By Dan Walk
1 The international wrestling community took a big hit when the International Olympic Committee announced that the sport was taken off the list of sports to compete at the 2020 Summer Games. It was totally unexpected and is absolutely ludicrous. Wrestling may not be as marketable as the IOC wants, but that’s not enough to eliminate a sport that was part of the original Olympic Games in 1896. From the elementary to junior high to high school to collegiate level, wrestlers are working their way up to someday be, they hope, an Olympic gold medalist. Wrestling doesn’t have a professional level — WWE and TNA are nothing like amateur wrestling — so taking away that Olympic option after college is earth-shattering to the sport.
2 With the possibility of wrestling not being part of the 2020 Games — the sport now joins baseball/softball, karate, squash, roller sports, sport climbing, wakeboarding and wushu vying for one 2020 opening — it got me thinking what can be done to keep it in the Olympics. First off, none of those sports seem overwhelmingly popular enough to dethrone the history of wrestling. Baseball/softball has a following, but the MLB isn’t going to pause its season in August for the Olympics. The Tribune’s Matt Digiacomo brought up a good point a few days ago — why not put wrestling in the Winter Olympics? We’re already used to the sport taking place over the winter in this country, so it won’t be much of a stretch. And what else would it have to compete with other than ice hockey and figure skating? We’ll find out in September if wrestling gets back into the 2020 Summer Games. If not, the fight should begin for its inclusion in the 2022 Winter Games.
3 If wrestling does get the IOC boot, wrestling’s loss is mixed martial arts’ gain. It’s no secret that the best collegiate wrestlers are quickly infusing their talents into the world of MMA, but some of wrestling’s best competitors would rather fight for an Olympic medal in their traditional sport. And they’d rather not get punched in the face, even if the paycheck may be worth it. But without the possibility of Olympic glory, what else do elite wrestlers have left once they graduate college — other than MMA?
4 As a big fan of mixed martial arts, I’m often excited once a Saturday arrives and the UFC is set to put on a card. This week just has a whole new type of anticipation considering the organization will host its first ever women’s match — and it will feature Ronda Rousey, who in just a short period of time has done more for the sport than a number of UFC champions. I fully expect Rousey to win — and impressively — with her patented armbar submission. She’s already the biggest female name in the sport, but if she is as dominant as expected, don’t be surprised if she begins to be compared to the pound-for-pound best male fighters in the sport.
5 Rousey’s fight has received a ton of interest, but there’s a chance the co-main event between Dan Henderson and Lyoto Machida overshadows the historic night for female MMA. Machida, a former UFC champion, and Henderson, one of the sport’s legends, will face off to decide the next contender to Jon Jones’ light heavyweight title. Machida is MMA’s best counter puncher, while Henderson has a brilliant overhand right that has put many fighters to sleep. And in another UFC fight of interest, Edinboro University graduate Josh Koscheck faces Robbie Lawler. Koscheck has lost two of his last four fights and needs a win over Lawler to remain relevant.
6 When the 2012 season ended, I didn’t have much hope for the immediate future of the Indians. But since the signing of manager Terry Francona, which provided instant credibility, that lack of hope changed. The presence of Francona, plus more than one hundred million dollars spent on Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn and others, have changed the Indians from a bottom dweller to a postseason contender. Obviously, starting pitching is an unresolved issue and Cleveland teams have provided decades of disappointment. But Tribe fans have to be a little bit encouraged by the front office’s unusually aggressive offseason.
7 On the other hand, Pirates fans can’t be as enthused after how their team’s offseason transpired. The biggest move out of Pirates camp came when Andrew McCutchen was put on the cover of MLB ’13 The Show. They also traded away their All-Star closer and replaced him with 36-year-old Jason Grilli, who has exactly five saves in his MLB career. Pittsburgh didn’t add a bat to protect McCutchen and didn’t do much to add to its rotation other than bringing in an injured Francisco Liriano. They’ll have to rely on Pedro Alvarez improving his career .237 batting average and the emergence of pitchers Jameson Taillon and Gerrit Cole, who have thrown a combined six innings above the Double-A level, to even have a shot at winning 81 games.
8 Is it possible to clinch a regular-season NBA MVP award in the middle of February? The way LeBron James is playing, the answer to that question is a resounding yes. Kevin Durant, who is in line to lead the league in scoring for the fourth consecutive season, has had an MVP-worthy season too. But James is at a whole different level, most recently scoring 30-plus points and shooting 58-plus percent from the field over his last seven games. James has career highs in field-goal percentage (56.5), 3-point percentage (42.4) and rebounds per game (8.2) to go along with 27.3 points and 6.9 assists per tilt. The best player in the game is having the best season of his career. And he’s just reaching his prime.
9 The Heat may have just the fourth-best record in the NBA, but the reigning champions are still the No. 1 team in the association at the All-Star break. Some teams suffer through a championship hangover phase, but not Miami. The Heat made a big statement to the rest of the league by beating the Thunder in Oklahoma City on Thursday. Miami led 85-69 entering the fourth quarter of that game, even while Durant put up 40 points throughout the whole contest. A big thing that will help Miami defend its title is the dogfight in the Western Conference between the Spurs, Thunder, Clippers and Grizzles. The Heat don’t have that type of competition in the east and will be the fresher team in the finals.
10 The story of the gunshot death of Reeva Steenkamp is truly tragic, especially since her boyfriend Oscar Pistorus is accused of being the perpetrator. Pistorus, more affectionally known as the Blade Runner, was the feel-good story of the 2012 Summer Games after the double-amputee competed against able-bodied runners using cutting-edge prostheses. Pistorus is saying the shooting was out of self defense since he believed she was a burglar. The gun debate has really revved up over the last three months, and this is yet another sad story to put on the ever-growing list of incidents that may have never happened if not for the availability of a gun.
The preceding was Walk Talk, which runs in the Tribune's sports section every Tuesday. Assistant news editor Dan Walk can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.