Saturday, 20 October 2018

Sarri apologies to Mourinho after Ianni sparks touchline scuffle

By Alistair Hendrie

Maurizio Sarri has apologised to Manchester United after Chelsea assistant coach Marco Ianni celebrated his team’s 96-minute equaliser on Saturday by running past the visitors’ bench and pumping his fists.

Sarri, who brought Ianni with him from Napoli in the summer, condemned his assistant for provoking Jose Mourinho, who had to be held back by stewards and United staff in a touchline melee.

The Chelsea manager claimed he would speak to Ianni in private and was quick to accept the blame for a fracas which ended with players and staff from both teams in a scrum of pushing and shoving in front of the tunnel.

“I didn’t see anything on the pitch, but after the match I spoke with José and immediately understood that we are wrong,” Sarri said. “I have spoken with the member of my staff and then I bring him to speak with Mourinho to say sorry to him. I think it is finished. We made a mistake. We were in the wrong.”

“I have dealt with the situation immediately,” he said. “I have to speak to him again because I want to be sure he is able to understand that it was a big mistake. I have to view everything. Now the situation is between me and the staff face to-face.”

Ross Barkley secured a point for Sarri’s side, bringing the west Londoners back into the fold after two goals from Anthony Martial cancelled out Anthony Rudiger’s opener.

The hosts were good value for a point after dominating the first half and Chelsea now extend their record to one defeat in 17 against United at Stamford Bridge.

"We were in control, tactically - the result is really unfair for us” said Mourinho. “We conceded from two set-pieces, but that is a way to score goals and you have to be able to defend against that.

Discussing the touchline scuffle, he added: "It is not my reaction, it is Sarri's assistant. He was very impolite but Sarri took care of the situation. They have both apologised to me. I accept. For me, the story is over.”

Chelsea took the lead after 20 minutes when Anthony Rudiger leapt unchallenged by the penalty spot to nod in Wilian’s out-swinging corner. Although Rudiger connected with authority, Paul Pogba was at fault for losing his man.

However, Martial’s double turned things in United’s favour in the second half as the forward scored against Chelsea for the first time in his career.

The French international netted his first with 54 minutes gone, killing a loose ball with his thigh and half-volleying in from 18 yards out. He earned his brace just over twenty minutes later, nudging Marcus Rashford’s pass out of his feet and slotting inside the far post from a similar distance to his equaliser.

Barkley, substituted on for Mateo Kovacic, pulled the home side level by converting a rebound in a mad scramble during which David Luiz hit the post and Rudiger had an initial rebound saved.

Sarri added: "We have played very well in the first hour but then we have played the match of United - a physical match, and United are better than us in a physical match. I am disappointed with the last 30 minutes. We could win but at the end one point is enough.

To read more of Alistair Hendrie's work, buy his Kindle book, Fight Game: The Untold Story of Women's MMA in Britain

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Commission Should Slam Khabib Nurmagomedov After UFC 229 Brawl

By Alistair Hendrie

Khabib Nurmagomedov has to deal with the consequences of his part in Saturday’s brawl at UFC 229. After submitting Conor McGregor to keep his lightweight title, the Russian lost his mind and leapt out of the cage, attacking McGregor’s teammate Dillon Danis and causing an ugly melee of pushing and shoving and punching and kicking, all in plain view of Nevada State Athletic Commission representatives, UFC top brass, broadcast colleagues, and the watching world. The 30-year-old’s father Abdulmanap, a ruthless disciplinarian, has already condemned his son’s actions, and now it’s up to the NSAC to make an example of Nurmagomedov and punish him accordingly.

UFC president Dana White, speaking to TMZ Sports, claimed the NSAC should fine the titlist $250,000 –around an eighth of his $2m purse– and suspend him for between four and six months. The fine seems about right, but the suspension isn’t enough.

After all, Nurmagomedov aimed a volley of strikes at another man, something which could have left him in jail if this occurred on the streets. He initiated a fracas involving perhaps 20 to 30 people, and with such bad blood between the two competitors, not to mention both sets of boozy fans, the last thing the event needed was more animosity and the heightened potential for skirmishes in the crowd. Frankly, Nurmagomedov made a foolish mistake –completely out of character, I might add– and left a black mark on his and the UFC’s brand.

Furthermore, this is a guy who has fought only five times since dominating Rafael dos Anjos in April 2014. Although the NSAC is unlikely to consider Numagomedov’s level of activity in the octagon when handing out its punishment –why should it?– the guilty party wouldn’t shoulder the burden of his actions with a ban of four to six months. The sambo specialist needs to discover that what he did was a disgrace and in light of that, a suspension of nine months or so would be adequate.

That kind of ban, just over double what White proposed, would force Nurmagomedov and the rest of the roster to sit up and take notice. It would help the commission state that, if ever it needed to, vaulting out of the fighting space and attacking members of an athlete’s camp –hell, anyone for that matter– is in fact not OK. There’s no place in the sport for that kind of behaviour and the commission needs to underline that sentiment.

Once the NSAC deals with Nurmagomedov, what else could the UFC do? White told TMZ Sports that he’d consider stripping the 155 lbs linchpin if the ban is lengthy enough, but he also said at the UFC 229 post-fight press conference that he’s reluctant to add to any punishment that the NSAC might administer.

That’s a bit contradictory when you look back to when Paul Daley sucker punched Josh Koscheck after their grudge match at UFC 113 in 2010. Back then, White slammed, shunned, and threw Daley out of the UFC with no questions asked. Still, you’d be a fool to think that the UFC doesn’t thrive upon drama and weighty numbers, and you’re living a lie if you think the UFC has enough balls to kick Nurmgomedov out.

By dropping Nurmagomedov, they’d lose out on plenty of pay-per-view buys. He grinds for the finish, he’s improving as a trash talker, and added to that, most importantly, he’s one of the pound-for-pound best fighters in the world in the most exciting weight class in the sport.

Nurmagomedov will live to regret his decisions at the weekend, though, whatever punishment he receives. He’ll have to bear the brunt of the NSAC while his father will also offer him a shellacking for making a mockery of the humble and respectful values his family drilled into him as a young Muslim. None of this is to say that the winner of UFC’s 229’s main event was the only man at fault –Conor McGregor punched one of Nurmagomedov’s camp during the chaos– but it’s time for Nurmagomedov to swallow his pride and accept whatever reprimand is coming his way.

This article originally appeared on The Runner Sports. Check out Alistair Hendrie's back catalogue of writing for The Runner Sports here

Monday, 1 October 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.

October 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) (+1)
7 – TJ Dillashaw (USA) (135lbs) (-1)
8 – Khabib Nurmagomedov (RUS) (155lbs)
9 – Henry Cejudo (USA) (125lbs)
10 – Tony Ferguson (USA) (155lbs)
11 – Jose Aldo (BRA) (145lbs)
12 – Cody Garbrandt (USA) (135lbs)
13 – Rafael dos Anjos (BRA) (170lbs)
14 – Dustin Poirier (USA) (155lbs)
15 – Yoel Romero (CUB) (185lbs)
16 – Robbie Lawler (USA) (170lbs)
17 – Dominic Cruz (USA) (135lbs)
18 – Brian Ortega (USA) (145lbs)
19 – Stephen Thompson (USA) (170lbs)
20 – Frankie Edgar (USA) (145lbs)
21 – Kevin Lee (USA) (155lbs)
22 – Kamaru Usman (NIG) (170lbs)
23 – Francis Ngannou (FRA) (265lbs)
24 – Marlon Moraes (BRA) (135lbs)
25 – Gegard Mousasi (NED) (185lbs) (NE)

October 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 – Barb Honchak (USA) (125lbs)
17 – Felice Herrig (USA) (115lbs)
18 – Cynthia Calvillo (USA) (115lbs)
19 – Germaine de Randamie (NED) (145lbs)
20 – Alexis Davis (CAN) (125lbs)
21 – Julliana Pena (USA) (135lbs)
22 – Angela Lee (CAN) (105lbs)
23 – Sara McMann (USA) (135lbs)
24 – Jennifer Maia (BRA) (125lbs)
25 – Liz Carmouche (USA) (125lbs) (NE)

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

Wonderkid Tenshin remains undefeated, edges Horiguchi at Rizin 13

By Alistair Hendrie

If ever you ever thought Tenshin Nasukawa was all style and no substance, you might feel differently after he toughed out Kyoji Horiguchi in the Rizin 13 main event on Sunday. The flamboyant youngster backed up his undefeated record with a unanimous decision over the MMA star and it’s no surprise he attracted 27,208 attendees on the night –a promotional record. Here, though, he showed guts and character that belied his booming profile and media empire.

The 20-year-old was outworked in the first frame and almost lost a point in the second when he hit Horiguchi low with a thwack that reverberated around Japan’s Saitama Arena. A rally at the death then helped Tenshin earn tallies of 30-29, 29-28, and 30-28.

Round one was a blur of quickfire striking as Horiguchi connected with overhand punches while Tenshin responded in kind with kicks to the calves and head. The drama continued in round two as Tenshin was warned for his low blows. Sensing he was in trouble, the favorite pulled the trigger for the first time, firing a salvo of high kicks and spinning attacks that barely missed the mark. Still, he’d stamped his authority. He’d reminded Horiguchi that kickboxing was his domain.

Tenshin saved his best for last as he finished the deciding round with a rolling thunder kick, following up with punches to the torso and abdomen that sent Horiguchi wobbling towards the ropes. Although the one-time ISKA, DEEP, and RISE titlist had done enough for his 28th professional victory, it’s fair to say the rest are getting closer. Tenshin outscored Rodtang Jitmuangnon by a hair’s breadth in June and this was just as tense.

Miyuu Yamamoto secured an emotional victory in the atomweight co-main event, outpointing Andy Nguyen 12 days after the passing of her brother Kid Yamamoto, one of the greatest lighter-weight fighters of all-time. Yamamoto was in control from start to finish, taking it to the ground and staying patient on top, punching around the guard and keeping her head and arms out of danger.

Mirko Cro Cop, one of the best heavyweight strikers to ever do it, scored a first-round TKO over Roque Martinez, slashing his foe open with an elbow that ended the show. At 44, Cro Cop aims to retire after competing at Rizin’s New Year’s Eve event, potentially against Czech light-heavyweight Jiri Prochazka. Prochazka also won on Sunday, stopping Jake Heun in round one after a rally of malicious boxing.

Two other big men, super-heavyweights Bob Sapp and Osunaarashi, fought to a hilarious standstill with Sapp earning a decision for his first MMA triumph in seven years. Osunaarashi opened with a cluster of hooks and hammer fists around the guard but as both competitors tottered into exhaustion, the match became a glorified staring contest with both men plodding around the ring and gasping for air. Sapp’s wild hooks, thrown without a trace of speed or disguise, just about got him the W.

Elsewhere Deep strawweight king Haruo Ochi stopped Pancrase titlist Mitsuhisa Sunabe in three, closing matters with a body-head combination and soccer kicks. Lightweight Daron Cruickshank put an end to Diego Brandao in two, punishing the Brazilian’s takedown entry with a flying knee that marks his fourth consecutive stoppage.

There was also reason for the Asakura brothers to celebrate, as Kai and Mikuru both savored wins over Tiger Muay Thai competition. Kai, the 24-year-old bantamweight, won every session against Topnoi Tiger Muay Thai, while Mikuru, the 25-year-old featherweight, racked up a unanimous decision over Karshyga Dautbek.

Finally, Manel Kape choked out Yusaku Nakamura in round three of their 130 lbs clash, Ayaka Hamasaki submitted Mina Kurobe in round one of their super-atomweight dust-up, and Taiga Kawabe and Kento Haraguchi drew their 130 lbs kickboxing meeting.

Click here to take in a selection of Alistair Hendrie's work on MMA for The Runner Sports, where he writes blogs, reports and previews

This article was orignally posted on The Runner Sports

Saturday, 29 September 2018

Rizin aims to bounce back with Tenshin-Horiguchi superfight

By Alistair Hendrie

Three years after its first event, Rizin Fighting Federation finds itself in choppy waters and it’s time for Nobuyuki Sakakibara’s Japanese promotion to sink or swim. Ahead of Sunday’s Rizin 13 event at Tokyo’s Saitama Arena, broadcast partners FujiTV are pressuring Sakakibara to deliver strong ratings after Rizin 12 failed to attract half of its target in August. Thankfully, the Japanese CEO has an ace up his sleeve for Sunday: a 127lbs kickboxing main event between 20-year-old wonderkid Tenshin Nasukawa and American Top Team knockout artist Kyoji Horiguchi.

Sakakibara’s decision to place Nasukawa in the main event is a wise one when you consider the crossover appeal and thrilling fighting style of the prodigy simply known as “Tenshin.” If you’ve never watched a Tenshin fight before, expect the unexpected: lead jumping knees, cartwheel kicks and rolling thunders are all on the agenda.

During his meeting with Yusaku Nakamura at Rizin 10 in May, Tenshin corkscrewed in mid-air and smashed his heel into his opponent’s mouth, decking him in the process. Moments later, he glided through the air again, whittling down the distance, and secured a knockout with a flying knee. It’s that kind of athleticism and vocabulary of striking that’s making American media sit up and take notice.

What’s more, there’s a method to his madness – having cut his teeth in the stand-up amateurs with a record of 99-5, he made his professional kickboxing bow at 15 and remains undefeated after 27 pro bouts. That ledger includes upsets over foes such as Wanchalong and Suakim Sit.Sor.Thor.Taew and due to his magnetism and reputation, he’s now one of few Rizin competitors to earn live coverage on FujiTV.

Sakakibara will be all too aware of Tenshin’s skyrocketing fame. The kid’s already a superstar. Think LeBron James in the States or David Beckham in England. In 2017 Tenshin inked a sponsorship deal with the Japanese video game developer Cygames. To put that into context, Cygames also sponsors European football giants Juventus, showing the level of company Brand Tenshin now competes in.

Yet despite his array of magazine features and social media followers – not forgetting his reality TV show on AbemaTV – Tenshin remains grounded and practically lives at Teppen Gym, Matsudo, watched closely by father-turned-coach Hiroyuki. The fresh-faced star won’t be getting carried away with fame and fortune just yet and that will come as a relief to Nobuyuki.

Every superfight needs two dance partners though and Horiguchi, 27, is more than a big enough name to step in. Since leaving the UFC for Rizin in 2017, the Florida-based Gunma native has become Japan’s top MMA fighter (Tenshin focuses on kickboxing despite a 4-0 record in MMA) after a streak of seven victories featuring five finishes.

Think back to Rizin 10, when Horiguchi’s counter hook detonated on Ian McCall’s chin, folding the American in half after nine seconds. Remember, too, in 2017, how he won the Rizin bantamweight grand prix in the dying embers of round three, sinking in an arm-triangle choke against Manuel Kape. Horiguchi might have struggled for rhythm during his verdict over Hiromasa Ogikubo at Rizin 11 in July, but which other 135lb’er holds a more dominant run of stoppages? The UFC’s most powerful bantamweights – TJ Dillashaw and John Lineker – certainly don’t.

However, although Sakakibara is shrewd to make this match-up, Tenshin is a world class kickboxer with a decade of amateur and professional competition –Horiguchi, in short, is nowhere near that standard of kickboxing.

Having taken up karate as a schoolboy, Tenshin fights with a degree of maturity and efficiency beyond his years, holding his left mitt by his temple and his right in front of his chin. He excels in throwing three or four counters at the same speed his rivals throw one, but it’s the way he evades attacks which is almost more impressive. With an air of arrogance, he leans back and watches the strikes slice through the air as they miss their targets by inches. 

Then there’s his work going forward. He picks his strikes beautifully, hammering out jabs, high kicks and uppercuts with no wind-up. Once he senses a finish, he doesn’t let up either. He’ll break opponents down with a head-body salvo of punches and as soon as the recipient begins to double up, he’ll shatter their equilibrium with a knee up the middle.

Tenshin’s closing of range and ability to block, parry and deflect strikes on the inside makes him an overwhelming favourite here. Horiguchi is quick, of course, but his low guard and loose frame look like a recipe for disaster against Tenshin. Of course, although Horiguchi has fought in kickboxing, it’s difficult to assess his credentials in the discipline because he very rarely competes under these rules. 

In that sense the pick is for Tenshin to sap Horiguchi’s spirit by the middle of the second frame and stop him after a series of knockdowns. The favourite, a former child prodigy, benefits from laser-guided focus that will help him avoid complacency against an inferior opponent. If anything, Tenshin is getting better, so all the signals point to a flamboyant display and a violent finish.

From Sakakibara’s point of view this is the ideal spectacle to convince the sceptics and win over the broadcast partners. A Tenshin win would further justify the hype, whereas a Horiguchi success would be one of the biggest upsets in combat sports history, thereby making the UFC look even sillier for dropping him last year. Whatever happens, an all-Japanese crunch match could be just what Rizin needs to get itself out of a rut.

To explore more of Alistair Hendrie's writing on the global MMA scene, buy his Kindle book, Fight Game: The Untold Story of Women's MMA in Britain

This article was originally posted on The Runner Sports