Legendary boxing announcer Michael Buffer shares his insight on the rise of British boxing.
Buffer believes the US boxing scene is lacking stars. In this interview, the most famous voice in boxing details why the UK is miles ahead of it’s biggest rival market on the other side of the Atlantic.
The circus is back in town. Or maybe it never actually went away…
Floyd Mayweather is giving out strong hints of a potential UFC debut after confirming training and intentions of applying for an MMA licence.
We thought the dust had definitely settled from the absolute media beast that was Mayweather-McGregor. The sporting world had reached a consensus that the experiment of putting a 0-0 boxing novice against a 49-0 veteran was financially worth it but, in terms of pure competition, did not live up to its expectations.
Mayweather finished the job in August of last year by stopping Conor McGregor in the tenth round. After countless rumours, whispers, the actual fight itself and its aftermath, here we are again.
In a short but informative interview with TMZ Sports, Mayweather confirmed his proper mixed martial arts training will commence soon under the tutelage of current UFC welterweight champion Tyron Woodley.
‘Money’ teased the public with short clips of him in a cage alone and also published a couple of photoshopped MMA related pictures of himself earlier this year, causing serious speculation about his MMA debut.
Same old story
‘It’s just noise and Floyd being Floyd,’ said many following the story. Purists even went as far as implying that Mayweather was just messing with Golden Boy Promotions by trying to hijack the spotlight away from Oscar De La Hoya’s massive Gennady Golovkin versus Canelo Alvarez rematch on May 5.
But with Mayweather’s recent public statements, it’s not just smoke and mirrors anymore. And it wasn’t last time either, when McGregor entered boxing.
‘No way could Mayweather ever step inside a steel cage and take on a professional MMA fighter. However, he’s going to’
The whole narrative is being repeated by Floyd under a familiar blueprint set out by ‘The Notorious.’
First, it was McGregor publishing subtle hints on social media of him in boxing gloves and making public statements about potentially stepping into a ring to box Mayweather for a $100m.
The audience laughed and the media got a great chuckle out of it, too. It was supposed to be just a crazy little thought from McGregor that had nothing to do with reality.
Even when Floyd fired back in the media publicly, we still lived under the belief that it’s just two dogs barking at each other with tight leashes around their necks and a big fence in the middle.
No way could McGregor ever step into a boxing ring and take on a world champion. However, he did.
No way could Mayweather ever step inside a steel cage and take on a professional MMA fighter. However, he’s going to.
Mixed ‘Money’ Arts
As is custom in prizefighting, it comes down to the figures.
The UFC have been struggling recently simply due to its lack of starpower. Former women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey has switched to professional wrestling, leaving the UFC for WWE.
Former UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones is still under investigation over a positive drugs test, and it’s safe to say he won’t be returning anytime soon.
The knight in shining armour is McGregor, and the Irishman has confirmed his return to the octagon for 2018. But he alone is not enough.
Getting Mayweather to step into a UFC cage will cost a pretty penny, but the powers-that-be are willing to pay whatever it costs since they need to be relevant again in mainstream media in the biggest way possible.
It’s another business move that attracts both sides. The boxing audience will undoubtedly want to see what Mayweather can do in a UFC fight. Haters and fans alike will show their interest in hopes of a Mayweather upset victory or a violent defeat.
As for the UFC crowd, it is a chance for some payback. McGregor took the risk and represented the sport when stepping into the lion’s den in Las Vegas last summer.
Mayweather is looking to do the same, potentially later this year, and the MMA hordes will be salivating and dreaming of the boxing great being outclassed in the octagon.
Nothing is set in stone just yet, but all signs and statements from the 41-year-old point towards another mega-fight involving two superstars – just as those powers-that-be probably planned even before the first encounter.
The Fight Talk Podcast crew release their first ever episode exclusively on Elephant Sport.
Verbally sparring about the hottest topics in boxing are Keeran Rajan, Tom Benett and Patrik Kuitunen.
What to make of Canelo’s drug bust, and should it affect his upcoming rematch against Gennady Golovkin? The guys also discuss the current heavyweight situation involving Anthony Joshua, Joseph Parker, Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury.
Will Floyd Mayweather fight in the UFC? Fight Talk weighs up the pros and cons of ‘Money’ stepping into the octagon.
Can George Groves become the last man standing in the World Boxing Super Series or will Callum Smith end ‘The Saint’s’ current hot streak? And what about the massive unification between Oleksander Usyk and Murat Gassiev featuring all four belts? This preview is not to be missed.
Other topics under discussion include: Vasyl Lomachenko-Jorge Linares, Kell Brook-Errol Spence/Amir Khan, Manny Pacquiao-Lucas Matthysse and much more.
Esports is gaining more ground in Finland with help of a new league and a solid base of professional and semi-professional gamers. Can this new sport become a trendsetter in the north just like it has in other countries worldwide?
Competitive gaming or eSports is a growing trend globally that has divided the sporting world into two camps. The majority still don’t consider it a proper sport and barely pay any attention to competitive gaming.
On the other side are those who are doing their best to push gaming into a mainstream position, determined to make it one of the most popular competitive sports in the world.
One such entity resides in Finland, the Finnish eSports League or FEL. It was founded in 2015 by a group of passionate gamers who shared a history of competitive gaming.
Since then, FEL has grown into the biggest eSports league in Finland and is expecting more rapid growth in 2018, with eSports being on the rise worldwide.
“There has never been anything like FEL in Finland before,” said the league’s account manager Matti Kailanto.
“We saw an opening because of a large group of professional gamers and regular gamers who consider competitive gaming as a serious occupation or a sport. There were a lot of tournaments but no league activity and that’s what we are providing,”
The significant advantage eSports has compared to a lot of others is the fact that there are no gender or age limits or restrictions on making it as a professional.
“We have a lot of 18-24 year old men playing, but we do want to offer everybody and anybody a shot a participation. Our core group is basically everybody who wants to play,” added Kailanto.
“Women are taking more and more part in eSports and we are definitely seeing a rise in numbers at league level. This is still a fresh sport that can offer the same opportunities to everybody, no matter who you are.
“Everyone has a smart phone or a computer these days and that’s all you need. However, just like in other sports, becoming champion is demanding and requires hours of systematic training.
“But it’s still one of the most easily approachable hobbies out there because of current technology,” Kailanto explained.
Not child’s play
Rauli ‘zumpp’ Rinta-Aho is a 29-year-old competitive gamer from Finland. His most recent achievement was worth $7,500 when he won the Hearthstone Card Game Grand Prix tournament held recently in Sweden.
The tournament attracted 250 participants and Rinta-Aho took home the biggest prize.
‘In the land of ice hockey, a new sport such as competitive gaming definitely has a lot of obstacles to overcome before it can claim its place at sport’s top table’
“Some people watch TV or do other stuff during their free time, but I play video games,” he told me. “Since I was little, I have always played all kinds of games. Then after a while I started playing online poker and now I play Heartstone. I do have a full-time job, so competitive gaming is still a hobby.”
Despite the easy access, making it as a professional gamer takes time and dedication. Rinta-Aho has demonstrated impressive potential already.
But as he approaches his thirties, he is unsure whether eSports is the right career path for him since it has still not reached mainstream status in Finland.
“I don’t really know what’s going to happen in the future. I know that [in other countries] eSports has become quite big and is treated as a professional sport. There’s been a rise of new teams in Finland compared to last year, so I’m expecting that it will become a proper professional sport here as well.”
The gamer has hopes that companies like FEL will help eSports cement its status as an accepted sport amongst the masses in Finland.
“These first seasons have done wonders for the sport here. The league has been listening to the players and taken their wishes into consideration regarding formats and scheduling.” he said.
“Regular live streams of tournaments and finals are also a big plus in regards to getting more exposure,” summarised Rinta-Aho.
In the land of ice hockey, a new sport such as competitive gaming definitely has a lot of obstacles to overcome before it can claim its place at sport’s top table.
But with the help of FEL and the ever-growing community of gamers, one could expect a slow but steady eSports invasion in the coming years.
Feature image courtesy of Michael Arsers via Flickr Creative Commons.
Ice hockey in Las Vegas – does it work? Can the team get fans to show up? Do the locals really care?
Is the atmosphere anything close to a Montreal or Boston-like ‘hockeytown’? Is it worth your money to get tickets to Vegas and go catch a hockey game on the side?
When the National Hockey League first announced in June 2016 that its latest expansion team would be be based in the desert gambling hub, fans and journalists alike rolled their eyes and started polishing their best jokes and puns.
But as the 2017-18 hockey season got underway, the dream of the Las Vegas Golden Knights became a reality, and it dawned on people that the new franchise couldn’t be in a better city in terms of sports, betting and entertainment.
For now it’s a match made in heaven or, in this instance, Nevada.
One might think a fresh expansion team such as the Golden Knights would struggle, especially in a location where the words ‘ice’ and ‘hockey’ are not deeply ingrained into the sporting culture.
But the team is fourth in the Western Conference with a record of 17 wins, 9 losses and one overtime victory after 27 games and seventh in the whole league of 31 teams.
Their roster is made of players who got put on the expansion draft list by their previous teams.
Simply put: the Knights consists of players who are skating with a serious chip on their shoulder to prove all doubters and former teams wrong.
I knew the Knights were on roll and simply had to find out what is all the buzz about. So, I flew to the desert and went to a game with high hopes of witnessing something extraordinary.
Viva Las Vegas
Las Vegas has never had a team in the big four major leagues in the United States. No NFL, no NBA, no MLB and certainly no NHL – until now.
The Golden Knights are hometown heroes and their logo can be seen everywhere in the city.
Every gift shop, corner stand or any other place of business that sells something in Vegas has Golden Knights merchandise.
The brand clearly has a place in the city’s tourism industry, and with the team winning as well as they are right now, more money will be invested in growing the franchise because they are the only major league sports product in town.
In true ‘Sin City’ fashion, I made things interesting and put down a $100 moneyline bet for the home team.
Myself and many others are one of the reasons why betting parlours are getting massive amounts of fresh cash flow due to the new betting attraction that is the Golden Knights.
As I made my way from the MGM Grand to the T-Mobile Arena, thousands of people sporting Knights shirts, hats, flags and jerseys walked by my side. It felt like these fans were out to prove something by showing passionate support for their team.
The locals have never had a big four team but now they do and they are, for the lack of a better word, possessed by it. ‘Hockeytown’ or not, the team has created a visible and supportive fan base.
The arena first opened its doors on April 6th in 2016 and definitely has the feel of a new and modern luxurious venue. After being in places like Nassau Coliseum or the rusty squared cage that is Loftus Road, the T-Mobile Arena looked like a five-star hotel, which enhanced the experience.
The fans were as loud as you can imagine. I could tell by the reactions during the game that everyone knew the rules and understood what was happening on the ice.
With all the lights, insanely loud bass heavy music and intermission entertainment by the famous Blue Man Group, it became clear that this was not just a regular season game but a proper sports entertainment product. The arena was packed and everyone came out to party alongside the Golden Knights.
The hockey itself was fast paced and high scoring. The visiting San Jose Sharks got left behind by a score of 4-1 at the start of the second period. The 18,000 people in attendance we’re getting louder and my bet looked like a shoe-in.
‘The question is, what happens when the honeymoon is over and the Golden Knights become just another Vegas attraction and just another team in the NHL?’
But expected the unexpected in Vegas – drama then ensued as the Sharks managed to score three unanswered goals and tie the game at 4-4 before the end of the second period. We saw no scoring in the third and thus went to overtime.
The pleasant thing about American sports is that there is always a winner. In the NHL, overtime hockey is played three a side. It resembles nothing short of a videogame and when witnessed live provides tons of close calls and exciting moments.
Lady luck graced me with her smile and the Golden Knights sealed the deal with Jonathan Marchessault’s overtime game-winning goal. Vegas won, the fans won and I won. My desert hockey experiment had paid off.
The big bad NFL
Obviously, it is still their inaugural season and the team has not yet faced any kind of adversity on the ice, nor financially since they are making revenue through tourism and the bucks of local sports fans who now have a team to support.
‘The Golden Knights are the talk of the town and you really have to see it to believe it’
The question is, what happens when the honeymoon is over and the Golden Knights become just another Vegas attraction and just another team in the NHL?
Right now, the show is a must-see since the team is playing exciting fan-friendly hockey. But once the dust settles and the team start going through the usual rough stretches of a regular season, will the fans stay or shout nay in unison?
These questions will be answered in due time but the real test begins in 2020 when the NFL comes to town and the current Oakland Raiders become the Las Vegas Raiders.
This aggressive move by the NFL will take the spotlight away from the NHL, perhaps permanently since American football is the biggest sport in every city and Las Vegas won’t be any different.
But until then, if you find yourself in Vegas and need your live sporting event fix, the Golden Knights are the talk of the town and you really have to see it to believe it.
When Anthony Joshua defended his world heavyweight titles against Carlos Takam at Cardiff’s Principality Stadium, the biggest indoor crowd in boxing history cheered the British fighter to victory.
But one spectator who was slightly more restrained in his excitement was veteran promoter Frank Warren. Whilst he admires Joshua, Warren says he is not the fighter some fans would have you believe – and he believes the real king of the ring is former world heavyweight champion Tyson Fury, who has already made it clear he wants a crack at the champion.
‘Joshua’s got plenty of heart, but he gets hit. He gets caught. So there is a chink there in that armour, and he’s got a long way to go’
Warren has been the UK’s biggest boxing promoters for over three decades. His list of fighters contains a who’s who of former world champions such as Ricky Hatton, Prince Naseem Hamed, Nigel Benn, and Joe Calzaghe to name a few. Currently, he promotes stars like Billy Joe Saunders, James DeGale and, of course, Fury.
Last weekend it was all about Eddie Hearn and his number one guy, the WBA, IBF, and IBO World heavyweight champion Joshua, who defeated Takam via a 10th-round technical knockout.
Matchroom Sports promoter Hearn’s show made a statement with all tickets sold and a massive pay-per-view audience watching on TV.
But what did Warren, as someone who has been involved in many of the biggest events in British boxing history, what make of the evening?
“Well, quality wise, I thought the undercard was very average. I don’t think it was great. Takam fought much better than I anticipated. I based it on the facts of having seen the fight against Joseph Parker, who I thought handled him better,” commented Warren.
‘He’s no Ali’
Warren has previously promoted former world champion Fury, who called out Joshua on Twitter following his latest fight. And whilst he admits ‘AJ’ is a good fighter, he says he is no way comparable to some of the all-time greats, as is cheerleaders would have you believe.
“Anthony Joshua for me is a very good heavyweight. I’ve always admired him. He’s a big puncher, he’s got plenty of heart, but he gets hit. He gets caught. So there is a chink there in that armour, and he’s got a long way to go.
‘The number one heavyweight, as soon as he gets his license back, is Tyson Fury’
“Had [Evander] Holyfield been there and catching Anthony Joshua, it would have been lights out. You can’t compare Anthony to Muhammad Ali as some people have in some quarters. Ali had a great chin, and we are talking about Muhammad Ali. I’m quite sure it must embarrass Anthony when people make those comparisons,” stated Warren
The fact, just as Warren pointed out, is that due to his exciting style, Joshua does get clipped at times.
“There are times when he looks vulnerable. He’s won the fight, don’t get me wrong, but he can be caught. [Wladimir] Klitschko [who floored Joshua in their world title fight in April 2017] had him out.
“Klitschko, being a safety first fighter, let him off the hook. Somebody who is a good finisher… who knows what would have happened? He [Joshua] is exciting from that point of view and he will be a part of exciting fights,” Warren continued.
‘Tyson’s number one’
Fury is currently stuck in a battle with the British Boxing Board of Control and UK Anti-Doping after testing positive for a banned substance in October 2016. Fury admitted using cocaine while suffering with depression.
‘The Gypsy King’ was stripped of his titles and his boxing licence was suspended by the board. Fury’s legal team are currently setting up a date for the final hearing with UKAD which might happen in January according to Warren.
“The number one heavyweight, as soon as he gets his license back, is Tyson Fury,” the promoter asserted. “He will get his license back eventually and, more importantly, he’s got to get himself fit and well. And then we’ll see where it all goes.
“I think Tyson needs to get a couple of fights under his belt. Get the ring rust out and be ready to go.”
Should Joshua-Fury come to fruition in 2018, it would certainly be the biggest British heavyweight boxing fight of all time.
Boxing and UFC could be on for another high-profile showdown after Tony Bellew and UFC middleweight champion Michael Bisping agreed on Twitter to go head to head
While there are plenty of questions to be answered over how and under what rules the fight could actually happen, Bellew says he is not afraid of entering the UFC world.
The Liverpudlian is currently fully focused on his rematch against David Haye at London’s O2 Arena on December 17, whilst Bisping is preparing to fight Georges St Pierre at Madison Square Garden on November 4.
But Bellew, the WBC emeritus world cruiserweight champion, still has fellow Briton Bisping in his sights.
“Michael [Bisping] wants to fight me in a boxing ring, which would be absolutely ridiculous,” he told me. “I do not want to render someone unconscious in 20 seconds. That does not appeal to me.”
Around the time of the year’s most talked-about fight, when unbeaten multiple world champion Floyd Mayweather boxed UFC’s Conor McGregor in Las Vegas in August, Bellew met with the owners of the UFC and let them know he means business.
‘I would wrestle with Michael Bisping all day long. It would not be an issue. It would not be a problem’ – Tony Bellew
“If you are paying, I’m playing. If he wants to do it, I’ll do it. I was willing to go in a cage,” said the 34-year-old, who stopped Haye in 11 rounds last March.
“I met with some of the guys from the UFC while in Vegas, but not with Dana [White, President of the UFC] personally. I met with the owners of the UFC [WME-IMG, owners of the UFC]. They say to me ‘Are you serious, would you get in a cage?’ and I said ‘I would strangle Michael Bisping in a cage’.”
Bellew’s supreme confidence stems in part from his size advantage.
“I fight at 200lbs usually. I’m not stupid. I couldn’t play with Jon Jones [UFC light heavyweight champion]. The guy would choke me and pull one of my arms out within seconds. But If I was to get in the octagon with Michael Bisping at 185lbs… he ain’t beating me in the octagon or a boxing ring.
“How is he going to beat me? What’s he known for? A fantastic cardiovascular system. He’s a running machine. He’s got amazing cardio. He outworks guys. He sometimes outstrikes guys.
“His strength is his work rate. His strength isn’t wrestling or jiu-jitsu. I would wrestle with Michael Bisping all day long. It would not be an issue. It would not be a problem.”
Bisping, 38, was famously knocked out by MMA veteran Dan Henderson back in 2009. It is one of the most famous highlight reel KOs in MMA and UFC history. But Bellew promised to deliver a better finish should the opportunity present itself.
“You think the Henderson knockout that he received was bad? Mine would be twice as bad. He would be out for a good 10 minutes, not 10 seconds,” said former WBC world cruiserweight champion.
In reality, a fight between the two is a long way off and, at this point, almost impossible to make.
But if there’s an opening and the money as well as the timing is right, Bellew says he will do it in 2018.
“If the UFC/IMG show me same digits as boxing, I would go into the cage happily,” he stated.
George Groves has accused Chris Eubank Jr of letting his ego get in the way of his career, saying his next opponent is “a performer first, fighter second”.
The British rivals will meet in the semi-finals of the World Boxing Super Series, which pits six super-middleweight title holders and contenders against each other in a knockout format.
Groves, 29, set up his clash with Eubank Jr by stopping Jamie Cox in four pulsating rounds at the SSE Wembley Arena, and immediately went on the offensive.
“Eubank to his credit is a performer first, fighter second. He is always aware of how he’s being perceived. He was desperate to fight me because he knows fighting me makes it a big fight. He craves fame, I’m here to fight.”
Eubank Jr beat Turkey’s Avni Yildirim in three rounds in Stuttgart earlier this month to reach the final four.
Londoner Groves ended Cox’s 24-fight unbeaten record and took his own tally to 27 victories – with 20 coming by knockout – and three losses.
Cox, 31, began well, tagging Groves with multiple jabs to the body. Groves fired back with body shots of his own and eventually connected with good straights to the head. Both fighters started unleashing power shots towards the end of the opening round.
The Swindon boxer continued to target Groves’ body with jabs, pressuring him into the ropes where the pair traded blows in a fierce exchange.
‘The Saint’ clipped Cox with accurate punches towards the end, but the challenger had made his intentions clear.
The same blueprint was used in the third. Cox started with the body jabs and Groves countered with a strong uppercut and a brief brawl ensued after. Cox showed a little frustration in the third after a few slips but the bout stayed even as both fighters landed shots.
Cox kept his pressure up in the fourth but then out of nowhere Groves landed a perfectly-placed right hook to the body. The challenger went down and did not get up.
Cox was a man of very few words in the post-fight press conference.
“It was a great fight. It’s great to be part of this World Boxing Super Series. George Groves is great world champion, and I relish the opportunities forthcoming.”
As for future plans, Cox didn’t have much to say.
“A couple weeks of a break, then I’m back in the gym. I’m going to sit down and speak with Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Boxing and go from there.”
Groves, the former British, European and Commonwealth super-middleweight champion, gave credit to his quarter-final opponent and said he had been ready for Cox’s early onslaught.
“We expected him to be aggressive and fast early on. We planned for that, so we weren’t surprised. Logically, it would have made sense that Jamie would try to force the pace early.
“But I’m a strong guy, I’m a clever fighter as well. I knew it was only a matter of time because I was able to land good shots.”
Groves now switches his focus to Eubank Jr, and their eagerly-anticipated bout is set to happen in January or February, according to promoter Kalle Sauerland.
The winner will then fight for the Muhammad Ali Trophy in the final bout of the World Boxing Super Series in May.
In the other semi-final, Britain’s Callum Smith will face either Germany’s Juergen Braehmer or American Rob Brant, who fight in Germany October 27.
When Jaromir Jagr began playing in the NHL in 1990, George Bush Sr was US president and Jagr’s native Czech Republic was still part of Czechoslovakia.
However, the veteran winger is not ready to hang his skates up just yet, and has agreed a one-year deal with the Calgary Flames at the age of 45.
It remains to be seen whether one of the sport’s true legends can help a young Flames team to reach the NHL play-offs.
But we should celebrate the longevity of a player who has won two Stanley Cups, two World Championships and Olympic gold, having plied his trade for no less than nine NHL outfits.
It was a nerve-racking summer for Jagr, whose previous team the Florida Panthers opted not to offer him a new contract, while others respectfully declined his services.
At one point, some reports even suggested that all 31 teams had officially said ‘no’ to the Czech, who looked to be heading back to Europe if he was to extend his long and illustrious career.
A Czech worth one million
But come on now, did you actually think that a career of nearly three decades was going to fizzle out like that? Not a chance. Jagr is known for many things, but the biggest of them all is perseverance.
‘Jagr will be efficient in controlling the puck, spreading it around, and creating space for other players to get into position’
There’s a reason why he is second in the all-time scoring list in the history of the NHL and there’s a reason why he will still keep going next season.
Calgary announced Jag’s signing last week and are reportedly paying him a million dollars. It’s a cheap deal with a low risk, to say the least.
So, what are the Flames getting from the 2017-18 version of Jaromir Jagr – the greatest European to ever play the game?
For one, he will be the mentor in the locker room for those younger players, especially the ones from Europe who might have some issues finding their feet within the North American system.
The players will obviously listen to every word captain Mark Giordano has to say, but alongside him will be Jagr, a respected figure across the league.
Jagr will be efficient in controlling the puck, spreading it around, and creating space for other players to get into position.
Let’s not kid ourselves, his speed and agility are nowhere near what they used to be, so coach Glen Gulutzan has to play to the 45-year old’s remaining strengths.
Quick line rushes and counter attacks? Don’t count on it. Jagr will do the passing and setting up shop near the goal or in the corners which are his bread and butter at this stage of his career.
However, the one area where he will be as lethal as ever is the power play.
When given time and space combined with a two-minute man advantage, Jagr can still do wonders with the puck.
He still reads the game very well and possesses a good enough shot to score goals – but keep an eye on his power play passing and creating chances for team-mates.
Plus, he’ll definitely sell a jersey or two on the side.
With past clubs including Pittsburgh, Dallas, Boston, Philadelphia and New Jersey, will Calgary be his last? I wouldn’t bet on it…
Photo via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of s.yume. Jaromir Jagr is on Twitter @68Jagr.