Axios Sports

A large foam finger.

December 08, 2020

👋 Good morning! Apologies for starting the day on a sad note, but Phillies and White Sox great Dick Allen died yesterday at 78. Somehow never elected to the Hall of Fame, he'll be eligible on next year's Eras Committee Golden Days ballot. Get him in already!

  • In other MLB news, the White Sox acquired Rangers ace Lance Lynn for RHP Dane Dunning and a minor leaguer in a trade late last night.

Let's sports.

Today's word count: 1,754 words (7 minutes).

1 big thing: 🥊 Boxing's rapid evolution

Illustration of an upward trending bar graph made of boxing bags

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The sport of boxing could be in serious trouble, but the business is booming.

The big picture: The rise of celebrity matches and narrative-driven exhibitions has paved the way for a new era in boxing.

  • The Mike Tyson-Roy Jones Jr. bout drew 1.6 million pay-per-view buys — the seventh-most in boxing history.
  • YouTuber Jake Paul's knockout of former NBA player Nate Robinson — the primary undercard to the Tyson-Jones exhibition — was shocking, quick and highly meme-able.
  • In 2017, Floyd Mayweather fought MMA champion Conor McGregor in a highly-lucrative boxing match that also netted the second-most PPV buys ever (4.3 million).
  • Now it appears Paul's brother, Logan (who's fought twice before) will face off against none other than Mayweather in February.

Between the lines: The combination of a celebrity-laden card and Snoop Dogg's hilarious live commentary provided Twitter gold the night of Tyson-Jones/Paul-Robinson. It also set the stage for the obvious move that came next.

  • The Fight Club is a new boxing league launched by Snoop and Triller (the social app that sponsored the event), which will feature five to eight events per year that focus on musical performances and celebrities stepping in the ring together.
  • Sports consumption has shifted from live viewing on television to more multi-tasking-friendly bites, particularly among Gen Z. The Fight Club looks tailor-made to fit that trend.

The bottom line: If this were 10 or 20 years ago, the boxing story right now would be the possibility of a unified welterweight title bout between Errol Spence Jr. and Terence Crawford, both coming off big wins.

  • Yes, but: They fight under different outfits, and boxing promoters are famously finicky about "bridging [that] stubborn divide," as NYT's Morgan Campbell writes.
  • When leagues like The Fight Club can spring up and likely start printing money immediately, it calls into question the sustainability of a system that relies on a smaller pool of world-class athletes and a select few stubborn promoters.

2. ⚽️ Champions League resumes today

Data: UEFA; Table: Axios Visuals
Data: UEFA; Table: Axios Visuals

Champions League Matchday 6 — the last of the group stage — has arrived, with nine teams already through to the Round of 16, and 13 more still alive and fighting to join them.

  • Already through: Bayern, Manchester City, Porto, Liverpool, Chelsea, Sevilla, Dortmund, Barcelona and Juventus.
  • Still alive: Atlético, RB Salzburg, Real Madrid, Mönchengladbach, Inter Milan, Shakhtar Donetsk, Atalanta, Ajax, Lazio, Brugge, Manchester United, PSG, RB Leipzig.

Today

  • Group E: Chelsea (England) vs. Krasnodar (Russia); Stade Rennais (France) vs. Sevilla (Spain)
  • Group F: Lazio (Italy) vs. Brugge (Belgium); Zenit (Russia) vs. Dortmund (Germany)
  • Group G: Barcelona (Spain) vs. Juventus (Italy); Dynamo Kyiv (Ukraine) vs. Ferencvárosi (Hungary)
  • Group H: PSG (France) vs. İstanbul Başakşehir (Turkey); RB Leipzig (Germany) vs. Manchester United (England)

Tomorrow

  • Group A: Bayern (Germany) vs. Lokomotiv Moscow (Russia); RB Salzburg (Austria) vs. Atlético (Spain)
  • Group B: Real Madrid (Spain) vs. Mönchengladbach (Germany); vs. Inter Milan (Italy) vs. Shakhtar Donetsk (Ukraine)
  • Group C: Manchester City (England) vs. Marseille (France); Olympiacos (Greece) vs. Porto (Portugal)
  • Group D: Midtjylland (Denmark) vs. Liverpool (England); Ajax (Netherlands) vs. Atalanta (Italy)

Go deeper: Clinching scenarios (CBS)

3. 🏀 Gonzaga, Stanford top men's, women's AP polls

Data: NCAA; Table: Axios Visuals
Data: NCAA; Table: Axios Visuals

Gonzaga and Baylor held their perches atop the poll, but with the Zags on hiatus until Dec. 14 due to positives in their program, the door is open for someone else to overtake them with a strong week.

  • Risers: The Spartans climbed four spots to No. 4 thanks to their huge win at Duke; Villanova is back in the top 10 after taking down the Longhorns.
  • Fallers: Wisconsin's last-second loss to Marquette dropped them nine spots to No. 13, while Kentucky has tumbled all the way out of the rankings with their worst start (1-3) since 2000.

Go deeper: What's wrong with Kentucky? (ESPN)

Data: NCAA; Table: Axios Visuals
Data: NCAA; Table: Axios Visuals

Stanford leapt into the top spot after South Carolina's 29-game win streak ended, though as Cardinal coach Tara VanDerveer said, "Rankings are important in March. Let's hope we're playing [then]."

  • Risers: NC State used its huge win over the Gamecocks to jump four spots to No. 4; South Dakota State, meanwhile, makes its first appearance in these rankings since 2009. Welcome!
  • Fallers: Gonzaga fell seven spots and nearly all the way out of the top 25; Iowa State did indeed drop out, and will hope to use tomorrow's intra-state game against the Hawkeyes to get back on track.

Go deeper: Arkansas' first top-5 win in 17 years (ESPN)

4. 📸 Last night in photos

chase young celebrating washington win

Chase Young celebrating Washington's win. Photo: Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Washington 23, Steelers 17: Move over, Curt Schilling — sports lore has a new bloody sock game. Alex Smith's remarkable comeback season has officially turned from inspirational to unbelievable, leading Washington to its first three-game winning streak since 2018 (Weeks 6–8) and ending Pittsburgh's undefeated season.

  • Top performers: Smith (31/46, 296 yds, TD); TE Logan Thomas (9 rec, 98 yds, TD).
  • Wild stat: This was only Pittsburgh's second loss after leading by 14+ points in the Ben Roethlisberger era (2004). They had been 109-1-1 in such games.
  • 🎥 Highlight: Jon Bostic's game-sealing interception.
dawson knox bills TE dives for a TD
Dawson Knox dives for the end zone to give the Bills a lead they would never relinquish. Photo: Ralph Freso/Getty Images

Bills 34, Niners 24: Josh Allen regained his early-season MVP form as Buffalo took down the Niners in their first of two Arizona "home" games. With the win, the Bills (9-3) stay a game up on the Dolphins (8-4) for the AFC East division lead.

  • Top performers: Allen (32/40, 375 yds, 4 TD); WR Cole Beasley (9 rec, 130 yds, TD).
  • Wild stat: Allen is the first Bills QB with an 80% completion rate and 4 passing TD in a game.
  • 🎥 Highlight: Allen threads the needle
seattle celebrates WCF win
Photo: Abbie Parr/Getty Images

Seattle 3, Minnesota 2: The Sounders erased an 0-2 deficit with three goals in the final 20 minutes of an absolutely absurd Western Conference final. You've got to feel for Minnesota, but the reigning champ Sounders looked like the team of destiny, and now they'll head to their fourth MLS Cup final (Saturday, Dec. 12).

  • Top performers: F Will Bruin came on as a sub in the 73rd minute, scoring two minutes later to light a fire under his team and spark the comeback.
  • Wild stat: F Raúl Ruidíaz now has nine goals in nine career MLS playoff games.
  • 🎥 Highlights: Ruidíaz 89th minute equalizer; Svensson stoppage time winner

5. ⚡️ Catch up quick

Data: NFL, Over The Cap; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios
Data: NFL, Over The Cap; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios
  • 🏈 Lower cap: After rising by at least $10 million for each of the past seven seasons, the NFL's salary cap is expected to decrease by more than $20 million in 2021 due to the pandemic-fueled plunge in revenue this year. Expect shorter free agent deals as players bank on the cap rebounding in 2022 and beyond.
  • ⚾️ No universal DH: 2020's shortened season saw the adoption of the universal DH, but the league has reportedly informed teams that NL pitchers will return to the batter's box in 2021.
  • 🏀 NBA bailout: The NBA will disburse $30 million to each of its 30 teams to help close the gap from last season's league-wide revenue reduction (a 16% drop year-over-year in game-day income per franchise).
  • ⚽️ MLS MVP: Toronto midfielder Alejandro Pozuelo took home the hardware after leading his club to the league's second-best record with nine goals (T-8th) and 10 assists (T-1st). He's the second Spaniard to win the award (David Villa, 2016).
alejandro pozuelo mls mvp
Photo: Ira L. Black — Corbis/Getty Images

6. Field trip: 🤸🏼 Breakdancing in the Bronx

Thanks for choosing Axios Airlines. We'll be traveling to a new destination each morning this month. Sit back and enjoy the flight.

screenshot google maps the bronx
Screenshot: Google Maps
  • Location: 1520 Sedgwick Ave.
  • Coordinates: 40.8471°N, 73.9246°W

Welcome to the Bronx, the ancestral home of breakdancing, which will make its Olympic debut at the Paris Games in 2024.

  • Four new sports: "Breaking" (its official name) will be joined by surfing, skateboarding and sport climbing.
  • Younger viewers wanted: IOC president Thomas Bach said part of the decision to include these new competitions is to make the games "more gender balanced, more youthful and more urban."
rock steady crew break dancing in nyc in 1983
Richard "Crazy Legs" Colón (center) practicing in front of school, 1983. Photo: Linda Vartoogian/Getty Images

History: Clive Campbell (DJ Kool Herc), a Jamaican DJ living in the Bronx in the 1970s, more or less invented hip hop when he hosted parties at his apartment (1520 Sedgwick) and experimented with isolating the instrumentals on various records.

  • The "break": He mixed and looped those instrumentals, inviting dancers (called b-boys and b-girls) to freestyle to the extended "breaks" from the normal song.
  • Influences: Pioneers like Richard "Crazy Legs" Colón (above) of the Rock Steady Crew cite funk and martial arts — specifically the moves of James Brown and Bruce Lee — as primary inspirations of breaking.

Go deeper: Exploring the birth of the b-boy in 70's New York (i-D Vice)

7. Dec. 8, 1940: 🏈 'Skins lose 73-0

1940 super bowl skins and bears

1940 NFL Championship at Washington, D.C.'s Griffith Stadium. Photo: Bettmann/Getty Images

80 years ago today, the Chicago Bears walloped the Washington Redskins, 73-0, to claim the 1940 NFL Championship.

  • Players of the game: Bears QB Sid Luckman (3/4, 88 yds, 1 TD) and RBs Bill Osmanski (109 yds, 1 TD) and Harry Clarke (73 yds, 2 TD).

By the numbers: Chicago's 73 points remain the most ever scored by an NFL team in a regular or postseason game.

  • Six shutouts: There's never been a Super Bowl shutout, but this was the second of six shutouts in the NFL Championship game (1933-65).

The backdrop: Washington had beaten Chicago three weeks earlier in a close game, and Skins owner George Preston Marshall stoked the rivalry by calling the Bears crybabies in defeat.

  • George Halas, Chicago's coach, showed his players the quote ahead of the championship to fire them up for the big game. Seems it worked!
  • Worth noting: Marshall was famously racist and bigoted, so this historic loss really did drip with karmic retribution.

🎥 Watch: Archival footage (YouTube)

8. The Ocho: 🏊🏼‍♀️ Free diving world record

alenka artnik free diving
Source: @alenka_artnik (Instagram)

Free diving is, put simply, the act of diving to a depth without the help of any breathing apparatuses. Of course, there's nothing simple about it.

  • In the news: 39-year-old Slovenian Alenka Artnik (above) set a new women's world record last month, diving 374 feet in the Red Sea off the coast of Egypt.

How it works: There are three categories of increasing depth and difficulty.

  • Free immersion: Divers pull themselves down along a rope without wearing fins.
  • Constant no fins: Swim down with a modified breaststroke.
  • Constant weight: The toughest one, as divers must wear a weight around their neck and dolphin-kick to depth while wearing a monofin. This is Artnik's discipline.

Danger: As you might imagine, diving deep underwater with nothing but your lungs is a highly risky practice. Even among the world's best, death is a possibility.

What they're saying: Artnik only took up the sport in 2011 and didn't begin seriously training until 2013, but something about it just clicked for her.

  • "She has the feeling," said one of her safety divers from the record dive. "She has the big connection with the sea."

Go deeper: She dived more than 300 feet under the sea; can she go deeper? (NYT)

9. ⚾️ MLB trivia

San Francisco Giants GIF by MLB - Find & Share on GIPHY
Giphy

Just two active pitchers have hit double-digit HR in their career, led of course by Madison Bumgarner (19).

  • Question: Who is the other?
  • Hint: Has played for only one team.

Answer at the bottom.

10. ⚾️ The longest home run ever hit

Animated GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY
Source: SmarterEveryDay (YouTube)

A couple of scientifically-inclined baseball enthusiasts set out to break the all-time home run distance record.

  • Spoiler alert: They did it.

The previous record: It's tough to nail down an exact number, but they were aiming to break one of three fairly famous figures.

The new "record": 717 feet.

🎥 Watch the full science experiment (YouTube)

Talk tomorrow,

Jeff "I'd be happy with an inside-the-parker" Tracy

Trivia answer: Adam Wainwright, Cardinals (10 HR)