Another Ultimate American Spectacle

Floyd and Conor on stage in London, England while on a promotional tour. (Photo by Matthew Lewis)

Floyd and Conor on stage in London, England while on a promotional tour. (Photo by Matthew Lewis)

By Josh Tribe

It was when I couldn’t find a single political pundit predicting Trump would win that I started to think Trump was gonna win – I feel much the same way about the upcoming “Money Fight” between Floyd Mayweather, Jr. and Conor McGregor. 

First off, congratulations to anyone reading this previously unaware of the upcoming prizefight between undefeated boxing savant Floyd Money Mayweather and gladiatorial UFC demigod, the Notorious Conor McGregor.  If you’ve escaped the wall-to-wall hype, I’m inferring some sort of equanimity upon your blissfully oblivious brain, and about to forever trounce whatever innocence you may possess.

So which is it: historic showdown or shameful freak show?  Both?

Quite obviously, it’s the perfect sporting event for this social media era of identity politics gone ballistic.  Though eerily similar to the election, this money fight is decidedly less embarrassing. Who cares if both pugilists are basically unlikable?

Rubin could take a man out with just one punch
But he never did like to talk about it all that much
It’s my work, he’d say, and I do it for pay
And when it’s over I’d just as soon go on my way
Up to some paradise
Where the trout streams flow and the air is nice
— Bob Dylan, "Hurricane"

These guys love talking about it – the ring is their paradise.  The fight’s precise location: Paradise, Nevada, an oxymoron if ever there were one.  McGregor speaks of bouncing heads off the canvass.  Mayweather holds up hundred million dollar checks.  Perhaps it’s my idealization of Dylan’s projections onto Rubin Carter, but I still can’t decide which of these guys is more unlikable.  Here they are, re-contextualized…  

As you already likely know, it’s a classic binary battle: young vs. old, mixed martial artist vs. Queensbury roles boxer, and of course the least discussed, biggest draw: white guy vs. black dude. 

In the boxing corner: Mayweather: greatest defensive wizard in the history of boxing, equally famous for his financial prowess and accompanying flamboyance.  Born to a family of professional fighters, fast and pretty, young Floyd nevertheless grew up poor, became rich, and has forever since been obsessed with the one-word American mantra: more.  A far more chimerical character than he’s given credit for, Money Mayweather is waging an all-out war for more.  He speaks of controlling chessboards; discordantly invokes Martin Luther King and Malcolm X; claims to be fighting for all America, Black America and “the Spanish” specifically; endorsed Trump and stands by it; rejects the African-American taxonomy, reckoning he’s as American as the Mayflower, and more originally American than even Native Americans (who, he recently referred to as such, before apologizing and correcting himself, “the Indians, I mean.”) (Who can blame boxers for failing to keep up with preferred nomenclatures, especially one espousing black pride, American nationalism and faith in Donald, all in unison?)

In the upstart’s corner we find McGregor: a few years removed from Ireland’s welfare rolls, he’s become a new-age poster child for talking and willing reality into existence.  He’s like the Brad Pitt character from Snatch, imbued with sliver-tongued shit-talking skills, and he’s dominated the UFC world over the last few years, helping the sport all but eclipse boxing as the world’s most popular form of competitive violence.  They don’t make white men in this country like McGregor – a guy like this could only emerge from Ireland or Russia.  He oozes charisma, confidence, street fighting mojo.  There’s something decidedly boyish about him – despite the Tyler Durden darkness, the guy’s got his share of Mary Lou Retton too, the little leprechaun that could.  He is the severe underdog, far as the gaming odds go.

Most commentators, especially boxing purists and sports media establishment types, view McGregor’s chances for victory exactly the same way the mainstream media gauged Trump’s odds of becoming president.  Even within the unheard stepchild air carried by UFC loyalists, the confessionary consensus is that McGregor’s efforts will be considered successful if he “gives Floyd a good fight,” whatever that means.  Others say he’ll be lucky to land a single point-worthy blow.  Many of these MMA guys relish in their (dead-on) perception that Mayweather would have no shot whatsoever if he battled McGregor in the octagon.  UFC commentator (and new Oprah for stoners) Joe Rogan makes the point that while Mayweather may have all the confidence in the world, boxing-ability-wise, he’s never faced a man able to say to his face: “If this was a street fight, I’d fooking kill you.”  At some subconscious level, the esoteric Rogan ponders, that’s gotta rattle Floyd just a little bit.

Floyd takes the mic in Brooklyn, New York in mid-July (Photo by Mike Lawrie)

Floyd takes the mic in Brooklyn, New York in mid-July (Photo by Mike Lawrie)

Convoluted analyses permeate the airways; variables are emphasized and deemphasized – here are the brass tacks, as they appear from afar:  Mayweather is 40, 5’8", and naturally carries between 135-155 pounds.  He is 49-0, but hasn’t knocked anyone out this century, save one poor schmuck who head-butted him, stopped in the middle of the fight to apologize for said head-butt, and was promptly dropped while dumbly looking at the referee – one of the myriad of events which have cast Mayweather as a villain.  He’s an artist, Mayweather, who still seems to have every marble, all of which he focuses on his monomaniacal goal – becoming as rich as fucking possible.  Aside from his mastery of the art of boxing, I find nothing likable about him, save perhaps his unapologetic narcissism. McGregor is 29, taller than 5’9", and naturally carries around 170 or so pounds.  That’s much younger and much bigger. 

The last organized pugilism I took part in was freshman year PE wrestling.  I was one of the bigger boys within the under 100-pound weight class and boy did I beat the shit out of those little fucks, many of whom were on the wrestling team, and whose skills far exceeded my own.  All I can authentically use to compare relative size advantages in athletics is basketball.  As a 5’8", 150 pound point guard, I feel especially sensitive to the difference between 5’8½" and 5’9½", 150 and 170 pounds.  McGregor will make weight, but by fight time, it will be obvious just how more significant he is, physically.  Even if I were in the best shape of my life, being 43, I cannot contemplate competing athletically against an insanely fit 28 year-old man or woman, let alone one bigger and more naturally athletic than myself.  I’m no expert, and no way to verify these things anyway, but from watching my share of each man’s battles, McGregor appears to my eyes as the vastly more athletic man – something the American media could never utter with a straight face, given the quiet racism that flipped sometime between Jack Johnson and Jackie Robinson, the presumption of Caucasian athletic inferiority – a theory which has silently worked to belittle black and white athletes alike… A white guy simply cannot play wide receiver, running back, compete in sprints, or beat black guys in boxing matches – the work ethic and intelligence of white athletes is (still) highlighted, while, black athletes are (still) largely seen as naturally gifted.

McGregor is hungrier, younger, bigger, stronger, completely unorthodox and superior athletically: I think he’s gonna bloody up Pretty Boy Floyd – I pray it doesn’t happen – I’m probably the only man on earth who believes McGregor will win and isn’t happy about it.  But I think it’s about to happen.  Conor McGregor’s gonna do exactly what he’s been telling everyone he’s gonna do.   

For a zillion reasons, I can’t help but root for Floyd.  But mostly it’s out of loathing for a few McGregor enthusiasts.  Bryan Callen, resident village idiot within Rogan World, said the other day he’ll move to Ireland to be Conor’s feet-washer, if the Irishman pulls the upset.  Skip Scrotum-Face Bayliss looks like he’s about to start jerking off on air as he tells Floyd Mayweather, Sr. how the uppity Irishman’s gonna put his son in the hospital.  From my vantage point, older, smaller Floyd’s the only one with a chance of getting hurt, so odds be damned, he’s the underdog.  If he’s to push his record past Rocky Marciano, it’ll be in typical fashion: ploddingly methodical, utterly unhittable, scoring points in tactful smatterings – though he claims he cannot allow it to be a defensive fight; that he must “go to” Conor, nobody thinks he’s serious.  Floyd is risking his mental marbles for gold ones – if McGregor gets him with one of those monster left hooks, I hope he goes down, swallows his pride, maintains the brains he was born with.  I pray that Mike Tyson and Max Kellerman are right and Mayweather’s gonna pick McGregor apart like MJ would Lavar Ball, if such basketball blasphemy ever came to fruition.  Call me sentimental, but I don’t wanna see the American black guy, the older, smaller guy, get his brains bashed in by an Aryan Irish madman destined to forever destroy the memory of Gentleman Jim, ‘Real Rocky’ Chuck Wepner, big galoot Gerry Coony and all other Mediocre White Hopes – the Great White Hope is fucking here; his name is Conor McGregor; and he’s about to be the bigger than LeBron James.

It’s boxing, perhaps the only institution shadier than politics, so anything might happen.  Example: Mike Tyson didn’t lose to Buster Douglass.  Any decent Tyson documentary will include the clip: Tyson knocking Douglass down, the ref taking 15 seconds to count to ten.  It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if it comes out 50 years from now, that Floyd took a secret ten figure extra payday from the modern day mob to not only lose, but let Conor ritualistically humiliate him – I pray I’m wrong – but I think Conor might beat Floyd senseless, because it’s rigged, or because it isn’t.  Like the election, the whole fucking thing could be pure charade – no way to know.  Last aside: anyone who fights people to earn a living is a lunatic – brave perhaps, etc., ad infinitum, I’m not knocking them – but they are, by definition, insane individuals.

Money Mayweather trains for the showdown at his gym in Las Vegas (Photo by Isaac Brekken

Money Mayweather trains for the showdown at his gym in Las Vegas (Photo by Isaac Brekken

Back to the unending tantric foreplay which precedes any clusterfuck deemed important enough to dominate social media: McGregor’s detractors see it as absolutely preposterous: a man with no professional boxing experience taking on one of the sport’s all time-greats.  Boxing, however, is one element of mixed martial arts — and Conor McGregor, quite obviously, has been mashing motherfuckers’ faces since he could stand.  And as Mayweather deftly insists, McGregor’s specialty within his dominance of the UFC, has been his ability to knock people the fuck out, with his left fist. 

It’s likely to be incredibly uneventful, or an all-out bloodbath.  The two lunatics with three-syllable M-names have been touring the world, shouting at each other in televised press conferences that, unlike the fight itself, have had no trouble selling out.  Even sportscasters who cheerlead the trash-talking of Muhammad Ali, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan et al, cringed as the two lunatics berated one another – far as performance art goes, Conor has out Mayweather’ed Floyd – of course it’s his cockiness that’s made him so popular, the identical sort of cockiness that’s, for two decades now, made Mayweather unpopular.  The double standard isn’t lost on Floyd.  Fans of Mayweather, an accused wife-beater and general all-around asshole, are fans of greatness.  Unlike Trump supporters, who I think, all in all, are far more racist than they get credit for, Conor’s fans wouldn’t have rooted for Max Schmeling against Joe Louis – but all the racists are pulling for Conor in a way they probably still, despite the ascendance of Trump, feel unsafe expressing freely.  Unwittingly, McGregor’s about to become an Alt-Right icon.  

On that note, during the lowest-common-denominator press conferences, McGregor said things such as “dance for me, boy,” while Mayweather resorted to more generic insults, “pussy,” “faggot,” which seemed completely disingenuous, as if designed to rally the LGBTQ community to McGregor’s corner.  Years ago, Muhammad Ali implored Chuck Wepner to call him nigger at a press conference.  When Wepner refused, Ali claimed Wepner said it to him in the bathroom.  Muhammad Ali would have loved Conor McGregor, as Floyd Mayweather does.  He’s great for the old beloved bottom line.  Though nobody heard it, Mayweather now claims McGregor “called us monkeys,” and it should be noted that nobody within Conor’s inner-circle feels their boy’s a racist – insane how anyone thinks either of these guys capable of abstract thought, lucid political ideology, etc., but we love to project such traits on celebrities…

As McGregor comes off as spontaneously irrepressible as the crude wild-man, with his cauliflower ear, blond Nazi hairdo, menacing chest tattoo, fuck you pinstripes etc., enter Mayweather’s latest incarnation – in a recent ESPN interview, he sounds as shrewdly paradoxical as Louis Farrakhan – an ingenious conman, everything about him is clean… Over 40, a boxer, his skin as unblemished as his record, handsome face unscarred, bald head beautifully round, his teeth wedding gown white, his manner ultra calm, self-effacing, maniacally and self-admittedly calculated, a religious zealot on behalf of greed.  It’s a nuanced performance.  He looks like what he’s become: a cold, calculating mogul – whether he’s being tyrannically egomaniacal for the crowds or self-deprecating with Stephen A. Smith, he couldn’t be smoother, prettier.  Conor couldn’t be any more rugged – but they’re the same guy, from similar backgrounds, poor kids who cashed in dates with destiny.  It’s Horatio Alger Jr. vs. Horatio Alger Sr., though at this point, both are closer to Hearst than say, Booker T. Washington or the Irish immigrants involuntarily conscripted into the Union Army during the War Between the States. 

Say what you will regarding the onerously repulsive aspects to this multi-layered specter of violence, the alternating similarities and stark contrasts between these two men are so aesthetically glorious, so juxtaposed, I find it hard to believe anyone with even the remotest interest in American sports or society will be able to turn away – like the election, you may be too disgusted to vote, but it takes a special sort of monasticism to ignore the outcome altogether.

Endless analogies have been offered up by pundits eager to make sense of the unprecedented shit show – which may not be a shit show at all, may turn out a farce of epic proportions, or just a typically boring Mayweather schooling of yet another fighter not named Floyd Mayweather Jr.  Standup comedian Bill Burr says the boxing rules format is like Jerry Rice competing against Tom Brady to determine who the best football player is, measuring only their ability to throw the football.  To him and countless others, it’s a mockery, of boxing and mixed martial arts, and these two insanely rich men slated to become evermore insanely rich men as a result of the billion dollar bout, which strangely or unsurprisingly, is finding difficulty selling out. 

Like the election, a relative handful of fanatics faithful to their affinity for one candidate’s perceived messianic or antichrist qualities, take it insanely seriously, while the rest of us sit back and wonder how anyone could be excited by the prospect of President Clinton part 2, or President Trump. I’m finding it easier to root for Mayweather than Hillary, but just barely. 

I hate this fight, which on one hand is nothing more than American race porn – and I love it, because it’s sport, and both men, in their own right, are underdogs… Boxing, which continues to reveal itself as less barbaric than American football, is the perfect prism from which to view the American love-hate relationship with hate.  We love when athletes are so direly competitive as to appear to harbor actual hatred for one another – when, that is, their hatred of their opponent is seen as pure, squarely within the ever-narrowing borders of political correctness – our hatreds now must be publicly approved.  How anyone could view either of these men as being about anything other than themselves is beyond me. Nevertheless, hatred’s popularity, as an emotion, is at an all-time high.

Stephen A. Smith asked Mayweather how he would feel if the paying audience at T-Mobile Arena end up rooting against him.  It was the only time I’ve seen a crack in Mayweather’s feathery veneer – it was as if he subconsciously processed a million things: Trump, who he supports; Colin Kaepernick who he hasn’t supported; plus the aforementioned reality that McGregor’s popularity is due in large part, with the white public’s tolerance for white cockiness, and its disdain for the same product wrapped in brown skin – it was as if he did some quick sociological algebra he’d yet to consider: figured the audience in attendance will be overwhelmingly rich, white, male – and the likelihood that despite his flag-waving and Trump supporting, these men are more likely to view Conor as one of their own – and this massive realization served to reinforce, validate and justify what he’s chosen as his sole purpose in life: accumulate material wealth.     

Last note: in a reckless effort to promote ticket sales, Mayweather has agreed to petition the boxing commission to allow he and McGregor to use eight-once gloves – still bigger than UFC gloves, but a technical switch highly advantageous to his opponent.  Perhaps he knows the boxing commission won’t sanction the smaller gloves, but if it does, I’m all the more convinced Mayweather’s in big fucking trouble.  I just don’t see him eclipsing Marciano’s untainted record.  Not this month.  Faulkner would have a field day with this – Dark Abyss in August.  The Age of Trump dictates the fulfillment of White Hope.  When that young white menace right out the Nordic sieve of Western Civ. comes back-flipping at Pretty Boy Floyd, this white man, squarely aligned with Team Five Foot Eight, will be screaming at the screen, “Easy work, Floyd!  Easy work!”, as if I were Floyd Mayweather, Sr.  I don’t think the Alt-Right will handle a McGregor victory well.  The last place I’d want to be come fight time, is at the fight.  The chances for a riot, because the fight lives up to expectation or doesn’t – between the gamblers, racialists, loyalists to fighting-formats, it does seem to be an event without much chance for redemption – for anyone, save perhaps, the Spanish.

---

PRE-POSTSCRIPT ABOUT FACE

People are crazy and times are strange
I used to care, but things have changed
— Bob Dylan, "Things Have Changed"

A few things happened.  First, I watched as McGregor responded to Mayweather’s accusations of monkey-calling.  It was the most genuine bit of footage I’ve seen from either lunatic.    McGregor isn’t a white supremacist.  Mayweather isn’t a black supremacist.  McGregor is a McGregorist and Mayweather’s a Mayweatherist.  They’re genius self-promoters, finely tuned athletes who’ve dedicated the requisite ten thousand hours for mastery.  After watching the apocalyptic shit show in Charlottesville, I no longer give a Frenchman’s fuck who beats who in the billion dollar sideshow.  Call it sporting history, call it Queensbury heresy – it doesn’t mater.     

I keep calling the fighters lunatics – yet, within their madness, they’re actually the sanest people involved.  McGregor stands to make upwards of 150 million dollars; Mayweather, perhaps twice that.  People the world over are being assaulted, bombed, starved, raped, pillaged, and not receiving one cent’s compensation.  Assuming the fight itself is on the up and up, it’s a more honest symptom of the human disease than nearly anything else miscalled Western civilization’s pumping out.  The gall of this country, that’s on a trajectory to be selling out stadiums to watch Muslims get fed to wild boars and wildebeests by decade’s end… The NFL (!) with its weekly circle-jerk to the war planes, players’ with mashed potatoes for brains cruelly criminalized for partaking of cannabis, talk about freakish embarrassments to American sports, look no further than the plantation reactionaries unwilling to let Kaepernick sling their pigskin.  Sixteen touchdown passes and four picks – blackballed by one of the many malevolent American sports institution with a PR budget big enough to push all scrutiny aside.  Doesn’t everyone know by now, what goes on at/in Guantanamo?  Does not everyone remember the images to surface from the American Military Inferno known as Abu Ghraib?  Have you not, and I mean today, seen another unarmed human being murdered by the police in broad daylight?  A pervert is President; we’re 16 years into a nebulous crusade to genocide anyone with good reason not to like us; Trump or no Trump, we insist on calling human beings within our boundaries illegal aliens; and the fight game, monopolized by hallowed boxing until the synchronous, separate ascendances of Mayweather Jr. and the UFC, is a broken record of shameful exploitation – has there ever been a famous boxer not to have been screwed out of most of his fortune?  Well, I can think of one: Floyd Mayweather, Jr.  The Notorious One (McGregor), who’s as famous for being less than five years removed from the Irish welfare rolls as Money Mayweather is for his Rolls Royces, has been wise to plagiarize Floyd’s business plan.  What we’re seeing with Mayweather-McGregor is two athletes asserting unprecedented control over their careers.  The middlemen are fading – they remain, but the days of the Don King stranglehold on prizefighters’ purse strings are done.     

Oh the bullshit being slung around: that Mayweather must win because boxing, the more traditional, elegant fight-game, must defeat this renegade UFC barbarism.  What a vacuous, vicarious culture! that’ll never ever forgive Roberto Duran for saying “no mas.”  You trying fighting Sugar Ray Leonard!  We want to see these guys kill each other, then get all up and arms when they kill each other, when they quit, when they lose, when they win with disappointing titillation quotients. 

The world over which lavishes competition, encourages conquering urges – the urge to conquer and the conquering of urges deemed unnatural.  Who’s anybody kidding?

Here’s the thing: this, this prizefight, combat sports, ought to be the pinnacle of violence within human existence.  That it isn’t – that’s the embarrassment.

To Floyd and Conor, all I can say is good luck lads, I hope you make it – I’m rooting for the both of you.

Campaigning in Los Angeles (Photo by Harry How)

Campaigning in Los Angeles (Photo by Harry How)

(Video) Ride along with Kevin Durant as he flies down the coast to live in L.A. for the summer

By Connor Buestad | Connor@Section925.com

According to Kevin Durant's personal YouTube channel, the newly minted NBA champion has headed down to Los Angeles to live out his offseason. Press play below to ride down to the City of Angles on a private jet with the Durantula himself. 

From his Oakland hills bachelor pad, Durant explains he is looking forward to "hanging out, working out and getting better" in L.A. this summer while "getting up to The Bay" as much as possible. 

In the video, Durant steps off a private jet and is whisked away to his so-cal summer home where he is greeted by a cheerful entourage that includes his private chef wearing a "KD" embroidered chef's coat. As he saunters around his new summer digs, Rhianna's "Pour it Up" echoes throughout the house. Soon enough, Durant sits down outside to receive a collection of gifts from his L.A. crew. Ironically, this includes local microbrews (Durant is a famously poor beer drinker), an Emmy Award, fresh ribs to munch on and a framed picture of Biggie and Tupac. 

Later, Durant takes the time to sit down in the hallway and get a fresh cut, sign some paraphernalia, and continue to bask in his Finals MVP glory.  

German engineered Florian Jungwirth leads the San Jose Earthquakes from the back

Florian Jungwirth has enjoyed a breakout season in the MLS since coming over from Germany's top league in February. (photo courtesy of SJEarthquakes.com)

Florian Jungwirth has enjoyed a breakout season in the MLS since coming over from Germany's top league in February. (photo courtesy of SJEarthquakes.com)

By Connor Buestad | Connor@Section925.com

It may not get as much airtime on American televisions as the English Premier League, but there is little debate that Germany's first division Bundesliga is one of the very best soccer leagues on the planet. Bayern Munich, the league’s flagship club, is one of the most recognizable names in all of sports. Cities in Germany all but shut down for days at a time to support their beloved clubs, stadiums of over 40,000 seats are consistently full, and fans live and die with every result. The NFL in America might be a fair comparison, only the tradition and passion in Germany runs even deeper. As evidenced by the country’s 2014 World Cup title, soccer is everything in Germany, with the Bundesliga serving as a sacred training ground for international glory.

Growing up in Grafelfing, Germany, Florian Jungwirth knew this all too well. He, like countless boys his age shared the rough framework of the same “German soccer dream”: grow up to play professionally in the Bundesliga and one day star on the German National Team. Save for your Dirk Nowitzkis of the world, it was really that simple. Germany offered the best platform, it was up to the players to see if they could rise to the occasion.

Two years ago, at the age of 26, Jungwirth had all but brought his dreams to fruition. No, he was not a member of Germany’s 2014 World Cup title team, but as a teenager he was captain of the U-19 ad U-20 German national youth teams. And by his mid-twenties, he had earned a spot in the first division of the Bundesliga playing for SV Darmstadt 98. Much of the dream had become a reality and he was living it. Sold out stadiums of roaring crowds, intense media coverage, international recognition, the Bundesliga had it all. But then, out of nowhere, Jungwirth received a call from a former teammate. One that stuck with him.

“A couple years ago, while I was playing for Darmstadt in Germany, Gregg Berhalter gave me a call. We played professionally together for ‘1860 Munich.’ It was his last year in the Bundesliga (2nd Division) and my first. He had moved on to coach in the MLS with the Columbus Crew. He asked me, ‘would you ever think about coming to play in the MLS?’" explained Jungwirth. “And from that day on I started really following the league. Now here I am.”

Berhalter, an American who played his soccer at the University of North Carolina, made 44 appearances for the U.S. National Team, as well as stints in various professional leagues around the world. Now as a coach in the MLS, he knew reaching out to Europe for players would be a smart way to improve his new team, as well as the league in general. Fortunately, Jungwirth was there on the other end to listen.

Bayern Munich's Chilian midfielder Arturo Vidal (L) and Darmstadt's midfielder Florian Jungwirth (R) vie for the ball during a German Bundesliga first division football match in Munich, Germany.

Bayern Munich's Chilian midfielder Arturo Vidal (L) and Darmstadt's midfielder Florian Jungwirth (R) vie for the ball during a German Bundesliga first division football match in Munich, Germany.

With the MLS seed planted, Jungwirth and his wife began to keep a close eye on the American league and what it could potentially offer. Cities in California were especially quick to catch the Jungwirths’ eyes. That’s why when new Quakes' general manager Jesse Fioranelli called with a handsome contract offer to play Major League Soccer in the Bay Area, Jungwith couldn’t refuse. “I think my wife would have divorced me if I said no,” Jungwirth reflects with a smile. “45 minutes from the sea, 45 minutes from the mountains, it’s hard to say no to the Bay Area. Playing for the MLS and living in California, for me, it’s the whole package. It was an interesting vision of Jesse. He wanted to create a new idea for the club with a new style of play and he wanted me to be a big part of it. It was hard to say no to that.”

Starting at center back for all 14 Eathquakes games this season, the 5’11”, 174lb Jungwith has made an immediate impact with his new MLS club. Even on the backline, Jungwirth has already recorded two goals and two assists on the young season, leading to a nomination for July’s MLS All-Star Game, as well as talk regarding the MLS newcomer of the year award and the defensive player of the year.

Perhaps Jungwirth’s largest contribution to the Quakes thus far has been his stability on San Jose’s backline. Originally slated to play in the central midfield, Jungwirth was thrust into the center back position after Harold Cummings (a Panama National Team veteran) was lost for the season due to injury. Despite the new role, Jungwirth has played with great effectiveness from Game one. #23 is constantly flying around the pitch making plays, winning 50/50 balls, slide tackling forwards, organizing the defense, orchestrating and building up the offensive attack. Watching him play for just 10 minutes lets you know his feel for the game, his technical skill, and his tactical decision making are all at a premier level. Overall, he’s quickly turned into the impact player that Quakes management were hoping for when they signed him away from the Bundesliga over the winter.

“When I first came to the Earthquakes, Jesse (Fioranelli) wanted me to be a leader. Some of my teammates could have taken that the wrong way, coming from Europe and talking from the first day, but I simply want to help the team. I’m a natural talker on the field and my position requires that. Fortunately, my team has responded well to me and we’ve been successful.”

Of course, Florian’s immediate impact on the Quakes should come as little surprise to those familiar with international soccer and the extremely high level being played in Germany. “Defending World Cup champions” speaks for itself, but the country has built up a system of player development that is second to none across the globe. Products of Germany’s system have an understanding of the tactical side of soccer that few others share. It produces players that know exactly what to do with the ball on seemingly every touch, with efficiency holding more value than flair. From a very young age, German youth are taught the correct way to play, feeding like a funnel all the way up to Germany’s national team. The art of “The Beautiful Game” will never be boiled down into a science, but the Germans might come closer than anyone to doing so.

Florian wore the captain band for Germany's Under-20 Youth National Team (photo by Thomas Starke)

Florian wore the captain band for Germany's Under-20 Youth National Team (photo by Thomas Starke)

From the age of 11, Jungwirth was taught the game in a German soccer academy dedicated to player development. It was not a soccer lab or a factory, but then again, German soccer academies aren’t all that different. Places where future World Cup and Bundesliga stars are engineered just like the latest Mercedes Benz model. For six years (U-16 to U-20) Jungwirth starred on Germany’s youth national team, competing internationally against the best players in the world in his age bracket. For the U-19 team, Jungwirth served as the team captain of the side who won the UEFA European U-19 Championship, beating Italy in the final in the Czech Republic.

When asked about the experience of leading such successful teams in international play at that age, Jungwirth smiles and shrugs it off as no big deal. “The German National Team is at a much different level than something like under-20’s. That is a huge step,” he explains.

Despite not getting the call from the world’s best soccer team, Jungwirth parlayed his success as a junior into a lucrative pro career. Nothing was given to the gritty player, but Jungwirth found a way to latch on with Darmstadt who was at that time in Bundesliga’s second division. But thanks in large part to Jungwirth’s performance, Darmstadt enjoyed one of its best seasons in years, which earned them a spot up in Bundesliga’s fabled first division.

“We were the smallest team in the second division,” explains Jungwirth. “No one was expecting us to do anything. Experts actually thought we were going to drop down to the third division that year. But we ended up going on a 16-game winning streak and we made it into the first division.”

Once there, Jungwirth enjoyed a year and a half playing in Germany’s top league, further developing his game against the world’s best, all with an eye on his own American dream. Now that he’s made the leap of faith to play American soccer in the prime of career, he hasn’t looked back. So far, it has worked out not only on an individual level, but also for the San Jose Earthquakes themselves as the team is in a good position to get back to the MLS playoffs for the first time in five years. Jungwirth doesn’t take this playoff opportunity for granted, as his days in Germany found him stuck behind NBA style super-teams like Bayern Munich.  “In Germany, you can play like you want, but if you are on a small team, you don’t have a real chance against a team like Bayern Munich, but here in the MLS, so many different teams have a chance to win a title. I like that about this league.”

Unlike David Beckham who came over from Real Madrid to play out the twilight of his career with the L.A. Galaxy or Barcelona’s David Villa who is currently doing the same with New York City FC of the MLS, Jungwirth is still very much in the prime of his career. By no means is this some sort of marketing play by Jungwirth to spread his personal brand in an American city while playing some soccer on the side. “Flo,” as his teammates call him, is here to win a professional soccer championship. Something that wasn’t going to be possible across the pond in Europe.  

Without a doubt, the Bay Area’s own Chris Wondolowski still remains the face of the Earthquakes’ franchise, responsible for the lion’s share of the club’s flashiest goals. But in his first season, Jungwirth is quickly showing San Jose faithful why he could be best described as the Quakes’ trusted engineer. Always working, always improving, always producing, but never breaking.    

Florian celebrates with the face of the Quakes franchise, Chris Wondolowski. (photo courtesy of SJEathquakes.com)

Florian celebrates with the face of the Quakes franchise, Chris Wondolowski. (photo courtesy of SJEathquakes.com)

Section925 Roadtrip: The Rogue Runs Jerry Rice's "Hill"

By: Josh Hunsucker | josh@section925.com

In 1985, aspiring Macy’s underwear model and 49er running back Roger Craig invited a rookie wide receiver named Jerry Rice to Edgewood Park in Redwood City for a morning run.  After struggling to finish the 2.5 mile run a young Jerry Rice learned two things: (1) Roger Craig was no joke and (2) he had go back and conquer what is now famously known as “The Hill.” Over 30-years later, you can still find Rice at Edgewood Park as he not only made the run a part of his NFL training plan but a lifelong part of his physical fitness regimen.

Jerry Rice’s maniacal work ethic has always been one of the most intriguing parts of his legacy.  For the uninitiated, here’s a quick recap: he caught bricks thrown by his father off of the roofs of homes in the same town Johnny Cash got arrested in for picking daisies, he showed up at the Niners’ training facility two weeks after winning the Super Bowl to workout while his teammates were still waking up from hangovers, he went to special teams meetings even though he wasn’t on special teams, he routinely caught balls for an hour before practice and ran extra sprints for an hour after practice, and he famously ran The Hill every day in the offseason. For years I thought about running The Hill, and although I lived less than an hour away, I inexplicably never made the trip, until recently.

The Lead Up

As I bombed across the San Mateo Bridge, between the Foo Fighters reverberating in my eardrums and the caffeine surging through my veins, it felt like a cross between a race day and meeting up with a good looking girl in a foreign city. I was excited, nervous, and couldn't wait to get to the trailhead. That and the extra coffee gave me an added incentive to find a bathroom before conquering the legendary run.

Edgewood Park: Official Home of The Hill

Edgewood Park: Official Home of The Hill

Cruising into Edgewood Park I first noticed how well kept San Mateo County maintains the park. There is a nice garden area, small nature museum open to public, and most importantly available bathrooms. If you are going to The Hill you have to do a little research in order to ensure you are running in the same footsteps as the GOAT (this article is probably the best place to find directions, although it is not entirely accurate, more on that later).  Because there are multiple trails a little map reconnaissance and watching the Jerry Rice “Catching History” video are a must.

Driving into the park, my initial plan was to run The Hill once leisurely to ensure that I knew the route. I would do this with no music, take in the scenery, and strategize where I would push hard and where I would conserve energy in an effort to compete against Rice’s unofficial course record of sub-16:00 for the 2.5 mile course.

After my warm-up run to the bathroom and feeling the unusually hot 90 degree Bay Area summer heat that plan changed to a more realistic plan of one time up The Hill, all out, no music because Jerry had none, and take my phone in case I start to die from heat stroke.

The Route

The start of The Hill.

The start of The Hill.

The trail starts gradually and maybe it was a rookie move, no it definitely was a rookie move, to think I was going to go sub-16:00 on my maiden voyage. Rice famously said that first time he ran The Hill he merely suffered and survived. Only repetition allows you to attack The Hill.

I hit start on my watch and go. I like to think that in my excitement to get up the trail that I would have led Jerry for the first 30 second because when my lungs started searing and I started slowing significantly, my watch read 00:30.1.

Everything about the run sucked (in the best way possible), except the view. The switchbacks at the start of the run were deceivingly brutal. As I got out of the switchbacks the trail opens up a little and the elevation rises as the sun beat down on my poor soul. As I followed the signs to the “scenic view” I could see The Hill rising to my left as I hit the next set of switchbacks.

Take the "Scenic View."

Take the "Scenic View."

As I did my research for The Hill run, the finish, or at least the part that everyone referred to as “the Summit” showed a picturesque view of rolling hills. After following the directions to “the Summit,” as described from my online research, confirmed by reviewing the end of the “Catching History,” and confirming certain landmarks I was puzzled. To be fair, tired and puzzled. First, I had only run two miles, not two and a half. Second, and most troubling, as I peered to my right I could still see more elevation on The Hill, which I had not yet climbed.

@the_rogue at the faux "Summit."

@the_rogue at the faux "Summit."

Why would Jerry Rice, the man who is legendary for outworking everyone, not run to the top of The Hill? That cannot be right. So I did the only thing that any rational Jerry Rice fan and adventure junkie would do, I set off for the top.

Fork in the Road: Go left = NFL Films "Summit", go right = "True Summit."

Fork in the Road: Go left = NFL Films "Summit", go right = "True Summit."

Trade Secrets

The view from the top of the "True Summit" of The Hill.

The view from the top of the "True Summit" of The Hill.

When I got to the top everything added up. The distance to the top was just about a half mile from the alleged “summit.” The incline to the true summit spiked skyward up until the last few feet, as described by Rice. Maybe it was the lack of oxygen to my brain but as I took deep breaths with my hands over my head and looked around, the true top of The Hill had no view. The importance of this fact cannot be understated.

Think about who Jerry Rice is. He is an intense competitor. The guy showed up to train days after winning the Super Bowl for God’s sake. This is a guy who convinced himself that he was not going to make the team so that he would work like he was fighting for the 53rd spot on the roster when he was the best player in the game.

This may just be a conspiracy theory but hear me out. When NFL Films came calling and wanted to do a feature on The Hill Rice knew he couldn’t turn down the NFL because, you know, the NFL gets what it wants. Although he couldn’t completely hide his training secret, he balanced that by only giving the rest of the world a taste of The Hill. Why not finish the NFL Films puff piece at a location with a great vista? It makes for great TV and doesn’t disclose Rice’s proprietary route.

It was that last brutal half-mile that enabled Rice to blow past defensive backs in the fourth quarter when everything hurt. That last half-mile that he refused to disclose was Rice keeping his edge on the competition, his trade secret. That last half mile forged him into the greatest football player of all time.

None of those early morning suffer sessions ended with Rice at the top of a vista arms raised in victory. Those runs ended with Rice alone on the top of a narrow path surrounded by shrubs, trees, and silence. Sweat dripping, tugging on his shorts (or tights), breathing hard, and with the fear that someone may be out there training harder than him. There is something beautiful about that.  Jerry alone at the top suffering, so that he may make others suffer.

If you ever have a chance, especially if you love the Niners or Jerry Rice. Go out to Redwood City for an afternoon, better yet a morning, and suffer up The Hill. You will be glad you did, and if your anything like me you will come back for more.

Why does Adam Rosales sprint his home run trot? Answer: He loves baseball that much

A modern day Charlie Hustle (photo by Ezra Shaw)

A modern day Charlie Hustle (photo by Ezra Shaw)

By Connor Buestad | Connor@Section925.com

If you listen to the interview above between Jim Rome and Adam Rosales, it's almost impossible not to fall in love with the man that A's fans affectionately call "Rosie." After all, Rosales literally sprints around the bases following his home runs, and in the interview with Romie, he explains how it all started, as a 12-year-old in Michigan who knew nothing but hustle. 

Now in his tenth big league season, the 34-year-old Rosales has already played for four MLB teams, with this being his second go around in Oakland. For his first nine seasons, Rosales never made more than a million dollars (this year he is making 1.2 mil). He's had to earn every one of his at-bats through the years, with trade talks following the utility man wherever he goes. Famously, back in 2013, Rosales was designated for assignment three times and claimed off waivers three other times, all within a tumultuous ten day window. 

As a career .228 hitter, Rosales is not exactly Ted Williams at the plate, nor does he posses the grace of a Buster Posey right handed swing. But what he lacks in talent, he more than makes up for with heart and hustle. Charlie Hustle himself (Pete Rose) was notorious for sprinting down to first base after drawing a walk. But Rosales has taken things a step forward in the hustle department, to the point where he routinely rounds the bases on homers in less than 16 seconds. 

Rosales is so passionate about respecting the game and playing it the right way, that he has gone out of his way to start a movement called "#SandlotNation." According to Rosales, Sandlot Nation is as simple as it gets. Rosie heads out to youth baseball fields around noon time across America, with not much more than his glove, bat and a bucket of balls. He organizes a group of kids to come out and play and Rosie throws to them in a sandlot style game. While most Big Leaguers are just waking up in their hotel room on the morning before a road game, Rosie is often out on an all-dirt infield, starting a pickup baseball game with a group of surprised kids. "I always seem to play better at night when I pitch a sandlot game that day," Rosales tells Rome.

The A's have moved on to #RootedInOakland as their marketing tagline this season, but the true core of the A's still lies in the #GreenCollar movement, started a few years back. If anyone embodies the blue collar, lunch pail ethos of industrial Oakland, it's Adam Rosales. A's fans shouldn't take his all-out style for granted. Every 16-second home run trot should be savored, every horizontal dive on the Coliseum dirt applauded. He might be gone before you know it.  

Giants facing new hard reality: They aren't any good

At the end of April, the Giants had the worst record in the National League (photo by Matthew Stockman)

At the end of April, the Giants had the worst record in the National League (photo by Matthew Stockman)

By Ryan Ward | @RyanJWard

There’s no sugarcoating it. The Giants have been brutal to watch, and the hits - except the ones that improve your batting average - keep on coming.

To say that the Giants have failed to live up to expectations after the first month of the 2017 season would be like saying the Warriors are good at basketball. It’s a Captain Obvious statement, and one that is a result of disappointments on the field, careless decisions off the field, and the lack of decisive action made by the front office leading up to the season.

The nightmare began on Opening Day vs Arizona, a game that can be viewed as something of a microcosm of the first month.

On that day, Madison Bumgarner proved his undisputed value to the team by opening with five perfect innings and slugging two home runs (a first for any pitcher on Opening Day). Then, with the help of some spotty defense in the outfield, new closer Mark Melancon blew the save and the Giants lost on a walk-off single after the offense failed to tack on runs throughout the game.

Flash forward to the present, and you have the following realities to face, along with a 10-18 record (last in the NL): 1) Bumgarner is out for an indefinite amount of time after a dirt biking accident, 2) Melancon has blown two saves, the Giants have blown five as a team, 3) Seven players are on the disabled list, and 4) they have received almost zero contribution from their outfielders.

Collectively, these realities lead to a 10-18 record for a team that was supposed to contend for the NL West title.

Let's start with Bumgarner. After fours starts, he was receiving some of the worst run support in baseball, and was almost certainly becoming frustrated. The Giants haven’t been scoring for any of their pitchers, but the bats were especially silent for MadBum days, which must drive a perennial All-Star and Cy Young candidate like MadBum crazy.

Then, almost as if to say, “you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone," Bumgarner chose to go dirt bike riding on an off day in Denver and took a spill, resulting in injuries to his throwing shoulder that will take months to heal.

I don’t have to tell you how stupid, irresponsible, and baffling that is for a professional athlete who is in-season, let alone a superstar, but I’ll just say it anyway: what was he thinking? Apparently he wasn’t following the Giants back when Jeff Kent injured himself “washing his truck."

Next, the bullpen. The problems that plagued the 2016 Giants have persisted in 2017, and you can’t help but point some of the blame at a front office that made only one significant addition to the core area of need the Giants had in the offseason.

Mark Melancon has been so-so and will surely be fine as the season goes on, however the supporting cast has been inconsistent. The season-ending injury to Will Smith didn’t help, but overall the bullpen has been unreliable and hasn’t lived up to best-case-scenario expectations that Bochy and team were hoping for when they remained quiet in free agency.

Speaking of injuries, the Giants have them spread across their entire roster. Buster Posey lost a week of his season after being plunked in the head during his first home at-bat of the year, Jarred Parker separated his shoulder, Span has lingering shoulder issues, Crawford is currently on the DL, and of course there’s Bumgarner. The injury bug has also hit role players Aaron Hill and Trevor Brown.

Finally, the  cast of outfielders that many were nervous about heading into the season has proved to be just as bad as you didn’t hope. Hunter Pence has slowly rounded into form, but the other two Opening Day starters, Parker and Span, had been horrendous before succumbing to their respective injuries. The stop gap replacements have been just as bad, with the only arguable bright spot being Michael Morse’s triumphant return to SF with a game-tying HR in his first AB.

The reality is, it’s not looking good for the Giants. Yes it’s still early, but aside from Matt Cain’s resurgence, Christian Arroyo’s emergence as a rising star, and some decent batting averages from guys you’d expect to hit, the Giants don’t have a lot to be excited about after one month.

First and foremost, they need to score runs (worst run differential in baseball). Next, they need to get healthy. Finally, they need their bullpen to quit blowing the few leads they’re given.


*Not mentioned, but not forgotten: Matt Moore and Jeff Samardzija have been flat out disappointing, and Ty Blach continues to exceed expectations as Bumgarner’s replacement.