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  1. Former choir member Tiffany Teo determined to fulfill destiny as martial arts champ

    From our friends at ONE Championship...

    If a teenaged Tiffany "No Chill" Teo could see her adult counterpart, she would be unrecognizable.

    As a young girl, the Singaporean martial arts standout was heavily involved in choir activities, which she participated in for a decade.

    "I was a nerd when I was a kid. I was not very active," Teo shared in jest.

    Today, Teo is the polar opposite as she traded in her songbooks and rehearsal rooms for a pair of four-ounce gloves and the gym.

    Teo went from a quiet, unassuming choirgirl to becoming a renowned strawweight martial arts prospect with an impressive record of 7-0.

    The winding road to ONE Championship began in the oddest of places - in front of the television screen. Teo?s interest in martial arts, Muay Thai specifically, was stoked by popular reality show The Contender Asia.

    Motivated by the aforementioned television program and a brief stint in Taekwondo, Teo made her way to a Singapore gym to start training in the "art of eight limbs" nearly eight years ago.

    What started out as a way to stay in shape quickly turned into requests for Teo to test out her skills against real competition.

    "I had no plans to compete," she revealed. "My coaches kept asking. They wanted me to go to Thailand. I thought it was a crazy idea. 'You want me to go face a girl that has been doing it all her life?'"

    Teo turned down the opportunity test herself in Thailand, and, after training for two years, she put Muay Thai on the shelf completely as she packed her bags and headed to the United States to study Psychology at the University of Buffalo, where she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree.

    However, school was far from enough to keep Teo from wondering "what if" in terms of martial arts competition. As each day passed, the fire in her to compete grew stronger.

    With a full life prior to heading to the United States, there was simply no time for her to train, but after concluding her studies, the window opened again.

    Teo returned to Singapore and dove head-first into the amateur martial arts scene after just a month of training.

    What was meant to be a one-time experience that she could cross off her bucket list soon turned into something more serious, all because she lost.

    "I hate losing," Teo bared. "I decided to re-evaluate what I did wrong, and I wanted to continue."

    A far cry from her days in the choir, Teo's journey to perfect her craft in martial arts progressed quickly.

    After immersing herself with Muay Thai and boxing, Teo dabbled in the famous grappling discipline of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

    Before she knew it, the Singaporean was on the road to a full-fledged professional mixed martial arts career.

    "I fell in love with martial arts. There is more to it than throwing strikes and grappling with your training partner on the mat. It empowers me every single day," Teo stressed.

    From the amateur to the professional ranks, there was one battle that Teo fought for every single match that she was booked for: winning the approval of her parents.

    "They did not like the fact that I am competing," she said. "Since day one, they asked me why I wanted to do it. 'You cannot be a normal person with a nine-to-five job?' They have let it go, but I know they do not like it. They wanted me to settle down and live a normal life."

    After having her hand raised in seven professional bouts inside the cage, Teo has received the biggest opportunity of her perfect martial arts career as she is scheduled to clash with "The Panda" Xiong Jing Nan for the inaugural ONE Women's Strawweight World Championship.

    Both women are set to collide in the main event of ONE: KINGS OF COURAGE, which takes place at the Jakarta Convention Center in Indonesia on 20 January.

    The 28-year-old Singaporean title contender can make history on that fateful night, but she knows that it will not be easy.

    "It takes a lot of discipline and hard work to be a world champion. We see how people change after they become the champion, so I feel like you need to stay humble, grounded, and continue to work hard," she stated.

    Although Xiong is widely-regarded as one of China?s finest woman warriors, Teo is confident in her ability to win as she is preparing for all possible scenarios for her first-ever martial arts world title contest.

    "I feel a knockout or submission is possible. She is pretty wild with her punches so the opening for a knockout is there, and an opening for a takedown is there if she is committing to her punches," she explained.

    "At the same time, she is tough. She might not get knocked down or knocked out, and she ...
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  2. My Memorable Basketball Moments for 2017

    It is officially a new year, and yes Praxedes, we somehow survived the annual mandatory blood alcohol poisoning that is part of the rituals of ringing out the old and ringing in the new.

    Below, numbered for enumeration and not for order of importance, are my memorable basketball moments for 2017:

    1. Kevin Durant made the move and won his championship ring.

    There are those who think Durant ought to be commended for finally coming to terms with the fact that he and Russell Westbrook will never win an NBA world title together in Oklahoma City.

    There are also those who think Durant should never ever be allowed into the Hall of Fame because he took the easiest way out of that little conundrum by signing with the Golden State Warriors, effectively ensconcing the NBA title in the West for all time, or at least the next decade.

    Durant did what he had to do, and did it at a time when he can still win multiple championships in Oakland. Yes, if he was as great as he thinks he is then he should have stayed in Oklahoma and proven it.

    But then again, he doesn't owe anybody any explanation or excuse about making a move that is simply a no-brainer if he wants to have the one thing that all the true greats have, a championship.

    Unless LeBron James is cloned in Cleveland then the NBA has become boring for the next decade or so.

    2. Ginebra retains its Governors Cup title.

    Ginebra San Miguel and Meralco played to a record crowd of over 54,000 fans at the Philippine Arena in Bulacan in the Mother of all Game 7's as the Gin Kings retained their PBA Governors Cup championship.

    Greg Slaughter, who sat out the 2016 title run due to injury, finally got his first PBA championship on the hardwood floor.

    Meralco put up a heck of a fight, but in the end the superior size of Ginebra proved just to big (literally) an obstacle to overcome.

    If the Game 7 box office and television share was any indication, Ginebra is still the lifeblood of the PBA.

    3. Lyceum went from shit to sweep in the NCAA.

    Talk about the Lyceum Pirates in the NCAA and you'd normally get word associations such as "cellar dweller", "league doormat", "whipping boys". At least until this season.

    This season the Pirates completed an historic 18-game regular season sweep of the NCAA, including two tough games against reigning champion San Beda.

    Granted they eventually folded when it mattered most, getting swept 2-0 in the Finals as the Red Lions went on to continue their NCAA Dynasty.

    Still, no one can ever take away what Coach Topex Robinson, CJ Perez and the rest of the Pirates achieved this season. That si probably a record that will stand for the better part of this century.

    4. Christian Standhardinger, through no fault of his own, is now June Mar Fajardo's teammate.

    Mention Christian Standhardinger and what automatically comes to mind is the controversial trade that allowed the already powerful San Miguel Beer franchise to draft him with the Number 1 pick in the 2017 PBA Rookie Draft.

    No one except the most hardcore of hoops fans even heard of Standhardinger before this year.

    He is a strapping and active 6-foot-8 Filipino-German forward who spent his college years in the US NCAA.

    Then Gilas head coach Chot Reyes summoned him for national team duty and he answered the call.

    Although he was classified by FIBA as a naturalized player and not a local, he saw action with Gilas and showed Pinoy fans why Reyes wanted him.

    Fast forward to Draft Day 2017 and Kia gives up the rights to the Number 1 pick in favor of some role players, allowing the Beermen to nab Standhardinger.

    He now gets to play alongside four-time MVP Fajardo, although not right away since he still has an active ABL contract to play out.

    5. Chito Narvasa resigns as PBA Commissioner following the Standhardinger controversy.

    Kia, as mentioned above, gave up the chance to get Standhardinger in the draft essentially for three role players: JR Reyes, Ronald Tubid, and Filipino-American Rashawn McCarthy. Uh, who? Yes Praxedes, that was what everybody thought as well.

    Anyway, where were we? Ah yes, Narvasa.

    This trade would not have been consummated had Narvasa not approved it as Commissioner.

    This then led to a "schism" of sorts within the PBA Board, with five team allied with the San Miguel Corporation on one side, supporting Narvasa, and seven teams led by the PLDT Group on the other side asking for Narvasa's head on a platter.

    Although Narvasa held out for a while, he did eventually give up and resign.

    Truth be told nobody would ever in a million ...
  3. Model-turned-martial artist Rome Trinidad looks to exemplify Filipina warrior spirit

    File this under "Wala Lang, Walang Kinalaman Sa Basketball" ...

    If Rome "The Rebel" Trinidad were in a room full of people, she would incontestably stand out because she is the epitome of a true Asian beauty.

    Trinidad is a certified eye candy that can grace on the cover of a top fashion magazine, sashay down the catwalk with the latest apparel, or endorse high-end beauty products in a television advertisement.

    However, Trinidad is more than a pretty face because deep within, she is an authentic martial artist.

    Trinidad is a practitioner of Sikaran, an ancient martial arts discipline with no written history that originated from Rizal province in the Philippines and was passed on from generation to generation by succession.

    "I started martial arts at a young age," she revealed. "It was a challenge to me, especially in a discipline that was practiced by men. I felt so empowered as I progressed in Sikaran."

    Unfortunately, Sikaran was not enough to satisfy her growing hunger to learn. Simply put, she wanted something more.

    Trinidad went on to hone her skills as a martial artist by incorporating different combat disciplines and eventually transitioning to the multi-faceted arena of mixed martial arts.

    Known by the moniker "Rebel" due to her mental toughness and tenacious approach, Trinidad is set to make her promotional debut under the ONE Championship banner as she dukes it out with rising Thai superstar Rika ?Tinydoll? Ishige on the undercard of ONE: WARRIORS OF THE WORLD in Bangkok, Thailand on 9 December.

    "It is my honor to be a part of one of the biggest mixed martial arts promotions in the world like ONE Championship. Not everybody gets this chance. I will do my best for my family and also for my countrymen," Trinidad said.

    By strapping on four-ounce gloves, Trinidad sees it as an honor and privilege to represent Philippines in ONE Championship, which is widely considered as the sport's premier organization in the Asian region.

    "My bout against a well-revered Thai martial artist like Rika Ishige is a must-win fight for me. My family is going to watch. Not only that, the whole country will be watching as my bout will be broadcasted live worldwide. Surely, I will give everything in this match to bring home the victory," she stated.

    Trinidad does not expect any problem continuing her venture into the constantly-growing landscape of martial arts as she believes that she is fully equipped with the task at hand.

    "Martial arts is my passion. I'm really happy when I share and learn new things about martial arts with others. I'm surrounded by people who support me in training. It makes me stronger. I am ready for this upcoming fight in Bangkok," she guaranteed.

    Training with Singaporean martial arts veteran Nicholas "JJ" Lee to bolster her arsenal, the 20-year-old Filipino atomweight believes that her self-confidence will be the key to success as she shares the ONE Championship cage with Ishige.

    "I know she is a good fighter with a good background in martial arts. Plus, she is more experienced than me. But one important key to success is self-confidence. The trait has always been with me in this journey. I look at things optimistically," Trinidad conveyed.

    Although her sights are set on pulling off a successful debut in ONE Championship, Trinidad is likewise standing up for women?s empowerment by breaking down gender barriers.

    Trinidad stressed that her maiden ONE Championship cage appearance should also serve as a springboard for women to understand they can truly do anything if they put their minds and hearts into it.

    "Martial arts is not only for men. If you look at me, I am the living proof that women can do it," she mentioned. "Whether you are a child, old, short, or tall, everyone is welcome in the martial arts community."

    "Most people do not understand mixed martial arts. They think it has no rules, and barbaric," Ishige explained further. "I want to show them it is not like that. It is a real sport, and me, I am a small girl, but I can fight in a world class organization. It is not brutal. It is about technique."

    Trinidad is excited to work with the likes of ONE Women?s Atomweight World Champion Angela "Unstoppable" Lee, Mei "V.V" Yamaguchi, Istela Nunes, Gina Iniong, Jenny Huang and Ishige in growing the women's martial arts scene in Asia

    "Recently, female fighters in Asia have been given several avenues to showcase their skills and what they are capable of in a world-class organization such as ONE Championship. Angela Lee and others paved the way for other female fighters like me. I am here to continue what they've started," she stressed.

    Even if gender parity continues ...
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  4. Reclamation, Upset

    "It was over, we are champions, that is all I could think of," said an ecstatic Chibueze Ikeh, the 6-8 center, in the aftermath of the Ateneo De Manila's thriller of a title clincher against arch rival De La Salle 88-86. This is Ikeh's final playing year. He is graduating in a few months.

    After three of the most grueling and emotionally-wrenching games in UAAP Finals history, the Blue Eagles reclaimed a championship they once owned for five straight seasons.

    "I just lay on the floor of the Araneta (Coliseum)," said point guard Matt Nieto after that last heave from La Salle went in. "I knew it was all over and we were champions," he added happily.

    Indeed, this had to be the toughest, and to use that millennial term, epic title series in maybe the last 15 years.

    Last year, the Green Archers were the veteran-laden team bringing in Benoit Mbala, arguably the best player ever to see action in the country's most popular varsity league. Somehow the Blue Eagles managed to get into the Season 79 Finals to square off against La Salle, and expectedly, the Ateneo bowed in a two-game sweep.

    Fast forward to winner-take-all Sunday just a year later, and suddenly the Ateneo looked nothing like the easy pickings they were just a year prior. "We learned there is no substitute for working the hardest you can," remarked Ateneo head coach Tab Baldwin, the American-New Zealand mentor who preached "playing the right way" right from the get-go.

    Game 1 had its fair share of controversy, as videos from that game continue to make the rounds in social media showing at least four instances where La Salle players were taking cheap shots at their Ateneo counterparts, including at least three instances of closed fist strikes from the La Salle side that should have merited at least a one-game suspension on the errant players. The Ateneo still pulled off the 76-70 victory in this game, with center George Go completing the and-1 clincher.

    Game 2 saw the Blue Eagles go up by as much as 21 points, only to have the Green Archers turn that around and build up as much as a 13-point lead themselves, as they knotted the series at one game apiece with the 92-83 victory.

    Game 3, well, was a classic.

    The Ateneo was up 10 early on, but La Salle stormed right back in the third period, taking a 59-62 lead on a one-hander by forward Abu Tratter.

    But the Ateneo kept its composure and got an 80-70 spread midway through the payoff fourth period.

    La Salle would come to within 82-80 on a three-pointer, with over a minute left.

    Go however would reprise his hero's role, taking the perfect kick-out pass from a driving Thirdy Ravena to nail a clutch three-pointer from his favorite quarter-court spot to give the Ateneo the 85-80 breathing space it needed.

    "The whole team is clutch. I would not have made that shot if it wasn't for the coaches who design our plays, my teammates who were all in their proper spots," said the 6-7 Go, an Applied Chemistry Major now in his senior year in college.

    Nieto and Anton Asistio would nail the insurance free throws to negate the buzzer beating three-pointer from La Salle for the final count.

    This is the Ateneo's ninth senior division basketball diadem, and without a doubt the one they had to work for the hardest.

    Their 1987 and 1988 back-to-back titles, where Nieto's father Jet played, was a tall, tough, talented team.

    Enrico Villanueva, LA Tenorio, Larry Fonacier, Rich Alvarez, and Wesley Gonzales all went on to have very good pro careers, with a couple of them even seeing National Team duty, after they won the 2002 championship.

    Forget the 2008 to 2012 5-Peat dynasty under Norman Black. Those teams were so ridiculously loaded it would have been a crime for them to lose. Yes, even the 2010 team in between the Rabeh Al Hussaini-Nonoy Baclao and Greg Slaughter years.

    This championship was probably the only one among the nine when the Ateneo was the clear underdog in terms of sheer talent.

    I mean, come on, Benoit Mbala was playing for La Salle, and he had swingman Ricci Rivero, point guard sniper Aljun Melecio, 6-5 slam dunk champion power forward Leonard Santillan, and Tratter.

    "Sa totoo lang kung kunwari jak en poy tayo, tapos pipili ka ng players mo, sino ba mas pipiliin mo? Hindi ba talaga namang mas may talent and players ng La Salle lalo na si Mbala," queried Mr Libog over lunch before Game 3.

    "We need to get hot from three-point range, and hope for some foul trouble on Mbala at least, para may laban tayo," he added.

    Mr Libog got his wish.

    Baldwin did a heck of a job accentuating the strengths of the Blue Eagles while doing his best to minimize their negatives, not the least ...
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  5. Grey Matters

    We used to call them zebras, because they used to wear shirts with bold black stripes.

    Now however it seems there is an explosion of colors in referee fashion. In some games they wear a bright yellow, reminiscent of emergency signals.

    In some tournaments they wear orange, like life savers and lifeguards sometime do.

    For the most part however, the modern basketball referee wears grey. Even in the ongoing UAAP Season 80 basketball tournament, it has been their uniform color of choice.

    For those of you who've watched the post-season of Season 80 you already know where this is going.

    It all began with the Final 4 match between reigning champion De La Salle and Adamson. That was a game won handily by the Green Archers 82-75, coming back from as many as 15 points.

    And that is where things start to get interesting.

    Franz Pumaren, head coach of the Soaring Falcons and a UAAP veteran, called it "the worst officiating" he had ever experienced in a few interviews after that game.

    Considering there was a free throw disparity of 39-5 in favor of La Salle, it seems Pumaren wasn't merely going all sour grapes or whining. Let me repeat that: 39-5.

    Now La Salle is a strong team, the reigning champion, and the consensus Number 1 seed going into this year's tournament. Surely they - of all teams - wouldn't need any help from the referees just to win a game. Right?

    That sort of misses the point. The actual point is that glaring disparity in free throws. It was so glaring that even people who had nothing to do with either side took notice and had opinions about it.

    "For the first time in three years, it was a first that aside from the losing team which you expect the complaint from, there are some sectors who checked what happened. So of course, I cannot be insensitive to the public cause at the end of the day, they are the audience. We have to address the outcry," said Commissioner and Executive Director Rebo Saguisag.

    Saguisag, a lawyer, and son of former Senator Rene Saguisag, also suspended all three referees who worked this game. At least two of these referees were already singled out in previous controversies. That they were even calling a critical playoff game is beyond me.

    Hardly had the sound and fury of this game died down when suddenly Game 1 of the Finals rolled around, and was done.

    Both the league and ABS CBN had its dream match, with the Ateneo De Manila disposing of Far Eastern in their knockout Final 4 game in overtime to set up the title series with La Salle.

    Leaning on the clutch baskets of center George Go in the last few seconds, the Blue Eagles went on to take Game 1 76-70.

    Once again however, the referees were in the thick of the conversation.

    Videos circulating all over the Internet, especially social media, showed at least four specific instances when La Salle players had committed clear violations while the referees inexplicably did not blow their whistles.

    1. Ricci Rivero low-blowed Vince Tolentino after Tolentino had taken a free throw, with a closed fist.

    2. Benoit Mbala hit a driving Thirdy Ravena in the face, with a closed fist. This time with Referee Number 59 right there at the baseline with a clear view of this bit of action.

    3. Abu Tratter punched Raffy Verano in the side as Verano hit the deck to try and go after a loose ball.

    4. Benoit Mbala, on a cut, snapped an elbow into Tolentino's chin as the latter went to cover the former.

    5. Prince Rivero also had a closed fist throughout his attempts to get rebounds and box out.

    It is one thing to try to get an advantage through tough / clever play, "kung ayaw mo masaktan, mag-chess ka na lang," as my good friend Wang-bu always says.

    It is however quite another thing for an entire team to make it part and parcel of strategy and tactics to go out and deliberately hurt the opponents.

    This might be an opportune time to remind the league that closed fists are such a huge no-no in this game that just brandishing them (such in a "fighting stance" as the FIBA rules say) could get a guy tossed from a game and even suspended.

    "I'll do whatever it takes to win. But I won't go out there and deliberately injure a fellow player," explained former UP star Jett Manuel in one interview.

    You'd think after the Ateneo had been given 29 free throws in the first half of this game that La Salle would tone it down, but no, the Green Archers just kept going.

    "I've never in 35 years had a consultation with a referee at halftime. I thought it was reduntant. They were just saying what is obviously happening and what will obviously continue to happen," said Tab Baldwin, ...
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