UFC takeaways: Wonderboy still has it, but should he jump right back into the title picture?

UFC takeaways: Wonderboy still has it, but should he jump right back into the title picture?

Stephen Thompson proved he still has championship aspirations after a dominating performance over Kevin Holland in the main event of UFC Fight Night, but others in Orlando found their way to shine as well. Brett Okamoto, Marc Raimondi and Jeff Wagenheim look at the biggest moments from an action-packed event in Florida.

“Wonderboy” isn’t much of a boy anymore. Actually, he hasn’t been for quite some time. But this version of Stephen Thompson, as the flashy striker approaches his 40th birthday, still has quite a lot of value to the UFC.

On Saturday night in the main event of UFC Orlando, Thompson beat Kevin Holland via fourth-round TKO in one of the year’s best fights, a rollicking, rollercoaster affair that saw both men get hurt and battle back until the slick, crafty Thompson just became too much on the feet for Holland, who injured his hand early. Holland’s coach Bob Perez waved things off before the fifth and final frame.

Thompson threw various techniques with his legs, from hook kicks to crescent kicks to liver kicks. He might have even hit Holland with Shawn Michaels’ “Sweet Chin Music” at one point. It was hard to keep track. Holland, meanwhile, cracked Thompson in the first round with a piston-like right cross and kept things entertaining throughout, despite that hand issue.

All of this is to say that the word of Thompson’s imminent demise was highly overstated. In fact, it’s really all about matchups. If “Wonderboy” can continue putting on performances like this, there’s no reason he shouldn’t be in UFC Fight Night main events like this or on pay-per-view main cards a few times a year. Thompson did say he still feels like he’s 25 years old in his post-fight interview, after all.

The trick is finding the right opponents. “Wonderboy” versus Holland was a master stroke from matchmakers Sean Shelby and Mick Maynard. Holland always comes to fight, never wants to wrestle or grapple, and is all too willing to get into a brawl. Unfortunately for Holland, he was the exact kind of opponent to not only rejuvenate Thompson, but he was the first “Wonderboy” foe to succumb to a KO/TKO since Johny Hendricks (remember him?) in 2016.

A case can be made that Thompson has vaulted himself back into title contention with this victory. Maybe — but what’s the point? The top of the welterweight division is filled with oppressive wrestlers like Kamaru Usman and Colby Covington and Khamzat Chimaev. Thompson has already lost to Belal Muhammad and Gilbert Burns, both of whom who succeeded in grinding “Wonderboy” out with wrestling and grappling. And Usman, Covington and Chimaev are all better wrestlers on paper than Muhammad and Burns.

No, the path forward for Thompson should be a fun one, like this fight against Holland. There are plenty of up-and-coming strikers the UFC can throw at “Wonderboy” to see if they can hang. Who wouldn’t want to see Thompson going up against a Michel Pereira or Jack Della Maddalena? Heck, why not a bout between “Wonderboy” and Philip Rowe, who had a highlight-filled win over Niko Price on Saturday night? Prospects like Ian Garry and Michael Morales could be waiting in the wings for an opportunity, too.

If Thompson can stave off a couple of those young, hungry lions, you can thrust him back into a big contender fight. But for the time being, “Wonderboy” should not be put within 100 feet of a wrestler. Feed the man strikers and watch memorable performances like the one Saturday night continue to occur.

Thompson is affable, likable, a fan favorite and, when faced with the right foe across the Octagon, can be one of the most entertaining fighters in the world. He’s still one of the best welterweights in the world. But is throwing him in against a top-five contender the best use of a nearly 40-year-old “Wonderboy?” Probably not.

Let’s keep things fun. And on the feet. Thompson will knock someone out with Sweet Chin Music one of these days.

Whether it’s Conor McGregor or not, the UFC should find a plan for RDA

Okamoto: Look, I have no idea if McGregor will take the bait on Rafael dos Anjos’s callout. No one does. His future is as unpredictable as it comes. Would I like to see him fight dos Anjos in July? Yeah. Who wouldn’t? And it was a smart call out by dos Anjos. A genuine, shoot-your-shot kind of thing, you know? But trying to rely on a McGregor fight is risky business, and I would encourage dos Anjos to form a Plan B.

I will admit, I don’t know what Plan B is. We’ve already been here with dos Anjos, testing welterweight. He had some success there years ago, but came up short when it was time to run into guys like Leon Edwards, Kamaru Usman and Colby Covington. Those are difficult matchups for him. And even after Saturday, he spoke about the physical strength of Bryan Barberena, and told me he’s 38, he doesn’t think he’ll be adding a lot of muscle mass any time soon.

Is his future a welterweight title run? We can try it, but it doesn’t add up. But back at lightweight, dos Anjos has lost his footing a bit in the loss to Rafael Fiziev in July. He’s not crazy past his prime though, and he has earned the right to not just get thrown the next up-and-comer for the rest of his career. I hope the UFC can bring him in and discuss the next couple of years of his career, and find a solution that makes sense and has direction.

Philip Rowe was arguably the biggest winner in Orlando



Phil Rowe finishes the fight vs. Niko Price in Round 3 to send his hometown Orlando crowd into a frenzy.

Okamoto: I’m not kidding. On a card that was filled with potential breakout performances and memorable upsets, Rowe stood out to me. I find myself a big believer in his potential walking away from this weekend. He told me after the fight that he’s never been able to show his full arsenal in a fight, and I believe him. He’s trained with the likes of Alex Pereira, Glover Teixeira, Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza and Rodolfo Vieira. His relationship with his coach Julian Williams is rock, rock solid. Outside of the cage, he has a lot of charisma and intelligence.

As far as what he wants next, he said he wants a better contract, and then he’ll be more than happy to accept the most challenging fights in the division. Again, that’s a smart stance to take.

Believe me, the more people see and hear from Rowe, the more they will like him. He did miss weight for the second time in his UFC career this week, which he’ll need to fix, but he told me it was more of a time management issue than a long-term problem with the weight itself.

Sergei Pavlovich shakes up the heavyweights with KO of Tuivasa



Sergei Pavlovich needs less than 60 seconds to finish off Tai Tuivasa in front of a disappointed Orlando crowd.

Wagenheim: In just 54 seconds, Sergei Pavlovich knocked down Tai Tuivasa three times, bloodied up his face and finished him via knockout. Then the 30-year-old Russian walked out of the Octagon and did not drink an adult beverage out of a shoe. The guy’s only gimmick, apparently, is throwing a scare into the entire UFC heavyweight division.

Pavlovich moved to 17-1 with his fifth straight victory, all by first-round knockout, the last two coming within the fight’s first minute. Despite his short time in the cage, Pavlovich showed both on Saturday night, and in his 55-second TKO of Derrick Lewis in July, that he’s no brawler. His dangerousness is not just about offense.

Against Tuivasa, Pavlovich had a 23-2 edge in significant strikes, making Tuivasa whiff on eight of the 10 big, winging punches he threw on his way to getting KO’d. Pavlovich utilized his 84-inch reach well. And while it might seem silly to say this following such a quick finish, Pavlovich exhibited the kind of patience that can make a difference in a weight class where anyone can have his lights turned out in a millisecond.

This guy has what it takes to pose problems for anyone in the top tier of the big-boy division, including his fellow knockout artist Francis Ngannou, the champ. Pavlovich has shown himself to be as technical a striker as Ciryl Gane — just with more power. That’s a combination that’ll make fans forgive him for not having a trademark celebration on his way out of the cage after starching another opponent.

Jauregui can be UFC’s next Mexican star



Yazmin Jauregui finishes Istela Nunes on the ground to win the first bout of the night at UFC Fight Night.

Raimondi: Brandon Moreno. Yair Rodriguez. Irene Aldana. Alexa Grasso. Now, add Yazmin Jauregui to that list of some of the UFC’s top Mexican-born fighters.

Yes, it’s early. She only has two UFC fights and is just 23 years old, but she’s every bit the prospect at that age that any of the above were. Jauregui won her debut in August against Iasmin Lucindo in a barnburner of a fight. On Saturday, she rallied back from getting dropped in the first round to finish Istela Nunes via second-round TKO at UFC Orlando.

It’s not just that she won Saturday, either. It’s how she won. Have you heard of “Mexican style” in boxing? Jauregui fights like that. She’s constantly aggressive, pressing forward, throwing hard shots with every limb. Nunes had success countering in the first round, but Jauregui made some adjustments in the second and took the fight to Nunes. She dropped her three times in the round and finished with some ruthless, violent ground and pound.

Jauregui has the kind of motor, intensity and ruthlessness you don’t often find in the lighter weight divisions. She’s straight up violent.

The question moving forward is how quickly the UFC will push Jauregui. The promotion is set to make big moves in Mexico in 2023, with rumors of a big event in the country and ground being broken on a UFC Performance Institute in Mexico City. With the likes of Moreno, Aldana, Rodriguez and Grasso — all of whom are in championship or contender slots moving into the new year — the UFC has an arsenal of Mexican fighters to showcase in its next trip south of the border. Jauregui needs to be spoken about in that conversation now, as well.

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College Football Playoff picks after championship week

College Football Playoff picks after championship week

So much for chalk on Championship Week.

On Friday morning the potential for perhaps the least dramatic four-team selection of the College Football Playoff era existed. That was if favorites Georgia, Michigan, TCU and USC won their respective championship games.

By Friday night, that chalkboard had been scrubbed clean. Utah trailed 17-3 midway through the second quarter but outscored USC 44-7 the rest of the way. The 14-point comeback is the largest in Pac-12 championship game history. With the loss, USC’s chances to reach the playoff fell to 1%. The Pac-12 has not had a representative in the CFP since 2016.

On Saturday afternoon it was TCU’s turn. The Horned Frogs trailed by 11 points in the fourth quarter of the Big 12 championship game but still managed to force overtime with Kansas State. In OT, TCU had the ball first and had two chances from the 1-yard line to score a touchdown but was stopped and turned the ball over on downs. The Wildcats kicked the winning field goal six plays later. TCU will look to become the fifth team to make the CFP after not winning its conference.

Ohio State could join the Horned Frogs on that list. A week after losing by 22 points at home to Michigan, the Buckeyes did not play on championship weekend but sit in a favorable position with only one loss.

Their northern rivals found themselves in a one-point game with Purdue at halftime of the Big Ten championship game. But running back Donovan Edwards picked up where he left off last week and Michigan pulled away. Edwards’ 60-yard run on the first possession of the second half led to a Wolverines touchdown, and he finished with 185 yards a week after rushing for 216 yards with two long scores against the Buckeyes.

It was less dramatic for No. 1 Georgia, which cruised to a 20-point victory over No. 4 LSU in the SEC title game. Georgia is now 5-0 against teams ranked in the top 25. If that holds in the final rankings, it would be tied for the best record by a team against teams that finished the season ranked in the CFP top 25. Georgia will enter bowl season with an undefeated record for the first time since 1982.

With all that in mind, here’s a look at how ESPN’s college football reporters see the playoff picture heading into Sunday’s final ranking (12:15 p.m. ET, ESPN).

Andrea Adelson: 1. Georgia 2. Michigan 3. TCU 4. Ohio State
Blake Baumgartner: 1. Georgia 2. Michigan 3. TCU 4. Ohio State
Kyle Bonagura: 1. Georgia 2. Michigan 3. TCU 4. Ohio State
Bill Connelly: 1. Georgia 2. Michigan 3. TCU 4. Ohio State
Heather Dinich: 1. Georgia 2. Michigan 3. TCU 4. Ohio State
Chris Low: 1. Georgia 2. Michigan 3. TCU 4. Ohio State
Harry Lyles Jr.: 1. Georgia 2. Michigan 3. TCU 4. Ohio State
Adam Rittenberg: 1. Georgia 2. Michigan 3. TCU 4. Ohio State
Alex Scarborough: 1. Georgia 2. Michigan 3. TCU 4. Ohio State
Paolo Uggetti: 1. Georgia 2. Michigan 3. TCU 4. Ohio State
Tom VanHaaren: 1. Georgia 2. Michigan 3. TCU 4. Ohio State
Dave Wilson: 1. Georgia 2. Michigan 3. TCU 4. Ohio State

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Marner nets 2, sets Maple Leafs record in OT loss

Marner nets 2, sets Maple Leafs record in OT loss

Toronto Maple Leafs forward Mitch Marner set a new franchise record in extending his point streak to 19 games Saturday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The winger scored a shorthanded goal early in the second period against the Lightning to reach his milestone and give Toronto a 1-0 lead. He later scored a power-play goal in the third period of the Maple Leafs’ 4-3 overtime loss.

His streak began in the Maple Leafs’ overtime loss to the San Jose Sharks on Oct. 27. It is the longest active streak in the NHL. Marner previously matched the franchise-high 18-game mark set by Darryl Sittler (in 1977-78) and Eddie Olczyk (1989-90) with an empty-net goal in Toronto’s win last Wednesday over the Sharks.

Both Sittler and Olczyk got in touch to congratulate Marner on the feat, something the Toronto-area native said was, “Just cool to have those two legends reach out. … If you’d told me growing up that this [streak] would happen, I’d have never believed it.”

The 25-year-old has now collected at least one point in 24 of 26 contests this season. Marner has tallied 10 goals and 24 points during this 19-game stretch and sits tied for the fourth-most helpers in the league.

Toronto’s top-six stalwart has been a dominant playmaker throughout his career and regardless of who he has played with in the Leafs’ lineup. Marner’s latest linemate in Saturday’s record-setting tilt was Nick Robertson, the brother of Dallas Stars forward Jason who is right on Marner’s heels with a 17-game point streak of his own.

Beyond Marner’s critical role in Toronto’s success at 5-on-5, he’s an integral part of both Leafs special teams units. Marner leads all Toronto forwards in average ice time (21:28) and shorthanded ice time (2:14).

Tampa Bay forward Alex Killorn scored from the right circle 33 seconds into overtime, beating Toronto goaltender Matt Murray and spoiling Marner’s heroics. But he can continue adding to his record when Toronto takes on the Stars on Tuesday.

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Hospital: Pele responding well to treatment

Hospital: Pele responding well to treatment

Brazilian football legend Pele is responding well to treatment for a respiratory infection and his health condition has not worsened over the past 24 hours, the Albert Einstein hospital said in a statement Saturday.

“Edson Arantes do Nascimento was admitted to the Hospital Israelite Albert Einstein this past Tuesday (29) for a reassessment of his chemotherapy for his colon tumor, which was diagnosed in September 2021. He is still undergoing treatment and his health condition remains stable. He is responding well to care for a respiratory infection, and his condition has not changed in the last 24 hours,” the statement said.

Pele, 82, has been at the hospital since Tuesday.

On Saturday, Pele posted the hospital update on his Instagram with a message that said: “My friends, I want to keep everyone calm and positive. I’m strong, with a lot of hope and I follow my treatment as usual. I want to thank the entire medical and nursing team for all the care I have received.

“I have a lot of faith in God and every message of love I receive from you all over the world keeps me full of energy. And watch Brazil in the World Cup too!

“Thank you so much for everything. 🙏🏾”

Get-well messages have poured in from around the world for the three-time World Cup winner, who is also undergoing cancer treatment.

Kely Nascimento, Pele’s daughter, posted several pictures on Instagram from Brazil fans in Qatar wishing her father well with flags and banners.

Buildings in the Middle Eastern nation also displayed messages in support of the football great.

The Albert Einstein hospital said on Friday that Pele is getting antibiotics to treat an infection at the same time he undergoes chemotherapy against cancer.

Pele had a colon tumor removed in September 2021.

Neither his family nor the hospital has said whether the cancer had spread to other organs.

Newspaper Folha de S.Paulo reported Saturday that Pele’s chemotherapy is not working and that doctors had decided to put him on palliative care.

The Associated Press could not confirm that information.

ESPN Brasil reported Wednesday that Pele was taken to the hospital because of “generalized swelling.”

Pele helped Brazil win the 1958, 1962 and 1970 World Cups and remains the team’s all-time leading scorer with 77 goals in 92 matches.

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Argentina vs. Australia – Football Match Report – December 3, 2022 – ESPN

Argentina vs. Australia – Football Match Report – December 3, 2022 – ESPN

Lionel Messi spearheaded Argentina‘s charge to the World Cup quarterfinals by helping to secure a 2-1 victory against Australia on Saturday.

In his 1,000th career match, Messi scored the opening goal with a sublime effort before Julian Alvarez scored in the second half to set up a quarterfinal tie against the Netherlands and knock Australia out of the tournament, as the Socceroos were unable to build upon their fortuitous late goal.

Stream on ESPN+: LaLiga, Bundesliga, more (US)

“I am very happy for taking another step forward, achieving another objective,” Messi said. “It was a very strong and difficult match — we knew it was going to be this way.

“We didn’t have much time to rest up and we were concerned as we knew it was going to be a physical match and they were very strong. Luckily we found the goal and we were one goal ahead, and then two goals ahead.

“And then we had a setback with the goal — but that’s the World Cup for you, the matches are difficult and we got the win.”

Despite Argentina’s firepower, Australia managed to limit the early proceedings, keeping them uneventful with neither side exerting any dominance.

But the Socceroos’ defence was breached on 35 minutes as Messi showed his undeniable quality to score his first-ever goal in the World Cup knockout stage.

The Paris Saint-Germain forward started the move with a darting run inside from the right wing — a quick exchange of passes landed him inside the box before he unleashed a left-footed curling shot past Mat Ryan.

“He [Messi] is incredible. One of the greatest ever,” Australia boss Graham Arnold said. “We really worked hard not to be in awe of him, because of the great player he is.

“But wow, he’s remarkable. I had the privilege of playing against Diego Maradona, and now coaching against Messi — they’re both wonderful players and Argentina should be so proud and happy to have players of that calibre.”

Buoyed by rapturous support, Argentina tightened their grip on a quarterfinal spot 12 minutes after half-time as Rodrigo De Paul pounced on a slack touch by Australia goalkeeper Ryan, allowing Alvarez to slot into a vacated net, doubling his side’s lead.

A triple substitution for Australia on 72 minutes signified a desperate last roll of the dice by manager Arnold and they were handed a lifeline when an own goal by Enzo Fernandez halved their deficit 13 minutes from time.

Craig Goodwin latched onto a loose ball outside the box and struck a fierce effort first-time, which took a huge deflection off Fernandez, fooling goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez and hitting the back of the net.

With renewed optimism, Aziz Behich came close to levelling the game three minutes later as he embarked on a fantastic darting run, beating four Argentina defenders before eventually being thwarted by Lisandro Martinez in the box.

Despite their desire, a comeback didn’t materialise for Australia and manager Arnold was full of praise for their impressive run in the tournament.

“They’re extremely disappointed — it’s not every day you get to play the third-best nation in the word and play those types of players,” he said.

“I felt we did a good job. I wanted to say how proud I am of them and the sacrifices they’ve made through the campaign. Everyone said before we came here we were the worst Socceroo team ever and to qualify for a World Cup — but that’s gone now — we’ve done exceptionally well.”

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