popdose-2012spts

The Year In Moderately Popular Sports: Are You Impressed?

For those of us who look beyond American football, basketball and baseball, even-numbered years are usually our time to shine. We get Olympics and/or World Cups.

This year, we had a few issues.

MMA: It was a rough year for people who hit, kick and choke each other. Too many of them were getting hurt before the fights. So many fights were canceled, the UFC almost wound up with Axl Rose fighting Dave Lifton. (OK, I’m exaggerating. A little.)

That’s been a trend for a couple of years now — in the last six U.S. seasons of The Ultimate Fighter, the big coach-vs.-coach matchup has happened only twice, thanks to various ailments striking down Tito Ortiz, Brock Lesnar, Dominick Cruz and Shane Carwin.

But this year, the unthinkable happened for the UFC: An entire fight card was canceled. This being the UFC, nothing about the cancellation happened quietly. UFC president Dana White blamed light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, who refused to switch opponents on eight days’ notice. Others blamed the UFC for spreading its talent pool so thinly that it had no viable backup plan.

So what should have been a banner year for the UFC, its first year of a new deal with Fox that brought fight promotion during NFL broadcasts and turned action-sports Fuel into a steady stream of UFC programming, turned into a year of trying to patch together injury-riddled fight cards — at least until elegant welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre set things right with his triumphant return.

Nature abhors a vacuum, and into that vacuum stepped Ronda Rousey — a swaggering Olympic judo medalist who recently revealed the secret behind her quick, one-sided bouts: Lots of sex before fights. (Photo in that link is mildly NSFW.) The collective response from the active and predominantly male MMA online communities, already prone to drooling over Rousey, was something along the lines of “garrrhjbbbyaaaaaaah.”

Rousey won the title in the UFC’s sister promotion, Strikeforce, then broke the gender barrier to sign with the UFC itself. We might even get to see her coaching The Ultimate Fighter one day.

Her next appearance on The Ultimate Fighter would have to be less awkward than her first. They brought her into the house with 16 fighters for a night of television-watching. Maybe they were expecting fighters to take turns trying to sneak off with her in a house that has a camera in every nook and cranny. Maybe they were expecting fighters to throw down to prove they were worthy of her affections. What they got instead was 16 guys keeping a more-than-respectful distance while a frustrated Rousey twirled her hair and sighed after no one responded to her flimsy double-entendre about wanting “salted nuts.”

Yes. “Salted nuts.” What guy trying to avoid making an idiot of himself on reality television wouldn’t respond to that?

U.S. ratings for The Ultimate Fighter have dropped, by the way. But they’re doing incredibly well in Brazil, and the U.S. should be poised for a comeback. And you’re all going to read my book about it, right?

Meanwhile, in the NHL, commissioner Gary Bettman rejected the latest union proposal, which would have allowed the league to transport players from game to game on horseback.

Cycling: We’ve now seen considerable evidence that Lance Armstrong used performance-enhancing drugs. As did pretty much every other cyclist of his era, which the same evidence also confirmed.

A few months later, the final irony: EPO, one of the most common and devastating drugs in the cyclists’ arsenal before drug testing improved, might not even help all that much.

Meanwhile, in the NHL, commissioner Gary Bettman told players he’d be happy to start the season if they cut down the tallest tree in Ontario with a herring.

London 2012: A nice, pleasant Olympic experience. U.S. athletes did pretty well, as did the host country.

But let’s do a little quiz to show how we Americans absorb the blizzard of information from these 17-day extravaganzas:

A. _____ won the women’s gymnastics all-around.

B. _____ is not impressed.

Meanwhile, in the NHL, commissioner Gary Bettman offered a counterproposal in which players can continue to sign multiyear contracts if they first resurface the ice in Siberia by hand.

Chess: Magnus Carlsen may look like Justin Bieber, but it’s safe to say Magnus plays better chess than Bieber does. Or anyone else. Perhaps anyone else ever. He now holds the highest rating ever seen in chess.

And in the convoluted, ever-changing way chess determines its world champion, he may get to play for the title sometime in 2034.

Meanwhile, in the NHL, commissioner Gary Bettman took a picture of himself mooning the Stanley Cup, saying, “Arbitrate THIS!”

Soccer: The U.S. women won another Olympic gold, remaining focused despite the shutdown of their league and Hope Solo’s memorable memoir. Coach Pia Sundhage went home to Sweden, replaced by Scotsman Tom Sermanni.

The U.S. men survived the first round of World Cup qualifying, capping a strange year in which they won for the first time in Italy and the first time in Mexico but lost at Jamaica and barely beat Antigua and Barbuda.

Landon Donovan and David Beckham teamed up to help the Los Angeles Galaxy defend their Major League Soccer title and monopolize the headlines with speculation over what they plan to do next.

Meanwhile, in the NHL, commissioner Gary Bettman announced plans to launch the Lingerie Hockey League to fill all the vacant dates at North American arenas.

Skiing: Lindsey Vonn reclaimed the World Cup title after one year in second place, got drastically ill, then came back to win all three races at Lake Louise, Alberta.

Can she run the NHL in her spare time?