2015 was full of big moments and big events in the sports world. We got an amazing Super Bowl between the New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks. Jordan Spieth put the golf world on notice by winning the first two major championships of the year. We finally got another Triple Crown winner in American Pharoah. The Golden State Warriors ended a 40-year championship drought by knocking off LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Chicago Blackhawks won their third Stanley Cup in six years. Serena Williams made a run at the Grand Slam. The Kansas City Royals ended their own drought of 30 years by winning the World Series. These were all great sports stories and a few of these actually carry over into 2016 as you'll see below.
What we don't want or need is another Deflategate, a ridiculous story that dominated the headlines for way too long in 2015. Gambling was another big issue in 2015 as sites like FanDuel and DraftKings were put under the microscope and Pete Rose's attempt to get back into baseball was denied and likely puts an end to the argument if he'll ever get into the Hall of Fame. ESPN upset a lot of people by naming Caitlyn "don't call me Bruce" Jenner the recipient of the Arthur Ashe Courage Award when many, including myself, thought it should have gone to Lauren Hill, the courageous 19-year-old college basketball player that raised more than $2 million for cancer research.
All in all, I'd say that 2015 was full of interesting stories. Let's take a look at what people will be talking about in 2016.
15 CM Punk's UFC Debut
The original plan for the former WWE champion was for him to make his long-awaited debut in late 2015, but a shoulder injury suffered in training camp squashed that. UFC President Dana White is confident that this fight will take place in 2016, saying “He’ll fight – I’m going to say before summer, probably before summer.” Nobody is quite certain who Punk's opponent will be, but a 1-0 fighter has reportedly caught White's attention recently.
While filming a reality show in Philadelphia, Mickey Gall, who submitted his first opponent, caught the eye...and ear of White, telling him "I don't know if CM Punk has an opponent, but I would love to fight that man." White responded to Gall with "I like where your head's at." No matter who the opponent is, WWE and UFC fans alike will certainly be tuning in.
14 The Chicago Blackhawks Look To Repeat
As the NHL season hits the halfway point, the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks once again find themselves near the top of the Western Conference and are primed to make a run at their fourth Stanley Cup in seven seasons. Patrick Kane, coming off an incredible 26-game point streak, has put himself as a front runner for the Hart Trophy as the NHL's MVP. Goaltender Corey Crawford is currently leading the league in shutouts and the team obviously has the experience come playoff time. And let's be honest here, the Stanley Cup Playoffs are arguably the most exciting playoffs in sports and is a great event and story every single year.
13 Will Tiger Woods Return To Golf?
One of the most recognizable and popular athletes on the planet for the past 20 years has been Tiger Woods. That much we know. What we don't know is whether or not we'll see the 14-time major champion back on the golf course in 2016. After two back surgeries in 2015, the future of the 79-time winner on the PGA Tour is in jeopardy. No timetable has been set for his return, as Woods himself has stated that the only golf activity he can really do is walk.
While the sport is in a very good place as we possibly enter another Big Three Era with Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day, the game will always be more interesting when Tiger is in the mix. We just don't know if he will be in 2016. The only thing we do know is that we will see him at the Ryder Cup as a vice captain. At least we've got that.
12 Can Serena Williams Win The Grand Slam?
Serena Williams came so close to winning the Grand Slam in 2015, so it stands to reason that we'll be watching with great interest to see if she can complete the feat in 2016. Last year, she won the Australian Open, the French Open, and Wimbledon before being upset in the semifinals of the U.S. Open by Roberta Vinci, ending her quest to become the first woman since 1988 to win all four tournaments in a calendar year.
The Australian Open is on the horizon first, but a knee injury forced her out of her first tournament of the year, the Hopman Cup. Hopefully, she'll be able to recover in time to take another shot at history.
11 David Ortiz's Retirement
On his 40th birthday this past November, Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz announced that the 2016 season will be his last. This may not sound like that big of a story, but as one of baseball's good guys (and playing in a big market like Boston), it will certainly get a lot of coverage and I'm alright with that. I've enjoyed watching the fun-loving antics of Big Papi for years and his farewell tour should be a blast.
It will certainly be interesting to see the crowd reaction during his final series at Yankee Stadium, which takes place from September 27-29. If by chance the Red Sox miss the playoffs, he'll play his final game on October 2 at Fenway Park against the Toronto Blue Jays.
10 Kevin Durant Free Agency
Easily the biggest free agent watch of the past decade for any player not named LeBron James, the bidding war for current Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant will be insanity. Rumors have been circling for a while now, some of which seem to have a little validity and some that Durant has personally shot down himself, the biggest one being that the Lakers were his team of choice. Washington is said to be in the mix, as that is Durant's hometown, and the defending champion Golden State Warriors have recently come up in the conversation. There's also the obvious possibility that Durant will remain in OKC.
There's a lot of time between now and July 1 and I'm sure that other teams will join in the frenzy for one of the top five players in the NBA.
9 Ronda Rousey/Holly Holm Rematch
While the first MMA story I mentioned will draw a nice audience, the Ronda Rousey redemption fight against the woman that destroyed her a couple of months ago, Holly Holm, will probably break UFC pay-per-view records. The rematch is expected to take place at UFC 200 in July, but Holm has gone on record saying that she would like to defend her bantamweight championship before then, possibly at UFC 197 against Miesha Tate, who has lost to Rousey twice.
If Tate could defeat Holm, the rematch certainly could still happen in July, perhaps as a number one contender bout, but it certainly wouldn't have the same appeal to it. We'll just have to wait and see what happens.
8 The Masters
The Masters always has a big buzz around it anyway. While there are a few tournaments leading up to Augusta, the golf season begins for a lot of people when they see the azaleas, Magnolia Lane, Amen Corner, and hear the soothing sounds of Jim Nantz saying "Hello, friends." Actually, I'm getting a few goosebumps just thinking about it as it's one of my favorite sporting events of the year. Is it April yet?
7 Will Peyton Manning Retire?
There have been reports saying that under no circumstances will Peyton Manning retire following the Denver Broncos run in this year's NFL Playoffs, however long that will be. However, let's get real with it. The 39-year-old had the worst season of his NFL career since his rookie year and was at one point replaced by 25-year-old Brock Osweiler.
He dealt with a partially torn plantar fascia ligament in his left foot and threw four interceptions in a game and had a 0.0 passer rating. That's not Peyton Manning and I would truly hate for his career to end on a bad note and for him to hang around for another year or two and play horribly. If Denver can somehow win the Super Bowl with Manning starting, I think a ride into the sunset may be in order. If not, he may explore other options. I wonder if retirement will be one of them.
6 Is 2016 Finally The Year For the Chicago Cubs?
If 2015 was any indication about what's in store for the Chicago Cubs, the baseball world is about to get turned upside down. With all due respect to the defending champion Kansas City Royals, the North Siders are going to be the story in MLB come spring training. The additions of Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist to an already stacked lineup that includes Rookie of the Year Kris Bryant, MVP candidate Anthony Rizzo, Kyle Schwarber, and Addison Russell lets us know that the Cubs will score a lot of runs.
The pitching staff was improved as well as they added John Lackey to the rotation to go along with Jon Lester and the current Cy Young Award winner, Jake Arrieta. Yes, they finished third in the NL Central last year, but did so with the third-best record in baseball and the Pirates and Cardinals have not improved nearly as much as the Cubs have this offseason. Yes, the New York Mets swept them out of the playoffs, but they've lost some key players. Could 2016 finally be the year that the Cubs end the drought and win the World Series?
5 Kobe Bryant's Farewell
Whether you love him or you hate him, there's no denying that Kobe Bryant is one of the best players the NBA has ever seen. In a beautiful goodbye letter, Kobe wrote that his body just couldn't take it anymore and that this season, his 20th in the league (a record for the most with one team), would be his last. Since the announcement in late November, fans and other players have been savoring every moment. The Lakers have always been a good road attraction, but ticket prices are through the roof when Kobe's in town for the final time.
He even gets special introductions on the road and the standing ovations will be too many to count once this farewell tour is complete. Even in Boston, the Lakers' longtime nemesis, Celtics fans erupted into a "KOBE" chant just a couple of weeks ago. Kobe Bryant is currently leading the fan vote for the NBA All-Star Game and if he's healthy enough to go, that will be one hell of a spotlight for the five-time champion. It's quite obvious that the Lakers will not be in the playoffs, which means Kobe Bryant will play his final game on Wednesday, April 13 at Staples Center against the Utah Jazz. That's going to be an emotional night.
4 NFL to Los Angeles
It's been more than 20 years since professional football was played in Los Angeles, which has always seemed odd given that it's the country's second-largest media market. After the Rams and Raiders left, there was talk of a franchise moving there at some point, but now, things are finally moving in the right direction for L.A. However, it's three teams that have put in relocation bids.
The Rams, Raiders, and Chargers have all officially filed paperwork and a meeting to discuss two different proposals is set for January 12 & 13. The first proposal has the Rams building an 80,000-seat stadium in Inglewood where the old Hollywood Park once stood. The venue could be used for other events as well and rumor has it that no matter what happens, Rams owner Stan Kroenke would build it regardless. The other scenario has the Raiders and Chargers sharing a stadium in Carson, which creates a realignment issue as teams in the same division can't share a stadium. Somebody would have to move to the NFC West to make this work. All this talk of paperwork and such is giving me a headache. The Los Angeles area will have NFL football soon. It's just a matter of who it's going to be.
3 Will the Golden State Warriors Get To 73 Wins?
When the 1996 Chicago Bulls broke the 69-13 record of the 1972 Lakers by going 72-10, it seemed impossible that any team would ever come close to that mark again. The Bulls tried the following year by putting up a 69-13 record of their own, but now, 73 wins is a possibility. The 2015 NBA Champions, the Golden State Warriors, were at 33-2 after 35 games. Through 35 games, the '96 Bulls were 32-3. So, the Warriors are one game ahead of the pace, but a lingering injury to reigning MVP Stephen Curry could be an issue. However, the underrated play of Draymond Green and the deep roster could also make it a non-issue. Either way, the countdown to 73 is on in Oakland.
2 Super Bowl 50
The Super Bowl is always one of the most-watched events of the year, and that doesn't pertain just to sports, so it stands to reason that it would be on this list. Throw in the fact that it's Super Bowl 50 (I still wish they would have gone with Super Bowl L) and this year's could be the biggest ever. I've already come across articles such as the 50 greatest players or moments or catches in Super Bowl history and I'm sure there's more to come.
As far as the actual game is concerned, there are a lot of intriguing storylines out there. Can Cam Newton dab his way to a Lombardi Trophy? Can Tom Brady lead the New England Patriots to their fifth title and perhaps cement his legacy as the greatest quarterback of all time? Can Peyton Manning overcome his playoff disappointments and put an exclamation point on a Hall of Fame career? We'll find out on February 7.
1 Rio Olympics
Speaking of television viewership, the 2016 Olympics in Brazil could end up being the most-watched event in North American history. Part of the reason will be the star power these games will bring. In many instances, we have to acquaint ourselves with athletes we're unfamiliar with, but not in this case. Usain Bolt will be there. Michael Phelps will be there. Serena Williams will be there. Gabby Douglas is back. The NBA stars, which actually may end up including Kobe Bryant, will be there. Golf returns after 112 years and Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy will be competing. The time zone issue is helpful as well.
While the London Olympics caused a live event issue, especially in prime time, Rio is only an hour ahead of the eastern time zone and two hours ahead of the central time zone. That means more people will tune in because the results haven't been ruined for them on the internet. And it's the Olympics. It's always a big deal.
What did I miss? Please feel free to tell me what you're looking forward to in 2016. Happy New Year.