Marcio Jose Sanchez / AP
Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2016 | 2 a.m.
Do you want to know what’s going to happen in 2017 on the Las Vegas sports scene? We've got your covered — hopefully. After all, projecting the future is never an easy task.
We asked the same question last year when making predictions, but failed to deliver.
We said the UNLV basketball team would make the NCAA Tournament — instead, coach Dave Rice was fired four games into Mountain West play. Come on down, Marvin Menzies.
We said the UNLV football team would make a bowl game — instead, the Rebels lost to Idaho and UNR at home in winnable games to keep them out of the postseason.
We said the Kansas City Chiefs would win the Super Bowl — instead, the Broncos and Peyton Manning were the last team standing.
We said the UFC’s Ronda Rousey would win a rematch with Holly Holm. They never fought, so we get a mulligan, right?
The one prediction we nailed was the shining moment of the past year — Las Vegas got its first professional sports team, the Vegas Golden Knights of the NHL.
Turns out, hockey may not be the most significant happening. Lawmakers approved $750 million of public money through hotel tax dollars to construct a stadium in Las Vegas to potentially house the NFL’s Oakland Raiders and UNLV football.
But will the Raiders come? Here’s our predictions:
Raiders, eventually, will come to Las Vegas
Locals unwittingly learned patience when it comes to professional sports over the last several years with the numerous delays in finalizing the Vegas Golden Knights. They’d now be wise to apply those lessons from the NHL expansion process to the NFL relocation talk.
The Raiders are going to come to Las Vegas. It just probably isn’t going to be right away.
These things are complicated and take time, though everything is in place and pointing toward an official announcement on the Las Vegas Raiders coming in 2017. Raiders owner Mark Davis isn’t going to ditch the $750 million in public money allocated to help build the stadium, and he should get the 23 other owners’ votes needed to move the team.
The owners may not vote on the relocation in their first meeting of the year, expected to take place sometime before Super Bowl 51, but they should before the start of the 2017-2018 season. Even then, the Raiders are likely — though not guaranteed — to stay in Oakland for a couple of years until the Adelson Dome is constructed.
Davis has been adamant that’s his intention, even with potential stopgaps like a Sam Boyd Stadium renovation proposed to get the Raiders to Las Vegas sooner.
Golden Knights’ youthful exuberance will keep them in the playoff conversation
An exciting start to the start to the season will officially lay to rest any and all complaints about the Vegas Golden Knights’ team name.
In front of a raucous T-Mobile Arena crowd in early October, the Golden Knights will become the first expansion franchise to pick up a victory in their opening game since the Ottawa Senators in 1992.
Two of the game’s traditional three stars will be young, under-the-radar players with upside that Golden Knights owner Bill Foley and his staff poached in June’s expansion draft. As promised, the front office veered away from the trap of taking too many overpriced veterans in the draft unlike so many prior expansion franchises.
The Golden Knights’ youthful exuberance will keep them in the playoff conversation over the first months of the season. They’ll eventually tail off, but not until after next year’s New Year’s Eve.
The Golden Knights’ play in 2017 will do justice to what’s going to be a historic year in Las Vegas sports history regardless.
UNLV basketball: Menzies wins ‘em over
UNLV has the look of a six-win team in Mountain West play under first-year head coach Marvin Menzies, but the Rebels also look like a team that is going to be playing its best basketball in March.
Players like Tyrell Greeen, Jalen Poyser and Dwayne Morgan have already shown improvement under Menzies, and the freshman class is starting to contribute as well. Give this team 18 more games to jell against league competition and the Rebels will be dangerous by the time the conference tournament rolls around in March.
The team’s style of play at the end of the 2016-17 season will win some fans back to the program, and Menzies’ recruiting efforts will foster even more excitement. He’s already come close on a couple of big fish, and there are more blue-chippers on the radar.
Look for Menzies to add at least one headliner from the class of 2018 before we reach the end of 2017.
UNLV football: Rebels look good in Armani
A football team is usually as good as its quarterback, and boy, do the Rebels think they have a good one in Armani Rogers.
The 6-foot-5 Los Angeles native will go into 2017 as the presumed No. 1 QB on the depth chart, and by the end of the year he’ll have put up one of the most exciting freshman campaigns in program history.
Rogers has all the athletic tools to succeed, and he spent a redshirt year learning the ropes in 2016.
He’ll also be working with a full complement of talented skill players like receiver Devonte Boyd and running backs Lexington Thomas and Charles Williams. Tony Sanchez will turn Rogers loose in 2017 and let the Rebels’ bowl hopes rest on his broad shoulders.
Conor McGregor is too important to the UFC to keep out
The biggest fight early in the year might take place in a Dublin conference room.
Conor McGregor has left every other fighter far behind in terms of stature with four straight fights that have sold at least 1 million pay-per-views. But he says he won’t fight again until the UFC’s new ownership, WME-IMG, comes to see him to renegotiate a new deal and give him stake in the company.
Expect a protracted process, but one that’s ultimately resolved. McGregor is too important to the UFC to keep out, so he’ll return in late summer after the birth of his first child in May.
In the meantime, clarity will come in terms of his next opponent. Georges St. Pierre, Nate Diaz, Jose Aldo, Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson are all currently intriguing choices.
Elsewhere, flyweight champion Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson is poised to make history. Johnson can tie Anderson Silva’s UFC record of 11 straight title defenses with one more victory, meaning he could surpass it as early as midyear.
Pressure will amp up after that for Johnson to move up a weight class in order to match McGregor as a simultaneous two-division champion.
Ronda Rousey may also have that same dual-championship opportunity. If she defeats Amanda Nunes Saturday to win back her women’s bantamweight belt, a title shot in the new women’s featherweight division — potentially against old foe Holly Holm — looms.
Gorman sees winning streak end
The Bishop Gorman High football team will win a ninth straight state championship in 2017. But that isn’t some bold prediction.
While the Gaels have to replace eight three-year contributors from its talented senior class, including three All-Americans, they still have plenty of college-recruits leading the way and won’t be challenged against instate opponents.
Against out-of-state competition, though, is another question. Gorman won’t win a fourth straight mythical national championship.
Dorian Thompson-Robinson takes over at quarterback for Tate Martell, the Ohio State commit and national player of the year. He’ll be joined by top recruits such as tight end Brevin Jordan, linebacker Palaie Gaoteote and wide receiver Jalen Nailor. But is that enough? Likely not.
Gorman’s schedule will include other nationally ranked foes, one of whom will ultimately end Gorman’s 54-game winning streak and string of national titles.
Down goes Gorman basketball?
For three straight seasons, Nevada has crowned the same two high school basketball teams as champions in both the 4A and 3A classifications. In 2017, Clark’s move up to the 4A league could result in new champions across the board.
Bishop Gorman has won five straight state titles and 69 consecutive games against Nevada opponents over that span, but 2017 may be the year the dynasty comes to an end.
The Gaels’ roster is still overflowing with talent, including seniors Chuck O’Bannon Jr., Christian Popoola Jr. and junior Jamal Bey, but they are without a presence in the paint for the first time in years and have looked vulnerable early in the season. Couple that with the fact that their competition is higher than it’s ever been, and this could be the year they get dethroned.
Clark has looked impressive in an early season blowout victory over Centennial and a 4-point loss to Chino Hills (Calif.), the No. 1 team in the country. The Chargers have the depth and defense to challenge Bishop Gorman, and we will get a preview of it on Jan. 3 when the Chargers host the Gaels.
And don’t forget about Centennial, which gave Bishop Gorman its toughest test last year and returns three starters including Oregon commit Troy Brown Jr.
Clark’s departure from the lower league also leaves the opening for a new 3A champion, and Desert Pines looks primed to capture it.
Mayweather, Pacquiao fight again
In 2017, the most lucrative match in boxing history will get a sequel, and it will happen right here in Las Vegas at the T-Mobile Arena.
Yes, both Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao are retired, but Pacquiao returned in November to reclaim his welterweight title from Jessie Vargas, and Mayweather’s return will soon follow.
Mayweather, the five-division world champion was ringside for Pacquiao’s fight in November, and afterwards Pacquiao said he invited Mayweather to watch.
Top Rank President Bob Arum believes Pacquiao will fight again in spring of 2017, and that he would give the chances of it being against Mayweather a “75 percent chance.”
Pacquiao lost by unanimous decision in the first bout, but said he fought with a severely torn rotator cuff and has repeatedly requested a rematch.
As aware as Mayweather is about his legacy, it’s unlikely he wants to end his career with a 49-0 instead of the big 5-0, and no fight would cash a bigger final check than a rematch with Pacman.