Back in the podcasting game

The new SportsMyriad podcast features me ranting about the U.S. women’s soccer roster, curling, Rio 2016 prep, youth soccer getting too serious, and of course, the bizarre lawsuit filed against Ronda Rousey by a guy who apparently lives at White Castle.

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Please let me know what you think. Yes, it goes too long — future podcasts will either be shorter or will have an interview segment.

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Monday Myriad, July 7: Meb passed a lot of you

Best and worst in myriad sports this week:

BEST CHARITY RUN

Meb Keflezighi started at the back of the Peachtree Road Race. He couldn’t pass everyone — the top runners were had been done for more than an hour by the time he started — but he reached his goal of passing 25,000 runners.

WORST COMPETITION

We were used to the idea of Ronda Rousey being a better grappler than every woman in MMA. Once she got you in her grasp, you were likely to fall prey to the armbar she honed as an Olympic judo medalist.

In her last two fights, Rousey has faced two accomplished grapplers — Olympic wrestling medalist Sara McMann and jiu-jitsu black belt Alexis Davis. She knocked both of them out in a combined time of 1 minute, 22 seconds. McMann, at least, is a relatively inexperienced MMA fighter. But Davis should have the kickboxing experience to avoid being knocked out in 16 seconds. And really, it was over in about 12.

Unless everyone can quit making excuses and let Rousey face Cris Cyborg, the woman who demolished the game but overwhelmed Gina Carano in the biggest pre-Rousey women’s MMA bout, who’s left to face her?

MOST EXPERIENCED YOUTH OLYMPIAN

The USA is sending 94 people to the Youth Olympic Games. One, table tennis player Lily Zhang, is the first U.S. athlete to have been in the regular old Olympics before she was in the Youth Olympics.

WORST OLYMPIC BIDDING PROCESS

The three finalists for the 2022 Winter Olympics are the only cities still bidding — Beijing, Almaty and Oslo. And you can almost hear the IOC saying, “Please be Oslo, please be Oslo.”

BEST GIF

MOST LEAD-FOOTED SWIMMER

BEST SHOWDOWN

Justin Gatlin needed a world-leading time of 9.80 seconds to beat Tyson Gay (9.93), who was returning from a one-year doping suspension.

Gay got a win on Monday.

BEST RALLY (EXCLUDING WIMBLEDON)

Not “rally” in the sense of a comeback. World League volleyball, USA-Russia.

(Start at 1:25 if you’re not already taken there.)

BIGGEST RECLAMATION PROJECT

MOST DIVERSE COLLECTION OF CELEBRITIES

The World Series of Poker main event is underway.

https://twitter.com/pamelam35/status/486308526004772865

BEST RACE

Jenny Simpson got out in front and nearly stayed there in the 1,500 meters in Paris. The quick tempo wound up dragging five runners under the four-minute mark. The Netherlands’ Sifan Hassan posted the top time of the year, Simpson just missed the American record (Mary Slaney, 3:57.12), and fellow American Shannon Rowbury (DUKIE!) set a personal best.

BEST RIVALRY

Kirani James vs LaShawn Merritt, once again. This time in Lausanne. No spoilers. Just watch.

BIGGEST TIE

World League volleyball, Pool A: Brazil, Italy, Iran, Poland. Each team played 12 matches. Brazil’s record: 6-6. Italy’s record: 6-6. Iran’s record: 6-6. Poland’s record: Basic match tells you what it has to be. A four-way tie.

By tiebreakers, it’s Italy, Iran, Brazil, Poland. And that leaves Poland out of the next round. But their fans were still great.

Meanwhile, the USA traveled to Serbia, needing a win to clinch a spot in the final.

BEST ROUNDUPS

The Daily Relay’s Monday Morning Run rounds up the record chases in track and field this year, along with a Tim Howard save. Also in that roundup is the shocking revelation of a massive mistake — when Emma Coburn ran away from an elite field to win the steeplechase in Shanghai, a couple of runners assumed she was just a pacemaker. They didn’t even realize she finished the race, crossing the line and thinking they had finished first and second.

They’re not making that mistake again.

And as always, Ollie Williams’ Frontier Sports roundup is a must-read. The Monday wrap features a lot of cycling (including a third sport for Dutch short-track/long-track speedskater Jorien Ter Mors) and the odd story of a judo athlete who won her appeal against a positive test for cocaine, spurring a new investigation to find out who might have slipped her the powder.

TUF Rousey-Tate: First impressions

This season of The Ultimate Fighter isn’t really about the coaches or the fighters. It’s about women’s MMA and the awkward collision of its past, present and future.

From its beginnings, MMA has always had awkward relations with its past. In Japan, promoters walked a fine line between fiction and reality. (“Hey, this is a real fight! Well, OK, that one wasn’t, but trust us — this one is!”) The first UFC events had to come up with something to explain why the guys in the cage were qualified to be there.

And even today, a lot of UFC fighters’ credentials are overstated. And a lot of the sport’s pioneers are discarded if they fall out of favor. (See Shamrock, Frank.)

Women’s MMA has an obscure history in the first place. Gina Carano got a couple of fights on prime time, sure. Others in the sport have been known only to the hard-core fans.

Enter Ronda Rousey.

The brash Olympic judo medalist has catapulted the sport into the limelight. She has more readily identifiable credentials than Carano — an Olympic medal speaks more loudly than a well-honed striking style. While Carano would smile and occasionally say the word “sex,” Rousey is willing to chat about anything from sex before fights to the tragic loss of her father when she was young. She is an athlete — and an exceptional one — who knows how to sell herself.

But it’s “herself.” Not so much the sport. Rousey isn’t Mia Hamm, smiling nervously amidst all the attention and deflecting the spotlight to those who came before her like Michelle Akers. Granted, MMA is an individual sport rather than a team sport. But Rousey seems to separate herself from her sport in ways that even the outlandishly self-promoting Muhammad Ali never did.

And that’s evident in The Ultimate Fighter. Rival coach Miesha Tate may have little chance of beating Rousey in their rematch at the end of this season, but she would certainly be a better fight commentator down the road. She knew the fighters, veterans and newcomers, and offered frank assessments of their strengths and weaknesses. Women’s MMA promotion Invicta FC would be wise to pick her up as the women’s MMA analogue of superb soccer commentator Kate Markgraf.

Rousey, on the other hand, had little to say. Maybe she was just busy taking notes, and perhaps she was in no mood to chat with Tate or Dana White, who had shocked her the preceding day by springing Tate into the gym in place of original coach Cat Zingano, who was injured.

Not that Rousey was departing from protocol. The Ultimate Fighter usually glosses over fighters’ pre-TUF careers. But in this case, that’s probably a mistake. Two of the sport’s biggest names, Tonya Evinger and Tara LaRosa, were beaten in their preliminary fights. That should be a bigger deal that it appeared on the show. They did at least play up Revelina Berto’s fighting family, which includes boxing star Andre Berto.

(By the way, men are also fighting this season. The preliminary fights were mostly terrible.)

Tate put things in perspective. She accurately predicted Evinger’s fade, questioning her heart and stamina. (She also made some allusion to girlfriend drama, and it’s fair to say Evinger and Tate have had a feud far beyond what we’ve seen in other women’s sports.) She paid tribute to Roxanne Modafferi as a pioneer of the sport who’s “tough as nails” despite looking and talking more like a librarian than a fighter.

It’ll be tough not to root for the veterans here. Modafferi, someone I once interviewed for a story about fighters’ day jobs (she was an English teacher in Japan), is thoughtful and funny, shouting a bunch of cliches after her win and then admitting with a laugh that what she had just said was rather lame.

Then there’s Shayna Baszler, who isn’t the least bit afraid to talk up her credentials. She says she has already beaten some fighters who are now in the UFC (true) and is higher ranked than many of them (also true — she’s only two places behind Tate). She’s carrying a big chip on her shoulder and yet is the overwhelming favorite, wisely chosen first by Rousey.

And she delivered the quote of the night to explain why the veterans may have more grit and determination than the younger crowd. “It’s easy to be hungry when the feast is at the table. I was hungry when all we were being fed were crumbs.”

The Rousey-Tate rivalry is, at its heart, all about the respect the brash newcomer should be paying to those who paved the way in this sport. Brock Lesnar stomped to the top of an undertalented heavyweight class and was still gracious to people like Randy Couture. We haven’t yet heard such things from Rousey, though perhaps she’ll get a chance when she’s in the odd situation of coaching someone like Baszler, who has a better-rounded skillset than the armbar-reliant Rousey.

Personally, I should be thrilled with Rousey’s success. I was touting her as an MMA prospect before she won an Olympic medal. I may have even mentioned to Dana White, who probably laughed about it at the time. (To be sure, he didn’t sign Rousey on my recommendation.) And there’s no question women’s MMA is in a better place now than it was before her emergence.

But Rousey, intentionally or not, gives the impression that she thinks herself bigger than the sport. She may say the occasional kind word about Liz Carmouche or Cat Zingano, but this whole MMA thing feels like a little dalliance for her, just a stepping stone between her careers in the Olympics and in Hollywood.

We can’t place all the blame on Rousey for dragging the Tate rivalry with into Dynasty territory. Tate went there, too. And Rousey is a bit like the Yankees, Manchester United or Duke basketball — her success breeds contempt. Rousey’s a tremendous athlete and a shrewd person who has probably outdrafted Tate, who opted for her young training partner over Baszler and may pay for that pick next week.

So Tate and her team may be the underdogs here. The Rockys to Rousey’s Clubber Lang. Should be fun to watch this play out.

And there’s a dude who looks like the biggest behavioral problem since Junie Browning. Plus the potential for couples to form if the fighters somehow forget the house has cameras everywhere. As soon as people figure out how to find Fox Sports 1 on their TVs (wow, people are clueless), this show might take off.

The Ultimate Fighter Live update: Awkward!

We’ve seen fighters cry. We’ve seen fighters in the shower accused of doing something unclean in there. We’ve seen Tito Ortiz and Ken Shamrock left alone in a room with a camera crew for what seemed like hours.

Last week, we saw the most awkward scene in the history of The Ultimate Fighter.

Everyone’s surely sick of hearing me talk about touting Ronda Rousey as a future MMA star a few years ago. I never dreamed she would be this successful this quickly. I also never dreamed she would embrace the role of MMA sexpot. Oh, the Octagon Girls still get their share of attention, but Rousey is now the Mae West of MMA.

Continue reading The Ultimate Fighter Live update: Awkward!

Rousey’s armbar parade and the state of women’s MMA

As I’ve bragged repeatedly, perhaps because I’m so rarely ahead of the curve on such on things, I was touting Ronda Rousey as a future MMA star even before the 2008 Olympics. She was a badass, she was quotable, and she won a lot of her judo bouts by armbar — a good way of winning MMA fights.

So why am I a little concerned upon waking up this morning (no, I didn’t get a chance to see the fight — glad to see full highlights available) to see that Rousey has taken the Strikeforce title — again by armbar, again in the first round?

Perhaps it’s because I was impressed with Miesha Tate when I interviewed her for espnW. She’s a terrific spokeswoman for her sport. But honestly, I had a few misgivings before chatting with Tate.

Maybe because I don’t like bullies and brash attitudes. I’ll stand by my distaste for Chael Sonnen’s entire approach to the sport. I frankly don’t want to see Sonnen fight Anderson Silva again.

But beyond that, it’s a concern about the state of women’s MMA, a young sport within a young sport.

Think back to boxer James Toney fighting Randy Couture. Toney seemed to think his boxing skills, along with a brief introduction to the other aspects of the sport, would be sufficient for competing in the Octagon. A few boxing scribes turned up in Boston eager to heap dirt upon mixed martial arts, and the “no cheering on press row” ideal went out the window. When Couture wisely used a mix of mixed martial arts skills — a wrestling takedown, a jiu-jitsu finish and the MMA-specific skill of ground-and-pound — to subdue Toney, the crowd released a roar that was equal parts excitement, validation and relief.

To be fair, Rousey isn’t James Toney. Her MMA career has been brief, but she has still worked her way up a ladder. A judo base is also a lot better preparation for MMA than a boxing base — once she gets in a clinch or takes the fight to the ground, she’s in her element.

A better comparison might be Brock Lesnar, who fought for the UFC heavyweight title with a 2-1 record, beating no one of consequence. Like Rousey, Lesnar was a tough, powerful athlete with a grappling base. Even in his loss to Frank Mir, he showed a good set of MMA skills, adding ground-and-pound to his wrestling before showing his inexperience and falling into a submission.

Yet Lesnar’s rapid rise also pointed to a weak division of UFC heavyweights. The heavyweight class isn’t the deepest in MMA, and the UFC at the time was lacking a lot of the world’s best.

So what does Rousey’s rapid rise tell us about the state of women’s MMA?

Michael David Smith takes the half-full view. And he’s right that Rousey’s next fight could be a more compelling test than Tate was. Tate tried swarming Rousey with punches and kicks early, but she’s not a standout striker, and Compustrike only counted eight strikes that landed in 4:27 of fight time. By comparison, Sarah Kaufman landed 141 standing arm strikes — not just leg kicks and ground strikes that are easier to accumulate — in her win over Alexis Davis, even though Davis put her on the ground most of round 3 and wound up outstriking her in the total numbers. (Yes, I really wish I had seen that fight, and it’s a pity Strikeforce/Showtime didn’t put it on the main card.)

Maybe Kaufman will fill the Cain Velasquez role, beating the new champion in a standup battle, or at least the Shane Carwin role, taking it to the champion and forcing a comeback win. Then again, if Kaufman couldn’t keep Davis from taking her down even after punishing her for two rounds, can she keep Rousey at bay?

Like Lesnar (and unlike Toney), Rousey has built nicely on her grappling base, and she finally got a chance to show more of her skills against Tate. Rousey’s previous bouts hadn’t lasted more than a minute, and she was never put in any danger. Rousey had to work for this one. Tate at least got in a few punches and even got on her back at one point. She also got out of Rousey’s first armbar attempt. Rousey even showed off some ground-and-pound skills. Tate held on until her arm reached this gruesome point. (Warning: Not kidding about “gruesome.”)

So we can’t complain too much about her worthiness as a champion, even if she talked her way into the title shot. She’s a terrific fighter. And she’s exciting — fellow fighters lit up Twitter last night to gush about what they had seen.

Perhaps she’ll be the first of a new wave. Already, fellow Olympic-bred badass Sara McMann is blazing a trail through MMA. Men’s MMA evolved when elite wrestlers like Couture and Dan Henderson embraced the new sport. Maybe Rousey, McMann and company can do the same thing.

But just as MMA fans fondly recall the men’s trailblazers, even those who wouldn’t be competitive in the modern era, we should remember the people who fought before fighting was cool. And perhaps a few old-school fans will be rooting for Kaufman to win one for the old guard and teach these new folks some humility.