Sunday, 23 June 2019

Liang and Cameroon must be reprimanded after farcial World Cup scenes

By Alistair Hendrie

By the time Cameroon's Takounda Engolo slammed her studs into the ankle of England's Steph Houghton on Sunday, the underdogs already trailed 3-0 and the Indomitable Lionesses had lost their heads. Referee Qin Liang only booked Takounda after consulting VAR, and it spoke volumes that Jonathan Pearce, commentating for the BBC, said Liang was wise not to show a red card simply because it would have enraged the Cameroonians to breaking point. Cameroon had relinquished control. So had Liang.

Questions must be asked of Liang after she allowed Cameroon's players to strop, complain. and make a mockery of the spirit the tournament should be played in throughout the match. When Liang awarded England their second goal via VAR, her grip on the game crumbled as Ajara Nchout and Gabrielle Onguene berated the referee and initiated a team huddle, delaying the restart by at least three minutes. Liang declined to book any Cameroonian players despite their lack of discipline. 

As the chaos continued, the Chinese official then used VAR to rule out a Cameroon equaliser for offside - a questionable decision in itself. Nchout, who scored the "goal", tearfully stormed to her head coach Alain Djeumfa, crossing her arms in the air, as if pleading for Djeumfa to take the team off the pitch in protest. The dissent was bad enough; the time-wasting was embarrassing to watch. Liang's decision? No booking for Nchout, regardless of another five-minute interlude. 

Moving forwards, how FIFA reacts to Liang's lack of authority and unwillingness to punish players should set a benchmark for standards of officiating. When Switzerland defeated Serbia 2-1 at the World Cup in 2018, referee Felix Brych was sent home after the Serbian FA complained about his performance to FIFA. At least Brych's plight shows FIFA are willing to penalise poor showings.

Still, FIFA would be wise to act tactfully with Liang, take her into a quiet room, fan the flames, but remind her of how players can't be allowed to throw tantrums and protest excessively. She shouldn't be castigated just yet, and dumping her out of the tournament would be an overreaction, but she needs to improve. After all, on Sunday her decision-making, control of the game and communication with players left a lot to be desired. 

Cameroon, too, should face the consequences of their actions. The tie with England descended into a tragic comedy when Nchou broke down and that was before Onguene's unwarranted rant at Liang after Takounda took out Houghton. At times it appeared as if Cameroon were refereeing the contest themselves, such was the extent of their time-wasting and arguing. 

Cameroon, playing in their second consecutive World Cup second round, ought to expect a fine for failing to control their players. With the visibility and popularity of the women's game at an all-time high, Cameroon set a poor example with their unsporting conduct - they disregarded any sense of professionalism and respect. 

In another blight on the World Cup in 2018, FIFA docked the Moroccan FA £50,000 when Morocco striker Nordin Amrabat shouted "VAR is bullshit" at a camera after Spain denied the Atlas Lions with a VAR-assisted leveller. In that case, you'd think Cameroon would earn a similar punishment. Theirs wasn't one instance of dissent either; it was incessant arguing, it was multiple refusals to play on - and this, remember, lasted for most of the match.

FIFA should use this as a chance to do the right thing for the good of the game. The organisation seems to be all for clamping down on inappropriate socks in football, so you'd hope they'd temper inadequate refereeing once more and shut down insolent players while the world is watching.

Sunday, 16 June 2019

Tyson Fury dominates Tom Schwarz in two to keep Deontay Wilder rematch alive

By Alistair Hendrie

Tyson Fury kept his side of the bargain on Saturday night, destroying Thomas Schwarz in two rounds in Las Vegas to keep a rematch with WBC heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder simmering in the pan. Fury’s co-promoter, Bob Arum, told reporters that a repeat of Fury and Wilder’s thrilling draw in 2018 could surpass the $600m generated by Floyd Mayweather against Manny Pacquaio in 2015. A wise comment given Fury’s skills, entertainment value and charisma.

Entering the ring to James Brown’s “Living in America” - of course not forgetting his Apollo Creed shorts, hat and robe - Fury was the star of the show on Saturday and Schwarz, the outclassed German, was just a footnote. The British fighter exhibited a lovely jab, scintillating head movement and spiteful combinations. He’d already bloodied Schwarz’s nose badly by the time he folded the underdog in two with finishing smacks to the body.

The Wilder return was all fans, journalists and broadcasters wanted to ask about after the contest and according to Arum Fury will be out next for a final tune-up on September 21 or October 5. Wilder must do his own part by defeating Luis Ortiz again – reports suggest they could renew hostilities in September.

Indeed, while Arum also mentioned Wilder-Fury 2 would take place in Las Vegas, Team Fury should tread carefully when choosing their next opponent. They need a name, a dance partner who will give them a problem to solve. Still, Fury’s backers know Wilder 2 would be huge for Tyson's bank balance and legacy and they would be foolish to risk it all by throwing him to a young, hungry wolf such as Trevor Bryan. That can wait, and remember Fury is only 30.

How about a meeting with Robert Helenius? The Finn, whose craft and guile handed him the moniker “The Nordic Nightmare”, has won his last three and could earn the largest payday of his career against “The Gypsy King.” The 35-year-old is known for his defensive talents and ability to throw opponents of their game. He wouldn’t be the most exciting adversary, though. Leftfield options could be Carlos Takam, the imposing Cameroonian-Frenchman, or Tomasz Adamek, the Pole who is already known to the US public but was ended in two by Jarrell Miller in October.

First of all, Wilder has to overcome Ortiz. Many felt their previous encounter should have been stopped when Wilder was out on his feet under a hail of Ortiz gunfire in round seven, but the American survived and earned the knockout in round ten. It was telling, then, that Wilder tweeted: “All my controversial fights must get dealt with ASAP” when announcing the rerun with Ortiz. If that’s the case, Wilder-Fury 2 becomes an even greater possibility.

Read more of Alistair Hendrie's writing on combat sports with his Kindle book, Fight Game: The Untold Story of Women's MMA in Britain

Tuesday, 18 December 2018

Dan Hooker should have been rescued from UFC Milwaukee beating from Edson Barboza

By Alistair Hendrie

Edson Barboza brutalized Dan Hooker to the body, landing five kicks without reply. “We can stop this fight right now,” cried Daniel Cormier, commenting on round three of Saturday’s UFC Milwaukee co-main event. Barboza chased the back-peddling Hooker, scoring a vicious elbow over the top. “Why? Why? Why?” Cormier continued.

The Brazilian landed 29 to 13 significant strikes in the third and finally grabbed the KO in the same round with a salvo of strikes to the liver, with Hooker put out of his misery and crumpled up on the canvas. Cormier was right –Hooker should have been pulled out and he shouldn’t have had to endure such punishment.

Indeed, Hooker should have been rescued by either the cageside doctor, referee Rob Hinds, or his City Kickboxing corner, and in the end, it was no surprise that he reportedly suffered a concussion. After the bout, Hooker stayed at a Milwaukee hospital overnight for observations.

Warnings of his downfall arrived in round two as the New Zealander ate jab after jab to the face and temple, his nose bloodying and his hands lowering. Beset by leg kicks from the off, he stood square-on and invited knees in the clinch. Hooker threw enough punches to show that he was competitive but Hinds should have warned him more during the prolonged rallies.

Next came a doctor’s intervention. “Where you at?” the doctor asked Hooker at the end of round two. “Milwaukee.” “What year is it?” the doctor probed. Ominously, on television at least, it was difficult to tell whether Hooker answered: “2018” or “2019.” Was the doctor confident of how Hooker replied, and could he have asked him another question? Either way, Hooker followed the doctor’s finger and was allowed to continue into the third round.

In all honesty, the climax was difficult to watch. You had to empathize with Cormier’s calls to stop the bout. Barboza slammed rapid-fire kicks to Hooker’s body. Three times Hooker doubled over before standing bolt upright again, open to attacks with his hands by his sides. The six-foot lightweight had no chance of recovering by the time of the stoppage, and while the doctor and Hinds may have to be challenged on their actions, so should Hooker’s corner.

Indeed, as Jon Anik mentioned in commentary on Saturday, MMA is developing a culture of corners such as Hooker’s who are unwilling to pull their fighters out of thrashings. Featherweight Brian Ortega and light-heavyweight CB Dollaway both suffered ferocious beatings in recent times from Max Holloway and Khalid Murtazaliev, respectively, yet neither man’s corner stepped in.

City Kickboxing head coach Eugene Bareman, who wasn’t in Hooker’s corner this weekend, said: “He [Hooker] was visibly concussed several times, I believe… We have a very good set of protocols within the gym to take care of him. It’s a ruthless game we play. Painful for me to watch that from a distance, but we have been here before many times, so I’m looking forward to the return.”

Although the evidence in the cage stacks up against City Kickboxing, none of us know the protocols Bareman and company have in place, presumably crafted through evidence and research, to protect their fighters. Bareman would be wise to reveal these measures, and it’s important that gyms underline how they prioritize safety and to what extent they determine with their fighters when to say enough is enough to prevent an onslaught.

Fighter preservation is already a focal point for the sport, it must be said, and that’s why Hooker will receive a medical suspension from the Wisconsin Athletic Commission. Anik and Cormier should nevertheless be commended for asking why Hooker wasn’t protected adequately this weekend, and let’s hope these issues are scrutinized further so we no longer see fighters shipping excessive punishment.

This article was originally posted on The Runner Sports. Check out a free chapter of Alistair Hendrie's Kindle book, Fight Game: The Untold Story of Women's MMA in Britain

Wednesday, 5 December 2018

Who is the best pound-for-pound MMA fighter in the world?

By Alistair Hendrie

To determine the best fighter in the world, you need to take into account plenty of factors: form, skill, opposition and dominance, for example. So, if a champion defends his or her crown via a string of finishes, does that equal or better a run of decisions?

It’s a debate which rings around gyms, television studios, offices and of course pubs all over the world, and that’s exactly why Alistair Hendrie Sport will be releasing its pound-for-pound list at the start of every month.

To qualify for the list, a fighter should be considered active, so although Jon Jones, for instance, is one of the most skilled and dominant fighters on the planet, he is yet to return from his doping suspension, leaving him dormant for the moment.

Now that you know the criteria we’re looking for and pre-requisites for entry, take a look at the pound-for-pound best mixed martial artists in the world.

December 2018 - Men

1 – Daniel Cormier (USA) (205lbs)
2 – Demetrious Johnson (USA) (125lbs)
3 – Max Holloway (USA) (145lbs)
4 – Stipe Miocic (USA) (265lbs)
5 – Robert Whittaker (AUS) (185lbs)
6 – Tyron Woodley (USA) (170lbs)
7 – Khabib Nurmagomedov (RUS) (155lbs)
8 – TJ Dillashaw (USA) (135lbs)
9 – Henry Cejudo (USA) (125lbs)
10 – Tony Ferguson (USA) (155lbs)
11 – Jose Aldo (BRA) (145lbs)
12 – Cody Garbrandt (USA) (135lbs)
13 – Dustin Poirier (USA) (155lbs) (+1)
14 – Rafael dos Anjos (BRA) (170lbs) (-1)
15 – Yoel Romero (CUB) (185lbs)
16 – Robbie Lawler (USA) (170lbs)
17 – Dominic Cruz (USA) (135lbs)
18 – Brian Ortega (USA) (145lbs)
19 – Kamaru Usman (NIG) (170lbs) (+3)
20 – Stephen Thompson (USA) (170lbs) (-1)
21 – Frankie Edgar (USA) (145lbs) (-1)
22 – Kevin Lee (USA) (155lbs) (-1)
23 – Francis Ngannou (FRA) (265lbs) (+1)
24 – Derrick Lewis (USA) (265lbs) (-1)
25 – Marlon Moraes (BRA) (135lbs)

December 2018 - Women

1 – Amanda Nunes (BRA) (135lbs)
2 – Rose Namajunas (USA) (115lbs)
3 – Joanna Jedrzejczyk (POL) (115lbs)
4 – Cris Cyborg (BRA) (145lbs)
5 – Valentina Shevchenko (KYR) (125lbs)
6 – Jessica Andrade (BRA) (115lbs)
7 – Tecia Torres (USA) (115lbs)
8 – Holly Holm (USA) (145lbs)
9 – Raquel Pennington (USA) (135lbs)
10 – Claudia Gadhela (BRA) (115lbs)
11 – Karolina Kowalkiewicz (POL) (115lbs)
12 – Carla Esparza (USA) (115lbs)
13 – Tonya Evinger (USA) (135lbs)
14 – Megan Anderson (USA) (135lbs)
15 – Cynthia Calvillo (USA) (115lbs) (+2)
16 – Germaine de Randamie (NED) (145lbs) (+2)
17 – Barb Honchak (USA) (125lbs) (-2)
18 – Felice Herrig (USA) (115lbs) (-2)
19 – Alexis Davis (CAN) (125lbs)
20 – Julliana Pena (USA) (135lbs)
21 – Angela Lee (CAN) (105lbs)
22 – Sara McMann (USA) (135lbs)
23 – Jennifer Maia (BRA) (125lbs)
24 – Liz Carmouche (USA) (125lbs)
25 – Michelle Waterson (USA) (115lbs) (NE)

Whether you agree or disagree with our standings, join in the discussion and let us know your pound-for-pound lists on Twitter.

Sunday, 2 December 2018

Will Israel Adesanya clash with Anderson Silva at UFC 234?

By Alistair Hendrie

Israel Adesanya had high hopes for his recent business meeting with UFC president Dana White. He’d just starched Derek Brunson inside a round at UFC 230 on November 3, looking a million dollars while doing so, and he’d earned a chance to join White and make a plan for superstardom. Now, with rumors circulating that the middleweight up-and-comer from New Zealand will face Anderson Silva at UFC 234 in February 2019, it seems the first piece of Project Adesanya has been put into place.

On the surface, though, it seems like a one-sided circus –a young finisher with some of the best kickboxing seen in the sport since Jon Jones against an aging, injury-prone former champion who, let’s not forget, hasn’t won a bout since 2013. Adesanya is unblemished at 15-0 and his performance against Brunson showed his improving ruthlessness and ability to take the fight where he wants. In contrast, Silva’s reflexes and talents have plummeted since his two setbacks to Chris Weidman in 2013.

The news about Adesanya’s next move prompts plenty of questions, then: what can the prospect gain by taking out Silva? How can he learn against a shopworn legend? And where will he find the motivation to tackle the 43-year-old? Aside from banging the drum for Adesanya, there seem to be few other reasons for the UFC to make the match.

However, the Nigerian-born kickboxer did tell Luke Thomas of MMA Fighting why he wants this fight. Silva is his hero, he said. His mirror image. He doesn’t ruminate over Silva’s two failed drugs tests either –the second of which the former middleweight king was cleared of any wrongdoing. As such, Adesanya is eager to test his skills against one of his inspirations, a man he’s built up in his head to almost mythical proportions.

Adesanya will also view Silva at UFC 234 as another hurdle on his quest to challenge the UFC middleweight champion, another New Zealander, Robert Whittaker. UFC 234, taking place in Melbourne, Australia, will likely be headlined by Whittaker against Kelvin Gastelum, so it would be wise for Adesanya to make a statement against Silva during a southern hemisphere showcase. Although Adesanya is at least two or three victories away from a title shot, a victory over Silva would make a lot of noise and keep the public debating that all-New Zealand showdown.

Furthermore, despite Adesanya’s superiority, he knows that whatever happens, a battle with Silva can’t fail to be exciting. A decorated kickboxer, the number six rated UFC middleweight can rest assured he’ll be able to flaunt his skills against Silva and keep it standing. The older man rarely attempts takedowns and even since his decline, he pushed Michael Bisping all the way in 2016 before losing a thriller on the cards.

To be fair to Adesanya –and who are we to judge how he plots his career?– he also told Thomas that his management tried to seal a contest against Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza for January. Jacare had to decline while recovering from his bruising victory over Wiedman at UFC 230, but he would have been the kind of opponent Adesanya and White had hoped for. A deadly purveyor of submissions, Jacare has far more cardio and weapons than Silva and could have provided Adesanya with an acid test.

First, though, while we must remember that Adesanya-Silva isn’t a done deal yet, it looks like Adesanya aims to add a little stardust to his ledger by defeating a former pound-for-pound leader. White and Adesanya have certainly hatched a bold plan by targeting Silva, and a small part of this author –deep, deep down in his reserves– is looking forward to seeing the pair dance together and trade on the feet. It grabs the attention and it demands the headlines –that’s for sure– but we should hope Adesanya steps up further after disposing of Silva.

This article originally appeared on The Runner Sports. Sample all of Alistair Hendrie's articles for the website here