5 Questions for Wrestling in 2018

Can you hear the rumble? Because we’re just days removed from Raw celebrating 25 years on the air, and the Royal Rumble — the first big pay-per-view event of the year for WWE — is mere days away.

The first month is almost over and there’s far more to expect and speculate about the wrestling world this year. There are several questions for the biz that we’re awaiting answers for — more than just who’s winning the rumble, what the main event of WrestleMania 34 is, and where WrestleMania 35 will be held.

In fact, not all of these questions have to do with WWE, and not all of these questions have to do with on-screen measures.

Here are five questions we’re hoping to get answers to this year.

Daniel Bryan

1. Will Daniel Bryan stay in WWE?
Daniel Bryan was one of the WWE’s biggest underdog stories — gaining a popularity and following so massive that the promotion was forced to put him in the WrestleMania 30 main event, give him a win and give the “YES!” Movement leader the great moment he deserves. But suddenly, all that ended due to an injury. And while Bryan attempted a comeback, he was injured again and forced to retire in early 2016 because of multiple concussions and a lesion on his brain.

Bryan has since been given the role of Smackdown GM, but he, and fans alike, long for the day he’ll be allowed to wrestle again. And while he has his health and family to think about, it was confirmed late last month that Bryan intends to leave WWE and wrestle again. Bryan’s contract with the WWE expires in September, and he has not been cleared by WWE’s doctors despite being cleared by several doctors outside of the organization.

If this is still the case by the time his contract nears its end, does Bryan truly pull the trigger and leave? If he does leave, that would be the ultimate sign of an intended return to the ring, but where would he go — Ring of Honor (ROH)? New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW)? And if he does leave WWE, will Bryan really have his first match this year? WWE typically puts no-compete clauses in contracts, which could possibly bump a Bryan return to wrestling until sometime around early 2019.

Ronda Rousey

2. When, if she does, will Ronda Rousey debut in a WWE ring?
It seems all but clear that Rousey’s MMA career is over. But it seems some big things are happening for her in another organization — the WWE. She appeared at WrestleMania 31 in 2015 during a segment with The Rock, Triple H and Stephanie McMahon. And she appeared at the Mae Young Classic tournament last year, walking the red carpet with Triple H and McMahon, cheering on Shayna Baszler (friend and MMA fighter-turned-wrestler, who finished runner-up) and getting into a confrontation with WWE’s four horsewomen.

Back in October, Rousey reportedly began training at the WWE Performance Center in Florida, and this was further fueled in a trailer for her new website last month — the trailer showed her training at the center and with current WWE superstar Natalya, daughter of legend Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart.

There is some heavy speculation on the wrestling dirt sheets/rumor mills that Rousey could appear at the Royal Rumble this Sunday in the 1st ever women’s royal rumble match in WWE history. It doesn’t take an investigative journalist (see the WWE roster list) to note that the WWE doesn’t have 30 women on its main roster, so you’re guaranteed to see some NXT stars and maybe some other surprise entries. Could one of those by Rousey? Heck, Rousey is even rumored to win the match!

And if that happens, it would be interesting to see where a storyline goes from there. A match-up between Rousey and her four horsewomen against WWE’s is rumored for WrestleMania, but the WWE’s horsewomen are split on multiple brands, Baszler is in NXT (for now), and the WWE women’s division right now is filled with alliance vs. alliance storylines. Heck, when would a title match with Charlotte (or Alexa Bliss, just in case for storyline purposes) take place?

If she doesn’t appear at the rumble, but a debut still happens, when and how?

rohnjpw

3. How will NJPW & RoH fare?
Ever since Triple H took over the WWE developmental system, we’ve seen multiple big names from the indy scenes come over to the WWE. These include the returns of Kassius Ohno and Drew McIntyre, as well as the NXT debuts of Kyle O’Reilly, Bobby Fish & Adam Cole. There’s consistently fear that NXT or the indy scene will dry up eventually.

But like the WWE, the wheels keep turning in the worlds of NJPW and ROH, and stars continue to be made and perform. NJPW held it’s annual January 4 Tokyo Dome show this month (its version of WrestleMania), and it featured two phenomenal main event bouts in Kazuchika Okada vs. Tetsuya Naito and Bullet Club leader Kenny Omega vs. Chris Jericho (who is currently not contracted to WWE).

NJPW is scheduled to return to the U.S. in 2018, and ROH looks to continue to roll with momentum from the likes of Dalton Castle, Cody, the Motor City Machine Guns, the Young Bucks, the Briscoe Brothers, Christopher Daniels, and Kazarian. In addition, ROH has begun a tournament to crown its first-ever women’s champion.

If you need an alternative to WWE, look no further than these two promotions here. You never know what big star from these that may end up in NXT and WWE one day.

(Questions 4 & 5 are connected because it’s so complex…)

4. What’s with this “Alpha Entertainment”? (a.k.a. Is the XFL truly coming back?)
So this one crosses over the lines of WWE and the Big 4 of North American sports. Here’s what we know as of the early morning hours of Jan. 25.

Back on Dec. 15, freelance journalist Brad Shepard broke on Twitter that Vince McMahon may be looking to revive the XFL, the failed football league that ran one year and was featured in an ESPN 30 for 30 early last year. As time progressed, more details came out that gave more evidence to the credibility of this rumor (Deadspin’s David Bixenspan has a basic timeline with appropriate citations in this article). Among the basic, known, confirmed facts are the following:

  • Sept. 6: Alpha Entertainment LLC established in Delaware
  • The company has trademarked items such as “UFL” “UrFL” “United Football League” and “For the love of football.”
  • A WWE statement following the story’s breaking last month confirmed that McMahon took money from the WWE (reportedly somewhere along the lines of $100,000 in WWE stock) and invested it into Alpha Entertainment. It did NOT confirm NOR deny an XFL revival.

Some early speculation from ESPN’s Jonathan Coachman, who used to work for McMahon in the WWE, also had that McMahon was a potential bidder for the ownership of the NFL’s Carolina Panthers.

But now, in a piece breaking down the special edition of Raw, as well as the release of Enzo Amore, Sports Illustrated’s Justin Barrasso mentioned that an announcement on the XFL’s arrival could come in the coming week, sometime before Super Bowl LII. In the original tweet from Shepard, a possible announcement date could be Jan. 25 (today). Heavy rumors suggest that the announcement will be a startup of the league, with the first game being played in 2020.

And that Sports Illustrated piece also comes in hand for…

raw pyro

5. What is the future of WWE TV?
For those who read my 5 Questions piece on MMA, you’ll recall that the UFC’s deal with Fox expires late this year, and the two appear to be far apart from reaching an agreement. And it seems Fox is preparing for the event that it and the UFC ultimately part ways. It’s seeming answer right now: WWE.

The WWE’s contract with NBC Universal is set to expire in 2019. The current potential suitors for a television deal are NBC Universal, Facebook, and Fox.

Facebook is currently streaming WWE’s Mixed Match Challenge to U.S. audiences only, and it feels more like a test run to see if something like a streaming service would work with Raw or Smackdown. But wrestling and MMA journalist Dave Meltzer reports that when Fox met with WWE last year for a television showcase, Fox expressed early interest in not just a television deal, but rather a purchase of the whole company.

The television rights are the WWE’s biggest asset; as a company that produces TV content 52 weeks a year, there will always be content and an audience, making those WWE TV rights lucrative. And if Alpha Entertainment takes off, is there a chance Vince McMahon sells (at least some) of the company he masterfully built off of the ground set in his family name?

As the article about a possible Fox purchase states: “according to Meltzer, one person close to the situation believes McMahon is not selling his majority interest just yet. If the shares hit $40, Vince would be able to sell small pieces of it while maintaining full voting control. Since McMahon launched Alpha Entertainment, one may wonder if he decided to start a new company based on the aforementioned factors.”

Another factor about this possible deal would be what happens to the TV shows themselves. The speculation is that Raw would be broadcasted live on local Fox stations, but it would move back to two hours from its current three-hour format due to 10 p.m. newscasts (Raw starts at 8 p.m. on the east coast, and if it moved to 7 p.m., it could interfere with the 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. slots of newscasts for non-east coast Fox stations).

Meanwhile, Smackdown would move to Fox Sports 1, and the WWE would provide more TV content for Fox Sports 1 and Fox Sports 2 to help bolster ratings. Some fear that this could hurt Smackdown, but don’t count the show out considering how WWE audiences can flock to a channel and how long Smackdown survived in the “Friday night death slot” on UPN/CW/MyNetworkTV channels before switching to USA and eventually moving to Tuesdays.

And to really end on a loop, here’s a big-time series of questions to connect the WWE, Fox, and the NFL: If Alpha Entertainment and a revived McMahon football league (referred to as XFL) take off, does that all come with some sort of WWE-Fox deal (TV or ownership)? If so, does this mean XFL games will be on Fox stations? And if that’s the case, will the XFL be a spring league once again, or will it go on in the fall when the NFL happens at the same time?

If the latter is the case and all this is true, does Fox’s commitment to hosting NFC games go out early (the current NFL TV plans are set through 2022)? Even if it’s a spring league, wouldn’t broadcasting XFL games be a conflict of interest for said NFL deal?

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5 Questions for MMA in 2018

Jan. 20 provides a big kick-off to the MMA schedule for this year — both the UFC and Bellator will be holding their first events of 2018 on this night.

At UFC 220, Stipe Miocic looks to become the first UFC heavyweight to defend his title three consecutive times, but he’ll have to get through a rising contender in Francis Ngannou. In the co-main event, Daniel Cormier looks to defend the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship against Volkan Oezdemir.

Meanwhile, at Bellator 192, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Chael Sonnen kick off Bellator’s Heavyweight Grand Prix tournament that will determine a new heavyweight champion, while the co-main event sees Douglas Lima defend the Bellator Welterweight Title against Rory MacDonald.

There’s a lot of anticipation as to what 2018 will bring the MMA community, and here are five things we want answers to.

Conor McGregor

1. Does Conor McGregor ever fight again?
At the press conference to announce the main event of UFC 223, UFC President Dana White described the bout between interim lightweight champion Tony Ferguson and Khabib Nurmagomedov as simply “for the championship.” When this bout was first announced, many saw it as Conor McGregor’s fate being sealed and him being stripped of the UFC Lightweight Title being inevitable. However, despite White saying the winner of Ferguson-Nurmagomedov was “the undisputed champion” and that the division needed “to move on,” he avoided questions regarding if McGregor was officially removed as champ.

McGregor has not made a single defense of the UFC Lightweight Championship in the 14 months he’s been champ, and he didn’t make a single defense of the featherweight title before being stripped of that title in late November 2016. After headlining several of the biggest selling UFC pay-per-view cards, as well as all the money earned from the boxing match with Floyd Mayweather, there were people that assumed he wouldn’t return to the UFC. And despite McGregor hinting at a return to MMA, many still question if McGregor will be seen in the UFC again.

Jon Jones

2. What is the fate of Jon Jones?
“The only person that can beat Jon Jones is himself.” That’s what we all said heading into the big UFC 214 pay-per-view headlined by the highly anticipated UFC Light Heavyweight Championship rematch between Jones and Daniel Cormier. And when Jones scored the knockout over Cormier, and he collapsed inside the cage with emotion after being awarded the title, it felt like Jones had turned over a new leaf and was back to the Jon Jones of old that earned respect and popularity on his way to the top.

But then it all came crashing down sometime later when it was revealed Jones tested positive in both his pre and post-fight drug tests for the anabolic steroid Turinabol. Jones, to this day, maintains his innocence, and he reportedly passed a polygraph recently.

Jones was provisionally suspended in August, with his win over Cormier being overturned to a No Contest (and Cormier being awarded the title back). Jones has a hearing with the California State Athletic Commission scheduled for next month, and it is where we expect to hear about Jones’ punishment (if any).

Jones faces up to a four-year ban from MMA (with a retroactive start to the suspension, it will mean that Jones faces suspension until mid-to-late Summer 2021). If Jones is suspended that long, he will have just turned 34 upon return. And if he is suspended for more than a year, and considering his several controversies as UFC champion, will he even be employed by the UFC upon return? It’s doubtful.

UFC on FOX

3. What will happen to the UFC’s U.S. TV deal?
The UFC’s current television deal in the United States with Fox expires late this year. The window of exclusive negotiations with Fox is up, and the UFC is now fielding offers from other outlets.

With a growth in popularity over the last couple of years, it’s no surprise the UFC will want more than the $200 million/year TV deal offered by Fox during the exclusive negotiating window (especially considering owners WME-IMG bought the company for a little over $4 billion after UFC 200 in Summer 2016). But the UFC has reportedly scared away some outlet representatives with a request for $450 million/year.

There’s currently not much of an update as to who is in the “lead” to likely hold the UFC’s TV rights after 2018, but there is some potential that if the merger between AT&T and Time Warner goes through, the UFC could make a deal with Turner.

As  Sports Business Daily’s John Ourand describes: “I have an inkling that once the AT&T deal gains approval, Turner’s David Levy will sign a big-time media rights deal that would put the UFC on all AT&T platforms. Imagine UFC fights on truTV, pay-per-view cards on DirecTV, mobile programming on AT&T Wireless, and over-the-top rights on Turner’s planned sports service.

“A caveat: If the AT&T deal is rejected (or if it takes too long), the UFC will cut a deal with Fox for around $250 million that will see Fox give up shows like Ultimate Fighter that UFC will shop elsewhere. Amazon showed early interest in picking up a streaming package, but it ultimately will pass on a UFC deal.”

Bellator 192

4. Will Bellator make strides in 2018?
Bellator MMA’s first event will feature the start of the road to determining a heavyweight champion for the first time since 2016 (and even then, the title hasn’t been defended since 2014). Over the last couple of years, Bellator has managed to secure multiple UFC veterans like Sonnen, MacDonald, Wanderlei Silva, Gegard Mousasi, Roy Nelson, Matt Mitrione, and Benson Henderson. In addition, they’ve secured deals with Fedor Emelianenko, one of the most legendary figures and champions MMA has ever seen.

In addition, Bellator has been looking to build stars of their own with the likes of Bobby Lashley, Douglas Lima, Michael Chandler, the Freire brothers, AJ McKee, Eduardo Dantas and James Gallagher. Of course, Bellator is still far from becoming true, active competition against the UFC, but it seems to support itself as a good alternative product.

But if things go right for Bellator this year, could this be the year it gets to a bigger and better status than it is right now?

UFC 90 Silva v Cote

5. Will the Ali Act be extended into MMA?
The Ali Act, established in 2000, protects boxers from things such as exploitation and match fixing, and it mandates promoters disclose fighter payments and contracts. What the Ali Act also does, however, is give the control over championships and contender ranking systems to independent sanctioning bodies (ex: WBA, WBC, IBF etc).

As stated in a 2016 article from ESPN, “The UFC currently utilizes its own rankings system voted on by media, although a majority of reputable outlets do not participate, in part because athletes outside the UFC are not ranked. Additionally, the UFC does not refer to the rankings when booking championship fights.

“Some view this as a positive, as boxing’s champions have arguably been watered down by multiple sanctioning bodies with dozens of titles. An MMA promoter’s ability to award its own belt, as well as dictate the distribution of title shots, results in the most lucrative matchups — or, fights fans want. Others, however, see it as another power shift toward promoters.”

Basically, if this act is extended into MMA, while it may be beneficial for fighters (who are currently employed as independent contractors and don’t have an official, highly-developed union), there’s the possibility the world of MMA and how events like UFC pay-per-views and Bellator events are booked upside down and inside-out.

5 Questions for Boxing in 2018

Jan. 20 sees the first major boxing event of the year, with a Showtime card headlined by Errol Spence Jr. defending the IBF Welterweight Championship against Lamont Peterson at the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn, New York.

Despite the “boxing is dead” talk, it seems boxing made some impact in 2017 from Anthony Joshua’s upset TKO over Wladimir Klitschko to the controversial judging in the Gennady Golovkin vs. Canelo Alvarez fight. From Terence Crawford becoming the first undisputed champion in a weight class in more than a decade to the circus that was the Mayweather-McGregor Money Fight.

So, how will boxing shape up in 2018? Here are five things we want to be answered

Wilder, Parker, Joshua.1. Will boxing’s heavyweight division have an undisputed champion in 2018?
Three men stand at the top of boxing’s heavyweight scene — WBA/IBF/IBO Champion Anthony Joshua, WBC Champion Deontay Wilder, and WBO Champion Joseph Parker. All three have been talking and verbally taunting one another, and showdowns seem inevitable. In fact, March will see Wilder defend his title against Luis Ortiz on March 3, and Joshua and Parker are scheduled to unify their titles on March 31. It’s expected that the winner of Joshua/Parker (or at least as long as Joshua wins) will meet Wilder, should Wilder retain. Will this happen, and will this give us boxing’s first undisputed, unified heavyweight champ since Lennox Lewis accomplished this at the end of the 1990s?

Tyson Fury
2. When will Tyson Fury return to the ring?

Before Anthony Joshua pulled off his upset over Wladimir Klitschko, it was Tyson Fury who shocked the world by dethroning the Ukranian heavyweight king in November 2015. But after charges from the U.K. Anti-Doping Association, a failed drug test and a battle with depression, Fury vacated his titles and hasn’t fought since that 2015 bout. But recently, the British Boxing Board of Control has reinstated Fury. When will Fury return to the ring, against whom, and where will he be inserted into the heavyweight title picture?

AP ALVAREZ GOLOVKIN BOXING S BOX USA NV
3. What will happen with Gennady Golovkin vs. Canelo Alvarez II? (Billy Joe Saunders awaits)

The first bout between WBA/WBC/IBF/IBO Middleweight Champion Gennady Golovkin and Canelo Alvarez was one for the ages — the third-biggest gate in boxing history, and over $100 million in revenue expected. It was a great fight, but, sadly, it’s now mostly remembered for all the wrong reasons. While one judge gave the bout to Golovkin 115-113 and one had it a 114-114 draw (both fair scores), judge Adalaide Byrd’s 118-110 scoring in favor of Alvarez was widely ridiculed. It appears a rematch is set for Cinco De Mayo weekend at either Madison Square Garden in New York or the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. So long as this happens, will we see a decisive finish? Will there be no controversy? And will the winner meet WBO Champion Billy Joe Saunders in another chance to have an undisputed champion in a weight division?

lomachenko-crawford-rigondeaux_1
4. What’s next for Terence Crawford & Vasyl Lomachenko?

While Crawford made history by becoming the first undisputed champion in a boxing weight class, that undisputed reign was short-lived. Crawford has already vacated at least two of his light welterweight titles to jump up to welterweight. In fact, Crawford is now slated to face Jeff Horn for Horn’s WBO Welterweight Title in April. While Crawford was an absolute beast at 140, it remains to be seen if he can successfully transfer his talents up to 147.

As for Vasyl Lomachenko, the WBO Super Featherweight Champion, who took over 2017 and the pound-for-pound rankings by storm with wins over Jason Sosa, Miguel Marriaga and Guillermo Rigondeaux — all three quitting before the end of the fight. But it remains more unclear as to what’s next for the 29-year-old. Lomachenko is thinking about entering the 2018 World Boxing Super Series (WBSS) if the WBSS puts a focus on lighter-weight fighters.

And while there’s been some hope that Lomachenko and WBC Lightweight Champion Mikey Garcia, a former product of Bob Arum and Top Rank Boxing, collide, it may be tough for Lomachenko to step up two weight classes after competing at featherweight and super featherweight in his young professional career. Yet with a supposed lack of options at 130, there’s some discussion of Lomachenko moving up to 135.

Dana White Zuffa Boxing
5. Is Dana White making the jump to boxing?

UFC President Dana White and Floyd Mayweather made headlines towards the end of 2017. A heavy rumor was that Mayweather was in talks about competing in the UFC, but those reports were denied. White, instead, said he was talking with Mayweather and his promotional team about tips on getting into boxing promoting.

It should be noted that during some of the build-up for Mayweather vs. McGregor, White appeared wearing a “Zuffa Boxing” shirt. Zuffa was the company that owned the UFC from 2001 until the sale to WME-IMG in 2016. White, who has had a long feud with Top Rank’s Arum, has teased about promoting boxing events.

Could 2018 be the year we see boxing under the UFC’s umbrella — or at least some progress on it?

#DefendOrVacate: Is It Time to Strip McGregor?

By Thomas Albano

The main event of April’s UFC 223 was recently announced as current interim UFC Lightweight Champion Tony Ferguson facing off with the No. 1-ranked contender in the 155-pound division, Khabib Nurmagomedov.

What is unclear to the MMA community, however, is what championship is on the line at UFC 223 exactly. The description of the headline bout given by the UFC mentions Ferguson as the interim champion; however, the UFC hasn’t exactly confirmed that title as being on the line. Meanwhile, some Asian sports sites, including FOX Sports’ Asian outlet, are reporting that McGregor will be stripped and the Ferguson-Nurmagomedov bout will be for the vacant title.

A press conference for this bout — along with UFC 222’s main event with UFC Featherweight Champion Max Holloway and challenger Frankie Edgar — will be held Jan. 19 at 5 p.m.

The Fighting Irish
There’s simply no denying the rise of Conor McGregor. He’s certainly won fans over for his mouth — the way he taunts opponents and expresses ego, brashness, and confidence.

And it’s clear he backs it up inside the MMA cage — he’s 21-3 as a professional. He won the UFC Featherweight Championship at UFC 194 in December 2015, knocking out then-long-reigning champ Jose Aldo in just 11 seconds.In November 2016, McGregor became the fourth UFC fighter to win titles in two different weight classes — and the first to hold the two titles simultaneously — when he defeated Eddie Alvarez at UFC 205 to win the lightweight title.

McGregor Two Titles

McGregor has also headlined four of the six highest-selling pay-per-view bouts in the UFC’s history, including his two bouts with Nate Diaz in 2016.

And then, of course, there’s the Money Fight. McGregor spent much of 2017 campaigning and negotiating for a boxing match with retired boxing icon Floyd Mayweather. Despite all the doubts, the fight actually happened last August. And while McGregor lost, the fight earned praise, with McGregor — in his first-ever boxing match — taking the former multiple weight class champion into the 10th round.

The Downfalls
So there’s no denying that McGregor is a drawing power for both his mouth and fighting. His personal desires, mouth and drawing power, however, has caused some problems in his true employer, the UFC.

McGregor’s two-title reign was very short-lived. Just two weeks following UFC 205, due to several factors (including McGregor’s focuses outside the featherweight division, the UFC wishing for McGregor to do the same, and a change to the main event of UFC 206), the UFC stripped McGregor of the UFC Featherweight Title.

McGregor made not one defense of the said title. After defeating Aldo, McGregor’s intentions turned towards the lightweight title and then-champion Rafael dos Anjos. The two were scheduled to meet at UFC 196 in March 2016 for the lightweight title, but dos Anjos got injured sometime before the fight. Nate Diaz replaced him and the fight was conducted at welterweight. McGregor suffered his first UFC loss, and he focused on getting revenge on Diaz rather than his featherweight crown.

McGregor Presser

After the Diaz feud, McGregor pursued the lightweight title once again. This left a waiting line of several featherweights pushing up the ranks and wanting McGregor — including Aldo (then-interim champion), Holloway and Edgar. Now, because of McGregor’s pursuit of the Money Fight and all the money he’s made, the same can be said for the lightweight division. For the past year or so, the likes of Nurmagomedov and Ferguson have pushed for fights with McGregor. And lightweights have been clashing and fighting their way up the ranks — all for a champion who’s inactive. While McGregor goes about with his desires and draws with the big bucks (and the UFC, as a company, gains money, image, and publicity), a division and its combatants suffer.

McGregor’s Status
McGregor reportedly wants to return and defend the title in either August or September, but UFC President Dana White is supposedly unwilling to wait that long. Considering McGregor was stripped of the featherweight title almost exactly a year after winning it and no title defenses, it’s kind of shocking to see McGregor still lightweight champ 14 months later with zero defenses.

McGregor has said he will come back, but considering all the money he’s garnered from his mega fights the past couple of years, no one would be surprised if he never stepped foot in the UFC Octagon again. If he’s truly done, what is the legacy of Conor McGregor?

McGregor

McGregor’s competed in some of the biggest fights in UFC history. He’s gained fame and fortune with his hype ability. He’s brought the eyes of many a casual fan on the UFC.He’s done things few to none other UFC fighters have done before. He’s gained money and fame other MMA fighters can only dream of.

McGregor should certainly go down as one of the greats. In fact, he may just be one of, if not the, greatest fighter of all-time when it comes to the lower weight classes — the ones he competed in. To solidify him as the G.O.A.T., however, is polarizing. It becomes even harder to classify McGregor as such when one opens the debate surrounding the G.O.A.T. title to every weight division, every era of the UFC, and other successful MMA promotions like PRIDE, Strikeforce, and Bellator.

And what hurts McGregor in many eyes is the fact that despite holding two UFC titles, he hasn’t made a single defense since winning his first in 2015. Sure, maybe some of the issues among McGregor, the UFC and the titles could stem from the UFC’s focus on pay-per-views as “mega cards” with more than one title fight, and the focus in MMA (or even combat sports in general) on “super fights,” but those a whole other stories.

Editorial

As a champion, McGregor’s job is to defend. And there are the champion cliches: It’s harder to be the hunted than the hunter. It’s harder to be chased than be the chaser. It’s not as enjoyable when you have the target on your back.

It’s harder than it looks to defend a title — ask any champion in any sport. But it’s part of what makes someone’s career and legacy. McGregor’s legacy is certainly made, but the show must go on.

On Twitter, I’ve come across some comments that pretty much state even fans of McGregor are starting to get tired of the games. I love Conor personally, but I believe someone who may be considered G.O.A.T. should defend at least once. So, yeah, I am getting tired of it.

Sorry, Conor. #DefendOrVacate (or strip)

Other Notes:

  • UFC 223 takes place on April 7 from the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.
  • The press conference for the UFC 222 and UFC 223 main events will be held at 5 p.m. on Friday, Jan 19.
  • The press conference will be followed by the ceremonial weigh-ins for UFC 220, which takes place on Jan. 20 from Boston, Massachusetts.
  • UFC 220’s main event will feature Stipe Miocic defending the UFC Heavyweight Title against rising contender Francis Ngannou. In the co-main event, UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Daniel Cormier defends against Volkan Oezdemir.

 

Fantasy Football Start ‘Em, Sit ‘Em: Week 16

It’s here. The moment of truth. Championship time has arrived. If you’ve made it this far, congratulations, but your job isn’t done yet. There’s just one more match-up standing between you and ultimate fantasy football glory.

But first, here’s my fantasy advice.

Start ‘Em:
QB Case Keenum: The Packers’ season is done, and so is Aaron Rodgers’. Tough break, Packers fans, but the Vikings have skol’d their way to the NFC North title, and now a potential first-round bye. And Case Keenum may be one of the more underrated fantasy QBs this year, at least in my opinion. But if you have him, depending on your other QBs, Keenum might just be the must-start that helps you towards the title. Two reasons: 1. He’s scored at least 20 fantasy points every week except Week 9 (BYE) and Week 11 (19.2 vs. the Rams). 2. The Green Bay defense has allowed the most fantasy points over the last six weeks than any other fantasy defense. Heck, one step further — if you have ANY Vikings offensive player, you should probably consider playing them. Keenum is my pick of the week.

Case Keenum 3

RB Kenyan Drake: Drake seems to be another one of the “must-start” picks universally around fantasy football this week. And it’s not surprising by looking at Drake’s numbers — he has become the Miami offense. He reached double-digit point totals in five of the last seven weeks, plus he’s had at least 22 touches and 113 yards in each of the last three games. A match-up against the Chiefs may concern some, but you have to realize the Chiefs aren’t the Chiefs of the beginning of the season. Plus, Melvin Gordon was able to light them up in a loss.

Kenyan Drake

WR Robert Woods: Santa Claus has come early for Rams fans — Robert Woods is back, and last week, Woods played a role, getting 16.5 points for those in PPR leagues as the favorite receiver of Jared Goff once more (of course he’ll only score the touchdowns if Todd Gurley can’t for some reason). And the Rams next face the Titans, a weak team that has given up seven touchdowns and the fifth-most PPR points to receivers when in Tennessee. Seems like a fun Christmas for Woods, his team, and his fantasy owners.

Robert Woods

Sit ‘Em:
QB Jimmy Garoppolo: If anyone ever listens to The Unspoken Podcast, then you know how I and my co-host Nick Fodera feel about the Jimmy G Hype Train. He’s been doing great things, he’s revitalized the team, and maybe, just maybe, he can be their franchise QB for some time. But let’s face it — this is the Jags defense we’re talking about. This isn’t necessarily a game I’d risk my fantasy championship on if I have Garoppolo as a QB.

Jimmy Garoppolo

RB Samaje Perine: Another week, another time where Perine fails to meet expectations. After back-to-back weeks of 15+ points in Weeks 11 & 12, Perine’s stock has fallen since. The Broncos have given up just six touchdowns to runners and an average of 21 PPR points per game to runners. And even then, this one just sounds ugly all around. Best to avoid Perine with fantasy title implications.

Samaje Perine

TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins: Anyone still believes in his hype? The Jets’ playoff chances fell into obscurity, and so too did all the great fantasy things that cam with ASJ. He’s been targeted only once or twice per game for four straight weeks now, and standard league owners have gotten 2.7 points from him at most in that time frame. He definitely has bust written all over him in a match-up with the Chargers.

Austin Sefarian Jenkins

Fantasy Football Start ‘Em, Sit ‘Em: Week 15

It’s semi-final time for most leagues. Saturday games join up on the NFL schedule, and the lights go up for fantasy owners. Time for the final push to try to get to the championship.

Who will get you there? Who may hinder your chances? Time for another edition of start ’em, sit ’em.

Start Em:
RB Alex Collins: Collins has been on absolute fire, scoring 20+ points for the second week in a row last week. He’s also scored double-digit fantasy figures for five of the last six match-ups the Ravens have had. Starting him against a weak, winless Cleveland team seems like an obvious (to me).

Alex Collins

WR Josh Gordon: Gordon, who I promoted as a start ‘em for Week 14, had another great day with the Browns. He caught three receptions for 69 yards and a touchdown, getting 15.9 PPR points against Green Bay. Even though Cleveland is winless and facing Collins and Baltimore, Gordon has already established himself as the top target for the Browns, and hopefully, at least his streak continues.

Josh Gordon 2

WR Marquise Goodwin: Goodwin has received 75 yards in four of the last five games the 49ers have played. Over the last two weeks, Goodwin ranks 12th in points among WRs. The Titans defense is pretty generous to receivers, and Goodwin has established a good connection with Jimmy Garoppolo. Goodwin may have FLEX worth.

Marquise Goodwin

Sit Em:
WR DeVante Parker: Parker and the Miami quarterbacks, including Jay Cutler, are having some sort of connection issue. Parker, in fact, has been one of the biggest disappointments in fantasy this year. With his consistent disappointment, plus seemingly moving behind Kenny Stills in the depth chart, Parker should be avoided at all costs.

San Francisco 49ers v Miami Dolphins

QB Andy Dalton: You would think Dalton could have done something last week against the Chicago Bears. But after three straight weeks of earning over 15 points in PPR leagues — including a Week 13 matchup with Pittsburgh, Dalton got only about 7 points against a lowly Bears defense. And now with a match-up on the road against the Vikings, who have let up the third-fewest fantasy points to QBs at home and fighting for a first-round bye, don’t look to Dalton to do much.

Andy Dalton

RB Frank Gore: Last week, at the age of 34, Gore had the most touches he’s ever gotten in a game with 36 for 130 yards (he better be giving his thanks to the snow gods). But he’s playing on Thursday night, and I don’t see much of a scoring affair between the Colts and Broncos. If you have better options, may be better to just bench Gore.

Gore

Fantasy Football Start ‘Em, Sit ‘Em: Week 14

I hope you made it into your fantasy football playoffs. If you did, congratulations! Time to bear down and strategize for the first round (in most leagues).

If you didn’t, well hopefully I can still help you avoid coming in last place in the consolation bracket — especially if a punishment awaits last place.

Here are three players to start, and three to sit (and I’ve even included one sleeper pick).

Start ‘Em:
QB Case Keenum: If you’ve had Case Keenum on your roster, and you haven’t started him yet, then unless you have one of the best quarterbacks in fantasy football (ex: Brady), what are you waiting for? Keenum has gotten at least 20 points every game since Week 8 (and the one game he didn’t reach it — Week 11 against the Rams — he was at 19). He’s thrown 200+ yards every week in that time frame, and with the schedule the Vikings have for the rest of the year — even a Week 14 showdown with Carolina — Keenum’s output shouldn’t slow down soon.

Case Keenum

RB Jamaal Williams: While Williams as the only healthy Green Bay running back has given his fantasy owners a lot of production these past two weeks, things seem doubtful to get to levels like those with the return of Aaron Jones. But even with Jones’ return, Williams is still worth taking a look at. He still has gotten over 15 touches for four straight weeks now. So Williams may still have an RB2 ceiling and FLEX floor.

Jamaal Williams 2

QB Jameis Winston: In his return from injury, Winston threw 270 yards and got 2 touches for approximately 22 fantasy points against Green Bay. With his match-up against a Detroit defense that let up similar numbers to Joe Flacco and has left up about the same number of fantasy points to QBs every week since Week 5. Winston’s definitely at QB1 level.

Jameis Winston

Sleeper: WR Josh Gordon: Gordon actually put up some decent numbers in his first game back since 2014. Gordon caught 4 passes for 85 yards, and his 11 targets ties him for the most a Browns receiver has gotten this year. While it’s hard to judge based off of one game, it seems he has already elevated to the top Browns receiver, and he might be worth picking up as a FLEX option for this week against a weaker-than-normal Green Bay secondary.

Josh Gordon

Sit ‘Em:
WR Cooper Kupp: Despite an injury to Robert Woods — a big loss for the Rams passing game — things seem to have been held intact by Kupp’s performances. Kupp is tied at No. 6 for receptions since Week 10, and PPR leagues have seen him enter double-digit fantasy points for the past month. But with a match-up against the dominating Philadelphia Eagles on the horizon for Week 14, it may be best to try to consider other options.

Cooper Kupp 2

WR Marqise Lee: Lee has entered double-digit fantasy point figures for three of the last five weeks for standard-scoring leagues, and he’s averaged 16.8 fantasy points in the past six games — excluding the Week 12 stinker against the Arizona Cardinals. Lee has some appeal against a Seahawks defense missing Richard Sherman, but with the Seahawks recently, and surprisingly, shutting down the Eagles, give Lee a second thought before inserting him as a starter.

Marqise Lee

TE Vernon Davis: It’s quite disappointing for Vernon Davis right now. Despite favorable match-ups against the Giants and Cowboys in the last two weeks, Davis has produced little to diddly-squat for fantasy owners. And with Jordan Reed’s return possibly coming, Davis’ fantasy value is decreasing dramatically.

Vernon Davis

Fantasy Football Start ‘Em, Sit ‘Em: Week 13

Ben McAdoo, Jerry Reese, John Mara and Steve Tisch have disappointed me as a Giants fan. That’s all I’m going to say for the real football storylines.

As for fantasy football, Week 13 usually presents the final week of the regular season. It’s “make or break” time for those fighting for playoff spots.

Here are three players you should start, and three you should sit, in Week 13.

Start ‘Em:
RB Jamaal Williams: This one’s more a conditional selection. Under the most normal circumstances, I would make Williams my start of the week here. The only problem is I can see the number of touches Williams gets go down a bit this week, as Aaron Jones returned to practice this week, and Ty Montgomery’s return is unknown. If Jones and Montgomery both don’t play this week, it could be a big day for Williams, especially for those of you in PPR leagues. Tampa Bay’s defense is bad, and they’re worse on the road. The defense that has given up the second-most PPR points to RBs through 12 weeks may have a rougher time in Lambeau. Even if Jones still plays, Williams can at least still be at the very least an RB3 with RB2/1 ceiling.

Jamaal Williams

RB Jordan Howard: So, Howard didn’t do much against the Eagles. No surprise there. Against a one-win Niners team however? This may be the biggest chance for Howard to run all over an opposing defense — more specifically, one that’s allowed the most fantasy points to running backs through 12 weeks.

Jordan Howard

WR Cooper Kupp: Kupp had his best game last week, scoring about 20 points last week against the New Orleans Saints. He should have another decent turnout against the Arizona Cardinals, who have let up an average of about 18 points to slot receivers this season.

Cooper Kupp

Sit ‘Em:
QB Jacoby Brissett: I didn’t exactly have high hopes for Brissett and the Colts fantasy-wise last week, considering the non-entertaining affair last time they faced the Titans, but many were riding high on the man. After putting up about seven points last week, do you trust him against that Jacksonville defense? You’re insane if you do.

Jacoby Brissett 2

RB Jay Ajayi: Don’t get me wrong; Ajayi has a lot of talent. But him being traded to the Philadelphia Eagles earlier this season has done nothing good for him. He has gotten about seven or right snaps overall over his three games as an Eagle. Combine that with a match-up against the Legion of Boom, and it’s hard to trust Ajayi.

Jay Ajayi

TE Tyler Kroft: Kroft is usually a streamer, but it might best be smart to avoid him. The Pittsburgh defense, however, has allowed just two touchdowns to tight ends this year. For someone who most likely needs a touchdown to have what’d be considered a good and productive outing, it might be best to turn elsewhere.

Tyler Kroft

Fantasy Football Start ‘Em, Sit ‘Em: Week 12

It’s Turkey Day, y’all. While you’re getting ready to stuff your face full of Thanksgiving goodness and participate in your own family and friends football games, there’s three NFL games today and plenty more on Sunday. So, here’s my start ’em and sit ’em picks for Week 12.

Start ‘Em:
RB Latavius Murray: I don’t think I need to tell you how good of a season the Vikings are having. And while Case Keenum has proven himself thus far with his arm, and Adam Thielen has been achieving as a receiver, it’s Murray and Jerick McKinnon who have taken over the running game in the NFC North. But Murray definitely has had more production, putting up about 20 points last week against the L.A. Rams. In a big Thanksgiving Thursday game against the rival Detroit Lions, let’s hope Murray continues to show up and produce greatly.

Latavius Murray

QB Matt Ryan: For Ryan owners, it has been a trying season. He has reached only 20+ points twice this season, and last week was the first time he missed 200 passing yards in 2017. Luckily, things ay change this week, as Ryan will have his first of two matchups in four weeks against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, whose defense has been lacking and has let up the fourth-most points to quarterbacks as a road team. If he can’t pull something nice off here, not sure what else to say.

Matt Ryan 3

WR Mohamed Sanu: Speaking of the Falcons, Sanu may have only pulled in 34 yards against Seattle (and lost receptions and yardage after Week 8). However, Sanu has proven to be one of Ryan’s favorite targets in the end zone; in fact, more so than Julio Jones! If you’ve got a flex spot open or in a deep league, definitely consider Sand to start.

Mohamed Sanu

Sit ‘Em:
QB Josh McCown: Believe it or not, McCown has been doing very well in terms of fantasy play this year. But his play is finally starting to come back down to Earth. McCown scored 20+ points against the likes of New England, Miami and Atlanta, but fell back to about 15 points back in Week 10 against Tampa Bay before the Jets’ bye. With what may be a daunting match-up against the Carolina Panthers defense, who have allowed the second-fewest points to quarterbacks on the road, and then games against the likes of Kansas City and New Orleans upcoming, has McCown’s hot streak burned out?

Josh McCown

RB Frank Gore: Gore definitely has had consistent production, getting 16-17 carries for three straight weeks. But Gore seemed to hit a wall against Houston and struggled against Pittsburgh before the bye week. Back in Week 6, the last time the Colts faced the Tennessee Titans, Gore had just 10 carries and rushed for 49 yards. Gore’s a big risk this week.

Frank Gore

TE Charles Clay: Clay has put up a combined three fantasy points on five receptions and 40 yards over the past two weeks. His schedule doesn’t get any easier, as the Bills are taking a trip to Kansas City this week. Clay’s too much of a risk this week.

Charles Clay

Atlas’ Passion Goes Beyond the Ring

By Thomas Albano

The passion that boxing trainer and commentator Teddy Atlas has for the sport can be seen every time he commentates on a fight, even if it earns him some backlash and negative comments from a specific portion of the audience.

But if there’s one thing that Atlas has a bigger passion for than boxing, it most certainly has to be his Dr. Theodore A. Atlas Foundation, which hosted its annual “Teddy” Dinner last night at the Hilton Garden Inn in Staten Island, New York.

Atlas founded the foundation in 1997 in his father’s memory. Atlas’ father was a physician on Staten Island who provided free medical care to those who couldn’t afford it. Up to the age of 80, the elder Atlas, continued to take calls and serve those in need.

According to Atlas, the influences from his father did not come from hands-on, verbal instruction, but rather through “seeing and osmosis.”

“My father was a doer. He wasn’t a talker,” Atlas said in a mid-2017 interview. “He was a strong, very principled tough man.”

Dr. Atlas

Dr. Theodore Atlas’ mother, Teddy’s grandmother, told Dr. Atlas at a young age that he would go into the medical field and to take care of the poor. After graduating from the New York University School of Medicine in 1927, Dr. Atlas practiced on Staten Island for 55 years. During this time, he founded Sunnyside Hospital and Doctor’s Hospital.

Dr. Atlas may be most remembered for his generosity and humility while performing his job, going out of his way to make the lives of those in the community much better. As his son described, Dr. Atlas would take pillows and blankets and make beds to perform tonsillectomies on kids who needed them.

“I learned a lot of things from him,” Atlas said. “I learned about work ethic, I learned about commitment, and then I learned about a word I never understood other than it was a word. I learned what it was to be a professional. It had nothing to do about being paid. It had to about doing what you’re supposed to do.”

Dr. Theodore A. Atlas
Dr. Theodore A. Atlas, seen here with his wife, practiced on Staten Island for 55 years, caring for those who could not afford. (NY Daily News)

Teddy Atlas described his father as being a very sacrificial and giving man from a young age. While interning at Bellevue Hospital, Atlas’ father developed a hernia while trying to help someone having a heart attack. The elder Atlas never corrected the problem, and about 35 years later, he developed a double hernia.

On the same day he was forced to bury a young son, Dr. Atlas received a house call from a woman who needed emergency care for her baby. The woman couldn’t afford to go to the emergency room, nor had the means to do so. Without hesitation, Dr. Atlas got to the woman and performed his job.

One day, a young Atlas traveled with his father and recognized a similar path they had gone down in the same week, Atlas thought his father was taking care of a sick, elderly woman, when in reality it turned out the woman was quite healthy. When Atlas questioned his father, his father responded, “She’s lonely. And loneliness is a sickness, too. I sit, and I listen to her.”

Dr. Atlas died in 1993 at the age of 88. And on the day of the funeral, the influence from Atlas’ father played out when Atlas attended the funeral, and on the same day, he went to the gym to help train future heavyweight champion Michael Moorer. That day, Moorer got into an argument with Atlas over not wanting to spar.

When Atlas got a call from Moorer later, asking why he showed up, Atlas said Moorer shouldn’t be sorry for arguing because Atlas’ father died, but because he tried to get out of something he was supposed to do.

“It was a sorrowful thing that my father died, but it was still my job that day to take care of the responsibilities for my father, and it was my job later that day to train this guy for a fight he had coming up in two weeks,” Atlas said.

Foundation

After his father died, Atlas said he wanted a way for the man, who went through his profession for passion, care and teaching others how to live, to be remembered and celebrated. Thus, the Dr. Theodore A. Atlas Foundation was born.

The foundation is based off of the same principles Dr. Atlas showed during his work. It helps others in need in a variety of ways, from tasks such as setting up handicap ramps, to giving Thanksgiving turkeys and Christmas toys to those who cannot afford them, and from paying for needed procedures for the sick to providing other resources for those in need.

Teddy Atlas
Legendary boxing trainer and commentator Teddy Atlas says many of his principles were influenced on him by watching his father’s work. (SILive.com)

The foundation has an incentive program for poverty-stricken and troubled students. The program encourages students to grow, improve their behavior and become better people academically, socially and personally. Those who succeed are treated to great rewards, such as trips to MLB and NBA games and Broadway shows.

Atlas, who had a troubled childhood filled with getting in street fights and getting arrested, says the program is successful because it shows the kids there are people who care, and he wants them to be great individuals in life.

“Some of these kids…they don’t need someone to say ‘Stop doing that,’ they need someone to say, ‘I care that you stop doing it,’” Atlas said. “‘Don’t just stop doing it because I say, stop doing it because it matters. I care enough to tell you this.’”

The foundation also funds and supports a youth basketball league with cheerleading squads, all with academic and behavioral performance as qualification for participation. It also gives out four different collegiate scholarships.

Atlas additionally helps with privately funded boxing gyms originally set up by the Police Athletic League (PAL). Atlas trains and mentors young boxers in the hopes that they will be successful in and out of the ring.

Phil Simms Teddy Atlas Foundation Dinner
Legendary New York Giants quarterback Phil Simms is one of many celebrities who has attended the foundation’s annual November dinner. (Dr. Theodore A. Atlas Foundation)

The annual Teddy Dinner, where most of the donations to the Dr. Atlas Foundation are received, is held the Thursday before Thanksgiving. Every year, over 1,000 come out for the event, including many celebrities who show support for the foundation. Some of this year’s guests included New York Yankees radio play-by-play man John Sterling; former New York Giants quarterback Phil Simms; MLB Network’s Brian Kenny; and ESPN’s First Take hosts Stephen A. Smith and Max Kellerman.

“After [the celebrities] come, to see what they see — the cases that they see, the testimonials — they believe in what they see and the importance of it,” Atlas said. “I’m very blessed the foundation has celebrities like that.”

In addition, The Dr. Atlas foundation holds an annual golf outing in the fall and a Golden Gloves boxing event in the spring.

Me with Teddy Atlas
From left, myself, Teddy Atlas, my brother, and my father at a Golden Gloves event in March 2017. The event, held at the Staten Island campus of St. John’s University in New York, was sponsored by the Dr. Theodore A. Atlas Foundation, set up by Atlas in honor of his father.

Between his foundation and training and broadcasting responsibilities, it may seem like Atlas has a lot on his plate. But for Atlas, it’s all about the passion brought into him through his experiences, and especially his father.

“No matter how you feel, you do your job,” Atlas said.