At last, Mayweather-Pacquiao: Who Will Win?

February 22, 2015 in Best Of, Boxing, Sport by pacejmiller

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About six years ago, I jumped the shark like everyone else and thought the fight of the millennium between Floyd Mayweather Jr and Manny Pacquiao was going to happen. We all know how things turned out that time, and the time after, and the time after that. And so I was not holding my breath amid recent renewed speculation after Pacquiao knocked down outgunned challenger Chris Algieri six times in November en route to a shutout victory. But at last, the word — which came from Mayweather via his stupid app — is official: the fight is happening. No more false starts. No more childish posturing. No more excuses. May 2, MGM Grand, Las Vegas. Lock it in.

You can read all about the excruciating details of the negotiations and how it’s going to smash every boxing revenue record ever — elsewhere.

In short, it’s going to be a joint PPV by HBO (who has the rights to Pacquiao) and Showtime (who has the rights to Mayweather), the first since Mike Tyson took on Lennox Lewis in 2002. Mayweather dictated the terms and Pacquiao basically agreed to everything, including a 60-40 split in Money’s favour, the date, the venue, the gloves, who will enter the ring last (Pacquiao), and even the order of the names of the promotion (“Mayweather-Pacquiao”).

The random blood testing for performance enhancing drugs, which broke down negotiations the first time, has been agreed to, with Pacquiao claiming that he insisted anyone failing a drug test must pay the other party US$5 million. Analysts estimate that Mayweather will take home around US$150 million, while Pacquiao will come away with US$100 million.

Thanks to everyone involved in making it happen, I will now finally get to explore something just about everyone has had an opinion on for six years: who will win?

Who’s the favourite?

For the record, Mayweather (47-0, 26 KOs) is a strong 70-30 betting favourite at the moment, and there’s a very good reason why. He has never been defeated in 47 fights against 45 opponents (he fought Jose Luis Castillo and Marcos Maidana twice each). The defensive maestro has never been seriously in danger of losing a fight, having only been rocked a handful of times (he was “buzzed” by DeMarcus Corley back in 2004 and had his legs momentarily turned into jelly by Shame Mosley in 2010), though to his credit he always found a way to hang on and adjust his way to victory. He’s never even been officially knocked down (though he his glove definitely touched the canvas when Zab Judah hit him with a good shot in 2006).

Pacquiao (57-5-2, 38 KOs), on the other hand, has been knocked out three times overall and lost two consecutive fights in 2012 — a controversial split decision against Tim Bradley (since avenged) and a one-punch KO loss against nemesis Juan Manuel Marquez — before reeling off unanimous decision victories in his last three.

Both guys have slowed down at slight but noticeable levels. Mayweather will be 38 later this month, while Pacquiao turned 36 at the end of last year. Mayweather’s last KO came against Victor Ortiz in 2011, but that wasn’t a legit knockout because Ortiz was too busy looking in the wrong direction after becoming embarrassed by a blatant headbutt. Money’s last genuine KO actually dates further back to 2007 against Ricky Hatton. Pacquiao hasn’t had a KO since Miguel Cotto in 2009, the last in a streak of four consecutive stoppages.

Tale of the Tape

PacMay

Common opponents

common

Strengths and Weaknesses

Styles make fights, and there’s no styles better matched than that of Mayweather and Pacquiao. One is a defensive specialist with once-in-a-generation reflexes, a supreme counterpuncher who knows how to adjust to any opponent and pick his spots offensively to frustrate anyone he’s ever faced. The other is the most exciting boxer-puncher of his era, a relentless offensive tornado with endless energy and destructive power in both hands who can throw accurate multipunch combinations in the blink of an eye from awkward angles.

While we won’t really know how the matchup will play out until May 2, there are a few relatively objective facts that can help us assess what could happen. For starters, we know that despite being the naturally bigger man, Mayweather will unlikely press the offense, though it remains to be seen whether he will allow Pacquiao to stalk him around the ring because he’s shown more willingness to go toe-to-toe in recent years (Maidana, Cotto, etc).

Here’s how I think the individual attributes of the fighters stack up:

matchup

Why Mayweather will win

There are some people out there who believe Pacquiao will be an “easy” fight for Mayweather.

First of all, Mayweather is naturally bigger and has a five-inch reach advantage. He’s a technically superior boxer. He has the defensive moves to neutralize Pacquiao’s punching power and aggression, and he’s also just as fast. Most of all, he’s a supreme counterpuncher, and we know Pacquiao struggles with counterpunchers. The argument is: if Pacquiao struggles so mightily against Marquez, who could barely win a single round against Mayweather, just imagine what Mayweather will do to Pacquiao!

The scenario that would unfold if the above turns out to be true would see Mayweather taking two or three competitive or even losing rounds to feel out Pacquiao before adjusting and dominating the rest of the fight. He would continuously beat Pacquiao to the punch with accurate right hands and pot shots to the stomach, shoot off sharp counterpunches, jump out of harms way before Pacquiao could set his feet to launch combinations, and use the shoulder roll to deflect punches that do land. He’d frustrate Pacquiao to no end and dance his way to a dominant unanimous decision. Mayweather would be too cautious to go after a knockout, but if Pacquiao gets careless or too reckless like he did with Marquez, there’s a good chance Mayweather might knock him out.

Why Pacquiao will win

Those who believe Pacquiao will end Mayweather’s unbeaten record are convinced that the Filipino has all the tools necessary to give the American trouble, especially now that Money has shown more willingness to stand his ground and engage.

Mayweather is said to have trouble with southpaws — Corley, Judah, etc — because the shoulder roll is designed for orthodox fighters, and Pacquiao will be the most dangerous southpaw he will ever face. Mayweather apparently hates southpaws so much that his father asked Top Rank (when he was promoted by them) not to match his son against a left handed fighter.

Pacquiao will be the fastest guy Mayweather has ever faced. He will probably be the most experienced fighter Mayweather has ever faced. He is the probably most relentless puncher Mayweather has ever faced — and with the power to hurt him. He will throw the most combinations Mayweather has ever seen. He has a Hall of Fame trainer who has studied Mayweather for the past six years while trying to come up with the perfect game plan. And unlike so many other guys Mayweather has faced, Pacquiao won’t run out of gas. This won’t be like Judah, who faded after a fast start. It won’t be like Cotto, who had the right attitude and power but not the speed or combination punching. And it won’t be like Maidana, who applied the necessary constant pressure but not the skill or ability. For the first time in his career, Mayweather will be facing someone who combines all the attributes — at least on paper — required to beat him.

The scenario for a Pacquiao victory would see him attack Mayweather from the opening bell, peppering him with non-stop combinations and lightning-quick power punches from all sorts of angles. Mayweather would block a lot of the shots, but not all of them, and his tendency to conserve his energy on offense will work against him with the judges. As the fight goes on, Pacquiao will wear down Mayweather, who doesn’t possess the requisite work rate to win rounds consistently or hold the power to turn things around with a single punch. In the end, Pacquiao will either knock out a weary Mayweather or batter him around the ring en route to a decision victory.

Verdict

Six years ago, I believed Manny Pacquiao would hand Floyd Mayweather his first defeat. Mayweather’s reluctance to throw punches, coupled with Pacquiao’s devastating power and tendency to throw a lot of punches every round, suggested to me that Pacquiao would simply overwhelm Mayweather with quantity over quality in capturing a close but comfortable decision win.

Six years later, it seems to me that Pacquiao no longer as the power to knock Mayweather out. He is also more susceptible to getting hurt after that brutal KO at the hands of Marquez, and is perhaps now less willing to take the risks he needs to pressure his opponent in every moment of every round.

Mayweather also seems to have lost a step and doesn’t have the wheels he used to have, meaning Pacquiao won’t have to chase him around as much. And can he get out of corners quick enough to avoid Pacquiao’s combination punching?

The beauty of boxing is that no one knows what will happen. For all those claiming they know what will transpire when these two men step into the ring — and will no doubt gloat if they turn out to be right — even the most educated guess is just a guess. And so my guess is that Pacman will have Money’s number on May 2, for the reasons above, but also for the reasons below.

While Mayweather deserves to be the favourite, it feels almost fated that his first — and possibly only — loss will come at the hands of Pacquiao. Despite all the talk of Pacquiao’s KO loss to Marquez and whether Mayweather has waited until Pacquiao has lost enough of his natural speed and power to take him on, it appears to me that perhaps Mayweather has slowed down even more based on his last few fights.

My prediction goes beyond simply that hunch though, as I also genuine believe that Pacquiao has a psychological edge. “Scared” is perhaps too strong a word, but there is no denying that Mayweather has been super wary of Pacquiao since the latter beat De la Hoya and flattened Hatton all those years ago. If he were so confident against Pacquiao back then he would have taken the fight head on, rather than impose — however reasonable they are — the strict drug testing protocols that weren’t around at the time. And bear in mind, Pacquiao did not flat out reject random blood testing — he just wanted there to be a cut-off date. Further, Mayweather was forced to settle Pacquiao’s defamation suit against him for the doping allegations, suggesting he has nothing concrete;plus Pacquiao agreed to Olympic-style drug testing in the subsequent negotiations years ago. To say Floyd didn’t want to fight Pacquiao just because he suspected his opponent was doping is missing the bigger picture.

Wanting to stick it to his hated ex-promoter Bob Arum seems like a more suitable reason, but even that becomes an excuse when hundreds of millions and your entire legacy are on the table. There’s a prevalent school of thought that Floyd only accepted this fight because he was being boxed into a corner. His PPV sales are down. People are not just asking — they’re demanding that he fight Pacquiao wherever he goes. Everyone’s saying his legacy will be tainted if he doesn’t fight Pacquiao and fight him right now.

Further, the nonchalant attitude he displayed towards the negotiations suggests to me that he doesn’t really want this fight. Pacquiao’s side was admittedly desperate in trying to push things along, but Mayweather appeared to be stalling at every possible turn. First it was the unreasonable demand that the PPV be on Showtime only, then it had to be the May 2 date in Las Vegas, then it was the 60-40, the gloves, and the rest. But this time, being the weaker negotiating side, Pacquiao simply agreed to everything. And when the networks said they would work things out for a joint PPV, the writing was on the wall. Even then, Mayweather was still caught up on the petty little stuff like ensuring that he’d be the one to announce the fight, and getting mad when Pacquiao’s side was leaking info after the contracts had been signed for a couple of days. That doesn’t sound like someone truly focused on the fight to me.

Of course, none of that will matter if Mayweather is simply better than Pacquaio. What makes this fight so intriguing is that an argument can be made that Pacquiao is custom-built to defeat Mayweather but also that Mayweather is custom-built to give Pacquiao fits. No matter which theory is correct, I’m banking on a great fight. Pacquiao won’t allow it to be boring. Mayweather seems to be the first opponent the ordinarily want-to-be-friends-with-everyone Pacquiao genuinely wants to punish in the ring. Mayweather has also shown that he can rise to the occasion in the face of adversity, and he knows what a dominant performance here will do for his legacy.

At this point, I don’t really care what happens. I just can’t wait to see it all go down.

Is Steph Curry’s 27 the best 3P contest round ever? (and other thoughts on All-Star Saturday 2015)

February 15, 2015 in Basketball, NBA, Sport by pacejmiller

curry three

I had my money on his splash brother, Klay Thompson, but Steph Curry proved tonight that he’s the best three-point shooter alive when he’s on a roll, knocking down 20/25 shots en route to an all-time best score of 27 in the final round of the 2015 Foot Locker Three-Point Contest.

But was it the best three-point contest performance of all time? Let’s take a deeper look.

Nominally, 27 points is the highest score in any NBA Three Point Contest since the competition was introduced at All-Star Weekend in 1986. However, since last year, the contest has had the “money ball rack”, in which every ball in one rack of the contestant’s choice is filled with money balls as opposed to just the last ball of each of the five racks. This means instead of a perfect score of 30 as it had been in the past, the perfect score of any single round is now 34.

Steph’s final round shot chart is as follows.

CURRY

– He only missed five shots in the entire round, including two money balls
– He was nearly perfect from the money ball rack, missing only his last shot
- At one stage he hit 13 consecutive shots, the second longest hot streak in the contest’s history

The previous highest score in Three Point Contest history is 25, by Craig Hodges in the first round of the 1986 contest (when no one had a clue how ridiculous that was) and Jason Kapono in final round of the 2008 contest. Both were accomplished when there was no money ball rack and the perfect score would have been 30.

Of course, you can’t really say that things would have turned out exactly the same if there was no money ball rack, but keep in mind that if that were the case, Steph’s score would have technically only been 23, which would have tied for eighth all-time in the pre-money ball rack era.

On the other hand, Kapono’s shot chart from his record-tying round (at the time) is as follows:

Kapono

Kapono also missed five shots like Curry and had a hot streak of only 10 consecutive shots, but his score was boosted by the fact that he made all five of his money balls.  If there was a money ball rack at the time, Kapono’s score would have ranged from 27-29, depending on where he put it.

As for Craig Hodges’ 25-point round in 1986, I haven’t been able to track down his shot chart or locate any video on YouTube to create one. It actually appears that no complete video of his performance even exists, being that this was one of the first rounds of the contest ever. Also, back in the day, two contestants would shoot at the same time at opposite ends of the court, and the cameras were actually more focused on Hodges’s opponent.

In any case, I managed to catch the back end of Hodge’s performance and can confirm that he must have missed at least three shots because he made his last two money balls and missed another regular ball. In fact, it is probable that he missed at least four shots because his round is not in the list of most consecutive baskets made, where the minimum is nine consecutive shots. This means he could not have had two perfect racks in a row.

So regardless of whether Hodges made all five of his money balls in that round, the most number of shots he could have missed is five, which would have at least tied Curry.

The round that Hodges actually gets more mentions for is his 1991 semi-finals round, where he smashed the record for most consecutive shots with 19 — a record that still stands today — en route to 24 points.

Here’s his shot chart.

Hodges

Hodges ran out of steam in the end and missed his last three shots, but the ridiculous thing is that he hit his first 19 shots and missed only four shots overall. If there was a money rack, his score would have ranged between 26-30.

Among the other 24 rounds in contest history (Mark Price in 1994, Hubert Davis in 1998, Kapono in 2007), none of them missed fewer than five shots.

The verdict: while Curry’s 27 points is indeed impressive, it’s not necessarily the best Three Point Contest performance of all-time. Craig Hodges bests him in terms of least shots missed (at least once, probably twice) and most consecutive shots made, while Jason Kapono would have at least gotten the same score and as high as 29 if there was a money ball rack.

Other thoughts and observations on All-Star Saturday 2015

Degree Shooting Stars — next! (This is always about who can make the half-court shot)

Taco Bell Skills Challenge — I liked the idea of having two guys compete at the same time so it pushes them a little more. I was as stunned as anybody that Patrick Beverly (a late replacement for John Wall) won it in the end, coming from behind each round to steal victory when his opponent could not capitalize on the last three-point shot (it was previously a top-of-the-key shot). I also liked the gamesmanship too when he stomped as he ran up behind his opponent to know them off their games.

Foot Locker Three-Point Contest — most stacked contest of all-time with winner Curry, runner-up Thompson and the likes of Kyle Korver (aiming for the NBA’s first 50-50-90 season), defending champion Marco Belinelli, former winner Kyrie Irving, scoring leader James Harden, specialist JJ Redick and sharp shooter Wesley Matthews. Turned out to be by far the most exciting event of the evening because of the star power and drama.

Sprite Slam Dunk — no big names, but no worries thanks to Zach Lavine, my early pick, who performed some effortless high-difficulty dunks including an off-the-bounce, threw-the-legs one-handed reverse in a Jordan Space Jam jersey and an off-the-bounce, behind-the-back in the first round to earn a perfect 100. With the contest pretty much wrapped up thanks to Victor Oladipo’s misses, the second round was kinda anti-climatic, though Lavine still performed some very sick dunks. Thank goodness the teenager was there because everyone else sucked dogs balls (looking at the Greek Freak and Plums in particular).

The only other decent dunk was Oladipo’s first successful jam, but it was NOT a 540-degree dunk as Kenny Smith claimed it to be. You cannot start and end up facing the same direction if you did a 540-degree spin, which is what Oladipo did. It was in fact a 360-degree reverse that finished on the other side of the rim. Still a well-deserved 50 though.

PS: A quick word about the scoring. I don’t think the way it works right now is consistent. Apparently a missed dunk should be awarded a minimum score of 6/10, though in one case Dr J gave Oladipo a 7/10 for effort. But for made dunks by Plumlee and Antetokounmpo — pretty decent dunks too — the judges were also awarding 7s. That’s not right. The gap between made dunks and missed dunks needs to be bigger. The way I see it, a missed dunk should be awarded an arbitrary number of say 4 (it is a “fail”, after all, though I resist awarding dunks 0/10 because you have to give guys a chance to catch up) and the worst made dunk (like one that accidentally goes in off a failed attempt) should score no lower than 5. That sets a barrier between made dunks and missed dunks, and provides a much wider range for judges to score.

Movie Review: Manny (2014)

February 2, 2015 in Boxing, Movie Reviews, Reviews, Sport by pacejmiller

manny

Considering what great material the filmmakers had to work with, Manny, the new documentary on eight-weight-class Filipino world boxing champion Manny Pacquiao, should have been a sure-fire KO. Instead of delivering the haymakers fans would have loved to see, however, the film ended up pulling its punches all the way through, resulting in a thoroughly unsatisfying experience that barely scratches the surface of both the man and the sport.

On its face, Manny ticks all the right boxes for a sports documentary. A poor Filipino kid from the gutter is forced to box from a young age to put food on the family table, and in the process develops a talent and ferocity that would take him to the very top of the sport. Amid the career highs (such as his superstar-making pummeling of Oscar de la Hoya in 2008) and lows (his KO loss to Juan Manuel Marquez in 2012, for instance) there are celebrity interviews and “rare” public and behind-the-scenes footage, all with the familiar voice of Liam Neeson narrating the script.

But despite an explosive start highlighting Pacquiao’s knockout loss to Marquez, Manny soon settles into conventional documentary mode and begins to skim over the stuff that would have made the film fascinating. It touches on all the things we already know about Pacquiao’s life outside of his major fights — the humble beginnings, the rise through the weight ranks, the movies and singing that came with the stardom, the foray into politics, and the apparent “religious awakening” he would experience a few years ago — but without ever getting to the “good stuff” simmering beneath the surface.

Yes, it was cool to see highlights of his training and big fights — Barrera, Morales, De la Hoya, Hatton, Cotto, Margarito, Marquez — in high definition, and it was fun to see celebrities like Mark Wahlberg, Jeremy Piven and Jimmy Kimmel talk about him, but all of these things felt superficial.

I wanted to see more footage of Manny’s daily life; I wanted to hear more about the dirty business of boxing and the disputes between his promoter Top Rank and Golden Boy; I wanted to hear about all the venomous groupies that feed of his money and all the cash he literally gives away; I wanted more depth on Manny’s dark side — the gambling and the drinking and the womanizing. It would be unfair to say the film completely ignores these issues, though it barely takes more than a jab at them. The approach by directors Leon Gast (who won the Oscar for the Ali documentary When We Were Kings) and Ryan Moore was to just touch upon all the touchy things and gloss over them quickly before moving onto the more positive aspects of Manny’s existence.

The best parts of the movie are when we see people close to Manny talk about him, from adviser Michael Koncz and ex-conditioning coach Alex Ariza to his long-time coach Freddie Roach and promoter Bob Arum. The bits with the most emotion actually all involve Pacquiao’s wife Jinkee, the only person who appears to be giving it to the viewers straight. But unfortunately, these flashes of genuine insight into Pacquiao are few and far between.

Perhaps it’s because I already know too much about Pacquiao for Manny to teach me anything new. To be honest, even the 24/7 documentaries produced by HBO before each Pacquiao fight offer more about he subject than this documentary. I just think the film would have been so much more interesting had it dared to venture deeper into things such as Alex Ariza’s unceremonious dumping from Pacquiao’s team and the subsequent feud he developed with Roach and Koncz (not discussed at all), questioning how and what really caused the negotiations with Floyd Mayweather Jr to break down multiple times (nothing apart from a couple of clips anyone could have dug up on YouTube), and some sort of definitive statement about all the allegations of performance enhancing drugs (the elephant in the room).

Even the chronological depiction of Pacquiao’s career missed important chunks. Although the footage is out there, the film ignores Pacquiao’s earlier losses before Morales and his world title fights at the lighter weight class, and completely skips his less inspiring bouts against Joshua Clottey and Shane Mosley. I know it’s hard to follow every bout of Pacquiao’s long career, but pretending that some important events of his life don’t even exist makes me question the filmmakers’ objectivity and decision-making.

At the end of the day, Manny is a film that’s more hagiography than documentary. It feels like it has been made by the same people who follow Pacquiao around all day telling him how great he is (they’re what netizens described as “Pactards”). Pacquiao is an interesting, charismatic sportsman who deserves a better biography than what he got here, and this was never more apparent when listening him spew out the awkward lines they wrote for him at the end of the movie.

Having said all that, Manny remains in a position to succeed because of Pacquiao’s immense popularity and fortunate timing — as the long-awaited showdown between him and Mayweather appears to be  getting somewhere at last. Maybe after they finally do fight each other someone else can make a more compelling documentary that can do Manny Pacquaio justice.

2 stars out of 5

Book Review: ‘Undisputed Truth’ by Mike Tyson

September 19, 2014 in Best Of, Book Reviews, Boxing, Reviews, Sport by pacejmiller

undisputed-truth-my-autobiography

Love him or loathe him, Mike Tyson’s Undisputed Truth is not just one of the best sports-themed books I’ve ever read. It’s not even just one of the best autobiographies I’ve ever read. It’s one of the best books I’ve read, period.

That’s a big call for a book written by a convicted rapist, notorious ear-biter and school drop-out with arguably the most renowned lisp in the world, but I’m sticking with it. Undisputed Truth is fascinating, it’s explosive, it’s horrifying and it’s downright hilarious. In fact, I’m fairly certain I have laughed out loud from reading this book more times than any other book I’ve ever read.

I don’t know if this is a comparison anyone has made, but Undisputed Truth reminds me of another one of my favourite books, Jim Carroll’s The Basketball Diaries. Both are about the real-life wild and wacky adventures of athletes who love girls and drugs, told with an unflinching honesty and often veering into extremely dark territory.

However, while The Basketball Diaries is a short book traverses only a portion of Carroll’s adolescence, Undisputed Truth is a monster (but swift) 592 pages covering Tyson’s entire life up to last year. And while Carroll was a pretty good basketball player and womanizer, he was never the “baddest man alive” or a world class sex machine like Tyson (who would have given Wilt Chamberlain a run for his money as he was notoriously undiscriminating when it came to his partners).

So what makes Undisputed Truth an all-time read? Well for starters, Tyson does not hold back at all. He absolutely pours his heart out, infusing every page with his damaged soul. The unique voice is pure raw emotion and distinctively Tyson, and you can almost picture Tyson spewing the words out as they are recorded by his co-writer Larry Sloman (best known for Howard Stern’s Private Parts). The narrative is fluid, albeit occasionally rambling and often contradictory (for instance, Tyson goes on about turning into a devout Muslim, only to say on the next page that he doesn’t believe in an afterlife), but at the same time it is always coherent and sharp. Besides, Tyson is so messed up, even right now, that a little craziness is expected.

I don’t want to give away too many golden nuggets from the book, so I’ll just give a very brief overview to provide an idea of what’s in store. The autobiography begins with an introduction that describes one of the most pivotal moments in Tyson’s life — the sentencing for his rape charge — before taking readers right back to the beginning of his troubled and dysfunctional childhood in Brownsville, one of the toughest neighbourhoods in the Bronx. And it’s an unimaginable childhood for most of us, one completely devoid of love and hope. Those early portions of the book are difficult to swallow, but they are also essential to understanding the man Tyson would become.

tyson cus

Tyson and the man who changed his life, Cus D’Amato

Tyson’s life makes a dramatic turn when he meets Cus D’Amato, the hard-nosed trainer who would transform Tyson from a scared little punk kid into the heavyweight champion of the world. Cus was far from perfect, but Tyson loved him unlike anyone else he has loved in his entire life, and you can truly feel that love flow through the pages as Tyson describes their relationship and what the old man means to him. One can only imagine how Mike Tyson’s legacy would have turned out — both in and out of the ring — had D’Amato not died as Tyson zoned in on the heavyweight title.

Tyson’s rise through the ranks, from amateur to professional, is one of the most exciting aspects of the book. People tend to take his success for granted and attribute it to his natural gifts, but Tyson was one of the hardest, most obsessive workers I have ever seen in any sport, shadowboxing literally for hours, devouring classic fight tapes and reading everything he could get his hands on about the all-time greats.

I had not expected this, but Tyson literally describes every single one of his professional bouts (and many of his key amateur bouts too), including the lead-up, the fight itself and how it ended — and what was going through his mind the whole time. I loved this about the book and the insights it provided into the psyche of a Hall-of-Fame boxer, and it also shed light on a lot of Tyson’s performances because he admittedly wasn’t in shape or motivated for many of them, especially later in his career when all he wanted was another paycheck. For me, the best part about his detailed analysis of the bouts is being able to go straight to YouTube to watch the spectacular fights right after reading his take on them.

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Mike Tyson with Evander Holyfield, back in the day when both ears were in tact

Tyson’s later decline and bad losses may tarnish his legacy, but there’s no doubt in my mind that he was unbeatable in his prime if he was motivated and had his head on straight (two very big IFs). He was just so ferocious, so quick and so powerful that he often beat opponents psychologically even before stepping into the ring. But the loss of Cus to keep him in line and the introduction of Don King to his life, not to mention all the money and the women and the drugs, eventually took their toll on his mind and body, and he was simply never the same again.

It would be wrong, however, to be under the impression that Undisputed Truth is only about boxing. Many of my favourite parts of the book are about Tyson’s life outside of the ring. He was just an insane spender who had no idea what to do with the millions and millions of dollars he was raking in (and this excludes the millions and millions others ripped off  him without his knowledge). The fleets of luxury cars, sports cars, the custom-made bling and outfits, the entire house adorned with Versace, and even keeping real tigers as pets. He was literally giving away money to poor people left and right, and that’s not even taking into account all the real and bogus legal claims he has had to settle (often just random strangers coming up to his house with fake injuries or people off the street trying to bait him into a fight) and the millions he has spent on lawyer fees. It’s no surprise that despite all the money he has made in his career, Tyson still ended up being dead broke.

Tyson threw away all his money, sometimes literally

Tyson threw away all his money, sometimes literally

Tyson’s brushes with celebrities are also a highlight of the book. There are so many priceless celebrity anecdotes littered throughout the book, including classic stories about Naomi Campbell, Prince and Eddie Murphy as well as crazy brushes with guys like Rick James, Wesley Snipes, and of course, the infamous encounter with Brad Pitt. They tend to be short, but they are always pure gold, and reminds us just how famous Tyson was back in his heyday, and that shockingly, it wasn’t until his cameo in The Hangover that completely turned his life around. Funnily enough, despite working with a convicted rapist like Tyson, the cast and crew of the sequel collectively vetoed the decision to do the same with anti-Semite Mel Gibson.

Another inescapable part of Tyson’s life was the women. My god, the women. After not knowing how to even approach a girl as a teen, Tyson was propositioned by thousands and thousands of women after becoming rich and famous, and he never quite figured out how to say no. A lot of this stuff is extremely crude, but it’s also extremely funny because of how low Tyson would stoop. Oldies, fatties, uglies — it didn’t matter to him. He speaks of those days of debauchery with shame — including all the STDs he picked up along the way — but the way he describes his way of thinking and his actions at the time is gut-bustingly funny stuff. At one stage he even apologizes to his readers for having to put up with his antics.

When it comes to women and Tyson, however, it’s impossible not to mention two names — his first wife Robin Givens, who accused him of domestic violence, and beauty pageant contestant Desiree Washington, whose allegations of rape sent Tyson to prison for three years. Tyson is a little coy when it comes to Givens, the actress he says he fell head over heels for but believed she was a manipulative gold digger along with her mother Ruth, whom he affectionately calls “Ruthless”. He never directly denies the domestic violence allegations but says multiple times that her claims are all BS. 

As for Washington, Tyson says he is prohibited from discussing his case in detail due to British laws, though he strongly insinuates that he is innocent and insists that he will maintain his innocence to his grave. Everyone will have their own views on this case, but based on my readings of Undisputed Truth and other sources I followed up on, I think there is no doubt Tyson got screwed in court.

Now, I’m not saying for one second that I believe Tyson is innocent — only he and Washington know what happened — but I do find it shocking that he was convicted based on the lacklustre evidence that was available and adduced at court. The truth is, if the accused was not someone as universally loathed as Mike Tyson, he probably would have walked away. But all the stars aligned at the wrong time for him: (1) Don King used his prudish tax lawyer to represent Tyson in a rape case, and the dimwit probably did the worst job imaginable, including not using the lack of physical evidence to their advantage; (2)  an admitted Tyson-hater somehow slipped through the cracks to not only get on the jury, but become the jury foreman; (3) rape shield laws prevented evidence of Washington’s earlier false rape allegation made against a former boyfriend and witnesses who could have shattered the innocent and naive image she created by detailing her sordid sexual past; and (4) the fact that she signed secret book and movie deals around the same time she made her accusations public was not enough to earn Tyson an appeal.

mike tyson prison

Having said all that, my personal guess is that Tyson probably was guilty under the legal definition of rape, because no matter how much Washington pursued Tyson and bragged about spending his money as “Mrs Tyson”, all she had to do was say “No” at any time during the ordeal for consent to be taken away. It didn’t matter that she obviously lied about having no idea that Tyson wanted sex when he invited her up to his room in the middle of the night, or that she curiously went into the bathroom to remove a liner from her underwear before the incident took place. She may have initially wanted to go through with it and changed her mind at the last moment, but Tyson was too much of a reckless animal to hear or sense her terrified opposition.

If she did falsely accuse him, I believe the intent came not before but after, when she furiously realized that she was just another piece of meat that Tyson was tossing away after he was done with it. That’s why I also don’t doubt at all that Tyson honestly believes he is innocent, which is why he turned down an opportunity at an early release because he simply refused to apologize to her — just an apology, not even an admission of guilt. In any case, the rape case is a fascinating part of the book, and I would recommend everyone to read up about it as much as they can before making their own judgment.

That was heavy.

The book slows down towards the end and becomes more contemplative, as Tyson’s drug and alcohol abuse, sex addiction, accumulated boxing injuries and uncontrollable fury prevent him from having any semblance of a real life. In the end, it’s his love for his current wife and the loss of one of his children in a tragic accident that keep him from completely falling off the wagon, though as he concedes in the book’s postscript it’s still an ongoing battle he’s taking one day at a time. Just as I was finishing the book I read elsewhere about Tyson’s latest implosion on Canadian television during an interview, confirming that no matter how much therapy he receives his demons will likely follow him until the day he dies.

It’s strange, because despite wasting all his talent and hard work and throwing away all the fruits of his success, I can’t help but feel sorry for the guy. On the other hand, even Tyson’s staunchest defenders would concede that he is a destructive individual with loathsome qualities — and that’s even if you believe he is innocent of rape. You can defend his actions to some extent because of his horrific upbringing, the toxic environment and people he grew up with, and the constant bullying and abuse he suffered as a child, but apologizing for Mike Tyson can only go so far because there are some things he has done — things he readily admits to in the book — that are simply inexcusable at any level of human decency.

Tyson understands this himself and appears genuinely remorseful at times (though at other times he remains defensive), attributing his insanity to the combustible combination of a massive ego and extremely low self-esteem. He was born in the gutter, and no matter how much success and money he achieved throughout his career, he still believed that he belonged in the gutter, which is why he could never put an end to his self-destructive tendencies.

That’s why I say you cannot treat Tyson like a real person if you want to truly enjoy this book. It’s a strange comparison, but I like to think of him as Homer Simpson — a character you find endearing in spite of, and maybe even because of, his anti-social qualities, but would hate if you knew such a person in real life. Everyone probably has an opinion on Tyson, both as a boxer and as a man, and neither might be flattering. But don’t let your prejudices get in the way of one of the best books you might ever read.

5/5

Likes and dislikes from NBA All-Star Weekend 2014

February 17, 2014 in Basketball, NBA, Sport by pacejmiller

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The NBA’s annual February showcase just concluded in New Orleans with the Eastern Conference All-Stars earning a record 163-155 come-from-behind victory over the Western Conference All-Stars, with Kyrie Irving winning the MVP after racking up 31 points and 14 assists. Blake Griffin and Kevin Durant each scored 38 in a losing effort.  It’s one of those events I look forward to every year that never lives up to the hype or the expectations, and this year of course was no different. We’re so accustomed to only remembering the highlight reels that we tend to forget all the embarrassing moments, the airballs and the missed dunks.

Having said that, this year’s All-Star Weekend is my favourite in years. Here’s what I liked and didn’t like about it.

LIKEDIndiana Pacers represent!

My Pacers had two All-Stars this year in starter (and third-leading vote getter) Paul George and Roy Hibbert, plus the East coach in Frank Vogel as the Pacers have, ahem, the best record in the m@*$#f&^*ing conference. It would have been even better had Lance Stephenson and David West also made the team like they should have, but it’s hard to complain when your team already has three guys in it.

This is how I voted fir the All-Star Game

This is how I voted fir the All-Star Game

 

And it was a successful outing for the trio. Paul George led the East to a clean sweep over the West in the Dunk Comp and finished with a solid 18 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists in the All-Star Game itself, while Roy Hibbert had 8 points, 5 rebounds and 2 assists in just 12 minutes off the bench. Coach Vogel, of course, orchestrated the team’s brilliant come-from-behind win.

 Oh, and before I forget it’s actually four Pacers, because assistant coach Nate McMillan coached Team Hill to victory over Team Webber in the Rising Stars Challenge. Hang on, it’s actually FIVE Pacers if you include TNT analyst and the greatest Pacer of all-time,  Reggie Miller!

Overall, a great experience for the team. Even though it would have been good for George and Hibbert to get some rest because they had been playing like crap heading into the break, I think being around all these great players will really pump them up for the back end of the season.

LIKED: The Celebrity Game

This is one of those events I wish gets more coverage because it’s always fascinating to see which celebs can actually ball. I guess they throw in some retired NBA greats and WNBA stars to make it look a little less horrible aesthetically, but personally I would prefer it if they were all non-athletes, or at least people not known for basketball. I don’t usually know most of the celebs in the game, but most of the time you just need a couple of big names like Kevin Hart, Erin Heatherton and Michael B Jordan to keep it interesting.

really liked how they got Bill Simmons and Jalen Rose to coach the teams, but it would have been even better had they been in charge of drafting their own teams by reaching out to celebrities in their respective phone books.

This game itself was also surprisingly entertaining. I only recently watched Michael B Jordan light up the screen in Fruitvale Station, and he showed how he can really ball by pouring in 16 points despite being the focal point of the defense. But really, the star of the night was without a doubt US Secretary of Education (and former professional bball player in Australia!) Arne Duncan, who powered his team to a 60-56 win 20 points, 11 rebounds and 6 assists, plus a handful of brilliant highlight-reel plays. He was so good that Kevin Hart, voted MVP by the fans for the third straight year, gave up the trophy.

DISLIKED: Nick Cannon

Mr Mariah Carey hosted the whole thing and he was just terrible. He tried but it was embarrassing seeing him try to liven up the mood and failing. He also posted a -14 plus-minus in 20 minutes of court time in the Celebrity Game along with this wonderful shot chart. To think he missed Valentine’s Day with his wife for this.

THUMB-nick-cannon_medium

DISLIKED: Joe Johnson

No one thought Joe Johnson was an All-Star this year, and yet here he was, taking up a spot that should have gone to Lance! Seriously, Johnson is averaging 15 points on 43.8% shooting with 3.2 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game for the 24-27 Brooklyn Nets, while Lance is putting up 14.1 on 50.2% shooting with 7.3 rebounds and 5.1 assists for the 40-12 Indiana Pacers. Come on!

And to prove my point, Johnson came last in the Three-Point Contest with just 11 out of a possible 34 points, then shot 2-7 in the All-Star Game for a team-low 5 points. I won’t torture you with a video of his performance.

LIKED: Damian Lillard

At the opposite end of the scale is Damian Lillard, who set a record by participating in five All-Star Weekend events — the Rising Stars Challenge (13, 5 and 5), the Skills Challenge (winner along with Trey Burke), Three-Point Contest (18, just missing out in final), Dunk Comp (lost to Eastern Conference) and the All-Star Game itself (9 points). His self alley-oop through-the-legs and 360 bounce pass lefty dunk were two of the better ones of the evening too. Sure, only one win from five events, but full marks for effort and participation. Great work, young man.

LIKED: The Three-Point Comp

Interesting strategic addition this year with the one rack containing all money balls (which are worth 2 points instead of the usual 1), which the contestant can choose where they want to put. This means together with the single money ball at the end of the other four racks there are 9 money balls all up, raising the maximum score from 30 to 34.

Unfortunately, despite having some of the best shooters in the league competing this year, only two guys, the winner Marco Belinelli and runner up Bradley Beal, had rounds of more than 20. Belinelli saved his best for last, scoring 24 in the tie-breaker round, while Beal had 21 in his first round. However, it was exciting to see the contest head into a tie-breaker and there were moments of real intensity, especially when the contestants got to the all-money-ball rack.

PS: Really disappointing that heavy favourite Steph Curry only had 16 and didn’t make the second round.

LIKED/DISLIKED: The Dunk Comp

I know a lot of people hated the new format, but I think it’s commendable that they at least tried something new because there hasn’t been a really good dunk comp in years with so many professional dunkers posting their ridiculous feats on YouTube and contestants favouring flair over substance and props over genuine creativity. Moreover, this year there were some real stars participating, unlike previous years, with Paul George, John Wall and Damian Lillard leading the way.

The new format pitted the three dunkers from each conference against each other, first in a “freestyle” round where they had 90 seconds to do as many dunks as they like (with at least one dunk from each team member), then a “battle” round where it’s one-on-one between the two conferences, with the first to rack up three victories emerging as the winner. This year the East dominated the freestyle round and all three of the battles, with John Wall being voted “Dunker of the Night” by fans with this killer jam.

With all the negative feedback, it seems more likely that the league will scrap the format altogether and return to the way it was before. Personally, I’d like to see them try it one more year but with a few tweaks.

First of all, the freestyle round thing has to go because watching three guys running around at the same time saps the excitement and anticipation as it makes each dunk less meaningful. It also makes it extremely hard to judge. That said, I do like the teamwork element of it, so maybe next year they can have a “team round” where each team gets to perform three team dunks (with a different finisher each time) and the total scores added to determine the winner of the round. They don’t have to use all three guys with each dunk, but they need at least two to make it a team dunk.

Secondly, the battle round is nice and all, but viewers were left unsatisfied because: 1. There was no actual scoring, just a “who was better” vote; and 2. It ended abruptly as soon as the East got the three required wins. What I also don’t understand is the link between the two rounds — what if the West won the freestyle round and the East won the battle round? Who is declared the victor then? Shouldn’t they still have a scoring system which will help determine the winning team overall?

What most people have suggested, which I agree with, is to have the three dunkers from the winning squad take on each other with at least one more dunk. That way you have an actual “Slam Dunk Champion” as opposed to a “Dunker of the Night”. As for the fan voting to decide the winner? I’m not sure if it’s good or bad. Maybe they need to make it 50/50 with the judges or something.

LIKED: The All-Star Game

Fugly jerseys, maybe, but personally I didn’t mind the sleeves all that much.

I don’t usually get overly impressed with the All-Star Game, but this year’s was damn entertaining. A record 318 points scored, 100 three-pointers attempted (30 made), 88 assists and only 28 turnovers (not too different to most normal NBA games). Kevin Durant and Blake Griffin scored 38 each, which is third-most all-time behind Wilt Chamberlain’s 42 and Michael Jordan’s 40. And Blake Griffin’s alley-oops were incredible, as were LeBron’s explosive coast-to-coasts, Carmelo Anthony’s record 8 three-pointers and Kyrie Irving and Steph Curry’s insane handles. Just a fun showcase.

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