UAE kickboxing champ Habibali wins unanimous decision at UAM Fight Night

UAE kickboxing champ Habibali wins unanimous decision at UAM Fight Night
Ilyas Habibali celebrates after defeating three-time world champion Michael Wakeling in Abu Dhabi. (UAM)
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Updated 13 February 2023

UAE kickboxing champ Habibali wins unanimous decision at UAM Fight Night

UAE kickboxing champ Habibali wins unanimous decision at UAM Fight Night
  • The local fighter beat three-time world champion Michael Wakeling in the night’s main event
  • Turkiye’s Hoduk dedicates his victory to earthquake victims on emotional night at Etihad Arena

ABU DHABI: UAE champion Ilyas Habibali lit up the Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi after claiming a unanimous decision over three-time world champion Michael Wakeling in front of a packed-out crowd on Saturday night at the UAM Fight Night K1 Pro Kickboxing Championship.

The winners were crowned by Abdullah Saeed Al-Neyadi, chairman of the UAE Muaythai and Kickboxing Federation, president of the Arab Muay Thai Federation and vice president of the Asian Federation.

Al-Neyadi said: “We would first want to express our gratitude and appreciation to His Highness Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, deputy prime minister and minister of the presidential court, for his benevolent support of the revival of kickboxing and muay thai, and for his trailblazing work that resulted in a quantum leap in the field of accomplishments and successes in terms of the participation of the world’s best athletes and performance by the national athletes.”

“Congratulations to all the athletes, especially Ilyas and the other winners,” he said.

“This was the first event of the new season, so it was fantastic to see not only such a strong line-up of elite athletes from around the globe, but also such a great turn-out at Etihad Arena. The UAE, and Abu Dhabi in particular, has established a combat sports legacy in recent years and we’re excited to build upon this foundation to further enhance kickboxing in the region.”

Habibali, whose record now stands at 20 wins from 22 fights, exchanged furious blows with his British opponent throughout a trio of intense and balanced rounds. Both fighters landed huge punches, yet Wakeling was arguably edging it until he found himself on the canvas midway through the third. When the bell rang to end the bout, Habibali looked the more confident of the two and he was proved right to be so, the crowd erupting when the decision was announced.

“I am very proud of this great achievement,” said Habibali. “It was a very intense fight and Wakeling was a great opponent. I felt it was very close. I studied his game and knew it would be tough, but this achievement has been a reward for my hard work. To beat such a champion — a world champion — is amazing. I want to dedicate the win to the UAE leadership and the UAE people.”

The headline contest was one of 14 bouts on a packed fight card, marking the latest international combat sports event to take place in the UAE capital, as well as the first event of the Emirates’ new kickboxing season. The event featured an elite line-up of 28 male and female athletes from 16 countries, including Italy, Iraq, Portugal and Pakistan.

Earlier in the evening, Italy’s Ivan Naccari defeated Anass Ahmidouch in the welterweight division, while Portugal’s Sara Raquel secured a decision against compatriot Ines Correia. In the first fight of the evening, Mohamed Touizi, representing the UAE, delivered Uzbekistan’s Ibrokhim Mamatkulov the first defeat of his career with a unanimous decision following three stop-start rounds.

“I am so happy to get a win for the Emirates,” said Touizi, who fights out of the UAM Gym in Abu Dhabi. “I trained very hard for this fight and when it went to points, I knew I had won so am delighted. I want thank all my coaches and the Federation for their support and will now start my preparations for the Arab Championships on March 1 here in Abu Dhabi.” 

In the evening’s co-main event, Turkiye’s Vedat Hoduk delivered a firework of a first-round knock-out to win his supermiddleweight bout. In the last seconds of the opening round, the Istanbul native followed up a flurry of body shots with a huge head-kick that sent his opponent Lilian Porcireanu crashing to the ground. The Moldovan rose to his feet but was unsteady and the referee correctly ended it to hand Hoduk the 37th victory of his career.

“It has been a difficult week,” said an emotional Hoduk, wrapped in the Turkish flag and dedicating his win to the victims of this week’s catastrophic earthquake. “I was considering not being here tonight because I know there are a lot of people in my country that need help just now. But I kept my word and got the win, so I would like to dedicate this tonight to all the Turkish people and especially all the victims who lost their lives. I will go straight there now to help however I can.”

Giroud seals win at Juventus and Champions League spot for Milan

Giroud seals win at Juventus and Champions League spot for Milan
Updated 14 sec ago

Giroud seals win at Juventus and Champions League spot for Milan

Giroud seals win at Juventus and Champions League spot for Milan
  • Giroud guided home a brilliant header from Davide Calabria’s cross in the 40th minute to guarantee Milan at least fourth place
  • It was the one moment of quality in an otherwise drab match in Turin

ROME: Olivier Giroud secured Champions League qualification for AC Milan with the only goal in Sunday’s 1-0 win at troubled Juventus.

Giroud guided home a brilliant header from Davide Calabria’s cross in the 40th minute to guarantee Milan at least fourth place and complete Italy’s lineup in Europe’s top club competition next season.

It was the one moment of quality in an otherwise drab match in Turin in which little of consequence happened apart from Giroud’s 12th league goal of the season.

Stefano Pioli’s side, who were knocked out of this year’s Champions League in the semifinals by Inter Milan, join their local rivals, Lazio and champions Napoli on the continent’s big stage.

They are six points ahead of fifth-placed Atalanta with one match left in what has been a long season and one in which their title defense collapsed after the World Cup.

“This was the first time we truly tried to be competitive in two tournaments and we were lacking something,” said Pioli.

“We can enjoy the win and qualification, but it was a strange season for many reasons.”

Juve meanwhile stay seventh and in the Europa Conference League spot after being deducted 10 points for illicit transfer activity by the Italian Football Federation on Monday.

Massimiliano Allegri’s side can still reach the Europa League spots as they are one point behind Roma in sixth, although the spectre of more punishment for financial irregularities hangs over the Turin giants.

Lecce ensured Serie A survival after late penalty drama gave them a 1-0 win over Monza, while a crushing late draw with Empoli took Verona’s survival battle to the final day.

Lorenzo Colombo rammed home the spot-kick which maintained Lecce’s Serie A status in the 11th minute of stoppage time after Christian Gytkjaer was penalized for handball following a VAR check.

Former Denmark forward Gytkjaer had a penalty of his own saved by Wladimiro Falcone with six minutes of regular time remaining.

That allowed Colombo to fire Lecce five points clear of the drop zone and cause coach Marco Baroni to sink to his knees in joy and grief for his recently deceased father.

“I thought about my father because I lost him recently... I felt him by my side in that moment,” Baroni told DAZN.

Verona sit in the final relegation spot after a gut-wrenching Giangiacomo Magnani own goal in the sixth minute of injury time which snatched a 1-1 draw for safe Empoli.

They are level on 31 points with 17th-placed Spezia, whom they might have to face in a playoff devised this season to decide who ends up in 18th place between teams who finish on the same points.

Victor Osimhen’s brace wasn’t enough for Napoli as the newly-crowned Italian champions threw away a two-goal lead to draw 2-2 with Bologna.

Nigeria forward Osimhen took his season’s tally to 30 in all competitions with finishes in the 14th and 54th minutes.

However Lewis Ferguson pulled one back in the 63rd minute and Lorenzo De Silvestri headed the hosts level in his final home match as a Bologna player.

Napoli won their first league title since 1990 this season but owner Aurelio De Laurentiis said that coach Luciano Spalletti will leave to take a year’s sabbatical.

“He’s a free man, he’s given us something and I thank him, it’s right that he does what he wants,” said De Laurentiis to state broadcaster Rai.

Sergej Milinkovic-Savic’s 89th-minute winner in a 3-2 success over relegated Cremonese reclaimed second spot for Lazio.

Serbia midfielder Milinkovic-Savic had put Lazio two goals ahead at half-time but Pablo Galdames and a Manuel Lazzari own goal had the away side level within four second-half minutes just before the hour mark.

His late winner puts Lazio two points ahead of Inter with the two teams traveling to Empoli and Torino respectively on the final day.

Everton survive as Leicester and Leeds are relegated on dramatic final day

Everton survive as Leicester and Leeds are relegated on dramatic final day
Updated 29 May 2023

Everton survive as Leicester and Leeds are relegated on dramatic final day

Everton survive as Leicester and Leeds are relegated on dramatic final day
  • Abdoulaye Doucoure’s stunning 57th minute right-foot strike from outside the area earned Everton the victory they required
  • Leeds relegated after 4-1 loss to Spurs

LONDON: Everton emerged from a nerve-shredding afternoon with their Premier League status intact thanks to a 1-0 victory over Bournemouth at Goodison Park as Leicester City and Leeds United were relegated in a dramatic season finale on Sunday.

The Merseyside club’s 69-year stay in the top flight was in peril at halftime as they were drawing 0-0 and 2016 champions Leicester were ahead against West Ham United.

That combination of results meant Everton were in the relegation zone but Abdoulaye Doucoure’s stunning 57th minute right-foot strike from outside the area earned Everton the victory they required.

With Leicester winning 2-1 and that game over, Everton fans then had to bite their fingernails, pray, or just simply not watch the 10 minutes of stoppage time which included a superb save by Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford.

The final whistle prompted a pitch invasion with smoke from blue flares drifting across the old stadium that will host top-flight football again after another Everton escape.

Leeds, the other club in the last-day relegation drama, went down with a whimper as they were hammered 4-1 at home by Tottenham Hotspur for whom Harry Kane scored twice.

Everton ended in 17th place on 36 points after 38 games, with Leicester in 18th on 34 and Leeds on 31.

Southampton, who were already relegated, finished bottom with 25 points although their farewell was a memorable one as they drew 4-4 at home to fifth-placed Liverpool.

Everton relief

The celebrations at Everton were more of relief than pride as the famous old club once again found itself battling not for silverware but to avoid relegation. Last year they escaped in the penultimate game but this time it went down to the wire.

“It’s a relief, this has been the hardest season of my career, so tough mentally,” defender Conor Coady said.

“We had it in our hands, but we can’t make this a common theme, we have to draw a line in the sand. This club has to improve because it’s a giant.”

Everton’s relief was in marked contrast to the mood at Leicester where not even a win over West Ham, courtesy of goals by Harvey Barnes and Wout Faes, could save the Foxes.

Leicester fans lived in hope with Everton being held, but in the end they returned to the second-tier, having been promoted in 2014 and winning the title in fairytale fashion in 2016.

Dean Smith, who arrived as interim coach after FA Cup-winning manager Brendan Rodgers was sacked in April, said he had fallen a bit short in trying to save the club.

“When I came here with eight games to go I thought we probably needed 11 points. We’ve fallen two short of that with nine,” he said. “I’m sure there will be a club review but it’s disappointing. It wasn’t to be.”

City lose

Champions Manchester City left the majority of their first-choice players on the bench and were beaten 1-0 at Brentford, who signed off a brilliant season by completing the double over Pep Guardiola’s side — Ethan Pinnock scoring a late winner.

It was City’s first defeat in 26 matches in all competitions but their eyes are fixed on next Saturday’s FA Cup final against Manchester United and then the Champions League final versus Inter Milan a week later in Istanbul.

“I said to the players after the game, today we finished the Premier League that you deservedly won, enjoy two days with your families, don’t see each other and on Wednesday we’ll prepare the first final,” Guardiola said.

Arsenal, whose title challenge collapsed under City’s relentless pursuit, at least ended on a high note as the runners-up crushed visiting Wolverhampton Wanderers 5-0 with Granit Xhaka scoring twice.

Manchester United ensured they finished third with a 2-1 home win over Fulham while fourth-placed Newcastle United rounded off an impressive season with a 1-1 draw at Chelsea.

Seventh-placed Aston Villa grabbed the last European spot with a 2-1 victory against sixth-placed Brighton & Hove Albion to book a place in the Europa Conference League, leaving eighth-placed Spurs without any European football next season.

Max Verstappen wins Monaco Grand Prix to extend F1 championship lead

Max Verstappen wins Monaco Grand Prix to extend F1 championship lead
Updated 28 May 2023

Max Verstappen wins Monaco Grand Prix to extend F1 championship lead

Max Verstappen wins Monaco Grand Prix to extend F1 championship lead
  • Spanish veteran Fernando Alonso was a season’s best second for Aston Martin
  • Heavy rain played havoc with about 20 of the 78 laps left

MONACO: Formula One champion Max Verstappen’s lights-to-flag victory at the Monaco Grand gave the Red Bull driver his fourth victory of the season and a record 39th overall for the team as he extended his championship lead to 39 points over teammate Sergio Perez on Sunday.
Verstappen’s wins have all been with Red Bull since his first on debut for the team at the Spanish GP in 2016 when he became the youngest F1 winner at 18 years old.
Seven years and two world championships later, the Dutchman set a team record for wins as he passed former Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel’s previous tally of 38 victories when he won four straight titles from 2010-13.
“It’s great, I never thought I’d be in this position in my career,” Verstappen said. “It’s better than I could have imagined for sure.”
Spanish veteran Fernando Alonso was a season’s best second for Aston Martin as he collected a fifth podium in six races, albeit 28 seconds behind Verstappen, while Frenchman Esteban Ocon secured third place and a rare podium for Alpine.
Red Bull has won all the races so far.
“It’s super nice to win it in the way we did today with the weather and everything to stay calm and bring it home,” Verstappen said.
For most of the race, he coasted on a dry and narrow track where overtaking is the hardest in F1.
But an incident-free race in Monaco is rare and heavy rain played havoc with about 20 of the 78 laps left. Some drivers had pitted for the wrong medium tires shortly before the downpour and slid around.
“It was incredibly slippery,” Verstappen said.
Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz Jr. glided sideways into the barriers and was lucky not to damage his Ferrari. Kevin Magnussen lost control of his Haas and Lance Stroll retired after damaging his Aston Martin.
Red Bull had wisely put Verstappen on the versatile and more suited to the wet conditions intermediates on Lap 56 and they carried him to his second win in Monaco. The first was in 2021.
Lewis Hamilton finished fourth for Mercedes and picked up a point for fastest lap. His teammate George Russell was fifth, having earlier almost slammed into Perez as visibility worsened. A serious crash was somehow avoided in a hectic few minutes before the rain eased off.
“Braking was extremely fragile,” Alonso said. “I think everyone did an amazing job today to keep the cars on track.”
Alonso is third in the standings and closed the gap on Perez to 12 points. The 41-year-old Alonso’s podium was his 103rd in F1, while Ocon grabbed his third.
“I’m speechless at the moment,” Ocon said. “A little bit on my cloud at the moment.”
Russell was given a five-second penalty for rejoining the track in an unsafe manner but had just enough to keep fifth place ahead of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc.
Pierre Gasly (Alpine), a seething Sainz, Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri (both McLaren) rounded out the top 10.
On Saturday, Verstappen just edged out Alonso to deny him his first pole for 11 years.
Perez, who won the race last year, started from last after a clumsy crash in qualifying and finished 16th.
The sinewy 3.4-kilometer (2.1-mile) street circuit gives the pole sitter a massive advantage if he makes a clean getaway, which is what Verstappen did as Alonso’s gamble to start on hard tires didn’t work.
“Max drove super well on the medium tires on that first stint,” Alonso said. “We (went) for all or nothing. We started on the hard tire and didn’t have the pace.”
After 26 of the 78 laps Verstappen was 12 seconds clear of Alonso, who even persuaded himself he had a puncture. Twice his team assured him it wasn’t the case.
Eventually Verstappen started losing time and wanted to pit for new tires but his team told him he’d fall behind Alonso if he did that.
At the same time Perez stuck among the back markers was getting tense, almost clipping Stroll and then bumping into the back of Kevin Magnussen’s Haas.
Sainz, meanwhile, was furious that Ferrari — a team with a worrying reputation for still making bad strategy calls — pitted him too early and put on the wrong tire to cover Ocon’s stop and let his team know with an outburst over team radio.
The Spaniard had already endured a difficult day after his front wing clipped Ocon’s Alpine as he tried to overtake. A portion of the wing came off subsequently but Sainz got away with just a warning for the incident.
The sky then darkened and rain started to fall heavily soon after drivers had completed 50 laps.
“I have to drive super slow because my tires are (expletive),” Verstappen lamented on Lap 54, while Alonso pitted a lap later for mediums.
Early on, Sainz’s front wing clipped Ocon’s Alpine as he tried to overtake coming out of the tunnel. A small piece of debris came off but the wing stayed on the car, and Sainz got away with a warning.

Newcastle sign off remarkable season with battling draw at Chelsea

Newcastle United’s Anthony Gordon celebrates scoring their first goal with Elliot Anderson. (Reuters)
Newcastle United’s Anthony Gordon celebrates scoring their first goal with Elliot Anderson. (Reuters)
Updated 28 May 2023

Newcastle sign off remarkable season with battling draw at Chelsea

Newcastle United’s Anthony Gordon celebrates scoring their first goal with Elliot Anderson. (Reuters)
  • Magpies earn a point in London as the Premier League season comes to a close

LONDON: Football, at its best, is able to tell a fairy-tale like no other game on the planet. The story of Eddie Howe, Jason Tindall and Newcastle United is near Oscar-worthy.

As the sun beat down from the crystal-clear London skies, to light up the Stamford Bridge dugouts, Eddie Howe, flanked by partner-in-crime Jason Tindall cut like shadowed, dream-like, movie stars, who'd just played a major role in this season's Premier League contender for performance of the year.

From clearing out dressing rooms and helping clean kits at Bournemouth, as the club sat in 92nd place out of 92 teams in the English Football League, days from going out of business, to strolling to the mega-bucks big leagues of Europe’s premier club competition.

All in a decade and a half's work for Howe & Co. It’s been some journey. Maybe, one day someone will make a film about their progress. I suppose, in many ways, Amazon already are. And what a watch it will be, with almost unrivalled success, the like of which has not been seen on Tyneside since the days of Sir Bobby Robson and Kevin Keegan.

This Newcastle team, and Howe with Tindall, deserve to be talked about in that company. They've earned that right. And in truth, it still feels like they're only just getting started.

This was one will not go down in the annals of history, it was very much an end-of-season affair in West London, but that mattered little. Nothing was on the line, the hard work already done. It's not often things have meant to little, of late.

With that in mind, and injuries biting, Howe made four changes to the line-up with Martin Dubravka and Anthony Gordon the key inclusions. One won man of the match, the other scored Newcastle’s only goal in the 1-1 draw. Very little Howe touches these days doesn't turn to gold. Long may it continue for Mr Midas.

Alexander Isak, a signing of the year contender, rattled the limbs of Kepa in the Blues’ goal before Gordon rippled it with as easy a finish as he's ever likely to get.

Allan Saint-Maximin, who hugged the left-hand side touchline, was set free by the impressive Fabian Schar, the combining with Elliot Anderson, who squared for ex-Everton man Gordon to tuck in his first Newcastle goal. It was also young Geordie Anderson's first ever senior Newcastle assist.

That was really as good as it got for United, who could, and should have doubled and trebled their goals registered on the day but for the bizarrely profligate Miguel Almiron.

Chelsea didn't need a much of an invite to get in on the act, although their strike felt like a gift. With Saint-Maximin lacking in defensive work Chelsea had the run of their right and as Matt Targett was turned inside and out by Raheem Sterling, the England man found his international teammate Kieran Trippier, who turned into his own net when tracking back.

After the break it was all Chelsea, with Dubravka having to withstand a Blues' siege. Sterling went close before substitutes Joao Felix and Christian Pulisic wasted two gilt-edged opportunities to nick it late on.

It was too little, too late for Chelsea, whose damage was long done before the final day. For their opponents, it feels like the foundations are already being put in place for a changing of the guard at the very top of English football.

Three thousand-odd Geordies went through their full range of musical hits at the death, including a new tune for Howe and Tindall, and partied long after the home fans left the building.

Howe even attempted to emulate newly formed rival Jurgen Klopp with a fist pump towards the Geordie faithful. The roar he got back would rival any in world football.

Those fans know pain - and they also know real talent when they see it. In Howe, United have a manager the envy of the English footballing world. Europe will know that, too, soon enough.

Baseball United signs partnership with Pakistan Federation Baseball

Baseball United signs partnership with Pakistan Federation Baseball
Updated 28 May 2023

Baseball United signs partnership with Pakistan Federation Baseball

Baseball United signs partnership with Pakistan Federation Baseball
  • Organizations will work together to drive player development, fan engagement, and sponsorships across Pakistan and within the US Pakistani community

DUBAI: Baseball United, the first professional baseball league focused on the Middle East and Indian Subcontinent, has announced an exclusive partnership with Pakistan Federation Baseball.

The agreement will enable strategic integration of the two organization’s growth plans, with a focus on player development, national team training, fan experience, community outreach, global publicity, and sponsorship.

Pakistan Federation Baseball is internationally recognized by the World Baseball Softball Confederation, and the Pakistan national baseball team is the highest ranked of any team in the region (No.38).

Pakistan Federation Baseball was founded by Syed Khawar Shah in 1992 and has grown into the preeminent baseball federation within South Asia over the last three decades. Today, the federation is led by Khawar Shah’s son, Syed Fakhar Ali Shah, who also serves as the vice president of the Baseball Federation of Asia.

Pakistan baseball has won 10 championships in tournaments across Asia over the last 15 years, including most recently at the West Asia Cup, presented by Baseball United, in Islamabad, Pakistan in January this year.

“We are honored to partner with Pakistan Federation Baseball and Mr. Syed Shah to help grow the game of baseball in Pakistan, and to help create more opportunities for young people across the country,” said Kash Shaikh, president, CEO and co-owner of Baseball United.

“Pakistan has created one of the most competitive and successful programs within Asia, and we are looking forward to helping them continue their growth at both the grassroots and national team levels. We built a strong foundation for partnership earlier this year with our tournament in Islamabad, and now we believe we can make an even greater impact in Pakistan and beyond.”

Baseball United began its grassroots work within the region earlier this year, sponsoring and broadcasting the West Asia Cup in Islamabad, Pakistan. At the conclusion of that tournament, Baseball United hosted the first-ever “Baseball United Unity Classic”, a friendly exhibition between Pakistan and India.

It was the first time in history that India’s national baseball team played against Pakistan’s national team on Pakistani soil. Moving forward, Baseball United will work to help the most talented players of Pakistani origin compete for the national team, as well as help bring sponsors and revenue to bolster Pakistan Federation Baseball’s yearly operations and impact.

“We extend our deepest and most heartfelt gratitude to Mr. Kash Shaikh and Baseball United for their exceptional leadership, unwavering support, and extraordinary vision,” said Syed Fakhar Ali Shah, president of the Pakistan Federation Baseball and a founding member of Pakistan Baseball.

“As the son of Syed Khawar Shah, the revered founder of Pakistan Baseball, words cannot express the immense joy I feel as I witness the realization of our shared dream. For over three decades, Pakistan Federation Baseball has tirelessly worked to promote and expand the game of baseball within our cherished nation. We are deeply honored to work alongside Baseball United as they establish a groundbreaking professional baseball league that will inspire young players from around the world to step onto the field and ignite a passion for the sport across Pakistan.”

In addition to Shaikh, Baseball United’s ownership group includes Major League Baseball Hall of Famer’s Barry Larkin from the Cincinnati Reds and Mariano Rivera from the New York Yankees, as well as Texas Rangers Hall of Famer Adrian Beltre, and Seattle Mariners Hall of Famer Felix Hernandez.

The league announced its first franchise, the Mumbai Cobras, earlier this month. The Cobras are also the first professional baseball franchise in the history of India and the surrounding region.

Baseball United will host its inaugural Dubai Showcase this November. The Showcase will feature the league’s first four franchises, the second of which will be announced Tuesday, May 30, 2023.