Sports in 2015: Stories that made you click
(Philstar.com) - December 23, 2015 - 7:15pm

 

The year 2015 in the sporting world has been like no other. These are the stories that caught Filipinos' attention all year.

 

Richest fight in boxing history

Floyd Mayweather Jr., left, and Manny Pacquiao pose during their weigh-in on Friday, May 1, 2015 in Las Vegas.  AP/John Locher

Even though he lost the biggest fight of his storied career, Manny Pacquiao and the Philippines will forever be remembered in history.

The Filipino icon’s highly anticipated fight with Floyd Mayweather Jr. last May 2 in Las Vegas ended up as the highest grossing and most watched boxing match ever – selling about 4.6 million pay-per-view units and raking in over $410 million revenue.

While the bout was a commercial success, it was a critical failure as Mayweather was contented to dance and counter-punch his way to a unanimous decision victory over Pacquiao, who later on was revealed to have fought with an injured shoulder.

Nevertheless, the sky-high anticipation and commercial numbers the Mayweather-Pacquiao showdown produced will be hard to top.

 

Pinoys in US basketball

Kobe Paras is set to play for University of California Los Angeles in the US NCAA Division 1, while two-time UAAP MVP Bobby Ray Parks is now with the Texas Legends in the NBA D-League. FIBA Image | Los Angeles Lakers photo

Second-generation players Bobby Ray Parks, Jr. and Kobe Paras share the same dream but are taking different paths to it.

Parks, Jr., the son of former seven-time PBA Best Import Bobby, Sr., left what could have been a lucrative multi-million peso deal as a potential lottery pick in the PBA back home to pursue his NBA dream. His gamble is slowly paying off after he became the first homegrown Filipino talent to play in the NBA Summer League (scoring 10 pts in one of those games) and also to be drafted (25th overall) in the NBA Developmental League.

While Parks took a circuitous route, Paras, on the other hand, is going through the natural path to the NBA – make a name in high school and get recruited by a big-time US college basketball program.  The son of the only PBA Rookie-MVP starred for the Los Angeles Cathedral Phantoms last season as a transferee from La Salle Greenhills in the Philippines. After making waves in California basketball scene and some of the major HS basketball camps in the US, the UCLA Bruins, the winningest school in the US NCAA, signed Paras to a four-year athletic scholarship.

The race to becoming the first Filipino homegrown talent in the NBA is definitely on.  But it won't matter who between Parks and Paras will first make it.  The most important thing is that both transcendent players have paved the way for future Filipino players to get into the US major basketball leagues.

 

College hoops: Letran, FEU end title drought

Members of the Letran Knights, led by Finals MVP Mark Cruz and team manager Manny Pacquiao, celebrate with their fans and supporters after nipping the San Beda Red Lions in a thrilling sudden death to capture the NCAA men’s basketball crown at the MOA Arena on Oct. 29, 2015. STAR/Joey Mendoza Jr.

Both the Letran Knights and the Far Eastern University have ended a decade-long drought as they won the two major titles in Philippine collegiate basketball.

The Knights completed what is perhaps the best Cinderella run in recent memory, defying all odds and ending the reign of a dominant San Beda Red Lions side. But the euphoria of the historic win was short-lived as their rookie coach, Aldin Ayo, bolted and moved to De La Salle Green Archers in the UAAP, just a day before their victory party.

The FEU Tamaraws, meanwhile, denied a double celebration for the Dominican community in the Philippines after beating the UST Growling Tigers in what went down as a classic three-game duel that saw epic performances of players from both sides.

It also proved that the UAAP isn't just about Ateneo-La Salle based on the record crowds that watched the Finals, the first time since 1994 that neither school was in the title picture.

 

The continued rise of women's volleyball

Ateneo Lady Eagles superstar Alyssa Valdez was officially appointed as the country's flag-bearer in the 28th Southeast Asian Games last June in Singapore. File photo

The year 2015 saw the rise of the Philippine women's volleyball, building on the momentum of last year's smashing success in the UAAP that saw the Ateneo-La Salle rivalry spilled on to the volleyball court.

Ateneo's star player Alyssa Valdez along with FHM cover girl Rachelle Daquis and the Santiago siblings of NU became the torchbearers of the women's volleyball in the country as they drew record crowds to both the Shakey's V-League and the Philippine Super Liga, which extended the collegiate players' volleyball careers.

 

Azkals' World Cup Dream falls short

Phil Younghusband and Misagh Bahadoran of the Philippine Azkals compete against An Byong Jun and Pak Kwang Ryong of North Korea during their preliminary joint qualification football match for the 2018 FIFA World Cup and 2019 AFC Asian Cup at the Kim Il Sung Stadium in Pyongyang, North Korea yesterday. AP

The Philippine Azkals failed to sustain their hot 2-0 start in the 2018 World Cup Qualifiers as they fell short anew in advancing to the third round. 

They made a gallant stand in the Philippines' first match in North Korea, drawing the home team in scoreless match. But their chances to make it to the top two of their group fell apart when they got ambushed by Uzbekistan, 1-5, and lost to Yemen, 0-1, in their rematch at home.

But while the Azkals got booted out of the World Cup, they are still in the running to make it to the Asian Cup qualifying third round.

 

Ronda Rousey falls; Conor McGregor rises

Conor McGregor is the new UFC featherweight King, while Ronda Rousey was knocked out to halt her 12-win streak. AP/Gregory Payan | AP/Andy Brownbill

Ronda Rousey is no longer the face of the MMA. Conor McGregor has that billing now. 

The trash-talking Irish McGregor seized the moment when he scored a sensational knockout that ended Jose Aldo's decade-long winning streak in just 13 seconds at UFC 194 to unify the featherweight belts.

The new undisputed UFC's featherweight King has backed up his big mouth with a loud win against one of the best UFC fighters.

The shocking end was eerily similar to Rousey's fall.

The erstwhile unbeaten women's bantamweight champion got brutally knocked out by Holly Holm in the second round of their title match at UFC 193 ending her 12-win streak.

The fight, which was the first UFC event ever held in Melbourne, Australia, drew a new record crowd of 56,214, eclipsing the previous attendance record of 55,724 at UFC 129 four years ago.

2015 also saw the first ever UFC Fight Night held in Manila last May with Frankie Edgar beating Urijah Faber in five exciting rounds. Edgar earns a title shot after knocking out Chad Mendes for his fifth straight win on the night before McGregor's epic win against Aldo.

A McGregor-Edgar title fight is in the works, but that will all boil down to whether the Irish champ moves up to the lightweight division.

After a record year for the UFC, the world's largest MMA outfit has found a new home in the Philippines switching from Balls Channel, which will cease to air, to Cignal, the cable sister company of TV5, beginning next year.

 

NBA: Warriors begin reign; more stars in PH; Kobe retires

Los Angeles Lakers forward Kobe Bryant reflects at news conference on why he decided to announce his retirement prior to an NBA basketball game against the Indiana Pacers in Los Angeles. AP/Alex Gallardo

The Golden State Warriors are trying to break the ceiling shortly after winning it.

The squad, even after winning it all in June, just kept on adding to their legend.

With a championship under their belt heading for the new NBA season, it was no longer a surprise that the famed small-ball Bay Area-based crew would snare NBA game wins left and right. What surprised many was how long it took them to play on such a high level.

Led by the reigning league Most Valuable Player Stephen Curry, the Warriors, who just brought to the city their first championship in 40 years, won 24 regular 2015-16 NBA games. They last lost to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2014-15 Finals series. Counting the games that dated from last season, they have logged a total of 28, beating the Miami Heat of 2013, then led by LeBron James. They are now second to the Lakers of 1971-72 that tallied a sum of 33 wins.

And oh, as if it's not worth taking note, the team that beat the Warriors was the same team that snapped the Lakers' hot start: The Milwaukee Bucks.

As of this writing, the Warriors have just lost once this season.

The Capital could easily pass as the new Basketball Mecca.

And we need not look far for proof. Laker guard Jordan Clarkson, Jazz guard Trey Burke and Bulls legend Horace Grant came to town last May. A champion coach in Brian Shaw and another Jazz in Alec Burks followed suit.

Then there was the NBA 3X Philippines which drew champion Spur Danny Green and World Cup champion Kenneth Faried. Not to forget Minnesota's wizard guard Ricky Rubio.

But it all hit fever pitch when the two stars of the last NBA Finals eventually made their way here in August and September. LeBron James made true to his promise of returning, and Stephen Curry rode high on many of his Pinoy fans' Warriors championship hangover.

Not mentioning the crazy social media buzz we generated whenever our Men's national basketball team takes the floor, this is proof that we are #blessed. By the NBA and basketball gods that is.

What a time to be a basketball fan. What a time to be a  Filipino, yes?

Meanwhile, all good things come to an end

Kobe Bryant finally announced he's retiring this April.

Like his moniker, Bryant sneaked up on his fans, basketball spectators and the media in November, penning a poem that indicated that he would retire from the game of basketball by the end of the current NBA season.

He posted the entry in Yankees superstar Derek Jeter's startup site (who also just retired), the Players' Tribune, sending the social media to a buzz.

Bryant, who has been battling injuries lately, will have to wrap a legacy that includes five championships spanning 20 seasons in a single team – the Los Angeles Lakers.

Once crowned the best cager in the NBA, the Lakers veteran superstar that he's also a mortal like all of us. And that Father Time has finally caught up.

 

Jason Day puts Philippines in world golf map

Jason Day holds up the Wanamaker Trophy after winning the PGA Championship golf tournament Sunday, Aug. 16, 2015 (Monday  in Manila), at Whistling Straits in Haven, Wisconsin. AP/Chris Carlson

Another Day, another Filipino champion.

Filipino-Australian Jason Day won a PGA tour major to join the ranks of celebrated athletes who have hoisted the Philippine flag in their craft.

Day rolled  past Jordan Spieth – at the same time shattered a record along the way – to clinch the 97th PGA Championship.

While golf don't have much of a following, it was the #PinoyPride that made the Fil-Aussie golfer a social media topic for a day. On top of that, it was actually the world-renowned Tiger Woods record that Day just broke.

 

Top-notch tennis comes to Manila

The Philippine Mavericks take a group photo during the Manila leg of the IPTL.

The IPTL successfully mounted another stop in the Philippines.

And this time, tennis' arguably greatest woman player right now, was in tow – Serena Williams.

The Mavericks, shedding the "Manila" tag for "Philippines," saw action in the second season of the dynamic tournament with a retooled roster. Among the stars in the lineup were young sensation Milos Raonic, French hotshot Richard Gasquet and our very own Davis Cup star, Treat Huey.

To take things up a notch, also in starring in the Philippine Mavericks' homestand was Rafael Nadal and Ana Ivanovic, who played for opposing teams but drew loud cheers.

While the Mavericks finished fourth in the season, the IPTL and the advent of tennis in the country left an indelible mark of fascination for Filipinos for the years to come.

 

The Gilas Pilipinas saga

From the making of the team to Gilas Pilipinas' bid to the world cup, the country' s men's national basketball team hogged sports headlines all year. FIBA.com/Released

Doomed to fail following the series of pullouts of key players from the last Gilas team that went to the FIBA World Cup, a spate of injuries, an out of shape Andray Blatche reporting to training camp and short time to prepare, new national coach Tab Baldwin weaved his magic as he whipped up a fighting team that defied the odds and came one win short of punching a ticket to the Rio Olympics.

New Gilas boys Terrence Romeo and Calvin Abueva seized the moment while veterans Asi Taulava and Dondon Hontiveros squeezed whatever was left in their tanks in what could be their farewell duty. With the team coming together and growing in strength as the FIBA Asia tournament went deeper, they marched to the gold medal game and challenged the title favorite and host China. They lost but did not go down without a fight in duplicating the silver medal finish in 2013.

The silver medal became a symbol of hope that only if Baldwin got all the players he wanted, who knows what could have happened in the gold medal game. It pushed the PBA to renew its commitment to assemble the strongest national pool in the hopes of getting through the Rio Olympics via the wildcard tournament in 2016.

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