UFC books Robert Whittaker – Paulo Costa

The UFC has finalized a massive fight in their middleweight division this evening. First reported by Sherdog, the promotion has booked a headliner between former middleweight champion, Robert Whittaker (22-5), and Paulo Costa (13-1).

This UFC main event will take place on April 17th. For the last month or two, this fight was being rumored. The current middleweight champion, Israel Adesanya (20-0), is moving up to challenge for the light heavyweight championship at UFC 259.

Robert Whittaker was due for a rematch against Adesanya. Whittaker went 2-0 in 2020 and the two guys he beat were supposed to get title shots had they beaten Whittaker. However, Whittaker messed up those plans.

Bobby Knuckles has only lost once in the last six years in the middleweight division. That one loss has come to Israel Adesanya. If there’s anyone that deserves a rematch, it’s Robert Whittaker. However, Dana White recently said that Whittaker would have to fight again before getting that UFC title shot.

Big UFC Middleweight Battle

That is where Borrachinha enters the picture. Paulo Costa is coming off of a loss to Israel Adesanya back at UFC 253. Costa was the unbeaten challenger who many felt would push Adesanya to the limits.

However, Costa had a really tough time getting going against Adesanya. Adesanya brutalized him with leg kicks and shots from the outside. Eventually, the UFC champion caught Costa and put him down for good in the second round.

Costa got right back in the gym after the fight and he’s been making improvements. His team has been calling for a shot at Whittaker with Adesanya moving up for now and they got their wish.

However, originally Costa’s management wanted this fight to be for the interim UFC middleweight title. Dana White said recently that there would be no interim title despite the fact that Adesanya is moving up.

As of now, the UFC’s plan is for Adesanya to face the winner later in the year. Adesanya has made it clear that he plans to return to middleweight after capturing a second title. One of these two killers will be waiting for him upon his return.

New York Knicks: Are rookie Obi Toppin’s struggles temporary?

New York Knicks, Obi Toppin

New York Knicks’ 8th overall selection Obi Toppin didn’t get the usual rookie offseason. No Summer League took place, and training camp was pushed back to December 2020. To make matters worst, Obi Toppin missed his first 10 out of 11 games this season. The athletic forward’s undesirably slow start early this season may very well be attributed simply to rust and inexperience.

Obi Toppin is struggling from three-point territory. The former Dayton star is shooting .182% from the three-point line along with 4.4-points and 3.1-rebounds over his last 7 contests. The 6’9″ 220lbs high flying forward is getting used to his teammates and the NBA game by game.

Thibodeau and the rest of the Knicks coaching staff have been drilling defense into both rookies, Immanuel Quickley & Obi Toppin. The Brooklyn native’s work ethic is sincere, especially upon his arrival at training camp. Toppin scored a franchise-record on the conditioning test which mostly consisted of running drills. Knicks assistant coach Kenny Payne worked with the 22-year-old heavily in the gym early in the 2020 offseason.

Toppin’s best game this season came against a sluggish Boston Celtics team who was missing superstar Jayson Tatum. The Knicks rookie scored a season-high 12-points on 5-8 shooting to go along with 5-rebounds, and one blocked shot.

Overall, it will take time for Toppin to adjust. Fans worrying is definitely understandable, however, Toppin, along with many other rookies, are facing abnormal NBA transitions from the NCAA. Toppin also sat 10 games due to a strained calf. Once the game begins slowing down for Toppin, sky is the limit, especially when factoring in his natural physical abilities and basketball IQ.

New York Islanders: Analyzing last night’s Loss to the Devils

New York Islanders, Noah Dobson

The New York Islanders did it again, they made a backup goalie look like a franchise one. There were so many problems in last night’s performance. Problems such as not marking forwards, puck control, shots on net, rebound control, easy passing, and so much more. The Islanders have yet to play well when Ilya Sorokin is in between the pipes. Not a single goal for in Sorokin’s two starts this season. I only blame Sorokin for the second goal last night.

The rebound was way too juicy, should’ve been controlled or frozen. But, I also can put the blame on Casey Cizkas for overpursuing Nikita Gusev and Nick Leddy not marking his man. Hockey is a team sport, and a team can only win together. What were the strong points and weak points from last night’s loss?

Strong Points

Noah Dobson played very well last night apart from one small little pass on the power play. If Dobson and Pulock can get their chemistry down pat, the first line power play could become dangerous.

One thing I really like about Dobson’s game is the fact that he shoots so very often. Good things happen when the puck gets on the net, and Dobson understands that. Next, Adam Pelech had another sensational performance. Pelech could be a top 3 player in every game this season if he continues this type of play. Pelech is impressive and the glue that holds the team together. Finally, Ilya Sorokin played well if you forget the rebound on the second goal. Sorokin is pretty quick from pipe to pipe. I think with proper Islander play, Sorkin could shine.

Weak Points

Scott Wedgewood is not as good as the Islanders made him look. It’s just a fact, no hate on Wedgewood at all. The Islanders only challenged Wedgewood maybe twice last night. The only type of shots the Islanders took last night was chest shots and leg shots with no rebound guy.

Jordan Eberle and Casey Cizikas both missed empty-net goals. A professional Hockey team cannot score consistent goals if they aren’t grinding for them. The defense looked a bit lost last night. The forwards couldn’t control the puck well enough. Finally, the Islanders got beat at their own game. They got trapped in the neutral zone—a terrible performance in a shortened season where every point counts.

New York Giants could find desired receiving threat in second round of 2021 NFL Draft

new york giants, terrace marshall

The New York Giants will be in the market for a wide receiver this offseason. Both general manager Dave Gettleman and co-owner John Mara promised to add playmakers to the offense this “roster-building” season. New York will certainly be targeting a receiving threat in free agency or the draft if they are not able to sign a top-tier playmaker.

Many Giants fans are in consensus agreement that their team needs to spend their eleventh overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft on a wide receiver. While the position is certainly a great need for New York, they should not feel like it is first round or nothing at wide receiver. There are a few enticing receiving options for the Giants to consider in the second round.

Second-round wide receiver targets

There are a few talented wide receivers that the New York Giants could target in the second round of the draft. The 2021 is a class loaded with premium wide receiver talent. This gives the Giants more opportunities to find their playmaker.

There are three wide receivers who are seemingly locked in as top-fifteen draft picks; Devonta Smith, Jaylen Waddle, and Ja’Marr Chase. But outside of this big three, there are other exciting receiver prospects that could be available down the line.

Terrace Marshall Jr.

The LSU wide receiver getting all the buzz leading up to the draft is Ja’Marr Chase. Chase was dominant in 2019, totaling an insane  1,780 receiving yards with 20 receiving touchdowns. But Chase was also playing alongside another playmaker in the LSU receiving corpse.

Terrace Marshall Jr. played that complimentary, WR2 role in LSU’s offense in 2019. As the secondary receiver, Terrace recorded 671 yards and 13 touchdowns. Moving into a more expanded role in 2020, Marshall was legit, racking up 731 yards and 10 touchdowns in only 7 games.

Marshall averaged more than 100 receiving yards per game as the primary target in LSU’s 2020 offensive attack. Terrace has something that the receivers on the Giants’ roster do not have: size. New York’s tallest starting receiver is Darius Slayton at 6 feet 1 inch, 190 pounds. Terrace Marshall is 6 feet 3 inches, 200 pounds. Marshall could be a solid big-body outside wide receiver option for the Giants, something they are currently lacking in their offensive scheme.

According to Joe Marino of The Draft Network, Terrace Marshall Jr. “offers terrific size, physicality, hands, ball skills, run after catch ability, route-running skills, and overall technical-refinement.” Terrace would be a perfect fit for the Giants if they go wide receiver in round two.

Rondale Moore

The Giants could go a totally different route, though, at wide receiver in the second round. Rondale Moore is another excellent talent, but with a totally different playing style. Rather than being a big-bodied, physical wide receiver like Terrace Marshall Jr., Rondale Moore is an explosive, speedy option in round two.

Playing at Purdue for the last three years, Rondale is listed at only 5 feet 9 inches and has drawn comparisons to elite Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill. Moore has reportedly ran a 4.33s forty-yard dash at Minnesota, giving him elite speed downfield.

Moore is a tough sell in round one, though, for good reason. Rondale is explosive and has elite athletic traits. But he has not been able to stay healthy throughout his collegiate career. Moore has dealt with lingering lower-body injuries since 2018 and missed the majority of the 2019 season. In 2020, Rondale opted out, then back into the season, but played in only three games. There has not been a lot of clarification as to the reason why he missed so much time in 2020. Moore could be injured, or could be healthy. He is likely injured, but there has been no confirmation.

Rondale Moore is interesting because he has an extremely high, atrium ceiling. But he also has a terrifyingly low, Mariana Trench floor. Will Rondale Moore ever be able to stay healthy and reach his potential? That is the crucial question. He has all of the elite athletic traits that creative playcallers dream about. But Moore’s inability to stay on the field might keep teams from taking a chance on him early on in the 2021 NFL Draft.

Drafting Rondale Moore would add another element currently foreign to the Giants’ offense. The Giants do not have a guy with game-breaking speed like Moore possesses. He is truly electric and could change the way New York’s offense attacks if they decide to take a chance on this risky round two prospect.

The New York Rangers will not have Filip Chytil for Tuesday night’s game

Filip Chytil, New York Rangers

The New York Rangers have confirmed that Filip Chytil will not play Tuesday against the Buffalo Sabres. The Rangers are reporting that Chytil returned to New York from Pittsburgh to be evaluated by team doctors.

Chytil collided with the Pens’ Evan Rodrigues in the second period. He tried to continue playing but left the ice for good after one shift.

It is not clear who will take his spot, but the most likely candidates are Brett Howden, Colin Blackwell, and Kevin Rooney. It will be a tough task as the third line of Chytil, Phil Di Giuseppe, and Kaapo Kakko has been the Rangers’ most consistent line so far.

Chytil has also improved his shot in the off-season to go along with packing on some muscle and improving his skating. The 21-year-old has played in 149 NHL games.

 

Report: MLBPA rejects proposal for expanded playoffs, universal DH

New York Yankees

According to reports, the MLBPA has rejected MLB’s proposal for a universal DH and expanded playoffs in 2021.

It’s not a complete surprise that the MLBPA rejected expanded playoffs, but it seemed that a universal DH was widely praised and would get approved. Both changes were first implemented in the shortened 2020 season.

If expanded playoffs were approved, the format from last season would remain the same. The top eight teams in each league would make it in, playing in a best-of-three Wild Card Series to advance to the DS. From there, the traditional playoff format would’ve continued.

The universal DH proposal was so pitchers would no longer have to hit, limiting injury risks and adding another competitive batter.

Having expanded playoffs and a universal DH may only stay out of play for one season. MLB’s CBA expires following the 2021 season, meaning serious negotiations between players and owners will occur next winter to avoid a lockout. Both expanded playoff and a universal DH could be included in the new CBA.

However, two rule changes from the 2020 season are expected to carry over into 2021. Seven-inning doubleheaders and the runner on second rule will likely stay at least one more season in Major League Baseball.

The goal of seven-inning doubleheaders is to reduce player fatigue throughout the season. By being on the field a little less, the proposal helps keep players fresher and makes the long day go faster. The runner on second rule is to start extra-innings with a runner on second base to speed up play. Whoever precedes the lead-off hitter in an inning will be the one starting on second base.

Like the universal DH and expanded playoffs, discussions on seven-inning doubleheaders and a runner on second will occur during the upcoming CBA negotiations.

New York Yankees: Yankees free up $8.15MM with Boston Trade

New York Yankees, Brian Cashman

The New York Yankees have freed up $8.15 million of luxury breathing room. They had dumped slumping reliever Adam Ottavino onto the Boston Red Sox in the team’s first trade since 2014. This is another move by the Yankees to improve the team. Last week they managed to re-sign DJ LeMahieu to a $15 million six-year deal. That freed up enough money to immediately sign two-time Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber for a one year deal worth $11 million.

Yesterday they traded for Pittsburgh Pirates starter Jameson Taillon. The Yankees sent Miguel Yajure, Roansy Contreras, Miakel Escotto, and Caanan Smith in the no-cash deal. Today, they have unloaded reliever Adam Ottavino to the Red Sox for cash or a player to be named later. Boston will receive Ottavino and minor league right-hander Frank German. German was a low-level minor league pitcher. The Yankees also sent $850K to the Red Sox. The move was basically a salary dump for the Yankees.

Moving Adam Ottavino seemed like a long shot after his poor year last when he admitted he had no idea why he was pitching poorly. But Yankees general manager Brian Cashman got the deal done with a team that badly needs bullpen help. The move also allows the Yankees to either trade or spend some money for either more staring enhancement or replacing Ottavino in the bullpen or both.

Earlier in the offseason, Yankee owner Hal Steinbrenner gave the front office a directive to stay below the luxury tax threshold of $210 million. Since then, Cashman had to wait it out with DJ LeMahieu negotiations seemingly going nowhere, or so we thought. Cashman worked his magic and got what was best for both parties. DJ got his future security, and the Yankees saved what many reported to be as much as $10 million annually. That allowed Cashman to finalize the deal with Corey Kluber immediately.

Now Cashman had done what most industry experts thought was near impossible, pushing Adam Ottavino last contract year off the books. Ottavino’s 5.89 ERA was his highest since debuting as a rookie with the Cardinals back in 2010, although fielding-independent metrics were more bullish on his work (3.52 FIP, 3.62 SIERA). Last season he was so bad toward the end of the season he was seldom used. The only time he was used in the postseason was for two-thirds of an inning when he gave up a run in the Rays’ loss.

Now New York Yankees fans can sit on the edge of their collective chairs and wait for Cashman’s next move. Will it be another starter or an arm or two for the bullpen?

New York Jets positional preview 2021: Quarterbacks

ESM opens its New York Jets offseason preview by pondering what they’ll do at the quarterback slot in 2021.

The Position: Quarterback
On the Roster: Sam Darnold, James Morgan
Free Agents: Joe Flacco
Reserve/Future: Mike White

When will green smoke arise from One Jets Drive?

The New York Jets are once again pondering its future at the franchise quarterback slot, as a potentially turbulent stretch awaits. Many still have hope in the potential of Sam Darnold, but new regimes often bring sweeping changes to NFL franchises. The primary quarterback start is often the first spot to undergo a makeover. New York is in the second full year of Joe Douglas’ tenure as general manager, while Robert Saleh is ready to succeed Adam Gase as the head coach.

It’s easy to dismiss the struggles of Darnold as being trapped in a situation far from his own doing. In his three years at the helm, Darnold has eeked out flashes of brilliance despite endless waves of turmoil and turnover. To put things in perspective, only a single Darnold target from Darnold’s rookie season of 2018 was on the Jets roster in this past season, and that one outlier (fellow 2018 draftee Chris Herndon) hasn’t matched the promise shown in his debut campaign. The blocking wall in front of Darnold has seen more names flipped than the departures board at Grand Central Terminal. Long-term options in each spot have appeared to present themselves through Denzel Mims and Mekhi Becton respectively but with so many attractive names through both free agency and the draft presenting themselves, the temptation to start over might prove too great. Darnold’s early misfortunes when it comes to injuries also may not work in his favor, as he has yet to play a full NFL season.

In his opening statements as Jets head coach, Saleh praised Darnold repeatedly, noting the difficulty in scouting him when his former compatriots came to New York for a September tilt earlier this season. But, nothing the gap between winter and training camp, Saleh did leave the door open to change.

“He’s got an unbelievable arm talent. There’s a reason why he was the number three pick in the draft. He’s fearless in the pocket, he’s got a natural throwing motion, he’s mobile, he’s extremely intelligent, and he’s tough as nails,” Saleh said in video provided by the Jets. “We’re just getting the (coaching) staff into the building, so there’s so many things that we have to do from an evaluation standpoint with regards to the entire roster, not just at quarterback. To give you that answer right now would not be fair.”

Also under contract for the Jets is fourth-round pick James Morgan, who did not dress in any games last season.

Free Agents-to-be

Joe Flacco

The former Super Bowl MVP did a respectable job in four starts in substitute duties, throwing for 848 yards and six touchdowns. His Total Quarterback Rating, calculated by ESPN, of 57.9 was his best since 2014.

While Flacco could be brought back as a veteran mentor and backup to Darnold or the new, younger franchise man, the former Super Bowl MVP hinted that he believes he can still be a consistent NFL starter.

“I obviously still believe that I’m a starting quarterback,” Flacco said in May, per Andy Vazquez. “You never know what three years down the line is going to look like, so I still have that confidence and I still have the want, the want to to do that. But at this moment, that’s not my role.”

Will They Draft?

It’s very possible, depending on how the free agency market shakes out. Falling out of the top spot of the draft no longer seems like a tragedy it was made out to be after the College Football Playoff, particularly during its Sugar Bowl leg. Ohio State thrower Justin Fields outplayed presumed top choice Trevor Lawrence en route to a 49-28 victory, leaving the first choosers in Jacksonville a big decision to make while the Jets can swoop in and take who’s left. Of course, if the Jets land one of the names below, drafting a quarterback would be null and void.

If the Jets do decide to stick with Darnold, it’s possible they could use one of their day two picks (owning an extra through the Jamal Adams trade with Seattle) on a quarterback to raise the heat on the incumbent. Options in a relatively deep class could include Kyle Trask and Mac Jones.

Veteran Possibilities

Deshaun Watson, Houston

Not even the chase for the Super Bowl could derail the hype around Watson and his potential next destination. Things hit a green fever pitch over the weekend when Watson reportedly declared that New York would be his ideal destination. Saleh celebrant Richard Sherman has done nothing to dispel the rumors, joining Cris Collinsworth’s podcast to encourage Watson to get to the metropolitan area. It speaks volumes that Watson, who has also reportedly expressed interest in working with Saleh, would be willing to come to a team that is potentially rebuilding.

Matthew Stafford, Detroit

Over the weekend, ESPN Adam Schefter reported that Stafford and the Lions appear headed toward a divorce. The Jets, again, have the cap space to work with a big contract like Stafford’s, but, like Watson, it wouldn’t be fair to subject him to the franchise the way it is now…there is no Calvin Johnson on this team, at least at the moment. But since the Jets have the assets to work with, it would almost be foolish to not consider the possibility.

Jacoby Brissett, Indianapolis 

Would the Jets be better off with a placeholder quarterback of sorts as they seek to regain their NFL footing? There are few better options than Brissett if they opted to go that route. Brissett faces a bit of a crossroads in his career, in that he could fight to regain the starting position with the Colts now that Phillip Rivers has retired, or seek a new opportunity elsewhere. He did a solid job stepping for Andrew Luck upon the latter’s sudden retirement and later developed a slight niche for coming in on short-yardage or deep-ball situations.

Outlook

It seems safe to assume that the Jets’ quarterback situation will be different going into the 2021 campaign, whether it’s at the top or in terms of understudies. If prior regime changes across the NFL are any indicator, it seems that the Jets will indeed move on from Darnold, with the only question being whether it comes through the draft or free agency.

Opting to find a new franchise man through the draft might be a conservative but far more affordable option. Adding a name like Deshaun Watson to New York sounds like a lot of fun and the Jets have plenty of assets through draft picks and cap space to negotiate with. But the fact of the matter is that the Jets have many, many holes to fill beyond the quarterback spot…which, in the eyes of some, may not need to be filled in the first place. If there’s little left to spend to fill the other holes, then a player like Watson or Matthew Stafford would be no better off than when they started.

To spend a majority of the offseason budget on a single big-ticket item wouldn’t be smart. There’s time, however, to make the situation more attractive to an incoming rookie quarterback by parceling those assets through building blocking help and more weaponry.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

After devastating loss at UFC 257, what’s next for Dan Hooker?

In the co-main event of UFC 257, Dan Hooker (20-10) got the opportunity to welcome Michael Chandler (22-5) to the promotion. Hooker had been stating in interviews that he wanted to break the UFC’s new toy.

However, that didn’t happen on Saturday night. Hooker never got the chance to really get into the fight. As soon as the fight started, Chandler pushed forward with a lot of pressure. Hooker circled on the outside, but he seemed a little tentative.

It appeared that he was just trying to gauge the timing and closing speed of the UFC newcomer. Hooker threw a couple of nice leg kicks one of which seemed to really get Michael Chandler’s attention.

However, right after that kick landed, the fight would come to a close. Chandler pushed forward with a straight right to the body and followed with a massive left hook that sent Hooker crashing to the canvas. Several follow up shots forced Marc Goddard to call a stop to the action.

What’s next after UFC 257?

This is a crushing loss for Dan Hooker and he showed it after the fight. Hooker threw his gloves down in the octagon and walked out of the cage extremely dejected. There hasn’t been a word from the Hooker camp since the fight.

Normally when a fighter lays his gloves in the octagon, it signals that the fighter is done. However, let’s just go with the assumption that he was upset and he still plans on competing in the UFC‘s lightweight division.

That said, what should come next for Hooker? Realistically, I think there are a couple of options out there. One fun option would be a fight with Tony Ferguson (25-5). Both men are currently on two-fight losing streaks to some of the best guys in the world.

It would be a do or die fight for both men which could make it a lot of fun. That said, if we want to look a little further down the division, a fight with someone like Kevin Lee (18-6) could make sense for Dan Hooker.

Lee is coming off of an injury, but he’s just 1-3 in his last four fights. This could be a good fight for either man to get back on track. I really hope we haven’t seen the last of The Hangman after Saturday night.

New York Yankees: Yankee outfielder options; Gardner, Pederson, or Puig?

yasiel puig, New York Yankees

The New York Yankees have made tremendous strides in the past week to improve the team for the 2021 season. They were finally able to re-sign batting champ DJ LeMahieu, sign two-time Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber and trade for pitcher Jameson Taillon. They may still sign arms to the bullpen. With Yankee veteran outfielder Brett Gardner not signed, there is much talk about adding another outfielder.

Although more is always better than less, this writer feels the Yankees have plenty of backup outfielders while understanding the outfielders’ injury record is not good. Stanton, Hicks, and Judge had missed parts of the last three seasons. However, along with Stanton, Mike Tauchman, and newly acquired Greg Allen, that makes three backups for Judge, Hicks, and Frazier. If they add to that, I feel it will be with Brett Gardner, more out of respect and loyalty than need.

Brett Gardner:

Nevertheless, let’s take a look at these options.  Brett Gardner is the only holdover from the 2009 World Series season. Kyle Higashioka was a Yankee then but was in the minors. Despite a career-low .223 batting average in ’20, Gardner’s excellent 16.5% walk rate (and .354 OB) still gave him a 108 OPS +, making him slightly above average and similar to the 103 OPS+ he put up from ’17-19. Gardner had a $10 million option with a $2.5 buyout feature, the Yankees declined. With Garder’s desire to play another year and the fan’s love of their veteran that plays so hard, the Yankees can come to deal if they truly want him back. He is still an above-average defender in both left and centerfield. Add to that Gardner would like to finish out his career with the Yankees.

Joc Pederson:

Probably the best left-hand hitter out there that the Yankees can afford is free agent Joc Pederson. The former Los Angeles Dodger destroys right-hand pitching and would be the perfect fit for Yankee Stadium’s short porch in right. He is not the defender that Gardner is, but his bat makes up for that. Against right-hand pitchers in 2020, he hit .382/.432/.559 in 37 plate appearances. If there is a problem, it’s that he can’t hit off lefties. Last year he batted .190 off lefties. That would be less of a problem with the Yankees as their right-heavy lineup seldom faces lefty pitchers. With an incentive-laden contract, the Yankees could probably land Pederson for $6 million on a one year contract. By the way, he is a Luke Voit look alike.

Yasiel Puig:

Puig might cost the New York Yankees more than they want to pay for someone that might be just a bench player.  Aaron Judge would have to have a serious injury and be away from the team for a long period to make Puig a strong need. Puig has a career .277 batting average with 132 home runs in seven years of play. The Cuban has just turned 30 years old. However, adding Puig would not provide a lefty bat to the lineup. Puig’s colorful personality would also be an interesting fit on the Yankees, who are generally regarded as a clean-cut organization for literal and metaphorical reasons. Still, that doesn’t preclude Puig from heading to the Bronx. After all, it’s not as if an interesting character or two haven’t donned pinstripes in the past.

Tommy LaStella:

One interesting possibility is Tommy LaStella, the former Angel and Athletics infielder. He would be backup for the New York Yankees to play any position in the infield should any of the Yankee infielders be injured or need a day off. Coming to the Yankees would be like a homecoming for the northern New Jersey native. Last year with the Angels and Athletics, he hit .281 with 5 home runs while striking out only 12 times in 228 plate appearances. In the postseason, he hit .273 in the wild card and .313 in the ALDS. While there are others available, these are my best four fits for the Yankees.