Before you could blink an eye, Ryan Hunter-Reay dipped inside and shot around Helio Castroneves in a daredevil maneuver, and a wheel-to-wheel breath taker ensued. Castroneves took back the lead, then Hunter-Reay unbelievably took it back at the last possible moment to win the Indianapolis 500 by .060 of a second. Only one other Indy had been decided by less. Hunter-Reay in his finest moment, going with his gut and daring to take American’s most iconic race in this his seventh try.
In Philadelphia 34 -year old Los Angeles pitcher Josh Beckett took a breath. He didn’t look at the scoreboard behind him and all the zeros showing on the home team side, or the runner on second base with two men out as he delivered his final pitch. Chase Utley could only watch it cross the plate for a third history making strike. Beckett, former World Series MVP, had recorded his first no -hitter. The first for a Dodger pitcher since 1996. The oldest man to do it in over a decade. All this, after overcoming a nerve condition a year ago that denied feeling in his fingertips. A career ender it seemed then, and now a 6-0 win and a place for the game ball in the Hall of Fame. Magical.
Sunday night showcased two inspirational playoff performances. Oklahoma City’s, Serge Ibaka who was supposed to out for the rest of the season with a leg injury. Instead he came back with 15 points and 4 blocks to lead a stirring and needed win for the Thunder over San Antonio. While on the ice at Madison Square Garden, New York’s Martin St. Louis continued his rejuvenated play since coming to the team in March, firing the puck over the goalie’s shoulder in overtime to give the Rangers a 3-2 win over Montreal, and a 3-1 edge in the series.
Yet nowhere was the essence of excitement and surprise played out to the fullest, than in the octagon hours earlier Saturday night in Las Vegas. UFC bantamweight champ Renan Barao was riding a 32 fight winning streak dating back nine years. At the press conference leading up to what was supposed to be another routine title defense, the UFC basically had a coronation of the sports’ new King. They freely threw out comparisons of fellow Brazilian Anderson Silva with a decade long reign ahead. Another foregone conclusion as well, from the oddsmakers. They had Barao anywhere from a 8-1 to 10-1 favorite, and even that seemed low for someone who had been as dominant as he had in the cage.
T.J. Dillashaw wasn’t an afterthought, but he was not the first choice for the fight. With a 9-2 record coming in, the former Cal State Fullerton wrestler who was ranked in the top 10 nationally his senior year, had proven himself to be in the mix of a division so totally ruled by Barao. Still the pre-fight talk centered on who would be left, for even a semblance of competition after this one.
It wasn’t that the 28 year old Dillashaw had just won the title, he seized his moment from the start, with a first round knock down. For the uninitiated with no clue of the backstory, it wouldn’t be a stretch to think Dillashaw was the favorite, was defending his crown, so in control from the get-go. He frustrated and confused the champ repeatedly with a series of strikes, that perhaps, surprised all on-lookers except for those from his Team Alpha Male camp.
Dillashaw’s performance leading to a fifth round TKO victory, was both the biggest upset and best showing of the season. It was reminiscent of how Chris Weidman had taken the middleweight belt from the seemingly unbeatable Silva last year, and then successfully defended it in a rematch. Each challenger fought with aplomb; taking a proactive approach from the opening bell and never hesitating when a flaw was exposed by the champion. Each did what the underdog in a title fight has to do—they took the fight to the champ and beat them, leaving no doubt of a judges’ decision.
Occasionally a weekend in sports can be overwhelming, with a constant flow of highs, lows, and the exceptional. This past weekend was one of the most memorable from the track, to the diamond, to the court, and the ice. Out in the desert where strange things can happen and where the night sky burns bright with lights, T.J. Dillashaw had the moment–his moment, Not one that flashes by to be forgotten. He became a star.
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