By Jason Cruz
Northwest Asian Weekly
2015 was a big year in sports. Doug Baldwin and the Seattle Seahawks made it back to the Super Bowl and came one yard from making it back-to-back NFL titles. Let’s quickly move on.
May was a big month. The NFL Draft was held this month and University of Washington football player Danny Shelton was drafted by the Cleveland Browns. Shelton was one of several football players invited to attend the first night of the NFL Draft, which is a huge event attended by fans and press. Shelton, who is Samoan American, wore a traditional lava-lava for the special night. When his name was called by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, Shelton proudly walked across the stage when his name was called to be congratulated. “I want to be all about my culture and represent,” Shelton said of his traditional dress. “Back in the day this is what they wore at home and at work.” Shelton lived in Samoa with his grandparents until he was 3 years old.
A UFC event was held in the Philippines in May, which featured Mark Munoz in his final match as an MMA fighter. Munoz won and gave a heartwarming farewell to his fans in the Octagon
Also in May, Manny Pacquiao faced Floyd Mayweather in a fight that set attendance, gate and pay-per-view records. Pacquiao lost a unanimous decision in what turned out to be a very boring fight. Don’t expect a rematch, as Mayweather is retired and Pacquiao is set to retire.
In June, the region played host to the PGA Championship at Chambers Bay in University Place, Wash. Local favorites and former Huskies C.T. Pan and Richard Lee played in the tournament. Tony Finau, a golfer from Utah who is Tongan Samoan, played well during the tournament as did Jason Day, a Filipino Australian. Day was near the top of the leaderboard until the last day despite suffering a fainting spell in an earlier round.
Also making an appearance was Tiger Woods. Unfortunately for Woods, his play was sub-par (no pun intended) and it appears that his playing days may be at an end.
Without further ado, here are the top 15 API athletes of 2015:
15. Manny Pacquiao – Clearly we are being generous with listing him here, as his only activity this year was the blockbuster fight against Floyd Mayweather. As we all know, Mayweather won by unanimous decision. It was revealed after the fight that Pacquiao had an injured shoulder which may have contributed to the reason he lost. Pacquiao announced that 2016 will be his last fight as he will focus on being a full-time politician.
14. Benson Henderson – The Federal Way native had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to fight in front of his mother’s home country as Henderson was the main event of a UFC event in South Korea this past November. Henderson was honored in June as one of several individuals inducted into the Asian Hall of Fame.
13. Satnam Singh – The 7 foot 2 center from India was the first Indian-born player drafted in the NBA. Singh was picked 52nd by the Dallas Mavericks. Singh currently plays for the Mavericks’ “D League” team, a minor league basketball team affiliated with the Mavericks franchise. Notably, also on the team is Bobby Ray Parks Jr., a former U.S. college player who played professionally in the Philippines.
12. Marcus Mariota – The former Heisman Trophy winner was the second player drafted in the NFL Draft in May by the Tennessee Titans. The former Oregon Duck from Hawaii had an up and down season for a team that was rebuilding.
11. Kei Tanuguchi – Japanese mountaineer Kei Tanuguchi died last week while climbing the Daisetsuzan range in northern Japan. The 43-year-old climbed Mount Everest in 2007 and was one of the first women to be awarded the Golden Ice Axe award for mountaineering. She was known for her technically challenging climbs.
10. Sophia Liu – Liu won the Seattle Marathon this past November, making it back-to-back wins for the University of Washington researcher. This year, Liu fought off a foot injury to win her second straight title.
9. Lydia Ko – Along with Inbee Park, Lydia Ko of South Korea is at the top of women’s golf. The 18-year-old, who resides in New Zealand, won the LPGA Player of the Year award as she narrowly edged out Park. Ko won five tournaments this year including one major championship.
8. Jeremy Lin –Taking a pay cut after leaving the Lakers, Lin says that he is much happier with the Charlotte Hornets. He has a defined role and is averaging 12 points for an up and coming team. At 27 years old, Lin still has a lot of time to make a mark on the NBA. Off the court, Linsanity is still alive and well. He made an appearance on the ABC television show “Fresh Off the Boat.” He also served as a guest television analyst for an $18-million eSports tournament that took place in Seattle.
7. Hishashi Iwakuma – Perhaps the only memorable moment from the Mariners season in 2015 was Hishashi Iwakuma pitching a no-hitter against the Baltimore Orioles in August. Not only was it Iwakuma’s first no-hitter in the major leagues, it was his first game where he pitched the complete nine innings. What made the effort more special was that it was in front of his family who had flown from Japan for their annual visit. Iwakuma intended to sign with the Los Angeles Dodgers this past offseason but, due to a failed physical, did not sign a contract. However, he returned to the Mariners and will be with Seattle next season.
6. Jason Day – Day, who is part Filipino, won the PGA Championship this past August, defeating Jordan Spieth for the title. It was Day’s first major championship and one of the five tournaments he won in 2015. In September, the 28-year-old reached the world No. 1 ranking.
5. Jordan Clarkson – The Los Angeles Lakers guard is embracing the many Filipino fans who are gravitating toward him after he landed on the Lakers squad as a rookie last year. Clarkson, whose mother is Filipino, visited the Philippines this past off season and even volunteered to be part of the Philippines national team at the 2015 FIBA Asia Championship.
4. C.T. Pan – It’s been a big 2015 for the recently graduated University of Washington golfer. Pan was one of two local golfers to make the cut at the 2015 U.S. Open. He won his first pro tournament in July at The Players Cup on the PGA Tour in Canada. He earned another tournament victory in September at the Cape Breton Celtic Classic.
3. Inbee Park – The South Korean golfer won five LPGA Tour tournaments this year including two majors: the Women’s PGA Championship and the Women’s British Open. 2015 was a good year for Park as she briefly lost and then regained the No. 1 ranking in the world in 2014. She has maintained the top ranking throughout 2015 despite being in a constant battle for the spot with Lydia Ko.
2. Danny Shelton – The former UW football standout was drafted by the Cleveland Browns. So far, with one game left, he has played in all 15 games for the Browns as defensive tackle. Shelton will be a key cog for the Browns if they have any chance of reviving the team.
1. Doug Baldwin – Baldwin makes it back-to-back years on the top of this list. The numbers do not lie and Baldwin deserves to be recognized for the career year he is having for the Seahawks. The former Stanford wide receiver broke the Seahawks franchise record for touchdown receptions.
Baldwin’s 14 touchdown receptions are tied for the NFL lead this year with just one game to go. Baldwin has a career high in receiving yards going over 1,000 through 15 games for the Seahawks. Here’s to continued success for Baldwin and the Seahawks. (end)
Jason Cruz can be reached at email@example.com.