Johnny Football and Renan Barao surely feel a bit groggy in the wake of Memorial Day Weekend. Welcome to the Sports Hangover.
Johnny Manziel partied by the pool with Rob Gronkowski and DJ Pauly D and a bunch of girls in bikinis. He sat on the floor at UFC 173. He sprayed champagne at the club. What happened in Vegas didn’t stay in Vegas. The continuous bachelor party was supposed to end once Manziel graduated from the college game to the pros. “While it is okay for a pro athlete to enjoy himself socially, he must be totally committed to be the best quarterback between the ears,” super-scout Chris Landry said of Manziel to Breitbart Sports back in January. “It is what separates the Matt Staffords, Jay Cutlers, and Tony Romos from the Brady, Manning, Brees, and Aaron Rodgers types. All of these quarterbacks make the big plays but it is the latter [group] that also minimizes the mistakes.” He’s a 21-year-old single millionaire. But he’s also the future of a billion-dollar franchise. Johnny Football’s critics might want to ponder the former. Johnny Football may want to think on the latter.
T.J. Dillashaw, a Star Is Born
UFC 173 didn’t just bring huge victories to T.J. Dillashaw, Daniel Cormier, and Robbie Lawler. It represented a big step forward for the promotion. I don’t know how many people paid $54.95 to watch. I know that most will be inclined to watch again. Even the Daniel Cormier-Dan Henderson one-sided snoozefest provided a highlight-reel body slam the likes of which you don’t often see on Monday Night Raw. The card provided excitement. More importantly, it provided the UFC with new stars.
I asked UFC Chief Operating Officer Lawrence Epstein last week about the outfit’s recent pay-per-view woes. He kept it company-line positive but acknowledged there have been “injuries.” Brock Lesnar, George St. Pierre, and Anderson Silva once represented pay-per-view gold. They surely hurt the company’s bottom line when they hurt themselves.
But fighters, unlike wine, don’t generally get better with age. Boxing’s heavyweight division sank into public disfavor after Ali’s exit. But then Mike Tyson came along. New stars eventually outshine old ones. It’s the nature of sports.
T.J. Dillashaw’s mixed-martial-arts masterpiece surely transformed the Team Alpha Male member from a name known merely by super fans into a superstar on Saturday night. He speaks English. The man he beat doesn’t. When I asked Renan Barao a few months ago how he hoped to translate his considerable skills into box-office cache he told me by continuing to win. Good answer, but the recent revelation that he’s learning the language so many of the UFC’s fans speak gets more to my point. Unlike fellow little man Jose Aldo, whose big personality breaks the language barrier, Barao connected with fans through his fighting and not much else. Dillashaw, boasting the look of an All-American and the awshucksspeak that fans gravitate toward, instantly becomes a box-office draw as much because of his abilities as his persona. Brazilian fans, of whom there are many, may disagree.
Robbie Lawler, in outclassing a great fighter in Jake Ellenberger, further solidifies his spot among welterweights. He doesn’t always win. He always makes for an exciting, fan-friendly fight. Daniel Cormier, on the other hand, bored by smartly relying on his wrestling. Whereas the light heavies looked to be a division of Jon Jones and the Hes last year, it now provides several exciting challengers for the best fighter in mixed-martial arts today. Should Jones win his rematch against Alexander Gustafsson, tentatively scheduled for late August, he has another foil in Cormier certain to boost pay-per-view numbers.
Public excitement for combat sports, like for professional wrestling, goes in cycles. After experiencing a post-Lesnar fallow period, business looks promising for mixed-martial arts after UFC 173.
Throwing Out the Chicken and Beer
Josh Beckett started the season on the disabled list, started spring training not even penciled in as the fifth man in the rotation, and started his tenure on the Dodgers as a player that Boston wished to give away but Los Angeles didn’t much want to take. The road to Chavez Ravine stopped off at two World Series. But as of late, it detoured to a seedy rest stop of chicken and beer. Leaving Boston as a malcontent perceived as personifying the losing attitude that led to the 2011 September collapse and the catalyst behind a beloved manager’s departure, Beckett posted a 2-8 record in his first two seasons on the West Coast. Then came Sunday in Philadelphia. The 34-year-old became the first Dodgers pitcher to throw a no-hitter since 1996. Baseball loves a good comeback story.
From Worst to First to Worst
The defending World Series champions won their first game in eleven tries. The Red Sox Memorial Day defeat of the Atlanta Braves broke their longest losing streak in two decades. The cellar-dwelling Sox threaten to join the 2013 San Francisco Giants, the 1998 Florida Marlins, the 2003 Anaheim Angels, and the 2007 St. Louis Cardinals as World Series winners who followed their moment of triumph with a losing record. The Red Sox proved last year they weren’t as bad as their atrocious campaign under Bobby Valentine. They’re proving this season that they maybe weren’t as great as we thought they were last October.
I spent a wonderful November weekend in Santa Barbara to deliver a talk on my book The War on Football: Saving America’s Game at the Reagan Ranch. When in Santa Barbara, do as the Santa Barbarans. I jogged along a beachfront bicycle path and onto two of the city’s piers, where on one a wave surprised by spraying me. I lifted weights. I used my portable TRX in a public park, where a swing set served as a pull-up bar. And then I talked about football on top of a mountain where Ronald Reagan once spent his favorite moments. The notion that such a beautiful place–the mountains hitting the ocean beneath the sun–became the scene of such ugliness this weekend troubles greatly.
The manifesto of the evil little weirdo who orchestrated the mass killings seethes with hatred of people like myself who enjoy outdoor activities and athleticism in a place tailor made for them. Only women attract as much venom in the manifesto. One disturbing passage reads as a sort of wet dry-run of the killing spree:
On one of the days in July, when I was roaming around Girsh Park, a group of popular college kids arrived to play kickball in the fields. They all looked like typical fraternity jocks, tall and muscular. The kind of guys I’ve envied and hated all my life. With them came a flock of beautiful blonde girls, and they looked like they had so much fun playing together. One of the girls did a handstand in the grass, and her sexy bare stomach showed as her shirt hung down. All of the girls were scantily clad. Rage boiled inside me as I watched those people who thought they were better than me enjoying their pleasurable little lives together. The rage was so intense I couldn’t take it. I was insulted too much. I couldn’t leave them without getting some form of revenge, so I drove to the nearby K-mart, bought a super-soaker, filled it up with orange juice that I bought at the same store, and drove back to the park. They were still there, having the time of their lives, and I wanted to ruin it for them. I wanted to ruin their fun just as they had ruined mine, as they would never accept me among them. I screamed at them with rage as I sprayed them with my super-soaker. When the boys started to yell and chase after me, I quickly got into my car and drove away. I was giddy with ecstatic hate-fueled excitement. I wished I could spray boiling oil at the foul beasts. They deserved to die horrible, painful deaths just for the crime of enjoying a better life than me.
When you go on a murder spree to show half of humanity how wrong they all were in rejecting your companionship, you merely affirm the soundness of their judgment. “Finally, at long last,” Elliot Rodger announced, “I can show the world my true worth.” He at least got that, if nothing else, right.