Max Holloway delivers headline win as UFC Fight Island returns to Abu Dhabi

Max Holloway delivers headline win as UFC Fight Island returns to Abu Dhabi
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Carlos Condit (right) on his way to a win over Matt Brown in their Welterweight bout. (UFC/Getty Image)
Max Holloway delivers headline win as UFC Fight Island returns to Abu Dhabi
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Vanessa Melo (left) beat Sarah Moras via a split decision. (UFC/Getty Image)
Max Holloway delivers headline win as UFC Fight Island returns to Abu Dhabi
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Max Holloway was the big winner of the night at Etihad Arena. (UFC/Getty Image)
Max Holloway delivers headline win as UFC Fight Island returns to Abu Dhabi
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Alessio Di Chirico (left) defeated Joaquin Buckley via TKO (UFC/Getty Image)
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Updated 18 January 2021

Max Holloway delivers headline win as UFC Fight Island returns to Abu Dhabi

Max Holloway delivers headline win as UFC Fight Island returns to Abu Dhabi
  • The first of UFC Fight Island 3’s triple-header took place at the new Etihad Arena

DUBAI: UFC Fight Island returned to Abu Dhabi for a third edition with Max Holloway delivering a stunning 50-43, 50-43, 50-42 win over Calvin Kattar at the newly opened Etihad Arena.

The Hawaiian-born American, the world’s No1-ranked Featherweight, has now set his sight on regaining the championship from current holder Alexander Volkanovski.

Watching UFC President Dana White paid tribute to Holloway and his sixth-ranked opponent from the US, as well as the rest of the line-up, which for the first time on Fight Island took place in front of a live audience.

“I knew this card was going to be special,” he said. “Holloway is fun, and we've got to give Kattar some great credit. Khabib and I got together and he said to me ‘I want to see if someone really blows me away next weekend, then we'll see.’ Max looked incredible tonight. I don’t know if I’d call it his best performance, but he’s one of the all-time greats.”

Meanwhile, the delighted winner of the headline bout is already looking ahead.

“Thank you Abu Dhabi,” said Holloway.

“Thank you for keeping us safe and thank you to the fans for coming out. Make sure you tune in for UFC 257 next week. I'm staying on for it and it’s going to be great. Just blessed to have fans back, first card of the year, first event in Etihad Arena and I set some numbers. I had a chip on my shoulder tonight and I wanted to show that I’m one of the best boxers in MMA.”

Just before the main event of the night, Carlos Condit had defeated Matt Brown via a unanimous decision in their Welterweight bout.

“I feel good,” the 36-year-old American said after the win over his compatriot.

“I was stoked to get in there and finally face Matt. Standing across the cage from him was awesome. I had the hair standing up in the back of my neck, I was so stoked to get in there and get my hand raised. I’m very happy. I expected a little more back and forth on the feet, we ended up grappling quite a bit, but I’m not sad about the way that went because I got the better of those exchanges.”

In what was named the Performance of the Night, Welterweight Li Jianglang of China defeated Santiago Ponzinibbio of Argentina via a TKO after 4:25 of round one.

“I landed a clean shot when he was in a defenseless position, there was no need to go after him,” he said.

“If you are a true martial artist you don’t do that. I need to keep going now, show the fans what I’m capable of and go after the championship belt. Having fans back in the arena is a great step forward for 2021.”

Before that, Alessio Di Chirico, who claimed another Performance of the Night award, recorded a TKO win over Joaquin Buckley after 2:13 of round one in their Middleweight bout.

The main card had kicked off with Punahele Soriano of Hawaii delivering the first UFC knockout of 2021 over Middleweight opponent Dusko Todorovic of Sebia in round one.

“The world lies ahead for me,” he said.

“It feels really good to win this after a year off. It’s amazing being here, around the hotel at the pool. I was nervous coming into this fight undefeated, but I just had to keep focusing on winning. He was undefeated and is an amazing fighter so it was great to get it done. Getting the first finish of 2021 was amazing. I wanted to set the tone as the first on the main card and I did that. 

“This is my release, so it feels great to be back after a year off,” Sorianio added.

“Shows me I can get it done. I’m back to work on Monday and I’m looking forward. I envisioned going into work after winning a fight and fist pumping everyone - I can do that now.”

The Prelims had seen Bantamweight Joselyne Edwards overcome Wu Yanan with a unanimous decision; Carlos Felipe defeat over Justin Tafa via a split decision in their Heavyweight bout; Ramazan Emeev beat David Zawada; and Vanessa Melo edged a split decision over Sarah Moras in their Women Bantamweight clash.

The night had kicked off with the first ever fight at Etihad Arena, which saw Austin Lingo beat Jacob Kilbum via split decision in their Featherweight bout.

“It’s awesome to be the first winner in the Etihad Arena,” the winner said.

“Thanks for letting me fight here. I love having fans in the stands and hearing them cheering, it’s great, it blew my mind. I’ve seen my teammates fight with no crowd I’ve got in there with fans, it was great. I love Fight Island, I’ll come here to fight anytime. It’s great, the island, the venue, the hotel, all of it. 

“I’ve waited a long time for this,” he added. “I want to fight again soon, in a month. I’m tired of waiting. I’ll come back to Abu Dhabi, I’ll fight anywhere.”

The triple-header Fight Island now moves on to its second night on Jan. 20, before wrapping with Conor McGregor’s highly-anticipated Lightweight clash with Dustin Poirier at UFC  257 on the 24th.

“The fans were awesome,” White added. “They had so much energy. It sounded like there was more than there actually was. They went crazy at certain points and it was just so much fun. Very, very cool to have fight fans back.”


Sister act as Korda romps to Gainbridge LPGA win

Sister act as Korda romps to Gainbridge LPGA win
Updated 15 min 11 sec ago

Sister act as Korda romps to Gainbridge LPGA win

Sister act as Korda romps to Gainbridge LPGA win
  • Three birdies in her opening six holes gave her a healthy cushion at the top of the leaderboard, leaving her five shots clear at one stage

MIAMI: Nelly Korda produced a flawless final round to claim a three-shot victory at the Gainbridge LPGA tournament in Florida on Sunday.

Korda — whose elder sister Jessica won the LPGA Tour’s previous event, the season-opening Tournament of Champions in January — fired a three-under-par 69 to finish on 16 under.

The 22-year-old, whose father is former Czech tennis star Petr Korda, had opened up a one-shot lead on Saturday with a four-under-par 68.

On Sunday at Orlando’s Lake Nona Golf and Country Club, she picked up where she left off in the third round.

Three birdies in her opening six holes gave her a healthy cushion at the top of the leaderboard, leaving her five shots clear at one stage.

She then reeled off 12 consecutive pars to remain in control and close out the fourth LPGA Tour victory of her career with her parents and sister Jessica rushing to congratulate her on the 18th green.

“Honestly I did not play very good golf today,” Korda told a television interviewer moments after clinching her first career win on US soil.

“I just stayed really solid. I honestly don’t know how I did it. It was definitely very stressful.

“Winning in front of my parents was a first too, so that was really nice.”

Korda’s 72-hole aggregate 272 left her three clear of Lexi Thompson and Lydia Ko who finished tied for second on 13 under.

Thompson had closed to within three of Korda with a brilliant eagle three at the par-five 11th, but a bogey on the following hole stymied her chances of mounting a charge down the stretch. Thompson finished with a four-under-par 68.

New Zealand’s former world No. 1 Ko stormed up the leaderboard at the start of the back nine with four consecutive birdies starting on the 12th hole, eventually carding a three-under-par 69.

World number one Ko Jin-young meanwhile finished five off the lead in fourth place on 11 under. Ko posted a one-under-par-71 after an erratic final round that included four birdies and three bogeys.

There was disappointment for Thailand’s Patty Tavatanakit, who had started the day one off the lead.

The 21-year-old rookie faded with a two-over-par 74, with two bogeys and a double bogey on the front nine dropping her out of contention.

Tavatanakit finished on 10 under alongside Australia’s Sarah Kemp, who shot a three-under-par 69.

Meanwhile, LPGA great Annika Sorenstam, who parred her final hole on Friday to make the cut in her first tour start since 2008, closed with a four-over-par 76, propping up the leaderboard on 13 over.


How a group of Saudi female showjumpers took over the reins

The Equestrian Union was established in 2015 bu group of Saudi female riders with an aim to compete on equal footing with male counterparts. (The Equestrian Union)
The Equestrian Union was established in 2015 bu group of Saudi female riders with an aim to compete on equal footing with male counterparts. (The Equestrian Union)
Updated 01 March 2021

How a group of Saudi female showjumpers took over the reins

The Equestrian Union was established in 2015 bu group of Saudi female riders with an aim to compete on equal footing with male counterparts. (The Equestrian Union)
  • The Equestrian Union was formed in 2015 to allow women to compete on equal footing with men in the Kingdom

DUBAI: If it doesn’t exist, create it.

That seems to be the attitude of Saudi female athletes increasingly taking matters into their own hands. Women footballers and motor-racing drivers in the Kingdom have rightly been making the headlines recently.

But a group of six female showjumpers have been riding the wave of change even before societal reforms swept through the Kingdom and brought gender equality to the fore, as part of its Vision 2030 goals.

For years, the group of friends would attend showjumping competitions throughout the season as spectators. Until one day, while at an Equestrian Federation show in Jenadriya, they decided to establish an organization that would cater to their love of the sport, and allow them to compete on equal terms with male show jumpers.

They named it the Equestrian Union.

“Equestrian Union is an initiative that we started as Saudi female riders back in 2015, addressing the fact that there were no competitions that allowed female participation in Saudi Arabia at that time,” Mashael bint Mansour Binsultan, one of the founding showjumpers, told Arab News. She has been riding horses for the past 20 years.

“We had top imported horses, professional trainers, private stables and all the unconditional support of our families. We trained daily and took care of our horses; it was a lifestyle,” she added.

There was further positive change when in 2019, the Equestrian Federation opened up opens up participation for all female riders.

After that, progress has been rapid. In December 2019, 13 female Saudi equestrians made their home debut as part of the Diriyah Season, competing with their male counterparts for the first time ever in the Kingdom.

Binsultan, along with Sara Alruwaita, Ajwa Alsaud, Loulouah Bandar, Shuaa Alakeel and Sara Aljowie, had been honing their organisational skills long before that.

“We (had) started planning and managing events during the winter season since 2015, which shed light on showjumping competitions specifically but also included many other aspects such as cycling, hiking, archery, promoting local Saudi brands, food trucks, and horse trails,” Binsultan explained. “As a result, we gained experience in managing and organizing shows and events.”

Their first show took place in October 2015 and met all the standards of the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI).

“We want to continue promoting not only showjumping, but also social family-oriented sporting events and recreational activities, which is one of the main strategic goals of the Saudi Vision 2030,” Binsultan said. “Our families and friends were extremely supportive since the beginning. We were also fortunate enough to get added technical experience and support from local and international companies that sponsored some of the showjumping classes.”

Mansour AlMugatti, an international course designer and judge, continues to lend his support with the events to this day.

“We were very happy with the support and positive feedback we had from the Equestrian Federation which came from Prince Abdullah Bin Fahad, the president of the Equestrian Federation, honoring the winners in our last event,” she added.

Binsultan said, under the administration of the Minister of Sports Prince Abdulaziz Bin Turki, equestrian tournaments, in particular the Saudi Cup, are joining some of the highest profile events in the Kingdom — such as Formula E, the Clash on the Dunes heavyweight boxing bout, the Diriyah Tennis Cup and the Asian Games 2034.

Moreover, Saudi Arabia will host international four and five star showjumping events in Riyadh during the 2020-2021 season, and the Equestrian World Games 2024.

“I was immediately interested as, at the time, we did not have shows that allowed women to compete in Saudi Arabia and it was a fun way to spend the day with my friends, family and horses,” Bandar told Arab News. “I have always been into horses. I really don’t know why or how it started but both my parents rode as children and encouraged me when I expressed interest. I have a lot of family members who owned horses so I have always been around them.”

Bandar believes the Union provides a platform for equestrian lovers to practice their skills, without the pressures that comes with competing at a federation show.

“It’s a great place to come to if you are a beginner, someone with a new horse or even someone wanting to get in extra ‘schooling’ with your horse,” said the 26-year-old. “It’s also important because, a lot of the time, riders spend weekends at shows away from their family and friends, and with Equestrian Union, they can have a day out and enjoy it with their family members and loved ones.”

Alruwaita’s passion for horse-riding began at the age of 15 and alongside a friend, she went on to open “Tack Shack”, an equestrian goods store in Riyadh.

“I loved it,” she said, addressing the changes that have taken place in the Kingdom over the last decade. “Everything changed, the sport itself, the type of competitions and even the riders. Today, we have more competitions, the riders’ levels have improved, and there are more people involved.”

For Binsultan, the success of the Equestrian Union is down to the opportunities have presented themselves in the wake of societal and social change in the Kingdom.

“Everyone can see the reform that Saudi Arabia is going through with the leadership of (the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques) King Salman, and the ambitious vision of the Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman,” Binsultan said. “The vision touches on all aspects of life across all social and economic dimensions, with a strong focus on enhancing the quality of life with a specific focus on human well-being through the promotion of the sports sector. We wish all the best to our Kingdom and hope we can be a part of this optimistic vision.”


Police enter Barcelona’s stadium in search operation

Police enter Barcelona’s stadium in search operation
Updated 01 March 2021

Police enter Barcelona’s stadium in search operation

Police enter Barcelona’s stadium in search operation
  • Police said detentions were made but did not say who or how many people were taken into custody
  • The club said authorities were at the team’s headquarters but did not provide any more detail

BARCELONA: Spanish police entered Barcelona’s stadium and detained some people on Monday in a search and seize operation related to an investigation into club officials.
Police said detentions were made but did not say who or how many people were taken into custody.
The club said authorities were at the team’s headquarters but did not provide any more detail.
The operation was related to last year’s “Barçagate,” in which club officials were accused of launching a smear campaign against current and former players who were critical of the club and then-president Josep Maria Bartomeu.
Barcelona had denied accusations that it hired — and overpaid — a company to make negative comments about its own players and opponents on social media in order to boost the image of senior club officials.
The company was accused of using fake social media accounts to discredit opposition figures when they expressed views that went against the club. Some of the figures supposedly included players such Lionel Messi and Gerard Piqué, as well as former coach Pep Guardiola.
The club later released an independent audit report showing that there was no wrongdoing.
Bartomeu and his board of directors resigned last year amid fallout from the controversy surrounding Lionel Messi. The club has been mired in political turmoil and debt prompted by the coronavirus pandemic.
The operation comes less than a week before presidential elections are to be held at the club.


Liverpool beats Sheffield United 2-0 to end EPL losing run

Liverpool beats Sheffield United 2-0 to end EPL losing run
Updated 01 March 2021

Liverpool beats Sheffield United 2-0 to end EPL losing run

Liverpool beats Sheffield United 2-0 to end EPL losing run
  • The 20-year-old academy graduate Curtis Jones made the breakthrough for Liverpool in the 48th minute when he fired in off Trent Alexander-Arnold’s deflected cross

SHEFFIELD, England: Liverpool halted a run of four defeats in the Premier League as it ended a miserable February with a 2-0 win over last-place Sheffield United on Sunday.
A series of fine first-half saves from Sheffield goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale kept the defending champions at bay in the first half. The 20-year-old academy graduate Curtis Jones made the breakthrough for Liverpool in the 48th minute when he fired in off Trent Alexander-Arnold’s deflected cross. There was a brief check for whether the ball had gone out of play in the buildup but there was no conclusive evidence that it had.
Oliver McBurnie sent a header wide in Sheffield’s best chance of leveling the score before Liverpool made it 2-0 in the 64th. Roberto Firmino weaved through the defense before hitting a shot which took a deflection before going past Ramsdale. The Premier League ruled it was an own-goal for Sheffield’s Kean Bryan, meaning Firmino went a seventh game without a goal in the league and Champions League.
The second goal took the game out of reach for a Sheffield team with just three league wins all season as Liverpool marked its first league game without conceding a goal since a 0-0 draw with Manchester United on Jan. 17.
However, it was not the kind of emphatic victory which might have boosted Liverpool’s confidence further after a miserable recent run which included last week’s defeat to rival Everton and losses to Manchester City and Leicester which buried an already ailing bid to retain the title.
Mohamed Salah missed from close range in the 80th and Liverpool goalkeeper Adrian, standing in for Alisson Becker after his father died, stopped a late attempt from Oliver Burke.


Man Utd frustrated by penalty row in Chelsea stalemate

Man Utd frustrated by penalty row in Chelsea stalemate
Updated 01 March 2021

Man Utd frustrated by penalty row in Chelsea stalemate

Man Utd frustrated by penalty row in Chelsea stalemate
  • United now sit 12 points behind leaders Manchester City as their title hopes fade

LONDON: Manchester United were left frustrated by a VAR penalty controversy in their 0-0 draw at Chelsea, while the revitalised Gareth Bale struck twice in Tottenham’s 4-0 rout of Burnley on Sunday.

Second-placed United had hoped to close the gap on Manchester City with a victory at Stamford Bridge.

But instead they now sit 12 points behind the Premier League leaders as their title hopes fade following a run of one win from four games.

Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel is unbeaten in nine matches in all competitions since replacing the sacked Frank Lampard, but the stalemate was a blow to his team’s top-four challenge.

The fifth-placed Blues are one point behind fourth-placed West Ham and four ahead of sixth-placed Liverpool, who visit Sheffield United in Sunday’s late game.

Neither side could claim they deserved to win in a game of few clear-cut chances.

The biggest talking point came in the first half when United’s appeal for a penalty was rejected by referee Stuart Attwell after he consulted the pitchside monitor when Callum Hudson-Odoi appeared to handle in a challenge with Mason Greenwood.

After five defeats in their previous six league games, Tottenham eased the pressure on Jose Mourinho with a significant contribution from Bale, who made just his third league start of the season.

The Wales forward’s most impressive display since his season-long loan move from Real Madrid gave him four goals in his last four appearances.

Bale, who had clashed with Tottenham boss Mourinho over his fitness earlier in February, took just 68 seconds to score with a clinical close-range finish from Son Heung-min’s cross.

In the 15th minute, Bale’s superb long pass picked out Harry Kane’s run and the England captain’s shot deflected off James Tarkowski for his 22nd goal of the season.

Lucas Moura netted with a predatory finish after Sergio Reguilon’s cross was deflected into the Brazilian’s path by Tarkowski in the 31st minute.

Bale, in his second spell with Tottenham after leaving for Madrid in 2013, scored again with a cool strike from Son’s 55th-minute pass.

Tottenham are up to eighth, six points behind the top four with a game in hand.

“Sometimes you (the media) like to say things that are not really true but there is not one single manager in the world that doesn’t play Gareth Bale if Gareth Bale is in very good condition,” Mourinho said.

“There is not one, but now he is better than ever. It’s not just about the two goals he scored, it’s fundamentally about his physical performance.”

Arsenal delivered a hammer blow to Leicester’s faint hopes of winning the title with an impressive 3-1 win.

Mikel Arteta’s side fell behind to Youri Tielemans’ early goal at the King Power Stadium, but David Luiz equalised and Alexandre Lacazette’s penalty gave Arsenal the lead.

Nicolas Pepe’s second-half goal sealed the Gunners’ second win in their last six league games and their first success at a team in the Premier League’s top three since 2015.

Leicester remain in third place and trail City by 13 points with 12 games remaining.

After Thursday’s shock Europa League exit against Slavia Prague, it was a week to forget for Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers.

With Arsenal stuck in mid-table, Arteta has prioritised winning the Europa League as his side’s only hope of qualifying for next season’s Champions League.

Having picked his best team for the come-from-behind win against Benfica in the last 32 second leg on Thursday, Arteta left Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Bukayo Saka on the bench after the long trip back from the neutral venue in Greece.

After the gamble paid off, Arteta said: “Coming into this game I was concerned. They’re one of the most dangerous teams in the league to play once you go behind against them.

“The reaction was terrific, the team looked really mature.”

Third-bottom Fulham are three points from safety after a 0-0 draw at Crystal Palace.