Muhammad Mokaev looks to punish Charles Johnson at UFC Fight Night in London

Muhammad Mokaev looks to punish Charles Johnson at UFC Fight Night in London
Mokaev, “the prince” of the American Top Team stable, retains an unparalleled 23-0 amateur record. (@muhammadmokaev)
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Updated 22 July 2022

Muhammad Mokaev looks to punish Charles Johnson at UFC Fight Night in London

Muhammad Mokaev looks to punish Charles Johnson at UFC Fight Night in London
  • Flyweight bout between the British and American fighters one of the more intriguing at the O2 Arena on Saturday

UFC Fight Night returns to London on Saturday, July 23 featuring a card crammed with British talent, with the bout between heavyweight contenders Tom Aspinall and Curtis Blaydes topping the bill at the O2 Arena.

Look a bit further down the card, however, and you will find one of the most intriguing fights of the night between American newcomer Charles “InnerG” Johnson and Britain’s Muhammad “The Punisher” Mokaev in the battle of the flyweight contenders.

Johnson will be making his UFC debut, while Mokaev is coming off a masterful “club and sub” finish against Cody Durden.

Fans will look to the undefeated Mokaev — who has been unstoppable in his mixed martial arts career so far — for another virtuoso performance. However, underestimating Johnson could prove fatal for the 21-year-old’s dreams of becoming the youngest ever UFC champion.

Mokaev, “the prince” of the American Top Team stable, retains an unparalleled 23-0 amateur record and already has to his name a semifinals appearance in the 2021 U23 World Wrestling Championships.

While there was immense hype surrounding Mokaev prior to his UFC debut against Durden on March 19, his eventual 58-second finish in front of the London crowd catapulted him into the limelight as one of MMA’s most exciting prospects.

Mokaev swiftly amassed a 5-0 professional record before signing with the UFC. Durden was already a proven UFC fighter with a well-rounded skill set, and yet Mokaev made him look like a novice.

His performance sent the O2 crowd at UFC Fight Night — and the MMA community — into a frenzy, cementing him as the premier prospect in the flyweight division.

Despite Johnson’s impressive reign as Legacy Fighting Alliance champion, Moakev does not see him as a step up in competition. In an interview with Andrew Whitehall of Sportskeeda, the younger fighter proclaimed that his debut against Durden was the stiffer challenge as he believes that “if Cody Durden and Charles Johnson fight, I think Cody Durden would win.”

On the “Punching In” podcast with Dan Lambert, Mokaev stated that Johnson has a “very big problem in (the) ground game,” and that he will “take him down and finish him.”

Mokaev’s confidence can be mistaken for arrogance, but his conviction comes from training with fighters of a high caliber on a daily basis at ATT.

Former Bellator bantamweight champion Kyoji Horiguchi, No.13-ranked flyweight Su Mudaerji, and No. 4-ranked Alexandre Pantoja are a few of the world class fighters alongside whom Mokeav sharpens his tools.

Coming off his second successful LFA flyweight title defense against previously undefeated prospect Carlos Mota, Johnson’s signing to UFC was inevitable.

He is now on a four fight winning streak since a decision loss at LFA 48 in 2019 to now-UFC No. 5 flyweight Brandon Royval.

Johnson’s striking and general fighting has improved dramatically since gaining sponsored training at Tiger Muay Thai at their 2019 tryouts.

TMT’s impact on Johnson’s ability and style is evident, with the fighter subsequently adopting a traditional Muay Thai stance and utilizing a combination of kicks. Johnson’s clinch control is immaculate, preventing takedowns and leveraging position to fire off strikes on the break.

In an interview with James Lynch of Sportskeeda MMA, Johnson said that during his LFA fights, he held his “cards close,” having felt pressure to play it safe so as not to jeopardize a move to UFC.

Now, however, he sees no “reason to play it safe anymore. I don’t have any reason to hold anything back.”

A flaw in Johnson’s style that Mokaev could exploit is the former’s kick-heavy arsenal, which presents opponents with opportunities to take him down.

While Mokaev will look to attack Johnson’s lackluster takedown defense, Johnson is addressing this weakness by training with some of the best grapplers and wrestlers in the world. He has spent time in his latest camp training with Olympic wrestler Jordan Burroughs and three-time All-American Joey McKenna at the Pennsylvania Olympic Regional Training Center. He has received additional training at Daniel Gracie BJJ with several expert grapplers, such as the UFC’s Pat Sabatini and Sean Brady. By branching out of his home gym, Johnson has shown he is both conscious of his flaws and eager to improve upon his weaknesses.

The hype surrounding a prospect like Mokaev can overwhelm some opponents, but Johnson remains unfazed. In an interview with Lynch, Johnson expressed that this is an opportunity to seize Mokaev’s hype for himself.

The 31-year-old American understands that the spotlight is on Mokaev for a reason, saying his opponent “has been groomed since he was 12 years old” to become a champion. 

“(But) we will see what kind of adversity he’s able to deal with when things don’t go quite as easy as he thinks they will,” Johnson added.

The winner of this bout will be the man who controls where the fight takes place. Mokaev will seek to take Johnson down while Johnson will aim to fight on his feet. Will Johnson sacrifice his kicking to limit Mokaev’s takedown opportunities, or will he trust his recent grappling training to keep the fight standing? Positional advantage will be everything in London.

Vegas odds give Mokaev the edge, with an 83 percent chance of defeating Johnson, and a one in two chance at winning inside the distance.

Will Mokaev continue on his path to UFC gold, or will Johnson derail his train and spring his way up the rankings?

Those who take their seats early at O2 Arena on Saturday night are in for a rare treat.


Ten Hag committed to helping Maguire return to finest form

Ten Hag committed to helping Maguire return to finest form
Updated 14 sec ago

Ten Hag committed to helping Maguire return to finest form

Ten Hag committed to helping Maguire return to finest form
MANCHESTER, England: Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag has revealed measures are in place to protect players’ mental health at a time when club captain Harry Maguire has been the subject of intense criticism.
England international Maguire has been dropped at club level and is fighting for his place at the World Cup following an alarming dip in form.
It has seen him suffer growing abuse on social media and raised questions about his future at United.
But Ten Hag is adamant protections are in place for all players and committed himself to returning Maguire to his finest form.
Addressing concerns over the 29-year-old defender’s mental health, the United manager said: “But it’s an aspect of top football. It’s an aspect of our work. We set conditions for that, to manage it.
“We also have experts around to help, to coach the players, the team in the right direction.
“I think he is doing quite well, but every player has room for improvement and if he believes in his skills he will quickly be back on the level and even more than he did. I am convinced of that because I see his capabilities and it’s really high.”
Maguire has endured a miserable start to the season – losing his place to Raphael Varane at United, before making high-profile mistakes in England’s 3-3 draw with Germany on Monday.
It prompted the center back to publicly apologize on Instagram, adding: “The tough times will make us stronger.”
Fellow defender Luke Shaw aired his own concerns for his club and international teammate.
“He’s taken a lot of stick — probably more than I’ve ever seen before in football,” Shaw told BBC Radio 5 Live.
“Everybody knows he’s an unbelievable player. At the moment the confidence might not be there because it could feel like the whole world is against him.”
United legend Rio Ferdinand tweeted: “Feel for Harry . . . every mistake being punished and scrutinized — comes with the territory though.
“Needs to be strong mentally to get through this!”
Maguire is out of Sunday’s derby against Manchester City with a thigh injury – but is unlikely to have started even if fit after being dropped following the 4-0 defeat to Brentford last month.
Ten Hag had initially shown faith in him when retaining him as captain after taking over the club at the end of last season.
And he insists he still has belief in the player.
“First of all, of course I have to coach him,” he said. “I have to back him. But I back him because I believe in him.
“In the period I worked with him in pre-season was good. Really good, training and games. So then he fell out — but it’s also to do with the good performance of the center backs who are playing now. But I can see even after he wasn’t in the team he trained really well, but more important, the quality was there.
“You see his career, almost 50 caps for England. For Leicester and Man United he’s performing really well. What you see is he has a high potential. Then it is about him.
“The players in the dressing room, the coaches, the manager, we all believe in him. Now it is about him. That’s what I told him. I’m sure he can do it. He will turn around this. I am really convinced of that.”

Everton fined for field invasions last season

Everton fined for field invasions last season
Updated 11 min 2 sec ago

Everton fined for field invasions last season

Everton fined for field invasions last season
  • The club were fined $334,000 for on-field invasions during and after a 3-2 win against Crystal Palace on May 19
  • The dramatic victory secured top-flight safety for Frank Lampard’s team

LIVERPOOL, England: Everton are counting the cost of the jubilant but raucous scenes sparked after they avoided relegation from the English Premier League last season.
The club were fined 300,000 pounds ($334,000) for on-field invasions during and after a 3-2 win against Crystal Palace on May 19.
The dramatic victory secured top-flight safety for Frank Lampard’s team – and prompted wild celebrations at their Goodison Park home.
Fans ran onto the field when Dominic Calvert-Lewin struck a late winner. Everton had been trailing 2-0 at halftime and was closer to relegation from the league for the first time in their history.
Supporters ran on again after the final whistle, with one involved in an ugly altercation with Palace manager Patrick Vieira.
Everton were charged with misconduct in July, and on Friday the English Football Association confirmed sanctions imposed by an independent regulatory commission.
“Everton FC admitted failing to ensure that their spectators – and all persons purporting to be their supporters or followers – conducted themselves in an orderly fashion and refrained from using threatening and violent behavior whilst encroaching onto the pitch area,” the FA said in a statement.


Newcastle United score injury boost ahead of return to Premier League

Newcastle United score injury boost ahead of return to Premier League
Updated 54 min 59 sec ago

Newcastle United score injury boost ahead of return to Premier League

Newcastle United score injury boost ahead of return to Premier League
  • Four players rated as doubts likely to return to the field

 

NEWCASTLE: Eddie Howe has revealed Newcastle United have received a quadruple injury boost ahead of their return to Premier League action against Fulham this weekend.

The Magpies travel to Craven Cottage on Saturday looking to record only their second top-flight win of the campaign — and will likely do so with four players who were rated as doubts within their ranks.

It is fair to say the international break has been one of worries and concerns on the injury front for head coach Howe, with strikers Alexander Isak and Chris Wood as well as Bruno Guimaraes all sent home early from national duty due to knocks.

However, where the situation once seemed grim, according to Howe, the outlook is now brightening with Callum Wilson, Elliot Anderson and Guimaraes all fit to start against the Cottagers. In a further boost, Allan Saint-Maximin, missing since August, is also understood to be close to a return to the squad, while Isak’s injury, picked up while with Sweden, is not thought to be serious.

“When the doctor was calling me, I didn’t want to take his calls anymore,” joked Howe from United’s Benton training base on Friday.

“It was a stressful period for three or four days, but thankfully it’s maybe not as bad as it first appeared.”

On Wilson, Howe said: “He’s trained for around 10 days with us now. He’s in a good place. Every time he comes back from an injury I’d say he does the work and doesn’t cut corners. He’s had a really long body of work with the sports science team and then trained with us. He looked good.

“It’ll be a huge boost for the players to have Callum in the group with his positive energy and laughter that he brings. He’s a big player for us. And with Alex picking up his injury as well, it was perfect timing for us.”

Guimaraes, too, who has missed two Brazil friendlies in France in the past seven days as a result of a thigh problem, is understood to be fit to play from the off in southwest London.

“Bruno has trained with us. I had a couple of difficult calls during the international break to say players had various things happen to various players,” Howe said.

“We were concerned for Bruno but he’s come back and the scan was good. He’s trained, and trained well. Obviously slightly disrupted for him because these two weeks were really important in terms of his training and getting his match sharpness back, but he’s physically fine. He’s in the squad.”

Fellow United talisman Saint-Maximin has been unavailable for selection due to a hamstring injury since the 1-1 draw with Wolverhampton Wanderers in August.

And while he is yet to return to full training with the squad, Howe says that Saint-Maximin has a chance.

“Yeah, he’s doing well,” he said when asked about the player.

“He’s had a period away and come back. He’s close, very close. It’s how we view things.

“There are a lot of moving parts with us at the moment. I’m being vague because there are a lot of player situations that are slightly unclear as we go into the game. Allan will be one of them.”

While Anderson has also managed to shake off a slight knock and will likely make the bench, two players who are unlikely to do so are Isak and Wood. But their problems are not likely to keep them out for too long, according to Howe.

On record signing Isak, Howe said: “He picked up an injury training for Sweden, so he’s come back. The scan doesn’t look too bad so we’re not overly concerned it’s a long injury, but with any muscle injury there’s always a slight period where you have to be careful.

“He’s out running on grass so he’s looking good at the moment.

“Chris Wood came off with a rib problem. He took a knock in the game. Again, that’s another player we’ll make a very late decision on.”

Meanwhile, the Magpies have completed their first signing of the January window, with highly rated Australian forward Garang Kuol putting pen to paper.

And Howe admits he is delighted to win the race for the player who was courted by the likes of Barcelona.

United are understood to have paid Central Coast Mariners about $400,000 for the Southern hemisphere star.

“I’m very excited,” said Howe about the deal.

“He’s a young player with huge potential. It’s a show from myself and the club on where we want to go in terms of signing young players and trying to develop them in our system for them to be Premier League players in the future. He’s had a dramatic rise and he’s in a position that excites everybody. There needs to be some patience shown.

“Touch wood we’ll look after him, go out on loan and develop behind the scenes. Hopefully when he comes here, he can play a part in our future.”

The Egyptian-born teenager made his senior debut at 17 in 2021 and rose to worldwide prominence when he played a starring role as the 2022 A-League All Stars team that took on Barcelona in front of more than 70,000 spectators in Sydney earlier this year.

Kuol made his Australia debut against New Zealand during the most recent international break.

After making the move, Kuol said: “It’s unreal. As a young boy in Australia, the Premier League is the main thing that everyone watches but nobody actually thinks they’ll reach those heights. To be one of those people, to be in the position I am, it’s amazing.

“Now that I’ve signed for Newcastle, I want to train hard, play hard, hopefully go to the World Cup and come back here.”

The United executive who was instrumental in securing the transfer, sporting director Dan Ashworth, explained the signing and the club’s new philosophy.

Ashworth said: “Garang is a very promising young talent and we are excited that he’ll be continuing his development as a Newcastle United player.

“Our philosophy is to invest in our academy and in exciting young players for the future, as well as in players required to make an immediate impact in the first team.

“We wish Garang the best of luck in his remaining games with Central Coast Mariners and we hope to see him on the international stage again very soon.”


Portuguese coach suspended after harassment accusations

Portuguese coach suspended after harassment accusations
Updated 30 September 2022

Portuguese coach suspended after harassment accusations

Portuguese coach suspended after harassment accusations
  • Famalicão said they were suspending coach Miguel Afonso “until the truth of the facts is ascertained”
  • Público said that it had contacted Afonso but he declined to comment on the accusations

LISBON, Portugal: Portuguese soccer club Famalicão suspended the coach of its women’s team on Friday after a leading newspaper in Portugal published accusations of verbal sexual harassment by him of his players at a previous club.
Famalicão said that “in view” of the report published by Público newspaper that they were suspending coach Miguel Afonso “until the truth of the facts is ascertained.”
The club said they were putting themself at the “total disposition of all parties involved and the competent authorities to assist in obtaining the truth.”
The alleged verbal harassment of players, some of which were 19 years old at the time, reportedly took place while Afonso coached fellow Portuguese club Rio Ave during the 2020-21 season.
Público said that it had contacted Afonso but he declined to comment on the accusations.
In a statement, Rio Ave acknowledged that they had been “aware of some circumstantial comments reported by athletes regarding alleged inappropriate approaches by the coach.”
But, Rio Ave said they took no action because “the coach denied such situations and, at the request of the athletes, the matter was not followed up.”
Famalicão, in a separate statement preceding the suspension of Afonso, said that when they hired Afonso they were not aware of the accusations.


Newcastle sign teenage Australia striker Garang Kuol

Newcastle sign teenage Australia striker Garang Kuol
Updated 30 September 2022

Newcastle sign teenage Australia striker Garang Kuol

Newcastle sign teenage Australia striker Garang Kuol
  • Born in Egypt, Garang Kuol moved to Australia with his family as a refugee and joined the Mariners’ youth system in January 2021

LONDON: Newcastle have reached an agreement to sign teenage striker Garang Kuol from Australian A-League side Central Coast Mariners in January, the Premier League club announced on Friday.
Kuol, 18, made his international debut for Australia against New Zealand last week, becoming the youngest Socceroo since Harry Kewell in 1996.
Born in Egypt, Kuol moved to Australia with his family as a refugee and joined the Mariners’ youth system in January 2021.
He only made his A-League debut for the Mariners in April but made an immediate impression, scoring four goals in his first seven appearances as a substitute.
Kuol told Newcastle’s official website: “It’s unreal. As a young boy in Australia, the Premier League is the main thing that everyone watches but nobody actually thinks they’ll reach those heights.
“To be one of those people, to be in the position I am, it’s amazing.
“Now that I’ve signed for Newcastle, I want to train hard, play hard, hopefully go to the World Cup and come back here.”
Newcastle United sporting director Dan Ashworth said: “Garang is a very promising young talent and we are excited that he’ll be continuing his development as a Newcastle United player.
“Our philosophy is to invest in our academy and in exciting young players for the future, as well as in players required to make an immediate impact in the first team.”