What a difference six weeks can make. The last time this panel convened, The Shield was riding high, Brock Lesnar was seemingly winding down this run with WWE and Becky Lynch was only scratching the surface of what she’d eventually become.
Now, as the calendar turns over into December, it’s a completely different world of WWE. Raw’s been thrown into chaos as Roman Reigns had to step away due to a leukemia diagnosis, the remnants of The Shield dissolved and Braun Strowman went down to injury. Brock’s back on top, and the next couple months of Monday Night Raw seem uncertain at best.
SmackDown, on the other hand, has become must-watch TV on a weekly basis. Daniel Bryan is a freshly evil WWE champion, but he’s playing second fiddle at the moment. Lynch’s ascent to the top of the WWE (and these rankings, by no coincidence) took the unlikeliest of paths. After a tremendous match against Charlotte Flair that was undeniably one of the best of the year in WWE, Lynch and Ronda Rousey were lined up for a high-profile collision at Survivor Series.
It was the lone cross-branded match with any build up and culminated with an attack on Rousey and the whole Raw women’s division just days before Survivor Series — only the match never happened, as Lynch took a stray punch to the face during the melee.
The result was one of the most iconic scenes in recent memory on WWE, as a bloody Lynch still laid waste to Rousey and stood defiantly staring down her opponent to be. Only it wasn’t to be, as Lynch’s injuries kept her from that match; the residual excitement was so much, however, that Charlotte Flair stepped into Lynch’s place and got a defining moment for herself with a late-match attack on Rousey using a kendo stick.
Now that Lynch has been cleared ahead of TLC, SmackDown is striking while the iron is hot as Lynch puts her SmackDown women’s championship on the line in a TLC triple threat match against Flair and Asuka. It’s immediately the most important match on the final pay-per-view event of 2018, and with eyes towards a possible Rousey match in 2019 and the means to do it with the upcoming Royal Rumble in January, almost any outcome is possible in this match.
It’s been fascinating to watch the unflinching and ever-growing support that Lynch gets every time she opens her mouth, steps into the ring or even lashes out on Twitter. There’s a lot of talk about women main-eventing WrestleMania 35, and Lynch seems to hold the key at this moment. We’ve seen how much can change over the course of a couple months, but as Lynch continues to reach more and more dizzying heights, it’s only fair to recognize how far she has come in just over two months.
Becky Lynch is the first woman ever to top the ESPN WWE Power Rankings, and she nearly swept the first-place votes. At this moment in time, Becky Lynch is undeniably “The Man”. — Tim Fiorvanti
Rankings are based upon the perceived value of a superstar to the on-screen product of WWE, which is determined by the voting of a panel of WWE on ESPN contributors. Number in parentheses indicates first-place votes.
When you step back and think of Becky’s ascent, it’s astonishing. We all assumed Charlotte Flair and Ronda Rousey would take the women’s evolution to the next level, but it’s the SmackDown champ who has the most ardent and passion fanbase in the WWE today, and that includes the men. Her beeline to the top of the summit is one of the best wrestling stories of 2018. — Matt Wilansky
At a moment when Monday Night Raw is in desperate need of stars, Seth Rollins is the one constant upon which the show can rely on week after week. Yes, his feud with Dean Ambrose has had its ups and downs, and yes, 132 matches against Dolph Ziggler might be excessive, but every time Rollins is out there, you’re always going to like what you see. — Andrew Feldman
The “New” Daniel Bryan came out of nowhere, but it’s exactly what Bryan and SmackDown Live need right now. Bryan winning the WWE title from AJ Styles on the SmackDown before Survivor Series felt like the WWE angling to avoid another Styles-Brock Lesnar matchup, but the attack after the match showed it was much more than that. Bryan as part of the “YES” movement was as popular as any WWE superstar, but something about his run since his return felt off. Bryan was given a second life as a WWE superstar, something no one but Bryan expected to happen. With that second life, it was time for Bryan to do something new, something he hadn’t already accomplished before he had to deal with a rash of serious injuries.
This is a version of Daniel Bryan we haven’t seen in WWE. You’d have to go back to his days as the maroon-trunks wearing Bryan Danielson in Ring of Honor to find the closest version of the Daniel Bryan we’re seeing now. He has an attitude. There’s a new aggressiveness to the way he works in the ring. He’s completely a different performer. That’s the Daniel Bryan fans want to see face AJ Styles at TLC. — Michael Wonsover
With apologies to Dolph Ziggler, Braun Strowman, Baron Corbin, Bobby Lashley, Lio Rush and whichever random heel WWE pairs him up with next, Drew McIntyre has become a standout performer on a weekly basis — and he’s clearly on the path to gold. — Feldman
It’s not surprising that Rousey ended up as a champion this early into her WWE run, but it’s a very pleasant surprise that she has already become so comfortable in the ring. She’s continued to combine her judo skills with professional wrestling, and you can see her skillset evolve with every match. Also, much respect for the absolute beating she took with a kendo stick and a chair at Survivor Series. That’s not something they teach you (or allow) in UFC or the Olympics. — Matt Willis
That Flair may not rank among the top two women’s wrestlers in the WWE right may seem like a knock on her, but it isn’t. The reality is that Flair’s in-ring storytelling has progressed to the point where she helped catapult Ronda Rousey to new heights with one memorable match. That skill is a major factor in the women’s division taking charge in today’s WWE, and will keep Flair in main event contention for years to come. — KC Joyner
Styles lost the WWE championship a couple weeks ago after an impressive 371-day title reign. Title or no title, Styles is among the best in-ring performers in the world. As long as he’s active, he belongs in the upper half of this list, regardless of where he’s ended up this time around. — Sean Coyle
We’ve only gotten occasional flashes of it during his six years in the WWE, but when Dean Ambrose has a microphone in his hand and free reign to go where he wants, he’s among the best promos in the company. The burning of his Shield vest and the doctor’s office visit both seemed a bit contrived on the surface, but if you listen to what Ambrose is saying in those promos, it’s clear that his potential will be best realized as the villainous foil to Seth Rollins and whomever is next in line. Opportunities abound on Raw, and Ambrose is in a spot where he can take full advantage. — Fiorvanti
Orton is at his best when he’s allowed to push the limits of human decency. In the current family-friendly WWE, that can be difficult to do and keep being invited back the next week, but Orton is doing an admirable job of pushing the limits, being vicious and brutal and leaving us wondering what he’s going to do next to his handpicked victims. — Willis
It speaks volumes for the state of the WWE today that Lesnar may be the only male wrestler who appears to be properly lined up for a shot at the main event of WrestleMania 35. If only we could find a way to book a Fatal 4-way with Lesnar, Becky Lynch, Charlotte Flair and Ronda Rousey — it could be the most memorable main in event in WrestleMania history. — Joyner
Five takeaways from 2018 NASCAR Cup Series awards in Las Vegas including Joey Logano, Roger Penske, Martin Truex Jr. Jim France
LAS VEGAS — Joey Logano was emotional, as expected, when he spoke Thursday night in front of the crowd at the NASCAR Cup Series awards ceremony.
That was expected from a driver who often talks about his family. As is typical with awards ceremonies, the speeches were relatively routine. But inside some of the speeches and chatter the past few days, there was plenty to ponder.
Here are five takeaways from the NASCAR 2018 celebration week:
A great year for Penske
Roger Penske touted 2018 as the best year for his racing organization. That’s saying something, considering that the team began competing in 1966.
Team Penske won the Cup title with Logano, the Indianapolis 500 (its 17th) with Will Power and the Australian V8 Supercar title with Scott McLaughlin. It also won for the first time in the Brickyard 400 with Brad Keselowski.
“This is probably the most successful season we’ve had in 52 years, if you can believe it — I’ve been around a long time,” Penske told the crowd.
Afterward, Penske credited his employees. He said that more than 200 people in the Penske organization have more than 10 years with the team.
“It’s just hard to believe,” Penske said. “We’re going to go back at it again next year. But each year we set this bar a little bit higher, and I think that’s what makes us so good.
“Part of the success is the human capital. We’ve got to provide a driver with the best race car.”
In an eight-day span, Penske saw those people at work, helping Logano and McLaughlin win their titles.
“It was one of those things, either you win it or don’t win it [in Australia],” Penske said. “Going to Australia and seeing Scott McLaughlin, a young man we want to bring here [to NASCAR] at some point, it was just a thrilling and unbelievable situation for me.”
For Logano, it was special just to be part of Penske’s best year.
“It is incredible to just drive for him and to end up it being one of his best seasons ever — there’s so much that goes into what he does,” Logano said. “It doesn’t just happen.
“It may look like that everything Roger Penske touches turns into gold, but it is that way because of the work and the people that he has surrounded himself with.”
NASCAR will push Logano’s philanthropy and attitude
Having Gavin Grubbs — a teenager who met Logano about 10 years ago as part of a Make-A-Wish Foundation visit and later served as a groomsman at Logano’s wedding — introduce Logano showed that NASCAR will want try to show the off-the-track Logano as much as his on-the-track persona.
“He has made a major impact on my life as well as many others,” Grubbs told the crowd.
Logano talked about family and tried to put the past few weeks in perspective. His wife, Brittany, gave birth to their first child, Hudson, in January.
“Family means a lot to me,” Logano told the crowd. “We have so many long talks at night and I’m not always smiling. … [Brittany] is an amazing mother to our child and what an amazing year to have Hudson and now a championship.
“I would trade all of this [championship stuff] in a heartbeat [for them]. But the great part is we don’t have to.”
And Logano continued to embrace the fact that he won’t be the most popular driver. He told the fans: “Whether you’re booing or cheering, it’s pretty good. We all do it for you guys.”
Logano reiterated that after the ceremony.
“Love me or hate me, the fact that [fans] love NASCAR means the most,” Logano said. “Because, honestly, that’s what keeps everyone standing around here employed.
“That’s a big deal for the growth of our sport. I’m a fan before I was a driver and I’m still a fan before I am a driver.”
Truex hopes for better days
Martin Truex Jr. seemed almost offended following the awards ceremony when it was suggested that things might never be as good at Joe Gibbs Racing as it was for him and crew chief Cole Pearn the past three years at Furniture Row Racing. The organization closed its doors following the 2018 season.
“It’s not going to be a tick lower because we won’t stand for that,” Truex said. “That’s not why we’re here. Cole and I and the team he assembles, we’re going to have the same attitude.
“We get paid to win. That’s our job, to figure out how to win.”
Pearn and some other team members will move to North Carolina to work at JGR.
“Cole is going to be in North Carolina next week getting to work and I’ll be pestering him about what we’re doing getting ready for Daytona and how the car is going to be,” Truex said.
Sometimes it can be more difficult to influence change with a bigger team.
“The mad scientist part of Cole is still there, and he will still be a driving force,” Truex said. “We’ll just have to see. It will be new territory.”
Jim France makes short statement
Jim France, who has taken over as CEO and chairman while his nephew Brian continues on an indefinite (permanent?) leave of absence following his DWI in August, was honored Wednesday with the Myers Brothers Award for contributions to the sport.
In accepting the award, France gave a very brief analysis of the sport:
“I’ve had the opportunity the last part of this season to spend a lot of time again in the garage area and pits of our racing series, and I’d like to pass on one quick observation from the 1950s in the pits at Bowman Gray Stadium to the 2018 pits in the NASCAR Monster Energy Series:
“That NASCAR spirit, the competitive spirit of the drivers and teams, is alive and well and I’m proud to be a part of it.”
France, while affable, prefers to remain in the background and has not done a news conference since assuming his new role. This would have been an opportunity for him to give more of his state-of-the-sport thoughts. While that would have been welcome and likely productive, it isn’t his style.
Xfinity Series fun day
Xfinity Series champion Tyler Reddick got to have fun at Universal Studios on Tuesday, where he rode on the float that led the afternoon parade. He also met fans and signed autographs.
“It’s incredible to be out here,” Reddick said.
Universal and Xfinity are part of the Comcast family of companies, so it was a natural setting to try to highlight the young driver and the series champion.
“It’s pretty cool,” Reddick said. “I got the trophy sitting right next to me. We had a bunch of calls [with media] and sitting down and talking about how it all happened. It’s starting to really sink in.”
Reddick enjoyed the day. It was good to see the series sponsor trying to promote its champion, especially one who will return next year to defend his title (albeit with Richard Childress Racing and not JR Motorsports).
“There’s been a lot of big fan reaction,” Reddick said. “There’s a lot of fans back in my dirt [late model] days who have followed me from almost the very start that have still been following along that are still ecstatic. … They have stuck out what seemed to be a pretty hard year, but we’ve rewarded them with a championship.”
Ohio State AD denies Meyer 2020 succession plan
FILE PHOTO: Nov 24, 2018; Columbus, OH, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer tests the wind direction on the sidelines in a game against the Michigan Wolverines at Ohio Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports
Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith is not expecting Urban Meyer to leave the Buckeyes anytime soon and denied a report that a succession plan to promote offensive coordinator Ryan Day is already in place for 2020.
Football Scoop claimed, citing anonymous sources, Meyer informed Smith and Ohio State he planned to step down prior to the 2020 season.
Day, who was interim coach of the Buckeyes in September during Meyer’s suspension, is expected to be a top candidate for several head-coaching vacancies.
To retain Day, Ohio State would bump his salary with an “unwritten understanding” he will succeed Meyer, per the report.
Smith, in a text to ESPN, said there was “no truth” to the report while Meyer declined comment in Indianapolis ahead of Saturday’s Big Ten championship game against Northwestern.
Day told ESPN on Friday that he is still interested in, and very much in the running for, other college jobs.
Meyer, 54, said earlier this week he is planning to coach next season. Football Scoop reported Meyer intends to address his health challenges and status as Ohio State’s coach as early as after Saturday’s game.
—Field Level Media
Tiger Woods hits ball twice on shot during Hero World Challenge, avoids penalty
NASSAU, Bahamas — Tiger Woods got a break from golf’s evolving rulebook Friday when he was not penalized for hitting his ball twice during a shot out of a bush on the 18th hole at Albany Golf Club.
A lengthy review of the issue at the Hero World Challenge determined that the rules infraction could only be determined with slow-motion video evidence. Because it was not “visible to the naked eye,” nor did Woods feel that he hit had the ball twice, no penalty was assessed.
“He didn’t scrape or spoon or push the ball,” said Mark Russell, PGA Tour vice president of rules and competitions. “And when he did that, Tiger said that he did not think he hit the ball twice.
“Looking at it in regular speed on a high-definition television, you couldn’t tell that at all. But when you slow it down, you could see where the ball did stay on the clubface quite a bit of time and it looked like he might have hit it twice. But there’s no way he could tell that.”
Citing one of the Decisions in the Rules of Golf (34-3/10, Limitations on Use of Video Evidence), Russell said there would be no penalty.
“Basically it says if the player did not know that he did that, and the only way you can tell that is by using this type of slow motion technology, he’s exempt from the rule. There is no penalty there.”
Woods would have had to add a penalty, which means his score would have gone from 6 to 7.
As of Jan. 1, that rule will change. There will no longer be a penalty for hitting the ball twice, but both strokes must be counted.
“I didn’t feel like I made contact twice,” Woods said. “It was such a short little shot, I was just trying to hit it sideways there. Under slow motion and high def, you can see that the ball hit the clubface twice … but there’s no penalty. I’m sure that Mark [Russell] will explain it to you better than I can, but the rules committee reviewed it for awhile.
“In slow motion, you can see I did hit it twice. But in real time, I didn’t feel that at all.”
The final hole at Albany ruined what had been a solid day for Woods, who was 5 under par on his round and had not made a bogey.
But hitting a 3-wood off the tee, he flared it well to the right and it ended up in a bush.
Even without the penalty drama, Woods made a mess of the hole — after he had birdied it on Thursday. After hitting that short shot out of the bush, he narrowly avoiding the water that fronts the green with his third shot. A long chip came up well short, and Woods did well not to three-putt, settling for a double bogey and a round of 69 at the event he hosts on behalf of his foundation.
“Today I played much better,” said Woods, who shot a 73 in the first round. “I finally hit my irons the way I normally do. Other than the last tee shot, I felt I really hit the golf ball well.
“Yesterday I drove it great and didn’t hit my irons well, and today I hit it like I normally do. If I would have just putted the way I normally do, this round could have easily been 8, 9 under.”
Woods missed birdie putts of 7, 10, 12 and 4 feet on the front side, and he missed a 5-footer at the 11th as well. He birdied four of the five par-5s and got up and down for another birdie on the short par-4 14th. He stood on the 18th tee in the top seven of the tournament before missing the fairway and encountering problems with his second shot.
Two possible rules came into play.
First, Rule 14-1, which says the “ball must be fairly struck at with the head of the club and must not be pushed, scraped or spooned.” The penalty for that is two strokes, and Russell determined there was no infraction in that case.
The second is Rule 14-4, which says “if a player’s club strikes the ball more than once in the course of a stroke, the player must count the stroke and add a penalty stroke, making two strokes in all.” (The penalty stroke goes away in 2019).
But in late 2013, golf’s governing body added the decision that said penalty strokes would not be applied if the infraction “was not reasonably discernible to the naked eye at the time.”
This was largely in response to violations that were caught on replay in which a ball barely moved on a green or in playing a shot that the player could not reasonably know without consulting slow-motion video.
“We just asked him if he thought he hit the ball twice; he said no,” Russell said. “He didn’t, that’s the only way you could tell. If you looked at it at regular speed, it wouldn’t enter your mind that he did. But if you look at it [in] ultra-slow motion, the ball did stay on the clubface quite a long time.”
Woods was involved in similar a ruling at the 2013 BMW Championship, where he was penalized two strokes when attempting to play a shot from branches, and he was deemed to have caused the ball to move. It could be seen moving with the help of slow-motion video, and it is likely that had this decision been in place, that penalty would not have been called.
That was a year of several rules issues faced by Woods faced. The biggest came at the Masters, when he took an improper drop on the 15th hole during the second round. Woods failed to add two strokes to his scorecard, but he was saved from disqualification because Masters officials said they erred by not bringing the issue to his attention before he signed.
Woods had hit the flagstick on the hole and saw the ball carom back into the water. He elected to drop from the same spot, but went too far back before knocking the next shot close — making what he thought was a 6 at the time. Two strokes were added, Woods took an 8 on the par-5 hole — and ended up finishing four strokes back in the tournament.
Schwarzenegger defends 102-year-old being evicted
Trump, in Japan, meets Emperor Naruhito ahead of news conference with Abe
NYU political science professor blasted for tweeting fake Trump quote, calling it ‘plausible’
Olivia Jade knew parents Lori Loughlin, Mossimo Giannulli allegedly bribed her way into USC: report
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‘Fantastic Beasts’ flies to top of weekend box office
DP World chairman says trade tensions will make 2019 challenging
- Schwarzenegger defends 102-year-old being evicted
- Trump, in Japan, meets Emperor Naruhito ahead of news conference with Abe
- NYU political science professor blasted for tweeting fake Trump quote, calling it ‘plausible’
- Olivia Jade knew parents Lori Loughlin, Mossimo Giannulli allegedly bribed her way into USC: report
- ‘Game of Thrones’ critics petition Benioff and Weiss not to ruin ‘Star Wars’ franchise
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