UFC 194 – Conor McGregor says he wants to be a two-weight champ

UFC  194 – Conor McGregor says he wants to be a two-weight champUFC interim featherweight champion Conor McGregor has never lacked for confidence, and he isn’t just confident he can beat Jose Aldo for the featherweight title at UFC 194. In an interview with The Independent, the Irishman said that he also wants to put on some pounds and fight for the lightweight title as well.

“I hope Jose Aldo turns up this time,” McGregor said, referring to how Aldo begged off their scheduled match at UFC 189 due to a rib injury. “But even if he does, I can’t see him answering the bell for the second round. I can’t see his face or body sat the beginning of the second. I will KO him inside one, then go on and fight the winner of Rafael dos Anjos and Donald Cerrone for the lightweight belt. After the next two fights, I’ll be a two-weight champion.”

McGregor also stressed that his resilience is what will give him the edge over the injury-prone Aldo, who last fought at UFC 179 last October 2014, where he won over Chad Mendes. “I told (Aldo), ‘show up and I won’t target your body, I’ll hit you clean in the face’,” said McGregor. “He still didn’t show up! I showed up against Mendes (at UFC 189, where Mendes replaced Aldo) because I’m a beast. Nothing can stop me taking over the game. I’m carrying the UFC on my shoulders – and doing squats with it!”

UFC 194 takes place tonight at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, and will also feature Chris Weidman defending his middleweight title against Luke Rockhold in the semi-main event. Other fights on the card include Ronaldo Souza vs Yoel Romero in the middleweight division, Demian Maia vs Gunnar Nelson in welterweight, and Max Holloway vs Jeremy Stephens in featherweight. The Fox Sports 1 preliminary card will be highlighted by highly-ranked bantamweight Urijah Faber taking on Frankie Saenz.

LeSean McCoy says he’s not shaking Chip Kelly’s hand

LeSean McCoy says he’s not shaking Chip Kelly’s handThere doesn’t appear to be any love lost between Buffalo Bills running back LeSean McCoy and his former coach, Chip Kelly of the Philadelphia Eagles.

Speaking to Philadelphia media, reporters brought up the possibility that Kelly would shake McCoy’s hand ahead of the Bills vs Eagles game Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field. “Naahh. He knows that ain’t going to happen,” said McCoy, who ranks as the Eagles’ all-time rushing leader. “Y’all know that ain’t going to happen. We ain’t shakin’ no hands.” This came after a separate interview, where McCoy said that “Chip ain’t shaking [profanity]” in reference to the same statement from Kelly, which was made Wednesday with Buffalo-area media.

“What for? What we shaking hands for?,” McCoy added to the Philly reporters. “We don’t have nothing to shake hands for. There’s some dudes I played with, I’m going to shake their hands. (Eagles owner Jeffrey) Lurie – probably going to talk to Lurie a little bit. Couple different coaches. A lot of players over there I’m still tight with. I’m gonna give Duce (Staley, Eagles running backs coach) a big hug.”

McCoy wasn’t done making controversial comments, reiterating that he wasn’t sorry for his statements last spring, where he suggested Kelly may be a racist. Strangely, he said that he is “OK” with Kelly, adding that it is possible to be OK with a person but not want to shake their hand.

The press conference also had McCoy comparing former coach Kelly with current coach Rex Ryan. “They’re way different. Way, way different ,” he said. “I think it’s the small things. Rex is more worried about playing football. The way you wear your hat or the way you wear your jeans, or the different socks you wear, he don’t care about that. As long as a player does his job, he don’t care about that type stuff. He wants to win games. The rules for the team are to play with respect and to constantly play for the logo on the helmet. And that’s all he cares about.”

The World Cup of Fraud – FIFA Officials Accused of Assorted Forms of Skulduggery

The World Cup of Fraud – FIFA Officials Accused of Assorted Forms of SkulduggeryIn no uncertain terms, U.S. officials said that their ongoing investigation of FIFA is just starting, and that it will be aggressively chasing organization officials accused of different forms of corruption.

“These individuals and organizations engaged in bribery to decide who would televise games, where the games would be held, and who would run the organization overseeing organized soccer worldwide,” said U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, speaking to reporters earlier today.  She noted that several FIFA decisions were tainted by corruption, including 2010’s World Cup placement, 2011’s FIFA presidential elections, and a recent Brazilian national soccer team sponsorship that involved “a major U.S. sportswear company.”

“Around 2004, bidding began for the opportunity to host the 2010 World Cup, which was ultimately awarded to South Africa, the first time the tournament would be held on the African continent. But even for this historic event, FIFA executives and others corrupted the process by using bribes to influence the hosting decision,” explained Lynch, referring to the World Cup placement fiasco.  This was, however, denied by the South African Football Association, who said that it was “men of high integrity” that brought the World Cup to the country, including former Presidents Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki.  “The bidding process was never compromised,” added spokesman Dominic Chimhavi.

Multiple federal agencies are currently working with Lynch on the FIFA case, and some of the individuals looking into the probe definitely have clout.  One of these federal officials, IRS Criminal Investigation division head Richard Weber, quipped that they are dealing with the “World Cup of fraud,” and that they hope to issue FIFA a “red card” once they get to the bottom of things.  The FIFA officials in question are accused of taking bribes of over $150 million, providing kickbacks in exchange for “lucrative media and marketing rights” since the early ‘90s.

“The defendants fostered a culture of corruption and greed that created an uneven playing field for the biggest sport in the world,” said FBI Director James Comey, on a far more serious note than the aforementioned Weber. “Undisclosed and illegal payments, kickbacks and bribes became a way of doing business at FIFA.”

While current FIFA President Sepp Blatter was not named in the investigation, 14 other high-ranking officials are being charged by U.S. federal authorities.  According to a New York Times report, the officials include Eduardo Li, Jeffrey Webb, Eugenio Figueredo, Jack Warner, Julio Rocha, Costas Takkas, Rafael Esquivel, José Maria Marin, and Nicolás Leoz.  Officials believe Blatter’s chances of being reelected as president of the soccer governing organization would “depend on where the investigation goes from here.”

In a statement prepared and published on FIFA’s official website, Blatter said that corruption “has no place in football” and that the organization will “ensure that those who engage in it are put out of the game.”  He added that FIFA will “continue to work with the relevant authorities and we will work vigorously within FIFA in order to root out any misconduct, to regain your trust and ensure that football worldwide is free from wrongdoing.”

Cavs’ James Jones and LeBron James Are First Since ‘60s to Make NBA Finals Five Straight Times

Cavs’ James Jones and LeBron James Are First Since ‘60s to Make NBA Finals Five Straight Times

c/o Cleveland.com

One of these two Cleveland Cavaliers is undoubtedly a superstar, a former MVP winner and well on the road to becoming one of the greatest of all time.  The other is strictly a role player, someone whose main purpose is to come off the bench and fire away from long range.  The first player’s surname is the same as the second player’s first name, and by now you probably know whom we’re referring to – LeBron James and his backup, James Jones.  And they’re in the news now as the first players since Bill Russell and several Boston Celtics teammates from the 1960s to qualify for five straight NBA Finals.

There’s no need to tell you about how “King” James played a huge role in the Eastern Conference Finals, as he averaged close to a triple-double, leading the Cavs to a 4-0 sweep of the top-seeded Atlanta Hawks.  Jones, as usual, came off the bench to shoot three-pointers, and as we’ve seen from the 12-year NBA veteran, that skill of his is more evident in the postseason.  Both men were part of the Miami Heat from 2010 to 2014, as they qualified for the NBA Finals in all four seasons in that time span.  But the operative word here is qualified – Jones, while part of the Heat’s roster for the 2010-11 season, did not play in the 2011 Finals.

“I am aware (that the feat is an important part of NBA history) but I just count myself blessed and lucky to be a part of great teams, great organizations with guys that sacrifice,” said Jones, speaking to Fox Sports. “One thing about all these teams, though…one thing we’ve always said is that we’re not looking back until it’s done.”  Jones was signed as a free agent by the Cavaliers for the 2014-15 season, recommended by James as someone who could help the team as a reserve small forward.  This season, he averaged only 11.7 minutes per game and scored just 4.4 points.  But as a specialist, he shot 63-for-175 from the three-point line, with close to 90 percent of his field goal attempts in the regular season (201) coming from beyond the arc.

In a separate interview, James talked about how he hopes to lead Cleveland to this season’s NBA championship and attain the same success he achieved in the Finals with the Heat.  This is important as Cleveland has not won a major sports championship since 1964, a good two decades before he was born.  “I understood what these people were going through, the people here,” said James after Tuesday’s 118-88 drubbing of the Hawks. “Not only in Cleveland but Northeast Ohio and all over the world who love and bleed wine and gold. To be at this point tonight, it’s very emotional.”

All told, the five straight trips to the Finals are great for Jones and James, but none of that will matter unless the Cavaliers bring home the bacon for Cleveland and end a 51-year championship drought.  The Cavs will be facing the winner of the Western Conference Finals, which the Golden State Warriors currently lead, 3-1, over the Houston Rockets.

No Kyrie Irving, No Problem – Cavs Take 2-0 Lead with LeBron James at Point Guard

No Kyrie Irving, No Problem – Cavs Take 2-0 Lead with LeBron James at Point Guard

c/o Getty Images

LeBron James is widely regarded as one of the best-passing forwards in the NBA, but with star point guard Kyrie Irving sidelined with tendinitis, James took over as a point guard of sorts for the Cleveland Cavaliers, leading the Cavs to a low-scoring, yet dominant 94-82 win Friday over the host Atlanta Hawks in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals.

James was just one rebound shy of a triple-double, finishing with 30 points, nine boards, and 11 assists.  And he was on top of his game Friday night, directing traffic in a point guard role, even if he remained the starting small forward.  His first seven assists all led to three-pointers, while his eighth led to a Timofey Mozgov dunk.  All in all, it was James’ crisp and often spectacular passing, the Cavs’ three-point shooting, and their tough defense that gave them the easy win; Cleveland went 12-for-30 from long distance, and limited the Hawks to 42 percent shooting from the field.

“I’ve got a good vocabulary, but I’m sort of running out of superlatives for that guy. I’m going to let you think of something. You’re the writer,” said Cleveland Cavaliers head coach David Blatt, waxing eloquent about his franchise player. “He’s just a great basketball player. Everything more that you would add to that is probably better than I can say it.”

With Cleveland having beaten Atlanta twice on the road to start off the series, the onus is now on the Hawks, who trail 2-0 as the series heads to Cleveland for Games 3 and 4 and hope to avoid losing the Eastern finals despite being the top seed in the conference.  Teams that had lost their first two games in a best-of-seven series have only won 16 out of 268 times in NBA history.

Houston Rockets Stay Alive, Win Game 5 Against LA Clippers, 124-103

Houston Rockets Stay Alive, Win Game 5 Against LA Clippers, 124-103

c/o Bleacher Report

The Houston Rockets proved that they’ve still got a lot of fight in them in their ongoing Western Conference semifinals series against the Los Angeles Clippers.  Down 3-1 entering Wednesday night’s game at the Toyota Center, the Rockets did the home crowd proud, demolishing the Clippers to the score of 124-103.

Sunday night’s Game 4 encounter at the Staples Center was remembered for all the wrong reasons.  The host Clippers won the game by a blowout (128-95) margin, and with Houston taking aim at Clips center DeAndre Jordan, the Rockets thought it would be a good idea to keep fouling the center, knowing his struggles from the line.  Jordan would hit 14 out of a whopping 34 free throw attempts, going 10-for-28 in the first half alone, but at the end of the day, the Rockets’ strategy backfired.

Fortunately for Houston, the Rockets returned home last night to extend the Western Conference semis with a convincing rout that had little of the Hack-a-Dwight/Hack-a-DJ tactics of previous games.  In fact, Jordan suffered from foul trouble for most of the game, and it was his second foul with 4:24 left in the first quarter that had the Rockets taking advantage, and not turning back.  The 7-footer would pick up his third foul with 9:14 left in the third, and that would further allow the Rockets to keep pounding the paint and dominating the Clippers.

The Rockets drew a triple-double performance from James Harden (26 points, 10 rebounds, 11 assists), and also got good performances from Trevor Ariza (22 points), Dwight Howard (20 points, 15 rebounds), and Corey Brewer (15 points).  The L.A. Clippers were led by Blake Griffin (30 points, 16 rebounds) and Chris Paul (22 points, 10 assists), while Jordan had 13 points and 11 rebounds in only 24 minutes of play.

NBA – Atlanta Hawks Even Series with Washington Wizards with 106-101 Win

NBA – Atlanta Hawks Even Series with Washington Wizards with 106-101 Win

c/o Bleacher Report

Despite finishing the regular season as the top-seeded team in the Eastern Conference, the Atlanta Hawks have been mostly solid but unspectacular in the playoffs, which is not how you’d expect a No. 1 seed to play.  But last night, the Hawks stole a win from the Washington Wizards, beating the home team 106-101 and heading into Wednesday’s Game 5 at Atlanta with the series now even at 2-2.

“That’s how we play. That’s how we’ve been playing all year,” said Hawks forward Paul Millsap, who scored 19 points and added five rebounds and six assists in a brilliant all-around game. “Things we didn’t do, pretty much all series, we did tonight.”  The Hawks were led by Jeff Teague with 26 points, while Al Horford added 18 points and 10 rebounds.

“To me, personally, I think this is the best we’ve played all series,” said Millsap, who is recovering from a bout with the flu, one that forced Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer to leave him off the starting lineup in Game 3. “Thirty assists, the way we played defense, the way we stepped up, the way we helped each other, the way we moved the basketball, the way we set screens.”  Forward/guard Kyle Korver added that the Hawks “played with just a lot of juice, and a lot of energy, and a lot of purpose.”

The Wizards, who played without point guard John Wall for a third straight game, were led by Bradley Beal, who set a personal postseason scoring record with 34 points.  Veteran Paul Pierce, the hero of Washington’s tight Game 3 win, had 22, but missed a clutch three-pointer that would have tied the game with just 9.5 seconds remaining in the game.

Clippers vs Rockets – “Hack-a-Shaq” Strategy Might Not Work on Jordan, Howard

Clippers vs Rockets – "Hack-a-Shaq" Strategy Might Not Work on Jordan, HowardIt’s been a time-honored tradition for teams to foul one of their opponent’s top players (usually) in the dying minutes of a close game, especially if the player is a horrible free throw shooter.  Since the latter designation applied to Shaquille O’Neal for all his career, the strategy was so named “Hack-a-Shaq,” though there have been name variations in the years since O’Neal’s heyday.  But since the Los Angeles Clippers (DeAndre Jordan) and Houston Rockets (Dwight Howard) both have terrible foul shooters, we’re going to stick with “Hack-a-Shaq” when talking about this late-game strategy, and how it’s played a role in the ongoing Clippers-Rockets playoff series.

Interestingly, Rockets coach Kevin McHale had complained about the Clippers’ Hack-a-Dwight/Hack-a-Shaq tactics, as the team’s strategy to keep fouling Howard in Game 2 wasn’t able to give the Clips the win.  In Game 4, however, McHale had his charges do the exact same thing against the Clippers’ Jordan, but mainly in the first half; as a result, Jordan took a whopping 28 free throw attempts in the first half.  He finished the game with an abysmal 14-for-34 showing from the line, but once again, Hack-a-Shaq didn’t work.  In fact, the Rockets were trounced 128-95 by the Clippers, as Jordan had a standout game despite the lousy foul shooting – he had 26 points and 17 rebounds, while Howard finished with just six points and six rebounds in 18 minutes, missing most of the game due to foul trouble.

As it appears, Hack-a-Shaq doesn’t seem like a very smart strategy after all, and that was pointed out on separate op-eds on The New York Times and The Washington Post.  The former publication cited statistics from the 1963-64 NBA season onwards, saying that in games where a player had 25 or more free throw attempts, the team getting sent to the line the most had won 50 out of 74 games.  And while it can be said that a lot of those games were won by teams boasting of standouts like Michael Jordan or Charles Barkley – neither of whom had problems from the line – the Times op-ed said that the strategy hasn’t been effective either when used on teams with poor free throw shooters.

One need only look at Jordan and Howard, both of whom have had three games where they attempted 25 or more free throws.  In both cases, their respective teams won all those games.  And the “namer” of Hack-a-Shaq himself, Shaquille O’Neal, saw his teams go 4-1 when he attempted 25 or more foul shots.  In the case of Wilt Chamberlain, the late NBA legend’s teams only went 5-4 when “The Big Dipper” attempted 25 or more free throws, though The New York Times did point out one notable instance where a truly horrible free throw shooting game still ended up with Chamberlain’s team on top.

That took place on December 12, 1967, when Chamberlain’s Philadelphia 76ers beat the Seattle SuperSonics, 118-107.  The Sonics had sent Chamberlain to the line 25 times, and he ended up making just six of those free throws – good for a truly laughable 24 percent clip.  Still, the Sixers beat the Sonics even with Chamberlain bricking it up from the line, as guard Hal Greer made up for that by scoring 38 points.

So is it really a bad idea to go “Hack-a-Shaq”-ing, knowing that the strategy only works about a third of a time, based on the above figures?  Given those stats, including those from the Clippers-Rockets series, it just might be.

NBA Commish Gets Serious at All-Star Weekend Presser

NBA Commish Gets Serious at All-Star Weekend PresserThe 2015 NBA All-Star Weekend is a time for players to let it hang out and not think about wins and losses for the better part of a week.  But for NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, All-Star Weekend is as busy as ever, as it looks like Silver has some serious, if subtle plans for the NBA going forward.

Silver made his annual “state of the NBA” address Saturday, and according to the commissioner, there may be some changes made to certain aspects of the league, including its schedule, its playoff format, and its draft lottery system.  “Going into my second year, I recognize it’s time to take action on a lot of the things that we’ve been discussing extensively,” said Silver, adding that the NBA “can improve” with the changes he is planning to make.

The most significant change Silver proposed is a “drastic reduction” in the number of four-in-five schedules, or teams playing four games in the span of five nights.  He also hopes to see less back-to-back games in 2015-16, and in terms of money, Silver also proposed “additional television windows” and less hectic Thursday and Sunday night schedules.  In addition, Silver suggested potentially shortening the preseason, as “preseason games (aren’t) as valuable as they once were” in terms of player conditioning.

As for the draft lottery, the NBA’s current system has the worst team having a 25 percent chance of getting the top draft pick, and no chance of falling anywhere below the fourth pick.  Silver proposed reopening the possibility of the worst team having a mere 12 percent chance of a top overall selection, and a lowest possible draft ranking of seventh overall; this plan was previously rejected by owners.  “I don’t think the system isn’t as broken as some may suggest, but it’s going to require a tweak,” hinted Silver, who wants a scenario where teams “try to field the best possible team on the floor.”

Finally, Silver proposed a playoff system that is more equal for all 30 NBA teams, and while there were no specific plans mentioned, Sports Illustrated wrote that the NBA is mulling a scenario where, for example, winning teams like Oklahoma City and New Orleans (ninth and tenth respectively in the West), take part in the postseason due to their better records, rather than the East’s seventh and eighth-seeded teams at the moment, namely Charlotte and Miami.

Tom Brady’s Prize for Super Bowl MVP is 2015 Chevrolet Colorado

Tom Brady’s Prize for Super Bowl MVP is 2015 Chevrolet ColoradoOn Sunday, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady led his team to victory in a tight, exciting, and controversial 28-24 win over the Seattle Seahawks at Super Bowl XLIX.  For his brilliant efforts, the 37-year-old superstar won the Super Bowl MVP award, and that was topped off with another special prize – a new 2015 Chevrolet Colorado.

The Colorado’s history as a prize for sporting MVPs has been a bit, how shall you say it, comedic as of late.  Chevrolet has a long tradition of awarding new vehicles to World Series MVPs, and when the San Francisco Giants’ Madison Bumgarner won the award last year, Chevy regional manager Rikk Wilde made his now-infamous gaffe, stammering his way in a speech that had him talking about the Colorado’s “class-winning… and -leading…um, you know, technology and stuff.” But there was none of that for the four-time Super Bowl champ Brady as he was given the keys to the Colorado in the Super Bowl MVP awarding ceremony.

However, Brady didn’t get to keep the 2015 Colorado he was awarded.  According to the Boston Business Journal, the quarterback gave the truck to rookie cornerback Malcolm Butler, who earned his place in Super Bowl lore by intercepting Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson’s baffling pass on the Pats’ one-yard line.  Yes, that was a questionable play alright, but Butler does deserve credit for stepping up in the clutch and preventing what could have been a second straight Super Bowl win for the Seahawks.