UFC 251: Short Notice Mega Fight

Where to watch: Saturday, July 11, 2020, FIGHT ISLAND, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Available on ESPN+ PPV.

On the face of it, Kamaru Usman defending his Welterweight title versus streaking (6 fight win streak) Brazilian Gilbert Burns was big enough. A positive Covid 19 test later, UFC chief Dana White was left with a defending champion and no main event. In comes fan favorite, Jorge Masvidal to save the day and keep the “mega fight” title on this most impressive of cards in the “Covid Era”.

You can be cynical, and say, this is too cute by half. Jorge Masvidal made a huge stink about fighter share (revenue), and caused a controversy by going on every show on the UFC’s main partner (ESPN) to complain about how the PPV revenue is divided up, while also threatening to ask for his release. Masvidal made a simple but very good case. Jorge Masvidal took issue with the PPV share because as he put it: “I could understand you don’t want to give me that much on the guaranteed (money). But on the pay-per-view, what I bring in, what people purchase, I want more money on that – and they weren’t budging, and that was that. So all this craziness had to happen for them to come to their senses.” (ESPN) So as it stands, he takes the dangerous but lucrative fight on short notice, so all must be well between Jorge and Dana, or as good as it can be.

Now, Jorge Masvidal gets short notice to fight Usman, and he gets it while reportedly 22 pounds “overweight”, and when in route from Dallas, Fort Worth to his home in Miami. A private plane trip later to “Fight Island”, a photo op with a pizza slice, while wearing a pink robe, and Masvidal has arrived. After testing negative for Covid 19 he is purportedly well on his way to making weight for this championship fight.

So can he actually…win? Short answer: YES.

First of all, short notice upsets are not new to the UFC. One of the biggest fights in UFC history (PPV Buys) featured a short notice Nate Diaz stepping in for Rafael Dos Anjos to defeat UFC golden boy Conor McGregor, and of course you had Michael Bisping defeating Luke Rockhold for the middleweight title after waiting for nearly a decade for a title shot. Bisping accomplished that feat after being defeated with relative ease merely 18 months earlier by the same Luke Rockhold.

 

So how does he win? Avoid takedowns. Jorge Masvidal’s takedown defense is as good as anybody’s in any division in the UFC. The very strong Usman can also be baited into trading, as was seen in his epic fight with Colby Covington where he did not even have a takedown attempt through the entire 5 rounds (He ended it by stoppage in the final minute of the fight). Trading punches with Masvidal has proven to be a poor strategy. As for the “hype”, these two have history. During Super Bowl week here in Miami, Usman and Masvidal engaged in a screaming match, near a bank of elevators, as they challenged each other to a fight.

As for how Kamaru Usman wins? Easier said than done, but it can be easy if he can accomplish one thing. Get takedowns on Masvidal. Usman is the superior wrestler/grappler and he can rain punishment on Masvidal if he can pull this off. So it’s the striker/grappler matchup once again, and it could be as easy as who gets to “their fight” first. One thing is a fact. Neither guy can win at the other’s game.

Prediction: Kamaru Usman (-260) wins by Decision over underdog Jorge Masvidal(+200).

As for the rest of the card, it’s a great one headlined by Alexander Volkanovski (-220) vs. Max Holloway (+180) (Part 2), for the UFC Featherweight Championship, and Petr Yan (-230) vs. Jose Aldo (+190) for the vacant UFC Bantamweight Championship.

All UFC 251 odds cited are via William Hill US.

 

Alfredo Arteaga (@Alf_Arteaga) is one-third of the trio that does the Three Yards Per Carry (@3YardsPerCarry) podcast.

Coronavirus and Sports: Becoming Numb

I was going to write about Inter Miami, I really was. Maybe it would have been an upbeat preview about the “MLS Is Back” schedule reveal (Breakfast with Inter Miami vs. Chicago Fire at 9 a.m. on July 14, can you dig it?) or a more serious, ominous look at the league and its protocols as we are only 2 weeks away from the start of the first tournament in the United States after the pandemic.

But then I thought “AFTER the pandemic? We are barely during the pandemic, much less past it” and I discovered I’m sort of…detached? Nah, that’s not the word. I still follow the American sports landscape and want sports to be back. Shocked? That’s not it either, nothing that has happened the past three months has surprised me even a little, and that’s saying something. Numb? Yes, that’s it. I’m numb to the developments in the sports world nowadays, and I’m pretty sure other fans, writers and even players feel similarly.

I’m numb because I saw the news about 16 NBA players (the equivalent of an entire team’s roster, plus one) testing positive for COVID-19 and my reaction isn’t “Oh my, what if they backtrack and the season is cancelled?” It’s more like “I’m fine with whatever happens, I’m just waiting to see everyone freak out when a true superstar tests positive and [insert team here] has to play an entire series without him.”

I’m numb because “43 Division I teams have been eliminated in the last 12 weeks, and more than 130 programs have been cut across all NCAA levels”, and those kids weren’t earning millions of dollars, even as some of their coaches were and certainly their athletic departments are.

LOOKING FOR A SOLUTION

New Zealand is past the pandemic with tens of thousands gathering with joy to watch a rugby match most of them probably don’t remember the final score of. Europe is crowning champions as its cases are mostly going down (hello, Sweden, we see you) and fans celebrate the end of droughts in Liverpool and Naples as the ball keeps rolling with no apparent setbacks week after week.

Liverpool fans celebrate outside Anfield.

Even South America has soccer, but that’s because they don’t really give a shit in Brazil and they are bent on living like there is literally no tomorrow and they had the most new daily cases in the world on Thursday, June 25. Seems healthy.

Meanwhile, the United States of America is looking at itself in the mirror and wonders how it all went so wrong, so quickly after three months of sacrifices that were supposed to pave the way for sports to come back swiftly and smoothly.

We are Rachel and the Coronavirus is Ross asking: “OVER you? When were you UNDER me?” while we beat ourselves up wondering what went wrong and the President compares a deadly virus to the sniffles.

I’m numb because baseball is about to be back for a lightning round of games that promise to be exciting. Why am I not excited? I should be, with every game being three times as important and the potential of a repeat of that frantic 2011 finish of the regular season that gave every baseball fan a collective heart attack.

My heart rate is nowhere near skyrocketing, though. Some experts don’t even think the season will be able to finish.

I should be pumped to witness the start of the Tua era in Miami, but then I see that the Hall of Fame game between the Cowboys and the Steelers was cancelled and I’m bracing for what August and September might bring.

I’m even numb to the added crowd noise and the “virtual fans” we see at European soccer games. It’s background noise.

Maybe you read this and thought I spent 700 words being dramatic, and that’s ok. Maybe you will feel numb or jaded until 2021, and that’s ok too. Maybe this is just temporary, and everything feels a little alien after 100+ days of uncertainty and I will be all pumped up again in a couple of weeks when sports feel “real” again.

I will be waiting for that moment to come.

Da 5 Bloods Is The Right Film For Our Times

Dropped on Netflix this weekend while Black Lives Matter protests still rage throughout major American cities every day, Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods is the right movie for our times. If his previous flick, BlacKkKlansman, was a pin-prick commentary on how American politics has shaped systemic racism in this country, Da 5 Bloods is a sledgehammer to the face. It’s a movie that is all at once a heist film, a war film, a drama about unbreakable bonds, about friendships, about fathers, sons, and daughters, racial strife, a history lesson, and an action flick all rolled into one. It pulls you right into the issue at hand and viciously reminds its viewers that America has always held black lives cheaply.

What Was Good About It?

The good begins and ends with Delroy Lindo, one of American cinema’s most underrated actors of the last thirty years. Lindo, who plays Vietnam vet Paul, is a force of nature in Da 5 Bloods — all rage and melancholy and turmoil bubbling beneath the surface. In the hands of a lesser actor, Paul becomes a cliché lost in a sea of overacting, but Lindo nails the part with just the right touch of sardonic wit and undaunted fury. Paul is the most complex of the four surviving men — he’s a character torn from the pages of William Shakespear’s more abstruse tragedies. Here’s an African American war veteran who got back home from three tours of duty in Vietnam only to deal with the very Americans he fought and bled for spitting at him and calling him a baby killer (among other things). Here’s a warrior that gets so lost in his own unrewarded righteousness, he goes full MAGA in his old age. He hates immigrants and pines for Trump’s border wall, he admits to his shocked buddies that he voted for Trump, and he proudly dons a red Make America Great Again hat. He’s volatile and short-tempered, he struggles to be a good father, he admits to often seeing the ghost of their fallen Blood, Norman (played by Chadwick Boseman in a series of flashbacks). Lindo’s performance of a veteran dealing with the nightmare that is PTSD is the stuff of Academy Awards lore and if he doesn’t win the Oscar for Best Actor, then the Academy can get fucked. Seriously.

The film’s plot is complex, but it ultimately delivers. Four vets reunite in modern day Vietnam for two reasons: to bring back a case of gold bars they stumbled upon and then buried during the war, and to bring back the remains of their fallen brother — the charismatic leader of their outfit, “Stormin’” Norman. The story then breaks into a series of subplots with the two central characters, Paul (Lindo), and Otis (Clarke Peters). Both men have their own issues and crosses to bear, yet both deal with them in very different ways.

Da Brotherhood. Chemistry is not an issue with the four men. Right away you feel the love they have for each other, even after living lives apart. They bicker like siblings and hold each other up like brothers. It takes great acting to pull off chemistry like this.

Marvin Gaye. If you watch this movie for one reason, it’s to hear Marvin Gaye’s isolated vocals on What’s Going On that plays during the last act of the film.

Spike Lee’s joint. Lee’s fingerprints are all over Da 5 Bloods from the very beginning. His direction, as always, is a mixture of controlled chaos mixed with a great score, and a penchant for throwing in nuggets of the untold versions of white-washed black history. The film opens with footage of Muhammad Ali giving his reasons for why he was a conscientious objector and refused to go fight in Vietnam, making it clear that the Vietnamese people never called him the N-word, or treated him as he’s treated at home in America — and closes with footage of Martin Luther King Jr. giving a speech a year to the day he was assassinated.

The first two minutes of the film is a montage of moments throughout history that echo current events. Yet this film was finished way before the latest protests and unrest spilled into our streets. This isn’t so much Spike Lee being ahead of the times. This is Spike Lee being Spike Lee. Since he hit the scene in 1989, Spike Lee has been shouting through a proverbial bullhorn at moviegoers that black people have been systematically mistreated since the birth of this nation, and it seems that people might finally get it with Da 5 Bloods being released in the midst of ongoing nationwide protests.

The film is peppered with all of Spike Lee’s touches: the overwhelming symphonic soundtrack, the nods to movies that inspired him (in this case, there’s a lot of Apocalypse Now and a little bit of The Wild Bunch, among others), the exaggerated zoom in on faces, the dramatic soliloquies, the historical references, the off-kilter staging of scenes, the Spike Lee Segway (one of his weirdest signature moves, yet one of my favorites).

As it goes with Spike’s movies, Da 5 Bloods’ plot is riddled with questions of morality, mixed with outright criticism of American racism. Here is a group of African American war veterans who found and buried a cache of gold the American government had originally promised to the Vietnam people as payment for their suffering. Yet both African Americans soldiers and South Vietnamese were mistreated by white American soldiers during the war. As Paul reminds the men, they were called the N-word, while the South Vietnamese were called Yellow N-Words by American GIs. Both are in the same racist stew, both deserve reparations. What to do?

What Was Not So Good About It?

Da 5 Bloods is probably a good 45 minutes too long, and so the third act suffers from too much unravelling. While the first 90 minutes of the movie is filled with great set-up and drama, the final parts of it seem uneven and a tad all over the place. Paul’s story, in particular, is so riveting and painful, the way his character arc closes is a little frustrating.

CGI Blood. Da 5 Bloods is a war film with a lot of shooting and a lot of people getting shot. It’s a bloody mess, as a war film should be. But, the blood that spurts from every victim is clearly CGI’d, giving the battle scene a weird video game feel. It takes away from the otherwise authentic war scenes. It’s super distracting and unnecessary. Are blood packets and squibs really that expensive?

Non-CGI War scenes. While the blood spurts should have been more organic and less computerized, the flashback scenes with Da 5 in combat in the 60s could have benefitted from a little The Irishman-esque CGI on the older actors playing their younger selves. Instead, Spike chose to shoot these scenes with the older actors as they are today, rather than as young men fighting alongside a clearly much younger and spry Chadwick Boseman. At the very least, maybe they should have cast young actors to play those parts?

Not Enough Chadwick. Chadwick Boseman is such a dynamic actor and charismatic screen presence, that you’re left wanting when it comes to his character, Stormin’ Norman. Boseman was perfectly cast to play the part of a man who left such an impression in his brothers, they basically deify the man. Norman’s myth looms so large in the four men’s minds over the years, he dominates their lives and conversations. This is partly because Norman was a badass on the field of combat, and partly because he was a charismatic leader who taught them about the Imperialism of America. He’s a towering figure in every aspect of their lives even after so many years of having been killed in combat. The film needed more scenes of Norman showing why the men revered him so much.

Death Scenes. Without giving too much away, there are death scenes in this movie (it’s a war film), but some of the decisions felt, let’s say gratuitous.

All in all, Da 5 Bloods is an impactful and important film, filled with amazing performances, drama, and strange plot twists, all while delivering stark commentary on the plight of the American black man.

It’s the right movie for our times. And it’s time that Spike Lee gets fully recognized as the most brutally honest story-teller and filmmaker of our day.

Chris Joseph (@ByChrisJoseph) is a host of the Five Reasons comedy podcast, Ballscast. He’s written about sports and movies for Deadspin, Miami New Times, CBS Sports, and several other outlets.

Five Reasons

Dear Sports,

Dear Sports,

Let me start this off by saying that I never thought I’d be typing this. But here we are.

We miss you.

Life has took an unexpected turn, a turn that took you away from us. At this time, you had to take a back seat. You aren’t important right now. We are in a crisis with a virus. Stopping the spread of this thing is the most important thing for many us right now. 

But damn we miss you.

And we realized how deeply we under-appreciated you.

We are five days in from you being taken from us and it looks like we have a lot more to go.


We are now confused because when we needed you most, you were taken away. You are the one we usually ran to in times of crisis, when we needed to get our minds off the harsh realities of the world, you were there. You cheered us up. You occupied our minds just enough for the world to feel fine. You kept our sanity in check. 

When you got taken from us, It opened my eyes because I’ve never experienced something like this. The world has stopped, literally. We are trying to pickup the pieces and figure a way to get through it. People are confused.

You being gone made me realize a couple things.

It made me realize how unimportant you were in the grand scheme of things but at the same time, it made me realize you are one of the most important things there are.

I know that sounds confusing, so let me explain.

You are unimportant because you can be stopped when the world is going through a pandemic. Getting home to watch the game is the least of our priorities.

But you are so important because so many people relied on you to get through their days. A medicine to anxiety. Myself included. At this time, i need you more than ever. This thing has me and many other people nervous. I wish i could turn on the TV and watch the Miami Heat give us a heart attack, or make a joke about how the Panthers have games in hand. You kept us normal. You kept us sane. You kept us entertained.

Now the world isn’t normal and you’re gone, we don’t know when you’ll be back but when you are, I think we will appreciate you differently.

So let me end this by saying it again, we miss you.

Love, Sports fans around the world.

Legal analysis: Could Antonio Brown just sign a waiver?

On Monday, August 12, 2019,  a neutral, independent arbitrator held that Antonio Brown will be unable to use his Schutt AiR Advantage helmet. Brown – who has been donning the same type of helmet since he was in Pee Wee football – would be unable to play or receive a paycheck unless he wears an otherwise approved helmet. After Brown believed he found a suitable replacement, the NFL informed him that the helmet did not meet additional testing.

From a legal standpoint, the issue of whether Brown can sign an injury waiver to effectively circumvent the arbitrator’s ruling has come to the forefront. However, the validity of such waivers has historically been strictly scrutinized.

Former players have successfully settled cases against the NFL based on the theory that the league was negligent and breached its duty to take reasonable precautions for players’ safety. These claims are founded on the idea that the league either knew or should have known about these risks and should have done more to ensure players made an informed choice.

On the other hand, a waiver is an agreement altering the rights and responsibilities of the parties. While negligence is a legal cause of action, a waiver is a defense to negligence claims and is based on the plaintiff’s express assumption of risk. Waivers must meet two requirements to be enforceable: (1) the scope of the waiver must be clear; and, (2) the waiver must be consistent with public policy. Waivers are generally held to be against public policy if one party has unequal bargaining rights.

The bargaining power between the players and the NFL is beyond extreme. Most players don’t hold any leverage in contract negotiations with teams, and even less regarding league rules and conditions of play. Therefore, once a player signs a contract, the league is the party that sets and enforces rules.

In Antonio Brown’s case, there is no issue of unequal bargaining power or any concerns over public policy. The most likely reason the NFL has not entered into a waiver with Brown is because it simply doesn’t have to.  The league has been scarred by the recent concussion litigation and does not want to be left exposed to any potential liability in allowing Brown to use his Schutt AiR Advantage helmet.  In fact, ninety-nine percent of studied retired NFL players’ brains show signs of CTE.

Most importantly, the league does not owe Brown anything. While Brown may allege that his helmet preference is safety related, the league is in a better position to determine player safety and is the ultimate decision maker. The likeliest, fairest outcome is that the league gives Brown the same one-year grace period that was given last year to players like Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.