UFC finalizing Khamzat Chimaev – Gilbert Burns per Dana White

The UFC is close to finalizing an intriguing welterweight matchup that fight fans have been waiting a long time for. Dana White said today that the promotion was in the process of finalizing a matchup between Khamzat Chimaev (10-0) and Gilbert Burns (20-4).

The matchup would take place at UFC 273 on April 9th. Now, this fight has been rumored to be in the works for a long time and both men have appeared to be in camp, but nothing was finalized. The promotion also hadn’t let on whether the fight was done or not.

Now, we have a date and time for this fight and it goes down at UFC 273. This will be the first fight of the year for former welterweight title challenger Gilbert Burns. The last time we saw Burns was back at UFC 264 when he took on Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson.

In that fight, Burns was looking to bounce back after he lost his title shot against Kamaru Usman. Burns did bounce back and picked up the big win at UFC 264. Since moving to welterweight, Burns has been one of the best and now he’s 7-1 at 170 pounds.

UFC’s Biggest Rising Star

There is not a prospect with more potential in MMA right now than the UFC’s Khamzat Chimaev. Chimaev has been unworldly since making his debut back in Fight Island in 2020. In the span of just a few months, Chimaev went 3-0 with three stoppages while absorbing one strike.

He was so dominant that the UFC struggled to find opponents for him. The promotion decided to fast-track him and booked him against Leon Edwards. However, Covid scrapped this fight on both sides. The first time it was booked, Edwards got Covid. Then, Chimaev got Covid which cancelled the next bout.

Covid complications actually kept Chimaev out of the UFC for most of 2021. Chimaev finally got back to 100% and he returned at UFC 267 against top fifteen contender Li Jingliang. This was a huge test for Chimaev after the layoff and Li was his first ranked opponent.

Well, Chimaev didn’t skip a beat as he smashed Li and choked him out in the first round. Now, the UFC is pushing him all the way to the top of the division against the former title challenger in Gilbert Burns. If Chimaev can run through Burns like he’s ran through everyone else, he’s likely going to get a title shot next.

Rafael Dos Anjos – Rafael Fiziev is off UFC 272

Well, the UFC 272 fight week is not off to a great start. As promotional efforts got underway for this week’s PPV event, Rafael Dos Anjos (30-13) was appearing on Ariel Helwani’s MMA Hour to preview his upcoming matchup against Rafael Fiziev (11-1).

Originally, these two men were supposed to headline UFC Vegas 48. However, due to visa issues, Fiziev wasn’t able to get into the United States for the fight. The UFC decided to push the fight back to this weekend’s co-main event and keep the fight five-rounds.

However, that fight is not going to happen. While on-air, Ariel Helwani broke the news to Rafael Dos Anjos himself that Rafael Fiziev is out of the UFC 272 co-main event. Fiziev flew to the United States on Thursday to get acclimated and ended up falling ill. Turns out that Fiziev tested positive for Covid over the weekend.

With the positive test, the UFC 272 co-main event is off and the former lightweight champion is left without a fight. Now, at this time it’s not clear on whether or not the promotion will try to keep RDA on the card. However, there are some options if they go that route.

UFC backup options

One of the options that’s already been floated out there is a potential fight with Kevin Holland. Holland is making his welterweight debut at UFC 272 against Alex Oliveira. If this fight were to come together, it would of course be at 170 pounds so RDA wouldn’t have to cut weight.

Another option the UFC could explore is having Islam Makhachev take the fight against RDA. Now, this is not very likely in my opinion. Makhachev just headlined this past weekend’s Fight Night where he stopped Bobby Green in the first round. It was an easy night at the office where Makhachev took no damage.

However, given the way his career has been managed, I find it hard to believe that they would take this short-notice fight at UFC 272. There’s history between RDA and Makhachev as they were supposed to fight a number of times. However, it always fell through.

At this time, there’s no real word on what the UFC will do, but this story is developing.

Lack of chemistry, true point guard keep Knicks fumbling

The success of New York Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau’s schemes is predicated on his players playing on a string.

Last season, the Knicks were tied together. They may not have as many scoring punches as they have assembled this summer, but they blended well together. They complemented each other. They were predictable. But they have consistency.

They are the exact opposite of who they were from the previous year this season.

The Knicks bogged down again down the stretch, coughing up only four points in the final seven minutes to let a crucial game against the Philadelphia 76ers slip away Sunday.

If there’s anything predictable about the Knicks this season, it is that they’re going to collapse at some point after a promising start or solid play midway.

“We have a group of guys — we all love each other, and I mean that, but getting down the stretch, that’s not good enough,” Evan Fournier told reporters after the Knicks broke down anew in the fourth quarter.

They were right at the doorstep of an upset. They were battling the offensively-loaded 76ers neck-and-neck until they fell apart.

Embiid strung up eight straight points, six from free throws, to start Philadelphia’s break away from a tight 106-105 lead with 7:01 left. With the Knicks forced to play small after their centers, Jericho Sims and Mitchell Robinson, fouled out less than 30 seconds apart, the 76ers took advantage.

The Knicks couldn’t secure the defensive rebound off a Tyrese Maxey miss. Tobias Harris, struggling with only five points, tapped out the offensive rebound and Philadelphia’s ball movement found him back for an open three-pointer from the corner.

The 76ers’ lead grew to eight. The Knicks shrunk under pressure.

“We are lacking confidence right now as a group,” Fournier said. “We’re not tied together enough. Down the stretch, we have no confidence. We’re second-guessing at times. It should be second nature. It should be boom, boom, boom! This is what we’re doing. But as long as we’re not doing that, it’s hard to close out games against teams that are good.”

In their last nine games, beginning at their embarrassing collapse against the Los Angeles Lakers, the Knicks have the league’s lowest offensive rating (82.7 points per 100 possessions) and effective field goal percentage (34.9 percent) in the fourth quarter, according to NBA advanced stats.

Fournier, who was hot with six triples and 24 points in the first three quarters, only had one attempt in the fourth quarter. Overall, they only shot 9 of 25 in the fourth quarter and got outscored by 14. The 76ers closed out the game with a 19-4 run in the final 7:01 of the game.

“We need to think a little bit more about what we want to achieve when we run something,” said Fournier underscoring their lack of purpose and their disorganized play down the stretch.

Thibodeau’s hands are tied.

Kemba Walker is no longer with the team. Derrick Rose needed another procedure on his ankle that set him back further in his recovery. Miles McBride is a rookie. Immanuel Quickley is having a crash course running the team. Alec Burks is a natural wing.

Unlike the 76ers, who have James Harden, who is making life easier for Embiid and the rest, the Knicks don’t have that luxury. It should not be even a luxury. It’s a basic necessity for a team that aspires to become better than mediocre.

“To start the game, you are trying to get into a rhythm. You move the ball. You go from one side to another because everybody has to touch it. Everyone has to feel good,” Fournier said. “But fourth quarter is different. That the time to really execute our stuff and go to our best players.”

Quickly, who played the whole fourth quarter, had the lion’s share of shots but he was only 3 for 8 from the field and had zero assist. Barrett went 4 for 6. Randle missed all his three attempts. Burks and Fournier missed their lone field goal attempt.

The Knicks have set their sights on returning to the playoffs this season. They did not turn a blind eye to their sputtering offense in their playoff loss to Atlanta Hawks. But what they did was worse than being blind. They have sight but no vision of who they wanted to be.

Unlike the 76ers, who had a vision of who they wanted to be.

“Unstoppable,” Embiid said of his partnership with the point guard 76ers president Daryl Morey targeted for months.

“What are you really going to do? He’s a great passer, and obviously, I’ve got someone [next to me] that attracts a lot of attention to him, so you’ve got to make a decision. Do you stay on me, or do you stay on him? And if you want to guard both of us with the other guys, now you’ve got Matisse [Thybulle] diving to the rim or wide-open shooters that have got one job to do, and that’s making shots. That’s all we got to keep doing,” Embiid added.

“Like I was saying in the locker room, I’m happy I don’t have to post up every single possession, so it’s great.”

Fournier could only wish the Knicks had that vision and knew how to execute. But he can only describe the Knicks’ play at the opposite end of where Embiid and the 76ers stand. 

“It’s frustrating because we’re not far at all like we should be winning these games. It’s frustrating, very frustrating,” Fournier said. 

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Mets hire Elizabeth Benn as director of Major League operations

New York Mets

The New York Mets made an historic hire, by bringing on a new director of Major League operations. Her name is Elizabeth Benn and, according to the team official website, she will become the highest-ranked woman baseball ops employee in the history of the franchise.

Benn is more than qualified for the job. She has worked in the league since 2017 and has accumulated valuable experience with MLB in youth programs, labor relations, and baseball operations since the pandemic season, 2020.

Benn is a baseball player herself, having pitched in the New York City Metro Baseball League (she was the first woman to play in that circuit). She will add valuable experience to the Mets.

She graduated from the University of Toronto and the Columbia University. She will work with Mets’ general manager Billy Eppler as well as assistant GMs Bryn Alderson, Ian Levin and Ben Zauzmer.

The Mets are creating opportunities for women in the organization

Benn is part of a women’s movement across the league, as they are finally getting the opportunities they deserve.

Kim Ng became the first female general manager in baseball after taking over the Miami Marlins in late 2020. The Mets themselves wanted to add Yankees’ assistant GM Jean Afterman during the offseason, and they also requested permission to talk to Boston Red Sox’s assistant GM Raquel Ferreira.

“We might not see many women in front offices right now,” Benn had stated in a 2019 profile in The Athletic, “[but] I think that’s going to continue to grow.”

Per the Mets’ official website, “in addition to Benn, the Mets recently hired Gretchen Aucoin, the first on-field female coach in franchise history, to a Minor League role. She follows in the footsteps of the Giants’ Alyssa Nakken, the first full-time female coach in Major League history, and the Yankees’ Rachel Balkovec, who recently became the first woman to manage a Major League-affiliated team.”

Former Yankee great Derek Jeter abruptly steps down as CEO of Miami Marlins

derek jeter, yankees, marlins

Former New York Yankees shortstop and legend Derek Jeter decided to resign from his post as the CEO of the Miami Marlins, noting differences in vision for the club and the direction management wanted to take.

 

“Today I am announcing that the Miami Marlins and I are officially ending our relationship and I will no longer serve as CEO nor as a shareholder in the Club. We had a vision five years ago to turn the Marlins franchise around, and as CEO, I have been proud to put my name and reputation on the line to make our plan a reality,” Jeter said in a statement. “Through hard work, trust and accountability, we transformed every aspect of the franchise, reshaping the workforce, and developing a long-term strategic plan for success.

“That said, the vision for the future of the franchise is different than the one I signed up to lead. Now is the right time for me to step aside as a new season begins.

“My family and I would like to thank our incredible staff, Marlins fans, Marlins players, and the greater Miami community for welcoming us with open arms and making us feel at home. The organization is stronger today than it was five years ago, and I am thankful and grateful to have been a part of this team.”

 

Knicks News: Doc Rivers points out Knicks’ biggest struggles, injury woes mounting

knicks, tom thibodeau

The New York Knicks lost a disappointing game against the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday, blowing a lead in the second half, putting up just 20 points in the fourth quarter compared to 36 from their opposition at MSG.

On the day, the Knicks allowed 37 points to Joel Embiid, who recorded 23 free-throw makes on 27 attempts. James Harden contributed 29 points, 16 assists, and 10 rebounds, posting a triple-double to help overcome a lackluster New York team.

The Knicks’ leading scorers were Evan Fournier and RJ Barrett, who both contributed 24 points apiece, but their defense was abysmal in the process. With injuries beginning to log-jam the team, head coach Tom Thibodeau is facing a difficult ending to the season, but everyone is asking the same question, how did they plummet so quickly to mediocrity?

“When you make changes, sometimes that goes well for you and sometimes it doesn’t,’’ Doc Rivers said after the 76ers win, via Marc Berman of the NY Post. “Chemistry is a very fickle thing, as we all know. When you have it, you want it. Sometimes you don’t even know why you have it, but you know you want to try to protect it. And when you lose it, you don’t know why you’re losing it sometimes. But there’s still time.’’

Rivers is specifically hitting at the acquisitions of Fournie and Kemba Walker, both of whom have failed to mesh properly. Walker provides little to no defense and Fournier is also a liability, which is a significant problem considering the team built an identity around strong defensive play last season.

Injuries to point guard Derrick Rose and rookie shooting guard Quentin Grimes have only bogged down the team even further, and it might be too little too late for New York to make a last-second run and push for a postseason spot. The Knicks have lost five consecutive games and nine of their last 10.

They will take on the Philadelphia 76ers once again on March 2, but their schedule doesn’t get any easier with the Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Clippers coming up next on their road trip. The Knicks currently host a 25–36 record, 15 games out of the first seed in the Eastern Conference and 4.5 games out of the 10th seed, held by the Atlanta Hawks.

Luckily, Grimes at least won’t have to undergo surgery on his injured patella, but he could easily miss the remainder of the season, which would be a significant blow to the team’s defensive contributions.

“As time goes on, we’ll update as we get more information as well,” Thibodeau said. “But we feel like the fact that there’s no surgery is good.”

One underrated tackle the Giants could snag in the 1st round of the 2022 NFL Draft

Nicholas Petit-Frere, giants

Many are focused on the big offensive tackle prospects in the 2022 NFL draft, notably Ikem Ekwonu, Evan Neal, and Charles Cross. The New York Giants desperately need more support at the position, and they can go in various different directions to plug the right tackle spot.

Depending on who is available with the 5th or 7th overall selections, new general manager Joe Schoen has a big decision to make. However, there is one option that could be available later on in the first round that not many are talking about but still possesses great physical attributes and a solid body of work at both left and right tackle.

One of the biggest concerns for the Giants in this draft is that the majority of the players available at OT are projected as starting left tackles in the NFL. Making the transition isn’t easy, but having already played the position, one Ohio State player could be a perfect solution.

Kyle Crabbs of the Draft Network delivered a solid review of Nicholas Petit-Frere:

Petit-Frere has excellent physical tools and offers the kind of frame that is meant to play on the edge. He’s long, dense, and fluid as an athlete, offering a promising skill set for an NFL team to continue to tinker with in an effort to reach his high ceiling. There are some technical and instinctual lapses that pop up from time to time in his footwork and angles, but generally speaking, Petit-Frere has overwhelmed most opponents with his blend of traits.

Petit-Frere is an extremely underrated option for the Giants, giving up no sacks and only four pressures during his 2020 campaign where he played right tackle. With elite athleticism and natural pass protecting tools, he made the transition to the left side in 2021, holding down the spot for quarterback CJ Stroud.

One of the most exciting parts of Petit-Frere’s game is his lateral mobility, cutting off speed rushers around the edge but also providing a solid anchor against bull-rushes. Getting to the second level isn’t a problem for Petit-Frere, working well through his blocks and displaying high football IQ. Having succeeded at both the right and left sides, the Giants can feel good about him solving the most problematic position in the trenches.

Oddly, Petit-Frere is being projected as a late first-round or even early second-round pick, but he’s also considered a day one starter who could develop into an elite tackle, making him one of the best value picks in the draft.

Yankees: How much is Freddie Freeman worth in free agency?

freddie freeman, yankees

The New York Yankees have first baseman Luke Voit on the roster, but don’t appear to be sold on his long-term health and defensive abilities. That’s why they have been linked to Atlanta Braves’ slugger Freddie Freeman ever since the offseason started.

Freeman, of course, remains a highly productive run producer at 32. He hit .300/.393/.503 with 31 home runs, 120 runs, 83 RBI, a 135 wRC+, and 4.5 Wins Above Replacement (WAR). His left-handed bat would fit in like a glove in the Yankees’ lineup, that’s for sure. But how much is he worth?

USA Today’s Bob Nightengale (link to NJ Advance Media article here) gave us an idea:

“The most intriguing free agent watch will be Atlanta first baseman Freddie Freeman when the lockout ends. He rejected a five-year, $135 million deal during the season, is seeking a six-year, $180 million deal, and now we’ll soon see if Atlanta ups its offer or lets him walk away,” he said.

Will the Yankees pay the price?

Before free agency started, ESPN had projected Freeman to get around six years and $156 million, while The Athletic’s Jim Bowden forecasted a six-year, $187 million pact.

FanGraphs’ estimated Freeman’s value in the open market at $35.9 million per season, according to his on-field production, so his demands are not unreasonable.

The Braves don’t want to go six years, as they apparently fear that would be too long of a commitment. Will the Yankees be willing to go that long, considering they badly need a shortstop and they also need to extend Aaron Judge?

Of course, the Yankees could always keep Voit, who is a very talented hitter, or re-sign Anthony Rizzo, who remains a solid defender but has a declining bat. The trade market also presents a very intriguing alternative for New York: trading for Matt Olson (39 homers in 2021), and they could also include some much-needed pitching.

The lockout is still going on, however, so it may not be a while until we see what the Yankees are going to do about their first base situation.

3 reasons the Giants should decline Daniel Jones’s 5th year option

New York Giants, Daniel Jones

The New York Giants have a big decision to make regarding quarterback Daniel Jones this off-season. Management has until May to either pick up or decline Jones’s 5th-year option on his rookie contract, which would pay him over $20 million.

The reality is simple, the Giants are still waiting to see if Jones can be a franchise quarterback and lead them into the future, but investing big money in his services before finding that out would be malpractice.

“It seems likely they will pass since he’s yet to show any real consistency in his first three seasons as a starting quarterback and it would mean guaranteeing him $20-plus million for 2023,” Jordan Raanan of ESPN wrote. “It seems inevitable they let Jones play it out this year and if he has a great season, that will present a good problem.”

Three reasons the New York Giants should decline Daniel Jones’s 5th-year option:

1.) Jones is still unproven

Jones has been wildly inconsistent throughout his three-year career, but constant coaching turnover hasn’t done him any favors either. After throwing 24 touchdowns as a rookie, Jones has failed to pass 11 touchdowns over the past two seasons, throwing just 10 in 2021. While his completion percentage has gradually increased, a West Coast-style offense with short passing concepts has mitigated big-play opportunities.

Until Daniel can prove he is a consistent player that can battle through injury and make smart decisions without putting himself in danger, the Giants need to be extremely careful committing money further toward his tenure in New York.
2.) The franchise tag
The primary reason the Giants should pass on Jones’s fifth-year option is they can easily extend him on the franchise tag come 2023. The tag will be close to $30 million for the season, representing a $7 or 8 million increase compared to his fifth-year option, but that bit of money won’t have a significant impact.
The Giants will likely have over $75 million in funds next off-season, so they can fit a one-year deal if need be for Jones. Having the decision to move on in the 2023 NFL draft or continue developing DJ is worth the extra cost.
3.) The 2023 NFL Draft is stocked with quarterbacks
Next year’s draft has a ton of quarterbacks preparing to make the jump, including CJ Stroud out of Ohio State, Bryce Young out of Alabama, Anthony Richardson from Florida, and Spencer Rattler out of USC.
If management wants to go in a new direction, they will have plenty of talent to choose from, so gaining leverage over the situation is essential.

The Yankees already have their answer at shortstop, they just need to commit

The New York Yankees and general manager Brian Cashman could open up their checkbook and sign a big free agent at shortstop, but they could also commit to a prospect with upside.

Unloading another decade-long contract worth over $300 million on a player like Carlos Correa would only put management in another hole. Given these long deals have often come back to bite the Yankees in the butt, trusting their youth development is a far more efficient method of building a championship roster.

Looking over at teams like the Tampa Bay Rays and Toronto Blue Jays, they have done a phenomenal job growing from within and keeping their costs down in the process. The Yankees made a ton of coaching changes this off-season, but at some point, they need to begin giving their youth more opportunities, especially at important positions.

One player who could be ready to make the leap next season is Oswald Peraza, who featured predominantly with Double-A Somerset last season at 21 years old.

Peraza got called up to feature with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in Triple-A, but only enjoyed 28 at-bats. Despite a small sample size, Peraza hit .286 with one homer and two RBIs. Altogether with Hudson Valley, Somerset, and Scranton, he compiled a .297 average with 18 homers and 58 RBIs over 115 games.

Defensively, he recorded a .969 fielding percentage with 10 errors over 858.2 innings. His defensive quality may take some time to adjust, but as other teams have done, putting their youngsters in positions to grow and experience big league baseball has fueled a new wave of talent.

There is no doubt that Oswald has all the attributes to be a quality player at the next level, given the Yankees don’t utilize him as trade bait this off-season.

MLB.com gushed about Peraza’s defensive capabilities:

Peraza could have four plus tools once he’s fully developed. He has smooth actions at shortstop, the arm to make any throw necessary and a good internal clock that helps him slow the game down defensively. He makes good use of his plus speed and stole 44 bases in 54 attempts in 159 games over his first three pro seasons.

Overspending on Correa or Trevor Story isn’t advised, but rather finding a stopgap solution that the Yankees can easily supplement with Peraza at some point next season might be the best course of action. They have to find out what Peraza is capable of in the majors before committing to a long-term contract. The upward trajectory of Anthony Volpe also throws a wrench into the equation.
Who’s to say Volpe or Peraza changes positions, and they feature together with the Yankees down the line?