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Holloway edges Rodriguez in thrilling UFC bout

Yair Rodriguez, blood coming from several cuts on his face, pointed his finger and planted it in Max Holloway‘s chest. Holloway, face swollen and bleeding from above his right eye, took his fist and patted it against Rodriguez’s face.

Holloway’s legend continued Saturday with a unanimous-decision win (49-46, 48-47, 48-47) over Rodriguez in the main event of UFC Fight Night in Las Vegas. And Rodriguez’s own lore leveled up after a warrior-like performance in a losing effort.

The back-and-forth bout, which ended up as one of the best of 2021, could have been a torch passing moment from Holloway, the former UFC featherweight champion, to the up-and-coming Rodriguez. Instead, Holloway, nicknamed “Blessed,” earned another huge win in a historic career and Rodriguez raised his stock.

Rodriguez pushed Holloway to the very brink, rallying with an elbow that cut Holloway open in the fifth round. But Holloway held on.

“If you want to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best — and the best is ‘Blessed,’ baby,” Holloway said in his postfight interview.

Both fighters were taken to the hospital after the fight.

Holloway outlanded Rodriguez in significant strikes, 230-159, per UFC stats. The 389 combined significant strikes is the third largest total in a single fight in UFC history — and Holloway has been involved in each of the top four highest totals, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Holloway landed 251 total strikes, becoming the first fighter to eclipse 3,000 total strikes in a UFC career. His 2,848 significant strikes is also a UFC record. Holloway is the only fighter in history to have 25 UFC fights and never get knocked down.

Holloway is arguably the best featherweight in UFC history, holding the 145-pound title from 2017 to 2019 with three title defenses. ESPN has Holloway ranked tied for No. 9 in the world in its pound-for-pound MMA rankings. At featherweight, Holloway is ranked No. 2 and Rodriguez is No. 8.

“Max is an amazing fighter,” Rodriguez said. “He has a lot of experience. He’s done an amazing job. I have nothing to do but accept [the loss].”

Afterward, Holloway was noncommittal about what he wants next. He mentioned a possible title fight at lightweight, another shot at the man who took the featherweight title from him in Alexander Volkanovski, and even being on “the shortlist” for a fight against Conor McGregor, who beat Holloway in 2013.

“We’re ready whenever,” Holloway said.

Rodriguez, even coming off a more-than-two-year-layoff, was ready right from the start. His lightning-fast kicks gave Holloway fits the entire fight and in the first he was landing them to the calf and to the body — plus a big front kick to Holloway’s face. Holloway countered with his volume boxing, but Rodriguez landed some big punches of his own.

In the second round, Holloway began to gain some momentum, putting forth more combinations with his hands and going to the body with punches. Rodriguez slipped in the third round and Holloway gained solid positions on the ground, going for several submission attempts and landing ground and pound.

In the fourth, Holloway was in control on the feet and landed a takedown from which he landed ground and pound. Rodriguez came back fresh in the fifth with more kicks and a spinning elbow that cut Holloway open above his right eye. When the final bell rang, the two men could do nothing but give the other their due respect.

“His boxing is pretty good,” Holloway said. “He moves like a boxer and then he turns elbows. … This guy is a freakin’ beast.”

Holloway (23-6) snapped a two-fight losing streak — both against Volkanovski — with an all-time dominant, unanimous decision performance against Calvin Kattar in January and has now won two straight. The Hawaii native has lost to just two men since 2013 — Volkanovski twice and Dustin Poirier in an interim lightweight title fight.

Holloway, 29, owns the most wins (18), most KO/TKO wins (8) and most stoppage victories (10) in UFC featherweight history.

Rodriguez (13-3, 1 NC) was undefeated in three straight fights coming in and has just two losses in 10 UFC fights. The Mexico native had not fought since a unanimous decision win over Jeremy Stephens in October 2019. Rodriguez, 29, owns the record for the latest knockout in UFC history, a spectacular back elbow finish of “The Korean Zombie” Chan Sung Jung with one second remaining in the fifth and final round in November 2018.

Holloway deserves another title shot — but does he want it next?

The conventional thinking is that a fighter who has been defeated twice by the champion in his or her weight class is stuck in limbo, never to get a third glimpse of the belt unless it’s being worn by a different champion.

That way of thinking does open up opportunities for new title challengers and produce fresh matchups in championship fights. But that way of thinking should not apply to Max Holloway.

When Holloway defeated Yair Rodriguez by unanimous decision in the main event of UFC Fight Night on Saturday in Las Vegas, that made it two straight victories over top-five featherweights. Just as champion Alexander Volkanovski is doing his part to clean out the division, so is the former champ.

Holloway has clearly established himself as the second-best 145-pound fighter in the UFC — unless you consider him the absolute best. Many do believe that Holloway won the second fight against Volkanovski, though the official result was a split-decision victory for the current champ (Watch this fight on ESPN+). But even if you do accept the opinions of the two judges who scored that 2020 rematch for Volkanovski, you simply cannot deny that a third meeting with Holloway would be the best title fight for the UFC’s featherweight division.

Who else is there to challenge Volkanovski? Brian Ortega had his shot less than two months ago. Chan Sung Jung has won three of his last four fights, but he lost to Ortega just last year. Calvin Kattar lost to Holloway in January. Those three right there, plus Holloway and Rodriguez, make up your top five.

The only reason not to book a third meeting between Volkanovski and Holloway would be if the UFC believed Holloway’s 0-2 record so far would make a trilogy fight a tough sell to fans. I feel pretty strongly that that would not be the case. On the contrary, no other matchup at 145 pounds would generate the same anticipation and excitement among the fan base.

Of course, Holloway has other options. After he’d had his hand raised at the end of Saturday’s brutal fight and was being interviewed inside the Octagon, the topic of Holloway’s future came up. He didn’t demand a title shot. Holloway did mention Volkanovski, but he also mentioned the lightweight division and brought up the possibility of a rematch with Conor McGregor, who defeated him in 2013.

“To be the best, you gotta beat the best. And the best is ‘Blessed,'” Holloway said, referencing his nickname. “They can come after me. Let’s get it.”

That might have been Holloway’s only misstep of the night. He sounded resigned to what the UFC wants to give him. But those words came just moments after he had fought like a man still chasing a championship.

So did Rodriguez, by the way. Fighting for the first time in over two years, the Mexican stood up to Holloway for five rounds, delivering and absorbing damage, and remaining dangerous until the final horn. Previously known best for the flashiness of his highlight-reel attacks, Rodriguez did more to establish himself as a top featherweight in this loss than he did in any of his UFC victories.

But he could not handle Holloway, who showed that, at age 29 and in his 29th professional fight, he still has what it takes to be a champion. Holloway is deserving of another shot at reclaiming the belt that was once his.

FULL CARD HIGHLIGHTS | Kid Galahad vs. Kiko Martinez

November 13th, 2021 — Full Card Highlights from Kid Galahad vs. Kiko Martinez from the Sheffield Arena in Sheffield, United Kingdom.

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Alcaraz: ‘It Is The Best Way To Finish The Year’

After clinching the Intesa Sanpaolo Next Gen ATP Finals title on Saturday, Carlos Alcaraz was in a reflective mood as he looked back on his successful 2021 season with a smile on his face.

The 18-year-old overcame Sebastian Korda in the final at the 21-and-under event in Milan to round off a year that has seen him rise from No. 141 in the FedEx ATP Rankings to a current career-high No. 32.

“I feeling amazing,” Alcaraz said after triumphing 4-3(5), 4-2, 4-2 in the championship match. “It feels good to end the year in the best way possible. Playing great matches against great players. It is the best way to finish the year.”

Under the guidance of coach and former World No. 1 Juan Carlos Ferrero, Alcaraz has made headlines in 2021. The Spaniard captured his first tour-level title in Umag in July and enjoyed a run to the quarter-finals at the US Open.

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While Alcaraz, who was the top seed in Milan, views those moments as high points, he believes other experiences he has had on Tour this season provided the crucial building blocks for his success.

“It has been a really good season for me,” Alcaraz said. “I am really happy about the moments I have experienced. Beating Stefanos [Tsitsipas] at the US Open, reaching the quarter-finals at a Grand Slam and winning my first ATP [Tour title].

“But I think this would not have been possible without the experience I gained in Madrid, playing against Rafa [Nadal]. In Acapulco, playing against [Alexander] Zverev. There are a lot of tournament matches that gave me a lot of experience to make me more mature so soon.”

Alcaraz dropped just one set en route to the title in Milan as he played aggressively in the big points to defeat stiff opposition at the Allianz Cloud. The 18-year-old admitted that it is an area of his game he has been focused on and will look to continue to develop.

“It is something I am working on,” Alcaraz said. “Juan Carlos told me that in the tough moments you have to play aggressively and you have to go for it and that is what I do. I am working on that to be calm in the tough moments, that is the key to winning the tough points. You have to go for it.”

Did You Know?
Alcaraz is the youngest player to earn 32 tour-level victories in a year since Andrei Medvedev, 18, went 32-11 in 1992.

BEFORE THE BELL | MUNGUIA VS. ROSADO

November 13th, 2021 — Jaime Munguía vs. Gabriel Rosado from the Honda Center in Anaheim, California.

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Numbers behind Baylor's defensive performance that might have crushed OU's playoff chances

The No. 13 Baylor Bears pulled off a convincing upset of the No. 8 Oklahoma Sooners on Saturday, dominating them on both sides of the ball in the 27-14 win. Bears quarterback Gerry Bohanon carried the day for Baylor’s offense, accumulating 224 total yards and three scores.

The bigger storyline, however, was Oklahoma’s offense — or lack thereof. Lincoln Riley’s crew failed to muster any consistency against the Bears, putting up one of its poorest statistical performances since he has been the head coach.

Here’s a look at some of the numbers explaining how Baylor coach Dave Aranda’s defense performed:

260: On Saturday, the Sooners’ 260 yards of total offense against the Bears was the lowest amount during Riley’s tenure in Norman. Oklahoma has failed to reach 300 yards of total offense in just two games since Riley became the head coach — and both have been against Baylor. The other time was last season when the Sooners had 269 yards of total offense in a 27-14 win.

4: Being the only team to hold a Riley-led offense at Oklahoma to under 300 yards isn’t easy. During Riley’s tenure, the Sooners have had four games where they eclipsed 700 yards of offense. Yet, Baylor has managed to shut down this offense in back-to-back seasons.

How did the Bears stop such a potent offense? They rattled Sooners quarterback Caleb Williams and made things difficult for him.

1-6: The freshman quarterback was pressured on nine of his 24 dropbacks, going 1-for-6 with two interceptions and two sacks when facing pressure. Before this game, he completed 54.5% of his passes while facing pressure and threw six touchdowns and no interceptions. Williams was replaced by Spencer Rattler in the third quarter before coming back in.

34: Against the blitz Saturday, Williams wasn’t great, throwing for only 34 yards and completing 37.5% of his passes. He had been sensational against extra pressure this season before Saturday, slinging three touchdowns while completing 68.2% of his throws.

6.3: Williams averaged 14.8 pass yards per attempt and nine scores when throwing the ball 10+ yards downfield entering Saturday’s game. He did not have the same downfield magic against the Bears, netting only 6.3 yards per attempt and failing to find the end zone.

3: Those are the number of points Baylor scored after students prematurely stormed the field thinking the game was over. After the field was cleared, Aranda opted to secure an extra three points, via a 32-yard field goal.

Riley was upset that Baylor wasn’t assessed a penalty for the field storming, but understood why Baylor kicked the field goal.

“I think they’re not happy with [the field goal],” Aranda said after the game. He said he decided to kick due to a point differential stipulation in the Big 12 tiebreakers.

32: After the upset loss, things aren’t looking good for Oklahoma’s College Football Playoff hopes. Its chances of being one of the four teams selected are now 32%. While the Sooners could still play for the Big 12 title, the regular season offers OU only one more game against a ranked opponent to impress the committee. That is the regular-season finale at the No. 10 Oklahoma State Cowboys.

ESPN Stats & Information contributed to this story.

Irked Riley: Baylor timeout for FG breaks 'code'

Baylor fans were so excited that their No. 13 Bears beat No. 8 Oklahoma 27-14 that they stormed the field twice.

Assuming the game was over, throngs of fans who had been perched on walls waiting for the final seconds to tick off the clock rushed the field, not realizing Baylor coach Dave Aranda had called a timeout with three seconds left, up 24-14.

Aranda’s reasoning: He wanted to get additional points in case there was a tie among two-loss teams in the Big 12 title race, because point differential between teams is the third tiebreaker in the league’s rules.

After a long delay, including the public address announcer imploring fans to leave the field, the Bears’ Isaiah Hankins added a 32-yarder as time expired for the 27-14 victory, and the fans ran back to the center of the field to celebrate.

On a day when the Sooners’ 17-game winning streak ended, and they were likely eliminated from the College Football Playoff race, none of this sat well with Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley.

“It became a safety issue,” Riley said. “I know why Dave tried to kick the field goal. I don’t agree with it. And I still think above all else, there’s a code of sportsmanship that I believe in. I wouldn’t have done it. But that’s his decision, that’s his football team. How the officials don’t enforce a 15-yard penalty when you probably got 5,000 people on the field is unbelievable to me. It is what it is. That’s his decision. That’s the officials’ decision. I don’t agree with it.”

Aranda said he pondered the tiebreaker decision early in the week and decided when Kennedy Brooks scored on a 1-yard run with 2:26 left in the game that he wanted to try to add more points.

“We wanted to get back on the scoreboard to help with that differential,” he said. “You have some two-loss teams. We want to be in that position.”

Riley said he saw OU linebacker David Ugwoegbu “just get bum-rushed by three guys” and sent Oklahoma’s team to the locker room during the delay. He said he considered telling all the players to leave without having any on the field for a final play.

“I did tell them that, and I don’t know, maybe I should have done it,” Riley said. “You know, I just I don’t believe this situation was handled well by a lot of people. Doing it with class is important to me. And at the end of the day, that’s why we decided to bring 11 guys out even though deep down I damn sure didn’t want to.”

Aranda was told of Riley’s comments and said he could appreciate his perspective.

“I think he was upset,” Aranda said. “I can understand that. It’s an emotional game. I consider Lincoln a friend, so I imagine we will talk here pretty quick.”

It was the end of a frustrating day all around for Riley, whose offense had its worst performance ever under him. The Sooners had their fewest yards (260) and fewest points scored (14) since Riley arrived at Oklahoma as offensive coordinator in 2015.

It’s just the second time the Sooners have been held to fewer than 300 yards under Riley. That, too, was against Aranda, in the Sooners’ 27-14 win over Baylor last year.

“They played better than we did,” Riley said.

Riley tried a quarterback switch once again to see if he could find a spark, benching Caleb Williams late in the third quarter for Spencer Rattler. To that point, Williams was 8-for-14 for 84 yards.

“We were just a little stale, honestly,” Riley said. “We had a little stretch there in the second quarter, again in the third quarter, where we had a few things there that [Williams] missed that he just typically doesn’t miss. Spencer, had a good week. So I went with Spencer. Again, you’ve got to make those decisions in the heat of the moment. At that point, I felt like it was the right decision.”

Rattler went 4-of-6 for 36 yards on two drives. Both drives ended with Rattler being sacked on third down. Williams’ surging Heisman candidacy ended and the Sooners’ playoff dreams died in a sea of green-and-gold-clad fans in Waco.

But a seventh straight Big 12 title remains a goal.

“Still a whole lot left for this football team,” Riley said. “That’s the advantage of winning your first nine games is you do set yourself up to be able to overcome something like this, so [I’m] disappointed, obviously, that we have to overcome it, but it is what it is. So we’ll bounce back like we always do and like we fully expect to.”