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UFC 260 predictions – MMA Fighting

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Stipe Miocic is moving on from his epic trilogy with Daniel Cormier only to find himself bumping up against another familiar obstacle.

Before the Cormier rivalry, Miocic made history by becoming the first fighter to defend the UFC heavyweight title three consecutive times when he earned a lopsided decision victory against Francis Ngannou at UFC 220 over three years ago. Ngannou entered that bout with the reputation of a destroyer, a reputation that has only grown since that first encounter, and once again it appears that he is destined to dethrone Miocic when the two rematch in Saturday’s UFC 260 main event.

It’s impossible to say how different the matchup will be this time around, with Miocic’s only appearances since UFC 220 being three fights with Cormier (an opponent who has little in common with Ngannou), and Ngannou decimating his opposition so quickly that we haven’t been seen more than the preternatural stopping power that we already knew he had. With Jon Jones waiting in the wings, you get the sense that this is the last time we see Miocic and Ngannou face off regardless of the outcome.

Former welterweight champion Tyron Woodley finds himself in the co-main event spot after the unfortunate postponement of the Alexander Volkanovski vs. Brian Ortega featherweight title fight. This could be “The Chosen One’s” last chance to prove he’s still a contender as he faces Vicente Luque, a longtime standout at 170 pounds who has his own hill to climb. Woodley wants to make one last run at UFC gold, Luque wants to show that he’s more than just a bonus collector. Something has got to give.

In other main card action, bantamweight fan favorite Sean O’Malley looks to bounce back from his first loss when he faces Thomas Almeida, Gillian Robertson and Miranda Maverick meet in a clash of young flyweights, and lightweights Jamie Mullarkey and Khama Worthy get their chance to steal the show in the pay-per-view opener.

What: UFC 260

Where: UFC APEX in Las Vegas

When: Saturday, March 27. The early prelims begin with a single fight on ESPN and ESPN+ at 7:30 p.m. ET. A four-fight preliminary card follows at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN and ESPN+. The pay-per-view main card begins at 10 p.m. ET and is available to watch through ESPN+.


Stipe Miocic vs. Francis Ngannou

It has to be Francis Ngannou’s time.

This pick is based around a lot of assumptions. The assumption that Ngannou has improved his wrestling defense enough to prevent Stipe Miocic from imposing his will on the fight. The assumption that Father Time and three wars with Cormier have taken their toll on Miocic. The assumption that Ngannou’s alliance with coach Eric Nicksick and UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman will provide at least an incremental advantage needed to triumph over maybe the greatest heavyweight in MMA history.

If all of those factors tilt in Ngannou’s favor and you add that to his prodigious gifts, it has to be enough. It has to be.

If not, then Miocic will once again have proven the oddsmakers wrong. Often overlooked, Miocic has done nothing but win, win, and win some more since he shocked the world by dispatching Fabricio Werdum at UFC 198. Miocic rarely sees any one of his skills singled out as elite, but somehow he’s found a way to beat Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belts, Olympic wrestlers, K-1 kickboxers, and yes, unstoppable prospects like Ngannou.

At this point, it seems silly to pick against Miocic even when you consider the absurd run that Ngannou has put together to earn his rematch. But the clock is ticking on Miocic, as it does for every fighter, and that countdown was accelerated by all the hard rounds against Cormier. He’s 38 years old, a battle-weathered 38 at that, and now he has to spend another 25 minutes avoiding the atom bomb fists of Ngannou.

Ngannou also has to avoid Miocic putting him on his back for 25 minutes, which is no easy feat. He’s put in the work though and if I have to choose, I’m going with Ngannou staying patient, keeping out of grappling range, and ending this fight on his terms when an opening presents itself.

And new, by knockout.

Pick: Ngannou

Tyron Woodley vs. Vicente Luque

I can’t in good conscience pick Tyron Woodley to win fights anymore.

That ship already sailed in his last outing against Colby Covington, where even the most optimistic fight prognosticator was hinging their Woodley support on “If Tyron can’t get up for this fight…” In the end, the worst case scenario played out for Woodley as he was not only unable to muster up any significant offense against his hated rival, he failed to even make it to the final bell as he succumbed to a rib injury.

It isn’t just that Woodley has lost three fights in a row. There aren’t too many welterweights who would come out on the positive side of a series against Covington, Gilbert Burns, and Kamaru Usman. It’s how he’s lost them. He’s looked hesitant. Gun shy. Lost. The Woodley that completely outclassed Darren Till and neutralized Demian Maia’s grappling is nowhere to be seen.

Is Vicente Luque so far down the contenders’ ladder that he should be considered a less difficult challenge for Woodley? Luque is one of the welterweight division’s most prolific finishers in addition to being one of its most exciting fighters, but has never been able to knock off a top-5 opponent in the rare opportunities that he’s had to do so. In theory, he should be catching Woodley at the right time.

Luque is aggressive, but not the kind of relentless, high-pressure fighter that Woodley has stumbled against. However, his power and technique could give Woodley pause and if Woodley doesn’t like what he sees early, fans might see the familiar sight of the former champion backed up against the fence looking for a perfect shot that never comes.

I’ve felt Luque is due for a breakthrough and it’s going to come at Woodley’s expense. I don’t know if Luque finishes this fight, but I expect him to convincingly take all three rounds.

Pick: Luque

Gillian Robertson vs. Miranda Maverick

There’s a lot of reasons to be excited about Miranda Maverick’s future, but it’s her poise and maturity and 23 that stand out the most for me. Forget the fact that she’s currently working on getting her PhD while also pursuing a career as a full-time fighter—wait, why would we forget that, that’s pretty damn amazing!—even if you didn’t know about Maverick’s academic aspirations, you’d be wowed by how composed she’s been in her first 10 pro fights.

That said, it sounds strange to call this a gatekeeper vs. prospect fight given that Gillian Robertson is only two years older than Maverick. We’ve certainly seen a lot more of Robertson as she’ll enter UFC 260 as the first women’s flyweight to make 10 octagon appearances, but it’s entirely possible she’s just scraping the surface of her potential as well.

With respect to Robertson, I like Maverick in this one because Robertson has struggled to win fights where her opponent sets the tone. Maverick isn’t great defensively either, but she has the right mix of striking and wrestling to keep Robertson off-kilter the whole fight. If Robertson can be first, that changes the story, I just see Maverick as being the one to start hot given her history.

Don’t count out Robertson being a contender someday, but Maverick is about to take her spot in line for now.

Pick: Maverick

Sean O’Malley vs. Thomas Almeida

The secret’s out on Sean O’Malley: Sweep the leg.

Obviously, it’s not that simple and even considering the issues that O’Malley has had with leg injuries, he has excellent movement and one has to think avoiding calf kicks is priority No. 1, 2, and 3 for Team Sugar. Because if it isn’t, Thomas Almeida is going to chew up that limb like a Rottweiler.

At his best, “Thominhas” is a berserker who sometimes falls prey to more patient, calculating strikers. It’s why he can go from the leading the dance one second to looking like he has two left feet the next. O’Malley’s flashy strikes and sharp counters could be a nightmare for Almeida.

They really make excellent foils for one another, which is why this is such a great piece of matchmaking. Were there weaknesses revealed in O’Malley’s last fight that Almeida can exploit? Can Almeida put on a complete performance to top O’Malley or will he slip on the proverbial banana peel at some point and be added to O’Malley’s highlight reel?

I have a good feeling about Almeida’s return to 135, his first proper bantamweight fight since January 2018 (yes, his loss to Jonathan Martinez at 145 pounds was essentially a fight between two bantamweights, but Almeida looked rusty and uncomfortable carrying that extra poundage). He’s only lost to top-10 opposition and I don’t rate O’Malley quite that high just yet.

Almeida gets the win and we can chalk this up as another learning experience for O’Malley.

Pick: Almeida

Jamie Mullarkey vs. Khama Worthy

Jamie Mullarkey is tough as nails and fun to watch, but can he put it together to score his first UFC win? The gritty Aussie will welcome a striking battle with Khama Worthy, which is both his best path to victory and a recipe for disaster.

He can take a punch, there’s no doubt about that, but Mullarkey hasn’t faced anyone with the quick-strike potency of Worthy. It will only take a few shots from Worthy to make Mullarkey think twice about standing and swinging away. If he can goad Worthy into a sloppy brawl though, it’s entirely possible that Mullarkey outlasts him on the feet and pulls away in the second half of the fight to secure a late finish or a decision victory.

That’s a legit argument for Mullarkey, which means it’s time for the “AK Special” in which I do a 180 pivot and pick the other fighter for reasons that are usually inexplicable. In this case, I foresee a finish for Worthy, whose speed and athleticism give him the edge in my eyes.

The only reason I don’t have this pegged as my Fight of the Night is because I think Worthy takes Mullarkey out inside of a round.

Pick: Worthy

Preliminaries

Alonzo Menifield def. Fabio Cherant

Abubakar Nurmagomedov def. Jared Gooden

Modestas Bukauskas def. Michal Oleksiejczuk

Omar Morales def. Shane Young

Abu Azaitar def. Marc-Andre Barriault

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Motor racing-Canadian Grand Prix cancelled for second year

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(Reuters) -The Canadian Grand Prix scheduled for June 13 at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal has been cancelled for the second year in a row, CBC Radio reported on Thursday although Formula One said discussions remained ongoing.

With the spread of new COVID-19 variants and Canada battling to contain a third wave of the virus, Montreal public health authorities concluded that even if run behind closed doors without spectators the risks were too high, reported the CBC.

F1 officials, according to the CBC, wanted to bypass the mandatory 14-day quarantine for the hundreds of staff, crew members and drivers and rely on private medical staff and have the entire operation run in a bubble.

The race is scheduled to follow on immediately from Azerbaijan, whose grand prix is scheduled for June 6 in Baku and is due to go ahead after also being cancelled last year.

“We are continuing our discussions with the promoter in Canada and have no further comment,” an F1 spokesperson told Reuters.

The Autosport website quoted a spokesperson for the Canadian promoter as saying the radio report referred to “a document of recommendations from public health.

“We as an organisation have not had confirmation from our public health officials and won’t comment until we get an official confirmation.”

Canada, with some of the world’s toughest travel rules, obliges its citizens and residents arriving from abroad to self-isolate for 14 days.

International arrivals are required to quarantine for up to three days in a hotel.

One of Canada‘s biggest sporting events, it would mark the second consecutive year the grand prix has been removed from the F1 schedule due to the spread of COVID-19.

Media reports have suggested Turkey is on standby to be slotted in as Canada‘s replacement.

The Istanbul circuit is logistically convenient for freight coming from Baku and was brought in last year also at short notice to bolster a calendar ravaged by the pandemic.

(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto/Alan Baldwin in London; Editing by Ken Ferris)

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Boston Bruins Add Offense With Solid Taylor Hall Trade – Boston Hockey Now

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The Boston Bruins clearly understood they had serious deficiencies on their NHL roster this season and credit them for going and doing something about it.

The B’s finished off their Sunday night fireworks ahead of the NHL trade deadline by sending a second round pick and Anders Bjork to the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for top-6 winger Taylor Hall and bottom-6 forward Curtis Lazar. TSN’s Darren Dreger, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman and ESPN’s John Buccigross were the first to report about the completed deal between the Bruins and Buffalo Sabres in the hours following the B’s getting stomped by the Washington Capitals, 8-1, at TD Garden.

The Buffalo Sabres retained half of the $8 million salary that Hall signed for prior to the start of the 2021 hockey season.

The 29-year-old Hall is having a terrible season in Buffalo with just two goals and 19 points in 37 games along with a minus-21 rating after he chose to sign a one-year deal with the Sabres during the offseason. But he brings legitimate offensive talent as a former No. 1 overall pick and Hart Trophy winner to a Boston Bruins team that’s ranked in the bottom third of the NHL offensively all season.

The Bruins were one of the suitors for Hall prior to him choosing the Sabres months ago, and now they get him for a deep discount while keeping their own first round picks after making their deadline deals.

Holding onto their own first round pick was a priority for Boston Bruins GM Don Sweeney after spending first rounders at the deadline in two of the last three deadlines in trades for damaged goods Rick Nash and Ondrej Kase.

The 26-year-old Lazar has five goals and 11 points in 33 games as a bottom-6 forward for the Sabres this season and is signed for $800,000 for next season. It seemed clear that something was going on with the 24-year-old Anders Bjork over the last couple of weeks as he was a healthy scratch for five straight games, including Sunday night against Washington, and heads to Buffalo hoping to further develop a game built on speed and skill level that hasn’t translated into offense as of yet.

Hall should fit right into the top-6 with the Bruins as a skilled winger for playmaking center David Krejci, but it remains to be seen how he’s going to fit as another left winger on a team with Nick Ritchie and Jake DeBrusk.

Either Ritchie or DeBrusk is going to have to play the off wing with a Krejci/Hall combo, but that’s a problem that Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy will gladly figure out after being forced to piece together lineups all season due to injuries and offensive inconsistency. With the acquisition of Hall, Lazar and left-handed defenseman Mike Reilly on Sunday night, it would appear the Boston Bruins are largely done with deals ahead of Monday’s NHL trade deadline.

Interestingly enough, the Boston Bruins are set to play the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday night at TD Garden.

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Drouin must return to mentality that’s led to success this season – Sportsnet.ca

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It was something Dominique Ducharme said after his Montreal Canadiens played an abysmal game against the Ottawa Senators last week, something that only truly resonated after they lost 3-2 to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday — a game that emboldened the struggle Jonathan Drouin’s currently enduring.

“Ninety per cent of the mistakes we made were mental, and the rest of it was above our shoulders.” the coach said after the 6-3 loss to Ottawa last Saturday, somewhat channelling New York Yankees legend Yogi Berra with this bit of wit and wisdom.

It was hard not to think of those words watching Drouin play the way he did on Wednesday. For much of this season, the talented left winger has played a primary role in Montreal’s success. He’s led them with 19 assists, been tenacious on the forecheck, physically engaged all over the ice, cerebral as always in his execution and, as he’s said on several occasions, relatively unconcerned by whether or not his name has been featured on the scoresheet.

But it seemed clear, after watching Drouin dump a breakaway into Jack Campbell’s chest with one of 32 shots the Maple Leafs goaltender turned aside to set a franchise record with his 10th consecutive win, he had diverted from that. And that affected the way he played the rest of the game.

It was Drouin’s fifth in a row without a point, his 18th without a goal, and he’d have to be a robot not to be suffering the mental wear of not seeing the puck go in more than twice since the season started, the torment of seeing only three per cent of his shots hit the back of the net through 36 games after 10 per cent of them resulted in goals through the first 348 games of his career.

“It is weighing on me where, when I have a chance and miss the goal, I might be trying to score too much,” Drouin said. “It’s something I obviously think about — every player would — and I’ve just gotta put it past me and just keep shooting pucks.”

Ideally, the 26-year-old wouldn’t be thinking about any of this. These are thoughts that weigh a player down and right now the Canadiens are in tough without Brendan Gallagher for the rest of the season and Drouin needs to be light and free to help account for that loss. And in order for him to do that, he needs to focus on what he does best.

Because the reality is that even though Drouin can score more, scoring isn’t what he needs to do in order to be at his best and really help this team.

“When his feet are moving and he’s making plays, Drou’s a pass-first guy,” explained Jake Allen, who made 29 saves in Carey Price’s absence. “When his feet are moving, his head’s always in it. When his feet are moving, he’s controlling the play, controlling the puck. He’s a guy who really can control the play for a whole line. You want the puck on that guy’s stick and let the other guys do the dirty work and he’ll find them.”

But when Drouin’s feet aren’t moving, there just isn’t enough of that other stuff happening.

When Drouin’s feet weren’t moving, he lost a battle for the puck in the offensive zone and allowed the NHL’s leading goal scorer to start the rush that resulted in the winning play of Wednesday’s game.

Auston Matthews to Mitch Marner, back to Matthews, off Allen and slammed into Montreal’s net by Zach Hyman with 9:39 remaining in the third period, with Drouin watching from just inside his own blue line.

“You give a 3-on-2 to the Matthews line and it’s the kind of play they’re going to make you pay on,” said Ducharme.

Was Drouin still thinking about that shot he didn’t bury in the second period?

It’s understandable if he was, but those are the kind of thoughts he needs to shake right now.

“He wants to do well, and I’m sure it’s getting a little bit in his head,” said Ducharme. “I think the best remedy for him is to be scoring that goal or making that big play, and I think he’s going to be energized by that and less thinking, more acting.

“It is a fine line. Those kind of thoughts is not something that you want to happen. But when you receive that puck and you see the opening and stuff, (the slump) comes back to (your mind). That’s why the mental part of the game is something that’s very tricky. It’s not his will to be thinking that way. Every player who’s going through a time like that will have that thought and scoring that goal will take him to a different level. At those kind of times you need to make it even simpler and being even more inside going at the net and finding a garbage (goal) right there and you put it in and sometimes you go on a little run. It might be that kind of goal that he needs to get that monkey off his back.”

It’s the kind of goal Corey Perry scored twice to give the Canadiens a chance in this game.

But Drouin isn’t Perry, who rightly pointed out after the game he’s made a career of scoring goals that way. And even if Drouin can borrow from what Perry does next time he has a chance like the one Brett Kulak set him up with for that breakaway, there are other ways he can positively impact the game.

You can appreciate that Drouin said he’s putting pressure on himself to score more and help make up for the goals the team will be missing with Gallagher sidelined, but that might not get him to where he needs to be mentally to contribute as much as he already has this season.

What would, though, is a sharp turn towards the mentality he described just days ago. The one that’s enabled him to be a much more consistent player this season than he has in seasons past.

“When I was younger, I’d stay on one game or stay on one play for too long and wouldn’t be able to let it go for a bit or a couple of days,” Drouin said. “But I think for me now it’s can I look at myself in the mirror after a game and did I give my good effort? Was I a part of this game? Was I doing something right in a lot of areas?

“That’s what I do now. I think points are there, goals are there, assists are there, but it’s just about playing that real game and playing to help your team win.”

Drouin’s done a lot of that this season and has a chance to get right back to it when the Winnipeg Jets visit the Bell Centre Thursday.

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