Bellator books Grand Prix final between Patricio Pitbull and AJ McKee

Patricio Pitbull Freire

The fight Bellator fans have been waiting for has been booked. MMA Fighting was the first to report this evening that the promotion has finalized the featherweight Grand Prix finale between the champion Patricio ‘Pitbull’ Freire (32-4) and AJ McKee (17-0).

The Bellator Grand Prix finals is set for July 30th. If you’re a die-hard Bellator fan, this is the dream fight you’ve been waiting on. AJ McKee is the single biggest threat to Patricio Pitbull’s reign over the featherweight division.

McKee is perfect in his professional career and he’s fought all 17 fights under the Bellator banner. He’s developing into the promotion’s next star and he has his eyes set on taking out the most decorated fighter in the promotion’s history.

What makes AJ McKee so special is how good he is wherever the fight goes. He’s great on the feet, but he’s electric on the mat. In his last performance, he pulled off the most unique submission I’ve seen in some time against Darrion Caldwell at Bellator 253.

It was McKee’s third straight finish and his fifth finish in his last five fights. He’s riding a ton of momentum heading into the Bellator Grand Prix finals. If anyone is going to take Pitbull’s title, it’s going to be McKee.

Tough test for the Bellator champion

That said, it’s going to be incredibly tough taking that title away from Patricio Pitbull. Pitbull is riding a seven-fight win streak and he’s finished his last two opponents in the first round. Patricio Pitbull is both the Bellator lightweight and featherweight champion.

The most decorated and accomplished fighter in Bellator history is Patricio Pitbull. He’s been fighting with the promotion since 2010 and he holds victories over the likes of Michael Chandler and Juan Archuleta.

Pitbull has 23 finishes over the course of his career. The last time we saw Pitbull was at Bellator 255. He took on Emmanuel Sanchez in a rematch from 2018. In 2018, Sanchez went the distance with Pitbull.

However, this year, he couldn’t even make it a round. Pitbull made a massive statement as he retained his title. He’s looked better than ever recently and he looks up to stopping the hype train of AJ McKee. These two fighters both look unstoppable right now and someone has to lose. I can’t wait for July 30th.

New York Giants: How Kadarius Toney pick influences Darius Slayton

New York Giants, Darius Slayton

The New York Giants are shaking things up at wide receiver this season. The team added both a new deep threat in Kenny Golladay and a promising draft pick in Kadarius Toney, and it’s certain that their on the field lineup at the position will look different compared to recent years.

For some of the existing players at receiver, that might be unsettling. After all, the newcomers are direct competition for the top performers from the last couple of seasons. However, head coach Joe Judge claims that the Giants aren’t planning to replace their current lineup of playmakers. At least, not yet.

Speaking to reporters after minicamp, Judge talked about the Giants drafting Kadarius Toney as well as how it will impact existing receiver Darius Slayton.

“I would say he’s a veteran player,” Judge said of Slayton. “He’s not in his first year, he’s got skin in the game right there. In terms of Darius, everyone is going to play to their strengths. Darius and Toney, will they be on the field at the same time, different packages, different positions at times, but I think everybody on the team affects the other by the way they work and how they produce.”

As Slayton and Toney are both coming into the season behind Golladay and likely Sterling Shepard on the depth chart, it looks like they’ll be in some kind of competition despite the insistence that they have different roles.

Judge also spoke about talking to Sterling Shepard, another player threatened by the addition of Toney. According to Judge, despite the headlines, the Giants also didn’t make the pick to replace Shepard.

“I thought it was necessary to talk to Shep specifically because when we drafted Toney the word in the press as he was reading those headlines was specifically he’s a slot receiver which, look, we are not bringing in someone to play one position. I thought it was relevant at the time to contact Shep out of respect for how he is with our program to communicate that with him,” Judge continued.

Clearing up misunderstandings like this is something that Judge claims to have done regularly – he also talked on the phone with Nate Solder after the Giants drafted Andrew Thomas. Though, the writing was still on the wall going forward and Thomas ended up taking over the starting role anyway as Solder opted out of the season.

At the end of the day, getting better isn’t an easy process for a team. For better players to come in, some players have to get displaced. That’s just the nature of the sport, and we have yet to see how that process is going to turn out for the Giants. It is, after all, inevitable for some players to lose their spot even if the coaches have the best of intentions.

Why the New York Giants are the perfect team to be featured on ‘Hard Knocks’ in 2021

New York Giants, Daniel Jones

The New York Giants are wrapping up one exciting offseason that has the fanbase feeling hopeful for the first time in a long time. There are many eye-catching storylines surrounding the new-look Giants entering 2021. For this reason, the Giants might be the perfect team to be featured on this year’s “Hard Knocks.”

There are specific criteria to meet in order for a team to be featured on “Hard Knocks.” Per The Swing of Things, the criteria are that no teams who were in the playoffs in the last two seasons, no teams with a first-year head coach, no teams which have been featured on “Hard Knocks” in the last 10 years will be eligible for “Hard Knocks.” The five teams meeting that criteria in 2021 are the New York Giants, the Denver Broncos, the Dallas Cowboys, the Carolina Panthers, and the Arizona Cardinals.

HBO’s “Hard Knocks” gives fans an exclusive look at what goes on behind closed doors in an NFL organization. The annual series has captured some exciting moments, like Jon Gruden’s return to coaching and Antonio Brown’s many antics of the 2019 offseason. The New York Giants are one of this year’s teams eligible to be featured on “Hard Knocks” and they might just be a perfect choice.

Joint-practices

One of the best scenes in “Hard Knocks” history came in 2015 when the Houston Texans were featured. That offseason, the Texans hosted the Washington Football Team in a joint practice during the preseason. HBO was able to capture an awesome moment of trash-talking and ankle-breaking between DeAndre Hopkins and DeAngelo Hall.

The New York Giants have scheduled two joint practices this season. They will practice with the Cleveland Browns and the New England Patriots. Both of these practices will be away from home for the Giants. Both of these practices have intriguing storylines attached to them.

For the Cleveland Browns practice, this could be an opportunity for Odell Beckham Jr. to interact with his former team on the show. The superstar wide receiver is coming off of a significant injury, just like his former teammate, Giants’ star running back Saquon Barkley. Maybe the show could capture a moment between these two catching up and discussing their shared injury experience. The Browns are also one of the more exciting, young teams in the NFL entering this season. Cleveland is looked at as a potential Super Bowl contender. These should be some exciting practices for the Giants and, if fans were able to get an exclusive look at them on HBO, the practices could create some quality television moments.

The practices with the New England Patriots will allow the show to focus on the Giants’ head coach Joe Judge. Last year, the Giants hired Joe Judge as the team’s new head coach. Coach Judge won the fanbase over almost instantaneously. He’s a fan-favorite personality that has brought a lot of excitement to the team and he alone would make the Giants a great choice for “Hard Knocks.” But the link between Joe Judge and the New England Patriots is what gives this joint practice some added intrigue. Before being hired as head coach of the Giants, Joe Judge worked on the New England Patriots coaching staff from 2012-2019. He is a disciple of the Bill Belichick coaching tree. Belichick, a former New York Giant himself, has spoken very highly of Joe Judge. Fans would love to see some scenes of the two coaches catching up and working together as members of different organizations.

Exciting new players

The Giants totally crushed the 2021 offseason. They landed the top wide receiver on the free agency market in Kenny Golladay. They also re-signed Leonard Williams and landed a stud cornerback in Adoree’ Jackson. Then, in the draft, the Giants added premier prospects in trade downs, landing Kadarius Toney and Azeez Ojulari in the first and second rounds.

In short, the Giants added a lot of exciting new players to the roster this offseason. This was a roster already young, exciting, and budding with talent. But now, the Giants have a legitimate playoff-contending roster built around a core of youthful players like Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley. Giants fans are excited to see this new talent hit the field and would eat up every opportunity to see them practice behind the scenes on a show like “Hard Knocks.”

Hard-nosed head coach and big personalities

Joe Judge has a big personality and is your quintessential hard-nosed, no-nonsense football coach. Much of his personality was adopted from the likes of Nick Saban and Bill Belichick, the two head coaches that Judge worked under throughout his career. But Judge’s blue-collar mentality has won over the hearts of Giants fans in the tri-state area. Judge’s ability to make and keep promises while shifting the culture of the team in a new and promising direction has fostered a new sense of hope around the team and its fans. Featuring Joe Judge on a show like “Hard Knocks” would be a great way to get a closer look at the 39-year-old head coach that will lead the Giants into a new era.

Judge’s hard-nosed personality would also benefit the Giants while there are cameras all over the place documenting their offseason. Those cameras could pose risks to the organization as NFL teams need to stay tight-lipped. However, Judge has made it clear that he prioritizes secrecy and would ensure that no sensitive information leaked to the masses via television.

There are other big personalities that would make the Giants’ “Hard Knocks” experience worthwhile. General manager Dave Gettleman is a character with a thick Bostonian accent and a plethora of funny catchphrases. Linebacker Blake Martinez is one of the best defensive players in the NFL and also one of the biggest Pokémon card-collecting influencers on the internet. Daniel Jones is of course an exciting young quarterback with a cool nickname, Danny Dimes, a solid sense of humor, and a knack for hitting the town and throwing back some brews with the boys.

There are plenty of big personalities and likable characters on the Giants at which fans would enjoy getting a close look. There might not be any divas like Antonio Brown on the Giants’ roster for HBO to focus on, but that’s a good thing. No distractions or negative attention. Rather, HBO could focus on the good men and women that make up the organization of the New York Giants as they enter the 2021 season with a ton of excitement and a promising future.

New York Jets sign former Jeff Ulbrich disciple Sharrod Neasman

New York Jets

The 29-year-old safety previously worked with the New York Jets’ incoming defensive coordinator during a shared stint in Atlanta.

The New York Jets announced the signing of former Atlanta Falcons free safety Sharrod Neasman on Thursday afternoon. They also placed undrafted offensive lineman Parker Ferguson on injured reserve in a corresponding move.

Neasman, 29, reunites with Jeff Ulbrich, the newly minted Jets defensive coordinator who held the same position in Atlanta last season. The Florida Atlantic alum joined the Falcons as an undrafted free agent in 2016 and wound up partaking in the team’s postseason run to Super Bowl LI. He wound up earning a special teams tackle in the historic loss to New England.

After two seasons with the Falcons, Neasman joined up with the New Orleans Saints during the 2018 offseason but did not make the team. Atlanta brought him back mid-season and he went on to post a career-best 44 tackles (two for a loss) and four pass breakups. Last season, Neasman earned the first two starts of his NFL career last season (subbing for an injured Ricardo Allen), as well as his first professional sack. In a coincidence that should delight all Jets fans, his first quarterback takedown came against Tom Brady.

At FAU, Neasman earned five interceptions over his latter two seasons, including one in a respectable effort against then-No. 8 Florida toward the end of the 2015 season.

In addition to his duties as a rotational safety, Neasman should also help contribute on special teams coverage teams. Bolstering the coverage has been a common theme in the Jets’ offseason newcomers, which also include Neasman’s fellow former NFC South competitor Justin Hardee.

To make room for Neasman on the 90-man roster, Ferguson was moved to the injured reserve. He earned All-Mountain West honors at the end of last season after a strong season at Air Force.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Bellator 260 Preview: Douglas Lima – Yaroslav Amosov

Tomorrow night in the headliner of Bellator 260, the welterweight title is on the line. Welterweight champion Douglas Lima (32-8) is back to defend his title against the undefeated top contender Yaroslav Amosov (25-0).

Lima is actually looking to bounce back after his last performance. The welterweight champion moved up to middleweight last October at Bellator 250 to challenge the middleweight champion Gegard Mousasi.

While Lima had his moments in that fight, he lost by unanimous decision. That loss snapped the three-fight win streak that Lima was on that led him to the Bellator welterweight championship. His last fight at welterweight came at Bellator 232 when he defeated Rory MacDonald.

Standing across from Lima tomorrow night is Yaroslav Amosov. Amosov has obviously been perfect for his entire professional career, but he’s really stood out since joining Bellator back in 2018.

Since making his debut with the promotion, Amosov has gone an impressive 6-0. In his last fight at Bellator 252 in November, Amosov took on the tough Logan Storley. It was a grueling back-and-forth fight, but ultimately Amosov walked away with a split decision and a welterweight title shot.

Bellator 260 Prediction

I’m so intrigued by this Bellator 260 main event and I’m expecting a very competitive fight. For Amosov, it’s really no secret as to what he’s going to do. I’m looking for Amosov to immediately pressure Lima when the fight starts.

If Amosov is going to become welterweight champion tomorrow night, it’s going to be through his grappling and activity. In Douglas Lima’s last fight, he was a bit too passive and it allowed Gegard Mousasi to get way out ahead on the scorecards.

If Lima wants to keep his title tomorrow night, he’s going to have to engage with Amosov. One big concern I have about Amosov is his cardio. We saw him completely exhausted at the end of his fight with Storley at Bellator 252.

That was only a three-round fight and if he gets that tired again, I think he’s going to be in massive trouble. I think the first half of this fight is going to favor Amosov, but I think Lima comes on strong late. My prediction is that Amosov will get too tired and Lima was score a championship round TKO to retain his Bellator crown.

Prediction: Douglas Lima by TKO – Round 4

Knicks FA watch: Chris Paul will get 3-yr, $60M if he opts out, per report

Chris Paul’s reported plan to opt-out of his current pact to seek a new multi-year deal in the $100 million range has been met with some pushback.

Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated reported on Thursday that some NBA executives believe the more realistic figure is way below that range.

“The Chris Paul player option — $44.2 million — will be interesting to watch. Execs I’ve talked to peg CP in the three-year, $60 million-ish range on a new deal. Does Paul go for the most guaranteed money? Or does he pick up the option and bet he has another All-Star season?,” Mannix wrote.

If this is true, then there’s no reason why the New York Knicks will not join the Paul’s sweepstakes this summer.

But everything is fluid at this point especially after the 36-year old Paul‘s Game 2 performance added another layer to his legendary ‘Point God’ status.

Unless the Phoenix Suns flame out, there’s a great chance Paul would stay in the desert.

ESPN Front Office Insider Bobby Marks weighed in and leaned on Paul staying in Phoenix.

“Opt-in and extend for another two seasons. That would be the best direction for him. He holds a ton of leverage over that organization,” Marks replied to Mannix’s report.

Paul has been perpetually linked to the Knicks ever since his former agent Leon Rose became the team’s president. It was widely reported that New York was one of his preferred destinations when Oklahoma City was shopping him in the offseason. But in the end, the Thunder opted for the Suns’ more desirable package.

Paul’s friend and former teammate Matt Barnes also intimated that the Suns’ guard would have preferred the full experience in New York.

But even with the Knicks’ surprising rise this season and their fans getting back to the Madison Square Garden, Marks believe the Suns have the upper hand if Paul opts out.

“He’s made $400M in his career. It’s all about the quality of life and winning. Phoenix has a clear advantage on both,” Marks added.

As this season and playoffs revealed, the Suns have the better roster makeup than the Knicks at this point. So the Suns would be too good to pass up for Paul especially if they overpay him.

But the Knicks’ roughly $50 million cap space can be Rose’s wildcard to convince Paul to come to New York.

Winning in New York would be more special than with a small market team.

If Paul agrees to a $20 million per, that will leave the Knicks more than enough to spend on another superstar to form their version of Big 3 with Julius Randle and a solid supporting cast led by RJ Barrett.

It will be an interesting summer if Paul opts out.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

First-place Mets are getting healthier and hotter at the right time

Other teams may have more games played, but for the New York Mets, they just reached the one-third mark of their season, which is 54 contests, last night in Baltimore, and they did it with a resounding 14-1 victory over the Orioles.

They did it behind another formidable outing by starter Taijuan Walker, who lowered his ERA all the way down to 2.07, and two homers by Kevin Pillar and another one from surprising outfielder Billy McKinney.

The Mets are 30-24, firmly entrenched in first place of the NL East division. They have been the leaders for 32 straight days, which considering the fact that they recently had up to 17 players on the injured list, is nothing short of impressive.

“It’s something that’s never really discussed, the fact that we’re in first place,” Pillar told MLB.com. “With everything that’s going on, it doesn’t necessarily feel like that all the time as far as feeling like we’re a first-place team. Our mindset and our confidence resembles that, but we’ve been tested. We’ve been pushed to the depths of our organization, and guys have just continued to come up and play well.”

The Mets keep welcoming back key pieces

Several of those 17 players have already returned, including Pillar and Walker themselves, Pete Alonso, and Seth Lugo. Others will follow soon, such as Luis Guillorme and Albert Almora Jr., while Jeff McNeil and Michael Conforto are a couple of weeks away. Noah Syndergaard and Carlos Carrasco remain without a timetable, and so do Brandon Nimmo and JD Davis.

But the Mets have relied on guys like McKinney, who came out of nowhere to shine in just a handful of games, to succeed recently.

“I’m just grateful for the opportunity to be here,” McKinney said. “Obviously, it’s on tough circumstances with guys going down — you never hope for that. But I’m just glad that I’m here. I’m trying to show what I can to the best of my abilities, and help the Mets win.”

“You couldn’t be any more proud,” manager Luis Rojas said. “Every single guy who’s put on the Mets [uniform] has just helped us along the way.”

Nick Leddy finally arrived for the Islanders in the playoffs last night

Everything about the Islanders’ series-clinching win over the Boston Bruins last night was perfect. From the charged-up atmosphere to how the game unfolded with the Islanders dominating the opposition at every turn.

And then there was d-man Nick Leddy’s game, which was perfect as well.

Leddy, who has yet to have a solid showing in the postseason thus far, was tremendous and made some very big defensive plays throughout the contest. He recorded an assist, 20:31 of ice time and three blocked shots.

“Ledds was really good, head coach Barry Trotz told the media following the win. “I thought he was really solid. He had a great play on the 2-on-1. He skated. I thought he was firm. When Nick is skating firm like that he’s a difference-maker. I can go up and down our lineup. We had a lot of great performances by a lot of great people tonight.”

This postseason up until Wednesday night had been a far cry from how the 30-year-old Leddy performed in the regular season. In the 56-game sprint, the defender registered 31 points — which was the most for an Islanders’ defenseman — all with having to adjust to pairing with a new defensive partner in Scott Mayfield. He and Mayfield’s optics weren’t pretty during the season, but both had still been quite effective going into the playoffs.

Once the first round against Pittsburgh began, something seemed off about the way Leddy looked. He wasn’t using his patented speed. He wasn’t being hard on the puck or the opposition. And he just looked worn down. That looked to be the case at points in this past series as well, especially when Charlie Coyle posterized him at the beginning of Game 5. There’s speculation — and there probably will still be until the Isles’ season is over — that something was ailing him.

But then you got a vintage Leddy performance last night. And you see again why he is one of those guys that has long been one of the most underrated pieces the Islanders have had the past five-plus years.

Heading into another heavy matchup against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Leddy’s speed and offensive ability will be crucial. Tampa rolls four lines just like the Islanders, plus they have some real game breakers in Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point. Then again, now that he’s got a truly good outing this postseason under his belt, maybe that confidence and swagger starts to show up again in Leddy’s game.

The Islanders and their fans were waiting for Leddy to finally make an impact this postseason. It finally came last night in the perfect spot in a perfect performance all around.

This second round series had a lot of dynamics that ended up favoring the Islanders. No more was that the case then how their trade deadline acquisitions panned out as opposed to the Bruins. Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac combined for seven points for the Isles in six games, including Palmieri scoring in three consecutive games. Taylor Hall on the other hand had just two points, one of them being an empty net goal in game one.

Isles fans had clamored for g.m. Lou Lamoriello to trade for Hall when captain Anders Lee went down in March. But in the moment, Lamoriello made the right choice and the Islanders have become an even more dangerous squad because of it.

 

 

Mets: Can David Peterson Figure Out How to Return to His Rookie Form?

New York Mets, David Peterson

The New York Mets starting pitching has carried them to first place to begin the season but has skipped a beat when David Peterson. After a stellar rookie season in 2020, Peterson has struggled mightily in his sophomore season in the big leagues. With an ERA over six, how do the Mets move forward with Peterson?

Peterson’s season is marked by inconsistency, but lately, he has been consistently bad. Over his last four starts, he has a 9.88 ERA, allowing 21 hits, 15 runs, and eight walks in just 13.2 innings pitched. When Peterson struggles, he cannot stop the bleeding, which has resulted in him pitching less than five innings in five of his 11 starts.

In 2020, Peterson found success by exclusively throwing his four-seam fastball and rarely throwing a sinker which hitters had success against. He threw the four-seamer 37.4% of the time, with hitters batting .164 and slugging just .262. Peterson used his sinker 15.8% of the time, and batters hit .368 with a .474 slugging percentage.

Pick One

This year the game plan has flipped back and forth between throwing a majority of sinkers or a majority of four-seamers. In his 7.1 innings, nine strikeout game against the Phillies, Peterson threw 47 four-seamers and 17 sinkers. During his ten strikeouts game against the Phillies, he threw 43 sinkers and just six four-seam fastballs. In Peterson’s bad starts, similar splits show he has not decided on the type of pitcher he wants to be at the big league level.

For example, Marcus Stroman is well-known for his tremendous sinker, but he can also feature a four-seam fastball in the low to mid-90s. Stroman throws his sinker 40.2% of the time while using his four-seamer 5% of the time. He picked his main pitch then saves the other fastball for a “change of pace” pitch. Peterson has compiled solid starts with both pitches as his number one, but he needs to pick one and work his other pitches off his primary fastball.

The Higher The Better

When Peterson works up in the strike zone, he finds more success. Batters are in the low .200’s up in the strike zone compared to way over .300 low in the zone. Pitching up with the four-seam fastball allows the 6’6″ Peterson to work his slider off the same plane and his changeup even lower. Even if Peterson commits to a primary fastball, the execution of his offspeed needs to improve. Peterson’s slider has a .648 slugging percentage against his put-away pitch. Too often, it is in the strike zone during counts where it should be thrown for a ball.

Despite the struggles, Peterson will get every opportunity to right his season. The Mets’ options are minimal on their 40-man roster. Sean Reid Foley and Yennsy Diaz have prior starting experience but have not been stretched out to take a rotation spot. Thomas Szapucki would be the best option the Mets have if they wanted to make a switch. Szapucki has a respectable 3.51 ERA in Triple-A, but his 1.58 WHIP and 1.8 HR/9 are why the Mets feel he is not ready to join the Mets rotation. Noah Syndergaard and Carlos Carrasco are nowhere near coming back, which leaves Peterson on his own to right the ship.

Aaron Pico looks to continue his rise to the top at Bellator 260

Tomorrow night on the main card of Bellator 260, Aaron Pico (7-3) will be making the walk for the 11th time in his professional career. Standing in his way is going to be the tough Aiden Lee (9-4).

Pico comes into the bout as Bellator‘s sixth ranked featherweight while Aiden Lee is just outside the top ten. Aaron Pico will be looking to pick up his fourth consecutive win which would match his longest winning streak of his career.

The last time we saw Pico was at Bellator 252 when he flatlined John de Jesus with a massive overhand right. It seems crazy that we are still only four years into the professional career of Aaron Pico and he’s still only 24 years old.

Bellator signed Pico before he had any professional fighting experience. Pico had been labeled as the future of MMA given his Olympic-Caliber wrestling and his skills in boxing. The promotion rushed him right in against Zach Freeman at Bellator 180 and Pico promptly lost in 24 seconds.

It was a serious back to reality moment for the top prospect. However, Pico would bounce back and win four straight before suffering back-to-back knockout losses. Those losses changed the career of Aaron Pico and made him reevaluate the way he was fighting in Bellator.

Bellator 260

Pico switched to training at Jackson-Wink full time and he changed the way he was fighting. In his losses, Pico was easily drawn into wars and seemed to fall in love with his boxing. Keep in mind, his top skill is his wrestling.

Over this three-fight win streak, Pico has gone back to his routes. He’s mixed in his wrestling which makes his hands look even better. The results have been three straight finishes and Pico is only a win or two away from challenging for a Bellator title.

Tomorrow night isn’t going to be easy for Pico. Aiden Lee has won back-to-back fights in Bellator after dropping his debut with the promotion. In nine professional wins, Lee has submitted five opponents and knocked out two.

This is going to be another tough test for Pico, but it’s one that I believe he will pass. I think the combination of speed, power, athleticism, and technique will win out here. Win or lose, Pico has never gone the distance and I don’t expect that trend to break at Bellator 260.

Prediction: Aaron Pico by TKO – Round 2