From the Publisher
By Mike Panozzo
Mike became editor of Billiards Digest in 1980 and liked it so much that he bought the company. He has served on the Billiard Congress of America board of directors and as president of the Billiard & Bowling Institute of America.
February: Power Shift
I REMEMBER sitting with Matchroom Sport promoter Barry Hearn in the drafty bowels of York Hall in Bethnal Green in 2001, listening to him lament on the future of the Mosconi Cup.
The Mosconi Cup was created by Hearn in an effort to increase interest in American 9-ball in the United Kingdom. A shrewd promoter who had built his business during the professional snooker boom of the 1980s, he saw American pool as a conduit to England's younger crowd fast-paced, smash 'em up action.
With his connections to cable sports network Sky Sports, Hearn built the Mosconi around live TV, hoping to get viewers transfixed to a Ryder Cup-style competition that pitted Europe against the cocky Americans.
It made for great "telly," as the Brits say, but something was missing.
That something was competition.
The conversations I recall took place during a six-year winning streak by Team USA over Team Europe, all of them staged in London. In fact, Team Europe had won exactly one of the first eight events Hearn had run. The most recent of those losses was an embarrassing 12-1 shellacking. What made that loss particularly galling to Hearn was that the full fourth day of live coverage on Sky was rendered useless.
"This event simply can't grow if the Europeans don't at least challenge for the Cup," Hearn said at the time.
Hearn had invested a lot of time and money into building the event, and entertained hopes of turning it into a home-and-home series, with each continent hosting the tournament in alternating years.
In 2002, Hearn got his wish. David slew Goliath, 12-9. Sure, the Americans would bounce back to win the next three, but parity was certainly on its way. I'm sure the silver-haired Hearn thought to himself, "Bloody good! What could go wrong now?"
Here's what could go wrong: The core of Team USA would get older, tournament pool in the U.S. would virtually disappear, and there would be no bumper crop of young hotshots to fill the void left by aging stars.
Ironically, Hearn's biggest dilemma today is how to get a competitive team from the United States.
How far the mighty have fallen.
Team Europe's recent 11-7 thumping of Team USA at the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas was its fourth in five years, and for the most part none of those have been very close. In fact, the U.S. has won outright only once (2009 in Las Vegas) in the last six years. (The 2006 Cup, held in Rotterdam, ended in an unceremonious 12-12 tie.)
In Las Vegas, three of Team USA's five-man roster (Johnny Archer, Rodney Morris and Shawn Putnam) were over 40 years old. Sure, America's top player, Shane Van Boening, is just 28. But aside from 15-time Cup participant Ralf Souquet (43), the remainder of Team Europe's lineup (Darren Appleton, Chris Melling, Nick van den Berg and Niels Feijen) is between 31 and 35.
Unless the U.S. develops some very good, very young players very quickly (24-year-old Mike Dechaine has the talent and moxie to be a solid contributor), the gap will only widen.
Still, I don't think Hearn needs to worry too much. The Mosconi Cup remains the best show on cloth. It's intense and dramatic. It elicits emotions and reactions that you just don't find anywhere else in the sport.
Best of all, rivalries are rivalries, regardless of how much one is an underdog. American sports fans know this through the other sports they follow. It's the passion in the fans and competitors that makes it a rivalry worth watching.
And in the Mosconi Cup, none of that is lacking.