Polish power meets Brazilian grit as Jan Blachowicz and Glover Teixeira face off at UFC 267 in Abu Dhabi

Polish power meets Brazilian grit as Jan Blachowicz and Glover Teixeira face off at UFC 267 in Abu Dhabi
Jan Blachowicz celebrates beating Israel Adesanya at UFC 259 in March. (UFC)
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Updated 27 October 2021

Polish power meets Brazilian grit as Jan Blachowicz and Glover Teixeira face off at UFC 267 in Abu Dhabi

Polish power meets Brazilian grit as Jan Blachowicz and Glover Teixeira face off at UFC 267 in Abu Dhabi
  • UFC returns to Abu Dhabi with a title double-header in front of an expected capacity crowd at Etihad Arena on Yas Island 
  • Blachowicz is coming off an upset victory over the formerly undefeated Israel Adesanya, while Teixeira is after a huge win over Thiago Santos having been hurt early on

LOS ANGELES: UFC is back in Abu Dhabi, and this time it’s with a double-header of title fights in front of a capacity crowd at Etihad Arena for the very first time.

The newly launched venue hosted UFC 257 in January, with Dustin Poirier win over Conor McGregor in the second part of their trilogy of fights topping the bill.

Only 2,000 people were in the audience that night. On Saturday night, 18,000 people are expected to see Jan Blachowicz of Poland defend his Light Heavyweight title defense against Glover Texiera of Brazil at UFC 267.

Blachowicz is coming off an upset victory over the formerly undefeated Israel Adesanya at UFC 259 in March, and the big-punching Pole had been in sensational form before that with knockouts in three of his previous four fights.

Adesanya, however, presented a unique striking challenge for the 38-year-old Blachowicz, who seemed hesitant to throw and was biting on Adesanya's faints. Although his striking prowess was not on full display that night, he exhibited an ability to adapt and find a path to victory.

Meanwhile, Teixeira is coming off a huge win over Thiago Santos having been hurt early on, which is becoming something of a habit for the Brazilian. Although the 41-year-old Texiera often gets hurt early and comes on later, Blachowiz is not someone you want to hit you clean. Texiera's grappling is amongst the best in the division, with his vicious ground and pound opening his opponents up for submissions.

Prior to that, the first of the night’s two title bouts pits Cory Sandhagen of the US against Petr Yan of Russia for the interim Bantamweight title, a fight that was put together at short notice after Aljamain Sterling was not medically cleared due to a neck injury sustained in his fight against the latter.

Both Yan and Sandhagen will be looking to make up for controversial losses in their last fights.

Yan was picking Sterling apart and looked to be breezing to a dominant decision victory until an illegal knee saw him disqualified in round four. He has looked phenomenal in his last three fights against Urijah Faber, Jose Aldo and Sterling, with none having an answer for his Muay Thai style.

While Yan has looked impressive, the argument can be made that Sandhagen has looked even better. Excluding a slip-up against Sterling  at UFC 250 last year, and a contentious split decision against TJ Dillashaw in July, Sandhagen has looked like a world-beater.

His spin kick in the TKO win over Marlon Moraes in Abu Dhabi last October was spectacular, only to be topped months later by his flying knee against Frankie Edgar.

The 29-year-old American lives and dies by his unorthodox and loose style of fighting. In his last fight against Dillashaw, Sandhagen showed susceptibility to opening his back up to his opponents when throwing his spinning attacks. Dillashaw was able to exploit this and control clinch positions for minutes on end.

Yan displayed a similar ability to gain control of the back against Sterling when he threw spinning strikes. Both fighters will face challenges they have not faced before, and the winner would, in the eyes of many, be the best Bantamweight in the world. Sandhagen is the one with most to lose, as a defeat against Yan would put him at 0-3 against the three highest-ranked Bantamweight fighters, while Yan would likely be placed into another number 1 contender fight due to the way he lost the belt.

In the biggest of the non-title fights, the Kiwi Dan Hooker, after his decision victory of the German Nasrat Haqparast at UFC 266 in September, is stepping in on one month's notice to face Islam Makhachev - the most avoided fighter in the promotion and the heir to Khabib Nurmagomedov.

In his last bout, Hooker exhibited wrestling and control on the ground, skills that will be tested to the limit against Makhachev in their Lightweight matchup. The 31-year-old’s knees are another tool that will be employed to prevent the eventual takedown.

Since his loss in his UFC debut, Makhachev has looked almost unbeatable, with his wrestling exuding strength, speed, and tenacity.

His grappling was put to test in his first main event against Thiago Moises, who presented a submission threat Makhachev hadn't faced up until that point. He passed the test with flying colors, dominating the Brazilians from start to finish to win with a fourth round submission.

This bout has major title implications for the winner, while the loser will likely have to take a high-risk, low-reward fight with Rafael Fiziev or Gregor Gillespie.

Alexander Volkov takes on Marcin Tybura in Heavyweight bout that was added late to the main card, and before that is one of the most anticipated fights of the night which sees the return of Khamzat Chimaev against the "Leech" Li Jingliang in the Welterweight division.

The Russian-born Swede is coming off a year’s layoff due to lingering effects of COVID-19 that ruled him out of multiple bouts with Leon Edwards.

Chimaev burst onto the scene last year, winning two fights within 10 days at Fight Island 1 in Abu Dhabi. In those bouts, the 27-year-old displayed powerful wrestling and smooth grappling that rendered his opponents powerless to his never-ending barrage of ground strikes and submission attempts.

In his most recent appearance in the Octagon, he flattened Gerald Meerschaert in only 10 seconds with a single right hand. Although Chimaev seemed open to fighting at both Welterweight and middleweight, declining main event bouts with Luke Rockhold show he is more interested in fighting at welterweight.

Up against him will be Jingliang, who knocked Santiago Ponzinibbio out in the first round last January. The Leech utilizes a unique striking style, employing an abundance of hooks from unorthodox angles, although  the 33-year-old from China showed a susceptibility to be controlled in his bout against Neil Magny in 2020.

This fight will come down to who controls where it takes place, with Chimaev being more comfortable on the ground while Jingliang preferring a striking affair. The winner of the bout is sure to see a steep challenge in their next fight, with fighters like Wonderboy, Belal Muhammad and Geoff Neal, without signed fights, waiting for their chance.

The main card opens with an intriguing matchup between ranked Light Heavyweights Magomed Ankalaev of Russia and Volkan Oezdemir of Switzerland.

The 22 -year-old Oezdemir’s defeat to Jiri Prochazka at UFC 251 in Abu Dhabi has aged well, with  Czech fighter solidifying himself as the next man in line for a title shot.

Short bouts have become synonymous with Oezdemir fights, with the Swiss fighter's kill or be killed style leading to swift finishes. But in Ankaleav, he will up against man many believe to be the future champion of the division. Ankaleav has been perfect in his career outside of a last-second submission defeat to Paul Craig back in 2018.

Ankaleav possesses masterful striking and employs a variety of techniques. While his power and striking are impressive, Ankalaev has also displayed sound wrestling in his last victory against Nikita Krylov in February.

This bout has significant implications for the trajectory of both fighters' careers, as a win for Ankalaev puts him in the title picture, while a win for Oezdemir keeps him relevant at the peak of the division. A loss for either fighter increases their distance to the title substantially in the shark-infested waters of the light heavyweight division.


Newcastle beat Burnley to seal first Premier League win of the season

Newcastle beat Burnley to seal first Premier League win of the season
Updated 14 sec ago

Newcastle beat Burnley to seal first Premier League win of the season

Newcastle beat Burnley to seal first Premier League win of the season

NEWCASTLE: Callum Wilson scored late in the first half and Newcastle went on to beat Burnley 1-0 for its first victory in this English Premier League on Saturday.
Newcastle ended a 14-game winless run and earned desperately needed points as it tries to climb out of the relegation zone.
Burnley had been unbeaten in five games but could muster only one shot on target at St. James’ Park.
Wilson scored in the 40th minute after Burnley goalkeeper Nike Pope couldn't control Joe Willock's cross. Pope came out to the penalty spot to snatch the ball out of the air but on his way down collided with Newcastle's Fabien Schar and dropped the ball. Wilson took one touch around Pope and and fired high into the net.
Newcastle, which has recently come under Saudi ownership, moved one spot off the bottom of the table, bumping Norwich into last place with Burnley in 18th — all with 10 points.
Burnley thought it equalized in the 84th but forward Jay Rodriguez's tap in was ruled out because he was offside. Matej Vydra skied a half-volley over the crossbar in first-half injury time for the visitors.
Newcastle dominated the second half with lively play from attackers Allan Saint-Maximin and Miguel Almiron. Jonjo Shelvey's curling shot to the far post was tipped over by Pope in the 79th.
The win was also the first for Newcastle's new manager, Eddie Howe, who was hired last month to replace the fired Steve Bruce.


LIVE: Verstappen tops final Saudi Arabian Grand Prix practice, qualifying to follow

LIVE: Verstappen tops final Saudi Arabian Grand Prix practice, qualifying to follow
Updated 37 min 50 sec ago

LIVE: Verstappen tops final Saudi Arabian Grand Prix practice, qualifying to follow

LIVE: Verstappen tops final Saudi Arabian Grand Prix practice, qualifying to follow

JEDDAH: The second day of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix got underway on Saturday, with the drivers completing one final practice session on the Jeddah Corniche circuit ahead of qualifying at 8 p.m. local time.

Red Bull's Max Verstappen topped the final practice, ahead of world championship title rival Lewis Hamilton in second, with fellow Red Bull driver Sergio Perez finishing third.

The next fastest drivers were Yuki Tsunoda for AlphaTauri in fourth and followed by teammate Pierre Gasly.

Mercedes driver Hamilton dominated the first day of practice, finishing ahead of Verstappen in the first session and extending his lead over the rest of the pack, including teammate Valtteri Bottas in the second session.

Stay tuned below for updates of Saturday's action... (All times GMT)

17:00 - The first qualifying session, involving all 20 drivers who will be trying to finish in the top 15 of the grid, is now ready to go...

15:05 - Red Bull’s Max Verstappen finally broke Lewis Hamilton's practice dominance by setting the pace in final practice. The Dutchman was 0.214 seconds quicker than his title rival, who appeared to be struggling with his tyres - something the Mercedes team will want to address ahead of qualifying later.

Fellow Red Bull driver Sergio Perez finished third, and it was a fantastic session for the Alpha Tauri team as both their drivers - Yuki Tsunoda and Pierre Gasly - closed out the rest of the top five.

 

14:40 - Red Bull team principal Christian Horner was full of praise for the Jeddah Corniche circuit this weekend, admitting it was both unforgiving and dangerous, but also that it was a drivers’ circuit and one with plenty of opportunity. 

“In for a penny, in for a pound. This championship has had everything. This track is a real drivers’ circuit. It’s unforgiving, it’s fast, it’s dangerous, it’s going to bite if you make a mistake. How many safety cars are there going to be? Are there going to be VSCs. It can go both ways. It’s a race that has jeopardy and opportunity.”

14:20 - Lewis Hamilton has a small run-off in Sector One of the track after a front wheel lock-up, but the scare doesn't last long as he spins back into the action. Meanwhile, Max Verstappen is running in sixth with with 1:29.8...work to do for the championship leader.

14:15 - In case you missed it earlier, the team behind the Grand Prix released footage of Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal getting behind the wheel of the famous Williams FW07 car from the late 1970s and early 1980s. Watch below...

14:00 - The third and final practice session of the weekend is now up and running. The drivers will have an hour to iron out any issues with their cars as well as gaining more experience of the brand new Jeddah Corniche circuit ahead of the qualifying session later this evening.

READ MORE

ICYMI: Hamilton seals practice double, LeClerc crashes out on day one of historic Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. Click here for more.


Early days of 2021 FIFA Arab Cup highlight intrigue on and off the pitch

Early days of 2021 FIFA Arab Cup highlight intrigue on and off the pitch
Updated 04 December 2021

Early days of 2021 FIFA Arab Cup highlight intrigue on and off the pitch

Early days of 2021 FIFA Arab Cup highlight intrigue on and off the pitch
  • As 16 Arab nations battle it out on the pitch, FIFA’s resident and other officials are in Qatar for the 2022 World Cup dress rehearsal, with readiness of stadiums and new offside technology on the agenda

Just a few days into the 2021 Arab Cup in Qatar, there are already several intriguing talking points emerging, both on and off the pitch.

An emotional opening ceremony, the first round performances, young players to keep an eye on, and the new technology under the watchful eye of FIFA’s leadership.

The organizers attempted to showcase the cultures of the 16 participating Arab nations at an opening party that lasted for 30 minutes in front of a large crowd at Al-Bayt Stadium.

It was a worthy start for this 10th edition of the tournament, and for the first time since its launch in Lebanon in 1963, it is under the FIFA umbrella. And for the first time ever, it comes as a replacement for the FIFA Confederations Cup, that traditionally precedes the World Cup by a year.

That this Arab Cup is a dress rehearsal for the 2022 World Cup was given even more weight by the presence of FIFA President Gianni Infantino and other major sports leaders in the stands.

And the officials are not there for merely ceremonial reasons, but to also make sure all is going to plan, from checking the readiness of the stadiums to keeping a watchful eye on the new VAR technology for offside that is under testing with view to being implemented officially at the World Cup next year.

The matches are taking place at six of the eight stadiums that will be used at the World Cup.

The showpiece opening between Qatar and Bahrain was held in front of 60,000 spectators at Al-Bayt Stadium, and the tournament is being played across Al-Janoub Stadium, Ras Abu Aboud Stadium (974 Stadium), Al-Thumama Stadium, Ahmed Bin Ali Stadium, and Education City Stadium, and Al-Ebdaa Stadium.

The new VAR addition, the so-called semi-automated offside technology based on artificial intelligence, tracks the players’ movements, giving signals on 29 points in their bodies at 50 times every second; this is picked up in the control room, then sent to the on-field official who will give his decision, as was explained by the chairman of the FIFA Referees Committee, Pierluigi Collina.

The technology has already been tested behind closed doors at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester and the Allianz Arena in Munich.

This particular improvement to the VAR system — which aims to have speedier decisions with higher accuracy — is to be welcomed, as matches continue to suffer from lengthy, confusing offside cases.

The 16 teams are made up of 10 Arab nations from the Asian continent and six from Africa, and it’s the latter that caught the eye in the first round with victories for Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt, and Morocco.

Meanwhile, Jordan’s 1-0 victory over a youthful Saudi Arabian team was particularly impressive, Iraq equalized in the 98th minute against Oman, hosts Qatar beat Bahrain, and the UAE overcame Syria.

With World Cup qualification still a priority for several teams, some have decided to compete with squads made up of home-based players only, such as Egypt, or even with a second string, such as Saudi Arabia.

Herve Renard’s focus is firmly on Qatar 2022, and the Saudi national team was chosen from players born after 1999. In the circumstances, they performed well against Jordan despite the eventual defeat.

With assistant Laurent Bonadei leading the team, Renard watched from the stands as the senior players took a well-earned rest and the younger ones — many of whom played in the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games — staked a claim for the remainder of the World Cup qualifiers. 

This reminded me of what Renard did with the Moroccan national team in the African Cup of Nations in 2018. They went on to lift the trophy.

Of particular interest to Renard will be the Al-Ahli goalkeeper Mohammed Al-Rubaie, Al-Shabab leftback Moteb Al-Harbi, highly rated Al-Hilal forward Abdullah Al-Hamdan and the brilliant Al-Fateh striker Firas Al-Buraikan.

On the other hand, Carlos Queiroz’s Egypt team have been criticized for their lacklustre performance against Lebanon, though they played without Mohamed Salah or Mohamed Elneny.

With the start of the second round, things are starting to take shape.

Qatar’s late, late 2-1 win over the luckless Omanis leaves them top of Group A with six points while their opponents sit in third with just one. Meanwhile, Iraq and Bahrain — who drew 0-0 — are second and fourth respectively.

In Group B, the UAE’s 1-0 win over Mauritania took them to the top of the standings with maximum points from two matches, three points ahead of second-placed Syria, who recorded an impressive 2-0 win over Tunisia.

It’s too early to draw conclusions from the early stages of the 2021 Arab Cup, but the second round of matches in the group stages are slowly giving an indication of which teams will challenge for the title.

For the fans, as much as the watching FIFA officials, there is much at stake in the coming days.


Aston Martin team principal, Saudi athletes talk F1 ahead of Saudi Arabian Grand Prix

Aston Martin team principal, Saudi athletes talk F1 ahead of Saudi Arabian Grand Prix
Updated 04 December 2021

Aston Martin team principal, Saudi athletes talk F1 ahead of Saudi Arabian Grand Prix

Aston Martin team principal, Saudi athletes talk F1 ahead of Saudi Arabian Grand Prix
  • The race taking place this upcoming Sunday is Saudi Arabia's inaugural Formula One Grand Prix with Jeddah hosting the race

JEDDAH: Fans all over the world eagerly await Saudi Arabia’s inaugural Formula One Grand Prix, taking place this Sunday, including some notable professional Saudi athletes.

“It’s a momentous event for the country,” said Husein Alireza, the Saudi professional rower. “Everyone’s flown in, there’s a real buzz in the air, you know? We haven’t had this buzz in a very long time.

“I think we’re used to hosting people from all over the world — Jeddah has been the social capital for a long time, it’s a tourist hotspot. We’ve got the Red Sea, and the people of Jeddah are very laid back and welcoming.” 

“I think for any tourist, a way to experience a new location for the first time — to do it through the world of sports is a great way,” said Dania Akeel, professional Saudi race driver. “You get action, you get the social aspect, you get entertainment and you get to witness excellence at the highest level.”

The Aston Martin Vantage F1 Edition launched in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia for the first time. (AN Photo/Huda Bashatah)

At the launch of the Aston Martin Vantage F1 edition in Jeddah, Arab News had the opportunity to talk with some Saudi pro athletes, along with Otmar Szafnauer, Aston Martin F1 team principal, about some of their predictions before the long-awaited Jeddah race. 

“I think we will do a really good job in Jeddah, the track looks amazingly fast and like nothing else on the calendar, so it should be good fun,” Szafnauer said. “Lance (Stroll) progresses year-on-year. He’s in the steep part of the learning curve, and he had a great race in Doha.” 

Szafnauer, a Romanian-American engineer, was received at the launch of the Aston Martin car by Ali Alireza who gifted Szafnauer a special sword, which the team principal thanked him for and jokingly said: “This will come in handy for future negotiations with drivers.”

Ali Alireza, Managing Director of Haji Husein Alireza & Co., gifts a sword to Otmar Szafnauer, Aston Martin F1 team principal. (AN Photo/Huda Bashatah)

“Sebastian (Vettel) has brought a lot of winning experience to the team and know-how of what it takes to win — not just races, but also world championships, and he’s lifted our game quite a bit, but because of the rule change, we really did take a step backwards.” 

Due to COVID-19, F1 race cars from 2020 were carried over to this season with very little technical adjustments. There were, however, aerodynamic rule changes set by the FIA that stripped performance away from Aston Martin’s low-rake car, hindering their performance this year.

“It was too late, and that’s not a driver thing, that’s more of a car development issue,” Szafnauer said. “Once those rule changes were upon us, we couldn’t really do anything.”

As a result, Aston Martin have had to use some of their resources for 2022 on this year’s car to try and remedy what’s left of the season, to no avail.

“But next year is a whole new year, all the rules (will) even the playing field for everybody,” he added.

Dania Akeel, professional Saudi race driver, talks with Arab News about Sunday's big race in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. (AN Photo/Huda Bashatah)

Akeel said many factors currently in play will determine the champion of this season, saying that no matter what changes have been done to the engine to make it perform better, the human element in the driver is always a key factor.

“You know, the truth is, I don’t favor any driver, but I favor incredible driving skills. Each driver delivers a certain finesse, technique, a certain decision-making process that you can’t compare to each other,” she said.

“One driver will blow you away in the rain, another driver will come from the back of the grid all the way to the front, another driver will show you their resilience in defending their position. Each driver behaves differently on corners, on overtakes, on straights. And of course, that's not to say, the team as well has such a massive influence.”

Dania Akeel made history when she became the first Arab female to win the T3 title at the FIA World Cup for Cross Country Bajas event this year. She completed a remarkable comeback from a serious injury suffered earlier this year.

Akeel told Arab News that despite sustaining three pelvic fractures while participating in the Bahrain Rally Season, she was still planning to compete in the 2022 Dakar Rally which will take place in Saudi Arabia next January.

Husein Alireza, professional Saudi rower, talks with Arab News about Sunday's Formula One race taking place in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. (AN Photo/Huda Bashatah)

Alireza, who took part in the men’s rowing in 2020 Tokyo Olympics, competed with a damaged lung. Mid-competition, a new ad hoc strategy was devised by his team that had allowed him to manage injury-hit races, with the 28-year-old unable to perform at full capacity.

On F1, Alireza had his own take on who the crown of this season will go to.

“I always go for the underdog and you know, seven years of Hamilton — I love the guy, I supported him at the start, but I would love to see Verstappen win the race. He’s such an exciting, dynamic driver, I love the way he drives, extremely aggressive. And it would be nice to see him win it here in Jeddah, that would be cool. 

“We’ll see what happens but I think I’m on Team Verstappen on this one,” he concluded. 


Sebastian Vettel invited Saudi women to karting event to learn about their lives

Sebastian Vettel invited Saudi women to karting event to learn about their lives
Updated 04 December 2021

Sebastian Vettel invited Saudi women to karting event to learn about their lives

Sebastian Vettel invited Saudi women to karting event to learn about their lives
  • The German Formula 1 driver said wanted to hear their first-hand accounts of recent changes in the country what life is like for them in the Kingdom

JEDDAH: In an effort to learn more about life in Saudi Arabia and recent changes in the country, and as an activist for equality, Formula 1 driver Sebastian Vettel said that he organized a special karting event this week for women in Saudi Arabia.

In comments shared on social media, the German driver, who races for Aston Martin, said he hired a karting track in Jeddah on Thursday and invited some Saudi women to race so that he could hear their first-hand accounts of what life is like for them in the Kingdom.

Vettel said: “It’s true that some things are changing here. There are a lot of questions that have been asked and I have asked myself. So I was thinking of what I can do. I really tried to think of the positive side.

“And so I set up my own karting event today, under the hashtag Race for Women, and we had a group of seven or eight girls and women on the track.

“I was trying to pass on some of my experiences in life and, obviously, on the track; to do something together to grow their confidence. Some of them had a (driving) license, others they did not. Some of them were huge Formula 1 enthusiasts, others had nothing to do with Formula 1 or racing before today.

“It was a good mix of women from different backgrounds and a great event. Everybody was extremely happy,” he continued. “And I was, I have to say, very inspired by their stories and their backgrounds, their positivity about the change in the country.

“It was important to get to know some of these women. And I think it was a very, very memorable and inspiring day and a great way to kick-off the weekend by focusing on the positive.”

Vettel will compete in the inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit on Sunday, Dec. 5.