Tagged in: defense

Cris Cyborg to make 1st defense of Bellator title vs. Arlene Blencowe

Cris Cyborg is back, and her first Bellator title defense will ring in the promotion’s debut on a new network.

Cyborg will put her Bellator women’s featherweight title on the line versus Arlene Blencowe on Oct. 15 at Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Connecticut, promotion officials revealed Friday.

The card will air in a Thursday night time slot on CBS Sports Network. Bellator had been on Paramount Network (formerly Spike TV) since 2013.

Cyborg (22-2, 1 NC), ESPN’s No. 3-ranked pound-for-pound female fighter in the world, won the Bellator title in her last outing, stopping Julia Budd by fourth-round TKO in January.

The Brazilian knockout artist has won two consecutives after losing the UFC women’s featherweight title to Amanda Nunes at UFC 232 in December 2018. Cyborg, 35, departed the UFC after her contract expired last year. She is one of the most fearsome women’s MMA fighters of all time with 18 KO/TKO finishes in 22 pro victories.

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Blencowe (13-7) has won three straight and is coming off a unanimous decision win over UFC veteran Leslie Smith last November. The Australia native has just two MMA losses in the past five years, both to Budd. Blencowe, a 37-year-old boxing veteran, has seven KO/TKOs in 13 pro wins.

Bellator president Scott Coker also revealed Friday the main event for a card Oct. 29 at Mohegan Sun. Bellator welterweight champion Douglas Lima will move up to middleweight to fight Gegard Mousasi for the vacant middleweight title.

Lima (32-7) has won three straight and is a three-time Bellator welterweight champion. The 32-year-old Brazilian is tied for the most knockouts in Bellator history (9).

Mousasi (46-7-2) has won nine of his past 10, including five straight in the UFC before he left as a free agent in 2017. The 35-year-old Netherlands resident, a former Strikeforce and Dream champion, has been a perennial contender in multiple divisions for more than a decade.

In addition, Coker announced that a welterweight bout between Paul Daley and Derek Anderson will headline an Oct. 1 in Milan, Italy.

Bellator’s show in Paris on Oct. 10 — the first major MMA event in France since the country legalized the sport earlier this year — will be acceptable to have up to 5,000 fans in attendance. Michael Page vs. Ross Houston and Frenchman Cheick Kongo vs. Tim Johnson will be on the Paris card.

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Patriots’ Dont’a Hightower to opt out of 2020 season

A huge piece of the New England Patriots’ defense has decided to opt out of the 2020 season.

Linebacker Dont’a Hightower will opt out of the season, NFL Network’s Michael Giardi confirmed Tuesday.

Hightower became a first-time father on July 16. His mother also has Type 2 diabetes.

According to an agreement approved by both the league and the NFL Players Association, players considered high risk for COVID-19 can earn $350,000 and an accrued NFL season if they choose to opt out. Players who voluntarily opt out of the campaign will receive a $150,000 salary advance and their contract will toll.

“Me and my fiancée are just more concerned with the health of our family than football — especially the new addition to our family,” Hightower told NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport.

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Hightower’s foundation annually raises money for the American Diabetes Association, which has important meaning to him as his mother, L’Tanya, was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. Hightower keeps a picture of his mother at his locker.

Hightower was booked to earn a base salary of $8 million in the final year of his contract, which will roll over to 2021.

The decision is a big blow to a Patriots defense already undergoing a transition with Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins and Elandon Roberts leaving via free agency.

Hightower is a thumper in the middle of the Pats defense who has the flexibility to rush the passer. Per Pro Football Focus, Hightower led all off-ball linebackers in total pressures over the past three seasons with 80. The loss is important from an on-field production and a locker-room leadership standpoint for Bill Belichick’s squad.

Hightower is the fifth Patriots player to opt out of the 2020 season. Running back Brandon Bolden will also not play in 2020, per Giardi. Right tackle Marcus Cannon, fullback Danny Vitale and guard Najee Toran also opted out.

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Browns DE Vernon restructures contract, will get $11 million guaranteed in 2020

The Cleveland Browns have renegotiated defense end Olivier Vernon’s contract, an unnamed source told ESPN NFL Insider Field Yates.

Vernon was set to make $15.25 million, non-guaranteed, in 2020.

Now, Vernon gets $11 million guaranteed through a $7 million signing bonus, $3.75 million in base salary and a $250,000 workout bonus, according to Yates.

Vernon, 29, is also entitled for $2 million more in incentives.

There were reports earlier this offseason of the Browns’ interest in signing free agent defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.

Clowney, 27, and Griffen, 32, remain free agents as of Tuesday morning.

However, OverTheCap.com showed the Browns had $37.27 million left in cap space before renegotiating Vernon’s deal.

It means the Browns still could add either Clowney or Griffen and keep Vernon.

At the same time, the Browns likely need to let some of the salary cap space roll over to next offseason to offer Garrett a contract extension.

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Garrett, 24, is entering his fourth season in the league and is due to make $4.61 million this season.

The Browns already picked up Garrett’s fifth-year option in 2021, which is worth $15.18 million.

In the offseason, Pro Football Focus reporter Ben Linsey ranked Garrett and Vernon as the second-best edge defender duo in the NFL.

In 2019, Vernon played in 10 matches, compiling 26 tackles, four tackles for a loss, 11 quarterback hits and a career-low 3.5 sacks.

Pro Football Focus graded Vernon as the Browns’ third-highest graded pass rusher.

Vernon missed three games after injuring his knee during a Week 9 loss to the Denver Broncos.

In Week 13 versus the Pittsburgh Steelers, Vernon played only 10 snaps before missing three more games.

Vernon played in the regular-season finale versus the Cincinnati Bengals.

Injuries forced Vernon to miss time during the last three seasons, playing in 11 games for the Giants in 2018 and 12 games in 2017.

However, Vernon did not miss a game during his first five seasons in the league from 2012-2016. Headed into the 2020 season, Vernon is entering the final year of his contract after the Browns acquired him in a trade with the New York Giants.

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Luiz future at Arsenal in doubt

David Luiz could be set for an Arsenal exit just one year after arriving from Chelsea.

The Gunners paid their west London rivals £8 million ($9.8m) to sign the Brazil international last summer, with the centre-back completing his shock move across the capital on deadline day.

And despite some high profile errors, Luiz has become persistent in the heart of the Arsenal defense, both under Unai Emery and Mikel Arteta, who was appointed in December following Emery’s dismissal.

Luiz has featured in all but one of Arteta’s 15 matches in charge and has often spoken in glowing terms of the Spaniard’s methods.

“Mikel is doing amazing, I am enjoying being almost 33 years old and still learning and improving and to see how beautiful football is,” Luiz told Adidas in April.

“Every day he changes something more and how a new idea and philosophy can still improve me as a person, as a player and as a leader.” But despite his close relationship with Arteta, Luiz could soon be on the look out for a new club – with Arsenal still to start talks over activating the clause in his contract which would see him stay at Emirates Stadium for another season.

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The Gunners do have William Saliba arriving this summer following his loan spell with Saint Etienne and are also expected to sign Pablo Mari on a permanent deal from Flamengo.

Mari, a naturally left-footed centre-back, would be in direct competition with Luiz, given both prefer to play as the left-sided central defender in a back four.

However, Luiz has publicly stated he has no issues moving to accommodate the Spaniard, who arrived in January on an initial loan deal.

Luiz is one of the highest earners at Arsenal and the north London club are looking to drastically lower their wage bill amid the increasing financial implications being caused by the coronavirus crisis.

The Gunners are predicted to lose up to £144m ($177m) if the entire 2020-21 season is played behind closed doors due to the pandemic.

Meanwhile, Arsenal could start full contact training as early as Thursday after Premier League clubs unanimously agreed to step up plans for a return to action.

Players have been training in groups of up to five since last week, but with social distancing guidelines still in place.

But during a Premier League shareholder meeting on Wednesday, clubs agreed to resume full contact training once again ahead of the league’s planned resumption next month.

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