Local hero Mounir Lazzez delights fans with UFC debut win

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Dubai-based Tunisian Mounir Lazzez on his way to victory over Abdul Razak Alhassan in Abu Dhabi. (Getty Images/UFC)
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Calvin Kattar wins his fight against Dan Ige. (Getty Images/UFC)
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Modestas Bukauskas of Lithuania after defeating Andrea "The Spartan" Michailidis (Getty Images/UFC)
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Brazilian Taila Santos and Molly McCann of England during their Flyweight fight in Abu Dhabi. (Getty Images/UFC)
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Updated 16 July 2020

Local hero Mounir Lazzez delights fans with UFC debut win

  • Calvin Kattar defeats Dan Ige in All-American featherweight clash at UFC Fight Night 1 in Abu Dhabi

ABU DHABI: Four days after Fight Island launched in Abu Dhabi with UFC 251, MMA’s premier promotion returned to Yas Forum with Fight Night 1 and victories for local hero Mounir Lazzez over Abdul Razak Alhassan in the Welterweight division, and for American contender Calvin Kattar over Dan Ige in their headline Featherweight clash.

The Dubai-based Tunisian Lazzez — the only born, bred and trained Arab fighter on the card — was making his Ultimate Fighting Championship debut after getting his first call-up only in early June, and he kicked off the main card of the night by dominating the Ghanian Alhassan in a unanimous (30-27, 30-27, 28-27) victory.

Outside the cage, UFC boss Dana White was one of the first to offer his congratulations to the delighted winner.

“I love to be the underdog and to show my skill, and that’s exactly what happened tonight,” Lazzez said. “I came in as the underdog and I enjoyed the victory. When he put me in the first round against the cage, I said, ‘what, this is all that you got?’

“I still have a lot of weapons and just step by step I killed his will with the kicks, moving around, high kick, low kick, I showed my wrestling, my takedown defense,” he said.

In the climax of UFC Fight Night 1 the No 6-ranked American contender Kattar unanimously defeated fellow-countryman Ige (49-46, 49-46, 48-47). The winner then declared his readiness to take on Australian Featherweight champion Alex Volkanovski, who defeated Max Holloway at UFC 251 in Abu Dhabi on Sunday morning. 

“It’s a good opportunity, I was happy to go out with my team and finally give ourselves a main event win, and what better spot than out here in Abu Dhabi on Fight Island,” Kattar said. “Anywhere, anytime, that’s my mindset. We just follow where the opportunities are at, we had a big one here in Abu Dhabi, like I said, I’m just happy to go and capitalize. It’s a great check point for me and my team.

“I feel great, my lungs were great, my cardio felt good,” he said. “It was good to go and get five rounds because we’re eyeing that belt and we’re ready for five-round fights. We had to do that with a guy like Ige, you let him get momentum, it might be a long night for you. We figure we go out and get the momentum early and keep it as long as we could through the entirety of the fight. Everything was happening off the jab, so I was sticking to the jab, listening to my corners and we were able to go and get the job done.”

But for Middle Eastern audiences, all eyes were on Lazzez, and he did not disappoint his growing army of fans. The fighter, whose MMA professional record now stands at 10 wins and one loss, revealed the mental toughness that was needed to come in at short notice and produce a winning performance.

“I kept visualizing this over and over as just another fight, don’t put pressure on yourself and just go enjoy what you do,” said Lazzez. “I love this craft, I loved when I get clipped and I see the will inside the eye of my opponent, that mental game, I love that, I love that deep-water stuff. I’ve said it before, maybe you can be more technical and maybe you can be more powerful, but my will and my mental game, you can’t beat it.”

Before the event, Lazzez had revealed to Arab News his pride at being the only Arab-based fighter at UFC, as well as his gratitude that more events would be taking place on his “doorstep” in the UAE.

Lazzez also teased a potential fight with fellow welterweight Mike Perry. The Tunisian barely hid his disdain for the American, who recently made headlines by trading insults with UFC’s Darren Till on social media.

“I’m healthy, 100 percent,” Lazzez said. “I swear to God I’m ready to go in two weeks, but I’ll let my management speak to the UFC, and when that idiot is ready, I’m ready to go.”

In the penultimate fight of the night 33-year-old American Tim Elliott beat compatriot Ryan Benoit (29-28, 29-28,29-28) in a close Flyweight clash, and Jimmie Rivera defeated Cody Stamann with another unanimous (30-27, 30-27, 29-28) win in their Featherweight All-American clash.

In a Flyweight clash just after Lazzez’s victory, the Brazilian Taila Santos had overcame Molly McCann of England with a unanimous (30-27,30-27,30-27) points victory.

“I’m really happy with my first win in the UFC,” said Santos. “In the first fight, I couldn’t loosen up, but today I had a great fight, I was focused and I won the fight. I have my roots in Muay Thai, but we expected her to come and try to take the fight to the ground. I train with the best grapplers, so I was ready for that. I started training with my father, so I know he is very happy and very round right now.”

In the prelims, Middleweight Khamzat Chimaev (Sweden) defeated John Phillips (Wales) with a second-round submission, and the American Jared Gordon took a unanimous decision against Chris Fishgold of England in a Featherweight clash; Lerone Murphy, another Featherweight from England, beat the Brazilian Ricardo Ramos with technical knockout in round one.

In the battle of the Light Heavyweight debutants, Modestas Bukauskas of Lithuania, nicknamed “The Baltic Gladiator”, defeated Greek opponent Andrea “The Spartan” Michailidis via another TKO in the first round; Liana Jojua of Georgia made light work of the Romanian fighter Diana Belbita with a first-round stoppage in their Flyweight division bout; and Welsh Bantamweight Jack Shore maintained his perfect MMA career record with a second-round submission win over the American Aaron Phillips.

UFC Fight Night 2 will take place on July 19 at Yas Forum in Abu Dhabi, with the flyweight rematch between Deiveson Figueiredo of Brazil and the American Joseph Benavidez headlining the event. Fight Night 3 will take place on the morning of July 26.


The NBA MVP finalists: Antetokounmpo, James and Harden

Updated 09 August 2020

The NBA MVP finalists: Antetokounmpo, James and Harden

  • James would join Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (a six-time winner), Michael Jordan and Bill Russell as the NBA’s only five-time MVPs
  • Antetokounmpo is bidding to become the 12th back-to-back winner of the award

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Florida: This season’s NBA MVP has won the award before.
A trio of past winners of the award — reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks, four-time MVP LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers and 2017-18 winner James Harden of the Houston Rockets — were announced Saturday as the finalists for this season’s top NBA individual honor.
James would join Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (a six-time winner), Michael Jordan and Bill Russell as the NBA’s only five-time MVPs. Antetokounmpo is bidding to become the 12th back-to-back winner of the award, and Harden is vying for his second MVP in three seasons.
“He’s an incredible teammate, plays unselfishly, does everything,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said of Antetokounmpo last month, stating his best player’s MVP case. “And I think that’s kind of what the MVP is, so we certainly feel like he’s very deserving and we’ll be excited to support him.”
Antetokounmpo is also a finalist for Defensive Player of the Year, while Utah’s Rudy Gobert is bidding to win that trophy for a third consecutive season.
The league announced the top three vote-getters in six individual categories. Voting has already taken place by a global panel of sportswriters and broadcasters.
The NBA has not set specific dates when the winners will be announced.
None of the games taking place at the NBA’s restart at Walt Disney World factored into the voting, because ballots were due before games began again July 30.
The league took the step of saying games played before the league suspended the season on March 11 because of the coronavirus pandemic could factor into award consideration, out of fairness to the eight teams that were not invited to the restart.
The other finalists for NBA honors:
Rookie of the Year — Ja Morant, Memphis; Kendrick Nunn, Miami; Zion Williamson, New Orleans.
Most Improved Player — Bam Adebayo, Miami; Luka Doncic, Dallas; Brandon Ingram, New Orleans.
Sixth Man — Montrezl Harrell, Los Angeles Clippers; Dennis Schroder, Oklahoma City; Lou Williams, Los Angeles Clippers.
Defensive Player of the Year — Antetokounmpo; Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers; Rudy Gobert, Utah.
Coach of the Year — Mike Budenholzer, Milwaukee; Billy Donovan, Oklahoma City; Nick Nurse, Toronto.


GASOL VS. GRIZZLIES
Marc Gasol spent parts of 11 seasons in Memphis, going to three All-Star Games with a Grizzlies jersey on his back, earning two All-NBA selections there and a Defensive Player of the Year award as well.
And now, he’ll play against his former team for the first time.
The Grizzlies face Gasol and the Toronto Raptors on Sunday. It’ll be the first game between the clubs since Gasol was traded to Toronto in February 2019 — a move that helped the Raptors win last season’s NBA championship.
Gasol said facing Memphis would be emotional.
“I got there when I was 16 years old. It was my first time out of Spain,” said Gasol, who still owns his Memphis home. “I started high school there as a teenager and left as a father of two kids. ... My ties to the city and my roots go pretty deep and my love for the people there, what they mean and the franchise, it’s forever.”
Gasol helped Memphis make the playoffs in seven consecutive seasons including the 2013 run to the Western Conference finals. He is the Grizzlies’ all-time leader for minutes played, field goals made, free throws made and attempted, rebounds, blocks and triple-doubles and is second in points — 49 behind Mike Conley.
The Raptors were supposed to have played back-to-back games against Memphis this season, going there March 28 and then playing host to the Grizzlies March 30. Those games, of course, were called off because of the season suspension caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
“Obviously it’s a little bittersweet that we couldn’t play in the city of Memphis, to get that love and feel that Iove from the fans,” Raptors guard Fred VanVleet said. “But I’m sure he’ll be happy to see some familiar faces and a lot of the people that he spent a lot of time with over the years.”


WORKING WIZARDS
On Friday, the Washington Wizards were eliminated from playoff contention.
On Saturday, they practiced.
The Wizards knew they were playoff longshots even before coming to the NBA’s restart at Disney, especially since Bradley Beal didn’t make the trip because of injury and Davis Bertans opted not to play because of health concerns.
But these eight games — Washington is 0-5 at Disney with three games left — were considered learning opportunities for the team’s young players, and a chance to get some high-level work in before the offseason starts. And just because the playoff chances are now gone doesn’t mean Wizards coach Scott Brooks is changing his thinking on that front.
“It’s about getting better,” Brooks said. “You know, I love our group. We want to keep improving. And the record, I’m not happy with it but I’m happy with our effort after every game that we’ve been in.”
Brooks has told his team repeatedly at Disney that the losses go on his record, not theirs.
“You can’t waste the days, you have to keep working on each day and keep improving and it’s hard,” Brooks said. “It’s hard to go through, you know, five losses in a row. But in order to get where we need to get to, you’re going to have to deal with it. You’re going to have to be able to handle it. You’re going to have to be able to get better from it, and it also has to hurt, going through it. And that’s fine.”


BUCKS CLINCH
The road to the NBA championship will go through Milwaukee’s white uniforms.
The Bucks have secured the top overall seed in the NBA playoffs for the second consecutive year, the clincher coming when the Los Angeles Lakers lost to Indiana on Saturday.
Ordinarily, that would come with the right to host Game 1 and Game 7 of every series. This year, it just means that the Bucks will be called the home team in those games in each postseason round that they reach.