New York Giants wrap up tough 2020 on Joe Judge’s birthday

New York Giants, Joe Judge

Happy birthday, Joe Judge! The New York Giants coach turned 39 on New Year’s Eve. He’s still younger than Eli Manning, however, as Manning turns 40 on Sunday. The day is not only Judge’s birthday, but also wraps up a turbulent 2020 that wasn’t easy on the Giants. Still, despite all the challenges, there’s been some improvement compared to previous seasons.

Over the past few years, the team has been forgettable by this point in the year, but right now the Giants still have a chance to make it into the playoffs with a win on Sunday.

2020 was a year that began with intrigue for the Giants. Pat Shurmur was out and Joe Judge was hired in early January to replace him. The hire brought mixed reviews, thanks to his relative lack of experience compared to a typical new head coach. He had no track record as an offensive or defensive coordinator, but had rave reviews from both Bill Belichick and Nick Saban.

And it was clear that this was a last chance for Dave Gettleman. The assumption was that he would be gone at the start of the year but he remained in place, and the Giants made a flurry of free agency moves. They added both James Bradberry and Blake Martinez in the spring, and it looks like both players have found long term spots as elite members of the defense.

When the season actually came around, the Giants were faced with a big losing streak to start the season. It looked like more of the same, and like the team would quickly be out of the playoff hunt. Just as bad was their injury situation, as they had very quickly lost top running back Saquon Barkley for the year with an ACL tear. Draft pick Xavier McKinney would also go down long term, before the season even began.

But somehow, the Giants have found themselves in the playoff mix regardless. And going into 2021, they still haven’t been eliminated. This season hasn’t exactly been a good one for the Giants by the typical standards of a good season. However, it’s undoubtedly been a big improvement on what they were.

No one thought after the first half of the season that this team would still be in contention come January. And that’s right where the Giants are right now. It remains to be seen what 2021 will bring, but for the first time in a few years, there’s reasons beyond just hopeful optimism to believe the team is going in a good direction.

Knicks turn cold in Tampa as Raptors notch first win

New York Knicks, Julius Randle

There were no fireworks for the New York Knicks to usher in New Year. Only brick-fest.

The Knicks suddenly went cold in the warmer weather of Tampa, Fla., as the Toronto Raptors finally broke into the win column.

From Knicks to Bricks

The Knicks entered the contest as the best three-point shooting team. They came out with a record of futility in a 100-83 loss to the Raptors.

The Knicks’ starters bricked all their 23 three-point attempts becoming the first starting five with the most misses without a make all-time, per ESPN Stats & Info. The Knicks were 3-for-36 overall from deep and missed 20 three-pointers in a row at one ugly stretch.

Kevin Knox, a former high school star in Tampa, had his best scoring performance this season on his homecoming with 16 points. But it all went for naught.

No Siakam, no problem

The Raptors didn’t miss Pascal Siakam, who was reportedly suspended for disciplinary reasons, with Norman Powell stepping up in his absence. Powell scored seven straight points in the opening quarter and finished with 17 points. The backcourt tandem of Kyle Lowry and Fred Van Vleet combined for 45 points.

The Knicks led by six, 54-48, their biggest in the game, early in the third quarter. But the Raptors closed out with a 23-10 exchange and took a 71-64 lead heading into the final quarter.

Van Vleet, who spurned the Knicks in the free agency, poured in 10 of his 25 points in the final canto to lead the Raptors’ breakaway. The bulky guard also had five rebounds and seven assists.

Randle manhandled 

Julius Randle couldn’t duplicate his triple-double performance as the Raptors threw a constant double team on him. The Knicks’ starting power forward finished with 16 points, his lowest output in five games.

Randle was 0-for-4 from three and went out for good after suffering from cramps with 3:24 left.

Sophomore RJ Barrett’s shooting slump continued with 0-8 clunkfest from deep. The Canadian wingman has missed his last 21 three-point attempts since going 3-for-3 in the season opener.

The usually sharp Reggie Bullock was also a dismal 0-for-9 from the outside.

Rivers’ debut

Austin Rivers finally made his debut as a Knick, finishing with seven points and five assists as Elfrid Payton’s chief backup. Rivers skipped the preseason and missed the Knicks’ first four games due to a pulled groin.

The Knicks were missing guards Immanuel Quickley, Dennis Smith Jr., and Frank Ntilikina for various injuries forcing Thibodeau to play Rivers for an extended time despite only having one practice with the team.

The Raptors started hot, leading by as many as 11 with Powell on a tear. But Knox came off the bench and played aggressively in front of his family in his hometown as the Knicks tied the game at halftime, 42-all.

It went downhill from there.

What’s next?

The Knicks will continue their road trip in Indianapolis on Saturday with a rematch against the Indiana Pacers.

The Knicks hope to bounce back and avenge their 121-107 season-opening loss at the hands of the Pacers.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Paige VanZant has her Bare Knuckle FC debut set

Paige VanZant

The anticipated Bare Knuckle FC debut of Paige VanZant is set. VanZant announced today on her official Instagram that she had signed the contract to make her debut on February 5th. She will be taking on Britain Hart (1-2) in her BKFC debut.

Back in July after UFC 251, VanZant stated that she was going to explore her free agency. The anticipation was that VanZant would ultimately sign with Bellator where her husband, Austin Vanderford, fights.

However, PVZ through everyone a curveball when it was announced that she was signing an exclusive deal with Bare Knuckle FC. The contract she signed was a four-fight deal that was valued well over one million dollars.

The contract with Bare Knuckle FC is said to also have incentives built in for VanZant would could raise the value of the deal. It was a bold move for BKFC who is trying to bring in more mainstream viewers. A smart business decision bringing in someone like PVZ.

PVZ in Bare Knuckle FC

To be completely honest, I really don’t know what to expect from Paige VanZant in Bare Knuckle FC. When she was competing in the octagon she had decent moments on the feet. However, it’s a big stretch to say she’s a proficient boxer.

Granted she’s just been training her boxing for months after signing the deal with Bare Knuckle FC. Call me crazy, but I’m slightly intrigued to see what happens on February 5th. Her opponent is already well experienced in this field.

Hart has fought three times in BKFC, but she’s also fought 11 times in a professional boxing ring. She is very experienced when it comes to boxing and has much more pure boxing experience than Paige VanZant.

You have to imagine that BKFC is hoping and praying that their investment in VanZant pays off on February 5th. If she comes out and loses right away, it’s not going to be a good look one fight into that megadeal.

20 names in New York sports that made 2020 tolerable

In 2020, we learned just how small sports were on the grand scale. Even so, these New Yorkers brought hope and joy to the beleaguered area.

Ah, 2020…we knew ye too well.

“Auld Lang Syne” will hit a little differently this New Year’s Eve, as the country and the world entire prepares to bid farewell to one of the most brutal 366-day cycles in recent memory. The year even took away sports at one point in time, which might’ve almost been seen as a merciful act considering the modern endeavors of New York sports. Metropolitan athletics have consistently fallen far short of their inflated expectations. Save for the New York Islanders’ surprise trip to the NHL’s Eastern Conference finals, each of New York’s teams either endured early postseason exits or missed out entirely.

Yet, there were several names in the sports world, before and after the period of pause and reflection, that gave the metropolitan area hope in this brutal season. ESM bids farewell with 20 legends…

Josh Allen

So brutal were metropolitan affiars this season that we had to turn to our friends in Western New York. But, unless you’re a Jets who has two annual meetings with Allen to dread for the foreseeable future, it’s hard not to appreciate what Allen has done for the Bills’ franchise, defying draft day expectations out of Wyoming and playing a vital role in ending their 17-year playoff drought and turning them into Super Bowl contenders. Entering Sunday’s regular season final against Miami (1 p.m. ET, CBS), Allen has broken Jim Kelly’s record for most touchdown passes in a single season of Bills football (34) and is within striking distance of Drew Bledsoe’s yardage record of the same variety. Allen has also taken home six Offensive Player of the Week Awards in his career (four this season), second only to the ten earned by the aforementioned Kelly.

Mathew Barzal

As the New York Islanders go through a period of both transition and prosperity…being one of the rare metropolitan teams to experience postseason success in 2020…Barzal has evolved into a face of the franchise, taking over from the Toronto-based John Tavares. Appropriately, it was Barzal that informed the hockey world that the Islanders were going to be a problem in the bubble, scoring the game-winning goal in the their 2-1 win over Washington in the Eastern Conference quarterfinal round, a tally that gave the Islanders a 3-0 lead in the series. Ironically, Barzal’s moment of glory came in Tavares’ current stomping grounds of Scotiabank Arena.

Mekhi Becton

The New York Jets have a lot of questions to answer once the calendar officially flips. But Becton, the Jets’ first-round choice (11th overall) out of Louisville is crossing one need off their offseason shopping list. Called upon to protect Sam Darnold’s blindside, Becton has become one of the most dominant young blockers in football, ranking at or near the top of several analytical rookie lists. The Jets aren’t quite sure who their quarterback is going come next September. They do know, however, that Becton will be serving as his security.

James Bradberry

Formerly under general manager Dave Gettleman’s watch in Carolina, Bradberry came to New York with relatively little fanfare. He has since gone on to become one of the biggest reasons why the Giants have a shot at anotherwise inexplicable playoff spot. Bradberry has done his part to make sure that Big Blue is at least well represented in the SportsCenter Top 10, making several acrobatic interceptions that led to his first Pro Bowl nomination.

Steve Cohen

A lot of adjustment was required to make it through 2020, but the Mets remained their same disappointing selves, tying with the defending champion Washington Nationals for last place in the NL East. But, thanks to new owner Cohen, there’s legitimate hope in the organization for the first time in ages. The Great Neck-born hedge fund manager has immediately endeared himself to fans with promises to use his surplus budget in free agency (which manifested early with the signing of James McCann), his willingness to clean house shortly after his arduous purchase was completed, and his lighthearted interactions with supporters on Twitter.

Gerrit Cole

The shortened seasons denied Yankees fans the full Cole experience in the early going, but it’s safe to say the newly minted $324 million man lived up to the hype. He saved the best for last, earning a 1.00 ERA over four starts in September and later struck out 13 without a walk in the Yankees’ Wild Card Series win over Cleveland. Such a feat had been accomplished since Tom Seaver’s endeavor in the 1973 NLCS.

Stefon Diggs

The trade for Diggs feels like it happened years ago, as do all the tweets and thoughtpieces that claim the Bills gave up too much for the former Minnesota Viking. But the Minneapolis Miracle worker has made the four-pick exchange worth it, even erasing the fact that the Bills missed out on rookie sensation Justin Jefferson. Like Allen, Diggs is rewriting the Bills’ record book, breaking Eric Moulds’ former marks for single-season for receptions (120) and yardage (1,459). Both of tallies lead the NFL entering the final week of the regular season.

Kevin Durant

Brooklyn Nets fans received a bit of a special Christmas gift this year, as they were finally treated to Kevin Durant’s debut in black and white. Teamed up with Kyrie Irving, the ten-time All-Star hasn’t lost a step, putting 28.3 points and 5.8 rebounds over his first four games. Durant apparently saved the best for first, torching his former compatriots from Golden State for 22 points on opening night before scoring 29 in a Christmas win over Boston.

Sabrina Ionescu

The draft lottery has turned into a cruel custom for the blue and orange hardwood representatives in New York, but the Liberty hit the jackpot with the drafting of Ionescu in April. The city didn’t get the full Ionescu treatment in her rookie season, with an ankle injury limiting her metropolitan antics to three games. But the Oregon alumna is on pace to be a true face of women’s sports in the area, with her jersey sales ranking fourth in the WNBA this season. Ionescu gave her new Brooklyn fanbase something to be excited about before fate stepped in, scoring 33 points in only her second career contest.

Kyrie Irving

Irving’s 2020 heroics likewise required patience. He partook in only 20 games during the shortened 2019-20 campaign (none of them during the Nets’ endeavor in Disney World) but managed to drop 54 points (on 19-of-23 shooting from the field) in a January win over Chicago. Irving likewise emerged as one of the most vocal voices in social change alongside his basketball brothers and sisters. He was more than willing to carry on his basketball antics on the court once he was ready to get rolling again, torching the Celtics for 37 points on Christmas.

Jazmine Jones

Perhaps no one defined the 2020 New York Liberty sense of resiliency and development better than Jones. Bookending the first round of the 2020 WNBA Draft with Ionescu, Jones took full advantage of relatively consequence-free basketball, making herself essential when the Liberty’s plethora of veterans potentially return in 2021. The Louisville alumna took over point guard duties after Ionescu went down, resuming a role she last played during her high school days at Florida A&M University’s Developmental Research School. She put up 10.8 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 1.4 steals per game, earning a spot on the league’s official all-rookie team.

Brock Nelson

Signer of a six-year deal to remain an Islander before the season started, Nelson became one of the team’s most reliable and clutch performers during their run to the conference finals. He scored three game-winning goals and finished second on the team in postseason points with 18.

New York Guardians Defense

The second attempt at XFL feels like an endeavor from years ago, but briefly took over the February calendar with a slate that wound up lasting five games. It allowed MetLife Stadium to enjoy at least some form of victorious football, as the local Guardians won each of their two games at the venue. Their defense was particularly strong, as Cavon Walker led the league in sacks (4.5) and six different defenders earned at least one interception.

Artemi Panarin

If there was ever a year to not take risks, 2020 was certainly at, or at least near, the top of the list. Despite Panarin’s many talents, many saw the Rangers’ seven-year, $81.5 million deal with the former Blue Jacket (a smaller price tag after Panarin spurned the Islanders) as too much dedication to a single player. But Panarin lived up to the massive deal, finishing off the shortened season with a career-best 95 points (good for a third-place tie on the NHL ledger).

Logan Ryan

As a Rutgers alum, New Jersey native, and the man who took Tom Brady’s final New England throw back for a touchdown, Ryan seemed destined for a metropolitan collaboration. The Giants took the plunge shortly before the season began, and Ryan has rewarded them with a strong showing that has included good coverage, 91 tackles, and an interception that clinched the season sweep against Washington (which will come up big if the two sides tie for the NFC lead after Sunday). It has been an emotional season for Ryan, whose wife Ashley endured an ectopic pregnancy. Ryan later inked a three-year deal to stay with the Giants on Christmas Day.

Kailen Sheridan

The National Women’s Soccer League was the first North American team sports league to make its return this summer, staging its annual Challenge Cup festivities in Utah. Sky Blue FC, their debut season at Red Bull Arena pushed back due to obvious reasons, had struggled in recent years but put on a strong showing with a fourth-place finish. Sheridan was the driving force behind the effort, winning the tournament’s Golden Glove award to the tune of three shutouts. Sky Blue also had a respectable showing in the NWSL’s fall showcase, earning a matching fourth-place mark.

Tom Thibodeau

Wishing someone association with the James Dolan-owned sounds like a punishment one would avoid giving their worst enemy…at least their worst hardwood enemy. Thibodeau, however, returns to the ranks of head coaching to face what’s his toughest challenge yet. But, unlike his predecessors, it appears Thibodeau has a plan for the Knicks moving forward, seeking to change the culture and build a team-centered atmosphere. So far, it’s played in the Knicks’ favor. The team has played competitively in the infantile stages of the season, sitting at 2-2 after the first four games (including a dominant win over Giannis Antetokounmpo and Milwaukee). They’ll have chance to end the season on the right note on Friday night against Toronto (7:30 p.m. ET, MSG).

Semyon Varlamov

The jokes against Islander goaltending officially ended, or were at least put on hold, through Varlamov’s efforts. He came up with several big saves during the playoff trek and was one of only six goalies inside the Canada bubbles to record multiple shutouts. His 2.14 goals against average was also fourth amongst goalies with at least 10 playoff starts.

Quinnen Williams

Williams retook control of the narrative surrounding his career, as many felt he was destined to be a bust after struggling in his rookie season (and with Pro Bowler Josh Allen going shortly after him). But Williams responded with a stellar sophomore season, leading all interior defensive linemen in both traditional and analytical categories as one of the most consistent backfield invaders in the league.

Mika Zibanejad

Zibanejad is perhaps responsible for the most dominant one-man effort of the 2020 sports season, tallying a jaw-dropping five goals, including the overtime winner in a March win over the Capitals. The yield from one of the biggest robberies in New York sports memory (the biggest loss being Derick Brassard to Ottawa in the trade), Zibanejad again put up his best numbers despite a shutdown, scoring 41 goals (fifth in the league) in 57 games.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

UFC: Jon Jones says he’s never returning to light heavyweight

UFC, Jon Jones

Earlier this year, Jon Jones (26-1, 1 NC) vacated his UFC light heavyweight championship. Jones decided to vacate the title to pursue a new challenge in the heavyweight division. He first captured the light heavyweight title in 2011.

Jon Jones might be the greatest fighter the UFC has ever seen. Jones has never truly lost inside the octagon. His lone loss is a disqualification loss to Matt Hamill in a fight that he was completely dominating.

Outside of that, he’s rarely been challenged over the last 12 years in the UFC. In reality, Jon Jones has been the only opponent that has been detrimental to Jon Jones. Jones’ issues outside the cage have cost him time in his career and his title a couple of times.

Nevertheless, Jones has overcome those issues and had a great stretch over the last two years in the octagon. All starting at UFC 232 when he finished Alexander Gustafsson to regain the light heavyweight title.

After that he defeated Anthony Smith, Thiago Santos, and Dominick Reyes by decision. Not the most dominant performances, but in the end, they show up as successful UFC title defenses for Jones.

Jones has been so dominant that he appeared bored at times when fighting. In my opinion, this boredom or lack of fear caused for some bad performances. Still, he’s come through all of his fights with his hand raised.

UFC Future for Jones

Jon Jones is in the process of building up his body for his next chapter in the UFC‘s heavyweight division. In an exclusive interview with Bleacher Report, Jones discussed the decision to move to heavyweight and vacate the light heavyweight title.

“The reason why I decided to vacate the light heavyweight belt and not hang onto it is that I knew my move to heavyweight was going to take a really long time. I have no intentions of ever going back to light heavyweight,” Jones said.

Jones also said that the current plan is for him to face the winner of the UFC heavyweight title fight between Stipe Miocic (20-3) and Francis Ngannou (15-3). Those two are expected to fight in March with Jones fighting the winner in the summer or fall.

Jones also talked about the challenge of both saying, “I’ll be ready for either of them. Both fights are extremely challenging. Stipe, he’s the greatest heavyweight of all time. And then Francis is just a freak when it comes to his knockout power, and he’s improving constantly.”

He then added, “Both fights are gigantic challenges, but that’s what I’m here for in this stage of my career. Go big and see what I’ve got.” Jon Jones understands that capturing the UFC heavyweight title would cement him as the greatest to ever do it.

He said he wants to capture the title then defend it two or three times before retiring from the UFC. Outside of the heavyweight title is of course the potential matchup with rival Israel Adesanya (20-0).

Adesanya is moving up to fight Jan Blachowicz (27-8) for the light heavyweight title at UFC 259. If Adesanya wins and Jones wins, the UFC might try to make a superfight. It would be the first time a two-division champion would take on another champion.

State of the Bellator light heavyweight division entering 2021

Bellator MMA had a very big year in 2020. Despite having to shutdown for a few months due to the pandemic, they accomplished some great things. From the first major MMA event in France to transitioning to CBS Sports Network. 

It’s been a very good year for Bellator. However, despite those accomplishments, it’s the additions that Bellator has made in 2020 that really stand out to me. Specifically the additions to the light heavyweight division.

The UFC parted ways with three top level fighters in 2020. Those fighters being Corey Anderson (14-5), Yoel Romero (13-5), and Anthony “Rumble” Johnson (22-6). Bellator pounced on those three immediately and scooped them up.

Anderson asked for his release earlier this year after he felt he wasn’t getting paid enough. Once released, Bellator signed him to a deal where he was making more. Yoel Romero was recently cut from the UFC. However, he fought for the middleweight title in his last fight.

Once on the market, Bellator signed him for the light heavyweight division. Rumble Johnson’s UFC return was much anticipated, but the two sides decided it would be best to part ways. Once on the market, Bellator signed Rumble as well.

Bellator’s Light Heavyweight Division in 2021

When the year started, Ryan Bader (27-6, 1 NC) held both the Bellator light heavyweight and heavyweight titles. However, he hadn’t defended his light heavyweight title since 2017. That changed at Bellator 244 when he fought Vadim Nemkov (12-2).

While there was a lot of hype surrounding Nemkov, many believed it would be another win for Bader. However, Nemkov proved the doubters wrong by stopping Bader in the second round. Nemkov is now the light heavyweight king and he’s 5-0 in Bellator.

The next title defense isn’t clear for Nemkov. There’s talk of a potential rematch with Bader, but there is also talk of him facing either Phil Davis (22-5, 1 NC) or Corey Anderson. Davis is riding a three-fight winning streak and just defeated Lyoto Machida (26-10) in September.

Anderson made his Bellator debut in November when he smashed Melvin Manhoef at Bellator 251. In my opinion, Bader should fight at heavyweight next and let Nemkov take on either Anderson or Davis.

The fight everyone wants to see is the potential matchup between Romero and Rumble. In all honesty, it’s bigger than the champion Nemkov facing off against any of those top contenders I mentioned.

Rumble – Romero is one of the biggest matchups Bellator could make in 2021. There have been whispers of a potential Grand Prix, but nothing is official. What we do know is that the light heavyweight division is stacked. Nemkov is going to have his hands full this upcoming year.

2021 UFC Breakthrough Candidates

UFC, Dana White

This past year, the UFC has seen a few fighters come out of no where and become household names. The two names that stick out the most are Kevin Holland (21-5) and Khamzat Chimaev (9-0).

Holland was already with the UFC when the year got started. However, Holland was just 3-2 in his first five fights. He came into 2020 coming off of a submission loss to Brendan Allen, but he showed in 2020 how special he could be.

Holland went a perfect 5-0 in 2020 with four finishes including one over Jacare Souza at UFC 256. Kevin Holland was a very popular pick for fighter of the year and he was our breakout fighter of the year.

Nobody really knew who Khamzat Chimaev was when 2020 started. There was some hype surrounding him in the Middle East, but to the mainstream public, nobody really knew who he was.

Chimaev made his UFC debut on Fight Island in July. He ended up fighting twice in ten days scoring two finishes in extremely dominant fashion. Chimaev followed those performances up with a knockout over Gerald Meerschaert in 17 seconds in September.

Khamzat Chimaev has gone from unknown to a superstar in just a few months. He was supposed to face Leon Edwards in January, but that fight has been pushed back due to Chimaev’s recovery since coming down with COVID-19.

2021 UFC Breakthrough Prospects

The mixed martial arts world and even the mainstream public knows Khamzat Chimaev and Kevin Holland after 2020. So who are some candidates for breakthrough fighters in the UFC as we enter 2021?

One of the guys I have my eyes on is bantamweight, Jack Shore (13-0). The bantamweight from Wales has fought twice in the UFC and he’s scored two submissions wins. Out of his 13 professional wins, only one has gone to the scorecards.

He last fought back in July on Fight Island. That night, Shore took on Aaron Phillips and he used his superior grappling to dominate the fight. Shore has all the makings for a contender who can breakthrough for the UFC in 2021.

The next guy I have my eyes on is another fighter from Wales. This one is the two-division Cage Warriors champion, Mason Jones (10-0). Jones is scheduled to make his UFC debut on January 20th against Mike Davis (8-2).

There is a lot of hype surrounding Mason Jones. The last two-division Cage Warriors champion to breakthrough in UFC is Conor McGregor. Thus, you can see why a lot of people are interested in this young man.

Jones is just 25 years old, but he is incredibly talented. The UFC is not giving him a layup in his first fight however. Mike Davis is a very tough opponent who’s only two losses have come to Gilbert Burns and Sodiq Yusuff.

Ranked Fighters to Watch

While Jones and Shore are my two prospects that I’m watching, there are a couple of more established fighters I have my eyes on as we enter 2021. One of those fighters being Jimmy Crute (12-1).

The Australian light heavyweight is currently ranked 12th in the UFC’s light heavyweight division. He has dynamite in his hands and he’s very good on the ground. He bounced back from his first loss in 2019 to score two first round finishes in 2020.

Crute is just 24 years old and looks incredibly gifted. I would not be shocked to see Crute inching towards the top five once 2021 is over. The other fighter I have my eyes on is Diego Ferreira (17-2).

Okay, I’ll admit it, Ferreira is 35 years old and he’s been with the UFC for a long time. He doesn’t really fit in with the other three fighters I’ve listed so far. However, I have him on this list for a reason.

Ferreira is a guy that seems to get lost when folks talk about the lightweight division. The most exciting division in the sport is incredibly stacked. It’s so stacked that people forget that Ferreira is on a six-fight winning streak in the UFC.

He last fought in January and submitted Anthony Pettis in the second round. Ferreira is taking on Beneil Dariush (19-4-1) in February where he will look to avenge his first career loss. Outside of Dariush, the only man to defeat Ferreira inside the octagon is Dustin Poirier.

These are four fighters that I truly believe can establish themselves in the UFC this year. When I say establish, I mean become household names to not just the MMA world, but the general public. Keep your eyes on these fighters in 2021.

New York Islanders: Why the Islanders missed out on top free agents

Mathew Barzal, New York Islanders

The New York Islanders yet again missed out on another top tier free agent for what seems like the 20th year in a row. This time, it’s not because of poor team success or lack of an actual home stadium. No, this time there was a different reason for why the Isles couldn’t sign a top guy.

Mike Hoffman would’ve helped out the Islanders scoring situation tremendously. The same goes for Anthony Duclair and even Andreas Athanasiou. But, there’s no reason to look at the past and say who the Isles should’ve signed. There is one key reason why the Islanders couldn’t sign anyone of importance. It was a waiting game, and the season was announced before a key person was signed.

Mat Barzal

The Islanders couldn’t make a single move until their top guy actually re-signed. And as everyone knows, Mat Barzal still doesn’t have a contract. The Islanders weren’t going to make a move that took up a bunch of cap space until Barzal signed.

I’ve seen a bunch of people call for Lou Lamoriello’s head because he couldn’t sign Duclair for $1 million dollars. The Islanders aren’t loaded with cap space, every dollar counts for this team. The Isles only have around $9.5 million in cap space left, and their franchise guy hasn’t even signed yet.

Also, they still have deals for Matt Martin, Corey Schneider, and Andy Greene that still have to be made official. So, it’s not like the Islanders can just sign anyone they feel like. This isn’t NHL 21 connected franchise mode, there’s no option to play without a salary cap.

New York Knicks: Tom Thibodeau’s culture change seemed crazy at first, but it’s working

New York Knicks, Tom Thibodeau

The New York Knicks might only be 2-2 on this season, but a culture change is noticeable. New head coach Tom Thibodeau has entirely overhauled the mentality within the organization, implementing a win-now strategy that has brought the best out of a group of players that doesn’t seem to fit together.

Ultimately, they were puzzle pieces that hadn’t yet been formulated into a complete puzzle, but Thibodeau is slowly piecing things together and seeing the fruits of his labor. Over the past two games, the Knicks have beaten strong teams in the Milwaukee Bucks and Cleveland Cavaliers, and they are gearing up to face off against another formidable opponent in the Toronto Raptors.

The New York Knicks are finally getting the most out of their players:

So far this season, power forward Julius Randle has led the group in points, averaging 24.8 points per game, 10.5 rebounds, but has turned the ball over quite a lot with 5.0 per contest. Cutting down on his turnovers will allow the Knicks to retain the ball and open up more shots, but that number indicates a change mentality.

Thibodeau wants to spread the floor and open up clean shots for his players, and Randle is passing the ball more now than he ever has. Randle is averaging 7.5 assists per game, which leads the team by a large margin. Only the Elfrid Payton is behind him with 4.5 assists, attesting to Randle’s change in mentality and fit into this Thibodeau’s scheme.

“There is a mentality shift,’’ said one NBA executive who has spoken to the Knicks’ brass, per the NY Post. “Thibs wants to win every game and he’s selling that to the players and they are buying into it so far.’’

Even young Kevin Knox has noticed a change, considering he has seen several coaches over the past few seasons since joining New York.

“He’s really been teaching, from Day 1, getting to the basket, making the right reads and kicking out,’’ Kevin Knox said. “You got a layup or dunk, you finish but if the defense collapses, make the right read and share the game. That’s why a lot of guys are getting open shots.’’

“We’re coming off two good wins,’’ Knox said. “Coach Thibs really has us playing hard defensively, offensively, sharing the ball. I think we’re looking good and we want to keep the pace going and playing together.’’

For Thibodeau, it is all about the defense, and the Knicks showed off that part of their game, limiting an offensively stout Cleveland team to just 86 points this week.

“Coach demands for every player to go out and play the right way,’’ Reggie Bullock said. “I think he let that be known from Day 1 in camp that we’re not going to force shots. We’re going to share the ball, As long as you’re playing hard on offense, on defense, moving the ball, every player on this team is going to get a chance.”

It’s all about team basketball for Thibodeau, playing off one another and opening up shots. Nobody holds onto the ball too long, waiting until the defense collapses to kick it out to the wings. The system has worked well so far, and the Knicks are looking to build on their momentum against a tough Toronto team, which would hand them their third win of the season and really prove to the rest of the NBA that they are no joke.

Josh Ho-Sang deserved one final chance with the Islanders

The amount of chances the Islanders have given Josh Ho-Sang is many.

This upcoming season — and the training camp which begins on Sunday — was set to be his possible final shot at being a part of the organization for the future. That all seems to be gone after news broke yesterday that the Isles had decided to not to invite Ho-Sang to camp.

The shocking development, first reported by The Athletic’s Arthur Staple, was then confirmed by the New York Post’s Mollie Walker.

Ho-Sang, who had been qualified by the Isles, and then agreed to a one-year, two-way deal back in October is another reason that left many thinking something is amiss. Add to that, he hadn’t made a peep since being signed and it seemed like things were finally on the straight and narrow.

Guess not.

And it does stink and Islanders fans have every right to think the treatment of the 24-year-old might be uncalled for this time around as compared to some of the past drama between the player and team.

Ho-Sang it felt might have finally gotten the message once a deal was struck. He made an impassioned statement then through his new agent saying “he was ready to give everything he has to earn a spot in the National Hockey League” and that “conversations with the Islanders in furtherance of this deal were strong”.

What’s also bothersome is that Ho-Sang was set to get a fair shake at making the team. With Derick Brassard off to Arizona, a third-line winger spot was going to be up for grabs. The competition between he and almost up to six other forwards was going to be one of the bigger storylines once camp was underway. Now we’ll just have to wait to see if Ho-Sang will play even in the AHL for that matter. It was said yesterday that he could still participate in Bridgeport’s camp which begins in late January.

Ho-Sang and his up-and-down relationship with the Isles has been well documented, but this latest chapter in the saga might be what calls for the two sides to finally part ways.

Maybe Islanders g.m. Lou Lamoriello sheds light on the situation when he meets with the media later this afternoon. It’s not likely though as trying to get anything out of Lamoriello is met with immediate silence. And this situation in particular, with how it’s been played out publicly or privately, just seems to always have a negative feel to it.

Ho-Sang’s got the skill and the talent to be in the NHL. But things seem to be back to square one again.

Even with that aspect, Ho-Sang should have been afforded this last opportunity to be an Islander despite already being given second and third chances.

Congrats goes out in order to Austin Czarnik and his wife Rachel on the birth of their daughter Colette. Czarnik, 27, signed on with the Isles in free agency and was expected to be one of the forwards who will be fighting for that third line role.

Ray Ferraro had a great quote during the Russia-Sweden game last night. Asked by his broadcast partner about dressing rooms — as it attained to what the kids in the tournament were dealing with — the TSN analyst said of his time in the Islander room: “Oh I mean it was a closet. But they won four Stanley Cups in it.”

Scott Malkin and Jon Ledecky now own the Islanders completely after buying the remaining 15% of the stake in the franchise which belonged to the late Charles Wang and his family.

Said Ledecky: “Charles B. Wang was a remarkable man who achieved much and is greatly missed. He loved Long Island and stepped in to keep the Islanders where they belong. Charles believed in this franchise and always wanted what was best for the team’s passionate fan base.

His vision for the Islanders will be fulfilled next season with the opening of UBS Arena at Belmont Park. This permanent home for the team will celebrate the Wang family’s 20 years of commitment to the New York Islanders and will define Charles B. Wang’s legacy as a valued steward of this proud franchise.”