UFC on ESPN 11 Preview: Curtis Blaydes & Alexander Volkov look to take a step towards the title

Curtis Blaydes, UFC

UFC on ESPN 11 will mark the fourth consecutive Saturday night where we’ve had a UFC card from the APEX. The main event of the evening pairs two top ten heavyweights against each other as Curtis Blaydes (13-2, 1) takes on Alexander Volkov (31-7). The card is stacked from the prelims all the way through the main card. Let’s dive into the card that fight fans will be tuning into this Saturday night on ESPN.

Curtis Blaydes vs Alexander Volkov

Curtis Blaydes is one of the best heavyweights in the world. Since joining the UFC back in 2016, Blaydes has an impressive record of 8-2 with one no contest. He’s got ever-improving striking skills, elite wrestling, and a ground attack that is vicious. The problem for Blaydes in the heavyweight division is the fact that he’s lost twice to top contender, Francis Ngannou, and neither fight was competitive. Earlier this week, I wrote about the problem that Blaydes is facing. He said he wants to wait for a title shot if he wins against Volkov, but he might be waiting a while.

If it wasn’t for a last minute rally by Derrick Lewis back at UFC 229, Alexander Volkov might have fought for a UFC title by now. Volkov has an impressive record of 5-1 in the UFC with wins over guys like Roy Nelson and former heavyweight champion, Fabricio Werdum. Volkov has really good striking technique, and presents multiple different looks on his feet. He’s got great kicks, and his accuracy does nothing but help his power. However, Volkov’s weakness is Blaydes’ strength. Volkov does not historically do well against grapplers. Volkov is better when he can use range and pick his opponents apart on the feet. Blaydes is going to try to take this fight to the ground almost immediately. Another big disadvantage Volkov has is the smaller cage. With this fight being at the UFC‘s APEX, the cage is 30% smaller. That’s a big advantage for a guy like Blaydes who wants to close the distance. Blaydes is a massive betting favorite for these reasons, and I think it’s pretty safe money. Volkov is one of the best, but this is an awful matchup for him.

Prediction: Curtis Blaydes by TKO – Round 3

Josh Emmett vs Shane Burgos

The co-main event of the evening is the fight that I’m the most excited about when it comes to Saturday’s card. Two top ten featherweights will be going head-to-head as Josh Emmett (15-2) takes on “Hurricane” Shane Burgos (13-1). Any time you see Josh Emmett fight, you have to tell yourself, “Don’t blink.” Emmett has incredible power for the featherweight division. If he connects flush, I’m not sure anyone in the division can take it. Emmett also has really good wrestling and grappling skills, but he seems to be content with standing and trading with his opponents. In this matchup, he might be wise to look to mix in some of the grappling just to give Burgos something to think about.

Shane Burgos is one of the most exciting fighters in the UFC‘s featherweight division. His lone career loss came to Calvin Kattar back in 2018, but since then, Burgos has rattled off three impressive victories. Burgos has incredible foot-work and speed which will help him greatly in this matchup. Going into this fight, I think Burgos has the clear advantage when it comes to the overall striking game. Burgos is the faster guy with cleaner boxing. However, Burgos likes to get inside with some of his shots, and that can leave him open to a massive shot from Emmett. My gut is telling me to go with Burgos due to the advantage on the feet, but it’s hard to pick against a guy who is always one shot away from winning the fight. I’m going to go with my gut on this one, but it’s truly a toss-up.

Prediction: Shane Burgos by Unanimous Decision

Raquel Pennington vs Marion Reneau

The third fight on the main card is a very intriguing matchup between two top ten bantamweights as former title challenger, Raquel Pennington (10-8), takes on Marion Reneau (9-5-1). Pennington has had a very up and down last five years if you just look at her record. Since 2016, Pennington is just 4-3, but those losses have all come against either current or former UFC champions. Pennington is as tough as they come in the bantamweight division. She doesn’t have any skills that will wow you, but she will always come forward, and push the pace. Pennington has decent wrestling, okay hands, and does okay in the clinch. However, she’s able to bring the skills she does have together to put on pretty good performances.

Across from Pennington will be the oldest fighter on the card. At 42-years-old, Marion Reneau is coming off of back-to-back decision losses. Prior to those losses, Reneau had gone 3-0-1 in her previous four fights including three finishes. Reneau has really good punching power, and an incredible ground game from the top position. She has struggled at times on her back, but on top, she’s one of the better practitioners in the division. She has multiple ways of winning the fight on Saturday night. Reneau has the power advantage, and she’ll possess the grappling advantage. However, we have seen Reneau lose some decisions due to lack of activity. She has big moments in fights, but then she’s been susceptible to taking her foot off the gas. If this fight gets finished, I think Reneau is going to be the winner. However, if the fight goes to the scorecards, I think Pennington’s forward pressure and activity will get her the nod. I think it’s a close fight, but I think this one is going to the scorecards.

Prediction: Raquel Pennington by Split Decision

Belal Muhammad vs Lyman Good

The second fight on the main card is a classic stylistic matchup that features former Bellator champ, Lyman Good (21-5, 1 NC), and Belal Muhammad (16-3). Lyman Good is going into this fight we a pretty decent advantage on the feet. In his 21 career victories, 11 of those have come via KO/TKO. The last time we saw Good was back in November at UFC 244 where he stopped Chance Rencountre in the third round. Good has some serious power in his hands, but he does have a weakness, and that’s his defensive grappling. In his two UFC losses to Demian Maia and Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos, Good was controlled on the ground. If he can’t keep this fight with Muhammad standing, it could be a long night.

As you probably are guessing, Muhammad is going to have a very predictable strategy in this fight. Do not expect Muhammad to try to keep this fight standing. From the opening bell, expect Muhammad to use his grappling to try to get the fight to the ground. Muhammad is a specialist with really good top control. He’s got a pretty decent chin too only being finished once in his professional career. Muhammad fights like a wet blanket which is the exact style that can give a fighter like Lyman Good some problems. While Good is capable of putting almost anyone away, I think Muhammad is going to be able to use his grappling to nullify any advantage that Good has on the feet.

Prediction: Belal Muhammad by Unanimous Decision

Jim Miller vs Roosevelt Roberts

Kicking off the main card is a lightweight matchup between veteran Jim Miller (31-14, 1 NC), and Roosevelt Roberts (10-1). For Roberts, Miller is the biggest name that he’s fought so far in his UFC career. After coming out of Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series, Roberts has a 4-1 record in the UFC. Roberts looked sensational in his fight against Brok Weaver back on May 30th at UFC on ESPN 9. Roberts has really good submissions skills, and his striking his progressing nicely. This is a true test to see where Roberts is in his development. If he’s able to beat Miller with flying colors, you would have to think he’s ready for a top 15 opponent. However, Miller is the type of guy who will be able to show you any weaknesses that Roberts might have in his game.

In this fight, Jim Miller will tie Cowboy Cerrone with the most fights in UFC history at 35. Miller has fought the who’s who in the UFC over 12 years. While he’s never received a title shot, Miller is widely known as one of the better fighters in the world. Before losing a close decision to Scott Holtzman back in February, Miller had won two fights in a row. Miller is as tough as they come, and you have to know that he’s going to push the prospect, Roberts. I think Roberts has all the tools he needs to win this fight, but do not expect Miller to get steam-rolled here. I think Miller will have his moments, but I think you’re going to see Roberts take another step in the right development direction, and defeat Jim Miller.

Prediction: Roosevelt Roberts by Submission (Rear-Naked Choke) – Round 3

UFC on ESPN 11 Outlook

The UFC is putting on one helluva show this Saturday night. In addition the five main card fights, the prelims have some really intriguing matchups. Clay Guida, Tecia Torres, Roxanne Modafferi, and undefeated submission ace, Max Rohskopf, are just some of the names on the under card. While the UFC’s card last week caught a lot of criticism, the fans shouldn’t be saying a negative word about this one.

Will the New York Giants move on from Golden Tate after the 2020 season?

New York Giants, Golden Tate

The New York Giants often seems to be far superior to their defense of unit, based on their number of playmakers. Talent like Saquon Barkley, Darius Slayton, Sterling Shepard, and Golden Tate all represent a bevy of options Daniel Jones can utilize in the pass and run game.

New offensive coordinator Jason Garrett will draw up a diverse game with plenty of pre-snap motion to distract opposing defenses and create more unpredictability. One player that will need to have a stellar season to remain with the Giants until 2022 is Golden Tate, who has an out after the 2020 season.

Tate has been one of the more effective and productive receivers after the catch over the past few seasons. Between the 2014-18 seasons, Tate lead the league in yards after the catch, showing off his versatility and shifty skill-set. He lead the category in three of the last four years during that time span. He also had the second-most third-down receptions since 2014, when he joined the Detroit Lions.

The Giants saw some of that playmaking ability in 2019 in his first year with the team, but Jones was young and inexperienced, which resulted in some poor throws and bad decisions. I believe he will have a more productive year in 2020, but age will begin to take its toll on his physical abilities. He will be 32 years old next season, and for a physical receiver that depends on his lateral mobility, he could soon begin to fall off, and the Giants have the leverage moving forward to release him.

If the Giants cut him after 2020, they will save $6 million in cap space. He has a projected cap hit of $11 million in 2021, and a dead cap hit of $5 million. That additional money could be utilized to address the pass rush or bring in another wide receiver with more talent. Ultimately, the Giants are going to have to allocate money toward the unit eventually, since Sterling Shepard is one more concussion away from potentially ending his career and Darius Slayton can’t handle the load on his own.

Alternatively, if the Giants have a tumultuous campaign, they could be in line to land Ja’Marr Chase out of LSU, one of the best wide receivers over the past few draft classes.

New York Yankees sign flame-throwing pitcher in free agency

New York Yankees

The New York Yankees have signed a bevy of undrafted pitchers, including Jarod Lessar, Trevor Holloway, Ocean Gabonia, Carson Coleman, and now flame-thrower Connor Pellerin.

At 6 foot four and 210 pounds, Pellerin is a big picture. He posted a 2.25 ERA over six games as a junior, following up a tumultuous sophomore campaign where he logged 88.4 4 ERA over 21 appearances. Allowing 25 runs and 31 walks over 26.2 innings, Pellerin certainly tries not to think about those tough times often. However, he improved significantly and just one season, which shows his ability to adapt and learn from his mistakes.

The Yankees, though, who signed him to a $20K deal, saw his mid-90s fastball and solid slider as benefits to their minor-league system. With the right coaching, Pellerin could be a solid pitcher down the line. Considering Pellerin is an undrafted player, I believe it will take him quite some time to climb the minor-league system, but never say never. He did crack Baseball America’s top 500 MLB draft prospects this year, which says something about the talent he contains and hopefully can expand on moving forward.

I project Pellerin as more of a relief,  back-end pitcher, as he doesn’t have the continuity to serve as a starter. He struggled in larger sample sizes and only started two games during his sophomore season, which he struggled mightily in. Nonetheless, if he can develop his abilities and add placement to his strong arm, he can be effective on the back-end of games.

Reason for excitement:

Pellerin did toss 13 shut-out innings for the Orleans Firebirds in 2019, striking out 24 batters and walking one man per inning. The limitations in scouting this year have forced the Yankees to take more chances on undeveloped prospects. Ultimately, his strong arm will have gone a long way in scouting evaluations and analysis. The virtual aspect of modern times might have actually benefited him and landed him a job with the Yankees.

NASCAR: Five underdogs who could steal Talladega

This Sunday, the NASCAR Cup Series will visit Talladega on the first day of summer. Is there a red hot upset in the making?

This weekend, Talladega Superspeedway’s 2.66-mile course will feature mischief and mayhem…and 5,000 of its closest friends will be there to witness it.

The NASCAR Cup Series will welcome back a select number of fans to the track as the GEICO 500 will run 188 circuits on Sunday afternoon (3 p.m. ET, Fox). Talladega is one of several “superspeedways” on the NASCAR schedule and its longest track, one that has been known for big pile-ups and close racing. While Sunday’s race will feature a new technical rules package (one created to avoid scary wrecks like the one involving Ryan Newman at the end of the Daytona 500), Talladega’s penchant for tight racing (similar to Daytona) has often seen upset winners steal the show. Winners of NASCAR races are more or less afforded a spot in the NASCAR playoffs, provided they finish in the top 30 in points.

The Cup Series’ usual suspects (I.e. Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Chase Elliott, etc.) will undoubtedly be in play for GEICO glory. But there could be several underdogs on hand ready to seize their postseason moment…

Austin Dillon

To say it has been an eventful two weeks for Dillon would perhaps be the understatement of the year. He was forced to retire from last Wednesday’s Martinsville race early when the loss of crush panels in his car caused the interior to reach sweltering temperatures. Four days later, he and his wife Whitney welcomed their first child (a son named Ace) before he drove the No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet to a seventh-place finish. It’s been part of a solid return to the track for Dillon, who (the Martinsville incident aside) has finished no worse than 11th over the last five races. Such a performance has allowed Dillon to enter Talladega holding the final playoff spot. Ending his win drought at 83 races would certainly help him breathe a lot easier, that last win coming at the 2018 Daytona 500.

Brendan Gaughan

Gaughan has run one full-time Cup Series season (2004) but has kept active on NASCAR’s lower-tier national series. He has been a staple in the part-time car of Beard Motorsports, having run each Cup event at a superspeedway since 2017. The No. 62 Chevrolet has been reasonably competitive in such races, as Gaughan came home seventh in February’s Daytona 500. Last fall, he ran up front all day, posting as high as second at Talladega (after finishing eighth in the spring event) but an aerial wreck relegated him to 27th. Gaughan announced in February that 2020 would be his final NASCAR season. Could he earn an early retirement gift in his penultimate Talladega visit? As a part-time driver with no playoff burden, Gaughn will have zilch to lose on Sunday.

John Hunter Nemechek

The rookie Nemechek (second behind Tyler Reddick in the Rookie of the Year race) has remained competitive in his full-time Cup debut. His No. 38 Front Row Motorsports Ford has been running at the end of each of the first dozen events in 2020 and Nemechek has completed all but 12 laps on the circuit thus far. Nemechek also finished in the top ten in a pair of Xfinity starts at Talladega, including a sixth-place result last season. A Talladega steal from the mid-budget Front Row squad is not unheard of. The first win in team history came in 2013 when David Ragan and David Gilliland swept the first two slots in an overtime finish at the spring race.

Ryan Newman

It’s great to see Newman back in his No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford after the scary incident at the end of the Daytona 500, but his return has been a bit of a struggle thus far. He has yet to finish in the top ten since his return and an early spin at Homestead long to a long day that ended in 30th. But a Newman victory at Talladega would make for an incredible headline. In addition to his last-lap crash in February, Newman was literal inches away from a victory at last October’s Talladega event, but he lost to Ryan Blaney by .007 seconds. If he’s going to race his way into the playoffs, Newman would have to break a 113-race winless streak. Talladega could present his best opportunity. In five events since October 2017, Newman has earned four top ten finishes, including a pair of runner-up postings.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Mired in a 21st-place hole in the standings, it may be a lot to ask Stenhouse to make up a 63-point playoff deficit, even with the regular season running through late August. Stenhouse has often gone the “wreckers or checkers” route at Daytona and Talladega. Back in 2017, he was able to swipe a playoff spot by winning at both tracks, including his first career victory at the latter, when he started on the pole and held off a furious challenge from Jamie McMurray for the win. If he and the No. 47 JTG Daugherty team have playoff aspirations, they might have to go all out on Sunday.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

 

MLB News: Despite optimism there is no agreement for a baseball season, details here

While New York Yankees President Randy Levine expressed his optimism that there would be a baseball season, urging the sides to negotiate, Commissioner Manfred issued what appeared to be blockbuster news.

“At my request Tony Clark and I met for several hours yesterday in Phoenix.  We left that meeting with a jointly developed framework that we agreed could form the basis of an agreement and subject to conversations with our respective contituents. I summarized that framework several times in the meeting and sent Tony a written summary today. I am encouraging the clubs to move forward and I trust Tony is doing the same”

Manfred’s statement led baseball lovers everywhere to believe a baseball deal had been accomplished, and the only thing left was a union vote approving the deal.  But as the evening progressed, a letter from players union executive director Tony Clark was released stating: citing “a number of significant issues with what [MLB Manfred] proposed” and stated, “there certainly were no tentative agreements reached.”

Here is what Manfred’s latest proposal looks like:

  • Spring training would begin no later than June 28 for position players.
  • The season would consist of 60 games over 70 days, beginning July 19 or 20 and ending Sept. 27.
  • An expanded postseason in 2020 and 2021, with a minimum players’ pool of $25 million.
  • 100 percent prorated salaries (60 games would amount to about 37 percent of a 162-game season and salary)
  • The designated hitter in both leagues in 2020 and 2021.
  • Opt-out rights for high-risk individuals, as defined by the CDC.
  • MLB would direct $10 million for social justice initiatives.
  • ‘Minimum’ player commitments for broadcast elements, including the miking of players.
  • Corporate advertising on uniforms in 2020 and 2021.
  • Enhanced housing allowances for spring training and regular season.
  • Mutual waiver of potential grievances under the March Agreement.

MLB on their part has made significant comprises to the players union so that a season can be accomplished.  100 percent of prorated salaries is one of them. Previous MBL plans have called for large reductions in play.  The plan also allows players to have corporate advertising on uniforms to increase player revenue. But among other issues, the players are holding fast to wanting more games going later into the season.

According to how you look at the MLB deal, it appears each side of the negotiation gets a little of what they wanted.  The players will be paid their full prorated salaries, and the owners get a shortened season that will reduce losses from a much longer season. It makes you wonder why the sides couldn’t have come to a similar compromise earlier, producing a much more legitimate season.

After the final tweaking of the agreement, both sides may see that 66 games make more sense schedule-wise. 12 games each vs. 4 division opponents, 3 games each vs. 4 interleague opponents, and 6 games (home and home) vs. interleague rivals. The exact details may not be known until spring training 2.0 is resumed if the sides can finally come together and make it happen.

With the sides constantly disagreeing on issues now, they don’t seem to be able to agree on whether an agreement has been reached.  However, there is more optimism today than a few days ago when Clark said that further negotiations would be futile. With yesterday’s MLB announcement, I was hoping to be writing about a start to the season this morning, but It appears the sides are closer together to make that happen to provide some hope of an MLB season.  The supposed agreement could be a jump start that has been needed.