Monday, December 25, 2006

United Top the Christmas Tree

Santa arrived early for Manchester United, as Aston Villa gifted Cristiano Ronaldo two second half goals which was sandwiched in between by a Christmas cracker by Paul Scholes, to consolidate the Red Devils position at the top of the leader board. But the Villans gave United a scare on twelve minutes, as Olof Mellberg’s touch to Chris Sutton, braised the Villa striker’s head and hit the foot of Edwin Van Der Sar’s right hand post. United replied with a Patrice Evra kow drive which was comfortably stopped by Gabor Kiraly, on just under the half hour mark. After Ryan Giggs had turned the Villa defence inside out, the Welsh play maker, laid a square pass to Ronaldo, who fired a low shot inches wide of Kiraly’s right post, on thirty eight minutes. But as Villa stood still, thirteen minutes into the second half, Ronaldo strived forward and picked up a rebound, before shooting the ball into the centre of the net, to give United the lead. A piece of brilliance by Scholes, increased their advantage, as he latched onto a looping ball, and from outside the penalty box, rifled his effort into the roof of the net, in the sixty third minute. The introduction of Wayne Rooney, helped create further United opportunities, the first after Rooney had laid the ball off to Ronaldo, who had his effort deflected wide from close range, with seventy five minutes played. Then on eighty two minutes, Rooney found Ronaldo unmarked again, whose strike crashed the back of the net, but was ruled offside. But Rooney gained his reward, after his neat build up play, found Gary Nevile, whose low cross opened up the Villa defence, and Ronaldo had the simple task of rolling the ball into an empty net, in the eighty fifth minute, to round off a comprehensive United victory, which left the Aston Villa manager, Martin O’ Neill, with much to ponder afterwards, as he commented:

“Well in the game up until the first goal, well in it. Taking the game to Manchester United, and I thought that we were giving as good as we got. Disappointing to lose the goal in the fashion that we did do because we were attacking in their half and we’ve lost possession there, and of course it picks up, Ronaldo goes a fair distance and scores from the second attempt. But obviously a major turning point in the game, the turning point, I should say.”

“We lost a wee bit of shape just after that, which I suppose with the young boys in the side, you might do. They punished us with a terrific second goal and chasing the game from then on in.”

Monday, December 18, 2006

Reo-Coker Responds to Curbishley

New West Ham United manager, Alan Curbishley, started his campaign in style, as his skipper, Nigel Reo-Coker, compounded his critics, to score the winning goal against league leaders, Manchester United. It was a crucial win for West Ham United, in their quest to avoid relegation, as Curbishley was quick to point out.

“It’s a great result but considering yesterday’s results, no disrespect to the two teams which are just above us, but when they won away, it put a lot of pressure on it. It could be Man United, it could be anyone, just to get the result today, to stay in there, and stay with it, was vitally important.”

“It’s a short term situation for me to get this club, out that bottom three, and then after that it’s a long term situation, and we can push on. But we have got to get ourselves out the bottom three, and we have got to start enjoying the rest of this season. When you are in it around this time, it’s a long second half, and we have got to be ready for it.”

After Teddy Sheringham had supplied the pass to Marlon Harewood, whose back hill squeezed through to Reo-Coker, the game was won in the seventy fourth minute, as Reo-Coker neatly tucked the ball past Edwin Van Der Sar, from close range, but Curbishley also admired his team’s defensive duties.

“I don’t know about what we did differently against Man United, I don’t know, but obviously stopped them scoring. But there were some fantastic tackles out there, there were some fantastic blocks.”

Victory for the Hammers, cut the gap at the top of the Premier League, as the slip up by Manchester United, put Chelsea in touching distance, who after winning at Everton, are hot on their heels.

“It’s a titanic battle between the two of them at the moment, and I understand Chelsea came back from it, this afternoon, and Alex will be the first to tell you, it’s a tough a season, and there’s unexpected results coming up, and if your in that top situation, you can’t have too many unexpected results, and it was an unexpected result, today.”

Friday, December 15, 2006

Contender to Calzaghe's Throne

The New Year will bring exciting match ups for British boxing fans, none more so than the Cinderella story, which sees Peter Manfredo Junior rise from being a beaten finalist in the million dollar television series The Contender, to challenge Joe Calzaghe, for his WBO Super-Middleweight title, at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, on April 7.

“I’m just happy for this opportunity, I think I’m ready for it. My last two fights have been great, I’m ready for the next step up which is to fight a guy like Joe Calzaghe, and to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best. He’s the best in the game right now at Super-Middleweight,” commented Manfredo Junior.

“Before the reality show I was 21 and 0 and NABO champion. I was working my way up to a big fight like this, and I took the show because it was a million dollar pay day, I think any fighter would have did it. Fighters don’t make a lot of money unless your in a calibre of a Joe Calzaghe or a De La Hoya or Jeff Lacy, we don’t make much money. So I seen an opportunity to make a million dollars, I went for the show.” added. Manfredo Junior

“Why did I go on the show, its so unrealistic to boxing, my performance on the show. We were living with the fighters, five rounds when I’m used to doing twelve. Challenges a day before the fight, when you can get injured. Weigh ins, hours before the fight, which is so unrealistic to this. I’m glad that I did that because people got to know who I was, but I’m also glad that Joe gave me this opportunity because people can see who I am as a fighter,” concluded Manfredo Junior.

Calzaghe ended the year by receiving Best Boxer of the Year in the British Boxing Board of Control annual awards and the Sportsman of the Year, as voted by the Sports Journalists’ Association of Great Britain, as the Welsh fighter made two successful defences of his title in 2006, after points victories over Jeff Lacy and Sakio Bika. Now, with an unbeaten professional fight record of forty two contests, he will be contesting his twentieth world championship fight.

“This will be my twentieth defence and I’m so close to making history and I can’t let any other fighter try and take away what’s going to be history for me. Especially fighting in front of my home fans in Cardiff, its going to be maybe the biggest boxing show that’s ever in Britain, and I’m going to make sure that I’m going to be in the best possible shape, and want to be as good a shape as I was in for the Lacy fight so its going to be a good fight. Peter’s going to fight his heart out, styles make fights, I like the way he fights, his exciting, I’m an exciting fighter and the fans going to be in for a treat,” said Calzaghe

Audley Harrison can next be seen in action on February 17, when he tops the bill at Wembley Arena, and promoter Frank Warren is confident of putting together a world title fight for the 2000 Olympic Super-Heavyweight Champion, who has his eyes on the biggest prize in sport.

“I think it would be good for Britain to have a heavyweight champion and after the Olympics I set that goal and I believed in it. Its been a long road but I’m going forward and I’m really going to give it my best shot, and I honestly believe I’ve got the skills and tools to be a champ,” said Harrison.

The perfect opponent for Harrison would be Vladimir Klitschko, which would be an ideal fighter to face, from the current crop of Heavyweight Champions.

“I’d prefer the best one, who I think is the best one or is regarded as the best one which is Vladimir. The reason why because of the appeal of him being the Olympic Gold medal list, number one. I think the fact that he has boxed Calvin Brock and Samuel Peter, who were both with me in Sydney, number two because there is a benchmark there, and I believe as a Gold medal list one to another, I think that’s a huge fight.”

Chelsea's Late Charge on Arsenal

Chelsea battled back from a goal behind against Arsenal, and were denied victory by the jaws of the crossbar and post, as the spoils were shared amongst London’s top two sides. The Blues first mounted an attack on fifteen minutes, from Andriy Shevchenko’s curling effort. A minute later, Michael Ballack unleashed a long range screamer, which went narrowly wide. The woodwork denied Chelsea on eighteen minutes, as Frank Lampard’s shot hit the foot of Jens Lehmann’s right hand post, as the Gunners had a lucky escape. Arsenal went close on twenty one minutes, as a speculative long range effort from Robin Van Persie, went narrowly wide. Ex Gunner, Ashley Cole, raised the emotions of the away supporters, after the Blues left back caught Alexander Hleb with a late callenge and received a yellow card in the twenty second minute. In the thirty third minute, Michael Essien ballooned an effort from close range, and after Lehmann was caught flapping from a Lampard corner in the thirty seventh minute, Essien’s low strike was cleared off the line from Cesc Fabrgeas. At the start of the second half, Emmanuel Adebayor snatched at a shot, after leaving Carvalho in his wake, and Van Persie then headed over a cross by Adebayor. On sixty minutes, Fabregas fired a shot into the body of Chelsea’s stand in goalkeeper, Henrique Hilario. Arjen Robben then stamped his authority on seventy minutes, after latching onto Philippe Senderos’s loose pass, he fired at Lehmann, and Lampard was unable to follow up the rebound. Two minutes later from Robben’s build up play, Didier Drogba fired wide of Lehmann’s left hand post, and then Robben again caused havoc, as he shot narrowly wide of Lehmann’s left hand post. After Fabrgeas had shot over from a Van Persie free kick, Arsenal got the breakthrough in the seventy seventh minute, as Van Perise laid the ball off to Matthieu Flamini, who drilled his shot past Hilario, into the bottom left hand corner of the net. But Chelsea bounced back and after Drogba went close on two occasions, Chelsea drew level in the eighty fourth minute, as Lampard supplied a pass to Michael Essien, who from thirty yards out leathered the ball past Lehmann, into the top right hand corner, with a curling effort. Into stoppage time, Chelsea cursed their bad luck, as firstly Essien hit the underside of the crossbar and then Lampard struck a shot against the inside of the post, as the Blues made a late charge on Arsenal.

Harrison Takes Revenge on Williams

Promoter, Frank Warren had his work cut out after first Matt Skelton pulled out of his heavy weight title fight against Audley Harrison, due to a hand inury through a sparring session, and then to make matters worse Scott Harrison withdrew with 72 hours notice from the top of the bill WBO Featherweight contest against Nicky Cook, after claiming he could not make the weight.

Up to the plate stepped Danny Williams as he faced Audley Harrison in a re-match of their dull Commonwealth Heavyweight encounter at the same ExCel Arena, a year earlier. That time round, Audley was greeted by the ringing sound of boos from the crowd, disenchanted by the lack of action, as Williams won on points.

“Physically, spiritually, mentally and emotionally, I’m in the right place, and the first Danny Williams fight and Dominick Guinn fight, you might as well say I gave those fights away, even though it was a split decision and a points loss, I didn’t perform, I didn’t turn up,” said Audley Harrison.

But Harrison made amends in the re-match, and took the fight to Williams, who was wobbled at the start of the contest and received a heavy cut around his nose which the doctors inspected during the second round. Harrison stepped up his attacks in the third and floored Williams with left and right combinations, who was in no condition to continue, as referee, Richie Davis stepped in to stop the fight after 2 minutes and thirty two seconds.

“I definitely didn’t lose a lesson, last year. I was buried deep, they buried me deep, the press, the public, they buried me deep but as you see, I’ve come back because I believed I can win. Matt Skelton and Danny Williams, I believed I could win. I’ve done the work, I’ve paid the price,” added Harrison.

“I’ve dusted myself off and I’ve comeback. This was a year to the day that I was booed by the crowd, the press have been on my back, everyone has tried to write me off but look at me, I’m standing here in front of you again, and like I said, I think I’ve been blessed because I faced a guy, who beat me last year. It could either have been Matt Skelton, and everyone would have said now you have got to fight Danny, so I think I’ve been blessed, because after this Danny Williams performance, my mission and aim is to win a world title and that’s what I’m going to be focusing on,” concluded Harrison.

Williams was only too aware of how a loss can be overturned into victory, having experienced it, first hand against Matt Skelton, and after receiving stitches in his nose and face, after a bruising defeat against Harrison, he showed the first signs of contemplating hanging up his gloves.

“The Skelton fight was a big wake up call for me. Not many people can say the Tyson fight was the best thing to happen to me but it was probably the worst because after the Tyson fight, I just went crazy on all chocolates, and when the Klitschko fight came up, I was overweight and couldn’t get into proper condition and that had been the case for the last two years. The Skelton fight, after being embarrassed by a guy, who was basically a novice, a strong fit novice, that was a big wake up call,” commented Williams.

But there were no excuses from Williams for the battering he received from Harrison, as he added:

“Audley was just on the ball but maybe the Klitschko fight and the Tyson fight, because even though I won the Tyson fight, some of the shots I took was tremendous so these things take years out of you and maybe its caught up with me.”

Amir Khan was also drafted into a vacant IBF Intercontinetal light-welterweight championship fight against Frenchman, Rachid Drilzane, despite Khan’s decision that he would return to lightweight, after the fight. Celebrating, his twentieth birthday, the Friday before the fight, it was the young Bolton star’s first ten round contest, who overcame a standing count of eight in the seventh round, before receiving a unanimous points decision of 99 to 91 on all three judges score cards.

“I moved up to eight rounds and now to ten for the title. It gave me more focus for the fight and gave me something to fight for. These other fights I’ve been having in the past, have just been normal fights, just to get the experience, but now this fight had a title on the line, so I was more hungry and more focused, and my fitness was there, as I trained hard for this fight. I am over the moon, as soon as I turned twenty, the day after, I got a title fight, its brilliant.” added Khan

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Casey Caps Memorable Season

England’s Paul Casey has been named The 2006 European Tour Golfer of the Year following a wonderful season in which he won three times on The European Tour International Schedule, played a key role in Europe’s record third successive Ryder Cup victory over the United States and came within €35,252 (£23,616) of capturing the Harry Vardon Trophy for the first time.

The 29 year old receives the accolade for the first time in his short professional career after earning the vote of a panel comprising the Association of Golf Writers (AGW), Television, Radio and The European Tour, who met at the Royal Lancaster Hotel in London to discuss an outstanding list of contenders for the 2006 award. Among those also considered for the prestigious award were Darren Clarke, Luke Donald, Johan Edfors, Padraig Harrington, David Howell, Robert Karlsson, Jeev Milkha Singh, Henrik Stenson and 2006 Ryder Cup Captain, Ian Woosnam.

Casey won the Volvo China Open, the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles and a cheque for £1 million after capturing the HSBC World Match Play Championship at Wentworth Club in the week prior to The Ryder Cup.

At The K Club, Casey was undefeated in four matches, winning twice and halving twice as Europe equalled their 18 ½ - 9 ½ margin of victory from 2004, when the Englishman also played a leading role as a rookie.

One of the highlights of the week in Ireland came in the Saturday afternoon foursomes with David Howell, when Casey became the first player in Ryder Cup history to close out a match with a hole in one. His 213 yard four iron secured a 5 and 4 win over Stewart Cink and Zach Johnson.

In the season-ending Volvo Masters, Casey was laid low by a virus which threatened his participation at Valderrama. However he showed great fortitude in playing on before missing out on the Order of Merit to Ireland’s Padraig Harrington.

Ultimately, Harrington ended the season with €2,489,336 (£1,667,618) with Casey on €2,454,084 (£1,644,002), Howell on €2,321,166 (£1,554,959) and Robert Karlsson €2,044,935 (£1,369,911).

Casey said: “It is a tremendous honour to be named European Tour Golfer of the Year. To win three times during the 2006 season and play a part in Europe’s record breaking third successive Ryder Cup victory before finishing runner-up to Padraig in the Order of Merit was extremely satisfying, although it goes without saying that I was bitterly disappointed to miss out on the Harry Vardon Trophy.

“The race for the Number One position with Padraig, David Howell and Robert Karlsson was truly exceptional and, I believe, fired the imagination of the golfing public in Europe. It didn’t help that I was ill during the Volvo Masters but these things happen in sport. It was a tremendous tussle with my three Ryder Cup team mates and their determination to succeed also helped spur me on at the end of the season.

“Many great golfers have won The European Tour Golfer of the Year Accolade and it gives me a great feeling of pride to join that illustrious roll of honour.”

Friday, December 08, 2006

Peter and Toney Clash Again

The first meeting between Peter and Toney on Sept. 2 was an action-packed affair that featured excellent exchanges and few clinches. The match aired live on SHOWTIME from Staples Center in Los Angeles and was an elimination bout to determine who would be the mandatory challenger to the WBC heavyweight champion. Toney-Peter I will be available for fans to relive on SHOWTIME On Demand beginning in mid-December.

While Peter won the contest by split decision, the WBC Board of Governors voted 21 to 10 on Sept. 26 in favor of an immediate re-match. In their ruling, the WBC cited divided opinions among the media and fans—not to mention the judges. Two scored the match for Peter 116-111, while the final judge had it 115-112 for Toney.

Peter vs. Toney II will also have the added intrigue of being an elimination bout with the winner becoming the WBC mandatory challenger to the winner of Oleg Maskaev vs. Peter Okhello without any intervening bouts.

“We are very excited about this highly anticipated rematch between Samuel Peter and James Toney being held at the beautiful Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino on Showtime with the Seminole Indians and our co-promoters, Don King, Goossen Tutor, and Warriors Boxing,” Duva Boxing President Dino Duva said. “This is going to be a historic event and the outcome of the Peter-Toney rematch will be extremely significant to the division.”

Co-promoter Dan Goossen thinks Toney deserves the re-match.

“We are looking forward to starting 2007 with the Toney-Peter rematch, Goossen said. The media, fans and all of us were convinced that Toney was victorious in their first match. Come January 6, I promise James will be quicker and stronger, resulting in typical James Toney fashion “Light's Out” for Peter.”

Co-promoter Don King is looking forward to promoting the event in sunny and warm South Florida.

“This is the biggest prizefight ever staged at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino and I think the Seminole Indians and boxing fans in South Florida deserve it,” promoter Don King said. “It will be a spectacular inspired by the unconquered lifestyle of the Seminole Warrior.”

For everyone who has been waiting for the next Mike Tyson, Peter could be that heavyweight. His lone loss came by decision last year against Wladimir Klitschko after Peter had knocked him down three times. Every time he enters the ring, Peter exemplifies unsurpassed courage and delights fans with intoxicating excitement.

The 26-year-old from Akwa Ibom, Nigeria, now living in Las Vegas, felt he clearly won the first fight with Toney. Regardless, fighting the Old School boxer may have been the best thing that ever happened to the young puncher if it helps his boxing skills catch up with his proven punching power. If that were to occur, Peter could become the dominant heavyweight in the world.

“The first fight was not even close,” Peter (27-1, 22 KOs) said. “I won by five points on two of the scorecards—and that included me losing a point. Toney never hurt me.

“No boxer, including Toney, can deal with my power. Toney likes to talk but I am going to shut him up once and for all. I am solid like a rock and will do whatever it takes to become world champion. If that means beating Toney again, I will. Nothing has ever come easy for me, but I will beat Toney easier this time.

Toney (69-5-3, 43 KOs), of Los Angeles by way of Ann Arbor, Mich., said, “Justice has been served. No way he beat me last time and he knows it. The only times he hurt me was when he hit me on the back of the head.

“He did not do a thing. I took everything away from him. I showed I was not old or fat and out of shape. I beat him up. He did not leave a mark on me. I will whip Peter worse this time.”

At age 38, Toney has probably forgotten more about boxing than his young Nigerian nemesis has had time to learn. He is a living relic from the past, his ring skills learned over a lifetime. They have served him well from middleweight to heavyweight.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Hatton Hunts Urango, Castillo And Mayweather

Ring Magazine's Light Welterweight Champion Ricky Hatton is relishing his return to the 140-lb division after a brief foray into the deeper waters at welterweight. "The Hitman" is set to face fellow unbeaten Juan Urango at the Paris Hotel in Las Vegas on January 20, 2007, for the Colombian's IBF title.

"Urango has a big punch, he’s very muscular and very strong," said Hatton. "In his last fight he had to go looking for his opponent, but I don't think that's going to a problem when we get in the ring. I've got the bit between my teeth now and going to Las Vegas is a step in the right direction."

The Manchester Whirlwind has dreamed of fighting in Sin City from a young age but that ambition was nearly derailed during a life or death struggle against Luis Collazo for the WBA Welter title that Hatton won by the narrowest of margins, six months ago in Boston.

"I don't think I've lost anything," declared the confident 28-year-old. "I've still got the popularity and I'm getting a superfight with Jose Luis Castillo if both he and I come through our bouts in January. Getting a superfight, that's all I need, and I think against Castillo, it'll be forehead on forehead."

The announcement of Urango as Hatton's next opponent ended months of speculation that the stocky Mancunian could face Floyd Mayweather, Jr., or Oscar De La Hoya, two multi-weight world champions who ironically have since signed a contract to fight each other.

"I think De La Hoya will beat Mayweather and I don’t think Mayweather will retire," said Hatton, referring to the American's pledge to call it quits after one more fight. "He wants to be remembered as an all time great and its hard to criticize Floyd with what he's done, but you can't be an all time great having fought people like Baldomir.

"All of Mayweather's fights are the same and they're not exactly spectacles, not edge of your seat stuff. They carried him into to the Baldomir fight dressed like Russell Crowe, a warrior, but he ended up fighting more like Sheryl Crowe. He has great skill but he doesn’t have you on the edge of your seat."