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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Fight Night: Experience of a Lifetime

Competition is an inherent part of the human experience.  This is why sport, in one form or another, has been a part of all cultures from the beginning of recorded history.  There is no purer form of competition then two men facing each other in single combat.  The ancient Greeks engaged in pankration.  The European knights had jousting tournaments.  The continent of Asia gave birth to a host of martial arts.  In modern times, we have prize fighting.

Banshee and baby sister
I am one of the biggest sports fans I know.  But, at thirty-five years old, I grew up in an era where it was difficult to be a boxing fan.  Other sports were readily available on TV, but becoming a student of the sweet science required a concerted effort and the expenditure of money.  Nonetheless, even as a little girl, it seemed clear to me that a world championship boxing match must be one of the most thrilling events a person could attend.  Not only is a title fight a connection to the ancient history of sport, but it is also connection to American sports history.  It is a connection to the days of Jack Johnson, Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis and Muhammad Ali.

On May 3, 2014, my sister and I attended Floyd Mayweather's latest title defense against Marcos Maidana at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.  It was an experience that I could not have had if it were not for my Uncle Don Hawk and his associate Mike Black and the Bellagio.  It was the experience of a lifetime, and I did not take it for granted.  For those of you who are wondering what fight night in Vegas is really like, here are my impressions.

The Casino on Fight Night.  I am not a Vegas expert.  In fact, this was my first trip to Sin City as an adult.  My understanding is that the city always has an electric feel to it, but it seemed clear that there was a little extra adrenaline in town with Floyd Mayweather defending his title and undefeated record.

My tickets
Even as I was boarding the plane in Lynchburg, VA, the baggage attendant was talking to me about who I was betting on in the fight.  The airport in Las Vegas had signs announcing that "The Moment" was this weekend, and on the trip from the airport to the hotel, there were numerous billboards celebrating the fight.  On the afternoon of the fight, I was riding the elevator at the Bellagio with my tickets in my hand.  The men behind us on the elevator saw what I was holding and immediately engaged in excited conversation about the fact that we were going to see "Money" Mayweather fight live.

On the night of the fight, the MGM Grand was very crowded.  Even without a title fight, it was a warm Saturday night in Vegas.  Prior to the fight, the steady flow of foot traffic passed through the casino floor to the far end of the enormous building where the arena is located.  The closer we got to the arena, the more the conversation in the crowd was focused on the fight card.  After the fight, the mood was even more excited.

Since the MGM Grand forces all the fight fans to funnel back through the casino in order to exit, the halls, restaurants and casino floor were jam packed with people after the fight.  The crowd was packed so tight that you really did not have a choice but to be carried along in the flow.  The surprising thing to me was the strong smell of marijuana smoke in the air over the tightly packed crowd.  The other surprise was the stampede following the fight that left the hallways and bathrooms strewn with ladies shoes and discarded drinks.  My sister and I escaped the chaos with only a few bruises, a broken souvenir cup and a wild story to tell our friends.

The crowd at the MGM Grand Garden Arena
The Glitz and the Glam.  A high profile boxing match in Las Vegas is a cross between a sporting event and a red carpet party.  It is almost impossible to be overdressed.  Most of the men wore sport jackets over crisply pressed shirts and slacks.  Many of the ladies were dressed in their finest night club attire, complete with tight skirts and stunningly high heels.  Of course, the announcer wore a tuxedo and even the referees wear bow ties.

It's not just the average people who are there to see and be seen.  "Iron" Mike Tyson was in the audience, and we brushed shoulders with Evander Holyfield and his entourage in the hallway outside the arena.  Of course, Mayweather's usual posse was on hand, including the odd pairing of Justin Beiber and Lil Wayne.

The presentation of the fights themselves are also glamorous.  The lighting is more like a theater than a basketball arena.  And the ring walks before the fights are theatrical spectacles.

View From the Seats.  All that stuff I wrote before is exciting and interesting, but once the bell rings, a boxing match is about the boxing.  The first thing that most of my friends asked me after the fight was, "Can you actually see what's happening from the seats?"  My answer is an emphatic, "Yes."   I am sure the sight lines vary from arena to arena, but the MGM Grand Garden Arena was built with championship boxing in mind.  Our seats were in the front row of Section 112.  That is the first row of the upper tier of seats.  Not only could we see what was happening in the ring, we could hear the action, as well.  We could hear the bell, the 10-second notice and the punches.

Floyd Mayweather vs Marcos Maidana
One of the most interesting things about the viewing experience is that the action in the ring is the absolute focus.  Fans are not allowed to come and go from the seats during a round.  There are no vendors yelling out for you to buy soft pretzels, and there are no beers or money being passed down the rows.  There are no cheerleaders.  The ring girls are only visible in between rounds.  There is no music pumped in during the action like at an NBA game.

However, even though the view from the seats is excellent, there are large video screens located in each of the four corners of the arena.  Those screens show the television feed of the fight.  I cannot imagine taking my eyes off the ring during a round, but the screens allow you to watch replays between rounds.  The screens are also great for watching the ring walks and the post fight interviews.

Vibe in the Crowd.  When my mother found out that my sister and I were attending a boxing match, her mind's eye pictured her girls entering the Roman Colosseum to watch lions eat Christians.  She envisioned a bloodthirsty mob that would not rest until they saw bodily fluids spilled on the canvas.  As it turns out, the crowd at the fight was not at all a frightening bunch.

Don't get me wrong.  There was certainly passion, especially amongst the Maidana admirers who vociferously sang the "Ole, Ole, Ole" song throughout the evening.

And, there was an extra rush of adrenaline that filled the arena when a fighter was able to land damaging blows on their foes.  I am certain that I did yell, "Put him down, Amir!" as my sister shouted encouragement beside me during the tenth round of the Kahn-Collazo fight.

In reality, though, the mood amongst the fans was not so different than it is in a football stadium where big hits are anticipated and celebrated.  I can also say that the patrons at this fight were far less intoxicated than the fans I've encountered at other sporting events.  Perhaps it was because the mixed drinks cost $17 a piece (not an exaggeration) or perhaps it was because fans who paid on average $1,000 for a ticket wanted to be able to remember what they had seen.

In either case, I did not see anyone pour beer on an opposing fan like I have seen at a baseball game, and I saw no fisticuffs like I have seen at basketball games.  From what I observed, even the most passionate fans were able to engage in good natured and educated debate between rounds and after the fights.

Maidana crowds Mayweather
Respect for the Judges.  One of the biggest complaints about boxing is the perceived incompetence or corruption from the judges that decide the fights.  There may be corruption, and there may be incompetence.  But, I learned from attending a live fight that judging boxing matches is hard.  When you watch a fight on TV, the camera angle switches continuously to make sure that the viewer always has the perfect vantage point for the action.

Despite what I said before about the excellent view from the seats, fans and judges only get to see the ring from one angle.  Boxing is a close-quarters sport.  Depending on the viewing angle, it is extremely difficult to tell if a punch lands squarely or was partially deflected.  Action generates emotion in the arena, and it is easy to feel like a boxer is winning a round simply because he is busy, even if he is actually ineffective.  I believe the judge who gave Maidana a draw against Mayweather is a prime example of both of these things.

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Sunday, May 25, 2014

Cooking with Banshee: Shrimp Fajitas

Mexican food is one of the easiest and most delicious food genres to make at home.  This is a super simple fajita recipe based on a concept published at  I do the shrimp on the grill and the veggies on the stove, but you can do either ingredient on either cooking surface.

This recipe makes about ten fajitas.

mexican food
Shrimp Fajitas
Marinade Ingredients:
1/2 cup lime juice
2/3 cup of water
1/4 cup olive oil
2 Tbs minced garlic
1 Tbs soy sauce
2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp liquid smoke
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp black pepper

Marinade Directions:
Whisk together all the ingredients.  Reserve 1/2 cup of marinade for cooking the vegetables in one bowl.  Keep the rest for marinating the shrimp.

Vegetable Ingredients:
1 green bell pepper
1 red bell pepper
2 yellow onions
1 Tbs olive oil
Poultry seasoning
1/2 cup fajita marinade

Vegetable Directions:
Slice red and green peppers and onions.  Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium-low heat.  Add the peppers to the skillet.  Sprinkle with poultry seasoning.  Cook for about five minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the onions.  Sprinkle again with poultry seasoning.  Cook for an additional five minutes, stirring occasionally.  Turn heat up to medium-high.  Add 1/2 cup of marinade.  Cook until most of the liquid is cooked off.  Remove from heat and cover to keep warm.

Shrimp Ingredients:
3 1/2 cups fajita marinade
1 1/2 lbs medium shrimp, peeled and deveined

Shrimp Directions:
Place the shrimp in a ziplock bag.  Add the marinade.  Refrigerate for at least two hours (can be overnight).  Flip the bag periodically to keep the shrimp coated.  Place a grill pan on the grill and preheat to medium heat.  Cook shrimp for approximately seven minutes, flipping frequently, until the shrimp are firm and opaque.

Assembly directions:
Warm up fajita-sized tortillas.  Add the shrimp and vegetables and serve with your favorite toppings.  I make mine with finely shredded cheese, sour cream, guacamole and fresh salsa.  Wash these down with a delightful gold margarita.  Enjoy!

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Thursday, May 22, 2014

Movie Review: Million Dollar Arm

Million Dollar Arm debuted in American theaters on May 16, 2014.  This is the latest sports movie made by Disney, the studio that has brought us a long list of family-friendly sports films.  In the interest of full disclosure, I am predisposed to like any any project that involves both Jon Hamm and the Sports Guy, Bill Simmons.  It was with that perspective that I headed to the theater this week.

Million Dollar Arm is based on a true story about a down-and-out sports agent, played by Hamm, who tries to save his business by putting on desperate and gimmicky contest to find a baseball pitcher in India.  It is true that most great sports movies are not really about the sport but about a greater cultural experience viewed through the lens of sport.  Chariots of Fire is about religion and commitment.  Hoosiers is about second chances and redemption.  Remember the Titans is about race and family.  Unlike those films, however, Million Dollar Arm is barely about sport at all.

That being said, Million Dollar Arm is a pleasant and entertaining viewing experience.  There are a lot of amusing and touching cultural juxtapositions as American baseball men visit India and as Indian boys from rural provinces are dropped in the heart of Los Angeles.  In both settings, the performances turned in by Suraj Sharma and Madhur Mittal, the two Indian pitchers, are delightful and enjoyable.  Positive, if not particularly deep, messages about the importance of valuing people more than money are delivered throughout the film.

All in all, I applaud Disney for spending the money to make and promote a positive, family movie that promotes solid values, and I had a pleasant time at this movie.  Million Dollar Arm is not in the category of other similar Disney films like Miracle, The Rookie or Invincible, but it is worth taking the family to see.

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Sunday, May 11, 2014

Mayweather-Maidana: Full Fight Card Recap

On May 3, 2014, "The Moment" arrived at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.  Floyd "Money" Mayweather fought Marcos "El Chino" Maidana in a welterweight unification bout.  Before the Mayweather-Maidana main event, fight fans were treated to a an undercard that featured up and comers and big names.  Wild Banshee was one of those fans.  This is my first-hand account of the full fight card.

Love vs. Periban
J'Leon Love vs. Marco Antonio Periban:  A ten-round middleweight matchup between J'Leon Love and Marco Antonio Periban opened the night's action.  Fighting out of Mayweather's gym, the undefeated Love got a chance for some big time exposure as the opening act on Floyd's card.  When the fight started, the MGM Grand Arena was mostly empty.  But, the fans who found their seats early were treated to good boxing action.  Periban put a lot of pressure on Love and was able to score the lone knockdown of the fight in the 5th round.  However, Love was the more skilled boxer throughout and rallied to land some heavy blows of his own in the later rounds.  When the fight ended, the judges declared Love the winner by unanimous decision (95-93, 97-92 and 96-93).  That decision did not seem unjust, but, considering the knockdown by Periban, the margin of victory seemed to indicate that Love benefited from some Mayweather momentum in the Las Vegas venue.

Adrien Broner vs. Carlos Molina:  The second fight on undercard featured Adrien "The Problem" Broner and Carlos Molina in a ten-round junior welterweight matchup.  Six months ago, Broner looked to be on the fast track to a title unification fight with Floyd Mayweather.  Instead, Marcos Maidana dominated Broner in December, taking both his WBA welterweight title and his lucrative payday.  Molina had not fought since he was knocked out by Amir Kahn in 2012.  In order to get back on the fast track to a headline PPV fight, Broner needed a convincing and flashy performance.  When I left the sports book at the Bilagio, Broner's odds were set at -3000.  Broner lived up to those odds with a wide, unanimous decision (100-90, 99-91 and 98-92) against the overmatched Molina.

Broner vs. Molina
In the ring, after the fight, Broner described the fight as nothing more than a "f-ing glorified sparring match," and that is about the level of interest that Broner showed throughout the fight.  Aside from when Broner ground his groin provocatively against Molina's backside at the end of one round, "The Problem" seemed far more interested in his glittery skort and entrance entourage than he was in Molina.  Despite the fact that the judge's decision was clearly correct, Broner's victory was greeted by a cascade of boos and whistles.  Despite the wide margin of victory, Broner actually did little during the fight to prove his place as one of boxing's true elite talents.  The Problem did, however, clinch his place as one of the most hateable men in the sport.  Broner's profanity-laced, racially-driven, post-fight rant earned him suspension from the WBC until he issues a public apology.

Amir Kahn vs. Luis Collazo:  After Adrien Broner lost in December, it appeared that Amir Kahn was next in line to fight Floyd Mayweather.  Instead, Mayweather chose Maidana as his next opponent.  Therefore, even though no belts were on the line, Kahn had a lot to prove against Luis Collazo in this twelve-round welterweight bout.  Kahn was the clear rooting favorite amongst the fans at the MGM Grand, and the Brit put on a boxing clinic right from the opening bell.

Kahn bloodied and battered Collazo in the early rounds before dropping Collazo in the third.  The fight turned dirty in the middle rounds.  In the 8th round, both men had a point deducted, Collazo for low blows and Kahn for excessive holding.  Collazo appeared to hurt Kahn with a left hand in the 8th round, but by the 10th round Kahn was back to business.  Kahn knocked Collazo down twice in the 10th and seemed on the verge of a knockout when the bell rang to save the woozy Collazo from a third trip to the canvas in the round.

Kahn vs. Collazo 10th round

Collazo managed to land one more low blow late in the fight that dropped Kahn to the canvas before Kahn cruised to a unanimous decision (119-104, 119-104, 117-106) that was greeted with thunderous applause from the packed house.

Floyd Mayweather vs. Marcos Maidana:  The action on the undercard was exciting, but there was no mistaking when "The Moment" finally arrived.  The atmosphere in the building was electric when the fighters made their ring walks.  Marcos "El Chino" Maidana was serenaded by fans chanting the Argentinian version of "Ole, Ole, Ole."  Floyd "Money" Mayweather was serenaded by Lil' Wayne, rapping live as he escorted the champ to the ring.

Maidana pushes Mayweather to the ropes
The conventional wisdom heading into the fight was that Floyd Mayweather was the superior boxer but that Maidana did have the power to hurt Mayweather if he was able to land a few well-timed power punches.  Maidana evidently knew that as well.  Maidana came out of the gates like a tornado.  This style delighted the crowd, but in truth, most of the wild, overhand rights that Maidana threw were dodged or turned into glancing blows by Mayweather's masterful defense.  Very few of Maidana's punches landed solidly, and Mayweather never appeared to be hurt.

Maidana kept the pressure on Mayweather for the entire fight.  Maidana crowded Mayweather throughout the fight, pushing and roughhousing the champ throughout.  Maidana threw 858 punches over the course of twelve rounds, but Mayweather showed the Argentinean and the fans at the MGM Grand why he is the best boxer of his generation.  Mayweather threw less than half as many punches as Maidana but managed to land about ten more blows, including 178 power punches.

When the final bell ended the fight, both men raised their hands in victory.  Wild Banshee scored the fight unofficially 116-112 for Mayweather, and the fans in my section agreed with that assessment.  However, there was some drama during Jimmy Lennon, Jr.'s announcement of the official decision when the first score was announced as a 114-114 draw.  The remaining judges correctly awarded Mayweather a majority decision (117-111, 116-112).

Although several news outlets described the decision as "unpopular," I believe that the reaction in the arena had far more to do with the tension of Jimmy Lennon, Jr.'s tease than with the decision itself.

Mayweather-Maidana decision announced

Both fighters indicated that they would welcome a rematch.  The fans in the arena vociferously approved of the idea. In all reality, however, Mayweather probably already took Maidana's best shot.  It's unlikely that the masterful Mayweather would allow a second fight to be nearly this competitive.

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Monday, May 5, 2014

Cooking with Banshee Recipe Collection

I love sports, entertainment and food.  I figured it was about time to make the food portion of Banshee Sports a little more accessible and user friendly.

Cooking with Banshee now has its own page on this website.  Recipes are divided by category for easy access.  New food and drink recipes will continue to be posted regularly, but they will also be added to the new page.

No matter where you are on the site, the Cooking with Banshee button appears in bright orange on the right side of the screen.  So, if you get hungry while you're reading about the beauty of baseball on the radio, delicious recipes are just a click away.

Enjoy!  And please spread the word to your friends.

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