2012 was a bumper year for sport, with Olympic Games, European Championships and Ryder Cup’s galore. At the end of last year, I wrote about my five favourite sporting moments of the year which you can access by clicking here.
With 2013 lacking the marquee events of the year before, I was wary at the start of January about the next 365 days in terms of great sport. How wrong I was, and in the spirit of such a gripping sporting calendar, I have upped the ante to six great moments of the year.
6. Justin Rose FINALLY wins a major
Number five in the list last year was the Miracle at Medinah, as the British Ryder Cup team came back against all the odds against the Americans to claim the title that year. A large part of the success was down to Justin Rose, who defeated Phil Mickelson on the last day to act as a catalyst to the rest of his teammates.
Seven months on from that, Rose won his first ever golf major tournament, taking home the U.S Open trophy in Philadelphia, winning by two shots over Jason Day, and that man again Phil Mickelson. By winning, Rose became the first Englishman to win a major since Nick Faldo in 1996, and more importantly he finally fulfilled the potential many had thought him capable of when he burst onto the scene at 18 to finish fourth in the 1998 Open Championship.
Personally I find most golf boring as anything, the slow play, the visors and the commentators are all atrocious to me, but I stayed up to watch Rose’s triumph and enjoyed every second of it.
Most memorably was Rose’s point to the heavens after sinking the winning putt, in dedication to his late father Ken who had been a mentor to Justin prior to his untimely death in 2002. Rose’s reaction was so raw and human that it touched many who were watching, and ensured his win would last long in the memory.
5. Phil Taylor and Adrian Lewis are outrageous on the Oche
Darts is one of those sports that is impossible to fully appreciate without playing it yourself, because it looks too easy. The first time anyone turns on the television and sees a bunch of voluptuous middle aged gentlemen throwing sticks against a board, it takes a lot of convincing to stick with it.
I was one of those cynics, annoyed with the crowds shouting random shit, and unsure of just how impressive these games were. As soon as I started to play a little, the reality of the difficulty soon set in, and my interest and admiration for the sport quickly grew
Phil Taylor and Adrian Lewis played one of the greatest semi-finals of all time in November at the Grand Slam of Darts event in Wolverhampton. 16 time World Champion Taylor took on the two-time World Champion and his former protege Lewis, winning 16-9, a score that doesn’t sound as close as the game was.
At 15 legs, both players were averaging over 112, and the total of 32 180s was the most ever scored in a PDC darts match. For those who aren’t darts fans, it’d be like two opening batsman averaging over 100 over the course of a test series, or a midfield footballer averaging a 98% passing rate over the course of ten games.
This was darts at its finest, with two players at the top of the game both agreeing afterwards that it was the best match they had ever been a part of.
4. Ronnie O’Sullivan wins the World Snooker Championship after a year off
No sport relies more on the star power of one man quite like snooker does. To the general public, Ronnie Sullivan is snooker, with the rest of the current crop mere footnotes on the 10th page of the sports section. There is a reason for that – love him or hate him, Ronnie is a phenomenon, blessed with natural talent, charisma, and contradictions which have baffled many over the last 20 years, but equally bedazzled.
Prior to the World Championships cueing off in Sheffield in April 2013, O’Sullivan had played precisely one competitive snooker match in the 2012/13 season, a defeat in September 2012 to Simon Bedford. Over the next few months, Ronnie disappeared from the scene, and though the reigning World Champion, his participation in the 2013 tournament seemed perilous.
In November he announced he would not be playing in any more tournaments for the season, but in February 2013 he announced his return to the game, for the World Championships. Ronnie’s odds were 6/1 for the tournament, with the bookies unsure of his form, as everybody was, due to his complete lack of playing time. Excelling in snooker is incredibly difficult, while dominating is much harder than that. With the need for practice and poise a necessity for the majority of snooker players, it seemed difficult to see where Ronnie’s rhythm would be.
How wrong we all were. Ronnie blitzed the tournament, disposing of Campbell, Carter, Bingham, and the much heralded ‘new Ronnie’ Judd Trump in the semi finals. In the final, he battered the dogged Barry Hawkins 18-12 to win his fifth world title. It was scintillating stuff, especially considering he was nowhere near his best for the majority of the tournament.
Afterwards, the rocket announced he had only entered – and won – the tournament because he had to pay his son’s school fees. Classic Ronnie.
3. Chris Weidman stops Anderson Silva – twice!
MMA, and specifically UFC has seen some fantastic fights this year, along with seemingly endless controversy. For every Jones v Gustafsson, Melendez v Sanchez and Hunt v Silva there has been criticisms, with Testosterone Replacement Therapy, fighter pay, and concussion issues attracting more attention. Still though, if you can put aside some of the negative aspects of the sport, the in cage competition has been at an all time high, and for me the peak of that was the brace of fights involving Chris Weidman and Anderson Silva.
In their first fight in July, Weidman was a heavy underdog, having had just nine professional fights and been out of the cage for almost a year due to injury. Anderson Silva was the UFC middleweight champion, an title he had defended 10 times. In UFC competition, he had gone 16-0, with only Chael Sonnen coming close to beating him. Silva was a popular fighter, especially in Brazil due to his exciting style, which saw him use many martial arts variations to great effect. His striking style especially was unique, relying heavily on his excellent reflexes, similar to a prime Naseem Hamed, using a lot of head movement.
Weidman was a wrestler, who had impressed in his UFC bouts using a wide range of styles, but nobody expected him to get close to Silva, especially in the striking department. In the first round, Weidman took Silva down repeatedly, convincingly winning the round. This wasn’t a major worry to the watching audience, Silva had been a slow starter before.
In round two, Silva began using some of his notorious, and some would say arrogant techniques, goading Weidman into engaging in a stand up war with him, by feigning hurt and almost dancing. He had done this many times before, cajoling an opponent into trading with him, before using his superior ability to end the fight.
Then this happened.
Weidman hit the playacting Silva with a big left hand, before finishing him off with more punches on the ground. The world was stunned, the champion had finally been caught. Five months later, in the UFC’s last show of the year, the rematch occurred. Despite the knockout of the first fight, Silva was still the betting favourite. The first round in match two went the same as the first fight, with Weidman dominating.
In round two, Weidman again stopped Silva, although this time via far more unusual measures. When Silva threw one of his trademark leg-kicks, Weidman checked it with his knee, causing Silva’s leg to instantly break clean, resulting in the end of the fight. I won’t link to the end as it’s pretty disgusting, but in many ways it summed up the UFC’s year, for both good and bad.
2. George Groves becomes the man, but doesn’t beat the man
The build up to Carl Froch vs George Groves was as good a taster for a boxing fight we had seen for many years. Both men genuinely disliked each other, the needle was legitimate, and it was a genuine crossroads fight for both men. Froch, at 36 had been to the top of the mountain, down again, and then back up again. Groves, at 25 was engaging in his first truly world class test in a career that had been unbeaten up to that point.
Carl Froch has achieved more than 99% than any other British boxer, a multi-time World Champion in the super-middleweight division, fighting many top fighters. Despite his accomplishments, it took the British public a lot of time to fully warm to the Nottingham man, with promotional inadequacy and a fairly boring personality to blame. Groves was treading a similar line prior to the fight, a good fighter with the potential to be great, but apart from a points win over James DeGale in 2011, he had been pretty much ignored by sports media in this country.
In the build up, Froch was touted as the hero, with Groves the villain, despite Froch acting spectacularly sour and bitter for a man of his experience and achievements. When the fighters walked out into the arena in Manchester in November, Froch was cheered, while Groves was booed loudly. The story of the months before the fight could be a book in itself – Groves left his long-time trainer Adam Booth two months before the fight, while also telling the world just how he was going to defeat Froch.
He came incredibly close, knocking Froch down in the first round, sending the Nottingham man down to the canvas for just the second time in his career. It was breathtaking, all of Groves pre match talk for which he was widely ridiculed was coming true. For many of the resulting rounds, Groves dominated Froch who looked slow, ponderous and ordinary. The crowd shifted somewhat, their initial hatred of Groves gradually dimming, in awe at what they were seeing.
Froch slowly clawed his way back into the fight, before unleashing a barrage in the ninth round which caused referee Howard Foster to stop the contest. The only problem was, Groves was still in the fight, he hadn’t been knocked down, and in fact was not given the chance to recover from Froch’s onslaught, despite Froch being given ample time to regain his senses after his first round knockdown, a fall Froch could not even remember after the fight.
The crowd, and the watching television audience were incensed, disappointed that Groves was not given the chance to get his win which seemed inevitable. Groves had walked into boos, but was being treated like a hero at the end of the fight, while Froch went into complete heel mode, and was booed out of the building as he left. It was an epic fight, the most enthralling boxing event of the year, and a rematch just has to be made in 2014, if only to see the delusional Froch knocked off his perch once and for all.
1. Andy Murray finally shuts up fairweather tennis fans for good
The George Groves babyface turn at the end of the Froch fight was very similar to Andy Murray’s rise in popularity following his tearful speech after losing the Wimbledon final in 2012 to Roger Federer. A year on, Murray found himself in the final again, this time against Novak Djokovic, a man he had beaten in the final of his first major win, his US Open triumph in 2012.
In simple terms, Murray won the match in straight sets, becoming the first British man to win the Wimbledon title since Fred Perry in 1936. For 77 years, Perry’s name had ghosted through SW19, a haunting specter to all Brits before him. Henman, Rusedski, and the other batch of losers were compared to the man who not only won Wimbledon a number of times, but gave the world casual attire for skinheads the world over.
Murray wore Fred Perry gear earlier in his career, but the switch to Adidas clearly helped ease some pressure off his shoulders. In terms of a sporting spectacle, it wasn’t the best tennis match in the world, but then finals rarely are. One of the highlights of the afternoon was seeing two Hollywood stars share a selfie in the crowd, just because…
Instead of the actual sport, the significance of the match to me firstly was one of relief. Murray is one of my favourite people in sport ever, and it was great to see him add to his major tally. Secondly, it shut up the absolute wasters who pretend to care about tennis for two weeks a year, giving their uneducated opinions on second serves, and drop-shots like they’re Boris Bloody Becker.
For all the Waitrose mums, the Pimms pricks, the hipsters fawning over Belgian teenagers, this shut them all up once and for all, and for that Mr Murray, you did more than win a tournament, you eliminated more wasters in one sunny afternoon than the competitors in the UK twerking championships which narrowly missed out on my top six list here.
What a year for sport then. Let’s just not mention The Ashes.