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Everything Happening With Newcastle

Newcastle are entering a new phase in their club’s history and over the next four months we’ll get a strong gauge about where the Magpies are heading over the next few years.

This season hasn’t gone according to plan for Newcastle and they currently find themselves in the relegation zone with more than half the campaign already behind them.

That’s where new owners Public Investment Fund (PIF) – a Saudi-backed organization – become so valuable to the Magpies this month.

PIF completed its takeover in 2021 after buying out Mike Ashley at Newcastle, and the purchase was met with significant jubilation from Magpies supporters and vast displeasure from other sides across the Premier League.

The majority of the unrest comes from the fact that many are worried about another club being owned by a country could bring in outside factors that hinder the football agenda.

Paris Saint-Germain, which has a Qatari-backed ownership group has been long met by the same criticism over the years, particularly their dealing with TV rights holders beIN Sport – which they own – as well as Qatar’s bid to host the 2022 World Cup.

Back in October, we wrote about what Newcastle fans could potentially expect from their new ownership.

With the Magpies in the midst of the January transfer window now, it feels like a more appropriate time to examine the situation as Newcastle aims to stave off relegation.

Joe Prior/Visionhaus via Getty Images

Reports are all over the place when it comes to the club targeting players this season, with Lille defender Sven Botman, Barcelona’s Ousmane Dembele and other high-profile talents all linked to the English side.

Newcastle has secured deals with striker Chris Wood and England right back Kieran Trippier, which will surely bolster the Magpies squad a bit, but the club appears to be far from finished if they have any say in the matter.

Despite being only two points from safety, Newcastle need significant reinforcements if they are to fend off a drop to the Championship next season.

The club has.just one Premier League win all season and they’ve allowed the second-most goals in England’s top flight (43).

Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

Newcastle can certainly benefit by building around star attacker Allan Saint-Maximin, who had contributed five goals and three assists this season, but the French star cannot do it all by himself.

This season, striker Callum Wilson and Saint-Maximin has played a role in roughly 70 percent of Newcastle’s goal involvements, leaving little margin of error when either aren’t on the pitch.

It’s unclear if the Magpies will be able to get the necessary deals over the line before the end of the January transfer window, but given the nature of the club’s history and the attention drawn by their new ownership anything except a stay in the top flight would be considered a massive misstep.

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Meet Anthony Elanga, United’s Rising Baller

Anthony Elanga is quickly becoming one of Manchester United’s latest rising ballers and it’s easy to see why those around the club are so excited about the youngster.

At 19 years old, he’s seeing more and more regular time for the Premier League side and given the club’s immense youth talent it’s an exciting time to be watching the Red Devils.

Elanga was born in Sweden and briefly played at Malmo’s academy to begin his career, the same club where Zlatan Ibrahmovic made a name for himself early on as a player.

Elanga moved to United’s famed Carrington academy in 2014 and has quickly risen through their system as a teenager.

United’s Carrington academy is known for producing many top talents like Mason Greenwood and Marcus Rashford, and Elanga is starting to enter that mix as well.

Despite Elanga’s father Joseph representing Cameroon at the international level, the Man United attacker plays for Sweden and currently represents their Under-21 side.

With the competition at United in the club’s attack, it was difficult for Elanga to get a fair shake early in the season with Greenwood, Jadon Sancho, Cristiano Ronaldo and Rashford all present.

However, after new manager Ralf Rangnick took over in December, Elanga has received much more attention.

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He’s earned seven appearances across all competitions since the German took charge last month, and Elanga bagged his first senior-team goal of the season on Wednesday against Brentford.

Elanga played all 90 minutes for the first time in the Premier League and it could be a vital raise in confidence moving forward if Rangnick continues to reward him with regular appearances.

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What is the FIFA Club World Cup?

The FIFA Club World Cup will kick off next month in Abu Dhabi, but what exactly is the competition and how long has it been around?

FIFA created the Club World Cup back in 2000 to celebrate regional club winners from across the globe.

Traditional there are seven clubs ranging from all six major confederations around the world, including CONCACAF (North/Central America & Caribbean), CONMEBOL (South America), UEFA (Europe), CAF (Africa), AFC (Asia) and OFC (Oceania).

The first-ever Club World Cup took place in Brazil, where Brazilian champions Corinthians took home the trophy that year.

Over the first two decades of the tournament, winners have only come from Europe and South America, with the four other regions seeking their first trophy.

Etsuo Hara / Contributor

Real Madrid hold the record for most titles in the competition with four, including a run of three consecutive trophies from 2016 through 2018.

In fact, Madrid has never lost a Club World Cup match, boasting 10 wins and two draws in their four previous competitions.

The competition is single-elimination with three teams receiving first-round byes and two more teams receiving byes for the first two rounds of play.

This year, Chelsea and Palmeiras will be automatically through to the semifinals. Meanwhile, Al Jazira and AS Pirae will meet in the lone first round matchup to decide who will take on Al Hilal in the second round.

Who’s Competing This Year?

Chelsea (England) – UEFA Champions League

Palmeiras (Brazil) – Copa Libertadores

Al Hilal (Saudi Arabia) – AFC Champions League

Al Ahly (Egypt) – CAF Champions League

Monterrey (Mexico) – CONCACAF Champions League

AS Pirae (Tahiti) – OFC nomination

Al Jazira (UAE) – 2020/21 UAE Pro League winner

Previous Winners

2000 – Corinthians (Brazil)

2001-2004 – Tournament cancelled

2005 – Sao Paolo (Brazil)

2006 – Internacional (Brazil)

2007 – AC Milan (Italy)

2008 – Man United (England)

2009 – Barcelona (Spain)

2010 – Inter Milan (Italy)

2011 – Barcelona (Spain)

2012 – Corinthians (Brazil)

2013 – Bayern Munich (Germany)

2014 – Real Madrid (Spain)

2015 – Barcelona (Spain)

2016 – Real Madrid (Spain)

2017 – Real Madrid (Spain)

2018 – Real Madrid (Spain)

2019 – Liverpool (England)

2020 – Bayern Munich (Germany)

2021 – TBD

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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

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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

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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 N’Gannou (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 – Present

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 N’Gannou and possesses the physical tools to move in and around the Cameroonian–to land strikes and not be struck. The two are scheduled to fight on January 22nd in what’s sure to be an entertaining match.

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Sports Strength

James Ward-Prowse and His Magical Free Kicks

Players like David Beckham, Lionel Messi and Ronaldinho have been known throughout their illustrious careers for being some of football’s greatest free-kick takers in the history of the sport.

James Ward-Prowse may not have the recognition of the aforementioned trio, but he’s putting himself into that incredible company with his magical free-kick production at Southampton.

The Englishman has been a Saints lifer to this point in his career, arriving at the club 18 years ago when he was invited to their youth academy.

Southampton have been known over the years for producing some of the Premier League’s top talent and making out quite well in the transfer market by selling those players.

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Danny Ings, Sadio Mane, Luke Shaw and Virgil Van Dijk are just a few of the Saints products that have done the club well over the years and helped keep the club functioning at a high level with their sales.

Ward-Prowse, however, has had a very different trajectory for his career despite constantly being floated as a transfer target for other top English sides.

Not only is Ward-Prowse Southampton’s captain but he’s also the club’s most-expensive signing in club history.

Ward-Prowse also happens to be Southampton’s greatest free-kick taker and he’s emerging into elite territory in all of the Premier League.

At the age of 27, Ward-Prowse now has 12 free kick goals to his name while playing at Southampton.

Ward-Prowse only trails Beckham for most direct free kick goals in Premier League history, with the former Manchester United legend boasting 18 during his career.

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Since 2003 when Opta starting tracking free-kick data, Ward-Prowse has the highest free-kick conversion percentage of any player in the top English flight.

Ward-Prowse is a unique specimen though outside of his free-kick endeavors.

Last season, he became recognized as the only Southampton player to play two consecutive Premier League seasons without coming off at any point.

With his consistent play across the midfield, it’s difficult to imagine Ward-Prowse not getting an opportunity at an elite club in the near future. But until then, we can all enjoy his breathtaking free kicks whenever he puts on a Southampton shirt.

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Sports Strength

Why AJ Griffin Should Be a Top Five Pick in the 2022 NBA Draft

Last year’s NBA Draft presented the privilege of easy choices. Cade Cunningham, Evan Mobley, Jalen Green, Scottie Barnes, Jalen Suggs, Josh Giddey: all undeniable stars, to varying extents. Comparatively, the 2022 edition is considerably thornier, lacking last year’s crop disaster-proof options. Even the consensus best prospects—Paolo Banchero, Jabari Smith Jr., Chet Holmgren—seem like they’ll require some amount of imagination and environmental cosseting to reach their potential. Banchero is a muscular 6’9 fantasia of stutter-rips and pull-up jumpers, but sees the court in fuzzy standard definition; Holmgren is an anemic defensive genius who needs to be protected by a brawnier center; Smith offers an intriguing array of skills (namely, being tall and making every jumper), albeit one that necessitate some creative assembly. But amidst all this uncertainty, AJ Griffin offers a welcomed dash of clarity.

A five-star recruit entering this season, the 6’6 Griffin has been eased into Duke’s rotation after spraining his knee during the pre-season; his modest per-game averages (7.9 points, 3.0 rebounds, 1.0 assists) are the result of limited playing time. At first glance, Griffin is a fairly familiar archetype: an athletic, low-usage wing who subsists on a menu of dunks and spot-up shots. What separates Griffin from the Stanley Johnsons and Josh Jacksons of the world, though, is that Griffin can actually do stuff besides having arms the size of legs and legs the size of caissons. 

Namely, if he’s not the best shooter in this year’s draft, he’s at least the best shot-maker in it. His 7.9 points per game belie his true scoring talent—his 25.7 points per 100 possessions are third-most on the team. He dribbles with the shambling wiggle of a marionette, flowing from move to counter-move to counter-counter move until he can create enough space for a stepback jumper; he bumps defenders off their spot and fires shots over their late contests. Although Griffin has a more sluggish first step than most elite guard prospects, he compensates for it by being the Strongest Teenager Alive; upper-classmen careen off of the 18-year-old Griffin. Through his first 16 games at Duke, Griffin is shooting 78.3 percent at the rim, 44.4 percent from mid-range (on an entirely unassisted batch of shots, by the way) and 44.4 percent from three. Aside from his low usage rate, there’s a very real argument that he’s having the most efficient volume-scoring freshman wing in recent memory.  

Defensively, Griffin’s primary goal is to cause mayhem. Despite not being fast enough to bottle up ball-handlers on his own, Griffin is an omnivorous off-ball presence. More, he can credibly switch onto nearly any player for short stretches because he can swallow small guards with his seven-foot wingspan and stymie post players because he’s brolic beyond comprehension. In high school, Griffin padded out his highlight reels with detonating weak lay-ups and presumably he will continue to do so at Duke once he fully shakes off two years of accumulated rust (Griffin missed most of his junior season in high school because of a knee injury and then Covid and then opted out of his senior year). 

And yet, Griffin somehow still languishes towards the back-end of the lottery, according to most draft-niks. Mock drafts at Bleacher Report and The Athletic predict he’ll be the tenth pick; ESPN’s big board lists him as the 11th best player. This is madness. Even independent of the fact that AJ Griffin is a fun player who does fun things, he’s an expert shot-creator-cum-body builder who moonlights as a fearsome backline help-defender—and is also one of the youngest players in the draft. 

Moreover, Griffin’s NBA translation seems like it’ll be fairly painless. He’s the kind of powerful, two-way wing—think: RJ Barrett with a handle or Jimmy Butler with a Valium prescription—that every team pines for. Projecting the development of a bunch of teenagers you’ve never met is a fool’s errand, but AJ Griffin’s obvious and overwhelming goodness is a reminder that it doesn’t always have to be so hard. 

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Sports Strength

Meet Jacob Ramsey, Aston Villa’s Homegrown Star

When Jack Grealish moved on from Aston Villa in 2021 there was great sadness around Villa Park as the club’s biggest star embarked on a new journey at Manchester City. 

We’re now halfway through the Premier League campaign and although may not be a top four side they have another Villa homegrown star that’s ready to fill the shoes left by Grealish.

Meet Jacob Ramsey, the 20-year-old midfielder born in Birmingham.

He may not play the same role as his predecessor, but Ramsey’s importance is quickly growing under new manager Steven Gerrard and it was on full display over the weekend in his side’s comeback 2-2 draw against Manchester United.

Now in his fourth season with the Villa first team, expectations for the Englishman are rising and that could mean significant opportunities in the future both at the club and international levels.

History of Ramsey

Ramsey is a Villa homegrown in every sense of the term. He grew up in Birmingham, not far from Villa Park as he aspired to one day play for the Villans. 

His brothers, Aaron and Cole, are both involved in the Villa system and could potentially join him with the first team someday.

Meanwhile, their father, Mark, was a light-welterweight boxer that fought former champion Ricky Hatton twice in his career.

At six years old, Ramsey joined the club’s youth academy and from there it became an upward trajectory of when, not if, he would make it all the way up to Villa’s first team.

Ramsey signed his first professional contract with the club in January 2019, during the same season in which Aston Villa climbed back into the Premier League for the first time in three seasons.

Clive Mason/Getty Images

It wasn’t until the following year that Ramsey was really granted an opportunity to show off his skills though. The club loaned Ramsey out to League One side Doncaster Rovers in January 2020, but the Englishman would only play seven matches for the Reds after the COVID-19 pandemic shut down football and the world in March.

Doncaster’s season ended because of the coronavirus and that meant Ramsey would head back to Villa and eventually get his first chance to play for the club in September of that same year.

Since that moment, Ramsey’s chances with the first team have only increased and that’s an incredibly exciting notion for a club looking for its next superstar.

Style of Play

Ramsey’s on-field play style is very much that of a prototypical box-to-box midfielder. While Ramsey did shine recently with a goal and an assist against Man United, he isn’t afraid of tracking back to handle the dirty work on the defensive end of the pitch.

With the addition of Philippe Coutinho at Villa it’s a very exciting opportunity for Ramsey to pair with another creative central midfielder.

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It’s very likely that Ramsey can learn from Coutinho’s attacking tendencies while also polishing his defensive performances as well, making him into another Jude Bellingham-esque youngster in the England player pool.

What the Future Holds

Ramsey has become a top prospect in the England youth pool, most recently representing their Under-21 side in 2021. There’s been strong rumblings that Gareth Southgate could turn to more young midfielders such as Ramsey in the near future, especially given the increased youth within the Three Lions squad.

England continues to give opportunities to other youngsters like Reece James, Declan Rice, Phil Foden and Bellingham, and with more consistent play at Villa it’s easy to anticipate Ramsey getting a call up of his own shortly.

With Villa’s increased spending over recent seasons, they’ll expect their squad to improve rapidly. Ramsey could very well become the next Grealish as his builds out his portfolio at the club over the next five-plus seasons and hopefully parlay that into a big-money move of his own.

Or perhaps his journey will be different from Grealish’s. With Gerrard building out his Villa side and setting the boundaries for a squad that has top-half potential, perhaps Ramsey could help guide Villa back to European football, something that Grealish wasn’t able to do before his departure.

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Sports Strength

Monobob!

Open your hearts: it’s time to monobob. 

Monobob (single person bobsledding) is the newest addition to the Winter Olympic program, making its debut next month in Beijing as a women’s only event. Unlike traditional bobsledding (henceforth omnibob or multibob), monobob is notable for its simplicity. While its more famed sibling can resemble an iced-over Formula 1 with each country employing a team of crackpot scientists to make the most aerodynamic and frictionless sled, monobobbers are all required to use identical equipment. Here, athletic competitions aren’t influenced by which sledder has the most skilled science wonks behind them; instead, it’s decided purely by who can slide the fastest. Although it’s imperceptible to the naked eye, monobob is a subtle marriage of brawn and brains—it’s crucial for monobbers to build ample momentum at the start of the race by pushing their 367-pound down the track’s runway, but they must also be able to improvise and instantly calculate the optimal route as they whiz around hairpin turns. As repeatedly emphasized by these British teens explaining the sport on YouTube, monobob is a serious sport and it is not a roller coaster.

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Going into the Olympics, the monobob nabob is Kailie Humphries, an ex-Canadian who defected to join the American team. A three-time Olympian who won gold in the duobob (two-person bobsledding), Humphries (who is married to an American) switched her allegiances in 2021 after Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton failed to respond to her allegations that head coach Todd Hays harassed and abused her; during the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, the relationship between the two was so corrosive that Humphries only competed under the condition that she would have no contact with Hays.

“I found myself in a situation where I didn’t feel safe and I didn’t feel comfortable,” Humphries told the Associated Press about her decision to switch her citizenship. “An opportunity arose in a safe and comfortable environment. Here we are.”

Last month, Humphries won her first race as a Yank, taking the opening race of the Monobob World Series in Germany just one day after being sworn in as an American citizen in San Diego. Alongside Humphries, fellow American American Elana Meyers is part of the American monobob monopoly—Taylor and Humphries are ranked first and third in the world, respectively.

Even if monobob lacks the institutional glossiness of downhill skiing or hockey or figure skating or speed skating, Humphries and Taylor are primed to become a breakout star next month in Beijing. 

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Sports Strength

These are the Next 10 AEW World Champions

Take a good look at the All Elite Wrestling roster and you’ll be amazed by just how many current and future superstars it has in its midst.

Modern-day greats, such as Chris Jericho, Jon Moxley, and Kenny Omega, have already stepped up to the #1 spot in the company by capturing the AEW World Championship. And thanks to their prestigious reigns with the top belt in the company, AEW’s top prize has been recognized as one of the top honors in all of professional wrestling. At the time of this writing, “Hangman” Adam Page is running roughshod over the competition as the most badass “Millenial Cowboy” in the industry today.

But at some point, we all know that he’ll relinquish the title to another top star in the company. And it’s always fun to predict just who that individual will be. Well, I decided to take that idea one step further. Allow me to stare into my crystal ball as I predict the next 10 wrestlers that’ll get their hands on the AEW World Championship.

1. MJF
AEW

Without a shadow of a doubt, Maxwell Jacob Friedman is AEW’s biggest heel on the roster. He’s smug, he talks down to everyone that dares to question his motives, and he always goes out of his way to find the easy way out during all of his matches. As one of AEW’s “Four Pillars,” it’s clear that MJF is being set up to run with the promotion’s top prize sooner rather than later.

And I get the feeling that he’ll be the one to defeat everyone’s favorite wrestling cowboy in a moment that will throw even more heat onto the Plainview, New York native. Page is going to enjoy a lengthy run with the belt that will most likely run through all of 2022. But it’s clear to me that the next champ is going to be someone the crowd knows is going to win the belt, but the sort of person they just don’t want to see take down their favorite babyface.

2. Darby Allin
AEW

Another one of AEW’s “Four Pillars” is the face-painted dynamo known as Darby Allin. Since coming to the company, he’s become the de-facto Jeff Hardy of the company. Fans of all ages adore him, plus his allegiance with Sting has done wonders for his status within the company’s top ranks. One of Darby’s most devastating losses to date is the one he took against MJF back at Full Gear 2021. Now Darby’s rebuilt his top star status since then with ease, of course.

But that major loss still represents a huge blemish on his record. The one thing I love about AEW is the fact that they always come back to feuds later down the line after keeping the wrestlers involved in them away from each other for a while. It’s clear that we’re gonna return to MJF vs. Darby someday and I think it’s going to be the for the big strap. And that’s when Darby will ultimately prevail over MJF and also emerge with the AEW World Championship within his grasp.

3. Malakai Black
AEW

Malakai Black’s resurgence as a member of the AEW roster has done the man wonders for his ongoing career. His mysterious aura has afforded him the ability to present his gimmick to the fullest and enrapture everyone that’s been singing his praises. And now that he’s begun adding members to his “House of Black” stable, Malakai’s been further developing into a force to be reckoned with.

My gut is telling me Malakai and his group will eventually morph into the biggest force within the company (yes, even stronger than the Inner Circle!). With all that being said, he’s clearly going to prop himself up to the level of top contender for the AEW World Championship. Darby and his affiliation with Sting just won’t be strong enough to beat back the formidable threat of Malakai and his cult. In this case, the belt will go from one face-painted superstar to another.

4. Sammy Guevara
AEW

We got another “Four Pillars” AEW representative to show some love to! And that’s none other than the “Spanish God” Sammy Guevara. Since coming to the company and competing in the very first match on AEW Dynamite, Sammy has brought a lot of eyes to the product and garnered plenty of looks from curious wrestling fans. At some point, Sammy’s going to move on from his Inner Circle brethren and fend for himself as a badass lone wolf that gets even more love along the way.

He’s already captured the TNT Championship and it’s clearly evident that he’ll also have the AEW World Championship around his waist at some point. Malakai’s going to be the ultimate final boss as AEW World Champion during his run. A cool-ass babyface that everyone can relate to is the logical individual to be up next by doing the unthinkable by getting the best of Malakai. And that individual will be none other than Mr. Guevara.

5. Andrade El Idolo
AEW

Money talks. And Andrade El Idolo has plenty of it, which makes his presence in AEW quite deafening. While he got off to a shaky start, Andrade has raised his stock by getting involved in marquee feuds with the likes of Pac and Cody Rhodes. Andrade strikes me as the type of guy that’ll morph into AEW’s version of Ted Dibiase where he uses his massive funds to build himself a trustworthy army of followers that protect his self-interests at all times. Once Andrade’s stable finally comes into shape at some point, he’ll begin getting his hands on singles gold like the TNT Championship. Once that reign comes to a close, I get the feeling that he’ll aim higher and eventually bump into Sammy for the AEW World Championship. And that’s when the belt will switch hands from a major Latin superstar to another one.

6. Lance Archer
AEW

Lance Archer is the rampaging giant that uses other MF’ers to hit another MF’er! That act of his is immensely entertaining every time I watch it unfold. Now I’ve definitely been disappointed in his lack of TV time on Dynamite when it comes to getting some time to speak or even destroying some fools in the ring. But I think he’ll get his moment to shine during his AEW tenure and get tons more opportunities to be one of the company’s can’t miss highlights.

Andrade as AEW World Champion will have all the money and allies in the world, but it will all be left in shambles once Archer comes through to wreck it all like a rabid hurricane. Archer sticks out to me as the perfect big man to throw the AEW World Championship on since his larger-than-life stature is tailor-made for the #1 spot. Archer as AEW World Champion while doing some shows in his old home of NJPW sounds like money to me!

7. Brody King
AEW

Big E is quite fond of the act where two big meaty men can be seen…slapping meat, is it? The sexual overtones tied to that phrase make always make me feel uneasy whenever I read those words aloud, but I feel where Big E is coming from. Watching two massive behemoths come to blows like a kaiju movie is one of my favorite things in pro wrestling. And I’m hoping and praying Archer finds himself clashing with the likes of Brian Cage, Miro, and Powerhouse Hobbs during his reign of terror as the rebel/champion without a cause.

Right now, former ROH star Brody King is aligned with The House of Black. But I can see him evolving beyond a loyal stablemate into a more focused destroyer that will still have Malakai by his side as his dark conscience. Malaki will eventually inspire Brody to bring the AEW World Championship back to The House of Black. And it makes total sense to me for Brody to do just that by being the beefy man to relinquish Archer of his beloved title.

8. Keith Lee
WWE

This might be my craziest pick to win the AEW World Championship on this list. And that’s because, at the time of this writing, Keith Lee’s not even #AllElite yet! But I think we all realize that Tony Khan would be insane to pass up on giving the most “glorious” big man in wrestling a chance to shine in his company. Once Lee’s 90-day no-compete clause comes up, it’s expected that he’ll take his in-demand services to AEW.

Lee has all the tools necessary to become a megastar for the fed – he looks super intimidating, utilizes a hybrid big-man/cruiserweight style, and has a signature promo delivery style that sets him apart from everyone else. A lot of fans have been looking forward to the first-ever African American superstar to get their hands on the AEW World Championship. And to me, the perfect person for that position is none other than Lee. A main event barnburner between Brody and Lee is what the world needs at some point. And I think it’ll end with Lee holding the AEW World Championship over his head.

9. Wardlow
AEW

Wardlow is one of those homegrown AEW stars that has a very bright future ahead of him. Once he breaks ties with MJF and powerbombs him out of his expensive loafers, the crowd will come unglued as they finally get to see Wardlow step out on his own. After he does that, I can see him getting a substantially long run with the TNT Championship that increases his star power even more.

And once that midcard title reign wraps up, I just know that Wardlow’s gonna lock eyes with the AEW World Championship next. This road to the title will be one of those supreme crowd popping moments that puts an AEW original front and center of it all. Wardlow is the perfect fit for the best opponent for Lee to test his mettle against on the PPV stage. And by defeating Lee, Wardlow will emerge as the super babyface champion that makes the crowd go wild just like Adam Page does.

10. Eddie Kingston
AEW

The whole world is behind Eddie Kingston. His incredibly down to Earth, no-nonsense style and unfiltered promos have turned him into the beloved everyman fans can easily get behind. While he hasn’t gotten his hands on some AEW championships just yet, I can see him breaking that curse of his by winning the TNT Championship somewhere down the line. But once he relinquishes that title, I can see him playing the ultimate underdog role while he sets out on his next journey.

And that’s winning the AEW World Championship. Eddie strikes as someone that’d make for a great tournament victor that ends up earning himself an AEW World title match in the process. By beating all the odds stacked against him and coming out on top with the world champion in his way as the final obstacle is the perfect fairy tale for Eddie to get embroiled in. And the best ending to that tale would be Eddie shocking the world by pinning Wardlow and holding the AEW World Championship high as its latest holder.

Categories
Sports Strength

Guide to American Ownership in European Football

The rise of interest in European football in the United States has been significant over the past two decades with the increase of social media’s presence and the accessibility for consumers to watch matches around the world.

In 2022, an American fan can watch matches on a variety of platforms like ESPN+, Paramount+ and Peacock to take in their favorite team’s fixtures in Europe’s Big Five leagues, including the Premier League, La Liga, Bundesliga, Serie A and Ligue 1.

Why is this all so important though? Well, the growth of interest in the sport for fans across America has also piqued the curiosity of wealthy entrepreneurs in the U.S. and it’s led to their presence in Europe rising as well.

In the Premier League alone, eight Americans or American-backed ownership groups have at least a minority stake in what’s considered the top division in the entire sport, accounting for roughly 40% of all ownership.

The importance of American ownership presence in Europe can’t be overstated though because of the opportunities that will further arise in the coming years as a byproduct of Stan Kroenke’s stake in Arsenal or John Henry and Tom Werner’s controlling interest at Liverpool, as two examples.

Michael Regan/Getty Images

Clubs across Europe have become more infatuated with the idea of recruiting American players to compete in top leagues, with the Bundesliga currently being the biggest hub for U.S.-based talent.

Ricardo Pepi’s recent move to Augsburg was a perfect example of American influence playing a role considering the club has David Blitzer as one of its key stakeholders.

Blitzer is an American private equity investor that has major stake in clubs across the United States like the Philadelphia 76ers, New Jersey Devils and Real Salt Lake, as well as Premier League side Crystal Palace and Augsburg in Germany.

ONE37pm is breaking down the American ownership across Europe’s biggest leagues and how these clubs are succeeding.

Premier League – England

Arsenal – Stan Kroenke

For American sports fans, Kroenke is the owner of the Los Angeles Rams and Colorado Rapids, but in June 2008 he officially took over the majority owner of legendary Premier League side Arsenal. The Gunners have since won four FA Cup titles despite not having won the Premier League since 2003/04.

Aston Villa – Wesley Edens

Edens joined Egyptian billionaire Nassef Sawiris in a majority takeover of Aston Villa in 2018 and since that time Villa have begun their ascent once again in the Premier League. Despite selling star attacker Jack Grealish to Manchester City in 2021, Villa have been extremely active in the transfer market and have even brought in Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard to manage the club.

Burnley – Alan Pace/ALK Capital

Pace acquired Burnley in December 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic and made a promise to supporters that they could keep their remaining ownership stake of around six percent or be bought out and receive club credits in the future. 

Crystal Palace – Josh Harris/David Blitzer

In 2015, American Josh Harris and David Blitzer revealed they were part of a group proceeding with taking over Crystal Palace despite previous owner and English businessman Steve Parish staying involved. American John Textor also entered the fold in 2021 when he invested over $100 million to join the partnership.

David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images

Harris and Blitzer are known for their stakes in the New Jersey Devils (NHL) and Philadelphia 76ers (NBA), while Textor previously served as executive chairman of FuboTV and is now CEO of Facebank.

Leeds United – 49ers Enterprises

In May 2018, 49ers Enterprises became a minority owner of Leeds and they are headed up by the York family – Denise DeBartolo York, Jed York and John York – who also run the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers. The move came around the same time as when Leeds announced Marcelo Bielsa would be taking over as club manager in the most expensive managerial deal in Leeds history. The club are currently in their second season back in the Premier League after Bielsa helped get the side promoted from the Championship in 2020.

Liverpool – John Henry/Tom Werner/LeBron James

Fenway Sports Group, led by John Henry and Tom Werner, have controlled Liverpool for over a decade now after taking over in 2010. NBA superstar LeBron James also has a minority stake in the club after signing a marketing deal with the Fenway Sports Group.

Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Their group has been vital in creating a revamped culture at Liverpool in the 2010s, including winning Premier League and UEFA Champions League titles. Fenway also owns the Boston Red Sox, Pittsburgh Penguins, Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing and various other ventures.

Manchester United – Glazer Family

The Glazers are known for also owning the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFL as well as famed Premier League side Manchester United. The Glazers have had an ownership stake since the early 2000s and by 2005 they had up to a 98% controlling stake in United. They have been ambitious with their marquee signings over the years by bringing in top talents like Cristiano Ronaldo, Jadon Sancho, Raphael Varane and others. 

Championship – England

Barnsley – Chien Lee/Paul Conway/Billy Beane

The Championship side was sold to Chien Lee, Paul Conway and Billy Beane in 2017. The Oakland Athletics front office executive Beane, who was famously portrayed by Brad Pitt in the movie Moneyball, also plays a role in the club’s analytics. The club haven’t reached the Premier League since 1997/98.

Coventry City – Joy Seppala

Hedge fund owner Seppala has owned Coventry since 2007 but the club has mostly bounced around between the Championship and League One during that span. The Sky Blues have a long history battling now-Premier League side Leicester City in the lower divisions, but the two sides haven’t met since 2012.

Fulham – Shahid Khan

Khan has been a familiar face around English football since 2013 given Fulham’s back-and-forth endeavors in the Premier League and English Championship. Fulham is the longest-running London-based football club dating back to 1879.

Justin Casterline/Getty Images

Khan is also known for owning the Jacksonville Jaguars and has made a concerted effort to play several NFL games in London over the years to expand their global presence.

Millwall – John Berylson/Richard Smith

John Berylson and his group took over in 2007 and the club have actually enjoyed some success in the lower divisions. Millwall have competed in the Championship for the past five seasons and have come close to promotion on several occasions which would be a significant feat for a club that currently boasts a squad value of roughly $38 million based on Transfermarkt valuations.

Swansea City – Stephen Kaplan/Jason Levien

Swansea is a historic side that’s known throughout the United Kingdom for being one of the most successful Welsh clubs. Kaplan and Levien became co-owners in 2016 around the same time American manager Bob Bradley was coaching the Swans. Ultimately, Bradley was sacked shortly after but Swansea has been consistently towards the top of the Championship since.

League One – England

Ipswich City – Mike O’Leary/Gamechanger 20

O’Leary took over at Ipswich recently in 2021 and the club is aiming to make a significant leap to the Premier League in the future. In the past Ipswich has had a rich history, including having Sir Bobby Robson as a previous owner. During his opening press conference, O’Leary said, “We are here to help the club climb the football pyramid. Promotion to the Championship as soon as possible is the immediate aim. It’s possible this season but if it takes another year or so, so be it.”

Plymouth Argyle – Simon Hallett

Hallett became a majority owner in 2018 for the League One side after previously being involved in the club’s ownership. He’s done a great job renovating the team’s historic venue, Home Park, which has been around since 1901 and remains a legendary English stadium to visit.

Portsmouth – Michael Eisner

Portsmouth’s financial struggle were documented for years, but Eisner has helped steady the ship since coming aboard in 2017. Pompey Supporters Trust – a fan-owned group aiming to save Portsmouth – helped keep the club from going through liquidation back in 2013, but former Disney CEO Eisner became involved as well and now his investment group The Tornante Company owns Portsmouth outright.

Wycombe Wanderers – Rob Couhig

American lawyer Rob Couhig and his family helped Wycombe reach the Championship in 2020 and it was momentous for the club for a number of reasons. Adebayo Akinfenwa’s notable post-game speech about the courage and passion he and his teammates exhibited throughout the season was memorable, but Wycombe are now aiming to be competitive past that triumph.

Serie A – Italy

Fiorentina – Rocco Commisso

Commisso is still one of the more well known American owners because of his ownership in legendary NASL side New York Cosmos. Their struggles to find a permanent league have been well documented over the years, but Fiorentina is on the rise under Commisso. They currently have one of the top young players in Serie A and all of Europe with Dusan Vlahovic. 

Genoa – 777 Partners

In 2021, Steven W. Pasko and Josh Wander of 777 Partners took over Genoa and the club have since gone out and made legendary player Andriy Shevchenko manager after he left the Ukraine national team. Although Genoa have bounced around between Serie A and Serie B their new owners seem to be willing to invest in the club in order to improve.

AC Milan – Elliott Management Corporation

Milan are one of the most historic sides in football and in 2017 America hedge fund group Elliott Management Corporation became involved. There have been so many legendary players throughout the history of the club, but they’ve gone out and spent wisely on younger talents over recent seasons like Fikayo Tomori and Sandro Tonali. 

Roma – Dan Friedkin

Dan Friedkin and the Friedkin Group took over Roma in 2020 and it has sparked some big moves thus far for the club based in Rome. Jose Mourinho took over as manager not too long ago and the club has also paid top dollar for players like striker Tammy Abraham, who came over from Chelsea.

Spezia – Robert Platek

Spezia joined the fold with an American owner in 2021 when Robert Platek got involved with the club. Platek’s private equity firm MSD Capital has been involved in helping out various clubs throughout Europe in the past by lending money to English sides Derby County, Southampton, Sunderland and Burnley. Platek also owns Danish top-flight side Sønderjysk Elitesport.

Venezia – Duncan Niederauer

Ducan Niederauer, former CEO of the New York Stock Exchange, and his VFC Newco 2020 group own Venezia.

Francesco Scaccianoce/LiveMedia/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The club has become very successful in its marketing through utilizing social media to capture the essence of the city and use its fashion roots to help promote the club through its dazzling kit designs and iconic images of the stadium and surroundings.

Serie B – Italy

Parma – Kyle Krause

When Krause took over at Parma it was a significant moment for the club that has previously featured Italian legends like Gianluigi Buffon, Fabio Cannavaro and so many more. Parma even managed to bring back Buffon this season despite currently playing in Italy’s second division. Krause, who owns the American convenience store chain Kum & Go, is hoping that he can help the club return to the top flight.

Ascoli – Matt Rizzetta/North Six Group

Matt Rizzetta has a lot of influence in Italian football, also boasting a stake in Campobasso Calcio – a fourth-division Italian club. He’s based out of New York and hopes that his connections with Italian Football TV can bring a new generation of fans to both Ascoli and Campobasso.

La Liga – Spain

Mallorca – Robert Sarver/Steve Nash/Stu Holden/Kyle Martino

Sarver also owns the NBA’s Phoenix Suns, but Holden, Martino and Nash all have significant football connections. Holden and Martino both played professionally abroad and represented the U.S. Men’s National Team and Nash previously played basketball for the Suns and other teams but grew up playing football as well. He’s held a number of large charitable football matches in the past to raise money for great causes.

Ligue 1 – France

Marseille – Frank McCourt

McCourt took charge of Marseille in 2016 and the club has enjoyed a fair share of success during the period since. Marseille have finished top five in Ligue 1 every season since and thye currently have a host of talented young players including Matteo Guendhouzi, Boubacar Kamara and USMNT attacker Konrad de la Fuente.