UFC books Irene Aldana – Aspen Ladd

The UFC has finalized a good matchup in their women’s bantamweight division. ESPN Deportes was the first to report earlier this afternoon that the promotion had booked a matchup between ranked contenders Irene Aldana (13-6) and Aspen Ladd (9-2).

The matchup is expected to take place at UFC 273 on April 9th. Currently, the UFC is targeting that event to take place in Brooklyn, New York. Aldana will be looking for her second straight win when she takes on the tough Aspen Ladd in April.

The last time we saw Aldana was back at UFC 264 in July. That night, she took on Yana Kunitskaya and she was able to get a first round stoppage. That win was a nice bounce back performance after her tough loss to Holly Holm back in October of 2020.

Overall, Aldana is 3-1 in her last four fights which also includes a knockout victory over the durable Ketlen Vieira. If Aldana is able to pick up the win over Ladd in April, it will do a ton for her moving forward.

UFC’s Ladd looking of redemption

Back in 2019, if you asked anyone who the top female UFC prospect was, they would’ve told you Aspen Ladd. Ladd was a perfect 8-0 when she stepped in the cage with former featherweight champion Germaine de Randamie. Unfortunately, Ladd was stopped early in the first round.

She bounced back big time with a TKO win over Yana Kunitskaya and appeared like she was gearing up for another run. However, a number of injuries really set her back. She returned back in October when she took on Norma Dumont.

In Ladd’s first fight back, she was extremely tentative throughout the fight and ultimately lost a decision. Now, a lot of people will give her a break since it was her first fight back from major injuries. If ring rust was a factor, we should judge Ladd more on her performance against Aldana at UFC 273.

UFC working on booking Mackenzie Dern – Tecia Torres

The UFC is off and running for their booking of 2022. Immediately out of the gates, they have been booking some incredible fights in the female divisions and they are working on finalizing another big time matchup. MMA.Ideas was the first to report that the UFC is closing in on a fight between Mackenzie Dern (11-2) and Tecia Torres (13-5).

The bout would take place in the spring, however, there’s no date lined up just yet. The word is that verbal agreements are in place for this UFC matchup. Tecia Torres is getting back in the limelight with this matchup and it’s a chance for her fourth straight win.

Back in 2019, Torres suffered her fourth consecutive loss when she lost to Marina Rodriguez. However, those losses don’t look that bad when you examine her competition. Rodriguez is a top contender and the other three losses came against former UFC champions.

In Torres’ UFC career, she’s only lost to Rodriguez and four of the five strawweight champions in the history of the promotion. Simply put, despite that losing streak, she’s one of the best in the UFC and now, she gets a big time chance to win her fourth straight.

UFC strawweight matchup

Back in 2018, Mackenzie Dern entered the UFC with a ton of hype. She won her first two fights before becoming pregnant with her first child. The pregnancy kept Dern out of action for a year and a half and she lost her return bout to the talented Amanda Ribas.

However, that loss lit a fire underneath Dern. Following the loss, Dern won four consecutive fights. That winning streak led her to a main event against Marina Rodriguez. Ultimately, Rodriguez won that one and now Dern is looking to reset when she takes on Torres.

Whoever wins this fight is going to be in an excellent position in the strawweight division. It should be a good year for the UFC’s 115 pound weight class.

Top female UFC prospects entering 2022

Casey O’Neil

This year was a massive year for women in the UFC. This year, we saw Valentina Shevchenko continue her dominance. We saw Rose Namajunas regain her UFC strawweight title. Then we saw Julianna Pena stun Amanda Nunes at UFC 269.

So many incredible storylines in 2021 and it’s promising to be a big 2022 for the ladies in the UFC. There isn’t as much clarity at the top of the divisions as there was in 2021.

When the year started, Valentina Shevchenko, Amanda Nunes, and Zhang Weili stood atop the mountain and many viewed all three as unbeatable. Well, Weili was defeated twice by Thug Rose and Nunes lost in one of the biggest upsets of all time.

These storylines have made for a very compelling 2022. However, let’s take a step back from the very top of the mountain in regards to the women in the UFC. Instead, let’s take a look at two of the best prospects the promotion has entering next year.

Top Female UFC Prospects

Casey O’Neill

Without question, my top UFC prospect entering next year is Casey O’Neill (8-0). O’Neill has been on an incredible run since she joined the promotion. She made her debut back in February.

This year alone, O’Neill has gone 3-0 inside the octagon and all three of her wins have come via stoppage. In her last fight, she stopped the champion’s sister, Antonina Shevchenko, in the second round.

O’Neill is already lined up for her first bout of the year in 2022. At UFC 271, O’Neill is going to get another test in the form of Roxanne Modafferi. If O’Neill scores another finish, she could be on the fast track to a title shot against Valentina.

Erin Blanchfield

My second top prospect entering 2022 is definitely Erin Blanchfield (8-1). We’ve only just been introduced to Blanchfield over the last couple of months. The 22 year old made her UFC debut back in September.

She was dominant in her first win, then she fought another top prospect in Miranda Maverick. The fight was close on paper, but Blanchfield ragdolled Maverick in a very lopsided fight.

Her dominance has been very impressive. The lone loss in her career came via split decision in a fight that could’ve easily gone her way. I’ve been very impressed with Blanchfield thus far and it truly looks like the sky is the limit.

Knicks: Obi Toppin ready to step up as Julius Randle enters COVID-19 protocols

Barely 12 hours after Tom Thibodeau revealed that Julius Randle is nicked up, the New York Knicks announced that the All-Star forward had entered the health and safety protocols.

The news came on the heels of Randle’s worst game as a Knick — a season-low five points on 2 for 11 shooting. Randle had more turnovers (3) than field goals (2).

“He’s nicked up,” Tom Thibodeau said after the Knicks escaped the lowly Detroit Pistons Wednesday night. “I think he’s giving us everything he has. That’s what I love about him. He’s not making any excuses. He just gets out there. He keeps going.”

Randle’s lackadaisical play, along with the starters, forced Thibodeau to finish the game with his bench in the final 15 minutes. The Pistons outscored the Knicks by 27 points during Randle’s 26 minutes on the floor. It was a microcosm of a larger problem for the Knicks.

Randle’s net rating of minus-6.3 is currently one of the worst in the league (387th in the league and 90th among 98 players who average more than 30 minutes per game). That’s the second-worst net rating among Knicks starters next to Kemba Walker’s minus-8.0, although it has improved since he returned from nine DNPs.

While Alec Burks supplied the points with a career-high-tying 34 points, 19 in the fourth quarter, Randle’s backup, Obi Toppin, provided the energy on both ends.

Toppin was plus-36 in 22 minutes. The sophomore forward finished with modest numbers — nine points on 3 of 5 shooting, four rebounds, one assist, and a steal — but his energy, constant movement, and defense helped the Knicks erase a 14-point deficit.

“Obi — the energy he plays with and guarding (Saddiq) Bey who had it going pretty good,” Thibodeau said. “So we had a number of guys who stepped up.”

Toppin held Saddiq Bey to 1 of 5 shooting in the fourth quarter after the Pistons’ forward torched the Knicks with 24 points on 8 of 14 shooting in the first three quarters.

Toppin hasn’t played more than 28 minutes in his NBA career except for the Summer League. But that is bound to change with Randle on the sidelines.

Randle can use the time in protocols to rest and recover from whatever is ailing him besides COVID-19. But most importantly, use the time to zoom out and see what Kemba Walker saw during his banishment from the rotation.

Walker admitted the banishment as a blessing in disguise and came back with a different mindset. Perhaps Randle could take a cue from Walker.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Former Yankees great discusses MLB lockout: “No one wants to see games lost”

New York Yankees

As of Thursday afternoon, there is no clue about when the New York Yankees will take the field again. MLB owners and the players’ association haven’t been able to hammer out the details of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, or CBA, after the old one expired on December 1.

At that point, the owners implemented a “lockout”, which is still in place, that forbids teams to sign players or execute trades. Ballplayers can’t even go to the club facilities to rehab injuries, and physicians aren’t allowed to monitor their progress. Baseball has no regulatory instrument at the moment.

CBA negotiations can be ugly, and there is a chance games are lost if both parties can’t come to an agreement come March. That’s precisely what former Yankees’ first baseman Mark Teixeira fears.

The Yankees’ former All-Star wants to see some progress in talks

The former slugger retired with 409 homers and is a member of the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time, without much success so far. But he remains attentive on what happens on the baseball front, particularly, the CBA negotiations.

“Stay in your corner, fight for what you think you should get,” Teixeira said, per NJ Advance Media. “I love it. But no one wants to see games lost. I’m crossing my fingers that we get to a point where mid-February – (the lockout) might bleed into spring training – there’s an agreement so we can watch baseball next year.”

“I think one thing that baseball needs to understand is that the product itself needs help,” the former World Series champion with the Yankees stated. “We’ve talked for years about length of game and pace of play and too many strikeouts, too many home runs. I think that baseball needs to really make some changes, and these aren’t radical changes. A pitch clock to me is not a radical change. Banning the shift is not a radical change. Tighten up the game and make it a little bit more interesting … a little bit more action.”

At the end of the day, if games are indeed lost, both sides stand to lose valuable things. That’s why Teixeira wants to see both sides prioritizing their partnership with this in mind.

“And then at a certain point in time, players and owners need to look at this as a partnership because when you’re in business you’ve got to have some sort of relationship, some sort of partnership, between ownership and labor to make it work. Right now it feels like no one wants to be partners here. Whatever that looks like, I don’t know. I’m glad it’s not my job, but it does seem to me that the NBA and NFL and some of these other leagues have said — good, bad or indifferent — ‘What’s good for me is good for you. Let’s try to make as much money as possible.’

Top analysts believe Yankees could land star 1B Freddie Freeman

freddie freeman, yankees

The New York Yankees will need to pounce upon the signing of a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) to fill several spots on the field at Yankee Stadium. General manager Brian Cashman made it clear early on that his main priority was to acquire a star-like shortstop for 2022, but that is now in question. Cashman also said the Yankees needed a number two starting pitcher and help in center field.

The other need is to decide upon a first baseman after Anthony Rizzo became a free agent at the end of the season. Several names have been mentioned, including resigning Rizzo, getting Matt Olson via trade from the Athletics, or a less attractive move by keeping challenging Luke Voit healthy. Finally, of course, the wish list would be to acquire free agent Freddie Freeman.

Freeman was the World Series-winning first baseman for the Atlanta Braves. So, it was a foregone conclusion that Freeman would remain with the Braves, where he has spent his entire career. But, a crack in that conclusion arose when he rejected a five-year $135 million contract to return to the team he had spent twelve years with. Freeman, now 32, wants an extended contract.

Make no mistake, the Braves are still the front-runner to sign Freeman, but they will have to budge from their five-year limit. Assuming they don’t, Bob Nightengale and Jon Heyman see the door opening for the Yankees, Dodgers, and even the Blue Jays. Nightengale of USA Today said:

“Free agent Freddie Freeman was on the mind of every team seeking a first baseman, with Freeman rejecting Atlanta’s five-year, $135 million offer, and seeking closer to a six-year, $200 million deal. Yet, you couldn’t find a soul who believes Freeman won’t be returning to Atlanta.”

Heyman of MLB.com generally agreed, saying, “Last heard 6th year was still at issue in Freeman/Braves talks but situation is fluid and they’ve still got to be considered the favorite.”  

Heyman weeks later said that he was surprised the Freeman was still unsigned, suggesting that it put the New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers, and Toronto Blue Jays as the front runners in trying to pry Freeman away from the Braves.

This writer believes that the Yankees will not sign Freeman due to their other costly needs. I also think Voit will be discarded via the trade and that the Yankees will go with Rizzo or, less likely, Matt Olson. However, that belief could change if the Yankees go the cheap route and settle for a stopgap shortstop freeing up money for a Freeman acquisition. Even at $180 million, it would be at least $100 million cheaper than acquiring Carlos Correa as its shortstop with better production.

We are talking about this because Freeman is considered one of the most productive first basemen, if not the most offensive player in the game. In addition, his excellent defense is not in question. Last season with the Braves, Freeman hit .300 this past season, with the Braves over 159 games. He struck out only 15.4% of the time with a 12.2% walk rate, 31 long balls, and 83 runs batted in. Those stats are even more exciting for the Yankees because the lefty would likely improve his home run totals with the Yankees’ short porch.

While what Freeman will do is still unclear, one thing is sure; when that CBA is signed, it will create a flurry of action from all teams, especially the New York Yankees, who were primarily silent before the MLB imposed lockout.

Yankees: One lowkey international prospect climbing the minor league system you need to know about

Andres who? We all know that the New York Yankees have a pretty deep farms system. Because of that, many prospects fly under the radar while the media concentrates on most of the top candidates, like Anthony Volpe, Oswald Peraza, Luis Gil, and others. But a deeper look into the farm system can uncover some surprising prospects that you may never have heard of. Andres Chapparo is one of those young men.

Surprisingly, he has stayed out of the bright lights of the New York Media. He has been in the system since 2015 when he was an international signing out of Venezuela. The 22-year-old, 6’ 1” 200-pound third baseman has been developing during his time in the Yankees’ minor leagues, but he had a breakout year at both Florida low Tampa and the A+ South Atlanta League last season. He hit .267 with 15 home runs in just 101 games.

The Yankees have invested heavily in the international draft in the last decade. You are probably familiar with number two prospect outfielder Jasson Dominguez. This season it appears that the Yankees will sign shortstop prospect Rodrick Arias. The Yankees have been more active on the international front than many of its rivals.

Chapparo started the season at Low-A Tampa and was a considerably better hitter after the 2020 idle minor league season. His slash line was .270/.378/.435 with 24 extra-base hits and a 123 wRC+. He was promoted to high-A with those stats, where he played even better. In finally hitting his stride, he ended the season at both levels with improved power and a .264/.387/.527 slash and a 144 wRC+ slash line.

In his Florida League recap, PSA’S Dan Kelly had this to say about Chapparo:

Few players have made loud contact like Chaparro this fall. The 22-year-old Venezuelan went 3 for 3 with three doubles in Surprise’s 7-6 loss to Peoria. He now has eight doubles tied for second-most in the league. Chaparro has been prone to swinging and missing, but when he makes contact, he does damage—11 of his 18 hits in the AFL have gone for extra bases.

The New York Yankees will be watching Chaparro closely this season as he is expected to advance even further in the minor. He could end up with the Hudson Valley Renegades at some point in the season. He is still young and with a lot of potential if he keeps advancing as he has in the past few years. 2021 saw exit velocities north of 115 mph.

Three UFC fights that need to happen in 2022

Conor McGregor, UFC

The calendar is getting ready to turn over to 2022 and the UFC has big plans for the next calendar year. There were so many big fights that took place in 2021, and the world’s premier MMA organization will look to continue that next year.

Some of the notable fights that took place this year are the two fights with Conor McGregor and Dustin Poirier. Charles Oliveira became the UFC lightweight champion when he knocked out Michael Chandler.

UFC 261 featured the return to arenas and saw Kamaru Usman and Rose Namajunas score big knockout wins in their title fights. Then you had the fight of the year at UFC 268 when Justin Gaethje defeated Michael Chandler.

So many epic moments and epic fights took place this year. As mentioned, the UFC is already making fights through April of next year. There are some big things in the works.

That being said, what are some of the fights that are must makes for the promotion next year?

UFC fights that need to happen

Conor McGregor – Nate Diaz 3

This one feels like an obvious choice. The UFC needs to make the trilogy between Conor McGregor (22-6) and Nate Diaz (20-13). It’s a perfect time in both men’s career to run this fight back.

When they first fought, Diaz shocked everyone by submitting Conor McGregor at UFC 196. Then McGregor won an instant classic in the rematch at UFC 201. Since then, the trilogy has been always on the table.

However, the UFC has never pulled the trigger on it. Given where both men stand, I think it’s the perfect time for it.

Colby Covington – Jorge Masvidal

The next fight the UFC needs to make is arguably the biggest grudge match there is to make. That would be the matchup between former teammates and close friends Colby Covington (16-3) and Jorge Masvidal (35-15).

Both of these men are also in a very similar position. They’ve both lost to Kamaru Usman twice and will need some big momentum to warrant a third shot against the UFC champion.

They’ve been jawing at each other for the past couple of years, but the fight has never come together. Now is the time for the UFC to make this happen and even perhaps make them coaches on The Ultimate Fighter.

Jon Jones – Heavyweight Champion

The last fight the UFC needs to make this year is booking Jon Jones‘ (26-1, 1 NC) return fight for the heavyweight title. We haven’t seen Jones in the UFC since the beginning of 2020.

Jones has bulked up in anticipation of his heavyweight debut which is expected to be for the title. Next month, Francis Ngannou and Ciryl Gane will battle for the undisputed heavyweight title.

You can imagine that Jones will be watching closely. He’s hinted that he wants to fight the winner next summer, and I think that would be an ideal situation for the UFC.

How Much Do the Brooklyn Nets Stand to Gain From the Return of Kyrie Irving?

Brooklyn Nets, Kyrie Irving

The Brooklyn Nets have been playing exceptionally well this season. Sitting in first atop of the Eastern Conference standings with a 23-9 record, the Nets have produced a remarkable balance of success predicated on their high-octane offense and elite defense.

Currently ranking Top 10 in the league in points per game (110.5) and field goal percentage (46.8), the Nets have arguably been even better defensively despite their lack of size inside.

Conceding an average of only 106.6 points (10th in the league) on 91.6 field goal attempts allowed per game (28th in the league), the Nets are somehow tied in first in opponent field goal percentage (42.7) and are also first in opponent three-point percentage (31.1).

However, these last few COVID-stricken weeks hampered the Nets’ starting lineup considerably. With three straight games already postponed prior to their 122-115 Christmas Day victory against the Los Angeles Lakers, the Nets at one point had eight of their players enter league and safety protocols for COVID-19, including the likes of Kevin Durant, James Harden, and LaMarcus Aldridge.

Due to this setback, the Nets have found themselves in a bit of a desperate situation. And as the saying goes, ‘desperate times can call for desperate measures’ and well, the Nets have done just that. On December 17th, ESPN NBA reporter Adrian Wojnarowski announced that Kyrie Irving was going to be reinstated with the Nets as a part-time player for games outside of New York.

Irving, who hasn’t played a single game all season, is still not vaccinated. And because of such, the Nets decided earlier this season that he would not be allowed to be a part of the team’s practices and games until he was eligible to be a full participant.

Understandably, the Nets are not in much of a position when it comes to picking and choosing players they should bring in, seeing how afflicted their lineup was across the board.

That said, considering how well this team was doing without Irving along with the fact that Irving is a very ball-dominant type of player, the Nets are taking a significant gamble with bringing him in, and in the process, are risking the balance that this team has been able to establish.

As one can imagine, this begs the question of just how much do the Nets stand to gain from bringing Irving back. And though it might seem a bit complicated addressing this kind of situation, the answer is rather straightforward and for a few key reasons.

First and foremost, Irving’s offensive role would greatly impact the scoring dynamic Durant and Harden have been able to develop with the rest of the team. Over his career, Irving has illustrated a linear style of play that’s heavily predicated on scoring the basketball and not so much on embracing the playmaking role that comes with being a point guard.

As a result, this poses a major dilemma because instead of fitting into the role the Nets need from him, Irving has shown that he expects the Nets to adapt to the strengths he provides, which, over his short stay in Brooklyn, has not proven to be very effective. And with the Nets finally reaching a nice balance with their two high-scoring playmakers in Durant and Harden, adding Irving would significantly alter the balance the Nets have been able to achieve so far.

Back in late November, when a reporter asked Harden if he’s had to assume more of a greater scoring role due to Irving’s absence, Harden gave a genuine answer and explained that he’s not only trying to figure out his role still, but that it’s been difficult to determine what he needs to do when, be it scoring, playmaking, or running the offense. Just a little over a month later, we’ve seen substantial progress from Harden on that front. But with Irving hopping back into the mix, things would have to change once again after Harden finally got accustomed to his role on the team.

In addition, Irving has yet to show he can be a good perimeter defender. Defensively, the Nets have improved tremendously this season, and Irving’s return could jeopardize that anchoring stability on the perimeter. The Nets have finally found a way to slow down their opponents with really sharp defensive play, and it’s proven to be much more effective than having to rely on their offense to have to outscore opposing teams in a shooting slugfest.

Lastly, Irving’s still not vaccinated. And seeing how rampant this COVID surge has been in the NBA, the Nets are only going to increase their chances of having their team suffer more COVID setbacks with his return.

In all fairness, the Nets have not found it easy to assemble a lot of their key players due to this recent COVID outbreak, and bringing back Irving was a move that was understandably made out of desperation.

But ultimately, the success and equilibrium that this Nets team has been able to accomplish with its play and chemistry is of far greater value and importance than the desperation the Nets have found themselves in. And bringing back Irving would throw off the dynamic of this team significantly.

In short, the Nets should stick to their original decision and refrain from bringing Irving back onto the team until he can fully participate. And as we saw firsthand against the Lakers and now more recently against the Clippers, the Nets have been doing just fine without him.

Knicks News: Quickley’s jersey misspell against Detroit, one scary Julius Randle stat

Immanuel Quickley, New York Knicks

The New York Knicks barely squeaked out a win against the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday night, fighting back from a double-digit point deficit in the third quarter. Thanks to the second team, who picked up the slack as the starters played one of their worst games of the season, the Knicks managed to string together their third consecutive victory.

However, the starting five weren’t the only ones to struggle on the evening, the equipment crew also faltered, misspelling Immanuel Quickley’s name on the back of his jersey. Most would simply leave the “E” out of his last name, but instead, they completely butchered the entire sequence.

Nonetheless, Quickley finished with 18 points off the bench, posting a 27 +/-, higher than any starter on the night. Thankfully, New York has gained several players back from the Covid list in recent days, but that hasn’t helped mask the deficiencies of Julius Randle, who has struggled this season with inconsistencies in multiple categories.

One Julius Randle statistic the Knicks need to shake off:

Randle has seen a significant regression with his three-point shooting and defensive rating. The former All-Star is hitting just 32.8% of his three-point shots but also hosts a 111.1 defensive rating, compared to his 106.8 rating during the 2020-21 season. In addition, his assist/turnover ratio has dropped to 1.41, showcasing less vision and an increase in turnovers.

However, one statistic that stands out showcases his negative impact on the team at times.

In 455 minutes, the Knicks are outscoring teams by 15.9 points per 100 possessions when Randle is on the bench.

The sample size is small when Randle is off the floor, indicating that the second units of other teams may be active, in which the Knicks have a significant adventure given their strong depth. However, it has become apparent that Randle’s lackluster decision-making this season has become a liability. He fails to move the ball quickly and efficiently, holding on too long and creating unnecessary turnovers.

In the victory over Detroit, Randle posted a measly five points, and while his 10 rebounds and five assists stand out as a positive, his scoring production must be talked about.

Since the return of Kemba walker, Randle has enjoyed more efficiency, but the very moment Walker crumbled back down to earth and scored just two points against the worst team in basketball, Randle followed suit. If the two are going to be tied at the hip with their efficiency, the Knicks are going to face significant issues down the road. In fact, they may be looking to acquire another star to pair with Julius, taking the pressure off the power forward.