LOS ANGELES: UFC is back in Abu Dhabi, and this time it’s with a double-header of title fights in front of a capacity crowd at Etihad Arena for the very first time.
The newly launched venue hosted UFC 257 in January, with Dustin Poirier win over Conor McGregor in the second part of their trilogy of fights topping the bill.
Only 2,000 people were in the audience that night. On Saturday night, 18,000 people are expected to see Jan Blachowicz of Poland defend his Light Heavyweight title defense against Glover Texiera of Brazil at UFC 267.
Blachowicz is coming off an upset victory over the formerly undefeated Israel Adesanya at UFC 259 in March, and the big-punching Pole had been in sensational form before that with knockouts in three of his previous four fights.
Adesanya, however, presented a unique striking challenge for the 38-year-old Blachowicz, who seemed hesitant to throw and was biting on Adesanya’s faints. Although his striking prowess was not on full display that night, he exhibited an ability to adapt and find a path to victory.
Meanwhile, Teixeira is coming off a huge win over Thiago Santos having been hurt early on, which is becoming something of a habit for the Brazilian. Although the 41-year-old Texiera often gets hurt early and comes on later, Blachowiz is not someone you want to hit you clean. Texiera’s grappling is amongst the best in the division, with his vicious ground and pound opening his opponents up for submissions.
Prior to that, the first of the night’s two title bouts pits Cory Sandhagen of the US against Petr Yan of Russia for the interim Bantamweight title, a fight that was put together at short notice after Aljamain Sterling was not medically cleared due to a neck injury sustained in his fight against the latter.
Both Yan and Sandhagen will be looking to make up for controversial losses in their last fights.
Yan was picking Sterling apart and looked to be breezing to a dominant decision victory until an illegal knee saw him disqualified in round four. He has looked phenomenal in his last three fights against Urijah Faber, Jose Aldo and Sterling, with none having an answer for his Muay Thai style.
While Yan has looked impressive, the argument can be made that Sandhagen has looked even better. Excluding a slip-up against Sterling at UFC 250 last year, and a contentious split decision against TJ Dillashaw in July, Sandhagen has looked like a world-beater.
His spin kick in the TKO win over Marlon Moraes in Abu Dhabi last October was spectacular, only to be topped months later by his flying knee against Frankie Edgar.
The 29-year-old American lives and dies by his unorthodox and loose style of fighting. In his last fight against Dillashaw, Sandhagen showed susceptibility to opening his back up to his opponents when throwing his spinning attacks. Dillashaw was able to exploit this and control clinch positions for minutes on end.
Yan displayed a similar ability to gain control of the back against Sterling when he threw spinning strikes. Both fighters will face challenges they have not faced before, and the winner would, in the eyes of many, be the best Bantamweight in the world. Sandhagen is the one with most to lose, as a defeat against Yan would put him at 0-3 against the three highest-ranked Bantamweight fighters, while Yan would likely be placed into another number 1 contender fight due to the way he lost the belt.
In the biggest of the non-title fights, the Kiwi Dan Hooker, after his decision victory of the German Nasrat Haqparast at UFC 266 in September, is stepping in on one month’s notice to face Islam Makhachev – the most avoided fighter in the promotion and the heir to Khabib Nurmagomedov.
In his last bout, Hooker exhibited wrestling and control on the ground, skills that will be tested to the limit against Makhachev in their Lightweight matchup. The 31-year-old’s knees are another tool that will be employed to prevent the eventual takedown.
Since his loss in his UFC debut, Makhachev has looked almost unbeatable, with his wrestling exuding strength, speed, and tenacity.
His grappling was put to test in his first main event against Thiago Moises, who presented a submission threat Makhachev hadn’t faced up until that point. He passed the test with flying colors, dominating the Brazilians from start to finish to win with a fourth round submission.
This bout has major title implications for the winner, while the loser will likely have to take a high-risk, low-reward fight with Rafael Fiziev or Gregor Gillespie.
Alexander Volkov takes on Marcin Tybura in Heavyweight bout that was added late to the main card, and before that is one of the most anticipated fights of the night which sees the return of Khamzat Chimaev against the “Leech” Li Jingliang in the Welterweight division.
The Russian-born Swede is coming off a year’s layoff due to lingering effects of COVID-19 that ruled him out of multiple bouts with Leon Edwards.
Chimaev burst onto the scene last year, winning two fights within 10 days at Fight Island 1 in Abu Dhabi. In those bouts, the 27-year-old displayed powerful wrestling and smooth grappling that rendered his opponents powerless to his never-ending barrage of ground strikes and submission attempts.
In his most recent appearance in the Octagon, he flattened Gerald Meerschaert in only 10 seconds with a single right hand. Although Chimaev seemed open to fighting at both Welterweight and middleweight, declining main event bouts with Luke Rockhold show he is more interested in fighting at welterweight.
Up against him will be Jingliang, who knocked Santiago Ponzinibbio out in the first round last January. The Leech utilizes a unique striking style, employing an abundance of hooks from unorthodox angles, although the 33-year-old from China showed a susceptibility to be controlled in his bout against Neil Magny in 2020.
This fight will come down to who controls where it takes place, with Chimaev being more comfortable on the ground while Jingliang preferring a striking affair. The winner of the bout is sure to see a steep challenge in their next fight, with fighters like Wonderboy, Belal Muhammad and Geoff Neal, without signed fights, waiting for their chance.
The main card opens with an intriguing matchup between ranked Light Heavyweights Magomed Ankalaev of Russia and Volkan Oezdemir of Switzerland.
The 22 -year-old Oezdemir’s defeat to Jiri Prochazka at UFC 251 in Abu Dhabi has aged well, with Czech fighter solidifying himself as the next man in line for a title shot.
Short bouts have become synonymous with Oezdemir fights, with the Swiss fighter’s kill or be killed style leading to swift finishes. But in Ankaleav, he will up against man many believe to be the future champion of the division. Ankaleav has been perfect in his career outside of a last-second submission defeat to Paul Craig back in 2018.
Ankaleav possesses masterful striking and employs a variety of techniques. While his power and striking are impressive, Ankalaev has also displayed sound wrestling in his last victory against Nikita Krylov in February.
This bout has significant implications for the trajectory of both fighters’ careers, as a win for Ankalaev puts him in the title picture, while a win for Oezdemir keeps him relevant at the peak of the division. A loss for either fighter increases their distance to the title substantially in the shark-infested waters of the light heavyweight division.
Michael Vaughan ‘sorry’ for Azeem Rafiq hurt in cricket racism case
Outrageous 5-5 draw between Damac and Al-Fateh shows star quality extends beyond Saudi Pro League’s elite Al-Hilal defeated Pohang Steelers 2-0 on Tuesday to win the AFC Champions League. It was a record fourth title for the Riyadh club and a feather in the cap of Saudi Arabian football, which is going through something of…
Outrageous 5-5 draw between Damac and Al-Fateh shows star quality extends beyond Saudi Pro League’s elite
Al-Hilal defeated Pohang Steelers 2-0 on Tuesday to win the AFC Champions League. It was a record fourth title for the Riyadh club and a feather in the cap of Saudi Arabian football, which is going through something of a purple patch at the moment in both club and international football. It was a comfortable win without the drama of some past continental finals.
Only a day later, however, two Saudi teams played to a match that left those who saw it rubbing their eyes in disbelief?
Alex Ferguson was famously exasperated after Manchester United scored twice in the dying moments of the 1999 UEFA Champions League final to come from behind to defeat Barcelona 2-1. He stunned the reporters with his direct quip.
But what would the Scot have said if he’d seen the breathtaking 5-5 draw between Damac and Al-Fateh on Thursday? Not only was it the highest scoring match in the history of the Saudi Professional League, but it arguably must be ranked among one of the best too. What is for certain is that it is the most exciting match of the season so far.
OK, some of the defending may not be studied in the upper echelons of world football anytime soon, even if the backlines were better than you may expect from looking at the scoreline, but it was a game that showed the strength in depth in the top tier of Saudi Arabian football. It also revealed the range of entertainment on offer in the league. Some of the attacking play was thrilling, plenty of the goals were out of the top drawer.
As a spectacle, it was astonishing. Al-Fateh were a team that had lost the previous three games and were sitting firmly in the bottom half of the table and concerned with not getting sucked into a relegation battle. They came up against a team in second but one that was only in their third ever season in the top tier with the first two being battles against relegation.
But first, let’s look at the game, though this may take some time with all the goals. In just the third minute, Carlos Cueva was given the freedom of the Damac area after a fantastic run and pass from right-back Nawaf Boushal and the Peruvian forward stabbed home the opener for Al-Fateh. Just 13 minutes later, the visitors were ahead thanks to two goals from Hillel Soudani. The Algerian cut in from the right, twisted and turned defenders on the edge of the area and then fired a precise left-footed shot into the corner. Soon after, he shot home a rebound with more power and Damac were ahead.
Within moments however, the hosts had equalised thanks to Ali Al-Zaqan. The initial goal had been ruled offside but VAR rightly overturned the decision. On the stroke of half-time, Damac struck again to go in at the break with a 3-2 advantage. It was another impressive strike. The ball fell to Felipe Augusto about 30 meters away from goal and the Brazilian’s low shot was fired into the bottom corner. Both teams continued to have excellent chances but when Mijo Caktas extended Damac’s lead just after the hour, it looked as if that was that. The Croatian skipped past a challenge outside the area and scored with another long-range shot that perhaps the goalkeeper, who was partially unsighted, should have kept out.
Al-Fateh had always looked dangerous however and pulled a goal back after 69 minutes after another Croatian made the scoresheet. Ivan Santini knew little about his strike as the goalkeeper’s save bounced off his chest and in. With 15 minutes remaining it was 4-4. A Damac hand in the box gave Al-Fateh a penalty and Cueva got his second.
Within seconds, amazingly, Al-Fateh were ahead thanks to Firas Al-Buraikan. The Saudi Arabian international could not miss from close range after a perfect cross from Murad Batna and so the hosts had come back from 4-2 down to be 5-4 ahead. This was surely one of the greatest comebacks and games in the league’s history.
But Damac were not finished. With 11 minutes still on the clock it was 5-5 as Emilio Zelaya scored another goal from outside the area.
“It was a very strange game,” said Al-Fateh president Saad Al-Afaliq. “We even could have won it late on had Firas Al-Buraikan had scored late in the game. We have had a few injuries but are now getting up to the right levels of fitness and condition.”
The point initially put Damac on top of the league but just two hours later, Al-Shabab defeated Al-Raed 3-0 to go into pole position. A first half goal from Moteb Al-Harbi was added to in the second half by Ever Banega and Carlos Carvalho. It is quite a turnaround for a club that won just one of their first six games of the season and were rumored to be thinking about firing coach Pericles Chamusca.
Now they are top and the title race is going to be something special. Al-Ittihad can return to the summit on Sunday and then Al-Hilal have several games in hand but are in fourth place. The season is shaping up to be an exciting one, but whatever happens, there won’t be a more exciting game than the 10-goal thriller witnessed on Thursday.
Outrageous 5-5 draw between Damac and Al-Fateh shows star quality extends beyond Saudi Pro League’s elite
LONDON: Former cricketer and sports broadcaster Michael Vaughan has apologized for the hurt Azeem Rafiq has experienced amid his former Yorkshire teammate’s allegations of racism. Rafiq told a parliamentary committee earlier this month about the “inhuman” treatment he endured while playing for the county, with former England captain Vaughan named among several figures implicated in…
LONDON: Former cricketer and sports broadcaster Michael Vaughan has apologized for the hurt Azeem Rafiq has experienced amid his former Yorkshire teammate’s allegations of racism.
Rafiq told a parliamentary committee earlier this month about the “inhuman” treatment he endured while playing for the county, with former England captain Vaughan named among several figures implicated in the tussle.
Vaughan has denied claims that he said there were “too many of you lot, we need to do something about it” to Rafiq and three other Asian players before a match in 2009.
But while the allegations and investigations continue, the BBC has jettisoned Vaughan from its upcoming coverage of England’s Ashes tour of Australia due to a potential “conflict of interest.”
In an interview with the BBC following the decision, Vaughan said: “I’m sorry for the hurt (Rafiq has) gone through. Time I don’t think can ever be a healer in the situation that he’s gone through.
“But hopefully time can be a way of us making sure that Yorkshire County Cricket Club never goes through this situation again and never puts themselves in a position of denial that they treated a player so badly.
“It hurts deeply, hurts me that a player has gone through so much (and) been treated so badly at the club that I love.
“I have to take some responsibility for that because I played for Yorkshire County Cricket Club for 18 years and if in any way shape or form I’m responsible for any of his hurt, I apologise for that.”
Rafiq’s testimony to MPs has been supported by former Pakistan bowler Rana Naved-ul-Hasan and England leg-spinner Adil Rashid, who said they heard Vaughan’s “you lot” comment.
When asked by the BBC if they were lying about the allegation, Vaughan said: “The problem with this situation is that we’ve got too much ‘he said, he said, she said, did they say’ and I think we’ve got to move on from accusations of conversations from many years ago. There’s a bigger picture here.”
The 47-year-old added that the alleged incident occurred during “my last few games and I just remember it clearly that I was proud as punch that we had four Asian players representing Yorkshire County Cricket Club.
“Nothing but a proud, senior, old pro just about to retire and absolutely delighted that Yorkshire had come so far in my time at the club.”
His apology also included regret for a series of tweets from a similar time, which included comments on the lack of English speakers in London and suggesting that England colleague spin bowler Moeen Ali should ask fellow Muslims that he was not acquainted with if they are terrorists.
“I apologise deeply to anyone that I’ve offended with those tweets,” Vaughan said. “Times have moved on and I regret those tweets. We all make mistakes and in my life I’ve made quite a few mistakes on Twitter, I apologise for that.”
The former England skipper accepted the BBC’s decision to ditch him from the Ashes coverage, which kicks off on Dec. 8.
“I won’t be doing the Ashes which I understand, the editorial at the moment is all about Azeem Rafiq and racism in the game of cricket. I get that,” he said.
“I just hope in time I get that chance to come back. The one thing I love more than anything since I retired is talking cricket. I love being on Test Match Special and hopefully in time I get that chance to do it again.”
Eddie Howe to make Newcastle managerial debut against Arsenal
NEWCASTLE: Eddie Howe is finally set to make his Newcastle United managerial debut at Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium on Saturday after testing negative for COVID-19. The head coach missed last week’s Premier League encounter with Brentford, which ended in a 3-3 draw, having tested positive the previous evening. His assistant Jason Tindall and coach Graeme Jones…
NEWCASTLE: Eddie Howe is finally set to make his Newcastle United managerial debut at Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium on Saturday after testing negative for COVID-19.
The head coach missed last week’s Premier League encounter with Brentford, which ended in a 3-3 draw, having tested positive the previous evening. His assistant Jason Tindall and coach Graeme Jones took charge of that game.
However, the club have now confirmed on Twitter that ex-Bournemouth boss Howe is ready to take the helm for a competitive game.
“Newcastle United can confirm that Eddie Howe will be in the dugout for tomorrow’s game at the Emirates Stadium after returning a negative COVID test this morning,” the club announced on Friday.
It had been expected Howe would miss the trip in line with UK COVID-19 protocols, which state that anyone who returns a positive test must self-isolate for 10 days from the date of the test or from the date that symptoms first appeared.
Arab News understands that Howe and the club’s medical staff traced the symptoms back to midway through last week, around the time Howe was publicly unveiled as Newcastle’s new manager, and confirmed that he has satisfied all relevant rules for return to work with the relevant governing bodies this week.
Tindall, speaking about Howe at the club’s pre-match press conference, said: “We know COVID impacts people differently. And he is much better now than he was.
“From how Eddie was Sunday, Monday, Tuesday in comparison to how he is feeling now, and the tone of his voice in the latter part of this week, there’s been a big difference. He’s followed all the protocols. It’s down to Eddie and the medical professionals. Everyone that knows Ed wants to be in the dugout (at Arsenal). Even if he was 20 percent, he’d want to be there, that’s for sure. We’re certainly looking forward to having him back.”
Logistically the week has been a challenge for Tindall, also a former manager of Bournemouth, with Howe holed up in his Gateshead Quayside hotel room.
Daily training videos have been sent from the club’s Benton training ground to the hotel and the phone lines have been hot with chatter between Howe and his numerous coaches.
“In terms of dialogue, we have been in constant contact with the manager,” Tindall said. “Maybe four, five, six times a day — before training, after, then in the evening preparing training for the next day.
“The lads have been working extremely hard on the training ground,” he added.
Of his close friend Howe’s struggles this week, Tindall said: “It has been difficult having the virus, having to isolate in a hotel room. We have missed him as a group of staff and I am sure the players will have missed him out on the grass. You want your leader with you and the fans want the manager on the touchline. Eddie is a very ‘hands-on’ coach, and he has played a huge part in the preparation for Arsenal.”
Howe has a near-full squad to choose from for the game, with only Dwight Gayle and Paul Dummett doubts.
“Dwight Gayle was feeling his hamstring slightly so that’s one that will be assessed,” said Tindall. “Other than that there’s been no new injury concerns for us with a training session still to do today.”