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Athletes Unlimited Raises $30 Million From Kevin Durant, Other Investors

Athletes Unlimited—a network of sports women’s basketball, lacrosse, volleyball and softball leagues—is about to become even unlimited-er. Today, AU announced that they have raised $30 million from a group of investors that includes Kevin Durant and Rich Kleiman’s Thirty Five Ventures, David Blitzer, Angela Ruggiero, Salil Seshadri and Keith Meister. The early investors are led by Schusterman Family Investments, an investment group focused on promoting social justice.

“These investors share our vision and our ambition to not only reimagine professional sports, but also to rethink the way a business can – and should – show up in the world,” said Jonathan Soros, Athletes Unlimited co-founder. “The growth of AU has far exceeded my expectations over its first two years.  The addition of these strategic investors will only add to the energy and resources available to fuel further growth.”

Even before this recent windfall, AU has rapidly grown since its inception in 2020. Originally launched as just a softball league, AU added a volleyball league in 2021 and then basketball and lacrosse leagues this year. In particular, AU’s basketball league has been a major success, giving WNBA players a chance to play in America during their offseason. As such WNBA stars such as Kelsey Mitchell, Natasha Cloud and Lexie Brown headlined AU’s basketball league in its inaugural campaign. 

Beyond ushering in an exciting new generation of professional female sports, AU is a reimagining of what a sports league can be, empowering athletes as stakeholders rather than mere employees. Whereas the NBA or NFL are ruled by cartels of billionaires and business interests, AU athletes are integral participants in the operations of their respective leagues. Accordingly, each league is run by a Player Executive Committee and there’s athlete representation on the company’s board of directors. Most radical, the players themselves share in AU’s long-term profits. 

“We have been advisors for AU since the very beginning,” said Durant, “and we’re excited to be a part of this capital raise. Athletes Unlimited is at the forefront of women’s sports and an inspiration for how sports leagues can thrive with an athlete-first business model,” 

“Every pro sports league should take note of what AU is doing,” said Kleiman,” especially the pathway for athletes to have a financial stake in their own leagues.” 

Currently, AU is in its offseason, with the five-week softball season concluding just last month. The games will pick back up sometime in the winter, beginning with AU’s 2023 basketball season. As part of a multi-year, multi-sport deal that was announced in April, select games across all four sports will be broadcast on ESPN and ESPN2 while every contest will be available on ESPN+. 

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Sports

Chase Dollander is the Ace of the Future

There are lots of pitchers like Chase Dollander—besides the fact that there are only a handful of living people who can pitch as well as Chase Dollander. The ace of the University of Tennessee’s title-contending baseball team and the early favorite to be the top arm selected in the 2023 MLB Draft, Dollander is the prototypical modern starting pitcher.

His upper-90s fastball is ginormous—it was among the 25 best heaters in all of college baseball last season, according to Mason McRae’s stuff+ metric (a proprietary stat that grades pitches based on their velocity and movement profile); his slider comes in different shapes, either as a put-away pitch with the biting, downward shape of a cotangent line or a rounder, loopier version that he can sneak in for a strike. Unlike most young flamethrowers, the right-handed Dollander has even integrated multiple offspeed pitches into his mix, attacking lefties with changeups and even peppering in a few curveballs for good measure.

While Dollander is impressive qualitatively, he’s somehow even more dominant from a quantitative perspective. Last season, Dollander became the first Volunteer to win SEC Pitcher of the Year since Luke Hochevar did in 2005. And he did it as a sophomore. In his first year in the SEC. As the best pitcher in the NCAA, Dollander went 10-0 with a 2.39 ERA and 12.3 strikeouts per nine innings; in other words, he was college baseball’s equivalent of Jacob DeGrom, except he had a better record. 

On the mound, Dollander pitches with the kind of Trackman-optimized high-velocity, high-movement style that’s taken over MLB. Off the field, he’s capitalized on NIL to grow as a player. In this sense, Dollander is a uniquely 2022 figure, a confluence of the major trends that have defined modern baseball. Last month, Dollander sat down with ONE37pm to talk about his novel approach to NIL deals and what it means to be the new face of college baseball. 

ONE37pm: What do you look for when you partner with a brand?

Chase Dollander: I’m pretty much just focused on companies and brands that contribute to my health and performance. I want brands that will invest in me so I can invest in myself to be the best I can be. It’s about making sure that my body is right for the next day or the next game or the next start.

ONE37pm: What’s an example of an NIL deal that’s helped you do that?

Chase Dollander: I’m really excited to work with Therabody, which makes physical therapy “guns” and compression systems that help with muscle recovery. They’ve given me the tools so I can make sure that my body is feeling right whether I’m at home or on the road.  Another one that I’m pretty excited to work with is Six Star Pro Nutrition and we’re working on finalizing a deal with them and that’s basically going to give me the ability to address the nutritional side of our performance and recovery.

ONE37pm: What do you think clicked for you last season?

Chase Dollander: It’s cliche, but it’s 100% true that it really helps to have incredible teammates and coaches around me and know those people are all working for the same goal. It motivates you to become not just a better player, but also a better person. Other than that, I don’t know if anything really “clicked” so much as I have continued to mature and get stronger and improve my pitch repertoire. But really, it’s been huge for me to be part of such a great program at Tennessee with great coaches and great teammates. It’s a great environment to come to the yard and compete every day to pursue the common goal of a national championship.

When did you realize you were as there any moment last year when you realized people were really attuned to the fact that you were doing something special? 

Chase Dollander: It was more a feeling of seeing all the hard work starting to pay off. It really takes a lot of hard work to be able to do what we do. As an athlete, it’s really nice to be able to see that come to fruition. But, yeah, I wouldn’t really say it was like one single moment where I saw something on Twitter or Instagram or anything. There’s more of an internal feeling of internal affirmation that my efforts are being noticed. 

After getting upset by Notre Dame in the Super Regional last year, do you worry if you’ll be able to play with the same swagger and confidence as last year?

Chase Dollander: I don’t think it’ll be an issue, to be to be honest with you. I mean, we’re still stuck on that same goal and that’s to win a national championship. All we can do is take it one day, one practice. even one hour at a time and put our all of our focus and energy into becoming better baseball players and a better baseball team. The locker room is like one big family and when everybody has the same goal, it automatically creates that energy and that passion that everybody sees.

ONE37pm: How do you balance your long-term goals (staying healthy, making it to the Majors) with your short-term goals (pitching as much as possible and winning a national title)?

Chase Dollander: I try to stay focused on the present. You can’t really look too far into the future—if you do, you’re gonna kind of mess yourself up in your head and not really be able to engage with the present moment. You have to commit to the process of being the absolute best that you can be every day. And if you do that, the future just takes care of itself.

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Sports

The Best NFL Week 4 DFS Picks on Draftkings

Traditional, season-long fantasy football gives you the opportunity to prove that you’re a smarter and better person than your dearest friends, but daily fantasy sports offers an even stronger incentive: cash. This isn’t financial advice, but here are the ONE37pm NFL Week 4 DFS picks. 

(Note: all prices listed are for Draftkings)

NFL Week 4 DFS Picks: Quarterbacks

High: Josh Allen ($8400)

Josh Allen is probably the best quarterback in the NFL and he’s playing maybe the worst secondary in the NFL. The Bills-Ravens matchup has the total of any game on Sunday’s slate and the bulk of the Bills’ points and yardage will come from Allen.

Middle: Russell Wilson ($6700)

He can’t possibly continue to be this bad, right? In Seattle, Wilson was among the most elite quarterbacks, but Mr. Unlimited seems oddly limited in Denver. Still, a game against the winless Las Vegas Raiders represents an opportunity for Wilson to get back on track, since the Raiders have seemingly neither the pass-rushing nor secondary talent to trouble Wilson and the Broncos.

Value: Geno Smith ($5400)

Geno Smith—pretty good! Save for a Week 2 clunker against the 49ers, Smith has performed as well as anybody could have reasonably hoped, leading the league in completion percentage and ranking tenth in QBR. If not for the lingering stench of getting his face broken by a teammate over $600, Smith would be considerably more celebrated for how he’s played this season. For DFS players looking to load up on FLEX talent, Smith is a great low-cost QB option.

NFL Week 4 DFS Picks: Running Backs

High: Nick Chubb ($7900)

On a carry by carry basis, Chubb is the best runner in the NFL. He may not have Jonathan Taylor’s big-play ability or Derrick Henry’s tank-iness, but he’s a near-perfect combination of quickness, size and smarts. With the Browns terrified of letting Jacoby Brisset do too much, Chubb has finally received the workload and role commensurate with his ability. And, this week, he has a plum matchup against a beatable Atlanta defense.

Middle: Khalil Herbert ($5700) /Jamaal Williams ($6100)

If David Montgomery is sidelined this week, play Khalil Herbert. If De’Andre Swift can’t suit up, play Jamaal Williams. And if neither Montgomery nor Swift are available, then play both Herbert and Williams. These two are the classic “handcuff” backs who can provide RB1 production when given the chance, but are still available at RB2 prices. 

Value: Rashaad Penny ($4900)

Despite the presence of second round draft pick Kenneth Walker III, Penny is still the clear lead guy in the Seahawks’ backfield; last week, he played 69% of Seattle’s snaps. This week, Penny should assume an even bigger portion as pass-catching back  Travis Homer is now on the IR. While Penny hasn’t recaptured the torrid form that made him a fantasy darling at the end of last season, he’s the lowest priced of any legitimate starting running back, so that alone makes him worth considering. 

NFL Week 4 DFS Picks: Wide Receivers

High: Stefon Diggs ($8400)

To quote Diggs, Diggs is him. He’s really good. Look for any receiving stat and odds are he’s near the top. If you can make it work, an Allen-Diggs stack sounds mighty appealing.

Middle: Courtland Sutton ($6700)

As Russell Wilson’s go-to option in Denver, Sutton is a football magnet, receiving 28 targets over the first three games. In an offense that often seems disjointed and confused, Sutton has been the lone consistent bright spot, beating cornerbacks with his savviness and physicality. Once the touchdowns start coming (and we’re assuming they’ll start coming), Sutton could be one of the top performing wideouts available. 

Low: Richie James Jr. ($4000)

Now that Sterling Shepherd is out with a torn ACL, somebody has to catch passes for the Giants. It might as well be Richie James Jr.

NFL Week 4 DFS Picks: Tight Ends

High: Mark Andrews ($7100)

With Travis Kelce playing on Sunday night, Mark Andrews is the clear top dog for the main Sunday slate. Once again, Baltimore seems poised to engage in a shootout and Andrews is Lamar Jackson’s favorite target. To hang with the Bills, the Ravens are going to have to let the ball fly—preferably, they’ll let it fly right to Mark Andrews.

Middle: Dallas Goedert ($4500)

Even if Goedert’s ceiling is lowered by the collective goodness of the Eagles’ offense, he’s still incredibly productive while wrestling with AJ Brown, De’vonta Smith, Jalen Hurts and Miles Saunders for touches. He’s either gone for over 60 yards or scored a touchdown in all three games so far. 

Low: Jelani Woods ($2500)

Admittedly, I only learned last Sunday who Woods is. But last Sunday, Woods emerged as the Colts’ savior, catching two touchdown passes, including the game winner. Now that the Colts’ receivers are healthy, it’s unlikely that they’ll draw up plays in the red zone for Woods again, but you never know!

NFL Week 4 DFS Picks: D/ST

High: Green Bay Packers ($4100)

This may seem a bit rich for a defense, but there’s a non 0% chance that the Packers make Bill Belichick retire at halftime.

Middle: Denver Broncos ($2700)

Over their last 10 quarters of football, the Broncos have given up a grand total of 19 points, making them quietly a top defense in the NFL.

Low: New England Patriots ($2300)

Belichick is tricky and the Packers’ offense isn’t exactly overflowing with talent. The Pats have a real chance to drag this game into the muck.

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Sports

Week 4 NFL Power Rankings: Fins Up! Bears Down!

Is Lamar Jackson the best dual threat quarterback in NFL history? Is he MVP? Is he him? After setting the AFC East alight in his first three games, the 2019 MVP is off to a torrid start. Find out the answer to these questions—and more!—in our unimpeachably correct Week 4 NFL Power Rankings. 

1. Philadelphia Eagles, 3-0 (+2 spots from last week)

The only possible knock against the undefeated Philadelphia Eagles is that they’ve beaten up on below-average competition, stacking wins against non-contenders like the Detroit Lions and Washington Commanders. This, of course, ignores that the Eagles are loaded. Their offensive line is the best in the NFL and quarterback Jalen Hurts looks like an early MVP favorite. Pick any metric and the Eagles will probably rank towards the top: they lead the NFL in yards and rank seventh in yards allowed; they score the most points per drive and allow the 5th fewest. Going forward, the Eagles should be heavily favored in every game until they host the Green Bay Packers in Week 12. 

2. Miami Dolphins, 3-0 (+3 from last week)

Through three games, the Dolphins have beaten the greatest coach of all time, the 2019 MVP and the presumptive favorite to win the 2022 MVP. After showing off their offensive explosiveness against the Ravens in Week 2, the Dolphins upset the Buffalo Bills 21-19 in Week 3 by tightening the screws on defense. Thanks to lockdown cornerbacks Xavier Howard and Byron Jones each erasing a side of the field, the Dolphins put a lid on the Bills’ offense by deploying two-high safety looks and daring Josh Allen to dink and dunk down the field. It worked so thoroughly that not even a butt punt could derail Miami’s rapid ascent up the Week 4 NFL Power Rankings.

3. Buffalo Bills, 2-1 (-2)

After buffaloing (this is a clever pun, shut up) the Rams and Titans to open the season, the Bills met their match in Miami, losing 19-21 to the Dolphins. Still, the Bills looked dominant in defeat: they doubled up the Dolphins in yardage (497 to 212), first downs (31-15), plays (90 to 39) and time of possession (40:40 to 19:12).  While they have a tough schedule over the next few weeks, it’s only a matter of time before the Bills go back to smashing their opponents rather than their Microsoft Surface tablets

4. Baltimore Ravens, 2-1 (+3)

Lamar Jackson leads the NFL in passing touchdowns and rushing yards per carry. He’s one of the five best passers and five best runners in the NFL, a kind of two-way greatness that makes him the quarterback equivalent of Shohei Ohtani. It doesn’t matter that the Ravens’ secondary is an ongoing forest fire or that his receivers are just guys; Lamar Jackson’s got this. 

5. Kansas City Chiefs, 2-1 (-3)

Entering the week, the Chiefs looked like inner-circle Super Bowl contenders. Patrick Mahomes had voltroned his ragtag receiver group into something bigger than the sum of its parts, maximizing his pass catchers’ strengths while hiding their weaknesses. In their first two games, they demolished the Cardinals and then squeaked by the Chargers, demonstrating that they can win playing a variety of styles. And then, this week, they lost to the Colts, who just last week were shutout by the Jaguars. Football is weird.

6. Green Bay Packers, 2-1 (no change from last week)

The Packers play like a team that doesn’t realize it has Aaron Rodgers. In their 14-12 slugfest win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Green Bay leaned on their stout defense once their offense stalled out for the game’s final 40 minutes. Although Rodgers isn’t quite able to summon the same level of greatness that he did the last two years, he’s an expert game manager who has shown burgeoning chemistry with rookie wideout Romeo Doubs (eight catches, 73 yards and a tuddie versus Tampa Bay). And with an elite defense and running back committee behind him, that’s more than enough. 

7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 2-1 (-3)

The defense is terrifying and made of knives. The offense should be too, if their receivers can get healthy and Tom Brady can bully his interior offensive linemen into being good. A 14-12 loss to the Packers is proof of how good the Bucs can be, but also how a combination of injuries and personnel can and will hold them back if left unremedied. 

8. Minnesota Vikings, 2-1 (+3)

Ok, Justin Jefferson isn’t actually going to be the first receiver to break the 2000 yard mark and single-handedly win me my fantasy league, but the Vikings stack up with just about anybody in the NFC. The offense is deep with enough weaponry to compensate for Kirk Cousins’ Kirk Cousins-iness; the defense is bookended by two stud pass rushers in Danielle Hunter and Za’Darius Smith. The playoffs are well within reach—and Minnesota is likely gunning for even more. 

9. Los Angeles Rams, 2-1 (no change)

Ever since acquiring Matt Stafford before last season, the Rams have been a pass first team, and understandably so. Stafford and Cooper Kupp are awesome! On Sunday, though, they dusted off a rushing attack that’s been largely toothless since Todd Gurley’s knees were devoured by arthritis, rushing for five yards per carry and two touchdowns against the Cardinals. Most promising, inconsistent third year back Cam Akers showed signs of life for the first time this season, earning 61 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries. While Stafford and the non-Cooper Kupp receivers muddle through a chemistry-less first quarter of the season, a revitalized running game could be a boon for the defending champs. 

10. Denver Broncos, 2-1 (+2)

This is either the worst good team in the NFL or the best bad one. Either way, the Broncos are 2-1, although they’ve played probably a grand total of 12 good minutes across their three games. For the first 50 minutes of the Broncos’s 11-10 victory against the 49ers, Russell Wilson offense looked incredibly impotent, racking up nine three-and-outs. Fortunately, the defense looks stout and the punt team downs balls inside the 20 like gangbusters. Going forward, Nathaniel Hackett has delegated time-telling and clock-reading duties to a super special assistant coach, freeing more time for him to work with the offense. More exposure to Nathaniel Hackett is probably not a good thing for Wilson and friends.

11. Los Angeles Chargers, 1-2 (-1)

Despite entering the season as the darling of the football nerderatti, the Chargers have kinda stunk. Justin Herbert can’t breathe without wheezing like a harmonica and their vaunted defense has been decimated by injuries to Joey Bosa and JC Jackson. Worse, stud left tackle Rashawn Slater is out for the season with a torn bicep. Their 10-38 ass-whooping against the Jaguars dropped Justin Herbert’s career winning percentage to 45.7% worse than Baker Mayfield or Mitchell Trubisky. 

12. San Francisco 49ers, 1-2 (-3)

The 9ers would be the best team in the NFL if their quarterback were somebody better than Jimmy Garrapolo. If their loss to the Broncos in a 10-11 slopfest is any indication for what the rest of the season, it’d be a shame if this gorgeous himbo harpoons the primes of All-Pro stars like Fred Warner, Nick Bosa, George Kittle, Trent Williams, Arik Armstead and Deebo Samuel. 

13. Jacksonville Jaguars, 2-1 (+10)

Fresh off a 3-14 debacle last season that featured some of the worst coaching in pro sports history, the Jags are actually good! In Week 3, they cemented their bonafides as an Actually Good team by pulverizing the Chargers 38-10 in Los Angeles. Here, the full vision of who the Jags want to be—and are quickly becoming—was on full display. Trevor Lawrence threw three touchdown passes without a turnover, continuing his ascent from budding franchise quarterback to just a franchise quarterback; the overhauled defense bottled up Justin Herbert and the Chargers, holding him to just 124 completed air yards, the eighth lowest mark of his career.  

14. Dallas Cowboys, 2-1 (+4)

Cooper Rush is an unheralded quarterback with a three syllable name who went to college in the state of Michigan and only became the starter after his team’s putative franchise quarterback got hurt. Sound familiar? In his first three career starts, Rush is 3-0. 

15. Indianapolis Colts, 1-1-1 (+10)

To be fair, their 24-0 drubbing at the hands of the Jaguars looks a little better now. And their 20-17 upset of the Chiefs will look good all year long. Slightly worrisomely, Jonathan Taylor has only rushed for 125 yards combined over the last two weeks, but that’s probably more of a fantasy football concern than a real life one, considering how well the Colts played on Sunday.

16. Cleveland Browns, 2-1 (+16)

Just a few days after collapsing against the Jets, the Browns redeemed themselves by flattening the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday Night Football. Once the Evilest Man in Football returns from his too-short suspension in Week 12, the Browns have the supporting infrastructure to become a legitimately good team. 

17. Cincinnati Bengals, 1-2 (-2)

By beating the New York Jets 27-12 on Sunday, the Bengals broke their season-opening two game schneid, potentially saving their season in the process. For the first time this year, Joe Burrow played like Joe Brrr, slinging the ball for 275 yards and three touchdowns. While the team may never equal the heights of last year’s Super Bowl run, this is still the most talented offense in the NFL; no team has the skill position depth to match up with Burrow, JaMarr Chase, Tee Higgins and Joe Mixon. Now, the Bengals just need to figure out how to keep Burrow upright long enough to take advantage. 

18. Arizona Cardinals, 1-2 (-6)

By and large, it’s generally not a great sign when your entire offense relies on one guy performing miracles. Especially when the miracle-doer is probably not even one of the 10 best quarterbacks in the NFL and needs a booster seat to see over the middle of the field. In retrospect, there’s a reason that Kliff Kingsbury went 19-35 in the Big 12. 

19. Detroit Lions, 1-2 (-3)

Head coach Dan Campbell is the most football-pilled man in existence. Through sheer force of will and 40 daily ounces of espresso, Campbell has transformed the Lions into a sneaky dangerous team, one capable of pushing Super Bowl contenders like the Eagles and Vikings to the limit. Although the Lions lost 24-28 to Minnesota on Sunday, it’s hard not to feel encouraged by their performance to start the season. Tellingly, they still have a positive point differential despite their losing record.

20. New York Giants, 2-1 (-6)

The Giants’ 2-0 start was probably always a fluke—teams with quarterbacks as crummy as Daniel Jones are seldom good. Still, Saquon Barkley is once again the most dynamic ball carrier in football and the defense is hungry and good. According to the proprietary formula behind the ONE37pm Week 4 NFL Power Rankings (i.e. Jack’s addled brain), this is the best Giants team in several years, which is either exciting or depressing, depending on your point of view.

21. Chicago Bears, 2-1 (+10)

Despite being a patently bad team, the Chicago Bears are 2-1. I don’t know either.

22. Washington Commanders, 1-2 (-3)

In the first half of their 8-24 loss to the Eagles, the Commies had -16 cumulative passing yards once you factor in the lost yardage from their six sacks. On the bright side, Wentz is usually due for one or two total meltdowns each season, so at least he got one out of the way early.  

23. Carolina Panthers, 1-2 (+6)

Dear reader of the Week 4 NFL power rankings, I cannot recommend watching the Carolina Panthers in good consciousness. This team is boring and cruddy. Avoid!

24. New Orleans Saints, 1-2 (-7)

Basically the Panthers, but with more gumbo. 

25. New England Patriots, 1-2 (-4)

As if it weren’t bad enough that the Patriots coaching staff was composed entirely of Bill Belichick’s friends and family, sophomore quarterback McCorkle Jones will miss several weeks with an injured ankle. The team is bad, the coach is an out-of-touch grump and the quarterback is now the immortal Brian Hoyer. In the two games the Patriots have run up against an above-average offense, Belichick’s vaunted defense has gotten torched by young, exciting quarterbacks. May this continue forever.

26. Pittsburgh Steelers, 1-2 (-4)

Shockingly, famously bad quarterback Mitch Trubisky has been bad in Pittsburgh. With a stacked defense and a promising receiving corps, Pittsburgh still has hope to salvage their season by letting Kenny Pickett take matters into his own tiny baby hands.

27. Atlanta Falcons, 1-2 (+1)

The Falcons may not be good, but they’re fun. And here at the ONE37pm Week 4 NFL Power Rankings, that counts for something. Through three games, the Falcons are the ninth-best offense and the seventh-worst defense and haven’t had a game decided by more than four points. The offense is way better than expected, with Marcus Mariota partnering with Cordarrelle Patterson, Kyle Pitts and star rookie receiver Drake London to form the spine of a funky, lethal attack. In their 27-23 victory over Seattle, the Falcons demonstrated the breadth of their talents by pairing a forceful run game (179 rushing yards) with an opportunistic aerial attack (13.9 intended air yards per attempt). 

28. Tennessee Titans, 1-2 (-2)

The cumulative toll of 900 carries over the last three seasons has finally caught up to Derrick Henry. That means one thing: it’s Ryan Tannehill’s time to shine! Yikes. 

29. New York Jets, 1-2 (-5)

Mercifully, Joe Flacco’s reign of terror in East Rutherford is over, coming to a close with a 12-27 beatdown by the Bengals. Legendary dog-in-him haver Zach Wilson will take over in Week 4, hoping to prove that he can nail hole-shots against two-high safety defensive looks and not just his mom’s friends.  

30. Seattle Seahawks, 1-2 (-3)

Boring! Next!

31. Las Vegas Raiders, 0-3 (-11)

Raiders are the last winless team in the NFL. For whatever it’s worth, their roster is considerably better than their spot in the Week 4 NFL power rankings, but their secondary is permanently ablaze like the Al Davis Memorial Torch.

32. Houston Texans, 0-2-1 (-2)

This isn’t a real football team. Somebody save Brandin Cooks. 

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Is Taylor Swift Playing the Super Bowl Halftime Show Next Year? Let’s Discuss.

Taylor Swift, the international popstar and forgetful scarf owner, will headline the 2023 Super Bowl Halftime Show, according to Variety. Although neither the NFL nor Swift have officially said anything, the announcement that the Super Bowl will be sponsored by Apple Music (one of Swift’s prominent corporate partners) seemingly aligns with the report. 

For years, Swift and the NFL have orbited each other, signaling that a Swift-led halftime show was less of an if than a when. As far back as 2015, Swift and the Super Bowl Halftime Show have been linked, but the union was seemingly torpedoed by corporate politics—from 2013 to 2021, the halftime show was sponsored by Pepsi while Swift was a pitchwoman for rival Coca-Cola. This year, though, with Apple Music taking the mantle from Pepsi, Swift faces no such roadblocks.

Getty Images

While the spectacle of the Super Bowl and the militant machismo of the NFL may seem like an awkward fit for the slight, minor key that Swift has shifted into on her previous two albums folklore and evermore, this is a natural and inevitable marriage between music’s biggest performer and biggest performance—last year’s Super Bowl Halftime Show was watched by more than 103 million people; Swift is the only artist to have the best-selling album of the year on five separate occasions. Despite the protestations of fragile men in Tapout shirts who are afraid to admit that Swift is, indeed, the songbird of a generation, Swift’s catalog brims with giant, universally loved songs. “We Belong Together,” “Shake It Off,” “I Knew You Were Trouble,” “22,” “Blank Spaces,” “Love Story,” “Teardrops on my Guitar,”: all hits. And those are just from the first half of her career. 

When Swift takes the stage in Glendale, Arizona, we have but one humble request: play “All Too Well.” The ten-minute version. Go get Jake Gyllenhaal’s ass. 

UPDATE: She’s not doing it! Nevermind.

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Who Are the F1 Team Principals?

Formula 1 doesn’t really have an analog in American sports. It’s a team sport contested by loosely affiliated individuals—no other sport has scenarios where putative teammates can be each other’s biggest rival. Lording over the whole enterprise, though, are the ten F1 team principals, who run each of F1’s ten teams.

What Is an F1 Team Principal?

F1 team principals are roughly the equivalent of a general manager mixed with an owner; they have the final say-so on all matters whether it’s their team’s roster or its engineers or its finances, but they’re ultimately employees of whatever larger conglomerate owns the team. With the racing season in full swing and the Singapore Grand Prix under two weeks away, here’s everything you need to know about the ten F1 team principals.

Mercedes: Toto Wolff

Since taking over Mercedes’ racing division in 2013 Toto Wolff has overseen the greatest dynasty in F1 history. Under Wolff, Mercedes has won eight consecutive Constructors’ Championships, breaking Ferrari’s previous record of five straight titles. Most notably, Wolff recruited F1 legend Lewis Hamilton to Mercedes, poaching the seven-time Driver’s Champion from McLaren in 2013. In addition to overseeing the daily operations of Mercedes Grand Prix, Wolff is a substantial shareholder in the team, having purchased roughly one third of Mercedes Grand Prix when he took over as its executive director and team principal.

Prior to Mercedes, Wolff was a part owner of Williams Formula One Team and served on the team’s board of directors, but gradually divested himself from the team after he joined Mercedes, selling all of his shares by 2016. 

Before crossing over to the business side, Wolff was actually a racer himself. In 1992, Wolff made his debut on the Austrian Formula Ford Championship and then also competed in the German Formula Ford circuit in 1993. While Wolff was a fairly ordinary open-wheel racer, he found considerable success racing sportscars, winning The 1994 Nürburgring 24 Hours and the 2006 Dubai 24 Hours.

Red Bull: Christian Horner

Like Wolff, Horner was also originally a driver, reaching as high as FIA Formula  3000 before retiring in 1998 at the tender age of 25. During Horner’s racing career, he founded Arden, briefly serving as one of the last owner-drivers in the sport. After stepping aside from his racing career to focus on managing Arden, Horner grew his brain into one of the premier teams in all of FIA Formula 3000. In fact, he did such a bang up job growing Arden that he attracted the attention of Red Bull, which had purchased Jaguar’s F1 team and rebranded it as Red Bull Racing. In 2005, Red Bull named Horner the inaugural team principal of Red Bull Racing. 

The move has paid major dividends—despite being one of the newer F1 outfits, Red Bull Racing has been tremendously successful under Horner. Having emerged as one of the dominant forces in F1 alongside Mercedes, Red Bull swept the Constructors’ and Drivers’ Championships from 2010-2013. More recently, Max Verstappen claimed the Drivers’ Championships in 2021 while racing under the Red Bull banner.

Ferrari: Mattia Binotto

While most F1 team principals are either businessmen or former drivers or some combo of the two, Binotto has a technical background. WIth a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and a masters in motor vehicle engineering, Binotto joined Scuderia Ferrari way back in 1995 as a test engine engineer. Over the last few decades, Binotto steadily rose through Ferrari’s ranks, becoming the head of the engine department in 2013 and then the Chief Technical Officer in 2016. By 2019, Binotto became Ferrari’s team principal, completing his meteoric rise through the company. In the years before Binotto’s promotion, Ferrari struggled to live up to the high standard that they set during their dominating run in the early 2000s, but Binotto seems to have righted the ship; current Ferrari racers Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz Jr. are both among the handful of top drivers in the world. 

Alpine: Otmar Szafnauer

Szafnauer is one of the newest and boldest F1 team principals. Following the rebranding of Renault racing as Alpine in 2021, Szafnauer took over in 2022 and quickly declared that Alpine would compete for world championships within 100 races, despite the fact that the team was only one year old at the time. Before joining Alpine, Szafnauer was a motorsport lifer, serving a variety of roles at Honda and Force India. Infamously, Szafnauer was the team principal at Aston Villa, but abruptly resigned and took the Alpine job within that same month. 

McLaren: Andreas Seidl

In 2019, Seidl became just the fifth team principal in McLaren’s storied 56 year history. Formerly the principal of the successful Hybrid Porsche LMP1 sportscar team, Seidl had no F1 experience before joining McClaren. Interestingly, McClaren did not have a principal before hiring Seidl. The team abolished the position altogether in 2014 because of a belief that it was unnecessary and sclerotic, but brought the title back when Seidl came aboard.

AlphaTauri: Franz Tost

Although AlphaTauri has a reputation for being Red Bull Racing’s little brother (they share a parent company), Tost is an impressive figure in his own right. To a degree, his path mirrors that of Red Bull’s Horner—both are former racers who became F1 team principals in 2005 after Red Bull took over an existing team. Before joining AlphaTauri, Tost was the Track Operations Manager at Williams. The oldest of the ten F1 team principals, Tost has been around racing for upwards of 40 years dating back to his own racing career.

Alfa Romeo: Frederic Vasseur

In 1996, Vasseur founded ASM, which quickly became the dominant team on the Formula 3 Euroseries tour. Although Vasseur studied aeronautical engineering in college, his greatest asset as a team principal has been his business savvy rather than his technical know-how. With ASM, Vasseur partnered with Renault to win the French Formula 3 championship in 1998 and then partnered with Mercedes to win the event four consecutive years from 2004-2007. In 2016, Vasseur was given his first opportunity to be an F1 team principal, but left Renault after one season. Sauber quickly scooped Vasseur up in 2017 and kept him installed as team principal even after rebranding the team as Alfa Romeo in 2018.

Haas: Gunther Steiner

As the head of Haas since 2014, Steiner has the special distinction of being the only F1 team principal to be based in the United States of America (as the head of the US-based Haas, Steiner also has the special distinction of being the only resident of Mooresville, North Carolina to go to Monte Carlo and Baku). Prior to helping charter the Western Hemisphere’s premier F1 team, Steiner followed a conventional career path, steadily working his way up established teams like Jaguar and Red Bull. Since Steiner is the founder of Haas as well as the principal, he’s inextricably linked to the team, as evidenced by his star-turn on the first season of Netflix’s Drive to Survive

Aston Martin: Mike Krack

Like Ferrari’s Mattia Binotto, Krack is an engineer and scientist at his core. Originally making a name for himself when he became BMW Sauber’s chief engineer in 2003, Krack has a long resume that touches far flung corners of the racing universe. Before taking over Aston Martin in 2022 following Szafnauer’s departure, Krack spent most of his career working across various different BMW projects, overseeing the team’s lesser-known teams.

Williams: Jost Capito

Following the end of his racing career in 1985, Capito threw himself into the business and technological side of  F1, building a strong network of coworkers and friends that he’s accumulated over the course of his 37 year career. As a karmic reward for all the years and hours he spent working round F1, Jost Capito became the new bossman at Williams in 2020. Notably, this is Capito’s second go-around as an F1 team principal—his exemplary work at BMW earned him the top gig with McClaren in fall 2006, but he subsequently quit by the end of the workday. 

Categories
Sports

The Best NFL Week 3 DFS Picks On Draftkings

Traditional, season-long fantasy football gives you the opportunity to prove that you’re a smarter and better person than your dearest friends, but daily fantasy sports offers an even stronger incentive: cash. This isn’t financial advice, but here are the ONE37pm NFL Week 3 DFS picks. 

(Note: all prices listed are for Draftkings)

NFL Week 3 DFS picks: QB

High: Josh Allen ($8200)

In Week 1, Allen accounted for 353 yards and four touchdowns, netting 33.48 Draftkings points against the reigning champion Rams. Last week, Allen accounted for 327 yards and four touchdowns, netting 32.7 Draftkings points against the Titans, who were the AFC’s top seed in 2021. This week, Allen faces a Dolphins team that just got boatraced by Lamar Jackson last week and ranks 31st in passing defense so far this year.  

Middle: Kirk Cousins ($6700)

Vegas thinks that Lions-Vikings will be a shootout. The total for the game is 53 points and the Vikings’ implied total is 29.5, both the highest figures of the week. As such, there will be no shortage of fantasy points available in this game. The Lions defense has been among the NFL’s most porous to start the year. If Carson Wentz can torch them, just imagine what Cousins and Justin Jefferson can do.

Value: Marcus Mariota ($5500)

Rushing yards and volume have long been the magic elixir for quarterbacks. Mariota offers both—through two weeks, Mariota averages 29.5 passing attempts and nine rushing attempts per game. The Falcons’ surprisingly potent offense has enough playmakers that Mariota could be worth a dart throw in larger pools.

NFL Week 3 DFS picks: RB

High: Joe Mixon ($7600)

Even if Mixon hasn’t delivered star-level results this year, he’s fed as frequently as just about any other back in the league; he’s averaged 28 touches across the first two games this year and averages more than 20 touches per game for his career. This week, Mixon and the Bengals play the Jets, who are bad and not good. The math here isn’t hard: talented running back + lots of touches + the Jets defense = success.

Middle: David Montgomery ($5900)

Since becoming the full-time starter in 2020, Montgomery has dominated Chicago’s backfield. The Bears are the league’s most run-happy team because they have no belief in their passing game, so Montgomery is now the focal point of their offense. Against a Texans team that ranks 25th in run defense DVOA, Montgomery is once again a smart pick, albeit an unsexy one.

Value: Jerick McKinnon ($4500)

McKinnon has sneakily become a mainstay in the Chiefs offense. In fact, he’s out-snapped the more heralded Clyde Edwards-Helaire over the first two games. McKinnon hasn’t actually done much in his snaps, but the Chiefs offense is so explosive that he becomes appealing by proximity. If you’re out there long enough, Patrick Mahomes will find you for a touchdown eventually.

NFL Week 3 DFS Picks: WR

 High: Justin Jefferson ($9300)

See: Cousins, Kirk. To wit, besides the fact that Jefferson is a superstar who should be on your radar every week, stacking players (pairing a quarterback and receiver from the same team) is an easy and lucrative way to exploit favorable matchups.

Middle: Michael Thomas ($5900)

Despite missing all of last season with an injured ankle, Slant Man is back. A target-monster who’s the Saint’s primary red-zone weapon, Thomas is still priced like a mid-tier receiver rather than the superstar he’s proven himself to be. 

Value: Breshad Perriman ($3900)

Just about every other receiver on the Buccaneers is hurt or suspended. Tom Brady has to throw to somebody—and Perriman was that special somebody last weekend, hauling in Brady’s lone touchdown pass. Granted, Perriman is probably the most obvious value play across Sunday’s slate, so he’s a better option in smaller pools where ownership percentage isn’t as big of a deal. 

NFL Week 3 DFS Picks: TE

High: Travis Kelce ($7900)

Kelce is a top five receiver who happens to play tight end. He’s by far the best tight end available this week and should feast on a Colts’ defense that’s particularly vulnerable across the middle of the field. If you’re confident in your receiver and running back sleeper picks this week, Kelce is just about a must-play because no other tight end can realistically expect to match his production.

Middle: Dallas Goedert ($4700)
In the 11 games since the Eagles traded Zach Ertz last season, Goedert has been as good as any tight end outside of the Travis Kelce-Mark Andrews nexus of power. The clear second option in the Eagles’ passing game, Goedert shouldn’t have too much difficulty with Washington’s threadbare secondary.

Value: Logan Thomas ($3500)

11 targets over two games is pretty solid work for a guy who’s basically free. When healthy, Thomas is a dependable mid-tier tight end, yet he’s in the same price range as guys who have never matched his production.

NFL Week 3 DFS Picks: D/ST

High: New Orleans Saints ($3500)

Although it doesn’t show it in the fantasy box score, the Saints manhandled Tom Brady and the Bucs last weekend. Now, they get a juicy matchup against Baker Mayfield.

Middle: Green Bay Packers ($2800)

Led by an All-Pro core of Jaire Alexander, Kenny Clark and De’Vondre Campbell, the Packers’ defense is loaded at every level. Although it might seem blasphemous to count out Touchdown Tom, the Packers should put Tampa’s scuffling offense in a headlock; the Buccaneers have no healthy receivers and Tom Brady looks like he’d rather be on The Masked Singer. 

Value: Detroit Lions ($2200)

Don’t start the Lions—I just had to include them to maintain the general conceit of this blog. 

Categories
Sports Strength

The History of the UFC Heavyweight Division

In combat sports, the title of Heavyweight Champion carries a special mystique. Whether it’s due to exceptional skill or stature or both, heavyweights are magnets for fame. Boxing has its Muhammad Alis and Mike Tysons; wrestling has its Aleksandr Karelins and Bruce Baumgartners. Mixed Martial Arts is no exception. Below, a complete list of UFC Heavyweight Champions since the inception of the division.

Mark Coleman (16-10 MMA, 7-5 UFC)

Feb. 7th, 1997 – Jul. 27th 1997

Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images

Def. Dan Severn at UFC 12

Mark Coleman was–is–a maniac! (I mean that in the best way; I’ve met him and he’s awesome). After an accomplished amateur career that included two Ohio high school state titles, an NCAA championship and an appearance in the 1992 Summer Olympics, Coleman devoted himself to the then-new sport of MMA after stumbling onto a broadcast of UFC 1. 

Coleman started his combat sports career in his teens as a wrestler for Saint Joseph Central Catholic High School. After winning two state championships, he went on to wrestle at Miami University, in Ohio, before transferring to The Ohio State University and winning an NCAA championship. After placing 7th at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain, Mark happened to see the broadcast of UFC 1. From there, he dove headfirst into this new sport of MMA.

From the outset, Coleman dominated, thanks to a style that earned him the nickname, “The Godfather of Ground and Pound”. It was clear from the start of every fight that Coleman’s one goal was to take the action to the ground and strike his opponent unconscious or until they submitted. Thanks to his elite wrestling and ground and pound ability, he earned the first ever UFC Heavyweight Championship belt by defeating Dan Severn (101-19-7 MMA, 9-4 UFC) in a fight to unify the UFC Superfight Champion and UFC Tournament Champion titles. 

Though he was dominant early, his reign was short; Coleman lost his first and only title defense to a kickboxer named Maurice Smith. His stay may have been short-lived, but his impact is still felt to this day as one of the OG’s of MMA and one of the sport’s tactical trailblazers. 

Maurice Smith (14-17 MMA, 4-3 UFC)

Jul. 27th 1997 – Dec. 21st, 1997

Brian Bahr/Getty Images

Def. Mark Coleman at UFC 14

Maurcie Smith’s title reign lasted just a little bit longer than Mark Coleman’s, as Smith notched one title defense against fan-favorite, Tank Abbott (10-15 MMA, 8-10 UFC). 

Prior to joining the UFC, “Mo” was an avid kickboxer. Although he didn’t officially make his kickboxing debut until he was 30 years old, Smith began training at 18. After nine kickboxing matches, a little Pancrase, and a stint on the regional MMA scene, Smith defeated Heavyweight Champion Mark Coleman in his UFC debut, taking the title belt from Coleman and handing him the first loss of his UFC career in the process.Though he ended his career with more losses than wins, Smith etched his name into the history books by delivering one of the biggest upsets in UFC history.

Another (not so favorable) reason he’s going to be remembered is for his controversial loss to Randy Couture in his second title defense.

Randy Couture

(1) Dec. 21st, 1997 – Jan. 1998, (2) Nov 17th, 2000 – Mar. 22nd 2002, (3) Mar. 3rd 2007 – Feb. 2nd, 2008

Josh Hedges / Getty Images

Def. Maurice Smith at UFC Japan

“The Natural” Randy Couture captured the UFC heavyweight strap three times over his 14 year career and also defended it three times. Since August 2007, only one other heavyweight has reigned victorious in six title bouts (more on that guy later), and none more than that. 

Domination. 

Randy’s style was reminiscent of Mark Coleman’s, albeit with Couture being much more well rounded and technical than the “smash heavy” Coleman. Couture became champion for the first time by defeating Maurice Smith in a close, slow-paced fight, but didn’t hold the title for very long.  

In January 1998, Couture signed with Vale Tudo Japan and was stripped of his UFC title. In his return nearly three years later, Couture faced and defeated storied wrestler, Kevin Randleman. After defeating Randleman, Couture successfully defended his title against Pedro Rizzo (20-11 MMA, 10-4 UFC) not once, but twice in a row, as Rizzo was awarded an immediate rematch after a tightly contested first fight. After losing the title to Josh Barnett in March 2002, Couture regained the belt five years later for the third and final time, defeating Tim Sylvia. Couture managed to successfully defend his title for the last time against Gabriel Gonzaga (17-12 MMA, 12-10 UFC), but Couture’s title reign finally reached its end when he faced the ultimate hype train that is Brock Lesnar.

Though he never fought for a title again, Randy Couture remains one of the most legendary and successful heavyweights in the short history of the UFC.

Bas Rutten (28-4-1 MMA, 2-0 UFC)

May 7th, 1999 – June 1999

Josh Hedges / Getty Images

Def. Kevin Randleman at UFC 20

If you’re a fan of MMA, there’s a very good chance you’ve seen an ad with this incredibly spirited gentleman beating the shit out of this crazy-looking pad covered machine. If you haven’t seen it, you’re welcome (see Body Action System). 

Bas Rutten’s UFC career may have been short lived, but he was an astute veteran of combat having had 30 professional fights (all with pancrase) going into his debut. After he battered Tsuyoshi Kohsaka (41-33-2 MMA, 3-3 UFC), Bas got a title shot against Kevin Randleman. In a fight where position was dominated by Randleman, it was the accumulation of strikes that won the fight for Rutten who was fighting off his back nearly the entire fight. This split decision was met with heated controversy and resulted in the change of the judges official scoring system.

Bas vacated the title to drop to middleweight (now light heavyweight) to challenge to be the UFC’s first double champ, however, multiple injuries in preparation for his return led to the end of his UFC career.  

His stint in the UFC was short, but his impact on the sport is still felt today as he was recognized as one of the sports first great technicians, and was regarded for a time as the world’s greatest martial artist. 

Kevin Randleman (17-16 MMA, 4-3 UFC)

Nov. 19, 1999 – Nov. 17th, 2000

Susumu Nagao/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Def. Pete Williams at UFC 23

Cue DJ Khalad. It’s time for “another one” with our next wrestler-turned-UFC Heavyweight Champion, Kevin “The Monster” Randleman. Like his mentor, former UFC heavyweight champ Mark Coleman, Randleman was a high school state champion in Ohio who then won two NCAA titles at The Ohio State University. Under Coleman’s tutelage at Team Hammer House, Randleman quickly climbed the ladder after making his UFC debut in 1999. 

After defeating former champ Maurice Smith in his debut and taking the controversial loss to Bas Rutten in his first attempt at gold, Randleman was awarded a second chance to fight for the crown once Rutten abdicated the throne. In his second attempt for the title, Randleman decisively defeated pete Williams in five rounds.

As champion, Randleman successfully defended the belt against Pedro Rizzo (unanimous decision) before losing to multiple time champ, Randy Couture by TKO. Over the next 10 years he fought for the UFC, PRIDE and Strikeforce before retiring at the age of 39. In 2016, he tragically passed away due to heart failure, but his legacy as one of the UFC’s toughest fighters lives on. 

Josh Barnett (35-8 MMA, 7-3 UFC)

Mar. 22nd, 2002 – Jul 26th, 2002

Photo by Mitch Viquez/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Def. Randy Couture at UFC 36

Josh Barnett has been wildly successful in his time as a martial artist, but his career has been marred  by controversy. 

With 29 of his 35 wins coming by KO/TKO or submission, Barnett has been able to put away most of his opponents, including a TKO of Randy Couture to claim the title belt in March, 2002. Still, Barnett would be stripped of the title a few months after the fight after flunking his second steroid test of that year. 

This would be a common occurrence for Barnett throughout his career as he would go on to fail several more times. Although Barnett was one of the most prominent fighters to be caught juicing, he was hardly an anomaly; the UFC had rampant steroid usage problems during its early years, which has since necessitated the intervention of USADA (United States Anti-Doping Agency). 

In 2009, Barnett, now on the Affliction circuit, again tested positive for steroids, spoiling a prospective fight against Fedor Emelianenko (40-6 MMA). 

Josh Barnett is a great fighter, there’s no debating that. He has defeated the likes of Mark Hunt (13-14-1 MMA, 8-10 UFC), and former champions Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Frank Mir. The dude can fight, but he never had the chance to fully live up to his potential because he couldn’t (or wouldn’t) stay clean.

Ricco Rodriguez (54-27-1 MMA, 5-2 UFC)

Sep 27th, 2002 – Feb. 28th, 2003

Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Def. Randy Couture at UFC 39

Ricco “Suave” Rodriguiez had his first fight in 1999 with his last coming in 2019. He’s successfully fought in three separate decades and, even at the relatively ancient age of  44-years-old, it wouldn’t be a surprise if he fought in fourth.  

After growing up between New Jersey and Staten Island, Ricco later relocated to California to train in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. After a few years of competing in BJJ tournaments, he made his MMA debut in 1999. Within two years of starting in MMA, Rodriguezed amassed a 9-1 record before joining the chance to join the UFC. In his early UFC fights, Rodriguez took out perennial warriors Andrei Arlovski, Pete Williams and Tsuyoshi Kosaka, earning the right to challenge for the vacant UFC Heavyweight Championship against none other than the legendary Randy Couture. 

Despite being dominated by Couture for the bulk of the fight, Ricco Suave secured an early takedown with three minutes left in the fifth round, breaking Couture’s orbital bone with vicious elbows and forcing Couture to verbally tap out.  

Rodriguez was now a champion, but not for long—after defeating Randy Couture, Rodriguez lost his title less than 6-months later when he faced an undefeated Tim Sylvia. Sylvia KO’d in the first round and Rodriguez’s time in the UFC came to an end shortly thereafter once his contract expired in 2004. For the next 16 years, Rodriguez bounced around a variety of smaller circuits (even briefly transitioning to boxing), before retiring in 2018. 

Tim Sylvia (31-10 MMA, 9-4 UFC)

(1) Feb. 28th, 2003 – Oct. 15th 2003, (2) Apr. 15th 2006 – Mar. 3rd, 2007

Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Def. Ricco Rodriguez at UFC 41

Two fights and three rounds. That is all it took for “The Maine-iac” Tim Sylvia to capture UFC gold.

Well, kind-of… While it only took him the first round of his second UFC event, Sylvia had fought 16 times before joining the promotion. Originally a Karate kid who wrestled in high school, Sylvia played semi-pro football upon graduation until he fully committed himself to MMA.

After a brief three-fight stint on the amatuer circuit, Sylvia won his first 16 professional fights, with 10 of those victories coming either via TKO/KO or a submission. In his 15th pro fight, he KO’d Ricco Rodriguez to become the Heavyweight Champion and managed to successfully defend the title against Gan McGee in February, 2003. Unfortunately for Sylvia, he lost his belt to Frank Mir in his next fight, submitting after being put in an armbar in the first round. 

In 2005, Sylvia faced off against Andrei Arlovski for the vacant belt, but succumbed to an Achilles lock. However, Sylvia got his revenge against Arlovski the next year, knocking out the Belrusian in a rematch and reclaiming the title. Sylvia defended his throne against Arlovski (the final installment of their trilogy) and Jeff Monson, but eventually lost a unanimous decision to Randy Couture, who captured his fifth UFC Championship  in a unanimous decision.  

After his departure from the UFC, Tim fought another 14 times against varying competition, including another fight against Arlovski and one against Fedor Emelianenko (40-6 MMA). 

In 2015, Sylvia was denied medical clearance to fight and announced his retirement in the cage alongside his potential opponent. Although Sylvia hadn’t had enough, the doctors had.

Frank Mir (19-13 MMA, 16-11 UFC)

(1) Jun. 19th, 2004 – Aug. 12th, 2005, (Interim) Dec. 27th, 2008 – Mar. 27th, 2010

Photo by Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images

Def. Tim Sylvia at UFC 48, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira at UFC 92 (Interim)

Like Randy Couture, Frank Mir is a recognizable name, fighting in the UFC 26 times over 16 years. 

A 16 year vet of the UFC, Mir got his start training at the American Kenpo school that his parents owned and then later turned to wrestling as a way to improve his American Kenpo performance. After high school, Frank met UFC matchmaker Joe Silva while training BJJ, who convinced Mir to try out MMA. Two fights and two wins later, Mir earned a shot with the UFC. 

After 6 UFC fights spanning 3 years (2001-04), he got a chance at gold in 2004, squaring off against Tim Sylvia for the vacant UFC Heavyweight title. Mir broke Sylvia arm in the first round. Yes, you read that right. Even though Mir had Sylvia locked up in a straight armbar, Sylvia refused to tap; for his troubles, Sylvia had his arm snapped into four pieces. F*ck that! 

Unfortunately, Mir broke his femur and torn multiple ligaments in his leg. Unable to unify and defend his interim title, Mir was stripped of his belt.  

When he finally came back a year and a half later in February, 2006,  Mir was upset by BJJ blackbelt Marcio Cruz (8-3 MMA, 2-2 UFC), losing by TKO in the first round. After a turbulent two years, Mir spoiled Brock Lesnar’s UFC debut in 2008, earning him a chance to once again fight for the Heavyweight belt. Battling for the interim title against Antonio Rodrigo Noguiera, Mir knocked out the Brazilian with a flurry of punches. Sadly, Mir’s second attempt at defending his title only went marginally better than his first, with Brock Lesnar ground-and-pounding him during their rematch. 

Mir again fought for the interim title (2010), and then the undisputed title (2011), losing both bouts to Shane Carwin and Junior Dos Santos respectively. Since then, Mir is 3-7 in MMA and 0-2 in boxing (kinda – see Triad Combat). 

Andrei Arlovski (32-20 MMA, 21-15 UFC)

(Interim Promoted to Undisputed Champion) Feb. 5th, 2005 – Apr. 15th, 2006

Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Def. Tim Sylvia at UFC 51 (Interim, promoted to undisputed)

“The Pitbull” Andrei Arlovski is the first fighter on this list who’s still actively competing in the UFC. At 42, Arlovski has won 4 of his last 5 fights, most recently notching a victory in October, 2021

Bullied as a kid, Arlovski started Sambo, Judo, and Kickboxing at the age of 16, eventually winning the European Youth Sambo Championships. Shortly after his success in Sambo, Arlovski developed an  interest in MMA, which inspired him to develop other skills and become a more well-rounded martial artist. 

Winning seven of his first 10 fights, Arlovski matched up against Sylvia in 2005 to fight for the UFC Interim Heavyweight Championship that was created following Frank Mir’s motorcycle accident. In this fight, Arlovski faced Tim Sylvia and finished him with a straight ankle lock after dropping him with a vicious right hand. Arlovski now had gold around his waist!

While waiting for a unification bout against Mir, Arlovski defended his title twice, TKO-ing Justin Eilers (19-7-1 MMA, 1-3 UFC) in the first round and then doing the same to Paul Buentello (35-17 MMA, 3-3 UFC) in the second. As a result of these dominating performances and Mir’s continued absence, Arlovski was promoted and became the undisputed champion.

By this point, though, Sylvia had rebounded from his earlier loss to Arlovski, winning three consecutive fights and setting up a rematch between the two rivals. Ultimately, Sylvia would seize the belt by beating Arlovski in consecutive fights. Although Arlovski has remained a strong presence on the circuit after those losses to Sylvia and undoubtedly still has gas left in the tank (he wants to fight until at least 45), he hasn’t participated in any championship fights since he last lost to Arlovski. Let’s hope he can keep up his strong form and avoid a downward spiral to round out his career as many before him have.

Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (34-10-1 MMA, 5-6 UFC)

(Interim) Feb. 2nd, 2008 – Dec. 27th, 2008

Buda Mendes/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Def. Tim Sylvia at UFC 81 (Interim)

“Big Nog” Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira practiced judô, boxing and Brazilian jiu-jitsu in his time growing up in Vitoria da Conquista, Brazil. By the age of 25, he was set to make his mixed martial arts debut. Most of his early career was spent fighting for PRIDE, where he faced quite a few of MMA’s top contenders, notching wins over Dan Henderson (32-15 MMA, 9-9 UFC), former champ Ricco Rodriguez and Fabricio Werdum (24-9-1 MMA, 12-6 UFC).

In 2008, nine years and 35 fights into his MMA career, Antonio met and defeated Tim Sylvia (this dude, again??) to capture the UFC Interim Heavyweight Championship in comeback fashion, pulling a guillotine choke shortly after being knocked down with strikes late in the third round. After winning the title, Nog and former UFC Champion Frank Mir appeared as coaches on the eighth season of The Ultimate Fighter. After the season, Nogueira and Mir fought for the interim title where Mir won the lopsided affair by TKO in the second round. 

Since then, Big Nog traded wins for losses until hitting a three-fight skid that led to his retirement. Nogueira’s career was marked with him being a dominant force on the ground, with skills exceeding that of any other fighters at the time – and that’s how he should be remembered.

Brock Lesnar (5-3 MMA, 4-3 UFC)

Nov. 15th, 2008 – Oct. 23rd, 2010

Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

Def. Randy Couture at UFC 91

Our next champion is the WWE’s long-tenured bad boy, Brock Lesnar. Lesnar, like many before and after him, grew up an amatuer wrestler. He went on to compete at Bismarck State College, winning a national junior college title (NJCAA) in his sophomore year before transferring to the University of Minnesota. There, Lesnar became a two-time Big Ten Champion and a one time NCAA Champion. After college, Lesnar transitioned into professional wrestling where he made his debut for the WWE in 2002, just two years into his career.

Lesnar rose to stardom quickly, defeating Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson later that year to become the youngest WWE champion at age 25. Lesnar would spend five more years headlining WWE events before eventually making and winning his MMA debut in 2007. 

In just his 2nd MMA fight, Lesnar faced former UFC Heavyweight Champion, Frank Mir, in a test he would not pass, losing by kneebar. Next, he had a scheduled bout with Mark Coleman that unfortunately never happened due to a Coleman injury (can you imagine how insane those two would look fighting one another??). His replacement, Heath Herring (28-16 MMA, 2-3 UFC) was a formidable opponent, but undoubtedly a step down from Mir. This fight managed to go the distance with Lesnar taking the win by unanimous decision, and was more than enough evidence for the UFC that they could put the WWE star in a fight for the title (plus, dollar signs…)

In a fight for the UFC Heavyweight Championship, we saw the sports most heralded heavyweight champion of the time, Randy Couture, fall in the second round to MMA newbie Lesnar. Brock was able to keep the fight standing and after knocking down Couture with strikes, was able to capitalize and finish the fight by raining down punches. Through 2010, we saw Brock defend his title in two unification bouts, one avenging a loss against Frank Mir with punches, and another by finishing Shane Carwin with an arm-triangle choke. 

Though starting his career incredibly strong, Lesnar went on to lose his title to then-up-and-comer Cain Valezquez by first round TKO. After battling a bout of diverticulitis that required surgery, Lesnar returned to face Alistair Overeem and lost in the first round after taking multiple body shots. In his last fight with the UFC, he faced the storied Mark Hunt in a fight that he dominated, but was later overturned to a no-contest after Lesnar tested positive for performance enhancing drugs.

Though a comeback has been discussed, nothing has come to fruition and at this point, that’s likely a good thing. Lesnar’s time in the UFC was short lived, but nothing less than massively entertaining. With his showmanship and the experience he attained as a top WWE athlete, Lesnar certainly added some fun wrinkles to the UFC history books in the late 2000s.

Shane Carwin (12-2 MMA, 4-2 UFC)

(Interim) Mar. 27th, 2010 – Jul. 3rd, 2010

Donald Miralle/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Def. Frank Mir at UFC 111 (Interim)

Ding, another wrestler! Unlike his wrestling counterparts, though,“The Engineer ” Shane Carwin has a college degree and worked in mechanical engineering alongside his MMA career.

At Western State College, Shane pursued his degree while competing in both wrestling and football, becoming a NCAA D2 Heavyweight Champion and participating in the Senior Bowl in 1997. This guy can handle a lot at once!

That being the case, Carwin took his time and eventually made his debut in MMA in 2005. He took 8 fights over the course of two years, winning them all and earning his shot in the UFC. Between 2008-09, The Engineer fought Christain Wellisch, Neil Wain, and Gabriel Gonzaga, winning each fight in the first round and demonstrating spectacular punching power. This led to him having the opportunity to compete for the UFC Interim Heavyweight Championship against Frank Mir. 

Carwin’s punching power reigned supreme in a fight where he smashed Mir against the fence and proceeded to hammer him with short punches before falling to the ground and being finished off with ground and pound from the back. Carwin captured a piece of UFC gold and was set to unify the title in a bout against out next champion, Brock Lesnar. This unification didn’t go Carwin’s way, and he lost his following bout to Junior dos Santos, but he remains as one of the more powerful punchers in UFC history.

Shane Carwin never fought MMA again, but did fight a modified rules boxing match against skateboarder Jason Ellis in 2016, where he had his right arm duct taped to his body. Nonetheless–surprise, surprise–he still won by knockout.

Cain Velasquez (14-3 MMA, 12-3 UFC)

(1) Oct. 23rd, 2010 – Nov. 12th, 2011, (2) Dec. 29th 2012 – Jun. 13th, 2015

Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Def. Brock Lesnar at UFC 121

Cain Velasquez stands as one of the most intimidating forces to ever compete inside a UFC octagon. Sure, he has some blemishes to his record, but he still stands as one of the most gifted and awe-inspiring heavyweight fighters who ever was.

That said, can you guess what sport he started in? You might as well guess wrestling, because you’ll be right almost every time. After a high school career that saw him compile a record of 110-10, Velasquez went on to win an NJCAA National Championship for Iowa Central Community College before transferring to Arizona State University. There, he secured 5th and 4th place finishes at the NCAA tournament in his final two years (2005-06).

Right after college, Velasquez joined American Kickboxing Academy (AKA) and began training to take his first fight. That same year, he fought twice, winning his first two bouts within the first round due to strikes. That was enough to earn him a shot at the UFC; his domination continued as he rattled off eight wins in a row, including one over “Big Nog”, with only one of them not coming by KO/TKO. 

Enter “The Next Big Thing” Brock Lesnar. Though Brock started strong by landing a takedown, Velasquez eventually made it back to his feet and ended the fight with elite striking. Not only did he derail the Lesnar hype train, he captured UFC gold! Unfortunately, he tore his rotator cuff in the midst of the fight and was sidelined for a year before making his first title defense, which was against a Brazilian up-and-comer named Junior dos Santos. This fight was billed as an exciting clash but many expected Velasquez to dominate in retaining his title. Just one minute into the skirmish, it was a sweeping overhand by dos Santos that connected, put Velasquez down and led to the finishing sequence of punches. 

Though his title reign ended quickly, it wasn’t long before he was fighting for gold once again, defeating Antonio Silva 6-months later to earn another shot at JDS. This time, the fight went much more as expected, seeing Velasquez dominate dos Santos for all five rounds on his way to a unanimous decision win, where he landed double digit takedowns, and triple digit significant strikes. Once again, one of the most imposing forces in MMA was the UFC Heavyweight Champion.

After capturing the title for a second time, Velasquez was back to his finishing ways, defending the title against Antonio Silva and JDS, winning both before the bell thanks to his heavy hands. Then came Fabricio Werdum. Werdum had won the Interim title a few months before, as Velasquez had gotten injured in preparation for their initial title fight. Once they finally met in the octagon, Werdum was able to finish Cain by guillotine choke in the third round, marking the first time he had lost via submission in his nearly 10-year career. 

A rematch was scheduled for February of 2016, but both fighters needed more time as injuries arose. Upon his return, Velasquez faced and defeated Travis Browne (18-7-1 MMA, 10-7 UFC), but in another attempt to face Werdum, he was not cleared by the Nevada State Athletic Commission due to bone spurs in his back. 

Velasquez took one last fight in February 2019 against Francis N’Gannou, where, in 26 short seconds, a short uppercut dropped him and led to him to being finished by ground and pound.

Though Velasquez has yet to fight again, he is currently competing as a professional wrestler for Lucha Libre AAA Worldwide and has made appearances in the WWE. He seems to be moving on from real fighting to opt more for entertainment, and good on him for continuing to use his athletic skills to bring something worth watching to the world.

Junior dos Santos (21-9 MMA, 15-8 UFC)

Nov. 12th, 2011 – Dec. 29th 2012

Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

Def. Cain Velasquez at UFC on Fox: Velasquez vs. dos Santos

Finally, enough with the wrestlers! “Cigano”, Junior dos Santos or JDS for short, grew up in Brazil training in capoeira before committing to BJJ at the age of 21. He turned pro just one year later (2006), winning his first 5 fights in little over a year’s time. After winning six of his first seven fights, he made his debut for the UFC as a clear underdog against Fabricio Werdum. In a stunning turn of events, JDS knocked Werdum out in under two-minutes, earning him the knockout of the year for the UFC. 

To follow the impressive start, Cigano followed with six wins in a row to fight for the title against the aforementioned Cain Velasquez. As we explored, it was a massive overhand that sent Velasquez tumbling and earned JDS his first UFC Heavyweight Championship. Six months later, he successfully defended his title against perennial contender, Frank Mir, defeating him with superior boxing and finishing the fight in the second round. 

Seven months later, JDS faced Velasquez for a second time and lost his title by unanimous decision. Though he would go on to challenge for the title a few more times throughout his career, Dos Santos has yet to capture it again and is most recently riding a four-fight losing streak against a row of killers (Francis N’Gannou, Curtis Blaydes, Jairzinho Rozenstruik, and Ciryl Gane).

In March of 2021, it was announced that JDS was being released from the UFC and we have since seen him also compete in professional wrestling, but for an organization called All Elite Wrestling (AEW).

Fabricio Werdum (24-9-1 MMA, 12-6 UFC)

(Interim) Nov. 15th, 2014 – Jun. 13th 2015, (2) Jun. 13th, 2015 – May 14th, 2016

Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Def. Mark Hunt at UFC 180 (Interim), Cain Velasquez at UFC 188 (Undisputed)


Fabricio “Vai Cavalo” Werdum’s venture into combat sports is unlike any others on this list; it started only after he was choked out in a triangle choke by his girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend.

Ouch. Talk about a blow to the ego. Luckily for Werdum, there’s a pretty good chance that he’s way more successful than Mr. Steal Ya Girl. 

Werdum made his professional debut in 2002, winning six of his first seven fights, the one blemish being a draw. At this time, Fabricio was competing in PRIDE, facing top competition pre-UFC (Alistair Overeem, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira). In 2007, Vai Cavalo made his UFC debut against Andrei Arlovski, losing by unanimous decision to the former UFC Heavyweight champ. Over the next seven years, Werdum would fight 11 times between the UFC and Strikeforce before putting together a four-fight win streak to earn the opportunity at the Heavyweight belt. Due to the fact that the champion of the time, Cain Velasquez, was injured,  Werdum instead fought Mark Hunt for the UFC Interim Heavyweight Title. Werdum finished Mark halfway through the second round, throwing a long knee from range, connecting perfectly to send him to the canvas. 

Finally, on June 13th of 2015, Werdum challenged for the UFC Undisputed Heavyweight Championship, defeating Velasquez by guillotine choke in the third round, and was declared the unquestioned champion of the heavyweight division. In his first and only title defense, he faced first-time title challenger, Stipe Miocic. While charging forward and throwing a flurry, Werdum was caught with a counter right-hand that sent him crashing into the canvas. He was out cold.

Since then, Werdum traded wins and losses through his final contract with the UFC, and in 2021 decided to go fight for the PFL (Professional Fighters League). His first and only fight with them was met with controversy as it seemed his opponent tapped to a choke prior to a fight ending sequence that left Werdum on the losing end. The fight has since been reviewed and overturned to a no-contest.

Stipe Miocic (20-4 MMA, 14-4 UFC)

(1) May 14th, 2016 – Jul. 7th, 2018, (2) Aug. 17th 2019 – Mar. 27th, 2021

Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

Def. Fabricio Werdum at UFC 198

Stipe Miocic is widely considered as the greatest UFC Heavyweight of all time. While capturing the title twice, he also defended it four times, including a record three in-a-row. No heavyweight in the world has dominated the top of the UFC Heavyweight division quite like Miocic. And guess what… we’ve got ourselves another wrestler!

Born in Euclid, OH, Miocic grew up a multi-sport athlete between football, baseball and wrestling. He went on to play baseball and wrestle between Cleveland State, Trevecca Nazarene, and Coker College. He was initially brought into Strong Style MMA to wrestle with former UFC contender, Dan Bobish, and soon began training himself. After becoming a Golden Gloves Champion and competing at nationals, the former NCAA Division I wrestler developed the tools to dominate those at his level, making his debut in 2006 and winning his first six fights by KO.

Such a run earned him a shot in the UFC. Between his UFC debut in 2011 and 2016, Miocic fought 10 times, winning eight fights, five of which were finished with strikes. This was enough to earn him a shot against the current champion, Fabricio Werdum.The fight was set in Werdum’s home country of Brazil and was attended by a notably hostile crowd that was eager to watch the challenger fall. Unfortunately for them, Miocic had other plans. Early in the fight, Werdum blitzed forward, leaving himself exposed. Miocic saw the opening and put Werdum out cold with one precise punch. A new champion was crowned, and Stipe brought a championship back to the city of Cleveland for the first time since 1964.

After defeating Werdum, Miocic defended his title three times against the often challenging Alistair Oveerm, Francis N’Gannou, and former champion Junior dos Santos. He then met UFC Light Heavyweight Champion, Daniel Cormier. Late in the first round, while escaping the clinch, Miocic exited with his hands low and caught a short shot that put him on the ground. The fight was over shortly afterward and Daniel Cormier was crowned champion. More than a year later, the two fought a second time, with this fight being one of the toughest in Miocic’s career. Although he was outmatched for much of the fight, Miocic found an opening by way of body shots late into the fourth round. By taking advantage and hammering Cormier’s body, he was able to land some ferocious shots to the head and put Cormier to the canvas for the win and the championship. Since both fighters had just traded wins, the UFC booked the trilogy, a third fight between the two. This time, in a much less damaging fight for both men, we saw Miocic grind out a very tactical, hard fought win, coming by way of unanimous decision. This fight marked Miocic’s record-setting 6th win in UFC Heavyweight Title fights and cemented him in the record books.

Daniel Cormier (22-3 MMA, 11-3 UFC)

Jul. 7th, 2018 – Aug. 17th, 2019

Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

Def. Stipe Miocic at UFC 226

Daniel Cormier’s successful career has been tied heavily to two individuals: Stipe Miocic and Jon Jones, the only two men to defeat DC over the course of his 11-year, 26-fight career. The last of his kind on this list, DC was an elite wrestler coming out of Lafayette, Louisiana. He started at Colby Community College, going 61-0, before transferring to Oklahoma State University. There he finished second in the country, losing in the NCAA finals to wrestling legend, Cael Sanderson. His final record at OSU was 53-10.

After college, Cormier competed in the 2004 and 2008 Olympics, finding success as an Olympic level wrestler. Following his Olympic achievements, he turned to training MMA. Though he finished his career as a heavyweight, he fought most of his career at light heavyweight. Cormier dominated nearly everybody in his early MMA career, starting in Strikeforce and compiling an 11-0 record before getting called to the UFC. Even then, he faced little adversity in his first four fights with the UFC. Then came Jon Jones. If you’ve made it this far, chances are you know who Jon Jones is and the ups and downs that come with one of MMA’s most outstanding and chaotic fighters. 

In this first title challenge for the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship, we saw DC lose a unanimous decision to the undefeated Jones. Months later, Jones was stripped of the title due to a felony hit-and-run, and DC was set to challenge for the title once again, this time against Anthony “Rumble” Johnson (23-6 MMA, 13-6 UFC). After defeating Johnson by rear-naked choke, DC went on to defend his title three times, including a second time against Rumble Johnson. In between came another heartbreaking loss to Jon Jones, which was overturned to a no-contest, because Jones tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs. As such, the title stayed in DC’s hands. 

After such a dominant reign at LHW, DC wanted to move up and challenge Stipe for the UFC Heavyweight Championship. In their first meeting, DC was able to capitalize on that short right hand when leaving the clinch to put down Miocic and secure the victory to win Heavyweight gold. Soon after, he defended his title successfully against “The Black Beast”, Derrick Lewis, winning by rear-naked choke. Then came the final two fights against Stipe that resulted in two subsequent losses and the retirement of one Daniel Cormier.

DC had a storied and successful career, a career marked by being on the other side of two extremely dominant champions. This does not denote his achievements, but many will remember him by being the other side of Jon Jones–and in my opinion, that’s a lot better than being Jon Jones.

Francis Ngannou (16-3 MMA, 11-2 UFC)

Mar. 27th, 2021 – Present

Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

Def. Stipe Miocic at UFC 260

One of the most terrifying men to walk this earth, Francis “The Predator” N’Gannou is not a man from whom anyone wants to line up across the cage. Born and raised in a village in Cameroon, Francis worked in sand quarries, harboring dreams of pursuing professional boxing. By the age of 22, he started training and by 26, he took off to Paris, France to pursue professional fighting.

Once he arrived in Paris, he ended up at the MMA factory where he trained and lived at no cost. This is where Fernand Lopez, the MMA Factory’s head coach, convinced N’Gannou to pursue MMA instead. In 2013, Francis made his MMA debut. He won five of his first six bouts before garnering the attention of the UFC. Once there, he rattled off six wins in a row, many by landing huge strikes that sent his opponents crumbling. Thus, his title shot had arrived. In his first try at gold, he was tasked with facing Stipe Miocic. Although N’Gannou unloaded his full arsenal, he was unable to secure the victory, losing a unanimous decision to Miocic.

He then had one of the most slow-paced, not action packed fights in the UFC’s history against Derrick Lewis. Both being known for having insane knockout power, neither guy was willing to get too close or do too much in a fight that saw Lewis come out with the win (they should’ve both been given an L). Since then, he put together 4 wins in a row, all in the first round, where he connected with brutal punches that no man has been able to handle. Again, he earned an opportunity to challenge Miocic for the title. In this title challenge, we saw N’Gannou come out much more measured and calculated. He still threw the big shots, but he was charging forward and throwing less, opting to stay patient and pick his shots. A very scary sight indeed. This time around he was able to find the punch that would put Miocic down and garner him the UFC Heavyweight Championship. 

N’Gannou is scary, with nobody seemingly able to match the power he has in his hands. However, the newest UFC Interim Heavyweight Champion may have the recipe.

Cyril Gane (10-0 MMA, 7-0 UFC)

(Interim) Aug. 7th, 2021 – Jan. 22nd, 2022

Alex Bierens de Haan/Getty Images

Hailing from La Roche-sur-Yon, France, Ciryl Gane grew up playing proper football and basketball but didn’t pursue either at a higher level. While working at a furniture store, he was introduced to Muay Thai and subsequently made his professional Muay Thai debut in 2016, winning by second round knockout. After winning four more in a row, he faced multiple time WBC MuayThai champion Yassine Boughanem and won the fight by decision–particularly impressive considering he had started fighting for only a few years.

In 2018, Gane made his professional MMA debut. He won three in a row before signing with the UFC. Under the UFC’s banner, Gane has won seven fights in a row, including a finish against Derrick Lewis, to capture the UFC Interim Heavyweight Championship. We have since found out that Gane is a former sparring partner of Francis NGannou and possesses the physical tools to move in and around the Cameroonian–to land strikes and not be struck. Ultimately, though, Gane lost the belt to his former sparring partner.

Francis Ngannou

Jan 22., 2022 – present

Getty Images

By defeating Gane in an unanimous decision at UFC 270, Ngannou unified the belts and became the undisputed best heavyweight in the sport. Already the best African fighter of all-time, the Cameroonian will add to his legacy whenever he fights again, which should be some time early next year.

Categories
Sports

Aaron Judge Restores the Feeling

Baseball is a sport of accumulation, a procession of small events that compound into a larger story. Whereas football demands hyper-vigilance, baseball rewards vegging out and focusing on the macro view while the daily micros wash over you. Until the impossibly tense crucible of the postseason, no one game—let alone at-bat, let alone pitch—really matters that much. Aaron Judge has the power to change that. 

Through 147 games, Judge has clobbered 60 home runs, equalling Babe Ruth’s best campaign. By any standard, hitting 60 homers is insanely impressive and cool, but it’s still all been prelude up to this point. Having already matched Ruth, Judge should equal and then surpass Roger Maris’s American League record of 61 homers some time over the next two weeks. At the risk of saying the quiet part out loud, Judge’s eventual total will probably be more than anybody has ever hit without being geared out of their mind. Amongst a certain subsect of fans, Judge will become the new One True Dinger King. 

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But more than his capacity to populate his Baseball Reference page with bolded, italicized numbers, the most remarkable thing about Judge’s season is that he makes baseball barely feel like baseball. Over the last few months, every one of Judge’s at-bats has been an event. When Judge is up, the game assumes a fundamentally different tenor and tone than when, say, Kyle Higashioka is at the plate. For the first time since Barry Bonds, baseball has a truly grand spectacle, the kind of demographic-spanning attraction that compels tens of thousands of Brewers fans to ooh and ahh when a New York Yankee takes their favorite team yard. 

If part of the beauty of baseball is its democracy, the idea that even a team with Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani can be butt, Aaron Judge is reimagining the game as an exercise in extreme self-reliance. During the Yankees’ second-half fall from grace, Judge has single-handedly accounted for more than a third of the Yankees’ homers and driven in more than a quarter of their runs. On the year, he’s produced a league-leading 7.3 WPA (win probability added) and 9.7 WAR (wins above replacement). In the most reductive, simplified understanding of how these stats work, Judge is essentially responsible for why the Yankees are winning the AL East rather than scrapping for the final Wild Card.

In this sense, Judge’s legacy won’t be whatever record he ends up setting or if he completes the triple crown or even if the Yankees succeed in the postseason. Instead, it’ll be how he turned sleepy September baseball into something so urgent and immediate. His home run chase is ultimately immaterial—he’s in pursuit of a lesser, lower number because it’s basically impossible to hit 73 homers in one season unless you’re the greatest hitter of all-time who’s also on the Mr. Universe workout/pharmaceutical plan.

But in a sport that’s been so thoroughly colonized by the tyranny and accuracy of analytics, Judge has restored baseball’s connection to the giddy buzz of its romanticized past. To watch Aaron Judge in 2022 is to watch Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa in 1998 is to watch Roger Maris in 1961 is to watch Babe Ruth in 1927. It’s to hope that he can do it once—or twice or 15 times—more, with feeling. 

Categories
Sports Strength

What is Pickleball? Everything You Need to Know About the Sport of the Future

Pickleball, once the bailiwick of retirement communities and high school gym classes, is now the fastest growing sport in America. Since 2020, pickleball’s player base has increased by nearly 40%, with the lionshare of that growth coming amongst younger players. While the game started as a humble lawn game and is named after some guy’s dog, it has recently become a relatively big business with a robust professional tour. Last month, Tom Dundon (the owner of the Carolina Hurricanes and the front-man for the now-defunct Alliance of American Football) purchased the Professional Pickleball Association. Similarly, another upstart promotion, Major League Pickleball, has a coterie of big-deal investors that’s headlined by tennis legend James Blake and Marc Lasry, the co-owner of the Milwaukee Bucks.

 In other words, pickleball will soon be a big deal, if it isn’t one already. Here’s everything you need to know about the sport of the future. 

What is pickleball?

Pickleball is essentially the midpoint between tennis and ping-pong. Like tennis, it’s largely played on outdoor courts—a pickleball court is roughly the size of the deuce and ad boxes on a tennis court; like ping-pong, the game is played with paddles instead of racquets and the ball is made of plastic (a pickleball is essentially a wiffleball with a more uniform and predictable perforation pattern). It’s a lot of fun.

What are the rules?

The number one rule is to enjoy yourself! But seriously, the rules are simple—hit the ball over the net and don’t hit it out of bounds. Besides that, the rules are mainly mechanisms to make games and rallies more fun. Namely, the ball needs to bounce on both the serve and the return before any volleys are allowed and there’s a no-volley zone directly in front of the net on both sides.  

Scoring-wise, the most unique rule is that you can only score points when you or your team is serving. If the server wins a rally, they earn a point; if the returner wins the point, they then get to become the server. On the professional tour, each “game” is won by the first player/team to score 11 points and each match is won by the first player/team to win three “games.”

Who are the best players?

Ben Johns, a 22 year-old college senior, is probably the best pickleballer in the world, ranked as the number one men’s singles, men’s doubles, and mixed doubles player in the world. He’s the George Mikan or Johnny Unitas of pickleball, the sport’s first superstar who introduces the game to a broader audience. Outside of Johns, other notable men’s players are Collin Johns (Ben’s brother and doubles partner) and Tyson McGuffin, the #2 men’s player and the tattooed bad-boy of pickleball.

On the women’s side, Catherine Parenteau is the top-ranked competitor. A former college tennis player at the University of Arkansas and Michigan State University, Parenteau transferred her focus to pickleball in 2016 once she ran out of college eligibility. Interestingly, Parenteau was introduced to pickleball by Simone Jardin, the head tennis coach at Michigan State who herself moonlights as an elite pickleballer.

What are the biggest pickleball competitions?

Honestly, it’s still kind of hard to say. At this point, pickleball’s structure is similar to that of pro boxing, lacking a single, centralized governing body. Of the three professional pickleball tours, the Dundon-backed Professional Pickleball Association and the Austin-based Major League Pickleball seem to have the most juice. The PPA is probably the sport’s closest analogue to the ATP or PGA and oversees the Champions Cup, the PPA Open, the Toronto Cup, the PPA Championships and The Masters, which are considered the five “majors.” Outside of the “majors,” the Tournament of Champions in Brigham City, Utah and the US Open are considered to be marquee events.

Alternatively, Major League Pickleball seems like a combo of a pickleball super-league and hype house. Whereas the PPA events are open to anybody who qualifies, MLP consists of only 32 of the best players (including Ben Johns and Catherine Parenteau) and has the biggest purse of any tournament. MLP also hosts all of its events at its homebase in Austin, Texas, giving it the capacity to produce its own social content and promote the sport. 

Where can I watch?

The biggest events are available on ESPN+ with the finals of those tournaments even broadcasted on ESPN or ESPN2. Beyond those events, the PPA and MLP both livestream their tournaments on Youtube; the next PPA tournament is the Riverland Open, which takes place from March 10th-13th.