Tagged in: Las Vegas

Nick Diaz joins brother Nate back in UFC, agrees to September bout vs. Robbie Lawler in Las Vegas

Nick Diaz is formally returning to the UFC.

According to his longtime attorney, Ross Goodman, Diaz, 37, signed a fight agreement Tuesday to face Robbie Lawler at UFC 266 on Sept. 25 in Las Vegas.

Lawler has not signed his agreement yet, sources told ESPN, but wants the fight, and is expected to sign his side shortly. The non-title fight is expected to be five rounds, and will be on the main portion of the pay-per-view card.

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Diaz (26-9) is the older brother of UFC star Nate Diaz, and a pioneer in mixed martial arts.

He is a former Strikeforce welterweight champion, and was involved in big fights with the UFC versus B.J. Penn, Carlos Condit, Georges St-Pierre and Anderson Silva from 2011 to 2015.

In September 2015, the Nevada State Athletic Commission suspended Diaz for five years after he tested positive for marijuana metabolites after his fight versus Silva in UFC 183. It was his third marijuana-related offense in the state of Nevada, which led to the harsh punishment.

Ironically, the NSAC voted just last week in favor of no longer disciplining combat sports athletes for marijuana use.

Diaz and Lawler have a history that runs back to 2004. They met on the undercard of UFC 47. Diaz won via knockout in a highly entertaining contest.

Lawler (28-15) is a former UFC welterweight champion. He won the 170-pound title by defeating Johny Hendricks in 2014 and defended it twice in instant classics versus Rory MacDonald and Condit.

The 39-year-old has dropped his past four bouts, all against very high-level competition.

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Team USA falls to 0-2 in Olympic exhibitions after loss to Australia

Team USA might indeed win its fourth successive Olympic gold next month in Tokyo. But if they do, it will be a story of overcoming adversity.

The Americans lost their second consecutive exhibition Monday, this time bested by Australia 91-83 in Las Vegas. Dating to the 2019 World Cup, where they concluded seventh, Team USA has lost four of their past five matches.

It also has lost two in a row now to Australia, a team expected to contend for the gold in Japan.

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It was a better showing than the loss to Nigeria on Saturday but just reading those words is a little mind-boggling considering the pedigree of this roster and coaching staff. Damian Lillard, who had 22 points, and Kevin Durant, who had 17 points, definitely looked more like All-Stars. But in the end, they weren’t able to deliver clutch shots.

The final indignity came with one minute to play and the U.S. down five as Jayson Tatum tossed up an air ball on a corner 3-point try. It was better than the next possession, which resulted in a turnover.

The execution differential between the teams was glaring.

Over and over and over the Aussies were able to throw passes into the middle to players either wide open from great cuts or in an advantageous matchup.

Maybe it’s a little early in this process for heavy game planning but it was clear that Australia felt it could take advantage of a relatively small U.S. roster.

Patty Mills, who has long been a star for his national team, had 22 points. Joe Ingles had 17 and the Aussies concluded shooting 53% for the game.

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Johnathan Abram’s goal is to play under control for Las Vegas Raiders

First, the Las Vegas Raiders signed Karl Joseph. Then they used a second-round draft pick on Trevon Moehrig. Tyree Gillespie came in the fourth round.

Surely, bringing in three new safeties had to send a message to incumbent starter Johnathan Abram, right? Meh …

“It doesn’t,” insisted Abram, a first-round draft pick in 2019, after Wednesday’s OTA practice. “Only thing it does is bring us together. As soon as those guys got drafted, as soon as Karl got signed back, I reached out to everybody. I told them, ‘It’s time to go to work.’

“Each guy’s going to push each other. We’re all going to come out every single day and just be our best. Day in and day out. Being a pro … if everybody does that, it’s going to make the room entirely better.”

And it should improve Abram’s oft-boom or bust, heat-seeking-missile style.

For one thing, Abram is settling in at a new position as a box safety in new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley’s heavy Cover-3 scheme.

“It’s interesting going from what we went to last year, playing a lot of split-safety, playing high,” Abram said. “So this is going to be more suitable to my talents and my strengths.”

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For another, Abram realizes he needs to slow down a tad and not always go for the kill shot, lest he take out a teammate — which has happened on occasion — or himself — yeah, that’s happened, too.

Like his rookie campaign, when he played all of one half of the 2019 season opener due to a self-inflicted shoulder injury.

“Last offseason was a struggle for me coming off the shoulder injury,” he said. “So this year I stayed around the facility a lot … I’m more than 100 percent, honestly. I’m as strong as I’ve ever been.

“This year, [the goal is] just being more consistent. Playing under control. Not really taking that many wild hits, getting myself knocked out of the game [and] hurting my own body … being consistent, being disciplined and constantly just doing my job. Filling my grade sheet with ‘plusses’ every day. Then every Sunday, I think my game will blossom.”

It’s only OTAs, and they are voluntary, but 83 of the 89 players on the Raiders’ current roster were practicing on Wednesday, with running back Josh Jacobs, defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, defensive tackle Quinton Jefferson, tight end Derek Carrier, cornerback Isaiah Johnson and rookie linebacker/safety Divine Deablo not participating.

But there was Abram, taking on a leadership role with the defensive backs on a far side of the field.

And as draft classmate Clelin Ferrell noted, he has seen Abram focusing on “making it a special year” for both himself and the Raiders.

“All of us, we’re tired of losing,” Ferrell said. “Seeing his discipline, he’ll bring the guys along on the back end and the way he’s trying to push the fact that we’ve really got to learn this defense, so we can just go out there and play.”

Abram had two interceptions last season. He was also criticized for his inconsistent ball skills and for being badly out of position on Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes’ 22-yard, game-winning touchdown pass to Travis Kelce in the final minute of the Raiders’ loss to the Chiefs on Nov. 22.

Still, as former Raiders defensive backs coach Jim O’Neil stated last year, it is easier to get a player to slow down than to get him to speed up.

Now, Abram has a new position coach in 21-year coaching veteran Ron Milus.

And Abram also has a couple of veterans in the secondary to lean on in new cornerback Casey Hayward Jr., who has played for Bradley, and a one-time roommate in Joseph. Remember, Abram and Joseph started one match together and now Joseph is entering his sixth season.

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Tyson Fury, Deontay Wilder make third fight in rivalry official

WBC heavyweight champion Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder have both signed contracts for the third fight in their heavyweight rivalry.

During the Josh Taylor-Jose Ramirez telecast on ESPN on Saturday, Fury stated that he had signed his contract. Wilder has also completed his side of the deal, according to boxing manager Shelly Finkel.

The fight will be on July 24, sources told ESPN. T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas will host the bout, Top Rank’s Bob Arum told ESPN’s Kel Dansby.

Fury will get 60% of the purse to 40% for Wilder, sources told ESPN’s Mark Kriegel.

The agreement comes six days after an independent arbitrator ruled that Wilder (42-1-1, 41 KOs) was legally obligated for a third fight with Fury (30-0-1, 21 KOs).

The arbitrator’s ruling derailed negotiations between Fury and Anthony Joshua for an undisputed title fight in Saudi Arabia this summer. Both sides were on the verge of finalizing a deal before Monday’s arbitration.

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Discussions were limited regarding a potential “step-aside” fee to Wilder to make Fury-Joshua possible.

The World Boxing Organization (WBO) has ordered Joshua to defend his heavyweight title against mandatory challenger Oleksandr Usyk.

Prior to the first fight in 2018 that ended in a draw, Wilder had knocked out all his previous adversaries. Fury got off the canvas in the 12th round to escape his first defeat. In the 2020 rematch, Fury battered Wilder for a seventh-round TKO victory. Neither fighter has fought since the fight.

Fury first fought Wilder, who is now 35, in 2018 and took the WBC title from him in a rematch in February 2020 with a seventh-round stoppage.

“Shall we do it and put him out of his misery? Crack the other side of his skull? Give him another shoulder injury, another bicep injury, a leg injury… the whole lot,” Fury said in a video posted by Top Rank Boxing.

“Wilder, contract’s signed, you’re getting smashed… You’re getting knocked out, end of, one round, you’re going. I’ve got your soul, your mojo, everything, I own you.”

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Robert Whittaker beats Kelvin Gastelum via unanimous decision in Las Vegas

Robert Whittaker doesn’t create a lot of headlines. He doesn’t talk any trash. Never has he made a spectacle of himself.

But quietly, Whittaker has built a résumé that rivals some of the most impressive in mixed martial arts.

The former UFC middleweight champion put forth another brilliant performance Saturday, defeating Kelvin Gastelum by one-sided unanimous decision (50-45, 50-45, 50-45) in the main event of UFC Fight Night in Las Vegas.

Whittaker beautifully mixed up his striking over all five rounds, landing jabs, straight rights, left hooks, leg kicks and even a front kick to Gastelum’s jaw in the final frame. It was a sublime showcase against another one of the top middleweight fighters in the world.

“I’m feeling on top of the world,” Whittaker said. “Obviously, this was a very hard fight. A lot of people were selling Kelvin short. … He’s one of the best fighters in the division. That was a very tough fight.”

ESPN had Whittaker ranked No. 2 in the world at middleweight coming in. This victory should put him in line for a shot at champion Israel Adesanya, who beat him for the belt two years ago.

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“Nothing but respect,” Whittaker said of Adesanya. “He’s a great fighter. But I think we should talk, mate. I think it’s time we crossed paths again.”

Whittaker and Gastelum were first supposed to fight at UFC 234 on Feb. 10, 2019, when Whittaker was the UFC middleweight champion. But Whittaker withdrew from the fight the day of the card due to a hernia. A collapsed bowel caused him to have to undergo emergency surgery.

On Saturday, Gastelum was replacing Paulo Costa, Whittaker’s original opponent, who had to pull out due to lingering effects of COVID-19.

The change of opponent did not affect Whittaker at all. He rocked Gastelum in the first round with a head kick and never really slowed down from there. The very tough Gastelum hung around for all 25 minutes, but rare was a minute when Whittaker was not in total control.

Later in the first round, Whittaker took Gastelum down and landed some ground-and-pound. In the second, Gastelum had some success with his boxing and straight left hands, but Whittaker landed some nice jabs and counters. Whittaker rocked Gastelum again with a combination in the third, a round in which Gastelum had some success early.

Whittaker landed two nice uppercuts in the fourth round and got right up from a Gastelum takedown. In the fifth, Whittaker was starting to wear some of Gastelum’s offense — Gastelum was bruised up, as well — but Whittaker capped the technical performance with a surprising front kick to Gastelum’s face.

Whittaker outlanded Gastelum in meaningful strikes 150-62, and 115 of those from Whittaker were to the head, according to UFC Stats.

Whittaker (23-5) has won three consecutive fights and 12 of his past 13 overall. The New Zealand-born Australia resident has just one loss since 2014, versus Adesanya. Whittaker, 30, held the middleweight belt from 2017 to 2019, dropping it to Adesanya at UFC 243 in October 2019.

Whittaker is 14-3 in UFC.

Gastelum (16-7, 1 NC) was coming off a unanimous decision victory over Ian Heinisch at UFC 258 on Feb. 13. The California native had lost three straight prior to that.

The 29-year-old Gastelum was once considered one of the best middleweight fighters in the world, fighting Adesanya for the interim belt at UFC 236 in April 2019.

Saturday’s card was held with no fans at the UFC Apex, a facility across from the promotion’s corporate campus, with COVID-19 protocols in place.

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Derrick Lewis KO’s Curtis Blaydes in biggest UFC main event upset in 5 years

Curtis Blaydes made no apologies about his strategy coming into a huge heavyweight fight with Derrick Lewis. Blaydes was going to use his dominant wrestling early and often. He told anyone who would listen.

Maybe it was a decoy. But Blaydes should have stuck to his original game plan, as Lewis crushed him with an uppercut knockout at 1:26 of the second round in Saturday’s main event of UFC Fight Night in Las Vegas.

Blaydes gained confidence on the feet in the first round and attempted only one takedown, which Lewis stuffed. And Lewis, one of the most dangerous KO artists in the history of MMA, made him pay.

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It was the biggest upset in a UFC main event since Michael Bisping defeated Luke Rockhold at UFC 199 in 2016, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. Lewis was a +350 underdog, per Caesars Sportsbook by William Hill, ESPN’s odds provider. Bisping was +400 against Rockhold five years ago.

With the stoppage, Lewis ties Vitor Belfort with the most knockouts in UFC history (12).

Lewis also is now tied for the second-most wins in UFC heavyweight history (16) with Frank Mir. Andrei Arlovski is the all-time UFC heavyweight victories leader, with 19.

Saturday’s finish came when Blaydes ducked in, trying to close the distance for a clinch or a takedown. Lewis saw it coming and let loose with a massive uppercut. Blaydes’ body shook on impact, and he was unconscious as he fell to the canvas. Lewis followed up on the ground with punches, until referee Herb Dean came in to pull him off.

“That was the only punch I was waiting for the entire fight,” Lewis said. “I knew he was gonna come in. … That’s all I was waiting for. I wasn’t worried about throwing a one-two, a jab or anything.”

The fight was originally arranged for Nov. 28, but Blaydes tested positive for COVID-19, and the contest was pulled one day prior to the event before official weigh-ins.

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Kamaru Usman defeats Gilbert Burns by TKO to retain UFC welterweight title

Kamaru Usman and Gilbert Burns were full of emotion while embracing in the middle of the Octagon on Saturday night. Burns had blood and tears running down his face. Some of their cornermen behind them were trying not to cry.

Usman stopped Burns, his former teammate, via TKO at 34 seconds in the third round to defend his UFC welterweight title in the main event of UFC 258 in Las Vegas.

Usman landed a right hand as he was switching stances to floor Burns, then slammed Burns with punches on the ground until referee Herb Dean pulled him off.

“Gilbert is a guy that I’ve known from the start,” Usman said in his postfight interview. “I love him. This one was tough for me to deal with.” Usman picked up his 13th consecutive win, surpassing legend Georges St-Pierre for the most consecutive victories in UFC welterweight history.

Only Anderson Silva has won more than 13 straight fights in UFC history, winning 16 in a row from 2006 to 2012.

Usman is tied with six other fighters with 13 consecutive wins.

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Usman and Burns were teammates in South Florida since 2012, first with the Blackzilians and most recently with Sanford MMA.

Usman departed for Colorado to train under coach Trevor Wittman last year after the initial fight with Burns was scheduled for July.

But Burns tested positive for COVID-19 and withdrew from that bout. Henri Hooft, the longtime head coach for both Usman and Burns, did not corner either man and said he would not even watch the fight.

The fight had major implications outside of the personal story. Coming in, ESPN had Usman ranked No. 5 in the world in its pound-for-pound MMA rankings. In the welterweight division, ESPN has Usman ranked No. 1 and Burns at No. 5.

Burns rocked Usman twice early with huge right hands. But Usman hung in through a tumultuous first round. He then took over in the second, working a beautiful jab and stymieing Burns’ power and explosiveness. Usman’s striking looked better than ever, as he switched stances and landed with power from each one.

In the second round, Usman dropped Burns twice, the second time with a jab. In the third, it was a right hand that resembled a jab that put Burns on his butt before Usman pounced and finished on the ground.

Usman outlanded Burns 83-45 in significant strikes, per UFC Stats.

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Promoter — Deal done for Anthony Joshua-Tyson Fury heavyweight title fight

Anthony Joshua’s promoter Eddie Hearn stated a deal for the world heavyweight champion to meet Tyson Fury in an undisputed world heavyweight title fight this year is all but done, with a venue in the Middle East a front-runner to host it.

Joshua defeated Bulgarian Kubrat Pulev last month to keep his IBF, WBO and WBA titles to set up the prospect of a mouth-watering clash with fellow Briton Fury who holds the WBC belt.

“The deal is done, really — without being signed,” Hearn told the Times.

“The financial elements of the deal are done. We’re talking through the broadcast situation, the only thing really now is to paper it. “And when you paper a deal like that, it does go back and forwards 15 times before every single letter is approved on the document.”

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Fury has not fought since beating American Deontay Wilder in their Las Vegas rematch in February to claim the WBC crown.

Fury and Wilder had a rematch clause in their contract but they couldn’t make the fight.

Hearn said Joshua and Fury would face off in two fights — with the first likely to be in the Middle East later this year — and he hoped to bring the rematch back to Britain.

“The Middle East will be aggressive and will be front-runners in this. To stage this fight, you need significant government support. You need someone who is staging this fight as a statement for their country,” Hearn added.

“I’d like it [the rematch] to be [in the United Kingdom]. Where? Millennium Stadium.”

Fury’s American promoter Bob Arum has stated before that he is “95 per cent confident the fight happens”. Arum said: “I don’t want to make a deadline, but I just can report that everything so far has been going splendidly, and we hope to have a signed document within the next couple of weeks.

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Glover Teixeira submits Thiago Santos in UFC main event

With a latent light heavyweight title shot on the line, 41-year-old Glover Teixeira managed to pull out another classic presentation. Teixeira managed to survive some big scares to submit Thiago Santos in the main event of UFC Fight Night from Las Vegas’ UFC Apex facility.

Santos, who was returning for the first time since suffering a knee injury in a split-decision loss to then-champion Jon Jones in July 2019, came out fast and hard, rocking Teixeira in the first round.

Teixeira survived the scare and fell back on his grappling, scoring a takedown and dominating the rest of the round from top position. The grappling of Teixeira would dominate in the second round as well, this time without the scare.

Teixeira put Santos down early and stayed on top for the entire round before locking in a deep rear-naked choke only to see Santos saved by the bell.

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Time running out in the second almost led to a nightmare scenario in the third round when Santos instantly dropped Teixeira with a crushing left hand and followed him to the ground, scoring with a series of heavy punches from the top position. Santos quickly ran out of gas, however, and Teixeira reversed position, ending up on top and shortly after locking in another rear-naked choke.

This time there was no safety to be found as Santos was forced to tap at the 1:49 mark of Round 3.

The victory ran Teixeira’s winning streak to five and seems to set him up to challenge recently-crowned champion Jan Blachowicz for the light heavyweight title — a belt Teixeira fought for in a losing effort in 2014. However, UFC president Dana White has recently called a fight between Blachowicz and middleweight champion Israel Adesanya “the fight to make.”

“Dana White, come on, man,” Teixeira said. “I’m an old man here. You’re going to give the shot to Adesanya and make me wait? Five fights in a row beating these young guys, it’s not easy. Give me that title shot, man.”

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Teofimo Lopez upsets Vasiliy Lomachenko to become youngest four-belt champion

There is a new lightweight king. At just 23 years old, Teofimo Lopez became the undisputed lightweight champion of the world by dethroning Vasiliy Lomachenko over 12 tense rounds inside the MGM Grand Conference Center in Las Vegas on Saturday night.

Lopez becomes the youngest fighter to become a four-belt champion since the WBO was founded in 1988.

After a strong start, Lopez overcame a late Lomachenko rally to win by the scores of 116-112, 119-109 and 117-111.

The fight was dominated early by the boxing of Lopez, who controlled the center of the ring by using his educated left hand and then hit Lomachenko with well-placed body shots that had the smaller boxer backing up.

Lopez (16-0, 12 KOs) built a big lead on the scorecards as he was able to neutralize the graceful movements of Lomachenko (14-2, 10) behind that jab. For most of the first half of the fight, Lomachenko just moved around the ring and did very little offensively. It was clear the technical acumen and poise of Lopez was vastly underrated. For long stretches of the bout he was actually outboxing the master boxer.

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Yet Lomachenko didn’t give up without a fight. As the fight entered the late stages, Lomachenko, sensing he was behind, started to ramp up the pressure and began to close the gap on Lopez. He struck him with quick, laser-like left hands that slowed the momentum of Lopez. To his credit, Lomachenko put together a late rally in the championship rounds.

“I think the first half of the fight he got more rounds than I did, but in the second half of the fight I took over,” Lomachenko said. “I was much better.”

But if a late statement was needed by Lopez, it was made in the 12th and final round.

Despite Lopez’s father saying he had the fight won entering the last round, Lopez kept the pressure on and got his hand moving, landing several significant power shots that halted Lomachenko in his tracks. Only a clash of heads that caused a gash over Lopez’s left eye stemmed the tide.

“I’m a fighter,” Lopez said after the fight regarding the 12th round. “I gotta dig in deep. I knew he was coming. I didn’t know if they had him up on the scorecards or not, and I love to fight. I can bang, too. I don’t care, man. I’ll take one to give one. That’s what a true champion does. I find a way to win.”

This round was a late exclamation to what was a sterling presentation by a young man who fulfilled the destiny of his outspoken father, who prophesied that not only would his son win a world title by his 15th fight, but he would topple a boxer many consider the best in the sport by his 16th.

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