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Survivor Series’ Return to Canada One for the Ages



World Wrestling Entertainment made an emphatic return to Toronto over the weekend, bringing with it one of its major pay-per-views, Survivor Series, its wildly popular NXT brand and Monday Night Raw, the first pay-per-view of any kind in the Big Smoke in over a decade.

A sold out Survivor Series crowd at the Air Canada did not leave disappointed. With bragging rights on the line between Raw and SmackDown Live following its recent brand split, and the long-awaiting return of legendary Bill Goldberg after a 10-year hiatus, Toronto was primed for a big night.

The main event featured a couple of icons who last faced each other 12 years ago. The Toronto crowd was jacked from the outset as Goldberg’s seemingly unlikely return ignited the ACC.

But as quickly as they hit the ring, the match was over, just one minute, 25 seconds in, with Goldberg dominating Lesnar, deliver two spears and a jackknife powerbomb, ending the match as quickly as it started, stunning the crowd, which had no doubt been hoping for more.

Goldberg’s storied career featured many easy victories, but perhaps none easier than that on this night, taking down one of the company’s biggest names and most dominating competitors.

The crowd celebrated with Goldberg, who brought his son — his motivation to have one final match — into the ring to celebrate while a feeling of shock hung over the audience.

The main Survivor Series elimination match featured five competitors from Raw facing five from SmackDown. One by one, competitors were eliminated until one was standing. The combatants were, from Raw, Kevin Owens, Chris Jericho, Seth Rollins, Braun Stroman and Roman Reigns. Jericho received the loudest ovation of the night.

The SmackDown Live competitors were Bray Wyatt, Randy Orton, Dean Ambrose, AJ Styles and Shane McMahon. Phenom James Ellsworth led SmackDown Live to the ring.

After lengthy and boisterous introductions, Owens and Styles opened the match. A methodical start to the match featured plenty of fan interaction as each of the stars got into the match.

The first elimination didn’t come until well into the match and after several daring spots including a huge one by Owens that delighted the crowd. That distinction belonged to Ambrose, who was eliminated by Stroman after he and teammate Styles had an altercation in ring. Stroman showed off his huge physical dominance in the match.

The highlight of the night once again belonged to McMahon, who risked life and limb to jump from the top rope onto Stroman, who was lying prone on the announcers’ table. Stroman was eliminated with an assist by Ellsworth, who was thrown from the stage onto table below by Stroman for his interference.

The spent crowd was silent in delight following the high spots, but mustered up more energy as the match when on. Owens was next eliminated via disqualification, which didn’t sit well with the crowd.

Orton then RKO’d Jericho, eliminating him, again eliciting boos from the Canadian faithful.

Reigns and Rollins were left to face McMahon, Orton, Styles and Wyatt.

McMahon was eliminated when he appeared to be injured by a spear at the hands of Reigns while attempted a second aerial assault.

The Shield reunited before the match was out, with Ambrose assisting Rollins and Reigns, who eliminated Styles, leaving Orton and Wyatt to face Rollins and Reigns.

Luke Harper’s distraction and interference gave Wyatt and Orton an assist and Orton eventually struck for an RKO, eliminating Rollins.

SmackDown scored the win, an hour later, when Wyatt hit his finisher, Sister Abigail, to eliminate Reigns.

The show opened with a traditional Survivor Series match featuring the women’s divisions from Raw taking on those from SmackDown. Bayley, Sasha Banks, Alicia Fox, Nia Jax and the women’s champ Charlotte represented Raw while Becky Lynch, Naomi, Alexa Bliss, Carmella, Nikki Bella and Canada’s own Natalya represented SmackDown. The crowd got behind both teams early. Carmella was the first eliminated, followed quickly by Fox. Naomi was eliminated by count out, much to the delight of the Toronto crowd, which mimicked popular Niagara Falls wrestler Tye Dillinger’s 10 count for the entire count.

Sasha Banks was eliminated by Natalya, who was subsequently eliminated by Charlotte. The match’s high point came courtesy a double suplex by Jax. Jax then tapped to submission to Lynch. Charlotte eliminated Bliss, leaving Lynch to face Bayley and Charlotte to determine the winner. Lynch eventually was elminated by a belly-to-belly suplex courtesy of Bayley, propelling the Raw team to victory.

The night’s first singles match of the night saw the Intercontinental champion The Miz, accompanied by his real-life Canadian wife Maryse Ouellet take on fan favourite and Montrealer Sami Zayn. The boisterous chanting when Zayn’s entrance music played was the first big crowd reaction of the night. Rare Ole-Ole chants, at least in Toronto, rained down from the crowd early and often. Interference from Maryse along the lines of the infamous Montreal screwjob at Survivor series nearly two decades ago helped The Miz retain, much to the dismay of the Canadian crowd.

Crowd favourites Enzo Amore and Big Cass cut a fantastic promo to open the next match, which featured several Canadian references. The 10-on-10 Survivor Series match featured, from Raw, Enzo and Cass, The Shining Stars, Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson, Seamus, Cesaro and the Raw tag champs The New Day, another big-time crowd favourite, who also lathered the crowd into a frenzy. The SmackDown team consisted of SmackDown tag champs Heath Slater and Rhyno, Canadian Tyler Breeze and Fandango, The Usos, Hype Bros. and American Alpha.

The first elimination was seconds in, with Breezango being eliminated. Another followed quickly, with The New Day being eliminated. They Hype Bros. fell next. The Shining Stars then fell at the hands of American Alpha. A series of high-flying spots from the ropes to the floor below ensued, bringing the crowd to its feet. American Alpha was then eliminated. Rhyno gored Gallows and Anderson, eliminating them, but Enzo and Cass elminated Slater and Rhyno, leaving them, Sheamus and Cesaro and The Usos as the final teams. The Usos eliminated Enzo and Cass, pinning Sheamus and Cesaro against The Usos. A series of false finishes invigorated the crowd. In the end, Cesaro showcased his tremendous solo talent, putting on a clinic, securing the win for Cesaro and Sheamus and Team Raw, its second win on the night.

The newly created cruiserweight division got some Survivor Series exposure when Kalisto challenged the Cruiserweight champion Brian Kendrick. The match, which drew the quietest crowd reaction to that point of the night, featured a solid finish that saw Baron Corbin return and interfere, costing Kalisto the title. Kendrick retained.

On Saturday night, NXT, the WWE’s developmental brand, held its first such show in Toronto when it hosted NXT Takeover Toronto, also at the ACC. A crowd of nearly 10,000 were treated to an amazing show that featured Peterbourgh’s Bobby Roode, Dillinger, Toronto’s Alliyah and Ontario’s Eric Young. In the main event, Japanese megastar Shinsuke Nakamura was defeated by Samoa Joe for the NXT title, while Asuka defended her women’s title over women’s legend Mickie James. In the other title bout, Tomasso Chiamp and Johnny Gargano delighted the partisan crowd by winning the tag titles over The Revival.

Other highlights of the weekend included a live taping of Winnipeg native Chris Jericho’s Talk is Jericho featuring Montrealer and Universal champion Kevin Owens. Legendary commentator and creative force Jim Ross also hosted his one-man show at The Second City while Orangeville legend Jay (Christian) Reso and Montrealer Zayn appeared at an exclusive meet and greet.

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Up and Coming Sports Stars to Look Out for in 2020



Every year, a raft of exciting new players come onto the scene across all of the major US sports. With the MLS season getting underway and the NFL and MLB drafts not too far away, now is a great time to look at the young sports stars that could have a very bright future ahead of them, and the ones that are already proving they are destined for greatness.

Theo Bair (MLS)

This MLS season is looking like it could be one of the best yet, with David Beckham’s Inter Miami team adding some extra dazzle to the league. Whilst Beckham might be able to attract a lot of new players to his MLS team, there are a lot of young stars on their way through such as Theo Bair at Vancouver Whitecaps. Bair has already made an impact on the first team and after impressing at under-20 and under-23 level for the national team, he has made two appearances for the senior team, well before his 21st birthday. This year could see Bair make a real name for himself in the MLS.

Source: Pixabay

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (MLB)

Montreal-born Vladimir Guerrero Jr has one MLB season under his belt but it looks like the best is still yet to come from him at the Blue Jays. He was heavily backed to take the league by storm but he failed to live up to the hype that surrounded him. Without the pressure of being the top-ranked prospect, this season could see Guerrero play with some weight lifted off his shoulders. He has been working very hard on his fitness over the offseason, something that his manager Montoyo has been quick to comment upon.

Baseball by andrewmalone, on Flickr

Baseball” (CC BY 2.0) by andrewmalone

Connor McDavid (NHL)

McDavid has already established him as a top hockey player but at 23, he has the potential to go on to do so much more. The player was born in Ontario and was the first overall draft pick, showing how much expectation was already on him at that stage but he has gone on to prove that he is one of the best players in the NHL. McDavid could go on to be one the NHL’s best-ever hockey players and this season could be the year that he shows the world, not just the NHL.

Chuba Hubbard (College Football)

The Oklahoma State Cowboys running back has been making the headlines for several years now. He continues to improve and grab more attention for his impressive stats and performances. He was close to being a sprinter and nearly made the Canadian Olympic team before switching over to football. He is passing up the 2020 NFL draft to play his senior season at Cowboys. He should give them a good chance of winning the College Football Championship, though they’re trailing at the seventh spot in the latest American football odds at +2400.00, with Clemson as the current betting favorites.

2020 will definitely be a very exciting time with some of these young stars looking to breakthrough in their respective sports and show the world what they are capable of.

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Bob Baffert is back at the Kentucky Derby – and looking to break the Curse of Apollo



Bob Baffert is back at the Kentucky Derby with early favourite Justify after watching the race from his sofa in Southern California last year.

The Hall of Fame trainer’s ability to produce Derby contenders year after year is an enviable feat and why his absence a year ago stood out. It was just his second since 2009 and occurred because his lone candidate got hurt.

Baffert will saddle Justify and 30-to-1 shot Solomini in Saturday’s Derby.

Justify is one of the greenest colts Baffert has brought to Churchill Downs. He’s won all three of his starts by a combined 19 lengths. If Justify wins, he’d be the first to do so since Apollo in 1882 without racing as a two-year-old.

“The thing about the Kentucky Derby, you have to have the right horse. It just happens. You can’t force it,” Baffert said. “All of a sudden, you have good horses and you’re there. So I’ve been really fortunate to have some really good horses.”

Baffert’s four victories are tied for second-most in Derby history. He’s finished second three times, too, including in 2012 with Bodemeister, also the last time he had two starters in the same year.

Like Justify, Bodemeister didn’t race as a two-year-old. He set a blistering pace and led the Derby until the final 150 yards when I’ll Have Another overtook him to win by 1 1/2 lengths.

Magnum Moon, the 6-to-1 third choice, also is unbeaten and didn’t run as a two-year-old.

“It’s going to happen,” Baffert said, referring to the curse being broken. “Whether it happens this year or whatever, but it will happen because Bodemeister almost got away with it. But I don’t really worry about that.”

Baffert almost had a third starter this year until McKinzie developed a hind-end issue that knocked him off the Derby trail.

“When McKinzie got hurt, I wanted to throw up,” he said. “I really think McKinzie would probably be second choice here. We’d really have a 1-2 here.”

Justify cleared the biggest pre-Derby hurdle by drawing the No. 7 post. Jockey Mike Smith can use the colt’s early speed to position him well for the long run to the chaotic first turn. Solomini ended up in the No. 17 post; no horse has ever won from there.

Baffert turned 65 in January, making him eligible for Medicare and retirement at most other jobs. However, he entertains no such thoughts.

“I work hard at it. I just don’t give up,” the white-haired trainer said. “I’m constantly meeting people. They’re sending me horses. If you don’t have success, you’re not going to get those opportunities.”

After a successful run in the quarter horse ranks, Baffert switched to thoroughbreds. He started with one horse.

“After 25 years, I’m finally getting horses that I don’t have to buy,” he said. “The big guys are sending me horses.”

None was bigger than American Pharoah in 2015. The colt swept the Derby, Preakness and Belmont to become racing’s first Triple Crown winner in 37 years.

Baffert has compared Justify to American Pharoah, citing the colt’s imposing physical presence and big stride. Still, Justify has yet to encounter the kind of traffic the Derby’s 20-horse stampede creates and the talent as he’ll run against on Saturday.

“I’d rather have a really talented horse than one who’s seasoned and just on par with the rest of them,” Baffert said.

Early on, Baffert knew Justify had the goods.

“The first time I worked him at Santa Anita, I knew he was a really good horse,” he said. “The track was really deep that morning, and he went around there effortlessly. His first race, he ran incredibly and showed how special he was.”

That kind of intuition is what separates Baffert from his rivals, fellow Hall of Famer trainer D. Wayne Lukas said.

“Bob’s got a great feel for it,” he said.

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Matthews ready to return to Maple Leafs lineup after missing a month



NASHVILLE — The hurtin’ tune that Auston Matthews has been singing for the past four weeks finally can be put in the remainder bin in Music City.

The Maple Leafs’ top centre on Wednesday declared himself set to return to the lineup after recovering from a right shoulder injury.

Wonderful timing, of course, considering the Leafs will take on the No. 1 club in the National Hockey League, the Nashville Predators, on Thursday night.

“In my mind, I think I’m ready to go and taking it as I’m getting ready to play (Thursday),” Matthews said after resuming his normal role, between William Nylander and Zach Hyman, during practice at Bridgestone Arena.

“It felt good, nice to get in all the reps and everything. (Wednesday) was a good step forward in that process, going through the line rushes.”

It seemed probable that the Leafs also will have defenceman Nikita Zaitsev, who missed the past five games as he recovered from an illness, against Nashville. Zaitsev was paired with Jake Gardiner, his regular partner, at practice.

For Matthews, it has been 10 games as a spectator with his latest injury, his third of the 2017-18 regular season after he missed four games in November with a back issue and then sat for six in December because of a concussion.

Thursday will mark four weeks since Matthews was hurt when he was sandwiched by the New York Islanders’ Cal Clutterbuck and Adam Pelech in a game at the Air Canada Centre.

A major bonus for Matthews in his recovery has been the fact he has been able to skate though much of his recuperation. That was not the case when he was out with his previous two injuries.

It’s worth noting that Matthews scored two goals versus the Montreal Canadiens upon returning on Nov. 18 from his back injury; in his first two games upon coming back from a concussion, he scored a goal in each.

Mike Babcock said a final decision on the participation of Matthews and Zaitsev against the Predators would be made on Thursday morning, but the Leafs coach was talking as though it would be a rubber stamp.

“This is going to be the best opportunity for (Matthews) because he has been able to skate and compete,” Babcock said. “The other times he was not able to do anything.

“To get him back … it’s still going to be going way faster than he has been practising, so there is going to be an adjustment period, but he’s a good player and he will figure it out.”

Defenceman Morgan Rielly didn’t think Matthews will take long to find his footing. Rielly missed six games in late January/early February with an arm injury, so knows what Matthews could be feeling.

“You’re nervous and you just want to get back into it,” Rielly said. “You play your first shift a bit hesitant, but after that it’s important you get back to yourself.

“It’s never easy, but Auston is one of those guys that I will imagine it won’t take long for him to get back into a rhythm.”

And there’s the trickle-down effect through the forward lines with Matthews in uniform.

“Guys are used to playing with certain players and when everyone is healthy, I think you get better chemistry throughout the entire lineup,” centre Nazem Kadri said. “Certain guys don’t have to play with different guys constantly and it’s just more of a set group, so I think it’s going to help us.”

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