New York Giants planning to address injury problems under Joe Schoen

New York Giants, Saquon Barkley

The New York Giants are one of the worst-off NFL teams when it comes to injuries, and that point hasn’t been lost on new GM Joe Schoen. It didn’t take long for Schoen to be asked about the subject, and it looks like there’s some plans to look into it.

“Some of the issues around here in the past have been injuries. We need to do a deep dive into that and make sure we’re doing everything we can so these players can put their best foot forward on Sundays,” Schoen said on the Tiki and Tierney Show.

Injuries, of course, were one of the main factors leading to the Giants’ season going off the rails in 2021. Not only did these injuries expose an offensive line that lacked depth coming into the year, they also kept most of the highly touted offensive weapons from being on the field at the same time.

It’s been a recurring trend for the Giants, and injuries have been a detriment to some of the team’s most productive players. From Odell Beckham Jr. to Saquon Barkley to Sterling Shepard, and even Kadarius Toney this season, many of the players the Giants have relied on the most are also players that have missed significant time with injuries.

And this isn’t a trend that the defense has escaped, either. The Giants were reminded of that in 2021 when both Blake Martinez and Jabrill Peppers suffered ACL tears to end their seasons.

It remains to be seen how Schoen intends to help the issue, but with it looking like the Giants are moving towards a more forward-thinking approach overall, we can perhaps expect analytics and more advanced methods to play a part.

UFC booking Uriah Hall – Andre Muniz

The UFC has finalized a fun middleweight matchup for an April Fight Night. MMA Fighting was the first to report this evening that the promotion had verbal agreements in place for a middleweight clash between “Primetime” Uriah Hall (17-10) and Andre Muniz (22-4).

The matchup will take place at a UFC Fight Night on April 16th. For Muniz, he’s going to be looking for his ninth consecutive win. Muniz first came onto the UFC scene in 2019 when he appeared on Dana White’s Contender Series.

After securing a first round submission finish, Muniz was given a UFC contract. After winning his first two fights, the promotion gave him a shot against the legendary Jacare Souza at UFC 262. Both men were known for their incredible jiu jitsu, but it was Muniz who blew everyone away.

In the matchup, Muniz was able to get an arm lock on Jacare that broke the legends arm. It was a huge win for Muniz and a big feather in his cap. He followed that win up by submitting Eryk Anders in the first round at UFC 269. Now, on the heels of his eighth straight win and a new ranking by his name, Muniz will take on Uriah Hall.

UFC Future for Uriah Hall

Uriah Hall was first introduced to fans on The Ultimate Fighter. Hall dazzled the world with brilliant knockouts that were also extremely vicious. He ran through the show and faced off against Kelvin Gastelum in the finale. People were already touting Hall as a potential UFC title challenger.

However, in that finale, we saw some concerns with Hall. Starting with that fight against Gastelum, we’ve seen Hall fight throughout his career with a lack of confidence and a lack of aggressiveness. That lack of fire has often cost him fights that he should’ve easily won.

Between 2018 and the start of 2021, Hall went on a four-fight win streak that had people thinking Hall was finally ready to become a UFC title challenger. However, he was outpaced and beat up by Sean Strickland back in July to halt all momentum.

Now, Hall will look to turn away Muniz when they fight in April. This is a big fight for Hall because if he loses, there are a lot of question marks surrounding his future.

Eagle FC 44 Preview

Tomorrow night, Eagle FC will officially touch down in the United States for the first time. The Russian led MMA promotion which is owned by former UFC champion Khabib Nurmagomedov will host their first event in the US.

Eagle FC 44 will take place in Miami and it starts at 6:00 PM ET. For all interested fans, the event is free to watch at EagleFC.com. The main event of the evening featuring a compelling matchup between two big heavyweights.

Former world champion kickboxer and undefeated boxer Tyrone Spong (2-0) will be competing in his third MMA fight. He will be taking on Pride, Bellator, and Strikeforce veteran Sergei Kharitonov (33-9).

Kharitonov lost fought in November when he stopped Fabio Maldonado. Prior to that, he lost in Bellator to Cheick Kongo. Eagle FC 44 will be the first time we’ve seen Spong compete in MMA since 2013.

After winning his first two MMA bouts, Spong has focused on boxing. However, Eagle FC was able to get him back into the cage and he will make the walk for the third time tomorrow. It’s obviously going to be key for him to keep the fight standing. If he does, this fight won’t last long.

Eagle FC 44 Preview

In addition to the heavyweights, former UFC light heavyweight champion Rashad Evans (19-8-1) will be returning tomorrow night. The former UFC champion hasn’t fought since 2018 after losing five straight fights.

However, he came out of retirement at 42 for this fight in Eagle FC. He will be taking on Brazilian contender Gabriel Checco (12-5). Checco has mainly fought on the regional scene and he’s coming off of a TKO win back in October.

In addition to Evans, there are other UFC veterans that are competing at Eagle FC 44. Those fighters include Yorgan De Castro, John Howard, and Cody Gibson. Gibson will actually be taking on former UFC title challenger Ray Borg (14-5).

Borg will be making his second appearance after he briefly retired. There were a lot of personal issues with Borg that forced him away from fighting in 2020. When he was on, Borg was one of the best flyweights in the UFC.

He is going to be fighting Gibson at bantamweight. If he looks really good tomorrow night, it’ll be interesting to see what comes next for Borg. Overall, I’m expecting a very solid night of fights and I would definitely recommend tuning in.

Report: Knicks shop Walker, Fournier, Burks ahead of trade deadline

The floundering New York Knicks are open for business.

It appears the Knicks are ready to move on from the Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier experiment.

ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reported Thursday on NBA Today that the Knicks are willing to trade their prized offseason acquisitions.

“In conversations this week with teams, the Knicks have expressed a willingness to trade some of their veteran players that includes Kemba Walker, Evan Fournier, Alec Burks, guys like this,” Windhorst said. “And there’s a reason for it.”

Windhorst added that the Knicks are motivated to move some of their veterans to open up minutes for Cam Reddish, whom they acquired from the Atlanta Hawks essentially for a first-round pick. Derrick Rose’s impending return would also likely mean Walker could return to Tom Thibodeau’s doghouse if not traded by Feb. 10.

“They traded for Cam Reddish two weeks ago, and he is not getting minutes in the rotation from Tom Thibodeau,” Windhorst said. “And Derrick Rose is expected to come back from injury very soon here. It’s just too crowded, and they’re not playing well with what they have, so they’re willing to change that mix.”

Since Reddish returned from an ankle injury, he hasn’t cracked Thibodeau’s rotation. The former lottery pick out of Duke has only played a total of 15 minutes, including 10 garbage time in the Knicks’ 110-96 loss to the Miami Heat Wednesday night.

“Obviously, the Knicks traded for him; they’d like to see him play,” Windhorst said.

It appears the Reddish trade is a front-office move which Thibodeau didn’t co-sign based on the way he’s used 6-foot-8 wingman and his statements in the aftermath of the trade. But if the Knicks front office successfully moves veterans in the current rotation, Thibodeau would be left with no choice but to use Reddish.

The Knicks have lost five of their last six games to slide to 23-26 and outside the Top 10 in the Eastern Conference. Their willingness to deal their veterans away could be a sign that the Knicks are mulling over punting this season to develop their young core the rest of the way.

Walker’s days in New York have been numbered ever since Thibodeau yanked the former four-time All-Star from the rotation 20 games into the season. Fournier had his moments, but his inconsistency has become a microcosm of the Knicks’ current play this season.

Fournier is one of the most vocal supporters of Walker, whom he played with in Boston last season, and isn’t shy in criticizing Thibodeau’s offensive schemes.

The starting five of Walker, Fournier alongside RJ Barrett, Julius Randle, and Mitchell Robinson continue to be one of the worst lineup combinations in the league with a -15.4 net rating.

But it’s going to be a challenge to move Fournier and Walker’s contracts with their value currently at their lowest. Fournier has a $73-million price tag while Walker, who was in and out of the rotation due to his persisting knee problems and being a defensive liability, signed a two-year deal worth $17.9 million in the offseason to come home to New York.

Burks, who has played out of position due to Rose’s injury and Walker’s inconsistent availability, signed a $30 million, three-year contract with the last year as club option.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

UFC headliner between Jan Blachowicz and Aleksandar Rakic is off

Corey Anderson

Bad news for UFC fans in Ohio that were expecting to see a potential title eliminator in the light heavyweight division in March. Ariel Helwani was the first to report this afternoon that the matchup between former champion Jan Blachowicz (28-9) and Aleksandar Rakic (14-2) is off.

The two men were expecting to headline the March 26th Fight Night that was set to take place in Ohio. It was the first UFC Fight Night that was going to have a full arena in the United States since the pandemic started.

Helwani reported that the former light heavyweight champion has been forced to withdraw. It’s not known yet the reasoning or how long Blachowicz will be out of action. However, the UFC is wanting to rebook this fight.

With that in mind, Rakic will be off the card altogether. Of course, that means that the promotion is going to need a new headlining fight and I guarantee the UFC is off and running with figuring that out.

UFC Headliner

With this being the first US Fight Night with a full arena since the pandemic started, you have to imagine that the UFC wants to do it big. Michelle Waterson and Amanda Ribas are the co-main event, but I can’t imagine they will move that up to the main event.

The UFC has done that in the past with Waterson, however, this card seems too big for that. With that in mind, what is a potential main event that the promotion could shift towards.

Well, there’s one big fight that jumps out to me immediately. That would be the welterweight contest between Gilbert Burns (20-4) and Khamzat Chimaev (10-0). This is a fight that the UFC wants to make and both men want the fight.

Burns has been calling for it to be a main event and the delay has likely been caused by trying to find a date that didn’t already have a main event. It was likely going to take place in April or May, but I could see the UFC moving it up given this news.

Time will tell, but considering we are just about two months out, I would expect that we will know sooner than later.

The New York Giants are inching closer to a head coach decision

brian flores, giants

The New York Giants are close to finding their next head coach. New General Manager Joe Schoen has collaborated with ownership to conduct the search for Joe Judge’s replacement. New York has interviewed a wide range of candidates, but they are nearly finished. The Giants completed a second interview with Brian Daboll earlier this week and have now completed an interview with Brian Flores. With one interview left on the schedule, the Giants seem set to make a final decision this weekend.

Leslie Frazier is the only remaining interview that the Giants have scheduled at this point. Frazier, the Buffalo Bills’ defensive coordinator, is not expected to be a favorite among the finalists. Rather, reports are suggesting that it will come down to two Brians: Brian Flores vs. Brian Daboll.

Brian Flores vs. Brian Daboll

The Giants do not seem to have much competition for Brian Flores, though, if he is the favorite. The Broncos and Bears both found their head coaches today. There are only two remaining head coach openings that have expressed interest in Brian Flores: the Giants and the Texans. Reports indicate that New York is Brian’s preferred destination.

There is seemingly little competition for Brian Flores, considering the Giants’ mutual interest with the head coaching candidate. However, the race to hire Brian Daboll might be a bit closer. According to Pat Leonard of NY Daily News, Brian Daboll is the favorite for the Miami Dolphins’ opening. This would leave the Giants with Brian Flores as their likely next head coach. But the Giants cannot rule Daboll out yet.

Indeed, the Dolphins are heavily interested in hiring Brian Daboll. But Miami has not yet begun its second round of interviews. The Dolphins are expected to start that second round early next week with candidates like Daboll, as well as Kellen Moore and Mike McDaniel. Miami is in no rush to get things done, leaving a window of opportunity open for New York.

The Giants will complete their final interview tomorrow. After that, they are free to make their decision and hire whoever they want. They do not have to wait for Brian Daboll to have his second interview with Miami. The Giants could offer Daboll a job tomorrow evening and, if he prefers New York to Miami, he could accept and become the next head coach. However, Brian Daboll could also be mulling his options, which could prolong the Giants’ search for their next coach or prompt them to hire Brian Flores and get to work immediately.

Regardless of what decision Brian Daboll makes this weekend, the likelihood is that the New York Giants will hire their next head coach by Saturday. Brian Flores and Brian Daboll are clearly the leaders in the clubhouse and it will be interesting to see which Brian prevails this weekend.

Hitting coach Dillon Lawson to program Yankees to be “monster hitters”

The New York Yankees had one of their worst hitting seasons in years, last season, with two results. The Yankees ended up in the middle of the pack in hitting in a season that got them to the wild card game and a loss to the Boston Red Sox, ending their season. The other result was hitting coach Marcus Thames losing his job after a horrible season for all Yankee players with the exception of Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton. The two are the only reason the Yankees got to the doorstep of the postseason.

Thames was the Yankee hitting coach from 2018 to this past season after being an assistant and hitting coach in the Yankees minor league system. He had a ten-year major league career, starting with the Yankees in 2002. He also played for the Rangers, Tigers, and finally, the Los Angeles Dodger in 2011. His best year as a hitter was in 2010 in his second stint with the Yankees when hit .288 with a dozen home runs. In his career, he was never an All-Star with a career batting average of just .246.

During 2013 he was hired as the hitting coach of the advanced A Tampa team. He was promoted to the Trenton Thunder and named the assistant hitting coach of the Yankees in 2016, becoming the hitting coach in 2019. During his time as the hitting coach, the Yankees played well but were never able to get over the hump and into the postseason. After last season’s poor hitting with a powerful lineup, the Yankees did not renew his contract in favor of hiring Dillon Lawson.

Lawson has become the Yankees hitting coach this off-season after being its’ hitting coordinator in 2019. Lawson attended Transylvania University, where he played college ball as a catcher and first baseman. When he graduated, he became a coach at Lindenwood University. He also coached at Morehead State University, Southeast Missouri, the Tri-City Valley Cats, and finally at the University of Missouri for the Quad Cities River Bandits before becoming a Yankee.

Lawson brings to the Yankees a “hit-it-hard” philosophy. His philosophy is pretty simple “swing at strikes and hit them hard.” He wants to convert the Yankee players to being hitting monsters. Wednesday, he explained:

“When we swing at strikes, we’re likely to make more contact. When we make more contact, we’re likely to hit the ball harder. When we make hard contact, we would like to hit it over the infield. Sometimes we would like to hit it over the outfield fence. All of that works.”

“It’s definitely something we’ll focus on. Whether it was an issue last year or not, it would still be a focus of ours because we think it’s just going to lead to more success and, again, when you have guys that can hit the ball the way that we do, getting it over the infield is going to allow for better results.”

“As a hitting coach, we’ve got monsters all up and down the lineup. I’m extremely excited. It’s amazing to be able to work with these guys. In reality, we’re trying to keep their strengths their strengths, and then any areas where we can improve by even just 1%, that’s going to make a big difference when we get onto the field, considering the outstanding roster we already have.”

“There’s plenty of things to be excited and optimistic about,” Lawson said. “We have an outstanding roster. As a hitting coach, we’ve got monsters all up and down the lineup. It’s amazing to be able to work with these guys. In reality, we’re trying to keep their strengths, and then any areas where we can improve — even just about 1% — that’s going to make a big difference.”

In addition to Lawson, the Yankees hired Casey Dykes as assistant hitting coach. They also hired Eric Chavez, but Chavez left to become the hitting coach of the crosstown New York Mets. Although the Yankees are not required to have more than one assistant coach, they likely will continue to look for a replacement for Chavez before the start of Spring Training.

Knicks assistant Kenny Payne odds-on favorite to be next Louisville coach

New York Knicks, Kenny Payne

The New York Knicks‘ sequel to their feel-good playoff run is spiraling down to a horror story.

As if losing their fifth in their last six games — a thorough beating at the hands of the Eastern Conference leader Miami Heat which showed the gap between them and the elite tier in the league — isn’t enough, the Knicks are also in danger of losing one of their top assistant coaches.

Kenny Payne, who bolted Kentucky and John Calipari to join the Knicks last season, is the heavy betting favorite to land one of the top 10 jobs in college basketball.

Sportsline.com listed Payne as the odds-on favorite at +400 to become the next head coach of Louisville after the major NCAA program parted ways with Chris Mack.

Payne turned down De Paul last year despite his strong ties with the school’s athletic director DeWayne Peevy, who also came from Calipari’s Kentucky program. But Payne’s stronger ties with Louisville are too hard to ignore.

A member of the Cardinals’ 1986 NCAA title team, Payne could also make history as Louisville’s first black head coach. He is also the popular choice among former Cardinal players as the right man to right the ship for the sinking major basketball program.

Despite having no prior head coaching experience, Payne is well-liked in the basketball circles. NBA stars swear by Payne, whom he helped develop into No. 1 picks, lottery selections, and stars in the league. Payne was also Calipari’s chief recruiter over 10 years at Kentucky and has built a reputation as a player’s coach.

Scott Davenport, who grew up in Louisville and the architect of Bellarmine’s transformation into a Division II powerhouse, and Seton Hall’s Kevin Willard are the next two favorites at +500. Auburn’s Bruce Pearl is a long shot at +2,500.

Last season, the Knicks lost another top assistant in Mike Woodson, who returned to his alma mater, Indiana University.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Jeremy Stephens no longer with the UFC; Officially a free agent

Jeremy Stephens

One of the more tenured fighters in the UFC is no longer with the promotion. Today, promotional officials confirmed with MMA Fighting that “Lil Heathen” Jeremy Stephens (28-19, 1 NC) is no longer with the promotion.

Stephens fought out his contract and his deal expired at the end of 2021. With the news today, we know that the UFC is not going to be bringing Stephens back and one of the more entertaining fighters over the last fifteen years is officially a free agent.

Stephens made his UFC debut back in May of 2007 when he fought Din Thomas. He was submitted in that first fight and the loss sent him back to the regional circuit. However, after one more win there, the UFC brought him back.

Once back in the UFC, Stephens won his first two fights including a TKO win over Cole Miller. It’s been quite the run for Stephens inside the octagon. Not many people can say they stay with the promotion as long as Stephens was able to.

Life Post UFC

Some of the highlight moments for Stephens in the UFC included a knockout of Rafael Dos Anjos and a big knockout over current top contender Josh Emmett. However, most of Stephens UFC career will be remembered as a guy who could get close to the top, but couldn’t quite summit the mountain.

Some might only remember him for being the guy who was mocked by Conor McGregor at a press conference. However, Stephens was always a ton of fun to watch in the UFC and he always kept you on the edge of your seat due to his raw power.

Now, he’s moving on. At just 35 years old, Stephens has plenty of fight left in him. I expect him to be pursued by both the PFL and Bellator. However, something tells me that PFL might have the inside track.

PFL is constantly looking to bring in more mainstream guys for their seasons. Stephens would bring in really solid name recognition and he has a great history with the UFC. He would be a very exciting addition to the 2022 lightweight season.

Time will tell, but this is definitely not he last we’ve seen of Jeremy Stephens.

Report: Knicks could trade Julius Randle at the deadline for ‘right return’

julius randle, knicks

In the month of January, Knicks‘ third-year guard RJ Barrett is averaging 22.5 points per game, 3.4 assists, and 6.3 rebounds. He’s also shooting 43.7% from three-point range. Barrett has completely taken over the No. 1 scoring job for New York, leaving Julius Randle in his dust, as the veteran forward records 17 points and is shooting 24.6% from range to start the new year.

This season, Randle has been a shell of his former self, averaging 18.7 points per game, five fewer than his All-Star campaign last year. Clearly, his confidence is shot, and the media is turning on him, resulting in a lack of motivation and care.

The Knicks are stuck in a strange situation, having extended him on a four-year, $117 million deal that doesn’t kick in until next season.

However, Randle is still a productive player that could reach his full potential alongside a superstar if a team was willing to trade for him. Randle’s extension isn’t a crazy contract, earning under $30 million for the majority of the four years.

With the trade deadline coming up, it is possible the front office considers Randle a bargaining chip for a more prominent name, especially with the team struggling and unlikely to make a push in the postseason with Julius regressing significantly.

According to Ian Begley of SNY, Julius Randle could be traded for the “right return”:

It’s worth noting that one team in touch with a member of the organization recently is under the impression that Julius Randle would be available for the right return.

Begley writes that the Knicks have been intrigued by players like Jaylen Brunson and Myles Turner. Other names on the market will attract their attention, but New York doesn’t have a ton of capital to part ways with after acquiring Cam Reddish for a first-round pick next year via Charlotte.

Nonetheless, there is no straightforward fix to the Knicks’ issues, but getting rid of Randle’s massive contract might be a step in the right direction if they can land another big name that fits the teams mold more efficiently.