By Dan Walk
1 Rankings are great for athletics, whether they are at the high school, collegiate or professional level. It adds a level of intrigue and creates a ton of discussion — especially from those who aren’t ranked No. 1 but believe they should be at the top of the list. But this time of year, especially after what transpired at the PIAA Class AA Northwest Region wrestling tournament in Sharon, those rankings — and even individual records, for that matter — can be ignored.
2 Take the heavyweight division at the Class AA regional in Sharon. Slippery Rock’s Forrest Christmann plowed through the competition at the district tournament and was the favorite to repeat at regionals. Waterford’s Dan Albaugh at districttenwrestling.com ranked Christmann No. 1 in the region for his efforts, and it was hard to disagree. But Lakeview’s Sam Breese, ranked No. 3 behind Christmann and Union City’s Jeff Burger, had other plans. Breese, a state qualifier as a sophomore last season, edged Christmann 2-1 before shocking a number of people again with a win by fall over Burger in just 1:49. It was one of just two pins in the region’s championship matches. Christmann wound up losing 2-1 in the consolation finals and was the odd man out after looking so dominant a week prior.
3 Another slight upset — rankings-wise — occurred at 220 pounds, where Cochranton’s Cam Cyphert beat Fort LeBoeuf’s Evan Daley 5-2. It was Cyphert’s first win over Daley since last year’s district final — snapping Cyphert’s four-bout losing streak to the Bison. Cyphert led Daley during all three of their matchups this year — at Tool City, districts and regionals — but finally held on for the win. The victory is perfect timing for Cyphert, who received a better draw at states — he won’t meet another region champion until the semifinals, while Daley can conceivably meet a region champ in the quarterfinals. The friendly rivalry between Cyphert and Daley, both Clarion University bound, has been a joy to follow. The only thing that can top the last six bouts between the pair is a faceoff for the PIAA championship on Saturday.
4 Count me as one of the many people in this area who will keep an eye on the Saegertown wrestling team’s state qualifiers, especially sophomore sensations Devin Brown (106 pounds), Tyler Vath (120) and Dylan Reynolds (182). Then there’s 138-pounder Matt Humes, a junior, and freshman 126-pounder Nick Monico, who also qualified for states. Just think of what Saegertown can accomplish over the next few years. Bingbong Elizon, who wrestled at 113 this season, was just a few wins away from states and should be improved as a junior. And not to be forgotten is the freshman campaign of Spencer Lee next season. The 8th-grader already touted as one of the best wrestlers in the nation. It wouldn’t be a stretch to believe that Saegertown could send six wrestlers to states from 106 to 145 pounds, and that’s before even talking about Reynolds and others in the upper weights.
5 While wrestling is a prime sport to talk about in this area at the moment, there’s also a lot of buzz going around mixed martial arts — and it’s pointed in the direction of UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo at the moment. After uber-athletic lightweight Anthony Pettis requested to drop 10 pounds to fight Aldo for his featherweight title, Aldo said no, complaining that Pettis hasn’t done a thing at featherweight to deserve the title shot. Now I have an issue with this and any other fighter — especially champions — who believe they can pick their fights. If Dana White says you’re defending your title against Pettis, and if Aldo is the champion he talks himself up to be, then Aldo has to accept. He eventually was coaxed into accepting, but not for reasons you would expect.
6 So what did it take for Aldo to accept the Pettis fight? Less than two days after refusing the Pettis fight, Aldo changed his tune after White announced that Aldo will receive a shot at the lightweight title if he beats Pettis. That’s quite the game-changer for Aldo. There’s no word yet on whether Aldo would have to forfeit his 145-pound title to compete for the 155-pound crown, but how great is the possibility of someone holding two belts at once for the first time in UFC history? Aldo faces Pettis on Aug. 3. If he wins, Aldo may have a chance at history by the end of 2013.
7 The UFC held a show in Japan over the weekend that was a yawner through nine bouts. Eight of those nine matches went to decision. But then entering the octagon was 38-year-old Mark Hunt, who was an afterthought during his UFC debut in September 2010. He lost that fight by submission in the first round to drop his MMA record to 5-7. It was a performance that surely didn’t excite UFC brass. Since then, the 5-foot-10 Hunt has been the talk of the MMA world, and that will continue after his brutal knockout of 6-foot-11 Stefan Struve on Saturday. Hunt’s knockout was so decisive that he sent Struve to the hospital with a broken jaw. At 38, Hunt has won four straight bouts, including three by KO or TKO, and may be a victory away from a title shot — all after holding a sub-.500 career record just two years earlier. Astonishing.
8 Duke head basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski made headlines this week for questioning the security of his players after the Blue Devils were upset by unranked Virginia. Of course, since the game was in Virginia, the Cavaliers’ fans stormed the court, jumped around and put their Virginia players on their shoulders. Those players then pumped their chests in celebration as if they just won the national championship. I’m nowhere near being a Duke fan, but I’m on Coach K’s side. The art of storming the court has gotten so cliché that it’s lost its luster. According to a Wall Street Journal report, fans stormed the court 28 times during the Devils’ 34 road losses over the past decade. The fans who run on the court make fools of themselves and their schools.
9 Speaking of Duke, we found out just how important forward Ryan Kelly is to the team’s success this season after the No. 3 Blue Devils beat No. 5 Miami on Saturday. Kelly returned from a 13-game absence with a career-high 36 points during Duke’s 79-76 victory. Duke, which was 15-0 and ranked No. 1 when he went down on Jan. 8, was 9-4 while he was healing. As Coach K said, Kelly’s performance was “one for the ages” and should be enough to give Duke a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. That’s one dangerous team now.
10 One disturbing story this week came from the NFL combine, where teams are questioning prospective players’ sexuality when trying to decide if that’s the player they want to draft. Players are being asked “Do you have a girlfriend? Do you like girls?” Questions like that disgust me. They have no place in athletics. Whether an athlete — or anyone, in any professional field — is gay is a personal matter about which these teams have no right to ask. A player’s sexual preference has nothing to do with how he’ll perform on the field. Organizations need to start asking the questions that matter.
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.