UFC: Fights to make after UFC 251

Following any major UFC event, the fans want to know what comes next? UFC held their first event on Fight Island last night, and everyone wants to know what fights are going to be made following UFC 251. Here are five fights that the UFC should make.

Kamaru Usman vs Gilbert Burns

This is a fight that we basically got confirmed from UFC president Dana White last night. In the post-fight press conference, White made it clear that Gilbert Burns (19-3) would be the next challenger for Kamaru Usman (17-1).

Burns was originally scheduled to be in the main event last night, but a positive COVID-19 test took him out. Once he recovers, he is the first guy in line for Usman. He’s also the one fighter who is the worst matchup for Usman in the division.

Usman did not win any new fans at UFC 251, but the champion did what he had to do in defeating Jorge Masvidal (35-14). Usman leaned on his wrestling and controlled the BMF title holder for five rounds.

Burns and Usman matchup extremely well. Usman’s wrestling can be neutralized by Burns’ elite skills on the ground. Burns has elite striking and speed which can give Usman issues.

Usman and Burns were once teammates which adds in another wrinkle to the fight. Expect this matchup to be booked in October/November.

Jorge Masvidal vs Colby Covington

Gamebred stepped up on six days notice, but he fell short in his quest to become the UFC’s welterweight champion. He made it clear that he wants to stay active and work his way back to the title. The quickest route to that is against his former training partner.

Colby Covington (15-2) would make the perfect opponent. Both men used to live together, but now they can’t stand each other. Both are coming off a loss to Usman which is a perfect setup for the fight.

This fight would have a ton of heat, and the winner would be guaranteed another shot at the UFC‘s welterweight title. With the drawing power of both men, this could headline a card on it’s own. I wouldn’t be shocked to see this one occur around the same time that we see Usman-Burns.

Weili Zhang vs Rose Namajunas

It was known that the winner of the Rose Namajunas (9-4) and Jessica Andrade (20-8) fight would likely get the next shot at UFC strawweight champion, Weili Zhang (21-1). Both women went to war last night, but Namajunas walked away with a decision.

To me, Namajunas has always been the second best strawweight in the world. I thought she was always better than Andrade, but got caught in that slam. I also firmly believe that Zhang is the absolute best in the world.

Thug Rose is going to get the title shot after last night’s victory, but I’m not sure how I feel about the matchup for her. This fight could be a springboard for Zhang.

If Zhang is able to defeat Namajunas, she could aim for a champion versus champion fight with Valentina Shevchenko next.

Petr Yan vs Aljamain Sterling

The UFC crowned a new bantamweight king last night, and his name is Petr Yan (15-1). It didn’t come easy, but Yan was able to stop Jose Aldo (28-7) in the fifth round to claim the UFC‘s bantamweight champion.

Last month, Aljamain Sterling (19-3) made an emphatic statement that he’s the top contender at 135 pounds. In a fight with Cory Sandhagen (12-2) which was considered a title eliminator, Sterling finished Sandhagen in under 90 seconds.

Many people believe that Sterling was more deserving of a title shot than Yan was. Well, now the UFC can move to make this fight. There might not be a more exciting division in the UFC than bantamweight right now. Yan/Sterling is going to be incredibly fun to watch.

Alexander Volkanovski vs Winner of Zabit Magomedsharipov-Yair Rodriguez

The UFC‘s featherweight king didn’t get the clean victory he wanted last night. Many people, including Dana White, believe that he lost the fight. However, the judges are all that matter and they gave the fight to Alexander Volkanovski (22-1).

I can’t see the UFC moving to book Volkanovski-Holloway 3 with Alexander being up 2-0 in the series. The Australian champ wants to fight by the end of the year, so what makes the most sense?

Reportedly, Zabit Magomedsharipov (18-1) and Yair Rodriguez (13-2-1) are supposed to fight in August. Magomedsharipov is currently ranked right behind Holloway while Rodriguez is ranked fifth.

Both of these men are extremely popular and talented fighters. I think the UFC would be smart to make this fight the title eliminator. Brian Ortega and Chan Sung Jung who are also supposed to fight this year, have already had shots at the title.

Magomedsharipov is considered the next great Russian champion that’s in the UFC. If Zabit can defeat Rodriguez in August, it would be a massive global fight to pair him with the champion, Volkanovski.

UFC has great fights ahead

The UFC is going to put on some stacked cards the rest of this year. All of the fights listed above should take place before we hit 2021. Combine those with the fights that are already scheduled, and you should be expecting some stacked cards in the second half of 2020.

SEE IT: New York Yankees display the strangest infield look during intrasquad game

New York Yankees, Zack Britton

Baseball has become a numbers game the past few years, and the New York Yankees are no exception to that. Finding statistical advantages can be the difference between winning and losing, and the Yanks are utilizing this time to test different looks in the infield. Just think, “money ball!”

Their newfound alignment was based on Zack Britton’s high ground-ball rate. His fantastic sinker generates more ground balls than almost anybody in the league. Utilizing five infielders and two outfielders, this was a special system to increase the efficiency for Britton and prioritize his strengths.

In 2019, Britton posted a 77.2% ground ball rate. The next up was White Sox’s Aaron Bummer at 72.1%.

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After Saturday night’s intrasquad matchup, New York Yankees manager Aaron Boone stated:

“It’s a Britton thing,” Boone said. “It’s something that we’ve been very close to using, actually we almost used it in a game last year. Our Zack Britton package, if we have the right personnel out there, and with Wade in the outfield today. If it’s the right matchup, we probably wouldn’t hesitate to go with that five-man in the right situation. We’d be willing to do it with Aaron Hicks” when he’s in the game.

The New York Yankees’ infield consisted of Gio Urshela at third base, leaving a good seven yards between him and the baseline, Gleyber Torres in his natural shortstop position with the shade toward the center, Kyle Holder at second base also shaded toward the center, Tyler Wade playing right field spot at the edge of the infield and Mike Ford about 3-4 yards away from the first baseline.
I can picture the Yankees utilizing this look late in games to lock down wins. Every advantage counts with a condensed 60-game schedule. These minor statistical advantages go a long way, and with Aroldis Chapman testing positive for COVID-19, Britton is expected to take over closing duties for the time being.

New York Yankees: Aaron Hicks set to make history

New York Yankees, Aaron Hicks

When the MLB returns to action at the end of next week, New York Yankees centerfielder Aaron Hicks is set to make history. He will be the first known player to play on Opening Day after undergoing Tommy John surgery in the offseason.

Last August, Hicks went on the IL due to elbow pain. He remained on the IL for the rest of the regular season and the ALDS. But, he was feeling better come the ALCS and the Yankees activated him for the series. Although batting just 2-for-13 in the ALCS, Hicks hit a massive three-run home run in game five to extend the series another night.

After the season, more extensive testing showed that Hicks needed Tommy John surgery, and successfully underwent the procedure in November. Doctors told him that he would be sidelined for 8-to-10 months, but fortunately he ended up on the lower end of that spectrum.

Hicks has been partaking in all of the Yankees “Summer Camp” workouts and has been playing in the televised simulated games. He says that he feels fine, and is ready to go. If the season was going on as planned, he would just be coming back anyway. This is perfect timing for him and one of the guys that the coronavirus shutdown helped.

The Yankees signed him for a long extension through 2025 before the 2019 season, and are hoping they make their investment worth it. Hicks has been a guy who has struggled with injuries over his career, and they need that to change. His power and defense make him an important part of the Yankee lineup, and he still has a lot of potential.

 

MLB Analysis: In a short season 2.5 will be the magic number

New York Yankees, New York Mets

The New York Yankees and all the MLB teams are entering the great unknown.  A season that is only 60 games long that will be challenged by an increasing coronavirus pandemic.  A 162 game season gives teams and players time to ease into the season and save themselves to a degree for a possible World Series run.  This season will not afford that luxury.

Every game will have an importance factor of 2.5 compared to a game in a regular season.  Players will have to play with the intensity of that importance factor.  Pitchers will have to get their arm strength up early and hitters will have to start off hot.

In a regular-season an off period for a team where they have a five or six-game losing streak is no big deal, but in a short season, it could be the virtual end to their hopes of an MLB postseason run.   The team that gets off to a hot start and maintains it will be the team that wins their respective division.

With the coronavirus being a dominant factor in the season, likely to cause teams to lose players during the season, their bench players and back up pitchers will take on a more important role.  The New York Yankees for example, have an excellent bench that includes Miguel Andujar, Tyler Wade, Clint Frazier, and Mike Tauchman among others.  The Yankees for several years now have one of the top bullpens in baseball.  Insofar as starting pitchers, even though the Yankees have lost Luis Severino for the season they have options to fill spots in the rotation, should a pitcher fall to injury or the coronavirus. For the Yankees, keeping new pitching ace Gerrit Cole healthy will be paramount.

Last year the Yankees had an unprecedented number of injuries, 39 entrants to the MLB IL from 30 separate players.  The Yankees have that experience behind them in a season that saw them win 100 or more wins for the last two years.  That experience may help manager Aaron Boone of the New York Yankees guide his team more successfully in this short season.

So, the team that can remain healthy, get out of the gate sharp, and can play with that 2.5 mentalities, is the team that will go the distance and plays in the postseason. Nothing is certain in this unknown territory for baseball.  One thing that is for sure, is that fans of their favorite team will feel that same need for intensity in each game they watch.

 

 

 

New York Knicks: Tom Thibodeau Paired With Anthony Edwards Could Be A Successful Recipe

New York Knicks, Tom Thibodeau

If the New York Knicks secure a top three pick during the 2020 NBA Draft Lottery and eventually go on to select Georgia star Anthony Edwards on draft night, there’s a chance coach Tom Thibodeau could oversee the youngster’s early NBA development. Similar to how Thibs oversaw Derrick Rose’s young career starting with Rose’s third NBA season before all the injuries.

There are rumbles around the NBA and media about Thibodeau’s tough style in terms of heavy game minutes and often long practices. This questions his ability to adapt to a style feasible for the long term health of younger talent.

Could Tom Thibodeau run the younger guys into the ground?

Is there even such a thing as running talent into the ground due to a constant heavy dosage of game minutes? Many have opinions regarding the matter of load management. With the NBA implementing load management for its players, Thibodeau has no choice but to change his vigorous style and adapt to this new era which includes the hot topic of keeping players healthy at least for the postseason.

According to Shaun Powell of nba.com, Peak Performance Project collects data through assessments of a player’s body and his high velocity movements to identify his physical strengths and weaknesses, raise red flags for areas that could be prone to potential injury, and give him and his team information to help improve performance. There’s also training sessions designed to prevent injuries and enhance the muscles and movements needed to reach potential. The training session is a elite athlete optimization that’s suddenly vital to careers.

According to Dr. Marcus Elliott, founder and director of the Peak Performance Project,

“Load management is about lowering the threshold of load on a player so that he’s able to recover and decrease the risk of injury or chronic fatigue”.

Anthony Edwards would be fine playing under Coach Thibodeau with these fairly new conditions put in place to protect the talent from career altering injuries. One thing for sure, Edwards has a ton to learn on the defensive end and Thibodeau would mold the young talent into a two-way player similar to Jimmy Butler.

New York Yankees Update: With just 11 days to the season, things have already changed for the Yankees

Spring training 1.0 for the New York Yankees presented more health problems for the team.  Giancarlo Stanton had a calf injury, Gary Sanchez had back soreness, James Paxton was recovering from back surgery, slugger Aaron Judge had shoulder problems that turned out to be a fractured rib, and the big blow to the team was the loss of star pitcher Luis Severino that needed Tommy John surgery.  He will be out the entire baseball season.

Then came the MLB shutdown caused by the coronavirus.  Although a horrible situation for the team and the country as a whole, if you look on the bright side there was a silver lining for the New York Yankees.  The team for the most part was able to get healthy during the shutdown and the nasty negotiations that led up to summer camp in New York’s Yankee Stadium.

Fast forward to summer camp and it looked like the Yankees would be whole with the exception missing Luis Severino and Domingo German, who will miss the entire season, fulfilling the remainder of his suspension, causing him to miss the entire regular season. The one question was the apparent slow healing of Aaron Judge’s rib, but even that seems to have turned out okay for the Yankees as demonstrated recently by the superstar.

As the New York Yankees players arrived in New York for summer camp everything seemed to be set for the beginning of the season, with the lineup pretty well set and every position player knew where they will be playing with the exception of Miguel Andujar, who looked like he would fill a role that included the outfield, and being a frequent DH.  It appeared that he might see some play at 1st and 3rd as well.

As players were doing intake tests it was discovered that last year’s MVP second baseman DJ LeMahieu tested positive for the coronavirus, then long reliever Luis Cessa had a bad test as well.  Both of those players are not at the stadium as they quarantine at home with various symptoms.

As the first week of summer camp came to a close, manager Aaron Boone was already making plans on how to replace those two players.  But there was a bigger blow to the team in the offing.  With just eleven days to the start of the season, the Yankee closer, Aroldis Chapman has failed his coronavirus test.  The Yankees according to the health initiative test all the players every two days for the virus.

Now Boone and company have even more changes to figure out.  Neither of the three aforementioned players will be ready for play on opening day. According to the health protocol, each player will have to self-quarantine for two weeks and then test negative in two tests two days apart, before being allowed back in the stadium. Even if they are all negative they will still need at least week to ramp up for play.  Boone made the statement that Chapman will not be available for the foreseeable future. Why he used that term is unknown.

So, right now, things have changed for the New York Yankees.  They do have options to fill these positions.  The easiest one is to have Zack Britton replace Chapman.  If you recall Britton was the closer for the Baltimore Orioles just a year and a half ago.  Britton for the Yankees last season pitched in 66 games and ended the season with a 3-1 record and an incredibly low ERA of 1.91.  Adam Ottavino eclipsed Britton’s ERA but Boone will use Britton in the closer role as he has the experience.  Britton also saved three games for the Yankees last season.

A more difficult decision for Boone is how to replace DJ LeMahieu at second.  The logical choice appears to be, moving Gleyber Torres to second.  However, that leaves shortstop open to Tyler Wade or even Gio Urshela, who has experience at short.  If Boone chooses the Gio option that would then put Miguel Andujar back at third base.  The other main option is to leave things as-is and place Tyler Wade at second.

The elephant in the Stadium right now and for the entire season, is what happens when even more players test positive which is bound to happen.  The Yankees are lucky in some ways, as having a great bench and bullpen loaded with talent.  Even if a pitcher tests positive, they have options there too.  Jonathan Losisgia, Clarke Schmidt, and Mike King will be able to fill in in the rotation.

So as the regular season fast approaches the Yankees will hope that the rest of the players stay healthy, especially new Yankee ace Gerrit Cole who is scheduled to make the start on opening day in the nation’s capital on July 23rd.  He is supposed to face the Washington National’s ace, Max Scherzer. The one thing we know for certain is that nothing is going to be certain in this increasingly infected coronavirus season.

EmpireSportsMedia.com’s Columnist William Parlee is a member of the Society for American Baseball Research. Follow me on Twitter @parleewilliam

 

 

New York Knicks Daymean Dotson could be next to go

New York Knicks, Damyean Dotson

Another New York Knicks shooting guard might be on the move.  The New York Post’s Marc Berman thinks that shooting guard Daymean Dotson won’t be with the team next year.

“In (Damyean) Dotson’s case, he was a Phil Jackson draft pick.  Because there’s no attachment to Rose or Perry, Dotson is as good as gone” Berman says.  It’s unfortunate circumstances because this Knicks guard never got a true chance.

Dotson did start 40 games for the Knicks in the 2018-19 season.  He averaged 27 minutes per and 10 points.  However, it still feels like the Knicks quickly gave up on Dotson.

The Knicks recently waived Allonzo Trier.  The Arizona shooting guard was instant offense for the team but somewhat of a ball hog.  However, he was a defensive liability.

Dotson didn’t get a legit shot to showcase his skills for the Knicks.  His minutes were very staggered throughout his career.  Dotson never got a chance to find his groove despite being a above average two-way player.

The Knicks could use his 3-point shooting off the bench.  Dotson shot 36% which isn’t the best but the Knicks 3-point shooting is awful to begin with.

Unfortunately, what Berman says is correct.  Dotson has no ties to the new regime in the front office. But, they should notice his skill set.  The New York Knicks could be losing out on a valuable bench player if they let him go.

New York Giants: 2 offensive players who are primed for improvement in 2020

New York Giants, Darius Slayton

The New York Giants are heading into the 2020 season with plenty of questions on the roster. Both sides of the ball are undergoing major changes, but the offense is a bit more situated and the defense.

With a reliable receiving corps consisting of Golden Tate, Sterling Shepard, Darius Slayton, and Corey Coleman, quarterback Daniel Jones has plenty of weapons to utilize. That’s not even factoring Saquon Barkley and Evan Engram. The offensive line is the biggest concern, as they lacked chemistry and efficiency in 2019.

That reality was a driving force behind the drafting of Andrew Thomas with the fourth overall pick this year. The hope is that he can supplement a tackle position and help build continuity in the trenches.

However, the Giants need some of their younger players to make development leaps.

Here is a look at two New York Giants players who should experience improvement moving forward:

1.) Darius Slayton

Slayton was a wonder for the Giants in his rookie campaign. He posted 740 yards and eight touchdowns over 14 games, leading the team in both categories. While his 57.1% catch rate was a bit low, rookie struggles were anticipated and factored into my expectations. He played in just 66% of offensive snaps and missed two games to start the season.

Slayton’s emergence is a fantastic sign for the Giants who drafted him in the fifth round last year. At just 23 years old, he is not even in his prime yet and has so much potential left to discover.

The biggest sign of improvement was his route running development. From being primarily a straight line receiver with Auburn, he became much more than that in the NFL. Just a few months on an NFL team allowed him to refine and build upon his existing routes. He added a solid slant and corner route to his repertoire. There’s plenty left for him to develop, especially when it comes to timing with Daniel Jones.

New York Yankees will likely start the regular season down two significant players

New York Yankees, DJ LeMahieu

It was always an expectation that MLB players would begin to contract COVID-19 as the restart plan activated. The virality of the illness simply makes it unrealistic to believe otherwise. The New York Yankees have already begun to deal with multiple players testing positive, including DJ LeMahieu and Luis Cessa.

The latest to contract a virus is Aroldis Chapman, star closer for the Yankees. What does this mean? He becomes a third player on the team to test positive and could very well miss the beginning of the regular season.

“We did have a player test positive, it was Aroldis Chapman, so he is not at camp. He’s got mild symptoms but overall is doing well,” Boone said. “He will not be here for the foreseeable future. Beyond that, I’m not going to get into commenting much on him.”

So far, Chapman and Cessa are the only two players showing symptoms, while LeMahieu remains asymptomatic.

They will have to test negative on multiple occasions to return to regular baseball activity, but the lack of practice will undoubtedly hurt their progression leading up to a July 23 Opening Day against the Washington Nationals.

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What New York Yankees players could replace both LeMahieu and Chapman?

With the expectation that both significant players will miss time, let’s take a look at several options that could supplement their losses.

For the DJ at second base, two options really stand out. Both Tyler Wade and Thairo Estrada leads the pack in terms of supplementing.

While Wade is more useful on the base paths, he’s a solid defender who can play second base adequately in the short term. He has been waiting for this opportunity to make an influence, but his lack of offense has held him back significantly. For his career, Wade has a .197/.268/.298 slash line, which took a nice jump in 2019 to .245/.330/.362.

Estrada is another exciting player, who has launched two home runs during intrasquad exhibition games this spring training 2.0—in 2019, Estrada and 64 at-bats, hitting .250 with three homers and 12 RBIs. He played 17 games at second base, committing zero errors and logging a perfect fielding percentage.

I prefer the Yankees utilize Estrada as a starting player in the meantime over Wade, who should be primarily a pinch-runner.

As for Chapman, Zack Britain represents the best alternative. Manager Aaron Boone stated that Britton will take over as the closer if Chapman isn’t ready to start the regular season. He is the natural choice considering his experience and efficiency in the role.

WATCH: Yankees’ Gary Sanchez rips double off J.A. Happ to spark offensive return

New York Yankees, Gary Sanchez

The New York Yankees hosted their third intrasquad exhibition game on Saturday evening, with J.A. Happ starting for the first time.

Happ is looking to return from a tumultuous 2019 campaign, as he posted a 4.91 ERA and allowed 34 home runs, a career-high. He also allowed 88 earned runs and struck out 140 batters over 161.1 innings.

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His return is essential for the Yankees during a condensed, regular season where health and starting quality is needed. As management continues to iron out the starting roster and who they can rely on, on an everyday basis, Happ performed adequately in his first exhibition action.

He finished the night with three innings pitched, recording four strikeouts, one walk, and one earned run.

However, one of the more exciting portions of the game was Gary Sanchez and his return to offensive form. He roped a double to the outfield that scored a run.

Sanchez had been struggling the past few games due to a lack of timing, which seemed to alleviate for a moment against one of the Yankees’ starting arms. This was vintage Gary, and the Yankees need to see more of this as they inch closer Opening Day on July 23.