Friday, 6 July 2012

A nice quiet night of bloodsport

 A combination of factors has left me feeling not up to too much writing this morning. The really hideous period of the Korean summer has just kicked in: torrential rain joining together with stifling humidity in a Bieber-sings-Abba’s-greatest-hits collaboration of awfulness. As a result my fifteen minute walk to work has left the bottom half of my body soaked with rain and the top half drenched with sweat; a lovely way to start the day. Definitely not so fresh, or so clean clean.
 Also, the wonderful terrible affliction that is Tour de France is taking its toll. I finally succumbed and downloaded last night’s stage rather than watching it live, which I have done every other night this week. The race tends to finish around 12.30am, which is not so bad, but the adrenalin produced by a mass bunch sprint or a late uphill surge makes sleep all but impossible for at least another hour. Red eyes might be music, but they are also Tour addiction.
 That said, it has been an ace week of racing. The twenty-two year old Slovak Peter Sagan, mentioned in last week’s preview, has so far exceeded even the wildest expectations people had of him, winning two stages in the first week of his first ever Tour. Both times it involved an amazing burst of speed up a short but very steep uphill finish, and on each occasion he defeated other much more highly regarded Grand Tour veterans. This young fellow has a truly incredible future ahead of him.
 But the high point for this Kiwi was the sprint finish that resulted in the Lotto-Belisol team’s German rider Andrei Greipel taking out the sprint finish. For those who don’t quite understand that professional cycling is a team sport, check out the picture below.

The man with his arms upraised is NZ rider Greg Henderson, who was the crucial component of Lotto’s lead-out train for Greipel. Basically three other guys line up ahead of their sprinter and absolutely bury themselves over the last few kilometres, riding at speeds in excess of 60kms per hour. One by one they peel off, until with maybe just one or two hundred metres remaining the sprinter is released to make a final explosive burst of power to the line. It takes a massive amount of skill, determination, and sacrifice to do this correctly, and like Julian Dean before him Henderson is one of the masters of this facet of racing. The delight on his face at seeing his teammate cross the line first shows just how much of a team sport cycling really is, and the photo is my favourite sports shot of the year so far.

 In slightly less savoury news, and the final reason why not much will be produced by me today, Robin Van Persie made the predictable announcement that he is to leave Arsenal sooner rather than later. This is no surprise to Gooners like myself, but the way he went about it was both ungracious and underhanded. I will elaborate on this next week when the emotional sting has worn off a little, and it would be great to hear the thoughts of any other Gooners out there too. In a fairly awful post-Euros week for football supporters, Manchester United, forever henceforth to be known as Cayman U, announced their flotation on the US Stock Market with dodgy Cayman Island tax haven connections. Much as I despise the club, the greater implications for football as a whole are very bleak, but more on that, along with the Van Persie situation, next week.
 Happily for you readers, I received a tremendous piece of writing in the form of a wonderful preview of this weekend’s UFC 148 from Joe Hard Times Molloy, so I can thoroughly slack off today. Joe has been a Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) practitioner for some years now, initially through the Chinese Wing Chun discipline, and now Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. At his suggestion, and to Mrs. Coach’s chagrin, he got me hooked on UFC about a year ago, and I haven’t missed an event since. It can be extremely vicious and bloody, with the claret flowing generally as a result of the combination of elbow to forehead, but is also very engrossing, with the wide range of fighting styles making most bouts highly unpredictable. With boxing determinedly shooting itself in the foot that it has stuffed in its mouth at seemingly every available opportunity, MMA has largely taken over as the number one attraction for pugilism enthusiasts. This weekend sees a huge rematch for the middleweight title, and here is Joe’s fantastic preview, featuring the words ‘braggart’, ‘bastard’ and ‘mortgage fraud.’ Awesome.

A nice quiet night of bloodsport

UFC 148: Silva vs. Sonnen

There is a Brazilian fighter called Anderson Silva.  He is the UFC middleweight champion of the world, a devastating Muay Thai striker and a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt.  He holds 14 consecutive wins and with nine of those being title defences he is the most successful champion in the history of the sport.  To call him the 'Ali of the Octagon' does him a disservice, but it gives you an idea of his skills.  Generally regarded as being the greatest Mixed Martial Artist ever, he is as close as it gets to a real life Bruce Lee.  He fights like this.
On Saturday night in Las Vegas (Sunday afternoon for us southerners), in the biggest rematch ever in MMA, he fights an American called Chael Sonnen.  You will not like Chael Sonnen.  He is a decorated wrestler, a real estate agent, a braggart and a Republican.  He is the tough jock from a bad high school movie.
He is however a very smart guy and as a student of combat sports history he plays his role as the heel to the hilt.  He knows if he can get the champ angry, he will be in his head and already winning.  He is also one tough bastard.  The last time they fought he held the champ down for four and a half rounds and beat him mercilessly.  He landed more strikes in the first round than the combined total of all Silva's previous opponents.
Few sporting events real or imagined have ever made my guts churn with terror like that fight did.  It was Hewitt crushing Federer in the Wimbledon final of your nightmares, Shane Warne returning from retirement to retake the Ashes at Lords, or generally most All Black World Cup semi-finals.
For some 23  minutes the champ was at the mercy of this loud-mouthed American, seemingly unable to impose his will in any way.  Until deep in the 5th round, while laying on top of him trying to punch Silva in the face, Sonnen let his left arm stray too high.  Silva grabbed it, swung his legs around, popped his hips and choked Chael Sonnen out with a Triangle.  It was unbelievable.
After the fight Sonnen was found to have had elevated testosterone levels and barred from fighting for a year.  He ran unsuccessfully for Congress, and was then convicted of money laundering and mortgage fraud, all of which confirmed that the good guy won.  But can Anderson do it again?
Sonnen has been running his mouth off for months, insulting Anderson, his wife, his Jiu-jitsu instructors and the entire country of Brazil.  Silva is angry, and that is just what Sonnen wants.
Can Sonnen hold Silva down and grind out an ugly win or will the champ’s crisp, beautiful counter-punching and brutal Thai knees deliver the knock out?
Also, lumbering light heavyweight veterans Tito Ortiz and Forrest Griffin batter each other for three rounds, rising action star Cung-Le attempts to high kick Patrick Cote through the cage and watch out for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu wizard Demian Maia drop down to welterweight to fight the Korean brawler known as the Stun Gun. 
Don't miss this one.

 Many many thanks for that Hard Times. Submissions are always appreciated here at the Comments, so if anyone else wants to get in touch please do so. For anyone who missed it, Old Man Coach Jeff Rowe posted some great words about the class-based origins of the League/Union divide at the bottom of Tuesday’s piece and I highly recommend you go back to the last Comments and check them out.
 Enough for today. The Wimbly final, the British Grand Prix, mountain stages in the Tour, UFC: a wonderful smorgasbord awaits this weekend. Back with a round-up on Monday, enjoy your weekends.

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