New York Yankees Recap: New York Yankees win the series over the Orioles 10-3

New York Yankees, Aaron Boone, jameson taillon

After two lopsided victories by both teams, the New York Yankees entered into the rubber game tonight to see who wins the series. The Yankees hoped they would be victorious with Jameson Taillon on the mound for the Yankees and Matt Harvey of the Orioles trying to put down the Yankees. The Yankees must win over the teams they should win over to be successful in the season. Tonight was a test of that theory. The Yankees ended up with a statement winning the game and the series 10-3.

Cedric Mullins led off by hitting a single to right field for his 13 games with a hit. Ramon Urias reached second of an E7 by Joey Gallo, Mullins went to third. Trey Mancini stuck out for a big out for Taillon. Ryan Mountcastle flew out to Judge. Judge threw in but not in time as the O’s scored first. Mountcastle when to third on the throw. Auston Hays blooped to left in front of Gallo for the second Oriole run. DJ Stewart struck out for the final out, giving up two runs in the inning. Baltimore Orioles 2 New York Yankees 0. At the bottom, with Harvey on the mound, DJ Lemahieu popped out to second. Anthony Rizzo walked. Aaron Judge hit into a double play all too familiar for the Yankees to end the inning.

Pedro Severino led off the top of the second by Severino struck out. Franco struck out for Tiallon’s fourth strikeout of the game. Richie Martin struck out for a strikeout of the side. Joey Gallo ground out to first. Giancarlo Stanton struck out. Gleyber Torres popped directly back to Harvey for the final out of the inning. A quick inning for both pitchers. Orioles 2 Yankees 0.

The third inning was led off by Cedric Mullins, who tapped out into Sanchez’s glove. Urias ground out to Odor at third. Mancini struck out for Taillion’s seventh strikeout in just three innings. At the bottom, Rougie Odor flew out to right-center. Kyle Higashioka, sporting just a .190 batting average, hit a long one for an out at the left-field warning track. Brett Gardner flew out to center and went down in order against Harvey. Orioles 2 Yankees 0.

The top of the fourth inning was led off by Mountcastle, who homered to right for Oriole’s third game run. Hays ground out. Stewart ground out. Severino went down looking. The top of the Yankee lineup led off the bottom of the fourth. LeMahieu ground out. Rizzo hit a home run to center, becoming the first Yankees to have an RBI in his first six games since 1903. Aaron Judge hit a single into no man’s land in center field. Joey Gallo hit into a failed double play. Giancarlo Stanton, with one on and two out, singled. Gleyber Torres singled to right scoring Gallo for the one-run deficient. Rougie Odor flew out to center, but the Yankees drew two runs closer. Orioles 3 Yankees 2.

At the top of the fifth, Franco ground out. Martin popped out to Odor in the left-field foul territory. Mullins flew out to Gardner in center to end the half. At the bottom, Higashioka led off against new O’s pitcher Cesar Valdez and hit a double. Gardner ground out, with Higgy reaching third. LeMahieu singled, driving in Higashioka to tie up the game at 3. Rizzo flew out to right. Judge ground out to third to end the inning. But the Yankees tied it up in the inning. New York Yankees 3 Orioles 3.

The sixth inning saw Urias at the plate against Taillon in his sixth inning: he struck out Mountcastle. Hays struck out, and Mountcastle struck out for Taillon’s 10th of the game. At the bottom, Joey Gallo went down on strikes. Stanton hit a bullet single to right. Torres popped out for the second out of the inning. Odor flew out to the warning track in center for the final out of the inning. Yankees 3 Orioles 3.

The seventh was led off by Hays, who ground out to Gardner. Stewart walked, and that was the end of the night for Taillon. Severino faced the new Yankee pitcher Jonathan Loaisiga and singled to right. Franco hit into a 5-4-3 double play to end the half. At the bottom, Higashioka led off by walking. Jonathan Davis was brought in to pinch run. A pitching change brought in Fry to pitch to pinch hitter Gary Sanchez. Sanchez walked. LeMahieu, with two on and no outs, got an RBI single, scoring Davis from third for the Yankee lead in the game. Rizzo with men on the corners and no outs flew out to left. Judge faced new pitcher Dillon Tate and struck out. Gallo walked. Giancarlo, for the second night in a row, brought it open with a base clearing double. Torres got an RBI double scoring Stanton. Rougie Odor ground out to first, but the Yankees picked up five runs in the inning. New York Yankees 8 Orioles 3.

Clay Holmes led off the eighth inning on the mound against Martin; he was called out on strikes. Mullins called out. Urias went down on strikes. At the bottom Rizzo gound out. Judge popped out.  LeMahieu doubled. Gallo struck out, but the Yankees scored another two runs. With both pinch runner Davis and Sanchez scoring. New York Yankees 10 Orioles 3.

Mancini struck out at the top of the ninth with the last licks on the line for the Orioles. Mountcastle struck out. Hays ground out against Albert Abreu for the final out and the New York Yankees win of the series. The winning pitcher was Jonathan Loaisiga, and the loser was Cole Sulser.

 

New York Jets: Faith lingers in tight end Chris Herndon

It’s likely no returning New York Jets has a hotter seat than tight end Chris Herndon, but the new staff has faith in him.

Spring cleaning took on a whole new meaning for the New York Jets’ lauded offseason. For example, half of the starting lineup that they put out for last year’s opening weekend contest in Buffalo isn’t partaking in this summer’s training camp activities in Florham Park.

Tight end Chris Herndon is part of the other, Jersey-active half. By Jets standards, he’s practically a relic, set to enter his fourth season in green. Speaking of those jerseys, Herndon is the sole leftover from the Jets’ J.B. Smoove-hosted fashion show that unveiled the new look, marketed as one of the future faces of the franchise alongside departures like Sam Darnold, Robby Anderson, and Leonard Williams.

It’s understandable as to why the Jets have bid most of their models farewell: the team’s perpetual rebuild has hit drastic new depths, including a two-win valley that triggered an in-season fire sale. Any reminder of that past few seasons is better off miles away from One Jets Drive, especially with a new quarterback and head coach set to forge a new path back to NFL respectability.

Yet, Herndon remains and is currently engaged in one of the most intriguing battles of camp. The current staff didn’t move on from Herndon as they did from three of his 2018 draft classmates (including Darnold, the first-round choice and Herndon’s training camp roommate), but they did raise the heat on Herndon through the addition of reliable red zone option Tyler Kroft. Spring’s minicamp was an ordeal for Herndon, who lost his premier team reps to Kroft and Ryan Griffin.

The status of Herndon, a rare survivor of the Robert Saleh-induced rapture, was a hot topic as the Jets embarked on their first full week of training camp practices. Saleh, whose energy and attention to detail has been one of the early highlights of camp, believes Herndon simply needs some consistency to get his NFL career back on track.

“(We want) him to just be consistent and try to find ways to get better every day,” Sahle said earlier this week, per notes from the Jets. “I’m not going to put any expectations with regards to result.”

Herndon is best known for his rookie year output, where he was among the top ten rookies in receptions (39) and yardage (502). But the past two seasons have been riddled with inconsistency and absences of both the medical and disciplinary sort. Injuries and a suspension limited him to 18 sophomore snaps in 2019. He partook in all 16 games last season (13 starts) but earned only 287 yards on 31 catches.

For his part, Herndon knows about the challenges that lie ahead and won’t sugarcoat how tough things got in 2020.

“Those types of years, they humble you,” Herndon said of last season in a report from Brian Costello of the New York Post. “They remind you no matter how hard things get for you or the team to just keep your head down and keep working and never give up on yourself, never lose confidence.”

Despite the brutality of 2020, Herndon did manage to somewhat resemble his rookie form over the Jets’ final three games, earning 145 yards on 14 receptions, two of which went for scores.

“He’s had moments where he’s looked very good in his career. He’s had moments where he’s kind of disappeared and he’s had injuries. But at the same time, (we want to) let him get into a rhythm,” Saleh said in looking back on Herndon’s career to date. “Let’s get some consistency going and just play with the effort, the technique, and the violence that we look for. If he can do that day in and day out, we think Herndon can have a pretty darn good year.”

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

UFC books Alexander Volkov – Marcin Tybura

Alexander Volkov, UFC

The UFC has finalized a heavyweight battle that will feature two contenders in the top eight. MMA Fighting was the first to report today that the promotion has finalized a matchup between Alexander “Drago” Volkov (33-9) and Marcin Tybura (22-6).

The fight will take place at UFC 267 on October 30th in Abu Dhabi. The October event’s card is starting to shape up and it’s headlined by two title fights. UFC 267 is going to be free and it will be broadcasted on ABC in the United States.

Marcin Tybura is getting a big step up as he takes on Alexander Volkov. Tybura is currently riding a five-fight win streak heading into UFC 267. The last time we saw Tybura was in June when he stopped Walt Harris in the first round.

Harris started out extremely well and was hurting Tybura on the feet. However, Tybura weathered the storm and was able to get Harris down late in the first round. Once it was there, Tybura put it on Harris and stopped the fight.

After losing his UFC debut, Tybura has gone 9-4 with the promotion. Worth noting that two of those losses came against Fabricio Werdum and Derrick Lewis. Tybura will look to jump into title contention with a win in October.

Volkov’s UFC Redemption

Alexander Volkov made his UFC debut back in 2016. He started his career off with the promotion with winning four consecutive fights. The most impressive win being a TKO win over former champion Fabricio Werdum.

After that, Volkov had a shot against Derrick Lewis. Had Volkov won, he was likely going to get a UFC title shot. However, Volkov was stopped in final seconds of the final round after having dominated the entire fight.

In June, Volkov had a headliner against Ciryl Gane. Again, had Volkov won the fight, he might’ve been the one fighting Derrick Lewis for the interim heavyweight title at UFC 265 on Saturday night.

However, Gane’s technique and speed flustered Volkov and Volkov was nearly shutout on the scorecards. Now, Volkov will once again start his climb back up the latter and it starts with Marcin Tybura at UFC 267.

Knicks: Leon Rose swings for the home run with Kemba Walker NY homecoming

New York Knicks, Julius Randle

Kemba Walker in New York is the first sign that the Knicks are starting to shed their “no man’s land” label.

It will be the first time since Amar’e Stoudemire in 2010 that an All-Star caliber player will be signing with the Knicks. Never mind if Walker is coming off a down year derailed by a knee injury. But consider this: an All-Star talent like him could have commanded several offers from playoff teams, but he chose the Knicks and gave them a hometown discount.

On one good knee, Walker still averaged 19.3 points and 4.9 assists in 43 games last season.

This summer, his focus is on getting back to full health and return to his All-Star form next season.

“I’m planning on a big summer and getting myself feeling good again. It’s been a while since I’ve really had time off,” he said after the Boston Celtics were eliminated in the playoffs last June. “This is an important time for me.”

A healthy and motivated Walker next season could be the difference-maker for the Knicks after their surprising playoff run ended in a gentleman sweep at the hands of the Atlanta Hawks. Walker is a massive upgrade from Elfrid Payton, giving Tom Thibodeau a bona fide playmaker and shotmaker that will command attention away from the team’s other All-Star and the league’s Most Improved Player, Julius Randle.

Walker is projected to join a supercharged starting unit alongside fellow newcomer and former Celtics teammate Evan Fournier with holdovers RJ Barrett, Randle, and Mitchell Robinson or Nerlens Noel at the middle.

The Bronx native who starred in Rice High School and nearby UConn in college is coming home to the Madison Square Garden, where he had his legendary Cardiac Kemba Shot.

More than his reputation as a big shot maker, Walker is also a great locker room presence and a leader who fits the culture the Knicks are building.

The Walker homecoming came out of the left-field. Leon Rose and the Knicks were ridiculed following a ho-hum start in the free agency after creating as much as $52.6 million in cap space this summer.

They started the free agency by re-signing Alec Burks (3-year, $30 million), Nerlens Noel (3-year, $32 million), and Derrick Rose (3-year, $43 million deal via Early Bird Rights). Then they upgraded the wing spot with Evan Fournier (4-year, $78 million) after Reggie Bullock departed for the Dallas Mavericks (3-year, $30.5 million).

Taj Gibson also agreed to return on a 1-year, veteran minimum deal ($2.7 million).

It turned out all the multi-year deals they doled out have team options in the final year, giving Knicks flexibility in 2023 free agency where Zion Williamson and Joel Embiid could be the potential crown jewels.

The Knicks have been sneakily good since Leon Rose came to power. The shrewdly executed trades in the NBA Draft have set them up for a banger of a summer.

They traded away their 19th pick to Charlotte for a future first-round pick, then traded back from 21st pick (from Mavericks via Kristaps Porzingis trade) to 25th pick for 3-and-D prospect Quentin Grimes — a move that saved them $2.7 million in cap space. Then they flipped the 32nd pick into the 34th (Miles McBride) and 36th pick (Rokas Jokubaitis) and took Texas Longhorn center Jericho Sims, a candidate to slide in one of their two-way player slots, with their 58th pick.

Here is the Knicks updated Depth Chart:

PG: Kemba Walker, Derrick Rose, Miles McBride

SG: Evan Fournier, Immanuel Quickley, Luca Vildoza

SF: RJ Barrett, Alec Burks, Quentin Grimes

PF: Julius Randle, Obi Toppin, Kevin Knox

C: Mitchell Robinson, Nerlens Noel, Taj Gibson

The Knicks accomplished three things with their savvy moves — continuity, flexibility, and respectability.

They are determined to prove that last year’s playoff run was no fluke and took some risks to upgrade the talent in their roster. Walker and Fournier should provide an offensive boost to a starting unit that heavily relied on Randle.

Based on their shooting percentages last season, Fournier is a significant upgrade over Bullock.

Meanwhile, the return of Rose and co. maintained the league’s fourth-best bench unit (37.6 points per game) last season, with Robinson and Noel anchoring their top-4 defense (107.8 defensive rating).

It took a while before the Knicks’ grand plan this summer all came together. And it started with a perfectly executed bunt in the Draft that allowed them to hit singles with Fournier, Rose, Burks, and Noel to cover all bases before swinging for the home run with Walker.

Well played, Leon.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

New York Jets add veteran QB Josh Johnson to backup mix

New York Jets

Johnson previously spent part of the summer of 2015 with the New York Jets with his last regular season experience coming in the XFL.

The New York Jets were in desperate need of experience in the quarterback room. One could technically say the signing of Josh Johnson qualifies as overkill.

New York announced the signing of Johnson on Wednesday. The University of San Diego alum is one of a handful of picks left from the 2008 NFL Draft, originally chosen in the fifth round by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

After a record-breaking career under Jim Harbaugh’s tutelage at USD, Johnson has embarked on a well-traveled professional journey, spending time with 16 different teams over four leagues. This marks Johnson’s second tenure with the Jets, spending just over a week with the team during the 2015 preseason.

Johnson notably went eight seasons between starts, earning his first win as a primary quarterback with Washington in 2018. More recently, Johnson spent last season on San Francisco’s practice squad. It was his third stint with the 49ers (2012, 2014), one that allowed him to spend time with current Jets offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur. He was released by San Francisco in June.

In addition to his NFL service, Johnson has also spent time on rosters in the UFL, AAF, and XFL. In the latter-most endeavor, Johnson was the starting quarterback for the Los Angeles Wildcats. In a slightly ironic twist, Johnson played a major role in the most recent sporting event held in front of fans at MetLife Stadium. Johnson threw for 325 yards and two scores, though the Wildcats fell to the New York Guardians by a 17-14 final.

The Jets were in desperate need of experience in their quarterback room. New York is set to debut Zach Wilson, the second overall pick from April’s draft, as their new franchise thrower. Behind him, the Jets also have young veterans James Morgan and Mike White to compete with Johnson for the primary backup role.

In a corresponding move, the Jets released defender Brendon White, an undrafted rookie safety out of Rutgers.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Giants News: Joe Looney retires, Kenny Golladay injury update, Andy Jones signed

joe looney, new york giants

The New York Giants once again had a busy news day today. Despite not practicing until the evening (begins at 5:15 pm), the Giants had a busy morning and afternoon. Recently-signed interior offensive lineman Joe Looney retired out of nowhere and head coach Joe Judge provided an injury update on star receiver Kenny Golladay. The Giants also signed another wide receiver to compete in camp today, Andy Jones.

Joe Looney retires unexpectedly

This past weekend, the New York Giants signed interior offensive lineman Joe Looney. The idea was to bring Looney in as a quality depth piece on the offensive line which has dealt with injuries and inconsistency due to inexperience. Joe Looney was a nine-year NFL veteran that could bring some stability to the team’s front line. However, the possibility of gaining stability on the offensive line from Joe Looney no longer exists.

Joe Looney shockingly retired today after two practices with the team. According to Mike Garafolo, this retirement had nothing to do with Joe Judge’s intense practices or disciplinary style. Looney had to run some laps during practice, but his retirement was not related to the laps or practices. Joe Looney made this difficult decision because his body told him to.

“Joe always felt when his body didn’t respond the way he needed it to, it would be time to step away. He has too much respect for the Giants and Coach Garrett to not do that.” – Joe Looney’s agent via Mike Garafolo

Giants fans should react to Looney’s retirement with respect and admiration. Joe could have easily played this season out, given the team some poor performances, and earned a paycheck that he did not deserve. But, out of respect for the team, Looney walked away from the sport instead. ESM wishes Joe Looney the best of luck in his retirement.

Kenny Golladay injury update

During yesterday’s hectic practice, the Giants’ new star wide receiver Kenny Golladay left the field early with an apparent leg injury. After catching an underneath reception in team drills, Kenny Golladay had the ball punched out of his hands by linebacker Tae Crowder. After fumbling the football, Golladay almost immediately reached for his hamstring and walked off the field with a trainer.

Head coach Joe Judge spoke with the media today and gave an update on Kenny Golladay’s injury. Judge said it’s not considered a significant injury and that the “worst-case scenario” seems to be avoided. Excellent news there for the Giants’ top receiving threat. Golladay will meet with a doctor and undergo some more tests since hamstring injuries can be quite tricky. But the Giants are optimistic about the initial diagnosis of Kenny Golladay’s injury.

Giants sign WR Andy Jones

The New York Giants signed wide receiver Andy Jones today. He’s played for the Detroit Lions and Houston Texans in the past. He’s a 6-1 receiver that the Giants had in for a tryout two days ago. Jones has not seen any regular-season action since 2018 when he played in 8 games for the Detroit Lions, catching 11 passes on 24 targets for 80 yards and 1 touchdown.

New York Rangers: What to do with center Mika Zibanejad?

New York Rangers’ Mike Zibanejead is entering the final year of his contract with the Blueshirts. His future with the club may be in doubt depending on what the two sides are willing to give up to stay together.

Breaking up is hard to do.

In the case of Mika Zibanejaed and the New York Rangers, the two sides have a small amount of time to figure out what is in the best interest of both camps. Will the New York Rangers sign the pending UFA or ask him to waive his NMC and trade him prior to the NHL trade deadline?

A Little History

Zibanejad, then just 22 years old, was traded by the Ottawa Senators along with a 2018 second-round pick to the Rangers for Derrick Brassard and a 2018 seventh-round pick on July 18, 2016.

The young Swede had just recorded two consecutive 20 goals seasons for the Senators and now was headed to the Big Apple.

It was a trade the Rangers won from the onset. Over the next five seasons, Zibanjead flourished into a leader on the ice. He has played in 323 games in a Rangers sweater compiling 283 points, 136 G, 147 A, emerging into a New York Superstar.

For his career his stats display the improvement coachs’ and organizations strive to attain.  He has played in 604 games for both the Senators and the Rangers and in that time he has scored 200 goals and 4334 points. His best season was in 2018-2019 where he netted 30 goals with 74 points.

Zibanejad is a leader off the ice as well as mentoring the younger players in the locker room, on the road, and in practices.

Yet the question of what he is worth to this team, in a time of flat salary caps and trade rumors, has become a focal point during his offseason.

Contracts, Money, and Loyalty

The Rangers have been in the middle of the Jack Eichel sweepstakes for a few months now. Though no deal has been completed to trade for Eichel, the club has to be looking at what they would need financially to afford Eichel’s high AAV, $10 million for the next four seasons, and what to offer Zibanejad as he approaches a big contract year.

The Rangers have some big contracts to pay over the next several seasons.

Added to the equation is the fact that the club will have six players who will be restricted free agents, Adam Fox, Sam Blais, Vitali Kravtsov, Kappo Kakko, Julien Gauthier, and Alexandar Georgiev.

Zibanejad could ask for what would be considered a “hometown discount”, maybe in the neighborhood of $7 million per year for seven years?  Chris Kreider just signed a seven-year, $45 million contract that has an AAV of  $6.5 million. Zibanejad would want more than that, but how much is too much for the Rangers to payout?

If negotiations start out high and Zibanejad is looking at the $9-10 million per year kind of money, which he probably will, the Rangers won’t have that much time to make a decision should they ask him to waive his NMC.

The Jack Eichel drama has more of an influence on what will happen with Mika Zibanejad this season. If Eichel changes his address to Broadway he and his $10 million would almost certainly force Zibaenjead out the door.

Unless the Rangers think they can work out to have two $10 million dollar contracts without jeopardizing their future.

Touch Decisions

President and GM Chris Drury has to juggle a lot of pucks at one time with every conversation he has with his team and the Buffalo Sabres.

The pieces Drury trade the other way should a deal be completed has to involve talent and salary cap implications.  The best way to balance out some of the salary cap issues would be to move a player or players that would free up some space at the same time.

Ryan Strome’s name has been mentioned recently.  It makes sense as he also is a UFA after this season.

All of this has been ongoing without really knowing (we assume) what Zibanejad is looking for on his next contract.

Building a competitive team has plenty of components.  The hardest one to predict is where the GM believes his team will be two or three years from today. Transactions made now will influence how the team looks later on, but one thing is certain.

The future of the organization may be riding on a center hitting the prime of his career in Zibanejad and a gamble on a center who still needs surgery with a lot of potential in Jack Eichel.

Chad Mendes ends retirement and signs with BKFC

Chad Mendes

BKFC has landed another former top UFC fighter for their roster. Today on The Joe Rogan Experience, Chad Mendes (18-5 MMA) announced that he was ending his retirement and that he had signed a deal with BKFC.

MMA Junkie also reported the signing. Mendes has signed a multi-fight deal with BKFC and he’s looking to make his debut in October. The former top UFC contender has said that he’s going to be competing at 155 pounds for Bare Knuckle.

The last time we saw Mendes was back in 2018 when he fought Alexander Volkanovski at UFC 232. Mendes had some bright spots in the fight, but was ultimately stopped by Volkanovski in the second round.

After the fight was over, Mendes announced his retirement from the sport. Mendes was 33 years old at the time, but he felt like he had nothing left to give in the sport and his passion just wasn’t there.

New Journey with BKFC

Mendes had been through a lot with the UFC. He rose all the way to the top of the featherweight division and challenged for the interim title and the undisputed title a combined three times.

Unfortunately for Mendes, he went 0-3 in those fights. After he lost to Conor McGregor for the interim title, he was knocked out by Frankie Edgar. Shortly after the Edgar fight, Mendes tested positive for a PED and was suspended for two years.

He came back and won against Myles Jury before proceeding to the Volkanovski fight. Mendes had been posting on social media that he was getting the itch to compete again and he’s been doing a lot of boxing. Now, we know that he’s heading to BKFC.

BKFC has made some moves to try to get more mainstream MMA and Boxing stars over to the promotion. They’ve signed former UFC fighters like Paige VanZant, Rachael Ostovich, Artem Lobov, Joey Beltran and more.

BKFC has even had former boxing world champion Paulie Malignaggi compete under their banner. The signing of Mendes is just another move for BKFC to add more top talent to try and bring in more casual fans. It’ll be interesting to see what Mendes has left in the tank when he competes later this year.

UFC books Luke Rockhold – Sean Strickland

Luke Rockhold

The UFC is in the process of finalizing a big middleweight contest for November. Aaron Bronsteter of TSN was the first to report that the promotion was closing in on a middleweight contest between former UFC champion Luke Rockhold (16-5) and Sean Strickland (24-3).

The fight will take place at UFC 268 which is scheduled for November 6th. The location is tentatively booked for Madison Square Garden, but given our current environment, that location is not set in stone.

Strickland is coming off of a big win against Uriah Hall at UFC Vegas 33 over the weekend. Earlier today, we published a piece about what could be next for Strickland. One of the options out there was a fight with sixth ranked Jack Hermansson.

However, the UFC had different plans. Luke Rockhold has been itching to make his return, but the promotion was having a tough time getting him a fight. He wanted someone in the top ten, but nobody was available for him.

UFC books Rockhold’s Return

After Strickland won this past weekend, the UFC asked him if he’d be interested in fighting Luke Rockhold in November. Strickland told the promotion that he’d be ready and the UFC went back to Rockhold with an offer.

It didn’t take long for the former middleweight champion to accept and now his return is officially on the books. Rockhold will be fighting at middleweight for the first time since 2018 when he lost to Yoel Romero in an interim title fight.

After that loss, Rockhold moved up to light heavyweight where he was knocked out by the current champion Jan Blachowicz. After that fight at UFC 239, Rockhold said that he was walking away from the sport.

However, after having some time away to heal up, Rockhold got the itch to compete again. Now, the former UFC champion is set to make his return and he’s coming for the middleweight title.

Overall, Rockhold is 6-3 in his last nine UFC fights. However, he’s just 1-3 after becoming middleweight champion and all three of those losses were by knockout. This is a huge fight for both men and it will tell us a lot about where each man is.

Is AJ McKee the best featherweight in the world after Bellator 263?

AJ McKee

This past Saturday at Bellator 263, we saw the conclusion of the Featherweight Grand Prix in the main event. The champion Patricio Pitbull (32-5) was looking to defend his title against the undefeated challenger AJ McKee (18-0).

McKee has a superstar quality about him, but many were still picking the Bellator champion heading into Saturday. Patricio Pitbull is the greatest fighter in the promotion’s history and he owns virtually every Bellator record there is to own.

Saturday night was going to tell us just how good AJ McKee is. Well, AJ McKee is not just good, he’s something truly special. McKee dropped Pitbull in the first round at Bellator 263 with a beautiful combination and he finished him with a standing guillotine.

In a fight that was built to be the best versus the best, McKee made it look incredibly easy. It reminded me of when Conor McGregor knocked out Jose Aldo in 13 seconds to become UFC featherweight champion. Just like McGregor, McKee left no doubts at Bellator 263.

Bellator 263 Proved McKee’s Greatness

After his dominant win at Bellator 263 many are wondering if he’s the best in the world regardless of promotion. Over the course of recent history, the UFC champion has been considered to be the best of the best.

However, Bellator has a legit argument with their new featherweight champion. While Patricio Pitbull was a dominant champion, nobody ever considered him to be better than Max Holloway or Alexander Volkanovski.

He was always seen as a step below them, however, McKee is not. I truly believe that McKee is on that elite level with the best that the UFC has to offer. The 26 year old has it all. He has incredible ground skills and he’s developed dangerous striking to go along with it.

Who is the best in the world?

At Bellator 263, he showed off the full package. Now, when everyone is at their absolute best, I still believe in my heart that Max Holloway is the best featherweight on the planet. Yes, he’s lost to Volkanovski twice. However, I do not believe he lost that second fight last year.

The Max Holloway that we saw in January is the best featherweight in the world. While I don’t think McKee is the best in the world, I think he’s right there with those guys. It’s truly a shame that he fights for Bellator in that we won’t be able to see him fight the best of the best.

That said, McKee’s contract is coming up soon. McKee told MMA Junkie that he would like to resign with Bellator if they show him the money. McKee has fought all 18 of his professional fights under the Bellator banner.

However, the UFC is interested. Dana White did come out and say that he would take McKee to lunch making good on a bet McKee made with him when he was a child. McKee told the UFC president that he would become world champion and when that happens, White had to take him to lunch.

White told TSN that he would make good on that bet and also said that when his contract is up, they’d be interested in talking. Time will tell what McKee ends up doing, but make no mistake about it, the new Bellator champion is a star.