

Young talent: In patches, 23-year-old attacking midfielder Manuel Lanzini looked like the Argentinian wonder-kid he was meant to be. Now more settled and confident in his role with the team, Lanzini may flourish. Also, Reece Oxford (17) and Sam Byram (22, signed from Leeds) are two young players with the ability to get in the England squad – this season.

Second season syndrome: Payet will have defenders looking to kick him out of games early on this season. Luckily for West Ham they have signed some quality forwards to support him, even if he doesn’t recreate last season’s heroics.

Feghouli, signed from Valencia.

Season’s star: Signed from Valencia, Sofiane Feghouli is a winger that has truly fantastic ability. Really skilful and aggressive in his approach, manager Slaven Bilic could help Feghouli become a star this season.

Prediction: 4th. The club will get a huge boost from keeping their best players and adding real quality such as Feghouli and Andre Ayew, especially to play in front of 60,000 fans at their new Olympic Park stadium, making it a potentially amazing season for West Ham.

Final Standings

1: Manchester United

2: Tottenham

3: Manchester City

4: West Ham

5: Arsenal

6: Chelsea

7: Liverpool

8: Leicester

9: Everton

10: Stoke

11: Bournemouth

12: Southampton

13: Crystal Palace

14: Sunderland

15: West Brom

16: Swansea

17: Burnley

18: Middlesbrough

19: Watford

20: Hull City

Top scorer: Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Player of the season: Paul Pogba.

F.A Cup winners: Tottenham.

League Cup winners: Manchester United.

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Comparing Brook-Golovkin and Khan-Alvarez

“British welterweight sensation to take on hard-hitting middleweight champion.”

 
Never in boxing history has such a unique statement been so straight forwardly applicable to two fights that are so very different. Yet, that is the case when Kell Brook vs Gennady Golovkin and Amir Khan vs Saul “Canelo” Alvarez are put under the microscope.

 
The use of a microscope is definitely needed though, because on the surface both fights are replicas. However, a look beneath the exterior shows just how different these fights are.

 
The first way in which Brook-Golovkin differs from Khan-Alvarez is the much maligned weight difference between the Brits and their bigger opponents. Between welterweight (where both Khan and Brook have most recently fought) and middleweight (where Golovkin reigns and where Alvarez won a world title) is a 13lb/5.9kg/just under one stone weight difference.

Khan, a former lightweight, was always going to struggle against the naturally heavier Alvarez.

Amir Khan started his career at lightweight. Amir Khan was knocked out at lightweight, four divisions (around two stone in weight) below middleweight. Khan was also put on the deck at light-welterweight and knocked out at welterweight. A man who has struggled with the power of men of around 10 stone should not be fighting anyone who is around 12 stone. It is that simple.

 
Brook on the other hand has fought his whole career – including as an amateur – as a welterweight, two divisions (around one stone) below middleweight. Whilst still a fair jump, this is a leap that MMA fighters make all the time and it is fairly normal for a fighter with a prolonged career to move up that amount.

 
Kell Brook is also a very big welterweight. Those who have been following his career have been waiting for him to move up a division, given he openly admits he finds it hard to make the welterweight limit. Kell has already fought at light-middleweight, in his rematch vs Carson Jones, giving him more experience fighting at a higher weight than Khan had.

Brook won the welterweight title against Porter, a former standout middleweight amateur.

Most tellingly though, is how Brook has done against bigger opponents. The aforementioned Carson Jones has knocked out fighters at light-middleweight and he hit Brook with all he had in their first fight but couldn’t finish him. In Brook’s world title winning fight, he took on arguably the most physically strong welterweight today in American Shawn Porter.

 

Porter fought most of his amateur career as a middleweight, beating the likes of Edwin Rodriguez (now a light-heavyweight contender), Demetrius Andrade (current light-middleweight world champion) and even Daniel Jacobs (current middleweight world champion). In their match up, Brook impressively handled Porter’s physical strength and punch power.

Khan struggled in his welterweight bout against Algieri.

At the same time, it must be noted that Amir Khan didn’t really ever prove himself at welterweight as Brook did against Porter. At his heaviest, Khan has yet to overly impress. Granted, he handily beat Devon Alexander and Luis Collazo, two solid – if perhaps past their peak – perennial contenders. But in his last fight against Chris Algieri, a fighter largely seen as a gatekeeper to the true elite of the division, Khan struggled. In comparison, Kell Brook is rated by the likes of Ring Magazine as the number one welterweight in the world.

GGG is so feared he has real trouble finding opponents.

Away from Brook and Khan, there is a difference in the situations that Golovkin and Alvarez are in too. Gennady Golovkin is arguably the most feared middleweight in the last 15 years. The fact that he has knocked out his last 22 opponents in a calm, efficient, yet brutal manner means no one really wants to fight him. The other world champions in his division – Billy Joe Saunders and Daniel Jacobs – barely mention his name as a possible opponent unless it is to make it clear they want astronomical fees to get in a ring with him. He has only really been able to find B or even C level opponents to take him on as they have nothing to lose and a career high paycheque to gain from taking on the Kazakhstani destroyer.

 
On the other hand, there is a plethora of fighters willing to take on Alvarez. Granted, most just want the big payday that taking him on offers, but those calling him out also see weaknesses they feel they can exploit, weaknesses seen in close fights against the likes of Austin Trout and Erislandy Lara.

 
Golovkin vs Brook was made after Matchroom promoter Eddie Hearn was unable to get his fighter Chris Eubank Jr – a dangerous middleweight contender – to agree terms to take on GGG, leaving them with a show with no headline act. Alvarez vs Khan was made after Alvarez’s promotional team decided to settle on a big name opponent rather than a worthy opponent.

 
Put simply, Alvarez could have chosen anyone to fight and went for a somewhat unworthy contender in Khan. Golovkin only has had limited realistic options to fight and Brook is probably the biggest name of them all.

 
Finally, even with his status as world champion, the boxing world is waiting for Brook to prove just how good he is. A great but scrappy world title win against the hard-to-look-too-good-against battler that is Shawn Porter was a showcase for Brook being able to stay composed, focused and tidy under pressure. An undefeated world champion with one punch knockout power, accuracy, finesse and proven toughness, it is time to see how good Brook really can be. A fight against Golovkin will give him that opportunity. This is not to say Brook deserves the fight, but with everyone else avoiding GGG, why not see what Brook can do against him?

 
Amir Khan on the other hand, has sped through his career and already had quite a few defining fights. We know he has an amazing offensive arsenal but under pressure against someone with power, he is unlikely to succeed. His win against Marcos Maidana is likely to be Khan’s best ever win. After his Algieri performance and already having had several wars and two knockout defeats on his record, for Khan to get the Alvarez fight was farcical.

 

Despite all the aforementioned differences, it is still likely that Brook-Golovkin fight will end in the same fashion as the Khan-Alvarez. Nevertheless, it would be wise to remember that all stories that end the same do not always follow the same plot.

 
The irony is that it would make much more sense for the sport of boxing to see Brook vs Khan and Golovkin vs Alvarez. However, such is the nature of the business of boxing, we are set to see – for the second time this year – one of the best welterweights in the world take on one of the best middleweights in the world.

 
Twitter – @JazzTheJourno

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Why is Muhammad Ali “The Greatest”?

Rarely – if ever at all – has one person been so utterly revered by the world to have a pseudonym like “The Greatest” universally bestowed on them.

If one were to look through the pantheons of all the world’s great sportsmen, politicians, musicians, artists and famous folk from all fields, the combined popularity of the most popular would barely come close to reaching the level of regard the world has for Muhammad Ali.

“The Greatest” is his nickname, a title that solely belongs to him, even though ironically the man himself claimed that Sugar Ray Robinson – the multi-weight champion that fought from the 40s to the 60s – was actually the best boxer in history (something nearly all boxing experts agree with).

Yet, the title is still completely apt for Ali. But if he is not the best boxer ever, then why is it an appropriate alias for the man from Louisville, Kentucky, USA?

The first reason why is because that is what Ali – even back when he was only known as Cassius Clay – called himself. Even before he had won a world title and apparently even when he was just a schoolboy running alongside of his school bus for fitness instead of riding it, Ali was claiming he would be the greatest of all time.

The second batch of reasons are more fitting for the title; Ali has had a boxing career unlike anyone other fighter. He was part of the greatest fight ever, pulled off two of the greatest upsets ever, fought in the greatest era ever, beat many of the greatest ever and fought in the biggest fight in history too. He even came through a round where he was not able to see (google the first Sonny Liston fight), something that probably not any other boxer can claim to have done.

And even with all these achievements, Ali’s boxing career was always secondary to his convictions. Thus, why Ali is suitably called “The Greatest” could be the topic of a series of lectures. However, here are five reasons Ali really is the greatest.

  • His Boxing Achievements

In an era where Floyd Mayweather is calling himself #TBE (The Best Ever) and using his flawless record to back up this claim, it is important to note that Ali (who retired with a record of 56-5) has proven that in boxing, more can be achieved through performances then results. Even in his losses, by continually fighting the best available, Ali has reached the status where he is a certified top five in the argument for the best boxer ever (along with the likes of Henry Armstrong, Sugar Ray Leonard, Willie Pep and Sugar Ray Robinson).

Firstly, Ali was an Olympic medallist in 1960, winning gold as a light-heavyweight, reaching the peak of what is possible as an amateur boxer.

As a professional, Ali fought Sonny Liston (twice), Joe Frazier (three times) and George Foreman, three men considered among the top 10 heavyweights ever. In six fights against these men he lost just once. In his first fights against Liston and against Foreman, Ali was a 7-1 underdog. Both wins were some of the biggest sporting upsets in history. It is hard to find a fighter that has even fought – let alone beat – this kind of level of competition (especially in their primes).

Only five months into his comeback following his three-year ban for refusing to be drafted into the US army for the Vietnam war, Ali took on Joe Frazier in 1971, who at the time was a unified world champion, undefeated in 26 fights, winning 23 of those via knockout. Yet Ali fearlessly took him on in what was called “Fight of The Century” between two undefeated heavyweight champions. No fight in boxing history has ever come close the magnitude of that fight, and if any fight has then it is the “Rumble in the Jungle” bout between Ali and Foreman.

Ali’s rivalry against Frazier culminated in the infamous “Thrilla in Manilla” fight which is largely viewed as the greatest fight of all time; 14 brutal and brilliant rounds of high-contact action between two of the very best. Neither man was ever the same after that fight which leaves all those who have seen it in awe. Ali won the fight only after Joe Frazier was pulled out of the fight before the last round because of the punishment he was taking. Rumour has it that Ali himself asked to pull out of the fight at the exact same time, but Frazier’s corner were quicker to do it.

Ali also beat many contemporary greats such as Earnie Shavers (regarded as arguably the most powerful puncher in boxing history), Ken Norton (considered the best heavyweight to never win a world title) and the likes of Floyd Patterson, Archie Moore and Ron Lyle.

The bottom line here is that through his achievements – being involved in exciting, big fights, against the best possible – Ali earned his self-given title of “The Greatest”.

 

  • His style

In life sometimes it is not always about what you do, it is also about how you do it.

Ali became one of the greatest boxers of all time in a style that no other heavyweight had ever shown. In fact, it is possible to say no other heavyweight has even been able to fight in the style Ali used.

More like a welterweight than a heavyweight, he was uniquely fast for a heavyweight in every way. His hand speed bedazzled, his footwork mesmerised and his reflexes hypnotized.

Ali was also more daring then any heavyweight in history. In a division of big men where anyone is capable of a one punch knockout, people were astonished to see Ali with his hands down, dodging punches by leaning and swaying, something no boxing coach would ever advise doing.

The fact one of his moves is now cemented in boxing and mimicked by many but still always referred to as the Ali shuffle shows just what an impact his very style of boxing has had on the sport.

 

  • His character and personality

Loud, brash and witty, Ali oozed charisma, with his very being demanding the spotlight whatever the occasion. Ali’s unbridled confidence made the public want to tune in to fights like they had never done before.

Nowadays we see the likes of Connor McGregor and Floyd Mayweather trying to play that role in an attempt to create interest around them, but what Ali did was simply be himself. There are stories from his time in the Olympic village in 1960 where he went around introducing himself to athletes as the future greatest of all time.

This kind of boastfulness actually made him unpopular with most, as he broke the mould of the demure humble African-American athlete most were used to.

He sold himself in such fashion because he believed it. Ali was more determined then he was talented, which says a lot for just how determined he is. Becoming the greatest was his aim from the very beginning.

With his personality, Ali singlehandedly changed how fights were promoted. Prior to fights he would be predicting the round within which he would win, he was making poems, throwing insults and generally whipping up a media frenzy of coverage before his fights. From him stems how we see modern day combat sports advertised (and even WWE!).

There was a defiance and confidence about Ali. Even when near crippled with Parkinsons later in life, he still gave his all to be the one to light the Olympic flame for the Atlanta Olympics in 1996. It is this type of determination and confidence which made him such a fierce activist too. In this way, Ali’s very character is a huge part of what made him “The Greatest”.

 

  • His convictions

Picture

Above everything, what made Ali standout was how he fearlessly placed his convictions above everything, never attempting to hide his beliefs.

This is often looked at in a positive way but it must be remembered Ali consistently referred to “the white man” as his “enemy” and “the devil”. Ali also spoke at a Ku Klux Klan rally where he openly agreed with their views of race segregation. In a day and age where Tyson Fury is being vilified for some of his own views, it would be wise to remember Ali also said a lot people did not care for.

Most famously, in 1967 Ali was banned from boxing for refusing the draft into the US army for the Vietnam war. At the height of his career, an undefeated and popular world champion in his prime at 25 years old, Ali refused to sacrifice his principles to save his career, famously saying “I aint got no quarrel with them Vietcong”.

The confidence, determination and fearlessness he displayed in the ring was also on display in public spheres when talking about politics, civil rights and activism.

This kind of conviction is why people readily bestow him the title the “The Greatest”.

 

  • Connecting with people

All of the above would not mean much if Ali was stuck in an ivory tower, revelling in his own achievement (ala Kanye West).

But this was never the case with Ali. Many a great champion boxer – Mike Tyson and Oscar De La Hoya to name just two – have regaled a tale of inspiration about the time Muhammad Ali casually walked into their boxing gym, engaging with all in his own affable manner.

When out in Africa for the “Rumble in the Jungle” Ali ran through the streets of Zaire (now Congo), he did not have lines of security keeping people away from him. He ran with the people.

During his ban from boxing from 1967-1970, Ali was a regular at civil rights rallies all over America. When visiting the UK, rather than meeting with royalty or political elites, he was in places such as Brixton in London and Handsworth in Birmingham meeting with the locals.

Even after his retirement, when he was finding it difficult to move and speak, Ali was still regularly making charity appearances, hospital visits and more.

Through these types of acts, Ali proved he was truly the champion of the people, and therefore “The Greatest”.

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Three hidden factors behind Leicester’s title win

 

The sports story of a lifetime, how Leicester City FC won the Premier League this season has been analysed from every possible angle by every man and his dog.

From Fleet Street’s elite to Twitter’s best trolls, the masses have lauded Leicester’s tactical nous, mental strength and physical effort as they made the impossible leap from fighting relegation to winning the league in just one season.

Tactically most have pointed to Leicester’s system moulded to get the most out of Jamie Vardy’s pace and willingness to chase as the key to their title winning system. Mentally, many have hailed how Leicester have been fearless in their approach to games. Physically, all have been blown away by Leicester’s work-rate and tenacity.

And of course, it is obvious that after Jamie Vardy scored for 11 games in a row, making himself a record breaker, the squad believed anything was possible.

Yet, there is more to Leicester’s incredible season. With something this unthinkable happening, it is only normal that there will be many, many factors that contributed towards it happening. And here are three that have gone largely unmentioned.

 

  • The removal of the Ferguson Bar

Image result for Ferguson top of the table

For nearly every year he managed Manchester United in the Premier League era, there was a very simple equation relating to Sir Alex Ferguson; beat him and you win the league.

This gave the league stability. Ferguson was the marker which other managers used to gauge what was required to win the title. Once that went, there was something of a points vacuum in the league that even now no one has filled.

Since Ferguson left we first saw Manchester City set the bar and nearly drop it because of pressure from Liverpool. Then all order seemed to have been restored when Jose Mourinho – the heir apparent to Ferguson – won the league at a canter with Chelsea. However, after a bad start this season, the so-called team to beat were languishing around the bottom half of the table, leading to a false sense of security for teams around the top end.

The likes of Arsenal, Man City and Tottenham were competing to stay ahead of each other, instead of overtaking Leicester. They assumed, like we all did, that when Leicester would start falling away. By the time we all realised this was not going to happen, it was too late. Leicester had already found their feet at the top of the league and weren’t ready to move.

It must be noted, that this points power vacuum is still likely to be there next season, as it is doubtful Leicester are ready to take the Ferguson bar just yet. History has proven how difficult it is to retain the league and nowadays it seems it is nearly as difficult to even sufficiently challenge for the league two years in a row. So who will set the marker as the team to beat next year? Who knows. And that’s why the Premier League is the most exciting in the world.

 

  • Quarterback? Pass off!

The fact that Leicester have the lowest amount of average possession of any team to ever win the Premier League has been noted, but just how it happened and what it did for the team has not been explained.

Firstly, Argentinian maestro Esteban Cambiasso – Leicester’s player of the year last season – left the club before this season. A deep-lying midfielder that likes to dictate play with his passing ability, Cambiasso’s departure was considered a huge loss. From Xavi to Andrea Pirlo to Paul Scholes – in midfield most top sides nowadays always look to have a player whose main asset is their passing ability and Leicester had just lost theirs.

But Leicester’s coaching staff did not look for a like-for-like replacement. Instead head scout Steve Walsh went for the signing of N’Golo Kante from Caen for around £5million. Kante’s strengths as a player lay in his ability to run and tackle. He was played alongside Danny Drinkwater, who although a good passer, has the bulk of his strengths lay in defensive abilities. In assessment, a decision was made to change tact with the loss of Cambiasso.

Together the two formed a formidable partnership which was built on the ability to destroy rather than dictate. Yes, Leicester gave up possession to other sides, but only because they could win it back in the right areas.

Leicester did not look to control games through possession, even against lower league sides. Instead they formed a style built on their central midfield defensive platform that allowed the more creative and penetrative players ahead of them to stay in the last third. Riyad Mahrez especially benefitted, as often a lot more work would be expected of a winger in a midfield four, but he was given more freedom thanks to Kante’s and Drinkwater being attuned to their defensive duties.

Neither player ever really got ahead of the ball. If Kante won a tackle, he’d look to drive forward with the ball before releasing it. Drinkwater mainly looked to spring Leicester into attack with his ultra-direct raking passes into space for Vardy to chase.

Through this key partnership, Leicester found a formula to bring out the best in Vardy and Mahrez, as well as providing cover for the solid but not so nimble Wes Morgan and Robert Huth centre-back pairing. And this was the key to their style of play which won them the league.

The success stemming from the Drinkwater-Kante partnership could signal a tactical reform in football, as more sides may now look to ditch the accommodation of a “quarterback”, especially if we see Atletico Madrid – a team similarly built on their defensive abilities – win the Champions League.

 

  • Aged to perfection

Image result for ranieri old

At 64 years old, Claudio Ranieri started the season as the joint second oldest manager in the league and with the average age of the squad being over 28 years old, the team are also the second oldest in the league. Whilst only one player had experience of playing in a team fighting for a league title (Robert Huth for Chelsea), the team were all very experienced in their own way.

Riyad Mahrez played regularly in the 2014 World Cup as Algeria reached the knockout stages. Wes Morgan played for Jamaica in the Copa America (yep, seriously) and the CONCACAF Cup, both in 2015. Kasper Schmeichel is now Denmark’s first choice goalkeeper. Marc Albrighton, Christian Fuchs, Danny Simpson, Nathan Dyer and Shinji Okazaki are also all vastly experienced, having played over a 100 games of top flight football in the Premier League or Bundesliga. Gokhan Inler who spent most of the season on the bench for Leicester, has been Switzerland’s national captain for much of the last few years. And even the players without top level experience were still very experienced in fighting for promotion, thus knowing how to win games in high pressure situations, namely the likes of Jamie Vardy, Andy King, Jeff Schlupp and Danny Drinkwater.

The byword for Leicester’s title winning season has been “fearless”. But there is a thin line between fearless and reckless, and thanks to this squad being of the right age, Leicester were able to keep their heads and grind out results when it was required. A younger team may not have had the temperament to do this, as some would say Liverpool proved when they let the title slip out of their hands in the 2013/14 season. As such, the experience of Leicester’s squad definitely helped them win the title.

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30 Things I’ve Learned at 30

 

As I turn 30 (!) I cannot help but look back on my three decades of mortal existence in a reflective manner.

Through all the memories – the highs, the lows and the inbetweeners (both the TV show and the moments of emotional equilibrium) – I ask myself, what have I actually learned from my life thus far?

As someone that advocates continual learning, I feel the best way for me to show my appreciation for a blessed 30 years is to evaluate what I have understood about it.

So to celebrate hitting the big three-zero, here is me sharing some of my acquired wisdom from life as an 80s baby, 90s kid, noughties teen and 21st century young man.

*Disclaimer – I have deliberately left out direct references to Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji Maharaj as what I have learnt from the divine words of the most highest are endless and largely beyond me, although some of what you read below may be aligned with Sikh teachings.

 

Contentment >>> Happiness

contentment

Happiness is an emotion. It can come and go. What made us happy once may not always make us happy. Contentment is a state of being. Contentment over happiness.

 

Anyone that thinks Violence is Never the Answer has simply Not been Asked the Right Question

Nelson Mandela, often compared to Mahatma Gandhi, was someone that used violence as a means towards fighting for his people’s freedom.

As Nas said, “Gandhi was a Fool, n****r fight to the death”.

 

 

Happiness is making your Parents Proud

I surmised this whilst listening to the psychological theories of Sigmund Freud in college, learning about the Oedipus Complex and all that. As a reflection of those that raised us, we (the children) need to see that they (parents/guardians) feel happy with our outcome to feel happy about ourselves. This becomes more apparent as we get older and this is why our parents eventually become more like our children.

 

The Desiest thing a Desi can do is Fight over Money

Some *desis won’t do bhangra. Some won’t do booze. Some won’t do the religious thing either. But what you can 100% guarantee is anyone with even just a hint of desi in them will always fight over who pays the bill. Someone offer your child money as a gift? Cue World War 3.

*Desi is a term for someone of  Indian, Pakistani, Bengali or Sri Lankan origin.

 

 

The Difference between any of us is mere Circumstance

 

The above is a factual statement that is impossible to deny. Bleeding obvious really, hardly a philosophical breakthrough. But you’d never think it looking at societal reactions to immigrants or refugees, or castes, colours or creeds.

Russians are like this. Nigerians are like that. Whatever.

Yes we are different but what truly separates any of us is just how and where we were raised. And with this understanding, no belief, cultural practice or ideology should ever be so alien it creates divide.

 

Immigrants against Immigrantion is…

…the most hilarious sign that mankind is doomed. Ungrateful b*****ds.

 

For some people only Humiliation will lead to Humility

humble-humility

Ego is a hell of a thing. Hell being the operative word. An elevated sense of self can force a person to walk the tightrope of insecurity which bore the phrase “pride comes before a fall”. However, that fall can often be the sole way someone realises we are never truly on solid ground, and that is why we should always remain humble.

 

The Particle Experiment should be Explained to Everyone

Everyone needs to know it is scientifically proven that we don’t know what the hell reality actually is (which is the basic conclusion of the double-slit particle experiment). What we measure, is just what we can grasp of it. It is very evidently not the full picture.

This knowledge can change one’s perspective on life itself. It is must-know information.

 

Deference of Responsibility is the Cause of all Evil

omi.jpg

A man called Omar Nawaz (pictured) said this in one of our many deep philosophical discussions through years of friendship.

For me, this means when we allow someone else to protect us/feed us etc, it is at that very moment we leave ourselves open to the horrors of the world.

 

Not every sports fan is actually a fan of sports

sports fans dumb.png

For some, allegiance to a sports team or individual is a subconscious way to manifest tribal instincts; belonging, rivalry, identity, even aggression. Sing, shout, fight, debate, have an excuse to hate. For this type, the tribalism of being a sports fan supersedes a real appreciation for the sport itself.

In this way, sport is the real opium of the masses, contrary to what Karl Marx said. Religion is more like alcohol; something most people just do on weekends.

 

Everything happens for a Reason, and the Reason is so you can Learn from it

Image result for everything for a reason meme

It’s just simple logic, touching on our evolutionary nature as well as our spiritual intuition.

 

The meaning of Eric Cantona’s “Seagulls” Line

“When the seagulls follow the trawler, it is because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea.”

Cantona said this during a press conference after his infamous kung-fu kick on a Crystal Palace fan in 1995. The press were hoping to see the oh-so proud Frenchman become humble in remorse for his actions. Instead he said the aforementioned quote and walked out.

In this scenario, the journalists were the seagulls and Cantona the trawler. The sardines were Cantona’s show of shame for his heinous crime.

The act of saying this single line before leaving the press conference is homage to the fact that sardines are not thrown into the sea. Therefore the scavengers – the press/seagulls – were left denied whilst the trawler (Cantona) sailed off with everything they want.

 

If the Pen is Mightier than the Sword, the Internet is like 10 Nuclear Bombs

The internet makes everything instant; information, news, facts, interaction, spying and more. So whatever impact the pen can have, the internet can do so too, only quicker and affecting more people. And the detonation button is open to everyone.

 

Chi is real

Whatever you wanna call it – Chi, Ki, The Force, Life Energy – it is real. Like, proper real. Check out Wim Hof for a modern day example. There are many examples that show us humans have an untapped resource to X-Men/Jedi like powers that can only be found through mastering the body, mind and breath.

 

“Being a good person” is a Copout

Sometimes people philosophise that life is just about “being a good person”. But what does that even mean? You follow the law? You are nice to people? You don’t kill puppies?

Were the Americans of the 19th century that were kind to their slaves good people?

One man’s nice is another man’s naughty. What is good for the Christian may not be good for the vegan*.

When someone says this statement, the question is “who are you being good to?” because if the answer is “yourself” then that clearly points to a selfish existence.

This is not to say anyone should be doing more than trying to “be good”, but just to highlight the weakness of this statement. Attempting to “be a good person” does not validate how you live your life.

*NOTE -Christian and vegan were named just examples, I sincerely believe the two can co-exist peacefully and even interbreed.

 

Time is a cycle, not a line

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I’ve taken the above from a freestyle verse by the rapper Akala (a must, must listen for anyone). It is a belief that is held by many great spiritual masters and great scientists. Basically, we are part of some continuous cellular factorial pattern.

 

 

Sports Do Not Build Character, They Reveal Character

A great quote by legendary American sportswriter Heywood Hale Broun (pictured above) and as someone that has always played sports, I feel it definitely rings true.

 

Everyone needs a Teacher, even after you leave School

It isn’t about continuing to acquire knowledge, although that should never stop. It is about being humble enough to understand there is always someone who knows more.

In line with this, I concur with the thought that travelling is one of the best forms of education.

 

One thing about music…

…when it hits, you feel no pain.

The way it can instantly change a mood, evoke an emotion and simply resonate with us in a transcendental manner; music is an immensely powerful tool. And it should be viewed in such fashion.

 

Pride vs Heart

“To have pride is to take on Mike Tyson if he insults you whilst you are with your partner. To have heart is to take on Mike Tyson if he insults you when you’re by yourself.”

I am paraphrasing the words of up-and-coming boxing trainer Stephen “Da Breadman” Edwards. The Philadelphian trains current light-middleweight contender Julian Williams and these are words I never forgot from reading his fantastic regular mailbag column (formerly on BoxingTalk.com and now on BoxingScene.com).

The above is a great but perhaps extreme analogy of the difference between having pride and having heart, two things people often confuse.

 

“We have some twisted values. We don’t like Good News only Bad News”

The above is a lyric by Jehst in one of my favourite raps songs, Elevate (the Ghost remix). It seems to be human nature for us to be more focused on what is wrong than what is right. We all know this. But I don’t think any of us quite realise how crazy it is that what we strive for most is what we seem to appreciate least.

 

 

The Difference between being Grateful and being Proud

I learned this after listening to a Basics of Sikhi video by Jagraj Singh (pictured). Sometimes we have no right to be proud of something. When it comes to things we have not done ourselves, being proud can lead to a lack of appreciation. At these times, pride really can be a sin.

Example: am I proud to be British? No. But I am grateful to be British.

 

Rocky Balboa was a Good Film

I am talking specifically about Rocky Balboa (the sixth Rocky film). If you thought I was talking about the Rocky films in general, you’re mental. Those are some of the best films ever. Except Rocky 5 (the one with real life boxer Tommy Morrison playing Tommy Gunn). That was pretty awful.

In 2006 I watched Rocky Balboa as an excited 20 year old hoping to see a conclusive end to the Rocky story I had seen so many times growing up. I was left disappointed by the tale of this seemingly insane old man, unnecessarily wanting to prove he is a warrior, even at the cost of his own health. I just thought no one in his position could be so irrational and plain silly.

Then as I got older I continued to watch the career of Evander Holyfield unfold. Until his retirement in 2011 (aged 48), the mentality of a fighter Sylvester Stallone depicts in Rocky Balboa was mirrored by Holyfield. And with 54 year old Frank Bruno recently also state he is thinking of fighting again, the plot of Rocky Balboa again rings true. *Sigh*.

 

Modern Politics is just a Sport

Pick a side, get behind your team and enjoy the drama. What we see on our TVs and read about in our newspapers is not a vision of how a nation is run.

 

We are Social media Guinea-Pigs

We don’t have any clue about the long term effects that the likes of Facebook and Instagram are having on our society yet. There has already been research linking sustained use of it (something that most are guilty off) to depression.

Who knows what studies will find after decades of use?

 

Extreme Capitalism 

We live in an extremist capitalist society. Just think about how many waking minutes you go without having something sold to you. On TV, on billboards, on social media, adverts online, in newspapers, magazines, on the radio, everywhere.

This can’t be normal.

 

It’s not the poverty, it’s the inequality

Another appearance in this list for Akala, and funnily he isn’t even someone I listen to a lot. When I do though, it usually makes an impact.

Sometimes when we look at why societies are divided we look at fiscal reasons. This can then eliminate issues seen in many Western nations, where over 90% of people are not technically in poverty. So what’s the issue in these countries?

To quote Akala in full; Absolute power corrupts absolutely
But absolute powerlessness does the same
Its not the poverty
Its the inequality that we live with everyday that will turn us insane

 

The Evils of the Comfort Zone

I read the autobiography of Roy Keane firstly as a young teen and have read it countless times since. For many reasons, his approach to life really connected with me.

A particular section of the book – titled “Keane” – remained with me for life. As a teenager Keane found himself as an unemployed wana-be footballer at one point. During this time he fell into the habit of only waking up to watch the afternoon episode of soap-opera Neighbours.

Keane goes on to talk about how this habit “nearly took him under”. A general theme of the book is how it is easy to slip into the “comfort-zone”, something I had never really thought of before. Now, whenever I find myself watching something like Family Guy too often, I question if I am too falling into the “comfort-zone” and look to do  something about it.

 

A lot of People that say they’re Atheists aren’t really Atheists 

Russell Brand said this to me in response to a question I asked him at one of his live Trews shows. He probably put it a lot more verbosely than as stated above but in essence it is something I have found through discussions of faith with many atheists. The creative force of energy which reverberates through the universe (personified as God by some) is something we all believe in, in some form or another.

 

What is Great should always Remain Great

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This was said to me by my friend Harjinder Singh Gill in the spring of 2007 during the build up to the Floyd Mayweather vs Oscar De La Hoya fight.

I asked him why he so badly wanted Mayweather to win the fight, even though he was such an unlikeable character. Harjinder said the above in such a basic matter of fact kind of way that it resonated with me tremendously.

“I want Mayweather to win because he is a great fighter. And what is great should always remain great.”

Those words encapsulate a part of our nature the comes from the very essence of our souls. When something touches us, when something seems pure and unique, we want it to remain with us forever.

It’s a beautiful instinct which highlights both the best and worst of what makes us human. And that’s why the operative word in the titled statement is “should”.

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Five MMA Fighters to Watch in 2016

With the amount of turmoil seen in the upper echelons of MMA recently, it would be wise to keep an eye on the up-and-comers in 2016.

Champions were dethroned, contenders fell away and prospects petered out in 2015. As such, there is space for new names to emerge and challenge the new order. Questions remain in from last year; does the UFC have all the best featherweights in the world? Who will next challenge for the Bellator bantamweight title? After Holly Holm, are there any more emerging superstars in women’s MMA?

This list should answer these questions. So here are five fighters to watch in 2016.

 

Tom Breese: UFC Welterweight, 24 years old, 9-0 (Three KOs, nine subs)

The UFC welterweight rankings currently show that seven of the division’s top eight are all in their 30s, including champion Robbie Lawler. Thus, a new generation of contenders will inevitably emerge, and leading the crop could be Tom Breese.

The Englishman is a 6ft 3in MMA machine, currently 2-0 in the UFC, both coming via TKO in the first round. His UFC run has come after he won six out of seven of his previous fights via submission, showing his versatility as a fighter.

Aged 16 Breese dropped out of school and began training regularly in MMA. In 2013 he was picked out as a sparring partner for Georges St Pierre before the then UFC champion fought Nick Diaz. Breese ended up deciding to move to Montreal to permanently to train out of Firas Zahabi’s Tristar gym.

Since then Breese has looked like one of the best prospects in the welterweight division. Comfortable on the ground and on the feet, Breese is aggressive in both positions, always looking for the finish. Breese faces the vastly more experienced Keita Nakamura in his next scheduled bout in February and will be looking to fight at least two more times this year. Should he continue to win as impressively as he has done in all his other bouts, by the end of 2016 many will be calling for Breese to get a title shot.

 

Alexandre Almeida: WSOF Featherweight, 27 years old, 18-5 (Two KOs, 13 subs)

In the sport of MMA where there are so many ways a fighter can be defeated, it is not unusual to pick up several losses before coming into his own.

Becoming a well rounded fighter and more importantly, learning how to utilise your own strengths can take a lot of time in this sport which is continually evolving. However, Rafael Dos Anjos, Robbie Lawler and Fabricio Werdum are modern day examples that a fighter can still reach championship level status, even if they’ve previously looked very vulnerable.

Alexandre Almeida is one of a few fighters proving this outside the UFC. Having lost three of his first seven fights, Almeida has lost just two fights in his next 16, both decisions. With 14 first round finishes, Almeida is clearly a dangerous fighter and has also proven to be immensely tough too. Almeida fights in that typically Brazilian manner of using Muay-Thai to open opponents

Nicknamed “Capitao”, the Brazilian has begun sailing his ship in the right direction, picking up five wins in a row, including an upset win in his title fight against Team Alpha Male’s highly rated Lance Palmer.

At 5ft 11in Almeida is bigger than most of the world’s featherweights. In 2016 he is likely to show he is better than most of the world’s featherweights by defending his title in the WSOF and cement himself as a top 10 in his division across all organisations.

 

Valentina Shevchenko: UFC Women’s Bantamweight, 27 years old, 12-1 (Four KOs, five subs)

Holly Holm and Joanna Jedrzejczyk took women’s MMA up a notch in 2015 with their striking credentials. In 2016 Valentina Shevchenko will be hot on their trail as she looks to do the same.

Before joining the UFC the Kyrgyzstani amassed a record of 2-0 as a professional boxer and more noticeably 56-2 as a kick-boxer, winning multiple world titles in the sport and picking up notable wins against the likes of Joanna Jedrzejczyk. This is even more impressive considering she was fighting and winning MMA bouts in between her kick-boxing career.

As an MMA fighter Shevchenko has been training at the famed Gracie Barra School to improve her ground game, which highlighted as her weakness during a loss to top contender Liz Carmouche in 2010. Shevchenko has won five fights since, including an ultra tough UFC debut against one of women’s MMA most decorated fighters, Sarah Kaufmann.

There has been a noticeable improvement in her grappling but it is clearly on the feet where Shevchenko excels, with her footwork, kicking technique and hand-speed being comparable to Holly Holm’s. As such, a fight between the two would be tantalising; one of the most successful female boxers of all time against one of the most successful female kick-boxers of all time, fighting in MMA.

Shevchenko will be lined up to face top 10 opposition this year and should she get a win or two, by the end of 2016 her hype train will carry her right to a title shot.

 

Darrion Caldwell: Bellator Bantamweight, 28 years old, 8-0 (One KO, three subs)

Very few fighters are able to get a title shot before they have even had 10 pro fights, as very few are capable of making the necessary impact needed to get one so early into a career. However, Darrion “The Wolf” Caldwell may get a chance to do just that this year.

Caldwell is a classic product of American MMA, a seasoned collegiate wrestler that was good enough to compete for a spot in the 2012 USA Olympic wrestling team, before pulling out due to an injury. In the mould of many of MMA’s collegiate wrestling fraternity, Caldwell is a great athlete that likes to pressure opponents. He is a dynamic striker and great at forcing submissions from dominant wrestling positions. At 5ft 10in he is also a huge bantamweight. Yet ultimately – like most from his kind of background – it is his sheer determination which makes him so dangerous.

Caldwell faces former champion Joe Warren in March and win, lose or draw, Caldwell will walk away a better fighter and as such, 2016 should be Caldwell’s breakout year on the way to becoming an MMA superstar.

 

Ruslan Magomedov: UFC Heavyweight, 29 years old, 14-1 (Four KOs, two subs)

In a manner akin to his fighting style, Ruslan Magomedov is slowly but surely climbing through the UFC ranks on the way to big fights in 2016.

The Russian is not even ranked in the top 15 yet but is 3-0 after two years in the UFC. So far Magomedov’s opposition has been far from elite and some of his wins have been far from spectacular, which is why he is ranked so lowly. However, his potential is clear.

What stands out most about Magomedov is his ability to simply hit and not get hit. He is smooth, elusive and composed. The fact that over half of his fights have finished via decision emphasises just how good Magomedov is with this style. With this in mind, it will be no surprise to MMA’s hardcore fans that Magomedov has been training with the Jackson/Winklejohn MMA camp, notorious for their tactical approach to fights.

Something noticeable in his fights has been how solid his striking seems, turning aggressive fighters timid in their approach to beating him. He has also shown he is comfortable on the ground and in the clinch too. At 6ft 3in and lean with it, Magomedov is quicker on his feet than most of his division, making him a nightmare match up for anyone right now.

Thus far in his career he has comfortably beaten seasoned veterans, undefeated prospects and solid gate-keeper types. In 2016 we will see how the UFC’s top 15 heavyweights fair against the rising Russian contender.

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