2022 UFC Dark Horse: Vicente Luque

The UFC‘s welterweight division is one of the most stacked divisions within the promotion. Atop the division is the pound-for-pound king at the moment, Kamaru Usman. Usman has dominated his way to the title and now he’s fighting guys for the second time during his reign.

One of the guys he has not fought is Vicente Luque (21-7-1). Luque’s nickname matches him perfectly with his nickname being ‘The Silent Assassin’. Despite being clearly one of the best in the world, Luque’s name isn’t mentioned much.

Now, Luque was serving as the backup for UFC 268 when Usman had his rematch with Colby Covington. However, Luque didn’t do himself any favors by missing weight when he was the event’s backup. Dana White said it wasn’t a good look.

Going back to 2015, Luque is an astonishing 14-2 over his last sixteen UFC fights. The two losses came against Wonderboy Thompson and Leon Edwards. It’s clear that Leon Edwards is likely getting the next crack at Kamaru Usman.

So where does that leave Luque and the UFC?

Luque is the UFC’s Dark Horse

Currently, Luque is riding a four-fight winning streak. His last fight came at UFC 265 when he took on Michael Chiesa. Luque impressed everyone when he submitted the talented grappler in the first round.

However, the win leaves Luque in a tough spot. There’s no one for him to fight that makes a lot of sense. From a rankings perspective, Gilbert Burns makes sense. However, Luque and Burns are best friends and have said that they prefer not to fight.

Colby Covington and Jorge Masvidal appear to be on a collision course so that would take them off the table. With those options off the table, the UFC has two options but those might be off the table as well.

I like Luque taking on either Belal Muhammad or the hyped prospect Khamzat Chimaev. Luque has already said that he would take the fight with Chimaev. That would be a huge deal for the UFC because it would move Chimaev right into title contention with a win.

However, there’s momentum towards booking Chimaev and Muhammad against each other. It’s astonishing how a guy like Luque is being left out of the conversations with the top guys. He reminds me of where Charles Oliveira was in early 2021.

Luque is definitely a guy to watch this year. I think the UFC will figure out a good opponent for him next and if he impresses, he’s likely going to be challenging for the welterweight title this year.

New York Giants: Mike Glennon has surgery, Jake Fromm to start Week 18

jake fromm, giants

The New York Giants are coming off of a putrid loss to the Chicago Bears in Week 17. New York’s offense failed to score a touchdown in the 29-3 loss on the road. Quarterback Mike Glennon recorded a 0.0 QBR in the contest. In the tough loss, Glennon suffered a wrist injury that will force him to have surgery, ending his season. Jake Fromm is in line to start in Week 18. Brian Lewerke will be the backup.

The Giants will host the Washington Football Team on Sunday in the regular-season finalé. New York has already been eliminated from the playoffs. The final game will allow the team to get one last look at Jake Fromm, though.

Jake Fromm to start on Sunday

Jake Fromm is a young backup quarterback who started one game for the team this season. He was drafted in the fifth round of the 2020 NFL Draft by the Buffalo Bills. The Giants signed him off of their practice squad this season once Daniel Jones went down with a season-ending neck injury. Mike Glennon got the first start as the team’s fill-in quarterback but after a disappointing performance versus the Dolphins, Jake Fromm got the start in Week 16 versus the Eagles.

In that Week 16 matchup, Jake Fromm struggled tremendously. He completed 6 passes on 17 attempts for 25 yards and 1 interception before being benched in favor of Mike Glennon. After Glennon’s poor performance in Week 17, many called for Fromm to get the nod in the season’s final contest. But now that Glennon’s season has been cut short due to injury, Fromm will get the start regardless.

Mike Glennon finished the season with four starts, 90 completions on 167 attempts, 790 yards, and 4 touchdowns. Glennon was playing for the Giants on a one-year, $1.35M contract that he signed this past offseason. With new management expected to take over, it is unknown whether or not Glennon will be brought back for the 2022 season.

Knicks gain back Robinson, Sims in time for home game vs Pacers

After getting outrebounded in their last two losses, the New York Knicks are getting back two of their centers ahead of a critical home game against the Indiana Pacers.

The Knicks capped off an eventful Monday by announcing that Mitchell Robinson and two-way player Jericho Sims have cleared the health and safety protocols.

Former Chicago Bulls guards Ryan Arcicodiano, via a 10-day contract, and Denzel Valentine, via trade, joined the team earlier to bolster their depleted backcourt. Valentine is expected to be waived to create an open roster spot.

The Knicks have dropped the last two of a four-game road trip in Oklahoma City (95-80) and Toronto (120-105).

Without the Knicks’ top three rebounders (Robinson, Nerlens Noel, and Julius Randle), the Raptors feasted on the glass, 44-30, to run away with the victory.

“Just going into the game shorthanded, your margin of error is small,” New York coach Tom Thibodeau said after Sunday’s loss. “We wanted our focus to be on defense, rebounding, and keeping our turnovers low. I thought the big thing was rebounding. We got badly outrebounded and then [Toronto] did a good job coming after the ball.”

Aside from their rebounding woes, the Knicks committed 17 turnovers which the Raptors converted to 27 points.

It was surprising that Robinson cleared the protocols ahead of Noel, who had been out since Dec. 22. Nevertheless, it was a welcome development for the Knicks ahead of their Tuesday showdown with Indiana Pacers led by their formidable frontline tandem of All-Star Domantas Sabonis and league’s shot block leader Myles Turner.

The Pacers will be without key cogs Malcolm Brogdon, Chris Duarte, and Caris LeVert, who are still in the health and safety protocols.

RJ Barrett, who averaged 22.5 points over the last two games without Randle, should capitalize. Despite the high-scoring production, he’s been dismal from the outside, sinking only 3 of 13 from deep in the same span.

“You don’t replace Julius or Kemba and Derrick with an individual. You have to do it collectively as a team. We have to have the belief that we can win. Everyone on this roster is capable of playing well,” Thibodeau said. “So, get in there and get the job done.”

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

UFC books Johnny Walker – Jamahal Hill

The UFC has finalized a date for a banger of a light heavyweight matchup. MMA Fighting confirmed that the planned matchup between Johnny Walker (18-6) and Jamahal Hill (9-1, 1 NC) will take place on February 19th at a UFC Fight Night.

Walker will be looking to bounce back after his last fight. Walker had his first UFC main event when he took on former title challenger Thiago Santos. He didn’t have the best night and Santos was able to walk away with a decision victory.

That loss has seen Walker fall to 1-3 in his last four UFC appearances. When Walker first joined the promotion, he got off to a blistering start by winning his first three fights by first round knockout. However, he injured himself during a victory celebration and really hasn’t been the same.

He was stopped by Corey Anderson and has suffered two additional decision losses. In between there was an impressive win over Ryan Spann, however, he hasn’t been able to maintain the steam he had early on in his UFC career. This fight against Hill is massive for him.

UFC’s Rising Prospect

Jamahal Hill earned a UFC contract on Dana White’s Contender Series and has made a big impact on the light heavyweight division. After earning his contract, he started out 2-0, 1 NC. That included a knockout win over OSP.

The OSP knockout win earned him a spot against Paul Craig at UFC 263. Going into that fight, Hill wanted to keep things standing for a reason and that played out in the first round. Craig was able to pull guard and actually dislocated Hill’s arm for the win.

After that loss, Hill was booked against Jimmy Crute at a UFC Fight Night. Hill made a massive statement by knocking out Crute in the first minute of the fight. That win has earned him this shot against Johnny Walker.

If he’s able to get the win against Walker next month, I would expect a big step up for Hill in terms of his UFC competition. Hill looks like he can become a top contender and a win over Johnny Walker will show that he’s getting closer to that level.

UFC 2022 Prospect Preview: Paddy Pimblett

Paddy Pimblett

One of the prospects that we focused on in our 2022 UFC prospect watch was Paddy “The Baddy” Pimblett (17-3). The former two-vision Cage Warriors champion made his debut with the UFC in 2021.

Pimblett took on Luigi Vendramini in September. It wasn’t a flawless performance from Paddy The Baddy who was hit clean a few times. However, he maintained his composure and then showed off why he’s special.

Pimblett was able to hurt Vendramini bad and went after the finish like a dog on a bone. He went on to score the knockout. His post-fight interview was entertaining and it was so easy to see why so many are high on Paddy The Baddy.

Right now, the UFC is currently working on Pimblett’s next fight. At the moment, there appears to be a lot of momentum regarding him fighting in March when the UFC returns to his homeland of England.

Pimblett’s UFC 2022 Preview

The UFC is currently working on booking Pimblett against Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone (36-16, 2 NC). The proposed matchup would take place in early March. Now, on paper, Cerrone doesn’t look like the best name for Pimblett to face.

Cowboy is currently riding a five-fight losing streak. That streak stretches six fights that included a No Contest. However, that No Contest was initially a draw in a fight that Cowboy was going to lose had Nike Price not been deducted a point.

These two fighters are heading in vastly different directions. One is at the very end of his UFC career when the other has barely started. That said, Cerrone still has a big name and would be a nice win for Pimblett to pick up.

If he goes out there and starches Cowboy, he needs to target guys near the back end of the UFC’s top fifteen. Some names to watch would be guys like Brad Riddell or Diego Ferreira. However, I wouldn’t rule out the UFC giving Pimblett one more tune-up before ranked opponents.

If I was managing Pimblett, I would try to keep him active this year. In my opinion, he should try to get at least three wins this year. If he can pick three wins this year, he would ride a ton of momentum into 2023.

Let’s be clear, Paddy The Baddy is one of the best prospects in the UFC. He’s also the kind of guy who can become a big star for the promotion. He will definitely be someone to pay attention to in 2022.

UFC booking Sodiq Yusuff – Alex Caceres

The UFC has finalized a fun matchup in the featherweight division. MMA Junkie was the first to report this afternoon that the promotion had finalized a matchup between “Super” Sodiq Yusuff (11-2) and Alex Caceres (19-12).

The matchup will take place at a UFC Fight Night on March 12th. This is a big matchup for Yusuff who will be looking to bounce back after his first loss with the promotion.

Yusuff earned himself a UFC contract after appearing on Dana White’s Contender Series back in 2018. After winning on the show, Yusuff won his first four UFC fights. The biggest win came against Andre Fili.

In his last fight, he took on another top prospect in Arnold Allen. It was the first time we’ve really seen Yusuff struggle inside the octagon. Allen won a decision and now Yusuff will look to bounce back against the streaking veteran ‘Bruce Leeroy’.

UFC run for Caceres

It’s crazy to believe that Caceres has been with the UFC since 2011. When making his debut, Caceres was 5-2 and fresh off The Ultimate Fighter. Caceres didn’t win the show and he lost his first fight with the UFC.

Through his first eighteen fights with the promotion, Caceres was 9-9. However, he recently hit a stretch and he’s been incredibly impressive. It all started with his decision win over Steven Peterson back in 2019.

After that, he picked apart former top prospect Chase Hooper. After the Hooper win, he’s won three additional fights including two submissions. His winning streak now stands at five and he’s being rewarded with this matchup against Yusuff.

This is a massive opportunity for Bruce Leeroy. If he’s able to defeat Yusuff, he’s likely going to be looking at a top ten opponent in his next fight. This fight means a ton for both guys and it should be a very entertaining scrap.

Knicks acquire Denzel Valentine in 3-team deal

After officially signing former Chicago Bulls guard Ryan Arcidiacono to a 10-day contract, the New York Knicks bring in another ex-Bull.

The Knicks acquired Denzel Valentine and the draft rights to center Wang Zhelin and Brad Newley in a three-team trade with the Los Angeles Lakers and Cleveland Cavaliers. The Knicks essentially pocketed $1.1 million for participating in the deal that will land the Cavaliers Rajon Rondo. The Lakers received Knicks’ French stash Louis Labeyrie who may never play in the NBA, thus opening a roster spot.

The Knicks have waived Wayne Selden, currently in the health and safety protocols, to absorb Valentine’s partially guaranteed contract.

The 14th overall pick in 2016, Valentine averaged 7.4 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 2.0 assists over four seasons with the Bulls. The former Michigan State standout enjoyed his best NBA season in 2017-18, averaging 10.2 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 3.2 assists.

The Knicks have until Jan. 7 to guarantee the $1 million of Valentine’s $1.9 million salary this season. There are rumors that Valentine will be waived to convert Arcidiacono’s 10-day deal into a regular NBA contract.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Mets: Scherzer remains hopeful about CBA negotiations

Could the New York Yankees pursue Max Scherzer in a trade?

Before the MLB lockout, the New York Mets broke the market and signed multiple Cy Young award winner Max Scherzer to a three-year, $130 million deal with an opt-out clause after the second season.

As it turns out, Scherzer is also one of the most prominent advocate for the players in the labor dispute with MLB owners. The Mets’ pitcher referred to the lockout that the league imposed on December 1 in an interview with Jorge Castillo of the Los Angeles Times.

The future Hall of Famer talked about the potential timing of an agreement, and some of the things the players are fighting for, like the need to pay minor leaguers and young big leaguers more, the luxury tax, and more.

The Mets’ star wants a full calendar in 2022

The Mets’ star acknowledged there could be lost games in 2022. “You’re just in limbo right now,” Scherzer said. “You’re training ready to be good to go for when spring training starts. If that doesn’t happen, then you make different decisions based on that. But until that happens, you have to have the mentality that we’re going to be playing on time. Any other kind of speculation is just hearsay.”

What the Mets’ co-ace (along with Jacob deGrom) is saying is that both sides ideally want to reach a deal before February, which is when Spring Training starts. If that hasn’t materialized by then, both owners and players would be reaching dangerous territory.

Scherzer also criticized the tanking strategy that some teams have adopted recently. “Even though that can be a strategy to win in future years, we’ve seen both small-market and large-market clubs embrace tanking, and that cannot be the optimal strategy for the owners,” he said.

The sides didn’t make much progress in December and stopped negotiations late in the month because of the holidays, but are expected to resume talking in January. Fans are hoping for a relatively quick resolution.

MLB Question Answered: So, how much do MLB umpires make?

Some of the most hated people in MLB are the umpires, mainly because of the wrong calls they make against your team, sometimes even costing the game. But, most fans don’t know much about the umpires, from how they qualify to how much money they make. So, today I will attempt to reveal those answers.

First of all, if you want to be a major league umpire, your chances of realizing that dream are slim. Many don’t even start with the desire to be an MLB umpire while umpiring little league or at a local high school. For those wishing to advance in the occupation, you will need to have some experience and attend a training school that could cost you upwards of $3,000 to enroll. There are two primary schools: The Minor League Baseball Umpire Training Academy in Florida or the Harry Wendelstedt Umpire School, which should be your best choice for advancement.

Attending school does not assure you of advancing as only 15-20% are selected to go on in their training, and even if you are selected, you have a long road ahead of you. Most umpires will spend nearly a decade in the minor leagues. Just like players, you will start in the lowest ranks of the minor league system. From the rookie leagues to the low A level. If you are good enough, you will eventually advance to the AAA level. Minor league umpires make as little as $2,000 a month to the more advanced earning as much as $3,900 a month. According to the Bleacher Report, umpires also get $66 a day per diem. That is to cover lodging, food, and other expenses. Like players, when lodging is required, most umpires bunk together to save money.

The Major League Umpires Association is charged with promoting minor league umpires to the major leagues. Obviously, the best get promoted first. The exact requirements are vague. Bill Miller has been the President of the union since 2019. Once an umpire reaches the majors, they have it pretty good. A rookie earns $150,000 minimum per year. If you are fortunate enough to be long-tenured like Joe West, you can earn as much as $450,000 per annum. Crew chiefs also can earn more. 

Major League umpires earn more than referees in other sports. But it’s not as attractive when you consider they officiate in far more games.

MLB umpires are under constant pressure to get balls and strike called correctly, but if you think they are overly worried, you would be incorrect. MLB is the only sport that umpires are not held accountable for, which angers teams and fans. NBA and the NFL have official scorecards that are open to the public. MLB’s Head of Officiating does provide this similar “service” to umpires, but with no accountability, most just toss them in the garbage. How the umpire association operates is mostly secret.

That smugness by paid officials makes the MLB look amateurish. It is evident that their lack of a standardized home plate “calls” between all umpires. It was considerably easier for umpires to dodge bad calls years ago, but now those bad calls stand out for all to see with instant replay. Also, television broadcasters are more adept with technology to make some of the following comments.

  • This is a “pitcher-friendly” umpire due to the large strike zone.
  • This is a “hitter friendly” umpire due to the small strike zone compared to other umpires.
  • This umpire has a high strike zone, which would be very unfair to a tall player like the Yankees’ Aaron Judge.
  • This umpire has an inconsistent strike zone. What was called a ball during the last inning is now being called a strike. The is where apparent favoritism is brought up when calls seem to favor one team or the other.
  • This umpire, either by his stance or where he holds his head, is influenced by the catcher moving his mitt to steal a pitch.

Now hopefully, you understand how difficult it is to become a major league umpire and, at the same time, how you will probably have a job until you retire with no or little accountability for your performance. That being said, underperforming umpires are seldom chosen for important, postseason, or World Series games.

Other notes:

Since 1952, umpires have been broken down to four-person crews. In the case of the postseason, the fourth is a backup umpire should one of the umpires be injured during the game. While there are more than 700 players on active rosters, there are only 76 full-time umpires in the Majors. The Commissioner of baseball assigns the crew chief.

MLB umpires have a much to do before any game. Nothing is more important than the baseball; all balls are rubbed up. According to the league’s official rulebook, the home plate umpire in chief is the sole judge of the fitness of all balls used in the game.

Ever since Cy Rigler, one of the first umpires, used his right-hand signals to call strikes, it became the way umpires call strikes and balls. All out calls are traditionally made with the right hand, and it’s the hand used by the home-plate umpire when he points at the starting pitcher while yelling “Play!” to officially begin a game.

 

Yankees News: Tampa Bay player has awesome thing to say about Gerrit Cole, high upside starting pitching free agent

Gerrit Cole, New York Yankees

Despite coming up with a dud in the Wild Card game for the New York Yankees, ace Gerrit Cole is still one of the best pitchers in baseball. He’s had minor inconsistencies over the past two seasons after signing a lucrative nine-year, $324 million contract worth $36 million on average per season.

This past year, Cole finished with a 3.23 ERA and made a strong push for the Cy Young award. He posted a 12.06 strikeouts per nine rate, 77.9% left on-base percentage and 43.1% ground ball rate, his highest since joining the Yankees.

While his 16 wins were impressive, he picked up eight losses over 181.1 innings. After the MLB cracked down on spider tack, Cole saw a spin rate and velocity reduction.

However, he did throw his fastball at 97.8 mph, the highest of his entire career. He also threw his change up 89.9 mph, another career-best. However, he saw a big influx in change-up usage at 14.2% this past season, the highest of his career. His fastball dipped to 47.3% after throwing it more than 50% of the time since 2018.

Despite minor changes to his game, Cole was still a daunting task for many hitters, especially Brett Phillips of the Tampa Bay Rays.

Phillips claims that Cole is the best pitcher he’s ever faced, striking out all five times and making him feel like he never played baseball before.

Cole can have that elite effect on hitters, but he does have issues giving up home runs at times, which can overshadow his hard work.

Carlos Rodon makes the most sense for the Yankees:

One way or another, the Yankees desperately need to find a complement to Cole in the number two starting pitching spot. One free agent option is Carlos Rodon, who’s coming off his best season in the MLB with a Chicago White Sox.

Rodon turned in a 2.37 ERA this past season over 132.2 innings. He picked up 13 wins with a 12.55 strikeout per nine rate and 82.2% left on-base percentage.

The 29-year-old starter saw significant increases in velocity, throwing his fastball 95.4 mph after hitting just 93 mph in 2020. Clearly, a change in fundamentals impacted his play in a positive way. He saw career highs in velocity with his fastball, change-up, and slider. He utilized his fastball on 58.7% of his pitches, another high.

While Rodon may command significant money, the Yankees might be able to overspend on a year over year basis to keep the contract short given his small sample size of success. Nonetheless, his upside is exciting for a team in free agency, and the Yankees may need to take a gamble on a player of his talents.