Three fights to make after UFC Vegas 5

UFC, Dana White

Last night, the UFC returned home to Las Vegas with an event at the APEX. The main card didn’t disappoint and there were several story lines that came out of last night.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at three fights the UFC should move to make following UFC Vegas 5.

Derek Brunson vs Jack Hermansson

Derek Brunson (21-7) made a massive statement last night. Everyone (including myself) thought that Brunson was going to get run over like he did against Israel Adesanya and Robert Whittaker.

However, Brunson was composed and put on arguably the best performance of his career in stopping Edmen Shahbazyan. Now the question becomes, what’s next for Brunson.

In looking at the rankings, a match that makes a ton of sense is a fight with Jack Hermansson (21-5). The Joker is also coming off of a big win over Kelvin Gastelum at UFC Fight Island 2.

Hermansson has been vocal about wanting to fight Darren Till next, but with Till’s injury, I think Brunson makes a lot more sense. Plus the two men are both coming off big wins.

If the UFC were to pair these two up against each other, the winner could be next in line to fight for the title. Obviously the title is booked up for a while as Adesanya fights Costa and Whittaker fights Cannonier for the next shot, but a Brunson/Hermansson winner wouldn’t be far behind.

Valentina Shevchenko vs Jennifer Maia for the UFC Flyweight Championship

Despite the impressive performance last night from Derek Brunson, the star of UFC Vegas 5 for me was Jennifer Maia (18-6-1). Maia took on JoJo Calderwood who was supposed to fight Valentina Shevchenko (19-3) for the title.

Shevchenko got hurt so the UFC title fight with Calderwood was called off. Calderwood didn’t want to wait around so she decided to take a fight against top contender Jennifer Maia. This has proved to be a massive mistake.

Maia looked tremendous last night. She was winning the stand up battle and when Calderwood took her down, it didn’t take long for the BJJ blackbelt to throw up a slick arm bar. The champion tweeted out her thoughts after the fight.

Maia poses an interesting challenge given her skills, but she will be a massive underdog against Shevchenko. Shevchenko is head and shoulders ahead of anyone in her division. However, Maia proved last night that she’s a game opponent and she’ll be willing to bring the fight to the champ.

Edmen Shahbazyan vs Ian Heinisch

Last night we saw the Edmen Shahbazyan (11-1) hype train hit a wall. The Golden Boy was being touted as the next big thing. However, after he wasn’t able to finish Brunson early, it appeared that Shahbazyan still had miles to go in development.

The UFC is in an interesting spot trying to book Shahbazyan’s next fight. He definitely needs a top 15 opponent. In looking at the rankings, I think a fun matchup could be with Ian Heinisch (14-3).

Heinisch bounced back big time after back-to-back losses back in June with a first round TKO over Gerald Meerschaert. Heinisch is currently ranked as the thirteenth best middleweight in the UFC.

These two would make sense from a rankings perspective and it would be a really fun fight for fight fans. I think the style matchup would be a lot of fun. If the UFC would rather aim lower to build Shahbazyan back up, another option could be Antonio Carlos Junior.

I believe that Shahbazyan will work his way back up eventually. He’s still extremely young and has all the talent in the world. Last night was a humbling fight and a reminder of just how special young Jon Jones was.

UFC: Max Holloway could get the next title shot according to Dana White

It was very clear that UFC president Dana White was not a fan of the decision at UFC 251 between featherweight champion, Alexander Volkanovski, and former champion, Max Holloway.

The fight left the UFC in a bit of a pickle when it comes to what happens next. If Holloway had only lost that one time to Volkanovski, the promotion would have no issues booking the fight again.

However, Holloway has lost two consecutive fights to Volkanovski. Yes, the second fight was razor close, but still it’s two losses in the record books. With that, most thought that there is no way that the UFC would give Holloway another shot especially right away.

Despite that, White said to ESPN that, “It’s hard to not…” when considering booking Volkanovski – Holloway 3. White went on to talk about how Volkanovski wouldn’t enjoy that idea.

What should the UFC do?

The UFC is really in a tough spot when it comes to the featherweight division. The UFC is going to book Zabit Magomedsharipov and Yair Rodriguez but that’s not finalized yet. They are also going to book Brian Ortega – Chan Sung Jung but that fight is also not finalized.

Those are all the contenders in the division outside of Calvin Kattar. I’m not convinced the UFC loves the idea of giving Kattar a shot at the title right now.

So with everyone booked, either Volkanovski is going to sit for a while or they run the fight back a third time. I definitely understand the frustration this would bring from the champion.

Volkanovski really has nothing to gain from fighting Holloway a third time meanwhile Holloway has everything to get back. Both of these fighters are so evenly matched. A third fight between the two would create more problems than solutions.

What if Max Holloway wins a close fight? How could you then deny Volkanovski a fourth fight since he won the first two? If you give Holloway another shot, it really hurts the division.

While he might not want to, I think the best thing would be for Volkanovski to sit on the sidelines for a bit. Maybe let Holloway fight a guy like Calvin Kattar next. Let the division play out more before giving Holloway a third fight with Volkanovski.

UFC: Holm – Aldana is off; Shahbazyan – Brunson will headline Aug. 1 card

The UFC has lost it’s main event for their return to Las Vegas. It was reported today that Holly Holm (13-5) vs Irene Aldana (12-5) is off after Aldana had to pull out.

As referenced in the tweet, the UFC has promoted the middleweight clash between Edmen Shahbazyan (11-0) and Derek Brunson (20-7) to the main event.

UFC’s new main event is a fan favorite

When it was first announced that the UFC would return to Vegas with Holm-Aldana as the headliner, there was a lot of criticism from fans.

The fight was not sexy at all when it comes to a main event. The fight rivaled Calvillo-Eye in lack of popularity among the MMA fans.

This new main event is an absolute banger. Shahbazyan is arguably the most exciting prospect in the UFC. At just 22-years old, Shahbazyan already looks like a future world champion.

Every test that has been thrown his way, he’s passed with flying colors. He had a massive challenge against Brad Tavares at UFC 244, and Shahbazyan knocked him out in the first round.

Brunson is a tough out for anyone in the middleweight division. If Shahbazyan can get passed Brunson, you can be assured he’s only a fight or two away from getting a shot at UFC gold.

 

 

UFC: JoJo Calderwood accepts replacement fight against Jennifer Maia

The UFC‘s top contender in the women’s flyweight division is not waiting around for the champ to get healthy.

Top contender, Joanne “JoJo” Calderwood (14-4) has decided to take a short notice fight against Jennifer Maia (17-6-1) on the UFC‘s upcoming August 1st card.

Calderwood was scheduled to fight the undisputed queen, Valentina Shevchenko (19-3), back in June. However, the champ has been healthy and there haven’t been any updates on when she’ll be ready to return.

Instead of waiting around, Calderwood is stepping up to take a fight next week. Calderwood would enter the contest 3-1 in her last four fights with the lone loss coming against Katlyn Chookagian.

Huge UFC flyweight implications

This fight is presenting itself to be a massive opportunity for Maia. Maia will come into this fight ranked sixth in the UFC‘s flyweight rankings whereas Calderwood is ranked third.

If Maia is able to pull off the victory, it would vault her right into title contention. This is a massively risky fight when you think about it for Calderwood.

Maia is coming off a loss to Chookagian, but prior to that, she had won two consecutive fights against former UFC title challengers Alexis Davis and Roxanne Modafferi. Maia is no joke.

Whoever wins this fight on August 1st might be next in line for a crack at Shevchenko. Although, if Maia wins, you might see the UFC pivot to Cynthia Calvillo who won her flyweight debut back in June.

UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov’s father Abdulmanap dies after battle with COVID-19

Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov, father of UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov, has died, according to multiple reports coming out of Russia Friday morning. Abdulmanap was 57 years old.

Back in April, Abdulmanap was admitted to the hospital due to complications with the COVID-19. Abdulmanap was taken to military hospital for observation and treatment. Abdulmanap was induced into a medical coma a couple of times while he battled.

While in the hospital, Abdulmanap also suffered a heart attack which led to a bypass surgery. Recently it was reported that the Abdulmanap was in stable but serious condition. Khabib Nurmagomedov was said to be training twice a day and was using this as more motivation for his UFC title defense later this year.

Friday morning, it was announced by Ramzan Kadyrov via his telegram channel that Abdulmanap had died after his long battle with COVID-19. The UFC is currently scheduled to have Khabib defend his title against Justin Gaethje in September, but you have to think this will be a very difficult camp for Khabib.

UFC 242 just became even more special

For the first time in his UFC career, Khabib had his father Abdulmanap in his corner last September when he fought Dustin Poirier at UFC 242. Abdulmanap had always been Khabib’s head trainer. UFC 242 was the first time he was actually able to travel for the fights because of visa issues in the US. Khabib put on an incredible performance that night. He mentioned how much it meant to him that his father was there to see him defend his UFC title.

Khabib has mentioned that he could not be where he’s at if it had not been for his father. He gives all the credit to his father for developing him into the UFC‘s undisputed lightweight king. This is a devastating time for the Nurmagomedov family and our thoughts and prayers are with them.

Boxing: Tyson Fury – Deontay Wilder III targeted for December 19th

One of the best rivalries in the last 30 years in boxing‘s heavyweight division will see it’s third chapter at the end of 2020. Tyson Fury (30-0-1) and Deontay Wilder (42-1-1) are getting ready to prepare for their third fight. Yesterday, Top Rank executive Brad Jacobs told Sky Sports that the fight would happen at the end of this year with many possiblities when it comes to location.

“We are focusing on December 19 and are hoping that, by then, we are back to a nearly normal situation…We are looking all over the world, at this point, for the best location for this event. That will be narrowed down and we’ll see where it takes us.” Top Rank’s Jacobs told Sky Sports.

Recently, it was announced that Fury had reached a deal to fight fellow heavyweight champion, Anthony Joshua. That fight is considered to be the biggest fight that boxing can make in it’s heavyweight division. It would be a fight that would unify all of the heavyweight titles in boxing. However, there are a couple of challenges that are standing in the way.

Who is boxing’s baddest man on the planet?

The boxing world hasn’t seen a knockout artist like Deontay Wilder since Mike Tyson. What the Bronze Bomber lacks in technique, he makes up for in sheer power. In his 42 professional wins, only one fight has gone the distance. In the first fight with Fury, Wilder’s power was on full display as he dropped Fury twice in the fight. The fight would end in a draw after 12 rounds.

The second fight between Fury and Wilder was completely one sided. The Gypsy King completely dismantled the former champion Wilder. The beating was so bad that Wilder’s corner threw in the towel which gave Fury the TKO victory and the WBC heavyweight title. Their third fight is going to be highly anticipated, but it should be one where Fury is the significant favorite. There is no question that Fury is the better boxer, but with Wilder, he’s only one punch away from winning any fight.

New York Yankees: With the shortened season, J.A. Happ will not return in 2021

New York Yankees, J.A. Happ

The great news for New York Yankees fans is that baseball is coming back. Commissioner, Rob Manfred, is implementing a 60 game season that is expected to begin in late July. After all of the back and forth between the union and the owners, we are finally going to see some baseball. The season is going to be very interesting given the limit in games. I started thinking about the Yankees roster, specifically the starting rotation. One name caught my attention. The name that caught my attention was the name of the player that I wrote in my first article about for Empire Sports saying this man was inevitably going to be traded. That man would be starting pitcher, J.A. Happ.

The Yankees Vesting Mistake

So why did Happ’s name get my attention? Well the Yankees shopped Happ around in the winter after his horrendous 2019 season that saw him go 12-8 with a 4.91. If you take out his September which was actually really good, his numbers looked far worse. The Yankees signed Happ to a two-year deal worth $34 million in the 2018 offseason. Happ was a hot commodity and to sweeten the pot to secure the deal, the Yankees added in a vesting option for Happ. If he pitched over 160 innings during the 2020 season, Happ would automatically get a third year worth $17 million. Obviously, the Yankees regretted giving Happ this deal.

No innings, No 2021 pinstripes for J.A. Happ

I thought the Yankees would try to manipulate the innings somehow to prevent Happ from reaching his innings milestone. Given the amount of money the Yankees gave Gerrit Cole, and considering that they’re going to have others to pay, you had to think the Yankees were desperate to shed that contract. Well, now the Yankees don’t have to worry about it. With a 60 game season, there is going to be no way for Happ to hit his innings in 2020. With that in mind, the Yankees will let Happ walk after this year. The Yankees have plenty of options to fill his spot in the rotation, a spot that wasn’t even guaranteed going into this year. When the season starts, I hope that we see the Happ that we saw near the end of last season. If we see that guy, he will leave a good taste in the mouths of Yankee fans everywhere. Given the young talent the Yankees have, and their rotation depth, once the 2020 season is over, it’s time to say goodbye to ole J.A. Happ.

UFC: Paulo Costa says Israel Adesanya contract is signed

One of the more anticipated UFC title fight of 2020 looks like it’s getting closer to having a date. Top UFC middleweight contender, Paulo Costa (13-0), announced that the contract has been signed for his title fight against champion, Israel Adesanya (19-0).

Costa’s Rise

Paulo Costa has looked like a one man wrecking crew since he joined the UFC in 2017. Costa has gone 5-0 with four knockouts including finishes over Johny Hendricks and Uriah Hall. However, it was Costa’s last fight that told the world just how good he was. “Borrachinha” went head-to-head against the middleweight division’s boogieman, Yoel Romero. Costa went right after Romero with a pace that was hard to match. Costa went right into the fire with arguably the scariest guy in the division, and he came out victorious. His performance was the polar opposite of Adesanya’s against Romero. After that fight, it was clear that Costa was the top contender in the division. However, injuries have delayed his UFC title fight.

The age of Stylebender

Since making his UFC debut back in February of 2018, Israel Adesanya has gone 8-0, looking incredibly impressive along the way. “The Last Sytlebender” reminds many of former middleweight great, Anderson Silva (who Adesanya holds a win over). Despite being undefeated, many doubted Adesanya when he fought former champion, Robert Whittaker. Adesanya put on the performance of his career stopping Whittaker in the second round of their title fight. Adesanya defended his title earlier this year against Yoel Romero in a fight that drew a ton of criticism. While Costa showed no fear in going into a fire fight with Romero, Adesanya played it safe striking from distance. There was a lack of action, and a lot of boos. Romero is the kind of fighter who waits to explode, while Adesanya is a counter-striker. It resulted in a horrific fight. However, the Adesanya/Costa fight is a matchup guaranteed to generate fireworks.

Who will be UFC middleweight king?

It’s rare that you get a title fight like this in MMA. The clear two top guys in the division, going head-to-head for the title while being undefeated. This fight has a Jon Jones/Daniel Cormier feel to it. Now, the fight has not been officially announced, but I would put my money that this fight will likely take place in October. The UFC is planning on Daniel Cormier/Stipe Miocic for their big August show while Khabib/Gaethje is tentatively scheduled for September. The likely next slot will be the October PPV. I cannot wait for this fight to come together. Costa is not the kind of guy who is going to sit back like Romero did against Adesanya, and an ultra aggressive challenger is just the kind of opponent that will allow Izzy to shine. It’s a fascinating clash of styles, and I can’t wait to see who will walk out as the undisputed middleweight king.

New York Yankees Prospects: Nick Green

New York Yankees, Aaron Boone

The next prospect in the New York Yankees system that we will be looking at is a pitcher that has already seen a lot of scenery changes in his professional career. That prospect would be right-handed starter, Nick Green. Green initially was drafted by the Texas Rangers in the seventh round of the 2014 draft. The New York Yankees acquired him in the Carlos Beltran trade back in 2016. After spending some time in the Yankees organization, Green was selected in the Rule 5 draft by the Diamondbacks in 2018. However, Green was returned to the Yankees before he made an appearance for the D-Backs. Green has a very solid arm with a nice repertoire of pitches. He generates a ton of weak contact which is good, but that actually played into his rough 2019 season.

Green’s 2019 Struggles

2018 was a big year for Nick Green. He opened up a lot of eyes in the Yankees organization by going 8-7 with a 3.32 ERA. The D-Backs liked what they saw enough to draft the unprotected prospect. The Yankees had eyes on Green entering 2019, but the year was a struggle for the talented right-hander. Green went 3-6 with a 6.67 ERA in 18 games last year between Staten Island and Trenton. Green’s WHIP was 1.70 which can be attributed to weak-contact hits and averaging four walks per nine innings. Green features a fastball with good cutting action, a change up, and a pretty decent curveball. While Green did strike out 63 batters last year, he doesn’t generate a ton of swings and misses. I went back and watched a few of his rougher starts, and it just seemed like the ball had eyes. He gives up a lot of contact, but the guys at the plate always did a good job of getting the ball through even on weak contact. Moving forward, Green’s ability to generate weak contact is definitely a plus, but he has to get better at mixing in pitches that generate misses.

The Yankees plan for Nick Green

Whenever minor league baseball resumes, Green has several things he needs to work on. The Yankees love pitches who induce a lot of ground balls which Green does. The Yankees really need to work with Green on developing those secondary pitches to generate more misses. Green can become a little predictable on the mound throwing his fastball too much. While the movement generates weaker contact, hitters sit on that pitch because it’s his main weapon. His curveball has plus potential, and if he can control it better, his entire pitching game will improve. Like the Yankees, I like ground ball pitchers. Green has the potential to be a really good ground ball pitcher, but he must refine his game, and he has to become more consistent with his secondary pitches. If he can do that, he can move up through the system. It will be interesting to see if the Yankees keep him as a starter or if they try to make the reliever transition.

UFC: Jiri Prochazka set for debut; fights Volkan Oezdemir at UFC 251

UFC

UFC 251 just added a big-time light heavyweight matchup to it’s impressive and growing fight card. Former UFC light heavyweight title challenger, Volkan Oezdemir (17-4), will be welcoming a big-time fighter to the UFC that not a lot of people know about.

Prochazka’s Debut

Jiri Prochazka (26-3-1) was signed by the UFC back in January to a new exclusive deal. Prochazka comes into this first UFC fight riding a ten fight winning streak, where only one fight went the distance. He has only seen the second round in two of those ten fights. Prochazka is coming off wins over UFC vets, C.B. Dollaway and Fabio Maldonado. Prochazka was the Rizin light heavyweight champion prior to signing with the UFC. 23 of Prochazka’s 26 career wins have come via KO or TKO.

Volkan looks to keep it going

Oezdemir is coming off back to back wins which have helped his career get back on track. Oezdemir lost three consecutive fights starting with his world title loss to Daniel Cormier back at UFC 220. The light heavyweight division is in a state of limbo, but this is a really good fight for the division. If Oezdemir is able to win this fight, it would be his third in a row, and it would put him right back at the top of the division.

This is a great matchup to introduce a new fighter to the division. Prochazka is not getting a layup here in his first fight. We will know right away what kind of fighter this guy is. A win for either man will put them squarely in the conversation for a future title shot. If you’re not familiar with Prochazka, you can check out his highlights below.