UFC booking headliner between Cory Sandhagen and Song Yadong

The UFC has finalized a banger of a main event in the bantamweight division that will go down in December. Journalist Marcel Dorff was the first to break the news that Cory “The Sandman” Sandhagen (14-4) will be taking on Song Yadong (19-6-1).

The announcement comes on the heels of many announcements in the bantamweight division. Over the past couple of days we learned that UFC 279 will feature Aljamain Sterling defending his title against TJ Dillashaw.

We also learned that at UFC 278, Jose Aldo will be taking on Merab Dvalishvili. Dominick Cruz and Chito Vera will be fighting in early August and now we’ve learned of this pairing between Sandhagen and Song.

This is a huge opportunity and step up in competition for Song Yadong. The last time we saw him was back in March when he knocked out Marlon Moraes in the first round. Overall, he’s 4-1 in his last five UFC bouts with wins over Moraes and a close decision win over Chito Vera.

UFC’s Sandman Returns

Cory Sandhagen will be making his first octagon appearance in almost a year when he makes the walk in September. The last time we saw him was at UFC 267 when he lost an interim title fight to Petr Yan.

It was the second straight loss for The Sandman who had previously lost a very close split decision to TJ Dillashaw. Sandhagen is just 2-3 in his last five fights, but it’s important to remember who the competition was.

He’s lost to Yan, Dillashaw, and current champion Aljamain Sterling. Sandhagen has shown that he’s one of the very best at 135 pounds, he just hasn’t quite gotten over the hump against the best of the best.

This is a huge fight for both men. Whoever wins will be squarely in the UFC title picture as we get ready to head into 2023.

New York Giants: Does Daniel Jones need to be more aggressive in 2022?

New York Giants, Daniel Jones

The New York Giants‘ passing attack needs a major upgrade in 2022. Daniel Jones is entering a contract year after three inconsistent seasons to begin his career. The 2019 sixth overall draft pick has yet to prove himself to be a franchise quarterback. If Jones were ever to prove himself it would be under the Giants’ new coaching staff featuring Brian Daboll and Mike Kafka. However, Daniel Jones will not have the breakout season he desires if he is not a more aggressive quarterback in 2022.

The Giants need Daniel Jones to be more aggressive in 2022. Brian Daboll and Mike Kafka have previously coached two of the NFL’s most aggressive quarterbacks: Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes. Undoubtedly, the Giants’ new offensive scheme is going to require Jones to trust his arm and sling the ball downfield. This is something Daniel Jones has not been asked to do yet during his NFL career.

Daniel Jones has not thrown the ball 20+ yards downfield 50 times in a season since 2019. Jones’s total deep passing attempts have gone down every year. When evaluating the play of Allen and Mahomes, it is clear that Daniel Jones is not nearly as aggressive as those two quarterbacks and he will need to improve in this department for the Giants’ offense to find success.

The Giants need Daniel Jones to be more aggressive in 2022

Josh Allen attempted 87 passes 20+ yards downfield in 2021 (5.11 per game), the second-most in the NFL. Patrick Mahomes threw 76 deep passes in 2021 (4.47 per game), the seventh-most in the NFL. Daniel Jones lags far behind these two, throwing 24 passes 20+ yards downfield (2.18 per game), 31st in the NFL.

Daniel Jones’s deep passes per game have gone down every season of his career.

  • 2019 – 4.15 deep passes per game
  • 2020 – 3.07
  • 2021 – 2.18

The puzzling part of this lack of deep attempts is the efficiency that Jones displays when passing downfield. Throwing downfield is not something that Danny Dimes should avoid because it is something he is surprisingly good at. Jones has a career TD-INT Ratio of 19 TDs to 6 INTs when throwing passes 20+ yards downfield.

Jones attempted just 24 deep passes on the year, but he didn’t record a single turnover-worthy play. It wasn’t all roses, though — he completed less than a third of his deep passes. – PFF on Daniel Jones’s deep-passing performance in 2021

Daniel Jones is great at avoiding turnovers when throwing the football deep. However, it is so rare to see Jones throw downfield and the Giants’ offense has suffered due to this tendency. 19 of Daniel Jones’s 45 career touchdown passes have come on 20+ yard passes (42%). The New York Giants need Daniel Jones to be more aggressive in 2022 if they want to score touchdowns and win football games.

G League Ignite’s MarJon Beauchamp feels he can grow with Knicks

There seems to be a strong mutual interest between the New York Knicks and G League Ignite’s MarJon Beauchamp.

After sizing up potential lottery picks Malaki Branham, Beauchamp’s teammate Dyson Daniels and TyTy Washington in a competitive workout, the Knicks brought Beauchamp for a solo workout over the weekend.

Beauchamp, who profiles as a rangy wing who popped out with his explosiveness and defensive energy in the G League, believes he’s in consideration for the Knicks pick at No. 11.

“I shot the ball very well, they said and knew that,” Beauchamp said in Friday’s pre-draft zoom call. “I feel like I’m in consideration with them.”

Beauchamp’s draft stock is all over the place, from No. 19 (Bleacher Report) to No. 26 (The Athletic) in major mock drafts. So he could be a reach at No. 11, and the Knicks could be preparing to trade down as they did in last year’s draft if they missed out on trading up for Purdue’s Jaden Ivey.

At times, he was impressive on both sides of the ball for the Ignite. He averaged 15.1 points and 1.5 steals over 34.6 minutes per game. He was also a strong rebounder with 6.5 rebounds per game and was a willing passer (2 assists).

After the Golden State Warriors and Boston Celtics laid out the new blueprint — switch-heavy schemes — for success in the NBA, Beauchamp could become a hot commodity come Thursday’s NBA Draft.

The 21-year-old Beauchamp has all the tools — 6’6.5 in shoes with a solid 197-pound frame and a 7’0.75 wingspan — to become a defensive lynchpin in the NBA. It’s a role that he envisions for himself to have a long NBA career.

“I think I can come in right away and play good minutes and learn from the vets that they have. I really, really feel I can grow with that team, especially on the defensive side,” Beauchamp said. “You know, with coach Thibs (Tom Thibodeau), he’s about defense, and I feel like that’s going to be my role in the NBA.”

“I feel like I can stay in the NBA long enough if I keep getting better at the defensive side, knocking down corner three shots, and grow from there.”

Thibodeau went all out in welcoming the G League Ignite prospect to New York. Beauchamp said Thibodeau and team president Leon Rose led the Knicks party who took him out to dinner.

“The feedback was good,” Beauchamp said.  “I went out to dinner with them, and [they] just try and get to know me, and they know I could play. So, it was great feedback.”

Beauchamp was one of the prospects who received an invitation to the Green Room on Thursday, a great sign that he will likely be selected in the first round.

Aside from the Knicks, Beauchamp also worked out with Atlanta Hawks (16), Houston Rockets (3, 17 and 26 from Dallas), Memphis Grizzlies (22 from Utah and 29), Chicago Bulls (18), Cleveland Cavaliers (14), New Orleans Pelicans (8 from Lakers), San Antonio Spurs (9, 20 from Toronto and 25 from Boston), Charlotte Hornets (13), and Washington Wizards (10).

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

UFC Austin Co-Main Preview: Cowboy Cerrone – Joe Lauzon

Donald Cerrone

Two absolute legends in MMA will battle it out tomorrow night in the co-main event of UFC Austin. Lightweight greats Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone (36-16, 2 NC) will be making the walk to take on Joe Lauzon (28-15).

This fight is taking on the feel of a loser leaves town kind of matchup. Fitting that this will all go down in Texas. For Lauzon, he’s actually going to be looking to pick up his second straight win. Granted, the last win came back in 2019 against Jonathan Pierce.

We haven’t seen Lauzon in the UFC in almost three years. He wasn’t sure if he was going to come back, but for a fight with Cowboy, he was willing to do it. Win, lose, or draw, this might be the last fight for Lauzon.

Speaking of 2019, that’s when Donald Cerrone was making a run up the latter again in the UFC’s lightweight division. Three straight big wins got him into a title eliminator against Tony Ferguson.

However, starting with the Ferguson fight, Cerrone is 0-5, 1 NC in his last six fights. He’s been stopped in four of those losses. Cerrone wants 50 combined fights with the UFC and WEC before he retires. He needs to win tomorrow to make it happen. If he wins tomorrow, he has two more fights in his legendary career.

UFC Austin Preview

If this fight went down a few years ago, I would have no issues in picking Donald Cerrone to win. Cerrone has tremendous skills on the ground and he’s a much better and more decorated striker than Joe Lauzon.

However, this isn’t the same Cowboy Cerrone that we’re used to and honestly, I don’t know what to expect at UFC Austin. What I do know is that Joe Lauzon has very deceptive power and unorthodox striking.

I could definitely see a scenario playing out where Lauzon catches Cowboy and puts him away. Frankly I wouldn’t say it’s a bad bet. However, something tells me that Cowboy gets back in the win column at UFC Austin.

Given how badly he needs a win, I’m expecting a little more cautious approach to Cowboy tomorrow. Expect him to work his range and work his kicks. In the end, I think he’ll do enough to squeak by with a decision win.

Prediction: Cowboy Cerrone by Decision

Why the Rangers need to re-sign Frank Vatrano

rangers, Frank Vatrano

The New York Rangers need to make decisions on a few impending unrestricted free agents. The Rangers just wrapped up a surprising season that saw them make it all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals. Many of the key components of this playoff team, though, were playing on expiring contracts. Right-wing Frank Vatrano is one of those players that is set to become an unrestricted free agent. But Frank Vatrano is a player that the Rangers need to re-sign this offseason.

The Rangers need to re-sign Frank Vatrano

The Rangers acquired Frank Vatrano at the 2022 trade deadline. New York struck a deal with the Florida Panthers to put Vatrano in a blue shirt and the 28-year-old went on to have a productive season with the Rangers. He totaled 13 points (8 goals) in 22 regular-season games with New York and also added 13 points (5 goals) in 20 postseason contests.

Vatrano was playing on a three-year contract that he signed with the Florida Panthers worth $2.53M AAV. That deal expires in July and Vatrano is hoping to sign a new deal with the New York Rangers.

“I think I have some unfinished business here. I want to help this team win a Stanley Cup.” – Frank Vatrano on his desire to stay with the Rangers via Mollie Walker

In order for Frank Vatrano to complete that “unfinished business”, he will need to strike a new deal with the Rangers. This could be difficult to achieve, though, as the Rangers are tight on cap space. They have only about $12 million to spend and a slew of unrestricted free agents that are looking for new deals.

Frank Vatrano’s new deal could be worth about $3M-3.5M AAV, which might price him out of the Rangers’ range. There could be room to fit Vatrano under the cap depending on what Andrew Copp or Ryan Strome’s next contract looks like, as well as Kaapo Kakko. But a player of Frank Vatrano’s talents is worth the projected cap hit.

Frank Vatrano played on the same line as Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad. The trio had some excellent chemistry and gave the Rangers a spark that propelled the team deep into the playoffs. If Chris Drury wants to keep his team in Stanly Cup contention, re-signing Vatrano would go a long way toward accomplishing that mission.

UFC Austin Preview: Kevin Holland – Tim Means

Kevin Holland

Tomorrow night on the main card of UFC Austin, we are going to see an entertaining bout in the welterweight division. Fan favorite Kevin Holland (22-7, 1 NC) will make his second appearance in the welterweight division when he takes on “The Dirty Bird” Tim Means (32-12-1).

This is a huge fight for Tim Means who’s actually been on quite the run. The Dirty Bird is 4-1 in his last five UFC bouts with the lone loss coming against Daniel Rodriguez in early 2020. If he can get a win over Holland tomorrow night, that will be huge for his career moving forward.

Kevin Holland was one of the breakout UFC stars in 2020. The Trailblazer won five fights in impressive fashion and he capped off his year by knocking out MMA legend Jacare Souza.

This incredible year led to Holland getting a main event in the UFC’s middleweight division against Derek Brunson. However, starting with the Brunson fight, Holland went 0-2, 1 NC in three middleweight bouts.

He was always weighing in under the 185 limit and announced he was moving to welterweight. He debuted at UFC 272 in March and was able to knock out “Cowboy” Alex Oliveira in the second round. Now, he’s taking a step up against Means and he’s looking for another big win.

UFC Austin Prediction

This fight is going to be a very fun one to watch and it’s going to be a really good test for Kevin Holland. I’m expecting Tim Means to fight with his standard style tomorrow night which means a lot of forward pressure and volume.

Both men are long for the division, but Kevin Holland enjoys a hefty reach advantage. He needs to take advantage of that at UFC Austin. In his first welterweight bout, Holland was a bit wild at times.

I want to see clean striking down the middle catching Means coming in. That is what people should look out for from Holland. For Means, he needs to get on the inside, work the body, and try to make the fight dirty.

I think that Kevin Holland is going to find his groove in this fight. Maybe you’ll see some Tim Means success early, but I really like Kevin Holland over the course of 15 minutes at UFC Austin. Expecting a big combination and a finish early in the third round for The Trailblazer.

Prediction: Kevin Holland by TKO – Round 3

Five underrated New York Jets entering 2022

jets, corey davis

Following an offseason that was a blast for the New York Jets, there is much improved high-end starting talent on the roster. Some noteworthy starting players are still set for good years, potentially flying under the radar. Five of the Jets’ more underrated players at the moment will be mentioned below.

Corey Davis, WR

When the Jets signed Corey Davis to a three-year contract last offseason, there was excitement about his potential with the team. He showed some of his ability early in the preseason and a handful of regular-season games through the first half of 2021. Injuries caused him to end up missing nearly half of the season. Now, with all of the additions around him at running back, wide receiver, and tight end, Davis is not getting as much attention. This may end up benefitting him. He offers size, blocking, and a good intermediate-level receiving ability. Davis can very well produce more than anticipated in 2022.

Tyler Conklin, TE

The one addition from this offseason on this list. Tyler Conklin was one of three tight ends added by the Jets this offseason. With the additions of C.J. Uzomah and Jeremy Ruckert, it makes sense as to why Conklin may not be getting as much recognition. He had a break out 2021 after getting his first opportunity as a featured receiver in the passing game. As he turns 27 next month, he could be poised for his prime years. Conklin with help the Jets offense as both a pass-catcher and blocker. He can block in both the run and pass game. As a receiver, his best attributes are his route-running and reliable hands catching the football. Conklin could be better than expected for the Jets this year.

Connor McGovern, C

Connor McGovern ended up having a solid 2021 season for the Jets at center. In 2020, his first year with the team, he battled some injuries early in the season, and it impacted his play. Once the team went out and acquired Laurent Duvernay-Tardif last year, McGovern was a much improved, steady producer. He is a very good athlete and fits the zone running scheme Mike LaFleur coordinates. McGovern has proven himself as a reliable pass blocker. He is now going into his seventh NFL season. With bigger names and first-round picks like Laken Tomlinson, George Fant, Mekhi Becton, and Alijah Vera-Tucker, McGovern does slide under the radar. As he enters a contract year, expect a very good season from McGovern.

Bryce Huff, EDGE

The Jets’ pass rush lost a lot in 2021 went Bryce Huff got hurt in the middle of the season. Through his first two years as an undrafted free agent, Huff has shown some promise in pressuring the quarterback. He is a natural pass rusher with his speed and bend on the edge. The Jets’ defensive line has four well-known starters in Quinnen Williams, Carl Lawson, John Franklin-Myers, and Jermaine Johnson. Huff will still be a contributor in a prominent depth role on the Jets’ defensive line.

Michael Carter II, CB

As a fifth-round rookie, Michael Carter II had a solid season as a slot cornerback that was a bit underrated. He helped in coverage, against the run, and as a pass rusher. Carter offers a ton of speed. The Jets made two big additions to their cornerback position with Sauce Gardner and D.J. Reed this offseason. As a result, Carter is not garnering as much buzz. The additions of Gardner and Reed on the outside should help Carter inside. Carter will play this season at 23 years old and should continue to improve at an important position for the Jets.

UFC Austin Main Event Preview: Calvin Kattar – Josh Emmett

UFC

Tomorrow night in the main event of UFC Austin, we are going to see a massive matchup in the featherweight division. Top seven contenders will battle it out as Calvin Kattar (23-5) takes on arguably the guy with the most power in the division Josh Emmett (17-2).

Entering UFC Austin, Emmett will be riding a four-fight winning streak that dates back to 2018. Overall, Emmett is 6-1 in his last seven fights. The last time we saw him was at UFC 269 when he took on Dan Ige.

It wasn’t the easiest fight in the world, but the big power shots paid off big time as Emmett won a decision. He’s been wanting a top contender and now the UFC is giving him what he wants in giving him Calvin Kattar.

Kattar was obliterated by Max Holloway in January of 2021. It was a performance that could have changed Kattar’s career forever in a negative sense. He took some time away and then returned to the UFC in January.

He took on the tough test of Giga Chikadze who was trying to fight for a title shot. Kattar did to Chikadze what Holloway did to him. It was a beautifully violent performance that showed the world that ‘The Boston Finisher’ is still one of the best at 145.

UFC Austin Prediction

I cannot wait for this main event and I think we are going to see a war on the feet. It’s going to be an extreme clash and styles as the pure boxing technique of Calvin Kattar meets the raw power of Josh Emmett.

For Emmett, he’s very fast and explosive. That’s why he’s known as one of the biggest punchers in the UFC regardless of weight class. I really think if he connects clean with anyone at 145, they are likely going down.

Calvin Kattar has some of the best boxing in the UFC. He utilizes range extremely well and he does a fantastic job of mixing up his combinations to throw off opponents. So, how is this fight going to go down?

Well, I really like Calvin Kattar in this matchup. I’m just not sure Emmett will be as effective with his power against someone with the technique of Calvin Kattar. I think Kattar is going to control distance very well and piece up Emmett throughout this fight.

Now, Emmett is a very live underdog. Anytime you have someone with that kind of power, it wouldn’t be the worst decision to throw some money on them. However, in analyzing this UFC Austin main event, I really like Calvin Kattar to get a mid-to late round stoppage.

Prediction: Calvin Kattar by TKO – Round 4

Did Brian Cashman finally get it right for the Yankees?

New York Yankees, Yankees, Brian Cashman

Last night, the New York Yankees defeated the Tampa Bay Rays 2-1 with Anthony Rizzo playing the hero. Rizzo stepped to the plate with the game tied at one and pulled a sinker into the bullpen for his 16th home run of the year and the Yankees eighth walk-off win of the season.

New York now has an incredible 47-16 record this season. They are on pace for a blistering 121 wins and they have been far and away the best team in baseball. One man who has to be smiling and relieved is Brian Cashman.

The Yankees have disappointed year after year over the past few years. With disappointment, the microscope becomes even more magnified on Brian Cashman. Cashman has had incredible financial resources as the Yankees GM, yet since the start of the 2004 season, New York has been to just one World Series.

There have been so many questionable moves and questionable non-moves by Cashman. The Yankees have held onto prospects until they had no value. They’ve given out horrible contracts like Jacoby Ellsbury and Aaron Hicks. When they did make big trades, they’ve made bad ones like the Joey Gallo and Sonny Gray trades.

Is this the Yankees year?

Entering the offseason this past year, there was more pressure on Cashman than ever. The Yankees got spanked by the Red Sox in the Wild Card to finish last year and the free agent crop was one of the best in history. The Yankees were expected to make big moves.

Instead, they didn’t make flashy moves at all, but they made moves they thought could payoff and give them what they needed. They traded Gio Urshela and Gary Sanchez for Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Josh Donaldson.

New York acquired Jose Trevino and they resigned Anthony Rizzo. They also made smaller moves like bringing in Matt Carpenter during this year and signing Marwin Gonzalez before the season started.

None of these were the flashy moves that Yankees fans wanted, but they are moves that have really paid off. Rizzo has been sensational, Trevino has played like an all-star, IFK and Donaldson have greatly improved the defense on the left side of the infield.

Not too mention IFK and Donaldson have allowed Gleyber Torres to move back to 2B and while he’s not completely back to the player he was in 2019, he’s already tied his home run output for 2020 and 2021 combined.

Offensively, the Yankees have remained relatively healthy and that’s been a huge boost. Not too mention Clay Holmes has been the best reliever in baseball and that was another under the radar type of move from Cashman.

Cashman did a good job

I’m the first to criticize Brian Cashman. I think he’s been so atrocious as a GM for many years in the past. However, this year, he’s seemed to have gotten it right. These Yankees just feel different and I think a lot of that comes down to the clubhouse.

Having guys like Anthony Rizzo and Josh Donaldson goes so much further than their play on the field. These Yankees feel like the 2009 Yankees that were never out of a game. Unlike the last few years, I expect the big hit to come with this team.

Now, there’s still plenty of the season left and a long ways to go. However, New York is off to a historically good start and the credit needs to be given to the man that constructed this team. For now, Brian Cashman has shut many of us up and the Yankees are proving him right.

Should the Mets promote Francisco Alvarez to MLB?

francisco alvarez, mets

The last New York Mets catcher to hit 30 home runs in a single season was Mike Piazza in 2002.

League-wide, the position has become void of offensive talent, with the exception of a few standouts.

Since the beginning of the 2021 season, Mets catchers, including James McCann, Tomas Nido, Patrick Mazeika, and four appearances from Chance Sisco last season, have combined for a slash line of .195/.251/.289 and unsightly .540 OPS.

But the Mets may not have to wait much longer to finally get some production from the catching position because Francisco Alvarez is knocking on the door.

The 2017 international signee out of Venezuela is hitting the cover off the baseball in AA Binghamton and could push the Mets to promote him sooner than later.

 

Last season, Alvarez hit 24 home runs and drove in 70 RBI, slashing .272/.388/.554 in 99 combined games between Advanced-A ball and Single-A Brooklyn.

He’s steadily climbed the MLB prospect rankings on a yearly basis, ranking as high as the 10th best prospect in baseball entering 2022, according to MLB and Baseball Prospectus.

Beginning this season with Binghamton, Alvarez has handled his promotion to Double-A with aplomb.  After a minor slump at the end of May, Alvarez has continued his strong season with 13 homers, 35 runs batted in, and an OPS of .894 in 53 games this season.

Alvarez hasn’t been shy about expressing his wish to play in the Majors this season, “I think Vladdy, Acuña, Tatis Jr. — those guys were in my spot, and they’re already in the bigs,” Alvarez said recently through an interpreter, alluding to Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Ronald Acuña Jr., and Fernando Tatis Jr. who all made their MLB debuts as 20-year-olds.

But at 20 years old,  Alvarez has just two and a half seasons of professional baseball under his belt.

Catching prospects typically require more seasoning and development than other positions given the added responsibilities of handling the pitching staff.

One of the main concerns about Alvarez was his defense behind the plate, specifically his pitch framing.

However, this year, Alvarez has made leaps in his ability to steal extra strikes for his pitchers from behind the plate.

Additionally, Alvarez has received high praise from his Binghamton battery mates for his game plan and pitch calling during games, “He’s my favorite catcher in the organization to throw to,” minor league pitcher Josh Hejka told Mets Minors’ Michael Mayer.

McCann is set to begin a rehab assignment starting at catcher for AA Binghamton on Thursday. Alvarez has been bumped to the DH spot for the time being.

With McCann still under contract for two more seasons after 2022 and Tomas Nido providing quality defense behind the plate, a promotion of Alvarez may simply be a matter of roster construction rather than his big league readiness.