Blachowicz reigns supreme against Adesanya at UFC 259

Blachowicz reigns supreme against Adesanya at UFC 259
Jan Blachowicz celebrates his win over Israel Adesanya at UFC 259. (UFC/Getty)
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Updated 07 March 2021

Blachowicz reigns supreme against Adesanya at UFC 259

Blachowicz reigns supreme against Adesanya at UFC 259
  • Brazilian legend Amanda Nunes successfully defends featherweight title against Megan Anderson

Jan Blachowicz was the headline winner at UFC 259, successfully defending his light heavyweight championship belt after defeating middleweight champion Israel Adesanya via unanimous decision.

The action at UFC APEX in Las Vegas on Sunday morning also saw the greatest female fighter in mixed martial arts history, Amanda Nunes, successfully defend her featherweight belt against Megan Anderson. Bantamweight champion Petr Yan lost to Aljamain Sterling in four rounds.

Blachowicz said: “For sure it was a tough fight (against Adesanya), it was a close fight, but Izzy kicked a little bit more than I did. I think my boxing was a little bit better than his. My wrestling was much better than his.”

He added: “Thank you Izzy for this fight. It was a pleasure for me to fight against someone like you … I’m happy that I can be the first to beat him, one of the best in the world.”

Blachowicz said he deserved the win and tactically the fight had worked out as he and his team had envisioned.

“I’m a true champion, I deserve what I got. It was a hard job for me tonight, but I do my best,” he added.

“What we prepared for him in the gym we did in the fight … I should’ve wrestled him a little bit more a little bit earlier. I should’ve put more pressure on him. I should’ve put more of my boxing skills on him. But he’s a great fighter, he wouldn’t let me go. But anyway I did almost everything that we trained for.”

The 38-year-old from Poland said at some point he had trouble breathing freely, despite feeling he had trained in a “perfect” manner for the fight.

“I started to feel that my breath wasn’t so good, but after 30 seconds I focused a little bit more, I relaxed and my breath came back to normal and I saw it was ok,” he added.

“That was a moment but I survived. Maybe that was after one of his kicks, I don’t know, I don’t remember, but that was only one moment in the fight.”

The Brazilian Nunes had forced a submission out of her Australian opponent Anderson after 2:03 of the first round, and revealed that she has different strategies for different opponents.

“I can’t go in the cage without strategies A, B and C, because you don’t know if something is going to go wrong,” the 32-year-old said.

“You have to be ready, so for Megan I wanted to finish her, I didn’t want to knock her out. I paced myself. I saw she was done already, but I wanted to finish the fight on the floor with my jiu-jitsu,” she added.

“I feel like this is the moment that I wanted for so long. I worked hard for this moment. I’m hungry. I always go to the gym to get better and better. I chose this to be my job. I love to do this. Every time that I think about it, it’s driving me forward and motivating me. Whatever happens next, I’m going to be here to defend. It’s not something that I’m going to go away. I have two belts. I have to come back and defend them, and I’ll be very happy to do it.”

After defeating Yan via disqualification at 4:29 of the fourth round, Sterling revealed that it was not how he wished to win the fight.

“I wanted to continue. The fight was fast paced. It was a lot of action. I know the fans were enjoying that,” said the Jamaican American.

“This was potentially going to be one of the fights of the year, or one of the greatest bantamweight fights in history for the title. The action was nonstop until that point,” he added.

“Sorry fans. Sorry that the fight went like this. I hope we get to run it back, do it again and give you the fight you guys deserve.”


5 talking points from uninspiring start for Saudi clubs in AFC Champions League group stages

5 talking points from uninspiring start for Saudi clubs in AFC Champions League group stages
Updated 16 April 2021

5 talking points from uninspiring start for Saudi clubs in AFC Champions League group stages

5 talking points from uninspiring start for Saudi clubs in AFC Champions League group stages
  • Al-Hilal, Al-Nassr, Al-Ahli failed to register win between them on home soil

RIYADH: The first round of games in the AFC Champions League is over. Al-Nassr got the ball rolling for Saudi Arabian teams on Wednesday night with a disappointing 0-0 against a hard-working Al-Wehdat from Jordan.

The following evening, Al-Hilal drew 2-2 with AGMK of Uzbekistan while struggling Al-Ahli went down 5-2 to Iran’s Esteghlal.

There was plenty to talk about, but here are five things we learned.

1. Sloppy Al-Hilal need to get back to basics

It is often best not to read too much into opening games but playing the Uzbekistan debutants in the first match at home should have given Al-Hilal a winning start. The problem is that the three-time champions seemed to think that it would come easily.

AGMK may not be the strongest of teams in the tournament but there was no doubt that they were going to work hard, fight for every ball, and be well-organized. If Al-Hilal wanted three points they would have to fight for them.

Yet it was a lackluster performance from the Riyadh giants who were sloppy at the back, lacked concentration, and allowed the opposition to grow in confidence.

The jury is still out on new coach Rogerio Micale and while there remains a long way to go, Al-Hilal need to get the basics right.

The next game against Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai on Sunday should be a different affair and may suit Al-Hilal more. Under Mahdi Ali, the visitors have plenty of options in attack and there should be more space and more opportunities to score but if the backline is not tightened up, the 2019 champions will not be going very far in 2021.

2. Stop Hamdallah and it is possible to stop Al-Nassr

Abderrazak Hamdallah was the tournament’s golden boot winner last year with seven goals that helped Al-Nassr reach the semi-finals, when only a penalty shootout loss to Persepolis prevented a place in the final. The Moroccan marksman was also the top scorer in the Saudi Pro League with a magnificent 29 goals.

This year has not been quite so prolific, though injuries have not helped. Yet Al-Wehdat worked hard and defended deep and in numbers to deny the 30-year-old time and space anywhere near their goal.

With Argentine playmaker Pity Martinez missing through injury, Hamdallah did not quite have the support he needed, and it was clear that if the north African can be prevented from scoring, then Al-Nassr can struggle to find a way through. Hamdallah barely had a sniff of goal, a weak second-half header apart, and without his cutting edge, the Saudis never really looked like scoring.

3. It already looks like damage limitation for Al-Ahli

After six straight defeats in the league, there was hope — rather than expectation — that Asia would offer a respite for last year’s quarterfinalists. It was not to be as they lost 5-2. Esteghlal of Iran were always going to present a tough challenge and so it proved to be.

Newly appointed coach Laurentiu Reghecampf was full of excuses after the dismal showing and talked about referees, Ramadan, injuries, and a lack of time with the squad. There is no doubt that there are issues with the team that will need time to sort but the basic problem was that Al-Ahli were second-best all over the pitch.

With only the group winner sure of a place in the next round, it is already looking tough for Al-Ahli. What they do not want to happen is for Asia to be a continuation of home form. It may not be about getting to the knockout stage but just stopping the rot.

There is another tough game on Sunday against Al-Duhail of Qatar and by whatever means necessary, the Jeddah giants have to avoid defeat.

4. Expansion already vindicated

This year, the tournament has expanded from 32 to 40 teams, opening it up to more countries. There was some dissent that widening the net would weaken the standard but that has not been the case.

Debutants FC Goa of India, AGMK, and Tajikistan’s Istiklol all pulled off good results against teams with much more history and pedigree in the competition. And then there was Al-Wehdat of Jordan keeping the talented Al-Nassr at bay.

Long may this continue as all of Asia benefits when standards rise and if one of the new boys can sneak into the last 16, that really would be an encouraging sign.

5. Xavi now stands in the way

While Al-Wehdat were making their first appearance in the competition and may prove to be a tough nut to crack, there was a sense that Al-Nassr carelessly dropped two points in the opening game with the next two opponents providing tougher tests.

The first is Al-Sadd. The dominant Qatari champions, who went through their domestic season undefeated under coach Xavi Hernandez, are tipped as one of the favorites for the trophy. Yet they were second best for much of their match against Foolad as they came back late to snatch a 1-1 draw.

New Al-Nassr boss Mano Menezes would have had mixed feelings watching the game. Al-Sadd did not look as impressive as many expected but Foolad would have deserved their win had they not let in an 89th-minute equalizer.

Xavi said: “I talked about how difficult this group was. This is the AFC Champions League, and we are playing against the best teams in Asia, this is the reality. We are going to improve, recover, and keep going.”

That is the worry. Foolad look good while Al-Sadd will surely improve. Al-Nassr need to up their game and quick.


Tokyo Olympics must be ‘reconsidered’ due to Japan’s failure to contain pandemic — health experts

Tokyo Olympics must be ‘reconsidered’ due to Japan’s failure to contain pandemic — health experts
Updated 16 April 2021

Tokyo Olympics must be ‘reconsidered’ due to Japan’s failure to contain pandemic — health experts

Tokyo Olympics must be ‘reconsidered’ due to Japan’s failure to contain pandemic — health experts
  • A survey of more than 1,000 Japanese doctors last month showed that 75% believed it was better to postpone the Games
  • Japan began its inoculation push in February, later than most major economies

TOKYO: Japan’s inability to contain the COVID-19 pandemic means that plans to hold the Olympics in Tokyo should be reconsidered, health experts wrote in a commentary.
The 2020 Games, already delayed by one year, are due to begin in fewer than 100 days, even as Japan expands quasi-emergency measures to halt a fourth wave of infections.
Japan has exhibited “poor performance” in containing virus transmission, along with limited testing capacity and a slow vaccination rollout, according to the commentary published in the British Medical Journal on Wednesday.
“Plans to hold the Olympic and Paralympic games this summer must be reconsidered as a matter of urgency,” wrote lead author Kazuki Shimizu of the London School of Economics.
“Holding Tokyo 2020 for domestic political and economic purposes — ignoring scientific and moral imperatives — is contradictory to Japan’s commitment to global health and human security.”
The commentary adds to a drum beat of doubt among medical professionals that the Olympics can be carried out safely this summer. A survey of more than 1,000 Japanese doctors last month showed that 75% believed it was better to postpone the Games, according to physician referral company Ishinotomo.
Kyoto University professor Hiroshi Nishiura, an adviser to the government’s pandemic response, urged in a magazine commentary this week that authorities postpone the Olympics one year to allow for more time to vaccinate the public.
Japan began its inoculation push in February, later than most major economies. Only 0.9% of the Japanese public have received their first shot so far, compared with 2.5% in South Korea, and 48% in the United Kingdom.
Olympic and government officials have said further postponement of the Games is out of the question.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said on Thursday the government would do “everything possible” to prevent further contagion ahead of the Games, after a ruling party official said canceling the event remained an option.


City star Foden on course to reach status of Mbappe, Haaland

City star Foden on course to reach status of Mbappe, Haaland
Updated 16 April 2021

City star Foden on course to reach status of Mbappe, Haaland

City star Foden on course to reach status of Mbappe, Haaland
  • Foden was widely expected to eventually fill the shoes of now-departed midfield playmaker David Silva at City

LONDON: Phil Foden had just finished his latest post-match chat with Erling Haaland when a message from the Manchester City forward’s Twitter account made its way to another of the world’s top soccer players.

“Are you ready,” read the post to Kylian Mbappe, alongside a handshake emoji.

Ignoring who actually sent the tweet — it has since been deleted, suggesting Foden might not have been behind the brazen calling-out of Mbappe — it is a sign of the lofty circles this outstanding English talent is currently mixing in.

Away from social media, Foden is letting his feet do the talking. With winning goals in both legs, the 20-year-old nicknamed the “Stockport Iniesta” — after a town near Manchester where he was born and the former Spain and Barcelona midfielder — was the difference-maker as City beat Haaland’s Borussia Dortmund to reach the Champions League semifinals for only the second time.

Next up: Mbappe’s Paris Saint-Germain, pitching together the only two players to have scored in both legs of a Champions League quarterfinal when under the age of 21. Mbappe did so also against Dortmund, when playing for Monaco in the 2016-17 season, and has gone on to become one of the world’s best players.

Foden appears to be on that path.

“We knew it from the beginning and how he grew up,” said City manager Pep Guardiola, who described Foden’s talent as “unique” after inviting the then-17-year-old player to train with City’s senior squad for the first time in 2016.

City are reaping the rewards of Guardiola’s careful nurturing of Foden over the last few years. Many criticized the Spanish coach’s reluctance to play Foden more — he had a total of 36 appearances in all competitions in the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons combined — but Guardiola repeatedly said his time would come and that Foden still needed to learn his trade.

That time is now, in big matches in the Premier League and now on the grandest stage of all in club soccer: the Champions League.

He is sure, too, to play a big role for England at this summer’s European Championship, having seemingly established himself in the preferred front three of his national team.

Foden was widely expected to eventually fill the shoes of now-departed midfield playmaker David Silva at City — they have similar characteristics with their touch, technical qualities, low center of gravity and left-footedness — but it appears his future lies closer to goal, in a wide-forward role.

At least in the opinion of Guardiola, who shared a warm embrace with Foden after his 75th-minute goal that sealed City’s 2-1 win on Wednesday, and a 4-2 victory on aggregate.

Guardiola described Foden as “dynamic offensively” and someone who “always creates something” but, tellingly, added that his all-round game had matured.

“He is learning right now not to take just one touch. He is able to make more touches when making decisions,” said Guardiola, one of the deeper thinkers about the game.

“In the quarterfinal of the Champions League, he was the important player to go through.”

With Foden flourishing, he is somehow managing to cover the offseason departures of both Silva and Leroy Sane, a mercurial winger who City decided to sell to Bayern Munich.

Silva will forever hold a special place in the hearts of City fans — to many, he is the club’s greatest player. But Foden’s development along with the prolific scoring this season of Ilkay Gundogan, who has assumed Silva’s attacking-midfield role, has ensured Silva hasn’t really been missed.


Extreme E partnership with TikTok draws in 18.5 million viewers for inaugural Desert E-Prix at AlUla

Extreme E partnership with TikTok draws in 18.5 million viewers for inaugural Desert E-Prix at AlUla
Updated 15 April 2021

Extreme E partnership with TikTok draws in 18.5 million viewers for inaugural Desert E-Prix at AlUla

Extreme E partnership with TikTok draws in 18.5 million viewers for inaugural Desert E-Prix at AlUla
  • New electric SUV series acquired 60,000 new fans thanks to activation by digital media giant Little Dot Studios

Extreme E’s Desert E-Prix, the first-ever race in the new electric SUV series, saw 18.5 million organic viewers on TikTok tune in to the action taking place on the desert terrain of AlUla, Saudi Arabia.

Only days before the event took place at the start of April, Extreme E announced an agreement with TikTok to bolster its social media offering, and the results have been staggering, with 17.2 million people checking out #DesertXPrix videos alone.

Extreme E also acquired 60,000 new fans after digital media giant Little Dot Studios activated the new partnership using its vertical video expertise on behalf of the championship.

Rosberg X Racing, the team founded by former Formula 1 champion Nico Rosberg, made history by becoming Extreme E’s first-ever race winner after overcoming Andretti United and Lewis Hamilton’s X44, who finished second and third on the podium.

The organizers of the event were delighted in the interest the event attracted.

“These numbers are phenomenal, and I’m thrilled that in our first weekend we were able to reach so many people with our unique sport for purpose,” Ali Russell, chief marketing officer at Extreme E, said. “As part of the championship’s mission to keep carbon emissions to a minimum, we don’t have spectators on site, and if we did, we would never reach this level of engagement purely from attendees. It just goes to show how important our digital offering is.

“A massive thank you to TikTok, Little Dot Studios and our in-house social team. These numbers are awesome and a testament to the engaging and innovative motorsport series we have created,” he added. 

As part of the ambitious partnership, Extreme E and Little Dot Studios created an exclusive 90-minute production, which aired on Extreme E’s TikTok account on Saturday, April 3. More than 386,000 people watched the show, which gave a behind-the-scenes look at the series and the personalities at the heart of it.

One of the most popular videos was “The Drop,” highlighting a part of the course measuring 100 meters with a 45-degree descent. The on-board video gave a view from the cockpit, and 3.8 million fans tuned in to see exactly what the drivers saw as they took on this challenging element of the course.

There were also a number of hashtags running across the weekend. The first — #XECountdown — was launched by team owner and driver Jenson Button. In total, this had 52.1 million views across the weekend.

The partnership with TikTok covers all five of Extreme E’s events in 2021, with each event highlighting an environment affected by climate change.

After Saudi Arabia and desertification, the series now moves on to Senegal (rising sea levels), Greenland (melting ice caps), Amazon, Brazil (deforestation) and Patagonia, Argentina (glacial recession).  

The remaining full schedule is:

Ocean X Prix: Lac Rose, Senegal 
May 29-30, 2021

Arctic X Prix: Kangerlussuaq, Greenland 
Aug. 28-29, 2021

Amazon X Prix: Para, Brazil 
Oct. 23-24, 2021

Glacier X Prix: Tierra del Fuego, Argentina  
Dec. 11-12, 2021


Dubai Duty Free Spring Trials Weekend returns to Newbury Racecourse with a mark of respect for Prince Philip

Dubai Duty Free Spring Trials Weekend returns to Newbury Racecourse with a mark of respect for Prince Philip
Updated 16 April 2021

Dubai Duty Free Spring Trials Weekend returns to Newbury Racecourse with a mark of respect for Prince Philip

Dubai Duty Free Spring Trials Weekend returns to Newbury Racecourse with a mark of respect for Prince Philip
  • Traditional Saturday races delayed by 24 hours due to funeral of the late Duke of Edinburgh

The Dubai Duty Free Spring Trials Weekend returns to Newbury Racecourse on April 16-18, when seven of the meeting’s 14 scheduled races will be sponsored by the UAE airport retailer.

These races include two of the Group 3 contests on Friday and Sunday — the Dubai Duty Free Finest Surprise Stakes and the Dubai Duty Free Stakes.

The meeting has again attracted the support of many of the sport’s leading owners, with the UK’s Queen Elizabeth II, Shadwell Estate Co., Dubai’s Sheikh Ahmed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum and Godolphin all represented among the entries for Dubai Duty Free (DDF) sponsored races.

Traditionally staged over two consecutive days, the second day of the meeting has been delayed by 24 hours as a mark of respect for Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, whose funeral takes place in Windsor on Saturday afternoon.

FASTFACT

Traditional Saturday races delayed by 24 hours due to funeral of the late Duke of Edinburgh.

“We are fully supportive of the Newbury executive’s decision to transfer Saturday’s racing to Sunday, and offer our sincere condolences to Her Majesty the Queen and the British Royal family at this very sad time,” said Colm McLoughlin, executive vice president and CEO of DDF.

Horse racing in the UK continues behind closed doors until May 17 at the earliest, denying the DDF senior management team the opportunity to attend for only the second time in the company’s 26-year history of sponsorship at the Berkshire course.

“We were sad not to be able to attend the DDF International Weekend last September due to coronavirus pandemic restrictions, but once again we will be watching from Dubai and wish all owners and trainers success with their horses at this year’s renewal of the Dubai Duty Free Spring Trials Weekend,” added McLoughlin.

Newbury Racecourse CEO Julian Thick said: “The Dubai Duty Free Spring Trials Weekend heralds the start another exciting season of Flat racing at Newbury and we are very grateful to (DDF) for their continued support.

“It’s disappointing not to be able welcome (their) team to Newbury this time, but through our broadcast partners ITV and RacingTV, we hope they will be able to enjoy a spectacular weekend of racing.”