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.

 

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.

Canelo vs. GGG Preview

By Thomas Albano

We are mere hours away from one of the most anticipated boxing matches in recent history — a historic unified middleweight championship bout. Gennady Golovkin defends his WBA (Super), WBC, IBF, and IBO middleweight world titles against The Ring‘s middleweight champion Canelo Alvarez (with the vacant lineal title on the line as well).

This bout has been over a year in the making, as negotiations for this fight were first in early-mid 2016. However, Alvarez ended up surrendering the WBC Middleweight Championship, which would be awarded to Golovkin, and fought at light middleweight in a title bout with Liam Smith and a catchweight bout with Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. But following that win over Chavez back in May, Golovkin entered the ring where Alvarez was standing, and the match became official.

Fighter background: Gennady Golovkin (GGG)
GGG (37-0, 33 KOs) made his professional boxing debut back on May 6, 2006, winning his bout in 1:28. Golovkin’s journey of gold started when he defeated Milton Nunez in August 2010 to become the interim WBA Middleweight Champion. He was promoted to sole, full-time champion two months later, after then-WBA champion Daniel Geale signed on to fight Anthony Mundine, which forced the WBA to strip Geale of his title.

Gennady Golovkin

Golovkin followed this up by winning the then-vacant IBO Middleweight Championship in December 2011 with a first-round knockout of Lajuan Simon. After a streak of title defenses over those next two years, Golovkin added to his collection in October 2014, when he defeated Marco Antonio Rubio via second-round KO to win the interim WBC title. And in October 2015, GGG defeated David Lemieux to win the IBF championship. He was then promoted to full-time WBC champ following Alvarez vacating the organization’s world title.

Fallout from GGG vs. Jacobs
In his most recent bout, back in March, Golovkin retained his titles against Daniel Jacobs with a unanimous decision win. It was the fourth time in 37 fights that GGG couldn’t get a KO/TKO, and the first time this happened since 2008. Plenty of people criticized GGG for not finishing Jacobs, and some even speculated GGG may have been holding back. In fact, Jacobs’ may have been Golovkin’s toughest test to date, as the scorecards in the end did read 115-112, 115-112, 114-113.

But there are still some (including this journalist), who feels that people wrote off Jacobs too quickly and underrate his ability. In fact, Golovkin stated in an interview with Yahoo that Jacobs proved to be a great learning experience for him. In addition, GGG, along with his trainer, the legendary Abel Sanchez, admits he may have held back a little in the Jacobs bout, but claims had he finished Jacobs, Alvarez would have backed away from this showdown. Alvarez faced severe criticism last year after turning away from GGG and giving up the WBC title, choosing to drop down to light middleweight.

Fighter background: Saul (Canelo) Alvarez
Speaking of which, let’s look at Alvarez’s resume. Alvarez (49-1-1, 34 KOs) made his professional boxing debut on Oct. 29, 2005, at just 15 years old, winning his first bout via fourth-round TKO. He didn’t lose in 43 bouts (though fifth bout, in June 2006, ended in a split draw).

Canelo

After winning several regional and Latino championships, as well as the WBC Silver light middleweight title, Alvarez won the then-vacant WBC Light Middleweight Championship on March 5, 2011, defeating Matthew Hatton via unanimous decision. After five succesful title defenses, Alvarez defeated Austin Trout via unanimous decision to not only retain his title, but to also win the WBA (Unified) and The Ring‘s light middleweight titles.

In Alvarez’s next bout, in September 2013, he tasted defeat for the only time in his professional career thus far. Alvarez lost to the now-retired and undefeated Floyd Mayweather, losing his titles as well as the then-vacant lineal title.

Alvarez then fought two fights at a catchweight of 155 lbs., defeating Alfredo Angulo and Erislandy Lara. Alvarez then fully moved up to middleweight, and on November 21, 2015, he defeated Miguel Cotto to win the lineal, The Ring, and then-vacant WBC middleweight titles. He retained the titles in May 2016 against Amir Khan.

As mentioned earlier, Alvarez then vacated the WBC title and moved down to light middleweight once again, defeating Liam Walsh to win the WBO Light Middleweight Championship. After defeating Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. on May 6 by decision, the fight with GGG was announced, and Alvarez moved back up to middleweight and vacated the WBO Light Middleweight Title days later.

Prediction
Both men have pure knockout power, and their punches can rock anybody. Both are capable of finishes and each provides a well-enough case that they can win. But only one can. Golovkin will be coming into this bout as the favorite, though there are plenty of people out there (including a couple I have talked to) who feel that Alvarez will be the one to finally end Golovkin’s undefeated run.

Canelo GGG Weigh In

There are some who feel Golovkin is slowly starting to crumble; some who are hesitant to believe in GGG after his performance against Jacobs. Again, I believe some people just underrate Jacobs. But even then, if what Golovkin is saying is true in that he held back against Jacobs, then will it come back to haunt him?

But on the other end, it will be Alvarez’s first fight at middleweight in a couple of fights. His last two fights have been against the likes of Liam Smith and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. That’s not to knock those two, but is that well-enough preparation for someone like GGG?

In the end, don’t be surprised if this one goes the distance — it’s a distinct possibility. And Alvarez winning is a distinct possibility. But unless there are freak circumstances, don’t knock GGG if one of those two things happen. GGG, regardless, is one of the best boxers (not just middleweights) in history, let alone the world today.

That being said, however, I still feel Alvarez needs to prove himself a little, and GGG still has something he wants to live up to. I can see a late finish from the G-Man, on his journey to unify the middleweight division in boxing.

My prediction: GGG by 10th-round KO/TKO

My Take: Why Sasha Banks’ Loss is Not Her Being Buried

By Thomas Albano

(Cheap plug before I begin: I’ll be starting up a new podcast for professional wrestling, MMA and boxing soon, called “Combat Mania.” Please check it out!)

Eight nights after losing her championship at SummerSlam, Alexa Bliss regained the WWE Raw Women’s Championship last Monday night on Raw by defeating the woman she lost to at the pay-per-view, Sasha Banks. And the Internet Wrestling Community (IWC) exploded.

Screen Shot 2017-08-30 at 11.32.03 PMScreen Shot 2017-08-30 at 11.32.46 PM

While I can understand some fans’ frustrations, to say that WWE is intentionally burying Banks, in my opinion, is untrue.

Hot Potato Belts
Plenty of fans know that this isn’t Banks’ first short title reign, as all four of her title reigns now have been less than 30 days in length. And as pointed out in the storyline heading into Monday, Banks had not (and still has not) made a successful title defense — she has been a constant transitional champion.

And, of course, this isn’t the first feud where Banks has experienced short title reigns. Her feud with Charlotte from the start of the brand extension until the end of last year was filled with short title reigns among two — with Banks winning the title on three different episodes of Raw before Charlotte won the title back at whatever the next pay-per-view was.

While one may point out that was when Charlotte had her pay-per-view winning streak, it’s far from the first time WWE has had “hot potato syndrome” with one of its titles. In fact, until Jinder Mahal’s reign started at Backlash in May, the WWE Championship was sort of in a “hot potato” status this year. After AJ Styles’ title run was ended at the Royal Rumble, the title went from John Cena to Bray Wyatt to Randy Orton to Mahal within a span of about four months — and the only one to have one title defense was Wyatt, and it was just that one.

And the Intercontinental Championship? Oh boy, talk to anybody in the IWC and they can tell you about the WWE’s treatment of that title, especially prior to 2016. Between From 2008 through 2015, very few got past the 100-day mark in an Intercontinental Championship title reign. And even with those that did, it gets slimmer in terms of those who had a good, effective title reign.

Heck, even though we may praise the Attitude Era and Ruthless Aggression Era, the title bounced around there, too. After Ken Shamrock lost the title at St. Valentine’s Day Massacre 1999 (his 125th day of his reign), no one held the title for 100+ days again until Randy Orton in 2003.

So, the history of WWE and playing “hot potato” with its titles is pretty clear. As to how we can chalk up Banks’ title reigns? Well…

Playing Up to Moments
If there’s one thing we should have taken away from these past few years watching WWE, it’s that WWE doesn’t care as much for story as they do for having big, trending, talked about moments.

Let’s analyze Banks’ title wins a little further. One came on the first episode of Raw in the new “Brand Split” era. Another came when she and Charlotte faced off in the first Raw to have a women’s match main event since 2005 (and only the third in history). One was another Raw main event, and the first women’s falls count anywhere match in WWE in many years, too. Finally, as for the win at SummerSlam, well, SummerSlam is one of the big four. And both brands’ women’s titles changing hands this year (as well as both tag titles and the cruiserweight title) was certainly a talking point.

Let’s even go back, again, to the WWE title earlier this year. Cena’s win at the Royal Rumble marked his 16th world championship in his career, tying Ric Flair for most career world title wins — quite the historical feat. Then, just two weeks later, he loses the title to Bray Wyatt inside the elimination chamber. Hell, Cena wasn’t even in the final two — he was eliminated before the final fall!

New Day’s record-setting title run? It ended not long after passing Demolition’s record. The Dean Ambrose U.S. title reign where he rarely defend the title? It ended after he passed MVP’s record run from 2007-2008.

WWE has even played the “lose in your hometown” card three times within the past year when it comes to the Raw Women’s Title! When Banks and Charlotte faced off at Hell in a Cell 2016, it was the first time a women’s title match (or a women’s match at all) main evented a pay-per-view, and it was the first time a women’s match took place inside Hell in a Cell.

Charlotte-Sasha-HIAC

That event took place in Banks’ hometown of Boston, and she lost. Just weeks later, when the Falls Count Anywhere Match happened, it was in Charlotte’s hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina…and she lost. Then, when Bliss had her first Raw Women’s Title run this year, what was the whole thing behind it? Oh, right, she beat Bayley in Bayley’s hometown.

Heck, even Bliss’ title win wasn’t the main talking point coming out of Monday (at least it shouldn’t have been). It was Nia Jax’s betrayal of Bliss, ending their alliance and setting up a feud between the two.

(And as a side note: WWE booking a lot of title matches on TV shows recently, in my opinion, is just their usual, yearly, last-ditch effort to keep fans from tuning out once Monday Night Football starts back up).

WWE lives for the moment. They just want the publicity and to be talked about, throwing away logic and history if it meant that as the end result.

Booking of Women
Now, WWE has, of course, come a long way in treating their female active roster members from how they have in years past, even as little as early 2015. They’re no longer called “Divas”. They get spotlight time (and as mentioned, some main event spots). Their matches are usually not less than five minutes anymore (minus the occasional squash match). The women are seen as competitors rather than just eye candy. Basically, the women have a much better rep.

But, not everything is perfect.

On this same most recent edition of Raw, the one that featured Bliss vs. Banks in the main event, as well as an outstanding promo with John Cena and Roman Reigns, we got…the hashtag match.

Seriously, why this absolutely ridiculous stipulation of a match? I know they’ve had the Emma/Women’s Revolution/hashtag storyline going for a couple of weeks now, but why this so suddenly? And, honestly, I’m not finding this storyline interesting. So why have it at all?

But, I mean, it’s one bad storyline. After all, we’ve got the first-ever Mae Young Classic women’s tournament ongoing. In recent times, The women have competed in matches like Ironwoman matches, Falls Count Anywhere, Hell in a Cell, etc. There’s some speculation we could eventually see a Women’s Royal Rumble or Women’s wrestleMania main event someday.

Hell, this year, the Smackdown women even participated in the first-ever women’s Money in the Bank Ladder Match.

Oh, right, you pissed people off then, too, WWE. (Though I think Carmella has become a great heel since, because of these events).

So, maybe there are things that still need to be done, and this rant has gone on for quite a bit. So, I’ll end it with one last thought.

To those of you who claim WWE is trying to purposely bury Banks, do you remember that she wasn’t originally scheduled to challenge Bliss for the Raw Women’s Title at SummerSlam? It was Bayley. And if Bayley wasn’t injured and competed at SummerSlam, don’t you think the same results would have happened to her?

UFC 214 Predictions

We’re less than a day away from the start of the biggest MMA event of the year thus far, let alone the summer — UFC 214. The card is stacked with notable names in the undercard, and two exciting main card bouts with three title fights. It will all culminate with the long-awaited re-match between Daniel Cormier and Jon Jones.

With that in mind, let’s get into my predictions for the event.

Quick Predictions:
– UFC Light Heavyweight Championship: (c.) Daniel Cormier def. Jon Jones via fourth-round TKO to retian.
– UFC Welterweight Championship: Demian Maia def. (c.) Tyron Woodley via split decision to win the title.
– For the vacant UFC Women’s Featherweight Championship: Cris Cyborg def. Tonya Evinger via second-round TKO to win the title.
– Donald Cerrone def. Robbie Lawler via third-round KO
– Jimi Mauwa def. Volkan Oezdemir via second-round TKO
– Jason Knight def. Ricardo Lamas via split decision
– Renan Barao def. Aljamain Sterling via unanimous decision
– Brian Ortega def. Renato Moicano via split decision
– Andre Fili def. Calvin Kattar via second-round TKO
– Alexandra Albu def. Kailin Curran via first-round submission
– Jarred Brooks def. Eric Shelton via unanimous decision
– Drew Dober def. Josh Burkman via second-round submission

Thoughts:

cormier-vs-jones.jpg

Cormier vs. Jones: This is the re-match fight fans have been waiting about two-and-a-half years for. Ever since Jones’ troubles caused him much time away from the Octagon since early 2015, Cormier has made his way to the top of the UFC’s light heavyweight division and defended his crown twice (along with a third, non-title win over Anderson Silva). Now, some will say that Jones is a much better fighter than Cormier, and it’s reasonable considering he unanimously decisioned Cormier in their January 2015 encounter. But, keep in mind, Jones has fought just once since that first fight with Cormier — an interim light heavyweight title fight against Ovince Saint Preux in Spring 2016, and it was a unanimous decision win where many thought Jones was not the Jones we’re used to seeing in the cage.

I will call this one of my old classic cases of “prove me wrong.” Yes, Jones is a great fighter, but he’s had a lot of personal struggle over the past couple of years. At least Cormier has been the active fighter. Jones will have to prove me wrong and show me he has no true ring rust.

(Also, on a side note, even if Cormier wins, I think he’ll get his in the next title defense — maybe against Manuwa if he wins? As for Jones, well, if Brock Lesnar does somehow find a way back to the UFC, I can see Jones living up to his word and stepping up to face Lesnar, even if he surrenders the light heavyweight title to do so).

(I also just had a thought of a December or January card that looks like this, should I be wrong and Jones wins but steps up and faces Lesnar:
(c.) Conor McGregor vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov, Tony Ferguson, or Nate Diaz
(c.) Michael Bisping vs. (ic) Robert Whittaker
For the vacant LHW Title: Alexander Gustafsson vs. Jimi Manuwa
Jon Jones vs. Brock Lesnar
Heavyweight Main Card Opener
Bantamweight Prelim Main Event

Woodley vs. Maia

Woodley vs. Maia: With Tyron Woodley, there’s one of two things that will happen — he can finish a guy off quickly or cause a massive brawl (i.e. his title win vs. Robbie Lawler), or the bout can drag (i.e. his last title defense vs. Stephen Thompson). Woodley’s looking for the big money fight with the likes of someone such as Georges St-Pierre, but he shouldn’t be overlooking Demian Maia. Maia has been one of the hottest welterweight contenders for a while now, and he’s on a seven-fight win streak. With UFC President Dana White recently proclaiming the winner of this bout gets GSP, I think Woodley’s head is getting a little too big. If Woodley can’t finish Maia off quickly and Maia can get Woodley to the ground, and I think he can, Maia may sneak away with this one.

Cyborg vs. Evinger

Cyborg vs. Evinger: It’s Tonya Evinger’s UFC debut, and what a debut it is — facing off with Cris Cyborg for the vacant women’s featherweight title. Evinger is great, but Yana Kunitskaya has shown she can be beat (despite the result being overturned to a No Contest). Evinger also has losses on her record to current UFC stars Alexis Davis and Sara McMann. Cyborg, on the other hand, has been unstoppable for a while now, and she finally has her division in the UFC and a chance at the title. I don’t think it’d be right to say it’s now or never for Cyborg, but she is certainly hungry, so now is the perfect time.

Lawler vs. Cerrone

Lawler vs. Cerrone: Other than the main event, this is the bout on the card I’m most looking forward to. Both men can start out slow, but both have tremendous power that can end a fight rather suddenly. It might just be my status as a Cerrone fan, but I can see this fight being like Cerrone’s UFC 206 bout with Matt Brown — Lawler wins the first two rounds, but one sudden shot in the third from Cerrone ends it.

Manuwa vs. Oezdemir

Manuwa vs. Oezdemir: Manuwa is currently ranked sixth on ESPN’s light heavyweight rankings, and he’s ranked third in the UFC’s rankings of the division; meanwhile, Oezdemir is fifth in the UFC rankings. Oezdemir has an impressive track record; I wouldn’t write off Oezdemir completely, he does own a win against Saint Preux. But I can see this being Manuwa’s fight to lose. And because of that, as well as what could be riding for him, I don’t see Manuwa losing. Don’t be surprised if he calls out the Jones-Cormier winner, too.

Lesnar Back to the UFC?

By Thomas Albano

A report came out today that current WWE Universal Champion and former UFC Heavyweight Champion Brock Lesnar is reportedly back in the USADA (United States Anti-Doping Agency) Testing Pool, and rumors have begun to circulate that Lesnar may attempt a full-on UFC comeback.

In addition, to fuel that rumor, there is heavy speculation that Lesnar may be dropping the Universal Championship at SummerSlam in August.

The speculation and reports first began when an MMA insider with the Twitter account @TalkMMA claimed that he had been told about Lesnar’s return to the USADA pool by two sources.

However,Jeff Novitzky, UFC vice president of athlete health and performance has refuted this report.

“If he ever re-entered the program, he’d have to serve [the duration of the suspension] before he’d be able to compete,” Novitzky told MMA Fighting.

Lesnar made a one-time return appearance at UFC 200 in July 2016, when he took on Mark Hunt. Originally winning via unanimous decision, Lesnar tested positive for a banned substance. His win would be overturned to a No Contest, and USADA would suspended Lesnar until July 15, 2017.

Brock Lesnar Universal Champion

Lesnar previously teased a return to the UFC in early 2015, when he was reportedly in negotiations with both the UFC and WWE (this was right before WrestleMania 31, which Lesnar headlined as the defending WWE World Heavyweight Champion). Despite the UFC offering him a contract worth “ten times more” than his previous deal, he took a three-year deal with the WWE, which supposedly extends to WrestleMania 34 on April 8, 2018.

Supposedly, Lesnar was allowed to perform the UFC 200 bout with WWE’s approval, or there may be a clause in his contract that allows him to do functions such as UFC bouts when he wants to.

Since his suspension from the MMA cage, Lesnar has been involved in several high-profile bouts within the past year in WWE. From SummerSlam 2016 to the most-recent event (Great Balls of Fire 2017), Lesnar has feuded with the likes of Randy Orton, Goldberg and Samoa Joe. At WrestleMania 33, Lesnar defeated Goldberg in the co-main event to win the WWE Universal Championship, the main championship of WWE’s Raw brand.

Brock Lesnar UFC champion

While the UFC executive’s quote deals a blow, many still hope with this new rumor of a return, Lesnar could be able to perform at the next UFC event in Madison Square Garden, which is currently scheduled to be UFC 217 on Nov. 4. However, as Novtizky noted, Lesnar officially retired from MMA back in February; when a retirement happens, the USADA suspension clock essentially freezes.

As reported by Fightful.com’s Sean Ross Sapp on Twitter, Lesnar would need to complete the suspension and re-enter the testing pool before being allowed to fight again.

Now, as this Forbes article states: “Lesnar has yet to undergo any USADA drug tests in 2017, but there is also speculation that he could receive yet another exemption in order to bypass the fourth-month notification requirement (for retired fighters to notify UFC of their intent to come out of retirment) and make his way onto the MSG card, much like he did for his UFC 200 fight against Hunt. While that would be unprecedented, the thought is that Lesnar is such a draw (he helped UFC 200 generate an estimated 1.2 million pay-per-view buys) that anything is possible because, well, money talks.”

So, let’s hypothetically say Lesnar does come back for a UFC bout. If he re-enters the testing pool ASAP, his suspension could be up right before Christmas. While that would be too late for the tentative UFC 217 at MSG in November, there would still be one more pay-per-view event to go for the UFC in the calendar year. Currently scheduled for Dec. 30, 2017, is UFC 219 from the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

The UFC has been having a supercard event around New Year’s time every year since 2011 (with the exception of 2014). In fact, Lesnar headlined the 2011 card right before heading back to WWE. With that in mind, if Lesnar does come back for at least one more fight, maybe Lesnar is a headliner for the final UFC card of 2017.

Maybe what the UFC can do is something like they’re doing with UFC 213 and 214 this month. That would be UFC 217 in November (regardless of if it’s in NY or Vegas) and UFC 218 in early December can be treated like 213 this month — pretty good cards but not too stacked.

Then, UFC 219 — the final card of 2017 — they go all out with a massive card akin to UFC 200 or UFC 205. I’m talking Lesnar’s return, three title bouts, and a massive undercard. Now, what could main event this bout? Maybe not Lesnar considering he didn’t main event his first return bout at UFC 200.

BUT, Conor McGregor supposedly wants to return and have one UFC bout in 2017, defending his Lightweight Championship. And I could see it happening at this event — it could be against Khabib Nurmagomedov, against Tony Ferguson, or even a trilogy bout with Nick Diaz (yes, this time at lightweight and with the title on the line).

Either way, the sound of it looks sick. So, maybe patience needs to win out here. And maybe, if Lesnar comes back, it should be for the end of this year, not November.

Shane McMahon Involved in Helicopter Emergency

By Thomas Albano

WWE Smackdown Live Commissioner and son of Vince and Linda McMahon, Shane McMahon, is known for taking extreme risks and dives in the ring. But not even he could expect what happened to him earlier today.

“Shane O’Mac” was in a helicopter that needed to make an emergency landing off the coast of Gilgo Beach — in Long Island, New York. Neither McMahon nor the pilot of the aircraft were injured in the landing.

The Robinson R44 helicopter came down into the Atlantic Ocean at about 10:30 this morning, according to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

“We heard some noise, and it became very clear to me that I could no longer continue flying the helicopter,” pilot Mario Regtien told ABC. “So I decided to do an auto-rotation landing in the water.”

Retigen sent out an emergency call before the plane came down, and it was picked up by a flight going towards John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens, New York. That plane then relayed the message to the FAA, while two lifeguards went out in kayaks to assist McMahon and Retigen.

According to the FAA, the plane took off from Westchester County Airport in White Plains, New York, and made a stop in Manhattan. McMahon had chartered the flight to go from Manhattan to Westhampton to visit family.

“It’s very unsettling when all the sudden you have something happen,” McMahon said. “You hear a bang, and then you start saying, ‘We’re going to do an emergency landing in the water.’ So yes, it was very unnerving. But again, Mario was super calm, which made me super calm. And we landed perfectly.

“First of all, I’d like to thank the pilot, Mario. He did an amazing job. He was cool under pressure. I couldn’t have been in better hands. He explained everything as it was happening. I’d also like to thank the Coast Guard, who was there instantaneously, Suffolk County Marine, a bureau that was there, the lifeguards that came to the beach. Just thankful that everything worked out well and that we’re here.”