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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Mayweather goes from WBC to WWE


Floyd Mayweather Jr. and partner Karina Smirnoff made it to the fourth week of "Dancing with the Stars" in October 2007 before being eliminated.

Undefeated boxer turns to wrestling for $20M payday


LOS ANGELES -- Floyd Mayweather Jr. will earn a record $20 million for his first professional wrestling match next month.

The undefeated WBC welterweight champion will take on Paul "Big Show" Wight as part of WWE's "WrestleMania XXIV" at Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Fla., on March 30.

The one-fight deal, which is believed to be the largest single purse for a pro wrestling match, was finalized in January by Mayweather's advisor, Leonard Ellerbee.

"I had approached the (WWE) about a year ago but it didn't fit into our schedule," said Ellerbee after a news conference at Staples Center. "We sat down with them again about a month ago and they made an incredible offer and me and my business partner Al Heyman sat down with them and we cut the deal. It's an eight-figure deal worth $20 million just for this one fight."

Mayweather is 39-0 in the ring, but the wrestling match will have a slightly more skewed tale of the tape than the 5-foot-8, 150-pound boxer is used to. Wight comes into match standing 7 feet tall and weighing 430 pounds.

"I weigh three times as much as he does. It's not fair, but I'm a businessman and I see an opportunity for business," said Wight, punctuating his statement by flinging the wooden podium to the floor.

Mayweather hopped onto a chair and exchanged glares with Wight while WWE regulars Randy Orton, John Cena, Triple H and Edge looked on

"We've wanted to do something with Mayweather for quite sometime," said WWE Executive Vice President Shane McMahon. "I brought my dad [Vince McMahon] into it because he grew up and did a lot of promotions with [Muhammad] Ali and I told him this guy is Ali-plus. He's tailor-made for our business."

Mayweather plans to train with WWE Latino star Ray Mysterio, who wears a mask on his face. "WWE is the biggest it gets," Mayweather said. "This is going to be an event like none other."

While other boxers such as Ali, Mike Tyson and Joe Louis have stepped into the pro wrestling ring, all of them did it at the end of their careers. Mayweather is making the transition in his prime, as a possible re-match with Oscar De La Hoya awaits in September.

"I'm not just any ordinary fighter," said Mayweather, who earned about $20 million for his 2007 fight against De La Hoya, which was the richest boxing match ever, generating revenue of $120 million.

"I dance with the stars, I play in NBA celebrity games; you just never know what Floyd Mayweather will do next. Next year I could be playing for an NFL team or an NBA team. You just don't know."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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When You're Too Slow To Avoid The Zamboni

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No, don't worry: A Pittsburgh Penguin did not get crushed on the ice. It's just what happens when a Zamboni's transmission fails, as reported by reader War Penguin, who was on the scene in Pittsburgh in its game against the San Jose Sharks. More action photos after the jump.

As you can see, it got to center ice and started spitting out giant gobs of transmission fluid. It was able to back up under its own power (making a giant red streak all the way), but they had to delay the game for 15 minutes, and make do with one Zamboni for the rest of the game. They didn't do any of the usual promos during the intermissions, presumably because it took twice as long to clean the ice with only one Zamboni.

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More Americans Are Giving Up Golf

HAUPPAUGE, N.Y. — The men gathered in a new golf clubhouse here a couple of weeks ago circled the problem from every angle, like caddies lining up a shot out of the rough.

“We have to change our mentality,” said Richard Rocchio, a public relations consultant.

“The problem is time,” offered Walter Hurney, a real estate developer. “There just isn’t enough time. Men won’t spend a whole day away from their family anymore.”

William A. Gatz, owner of the Long Island National Golf Club in Riverhead, said the problem was fundamental economics: too much supply, not enough demand.

The problem was not a game of golf. It was the game of golf itself.

Over the past decade, the leisure activity most closely associated with corporate success in America has been in a kind of recession.

The total number of people who play has declined or remained flat each year since 2000, dropping to about 26 million from 30 million, according to the National Golf Foundation and the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association.

More troubling to golf boosters, the number of people who play 25 times a year or more fell to 4.6 million in 2005 from 6.9 million in 2000, a loss of about a third.

The industry now counts its core players as those who golf eight or more times a year. That number, too, has fallen, but more slowly: to 15 million in 2006 from 17.7 million in 2000, according to the National Golf Foundation.

The five men who met here at the Wind Watch Golf Club a couple of weeks ago, golf aficionados all, wondered out loud about the reasons. Was it the economy? Changing family dynamics? A glut of golf courses? A surfeit of etiquette rules — like not letting people use their cellphones for the four hours it typically takes to play a round of 18 holes?

Or was it just the four hours?

Here on Long Island, where there are more than 100 private courses, golf course owners have tried various strategies: coupons and trial memberships, aggressive marketing for corporate and charity tournaments, and even some forays into the wedding business.

Over coffee with a representative of the National Golf Course Owners Association, the owners of four golf courses discussed forming an owners’ cooperative to market golf on Long Island and, perhaps, to purchase staples like golf carts and fertilizer more cheaply.

They strategized about marketing to women, who make up about 25 percent of golfers nationally; recruiting young players with a high school tournament; attracting families with special rates; realigning courses to 6-hole rounds, instead of 9 or 18; and seeking tax breaks, on the premise that golf courses, even private ones, provide publicly beneficial open space.

“When the ship is sinking, it’s time to get creative,” said Mr. Hurney, a principal owner of the Great Rock Golf Club in Wading River, which last summer erected a 4,000-square-foot tent for social events, including weddings, christenings and communions.

The disappearance of golfers over the past several years is part of a broader decline in outdoor activities — including tennis, swimming, hiking, biking and downhill skiing — according to a number of academic and recreation industry studies.

A 2006 study by the United States Tennis Association, which has battled the trend somewhat successfully with a forceful campaign to recruit young players, found that punishing hurricane seasons factored into the decline of play in the South, while the soaring popularity of electronic games and newer sports like skateboarding was diminishing the number of new tennis players everywhere.

Rodney B. Warnick, a professor of recreation studies and tourism at the University of Massachusetts, said that the aging population of the United States was probably a part of the problem, too, and that “there is a younger generation that is just not as active.”

But golf, a sport of long-term investors — both those who buy the expensive equipment and those who build the princely estates on which it is played — has always seemed to exist in a world above the fray of shifting demographics. Not anymore.

Jim Kass, the research director of the National Golf Foundation, an industry group, said the gradual but prolonged slump in golf has defied the adage, “Once a golfer, always a golfer.” About three million golfers quit playing each year, and slightly fewer than that have been picking it up. A two-year campaign by the foundation to bring new players into the game, he said, “hasn’t shown much in the way of results.”

“The man in the street will tell you that golf is booming because he sees Tiger Woods on TV,” Mr. Kass said. “But we track the reality. The reality is, while we haven’t exactly tanked, the numbers have been disappointing for some time.”

Surveys sponsored by the foundation have asked players what keeps them away. “The answer is usually economic,” Mr. Kass said. “No time. Two jobs. Real wages not going up. Pensions going away. Corporate cutbacks in country club memberships — all that doom and gloom stuff.”

In many parts of the country, high expectations for a golf bonanza paralleling baby boomer retirements led to what is now considered a vast overbuilding of golf courses.

Between 1990 and 2003, developers built more than 3,000 new golf courses in the United States, bringing the total to about 16,000. Several hundred have closed in the last few years, most of them in Arizona, Florida, Michigan and South Carolina, according to the foundation.

(Scores more courses are listed for sale on the Web site of the National Golf Course Owners Association, which lists, for example, a North Carolina property described as “two 18-hole championship courses, great mountain locations, profitable, $1.5 million revenues, Bermuda fairways, bent grass, nice clubhouses, one at $5.5 million, other at $2.5 million — possible some owner financing.”)

At the meeting here, there was a consensus that changing family dynamics have had a profound effect on the sport.

“Years ago, men thought nothing of spending the whole day playing golf — maybe Saturday and Sunday both,” said Mr. Rocchio, the public relations consultant, who is also the New York regional director of the National Golf Course Owners Association. “Today, he is driving his kids to their soccer games. Maybe he’s playing a round early in the morning. But he has to get back home in time for lunch.”

Mr. Hurney, the real estate developer, chimed in, “Which is why if we don’t repackage our facilities to a more family orientation, we’re dead.”

To help keep the Great Rock Golf Club afloat, owners erected their large climate-controlled tent near the 18th green last summer. It sat next to the restaurant, Blackwell’s, already operating there. By most accounts, it has been a boon to the club — though perhaps not a hole in one.

Residents of the surrounding neighborhood have complained about party noise, and last year more than 40 signed a petition asking the town of Riverhead to intervene. Town officials are reviewing whether the tent meets local zoning regulations, but have not issued any noise summonses. Mr. Hurney told them he had purchased a decibel meter and would try to hire quieter entertainment.

One neighbor, Dominique Mendez, whose home is about 600 feet from the 18th hole, said, “We bought our house here because we wanted to live in a quiet place, and we thought a golf course would be nice to see from the window. Instead, people have to turn up their air conditioners or wear earplugs at night because of the music thumping.”

During weddings, she said: “you can hear the D.J., ‘We’re gonna do the garter!’ It’s a little much.”

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Top 10: Super Bowl Champions

WhatIfSports.com used its free NFL SimMatchup technology (you could do this too!) to simulate the 42 Super Bowl champions against one another -- 100 times each. This means that each team played 4,100 games and 86,100 games were played in total. At the end, we looked at all of the games and ranked teams by winning percentage to find the top 10. This is the most accurate and thorough approach to answering “the question.”

The conclusion may not be “the 2007 New England Patriots,” but the question is still relevant -- and WhatIfSports.com has a definitive answer.

The debate in question is precisely why the site exists and it’s one of the major reasons why sports talk radio exists. It is why we all talk sports with our fathers and grandfathers, just like we do or will with our children and grandchildren. That’s because the conversation concerns historical context. On the heels of one of the most exciting and dramatic Super Bowls ever, and with so much recent discussion about NFL history, the specific question is; “Which team was the greatest Super Bowl champion of all time?” Or, more appropriately, “what if” the undefeated 1972 Miami Dolphins and other elite teams played all of the other Super Bowl champions? The answer: The Dolphins would win just more than 60% of the time, while the 1985 Chicago Bears and 1999 St. Louis Rams would each win well over 70% of their games.

When running these games, the simulation engine factors in actual regular season statistics that are adjusted equally on a historical and relative (to other teams that season and to strength of schedule) basis. This means that if a team or player had a record-breaking rushing season against a schedule that includes very weak rush defenses, the team or player will still perform well, but may not perform as well it did that year. This also means that the computer does not have to try to figure out how a 230-pound offensive lineman can block a 330-pound defensive tackle. Everything is in the numbers and relative to the context of that season.

Record has nothing to do with this analysis, but do not confuse that with a neglect for “heart” or “clutch.” Strengths, weaknesses, consistency, comfort under pressure, and the like are all “intangible” factors that show through in the numbers. And teams with better numbers typically win -- especially when the games are played often.

The 2007 New York Giants rank No. 23. Although the Giants looked like the better team in Super Bowl XLII, it was still an upset. Had the Patriots just won, they would appear among the top few on this list. Now they are not on it. That is how big that game was.

The top 10 Super Bowl champions list starts with a bit of a surprise:

Number 10

1972 Miami Dolphins

Winning percentage: 60.7%

We would even go so far as to say that the undefeated Dolphins were very lucky. The team had a good running game, yet it was relatively one-dimensional on offense and the defense allowed some poor rushing teams to do well on the ground. Miami also played one of the weakest overall schedules of any team on this list and it shows in the ranking. That being said, the Dolphins were clearly the best team that year and have good numbers across the board, yet there’s really nothing outstanding about the team.

The list of the best Super Bowl champions has just begun…

The very lucky part is in the “0” (as Mercury Morris would say). Resimulating the games from 1972, the Dolphins are a 77% favorite on average in their 17 games. That sounds dominant, but, even as a big favorite, the chance of winning those 17 games is 1.2%, and the fact that they did means they were very lucky. For comparison purposes, the Patriots were a 92% favorite on average in their first 17 games this season. The chance of winning all of those games was 24.2% -- still not likely, but not necessarily “lucky.”

Number 9

1994 San Francisco 49ers

Winning percentage: 62.4%

Steve Young’s 1994 season is the epitome of statistical efficiency from the quarterback position. Young completed 70.3% of his passes for more than eight yards per attempt, threw just one interception every 45 passes and averaged 5.1 yards per carry on the ground with seven rushing touchdowns. In the conference championship, the 49ers defeated a Cowboys team that won three of four Super Bowls by 10 points and then routed the San Diego Chargers 49-26. Young, the NFL and Super Bowl MVP, had six touchdowns in the finale. He definitely made his lone championship season as the 49ers starter count.

Number 8

1996 Green Bay Packers

Winning percentage: 62.8%

A team with no glaring weakness, the 1996 Green Bay Packers scored the most points in the league and allowed the least points. Yet, what sets this squad apart from other balanced teams on this list may be the special teams. Desmond Howard averaged an astounding 15.1 yards per punt return, taking three back for touchdowns in the regular season.

Number 7

1992 Dallas Cowboys

Winning percentage: 63.2%

Some may contend that the 1993 (No. 14 on this list) team was better, but the 1992 team was more balanced overall. This Cowboys squad is one of the top 10 Super Bowl champs in passing, avoiding sacks and stopping the momentum of opposing teams (aka “bend a little, but don’t break”). They did not cause many turnovers or get many sacks, but they did not need to because the offense was not allowing those things either -- 52-17 against a team playing in its fourth-straight Super Bowl looks pretty good too.

Number 6

1984 San Francisco 49ers

Winning percentage: 66.5%

One of two Joe Montana-led teams to crack the top 10, this team may have had one of the top three most efficient offenses in NFL history. Joe Montana averaged more than 8 yards per pass attempt, a full two yards more than his opponents, and the running game picked up 4.6 yards per carry, a half-yard better than the league average. The defense was great at keeping opponents from scoring touchdowns in the red zone, but that is generally overcome by the other teams in this analysis.

Number 5

1979 Pittsburgh Steelers

Winning percentage: 66.6%

The best Steelers team of the 1970s came at the end of the decade. If you need to see why this team is ranked so high, look at this list of Pro Bowlers: Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris, John Stallworth, Jack Ham, Mel Blount, Jack Lambert, Donnie Shell, Mike Webster, L.C. Greenwood, and Joe Greene.

Who do you think the top 4 Super Bowl champions are?

Number 4

1991 Washington Redskins

Winning percentage: 66.8%

Mark Rypien and his Posse rate as the most prolific passing offense of any Super Bowl champion and this Redskins team also gave up the fewest sacks of any team. The rest of their stats were pretty average, but the two facts mentioned are enough to put this team in the top five.

Number 3

1989 San Francisco 49ers

Winning percentage: 68.2%

The best 49ers team on this list, the 1989 team combined the offensive efficiency of the previous Bill Walsh-coached teams with the defensive mentality of new Head Coach George Seifert. That season, the 49ers recovered 11 more fumbles and intercepted 11 more passes than their opponents.

Number 2

1985 Chicago Bears

Winning percentage: 74.9%

As the winning percentages suggest, there are two elite teams on this list and the 1985 Chicago Bears are clearly one of them. They have the most dominant defense of any Super Bowl champion and, they have Walter Payton. The passing offense is the only minor weakness, lacking true explosion and turning the ball over against ball-hawking teams like the 2000 Baltimore Ravens, 1971 Dallas Cowboys and 2003 New England Patriots. The main difference between No. 1 and No. 2 on this list is that the margin for error of a team that’s strength is in the running game is much narrower than the margin for error of a team that can pass the ball effectively. The Bears may not get behind much, but when they do, they cannot catch up easily.

Number 1

1999 St. Louis Rams

Winning percentage: 77.1%

This ranking may surprise most people, but the “Greatest Show on Turf” was also the greatest single-season team in NFL history. Fans generally think of this as a pass-heavy offense, yet it is the running game and opportunistic defense that set this apart from teams like the 1991 Redskins and 2006 Colts. The Rams actually rank as the third most efficient rushing Super Bowl champion of all time as well as one of the best passing teams ever. Marshall Faulk averaged 5.5 yards per carry to go with an astonishing 12.0 yards per reception out of the backfield. The Rams also forced 14 more interceptions than they threw en route to outscoring opponents by an average of 17.8 points per game, which is the highest average margin of victory on this list. The defense was pretty good too. Without Mike Jones’ last-second stop in the Super Bowl, this team may be in the same category as the 2007 Patriots.

“Lightning in a bottle”; “flash in the pan”; “perfect storm”; pick your cliche and they might have been it in 1999, but there is no doubting that the 1999 St. Louis Rams are the best Super Bowl champions the sport has ever seen.

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Tiger wins Match Play for world sweep

MARANA, Ariz. - Not even the most unpredictable tournament in golf could keep Tiger Woods from an inevitable victory. There seems to be no stopping him.

Stewart Cink barely put up a fight Sunday in the Accenture Match Play Championship, where Woods broke a scoring record for the fourth straight tournament, collected his fifth straight victory worldwide and didn't so much as crack a smile when someone asked him if a perfect season was within reach.

"That's my intent," he said. "That's why you play. It you don't believe you can win an event, don't show up."

Relentless as ever, Woods made 14 birdies in 29 holes in the high desert of Dove Mountain to overwhelm Stewart Cink for an 8-and-7 victory, the largest margin in the final match in the 10-year history of his fickle event.

Woods captured his 15th World Golf Championship, holding all three world title for the first time.

And his 63rd career victory moved him past Arnold Palmer and into fourth place alone on the PGA Tour's career list. His next victory will tie him with Ben Hogan.

Golf is not a fair fight at the moment.

"I think maybe we ought to slice him open to see what's inside," Cink said. "Maybe nuts and bolts."

Cink was only the latest victim in a winning streak that dates to Sept. 3, 2007, a date worth remembering.

Woods won the BMW Championship the following week at 262, breaking the tournament scoring record by five shots. He won the Tour Championship by a record eight shots, and the Buick Invitational by the same margin, another tournament record.

This is the third time Woods has won at least four straight PGA Tour events. He also won in Dubai three weeks ago on the European tour by coming back from a four-shot deficit.

"I think this is the best stretch I've ever played," Woods said.

He has won six of his last seven PGA Tour events, 16 of his last 30 over the last two years.

The confidence in his game is so high that Woods started this season by saying the Grand Slam was "easily within reason." For now, he has a Triple Crown of the World Golf Championships, a sweep that included an eight-shot victory in the Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone and a two-shot victory in the CA Championship at Doral.

Woods' tour winning streak was at seven last year when Nick O'Hern beat him in the third round of the Match Play. Given the fickle nature of this format, even Woods said it was the toughest tournament to win this side of a major.

Turns out the hard part was just getting to the final match.

Woods rallied from three down with five holes to play in the opening round against J.B. Holmes by winning four straight holes with three birdies and a 35-foot eagle. He twice watched Aaron Baddeley putt from inside 12 feet to win a third-round match, beating the Australian in 20 holes. And he was stretched to 18 holes in the semifinals against defending champion Henrik Stenson.

"I played 117 holes this week," Woods said. "I could have easily played 16 and then been home. That's the fickleness of match play."

But the final was no contest.

He built a 4-up lead after the morning round of 66, and Cink never got any closer.

Cink didn't win a hole until No. 12, and the only hole he won in the afternoon came at the par-5 10th when he rolled in a 36-foot eagle putt. Woods had an eagle putt from 35 feet, and the ball spun around the cup.

"Even the minuscule amount that I upstaged him there — him being 8 up — I still thought he was going to make it," Cink said. "He lipped it out, and I thought, 'Hey, come on. At least give me a moment to shine here.' And he said, 'Sorry, dude.'"

The next stop for Woods is the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

"Anytime you're associated with Arnold and what he's done with the game of golf, it's always a positive thing," Woods said about going 1-up in career victories over the King. "I could never have foreseen my victory total being this high, my game improvement being as much as it has been, my knowledge of the game."

Woods' record in the WGCs is simply ridiculous. This is the 10th year of this series, which was designed to bring together the best players in the world. Identifying the best? That was never a serious question.

Woods is a staggering 15-of-26 in official WGC events, three of those in the Match Play Championship. Darren Clarke (Match Play, Bridgestone) is the only other player with multiple WGC victories.

The world's No. 1 player has built a career on these events alone:

_Woods earned $1.35 million Sunday, giving him over $19.8 million in these elite events. That's roughly 25 percent of Woods' career PGA Tour earnings, and more than Tom Lehman has earned in more than 430 tour starts.

_He was won 15 times in WGC events, as many victories as Fred Couples has in his entire PGA Tour career.

"It says about the same thing that just about any other stat you can pull up of him says," Cink said. "It says he's the best that's ever played."

Stenson won the first four holes and defeated Justin Leonard in the consolation match, 3 and 2. Leonard should earn enough world ranking points to move into the top 40, boosting his chances of getting into the Masters.

Cink earned $800,000 and will look back on a week in which he beat British Open champion Padraig Harrington and U.S. Open champion Angel Cabrera before running out of magic against the reigning PGA champion.

"I'm a little disappointed I didn't throw a little more at Tiger, put some pressure on him," Cink said.

Woods already was 4 up after eight holes in the morning when he mentioned that a rules official had just warned them that they were close to being put on the clock for slow play.

"Who are we holding up?" Woods whispered with a bemused grin, noting they were the only match on the course.

Truth is, he might as well have been playing alone.

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