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Dan Henderson and Shogun Rua Put on All-Time Great Fight at UFC 139

The main event between Dan Henderson and Shogun Rua at UFC 139 in San Jose Saturday was one of the best MMA fights you will ever see. It doesn’t matter if the UFC on FOX was your intro to the sport, or if you have been a fan for years, this was a fight for the ages. If you missed the five round war that Henderson narrowly won, make sure you get to see it however you can.

I will warn you: if you’re uncomfortable with violence or are not a fan of good, competitive sport, it might not be for you.

This was two legends, two geniuses of combat, fighting with incredible heart and toughness, engaging in a back-and-forth, edge-of-your-seat performance that pushed each fighter beyond anything you can imagine. It was competitive all the way — I had Henderson winning three rounds to two, with one 10-8 round apiece.

Stylistically, the dangerous future Hall of Famer, Henderson, delivered significant punishment standing against the younger, more athletic Shogun. Hendo nearly finished the fight with his “H-Bomb” right hand in the third, before getting dominated in the fifth with brutal ground-and-pound from the mount. It’s hard to believe this fight could deliver such strong results when many pointed out beforehand it could have been a main event in PRIDE Fighting Championships five or six years ago.

Watching the fight live, I thought referee Josh Rosenthal could have stopped the fight in the third — we’re all glad he didn’t, in retrospect — but re-watching it, Shogun did defend himself intelligently despite the damage he took and letting the fight continue was the right call.

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MLB Hot Stove Analysis: Matt Kemp’s Eight-Year $160 Million Extension

The Los Angeles Dodgers agreed to terms with MVP candidate Matt Kemp on a eight-year $160 million extension. For a franchise that has been high on drama and low on good news lately, this deal will keep the team’s best position player in a Dodger uniform through his prime, without getting too deep into his late-30s.

While it is easy to get caught up in the years and dollars attached to the contract, I would first remind fans that this was an extension of a player under team control for one more season, not a free agent. As such, Kemp likely would have earned at least $15 million in arbitration this season, making the hypothetical free agent contract a more manageable seven years and $145 million. When one considers what Carl Crawford (7/$142 million), Jayson Werth (7/$126 million) and Matt Holliday (7/$120 million) received as older, free agent outfielders who play corner positions, this deal looks that much better.

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UFC on FOX: Cain Velasquez vs Junior Dos Santos Fight Preview

This Saturday night, the Ultimate Fighting Championship will make its FOX network television debut with Cain Velasquez (9-0, 7-0 UFC) putting his heavyweight title on the line against the challenger, Junior Dos Santos (13-1, 7-0 UFC). It’s going to be a great night for fight fans as this event will finish an hour before Manny Pacquiao is set to square off against Juan Manuel Marquez.

It’s hard to imagine a more perfect match-up for the first fight in the historic, seven-year partnership between FOX and the UFC, as these are two very special fighters entering the primes of their careers. I will break the action down in terms of each fighters’ strengths, the unknowns heading into the fight and the match-up, specific to one another. Finally, I will predict a winner.

Strengths

Velasquez has made a name for himself through his world-class wrestling ability, his other-worldly work ethic and cardio, and a developing, technically-sound kickboxing game. He is well above-average in his quickness wrestling and an above-average athlete for a heavyweight. He has finished eight out of the nine fights in his career through ground and pound and striking.

Velasquez was a two-time All-American wrestler at Arizona State University and in the Octagon, he has man-handled the heavyweight division, demonstrating relentless take-downs, top control and ground and pound. His wrestling, in combination with his cardio, make him a bad match-up for any style of fighter because he can control whether the fight remains standing or on the ground. If he chooses to take the fight to the ground, he has almost no equal. He has used his wrestling to dominate Ben Rothwell and Cheick Kongo on the ground, and when he won the title against Brock Lesnar, he did so by keeping the fight standing.

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MLB 2011 Preview: Can the Dark Horse Chicago Cubs Compete in the NL Central?

Previewing the 2011 MLB season, we’ve already named the Phillies, Yankees, and Red Sox the top World Series favorites. This week, we’re taking a look at the NL Central. Monday: St. Louis Cardinals; Tuesday: Cincinnati Reds; Wednesday: Milwaukee Brewers; Thursday: Chicago Cubs.

The Dark Horse: Chicago Cubs

Off-Season Moves: The Cubs traded prospects for flame-throwing right handed pitcher Matt Garza and brought back Kerry Wood on a one-year deal to bolster the bullpen.  They also replaced departing free agent Derrek Lee with Carlos Pena, whom they signed for one year.

Strengths: What makes this team an interesting dark horse candidate is their pitching.  Ryan Dempster, Garza, Carlos Zambrano, Randy Wells and Carlos Silva make up a pretty solid 1-5, with Andrew Cashner, waiting in the event of any injuries.  This is a rotation that stacks up with any other team in the division.  Their bullpen has a nice combination of different looks between the beast, Carlos Marmol, Cashner and Sean Marshall as seventh and eighth inning guys. Marshall really came into his own in 2010 pitching out of the bullpen full-time, striking out 10.85 per nine innings.

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MLB 2011 Preview: Milwaukee Brewers with Zack Greinke, Shaun Marcum

Previewing the 2011 MLB season, we’ve already named the Phillies, Yankees, and Red Sox the top World Series favorites. This week, we’re taking a look at the NL Central. Monday: St. Louis Cardinals; Tuesday: Cincinnati Reds; Wednesday: Milwaukee Brewers

The Must-Win Team: Milwaukee Brewers

Off-Season Moves: The Brewers greatly improved their rotation when they pulled off one of this off-season’s most shocking and successful moves, acquiring Zack Greinke in a trade as well as Shaun Marcum.  They also added the seemingly ageless Takashi Saito to set-up for closer John Axford.

Strengths: The story of the Prince Fielder/Ryan Braun Brewers has always been hitting. Those two, along with Rickie Weeks, Corey Hart and Casey McGehee will keep opposing pitchers up at night. Weeks finally stayed healthy and had a season worthy of his potential and will need to build on that success. Hart had a nice bounce-back season, hitting 31 home runs. Prince Fielder has been an every-other-year kind of guy his whole career, and will be going into his walk year, so expect monster numbers from him on par with his 2007 and 2009 season.

Like the Cardinals, the Brewers feature a strong rotation 1-4, and have the division’s best 1-3 in Greinke, Yovani Gallardo and Marcum. Gallardo is this team’s best breakout candidate, featuring plus stuff with improving command. Greinke is only one year removed from being in the discussion for best pitcher in baseball and should rebound well this season, playing in the National League and for a contender for the first time. Marcum could also experience a boost in his numbers as well, pitching outside of the American League East. Randy Wolf, Chris Narveson and Manny Parra are underrated in their own ways and fill out the back of the rotation well.

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MLB 2011 Preview: Can the Cincinnati Reds Defend Their NL Central Title?

Previewing the 2011 MLB season, we’ve already named the Phillies, Yankees, and Red Sox the top World Series favorites. Now we’re taking a look at the NL Central. Yesterday, the Cardinals. Today, the Reds

Reigning Division Champion: Cincinnati Reds

Off-Season Moves: The 2010 NL Central Champion Reds fortified what they had more than they changed it, re-signing MVP Joey Votto, promising youngster Jay Bruce and rotation fixtures in Bronson Arroyo and Johnny Cueto to long-term contracts. They also added Edgar Renteria to bolster their bench play everyday for manager Dusty Baker.

Strengths: This team is very strong on the positional side, offensively and defensively. Between Votto, Bruce, Scott Rolen, Drew Stubbs and Brandon Phillips, they have five guys who can hit and field. Their starting lineup features big-time power, led by Votto, with six players hitting 18 home runs or more last season. Their biggest breakout candidate is Jay Bruce who is entering his age-24 season. Last season Bruce started slowly, but in the second half he hit .306/.376/.575 with 15 home runs. He may not hit for that much average over a full season as he is still a bit strikeout-prone, but 30 home runs and an .875 OPS is a very attainable goal.

The Reds’ pitching is good and reliable and gives them a chance to win every night. No pitcher personifies that last sentence more than Arroyo, who has won 15 or more games the past three seasons and logged over 200 innings the past six. Arroyo may be hittable and prone to the long ball, but he battles and works deep into games, despite a difficult pitching environment in Great American Ballpark. While their rotation may be composed of more number-three and four-starter-types, they have a few guys with the capability to step up. Edinson Volquez was promising in his return from Tommy John surgery; if he can return to his pre-injury form, he might be their guy. Homer Bailey and Johnny Cueto both have good stuff, but Bailey’s inconsistency and Cueto’s lack of size likely keep them from taking the next step.

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MLB 2011 Preview: Competitive NL Central with St. Louis Cardinals as Favorites

Earlier this off-season, I previewed the three MLB teams favored to win the 2011 World Series (the Red Sox, Yankees and Phillies).  With pitchers and catchers getting set to report to Spring Training, it’s time to kick-off a four-part preview of what I believe is the most competitive division in baseball, the National League Central.

The NL Central has four teams that have a shot at winning the division or contending for the wild card.  The St. Louis Cardinals, Cincinnati Reds, Milwaukee Brewers and Chicago Cubs all have either high-end pitching or pitching depth and enough offense or defense to win the 90 games or so it will take to win the division.

The difference between the top and bottom of the ladder will come down to razor-thin advantages that develop during the season, such as team health, superstar health, breakout performances, collapse performances, and plain old good and bad luck.  Today, we start with the St. Louis Cardinals.

The Favorite: St. Louis Cardinals

Off-Season Moves: The Cardinals did well in bringing back Jake Westbrook on a two-year deal and took a potential, high-upside risk on Lance Berkman on a one-year deal.  They also hoped to improve their offensive production from shortstop by trading away defensive wizard Brendan Ryan and trading for Ryan Theriot.

Strengths: The Cardinals have a strong rotation 1-4, and the division’s best 1-2 punch in Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter (although Milwaukee may disagree–more on them later this week).  Their pitchers keep the ball on the ground and in the ballpark with a heavy diet of sinkers, cutters and two-seamers (thanks to pitching coach Dave Duncan).

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