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May 22, 2013

WALK TALK: Vegas, UFC: Here we come

1 I know the saying is "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas," but I'm going to forgo that adage next week. After all, part of my week-long trip with three friends to Las Vegas includes my first in-person viewing of an Ultimate Fighting Championship card. I'll give you all the juicy and exciting details from UFC 160 in next week's column.

2 I really couldn't have picked a better card for my inaugural live UFC show. The card features a quartet of heavyweight sluggers in the main events, with Cain Velasquez defending his title against Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva for the UFC heavyweight championship. The two faced off almost exactly a year ago, and within seconds, Velasquez turned an attempted leg kick by Silva into a takedown. Soon thereafter, a bloodied Silva was knocked out, ultimately providing Velasquez with a title shot against Junior dos Santos. Half a year later, Velasquez defeated dos Santos for the championship. Velasquez and Silva will last much longer than 3:36 - as it did last time - but the result won't change. Velasquez is too quick and polished for Silva to present enough of an upset threat.

3 The co-main event features dos Santos facing Mark Hunt in a fight that will most likely decide the next No. 1 contender to the heavyweight crown. Dos Santos hasn't fought since his loss to Velasquez, while Hunt is a veteran who has gone from a nobody in the MMA scene to a true contender who has won four straight. Both will be hungry for the title shot, but dos Santos is a major favorite in my eyes. Both fighters have one-punch knockout power, but Hunt doesn't have much to offer outside of that. If Hunt provides a solid chin, this could go to decision. But he won't be able to out-point dos Santos.

4 UFC middleweight contender Vitor Belfort won with a devastating knockout during Saturday's UFC on FX main event, but the conversation has returned to his testosterone replacement therapy - also known as TRT. Some consider it steroid use, but a number of athletic commissions - including the one in Brazil, where he fought on Saturday - allow TRT. In a way, it's cheating legally - if that makes any sense - because TRT has been known to increase stamina and strength while training. It's a complicated subject, similar to when baseball's Mark McGwire used androstenedione, which was at the time sold as a legal supplement. Years later, "andro" was reclassified as a steroid. Until it is banned everywhere, Belfort and others will do TRT until they are no longer allowed. And you can't really fault a fighter or diminish his accomplishments by calling him a cheater it he's actually breaking the rules in the places he fights.

5 Bryce Harper may want to rethink his destructive style of play after going face first into the outfield wall last week. At 20, he has the "play hard, even if it kills me" approach, but history has proven that is not a wise stance. It's one thing to play hard; it's another to have no regard for your body or health, especially at such a young age and with such a bright future. Take Grady Sizemore, for example. He was widely regarded as one of the best center fielders in baseball, but I constantly watched him crash into walls and dive for balls with all his might. Now at 30 years old, Sizemore hasn't played since July 2011. Be careful, Bryce.

6 I've been highly critical of the Pittsburgh Pirates for years now. And I believe it's justified; a team that hasn't had a winning record in two decades doesn't deserve the benefit of the doubt. But they've really gotten hot over the last few weeks, taking three of four from the Brewers - something that's incredibly rare for the Pirates - before winning two of three against Houston. Against Houston, the Pirates won on a walk-off error Friday and 1-0 Sunday - not impressive, but they got the job done. All things considered, Pittsburgh isn't breaking any records during its recent hot surge. But the team and fans alike must care very little; as long as a "W" comes along more often than not.

7 We often hear talk about the best pitchers in baseball. Justin Verlander has been at the top of that list the last few years, while the likes of CC Sabathia and Roy Halladay have been dominating for more than a decade. I don't feel, however, that Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw gets his due. Sure, he won a Cy Young award, but I still feel he's somehow flying under the radar. With his shutout win over Washington a few days ago, he set a new standard: He currently has the lowest ERA (2.70) in the live-ball era (since 1920) through 1,000 innings pitched as a starter. Only four pitchers in the live-ball era had a lower ERA through the millenium mark of innings pitched. What's scary is that Kershaw is only 25 and hasn't even reached his prime yet.

8 Now that the draft has passed, it's always funny when the NFL becomes a topic of discussion this time of year. There's always some players making outlandish comparisons that steal headlines from the NBA, MLB and NHL. A pair came from vocal receivers Mike Wallace and Dwayne Bowe. Wallace compared his new quarterback, Ryan Tannehill, to Ben Roethlisberger. Even worse, Bowe compared his new quarterback, Alex Smith, to Steve Young. I guess in a few months, Tannehill and Smith will have to put their money where Wallace and Bowe's mouths are.

9 We're one game into the Western Conference finals, and I don't believe we learned too much yet - even if the Spurs won in blowout fashion. San Antonio led Oklahoma City 2-0 in last year's conference finals before the Thunder won four straight. Memphis also trailed 2-0 and 1-0 in each of its last two rounds before winning four consecutive games. As for Sunday's Game 1, it's no surprise that the Grizzlies were blown out - Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol combined to shoot 8-of-24 and totaled 14 rebounds. There's no way Mike Conley can keep up with Tony Parker, so Memphis badly needs point-in-the-paint production out of Randolph and Gasol.

10 There's already some jostling in the media between the Heat and Pacers - even though their Eastern Conference finals don't start until Wednesday. Indiana coach Frank Vogel said Miami is "the next team that's in our way" to the NBA finals. That's not trash talk in the slightest, but LeBron James and his teammates took it that way. Miami is already a huge favorite, so motivating the Heat is surely the last thing Vogel wanted to do. I'm saying the Heat win in six.

The preceding was The Walk Talk 10, 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

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