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Boxing debate: Who’s next for Tyson Fury, if not Deontay Wilder? Is Fury-Wilder 3 really doomed?

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Tyson Fury said he wants to fight again this year, but it doesn’t appear that Deontay Wilder will be his next opponent.

Fury was expected to have a trilogy fight with Wilder at Allegiant Stadium, the home of the NFL’s Las Vegas Raiders, on Dec. 19, but plans seem to have fallen apart.

So, what’s next for the WBC and lineal heavyweight champion, who punished Wilder for seven rounds in their second meeting in February and won by TKO? Will he take a tuneup fight for a possible world title unification bout with Anthony Joshua in 2021?

Wilder, meanwhile, is contractually entitled to a trilogy fight with Fury. What should Wilder do if the two sides can’t organize that bout?

ESPN’s expert boxing panel of Ben Baby, Steve Kim, Nick Parkinson and Cameron Wolfe examines those topics and more.

Who is your preferred opponent for Tyson Fury and why?

Baby: Top Rank and Fury have the tough task of trying to balance activity with risk when it comes to finding Fury’s next opponent. Fury needs some work ahead of a potential 2021 fight against Anthony Joshua. However, he can’t risk someone who will cut him or cause complications when it comes to a Joshua megafight.

Iceland’s Robert Helenius could be a perfect option. Helenius became more recognizable after he knocked out Adam Kownacki in March. But more importantly, Helenius is an orthodox fighter with similar measurements to Joshua. If Fury is going to take another fight this year, it might as well be someone who will help him get ready for AJ.

Kim: While everyone would prefer a live body for Fury, there is a reality in this situation. If this is a stay-busy fight for Fury, which then leads into a bout with Anthony Joshua, Fury’s handlers won’t be taking too many chances. A guy who makes sense is Agit Kabayel, who is rated by the WBC (at No. 15), has an unbeaten record (20-0, 13 KOs) and, while credible, is still relatively safe. He’s also co-promoted by Top Rank. Again, my preference is that Fury and Joshua fight straight away, but that simply isn’t going to happen at this moment in time.

Parkinson: It’s likely Fury will face a keep-busy fight if he is not fighting Wilder in December, and due to coronavirus restrictions the opponent will likely be from the U.K. or Europe. Fury’s promoters will not want anything too risky, so forget a fight against someone like Daniel Dubois. Germany’s Agit Kabayel might be too dangerous too, but France’s 39-year-old Johann Duhaupas, France’s Carlos Takam (defeated by Joshua in 2017), Finland’s Robert Helenius and the Netherlands’ Ricardo Snijders (recently beaten by Dubois) might be on a short list.

Wolfe: Given that we expect Fury to select an opponent instead of a top-10 heavyweight, I’ll give a few names that could create some interest: Efe Ajagba, Carlos Takam or an Otto Wallin rematch.

A Fury fight might be too soon for Ajagba, a 25-year-old Nigerian prospect (14-0, 11 KOs), but if his team is willing to take the risk, it could create some storylines given Fury’s past taunts of Anthony Joshua and Nigeria. Remember, Fury wore a Nigeria mouthguard in the last Wilder fight to mock Joshua. Ajagba is a respected heavyweight, but he would be a significant underdog. Takam (39-5-1, 26 KOs) gives a veteran option who has fought Joshua, Dereck Chisora and Alexander Povetkin. Takam is entertaining and is on a four-fight win streak.

Both Ajagba and Takam are promoted by Top Rank, so those would be easy fights to make. Finally, Fury would earn a lot of respect by giving Wallin — who gave him his toughest fight over the past two years — a rematch.

Will Fury ever face Deontay Wilder a third time?

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Tyson Fury puts Deontay Wilder on the mat twice as he wins by TKO in the seventh round to remain undefeated and claim the WBC heavyweight championship.

Baby: Yes, but not any time soon. Wilder was beaten so soundly in the rematch that he needs another fight to get his mind right and get accustomed to a new trainer after he fired Mark Breland following the loss to Fury. If we’re being honest, there are very few fights for Fury and Wilder that would be as profitable as a third fight in the trilogy. From a financial standpoint, it’d be foolish for both men not to accept that bout.

Kim: Hard to say, but in talking to Wilder’s adviser, Shelly Finkel (who had no comment on Monday about the current situation), it’s clear that he feels that they have a contract for a third bout. The reality is this: Although nobody else might want to see Fury-Wilder III, what is laid out for that bout probably surpasses the financial terms of any other potential fight for Wilder, at the moment. That more than anything is why some factions yearn for a third chapter — it’s the most money, without risking a loss beforehand. I believe that if they do indeed have a contractual right to a third go-around, it will eventually be executed.

Parkinson: If Fury is contractually obliged to face Wilder again, then yes, and perhaps in the first quarter of 2021. Or, Wilder might agree to take an interim fight as long as he is guaranteed a shot at the winner of Fury-Joshua late in 2021 … if Fury-Joshua ends up getting made. We will have some clarity on the confusing situation by mid-December, after Joshua’s next defense of his WBA, IBF and WBO versions of the world heavyweight title.

Wolfe: If both continue to win, it feels inevitable. If Fury becomes the unified heavyweight champion next year, Wilder will be at the top of the list as the best and most financially fruitful matchup. Wilder is still a very popular fighter in the United States, and a few knockout wins would help him regain some of the prestige that Fury stole from him in their February fight. So yes, I do think we’ll get Fury-Wilder III, but it might not be until 2022 or later.

How do you see a Fury-Anthony Joshua fight playing out?

Baby: I like Fury via knockout. Joshua looks the part of a big heavyweight, but as we saw with the first fight against Andy Ruiz and the win over Wladimir Klitschko, he occasionally becomes too easy to hit. Fury has the power and the ring acumen to give Joshua fits and eventually land a power shot that can flip a fight for good. But it will be a wildly entertaining bout that will be properly billed as a megafight. Hopefully we’ll get to see it with a full U.K. crowd within the next 18 months.

Kim: Fury’s advantages in movement, fluidity and boxing IQ give him an advantage over Joshua, who looked like a much more tentative boxer in his rematch with Andy Ruiz last December. Confidence is a big part of this sport, and Fury has never lacked in this department, while there are still questions about Joshua. Right now, the pick is Fury by clear decision or late stoppage.

Parkinson: I would like to see how Joshua looks against Kubrat Pulev on Dec. 12 before making a proper judgment, but based on their previous outings, I favor Fury on points. Fury showed against Wilder in February that his boxing ability, range, movement and ring intelligence mark him out as the pick for most people. Joshua was a bit cautious in his points win against Andy Ruiz last December to reclaim the titles, after looking vulnerable in a stoppage defeat to Ruiz earlier last year. If Joshua can show an improvement in confidence and a return of his explosive power against Pulev, he might make me and others think again about the outcome.

Wolfe: Fury knocks him out. I’m still not convinced that first Andy Ruiz Jr. fight was a fluke, and Joshua being exposed in that matchup gives Fury enough weakness to prey on. I’m not sure Joshua has many advantages over Fury that he can hang his hat on. Fury is on a mission since he returned to boxing, and his quick unorthodox style should allow him to pick apart Joshua in their fight(s).

Where should Wilder go from here?

Baby: Wilder needs to find a trainer he trusts and rebuild his confidence after getting demolished by Fury in their rematch. When Wilder switched trainers, it was a sign that Wilder felt he needed a significant shift in order to get back to the top of the heavyweight division. It could be the move that Wilder needs to find his groove again. After all, Fury left Ben Davison, his longtime trainer, after he notched a draw in the first fight. Regardless, it’s foolish to write Wilder off after the loss. Even with all of his flaws, he’ll always be in a fight as long as he has that thunderous right hand.

Kim: If the third fight with Fury isn’t happening next, Wilder really has no choice but to take a tuneup fight in the interim. That wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world given how the last bout with Fury played out back in February. The PBC has a stable of heavyweights to choose from (from guys like Charles Martin to Gerald Washington), or it can go outside and pick and choose another relatively safe body to keep Wilder busy before facing Fury again.

Parkinson: The best option, to underline his credentials for a shot at either Fury or Joshua in 2021, would be to face the winner of Alexander Povetkin and Dillian Whyte, who face each other again on Nov. 21 after Povetkin’s upset KO in August. Beating Povetkin or Whyte would strengthen Wilder’s case for a WBC title shot. However, if Wilder needs a U.S.-based opponent, what about Charles Martin?

Wolfe: Wilder has to get his fear back. It’s what led him to becoming such a terrifying heavyweight, and it’s gone now. You get your fear back by knocking people out, quickly. So I’d suggest Wilder get one or two fights where he can do such, then work his way into destroying non-Fury heavyweight contenders. So even though his pride is likely hurt, Wilder should forget about Fury again, put together three or four consecutive wins (and knockouts) and then try to get his revenge in the trilogy. If Wilder is looking for a non-Fury opponent who would garner some respect in 2021, Andy Ruiz Jr. and Joseph Parker both make sense in the second half of the year, and both would sell.

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Khabib: Only want St-Pierre bout after Gaethje

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UFC lightweight champ Khabib Nurmagomedov said Tuesday that Georges St-Pierre is the only person he’d be motivated to fight after Saturday’s bout against interim champ Justin Gaethje.

“I really become excited when I think about Georges St-Pierre,” Nurmagomedov said on ESPN’s First Take. “I don’t know if he wants to fight with me or not, can he make weight — 155 or not — but this fight makes me excited, honestly.

“And I think me vs. Georges is going to be very, very big fight. Like big fight for fans, big fight for pay-per-view, big fight for analytics, for everybody. This is only fight in UFC, after Gaethje, that makes me very excited.”

Nurmagomedov (28-0) will be favored when he puts his perfect record on the line against Gaethje (22-2) in the main event of UFC 254 in Abu Dhabi.

There has been speculation that Nurmagomedov’s next opponent would be the winner of the proposed bout between Conor McGregor and Dustin Poirier on Jan. 23. Nurmagomedov submitted Poirier in the third round on Sept. 7, 2019, and he submitted McGregor in the fourth round on Oct. 6, 2018.

“I finished both of them, and finished in dominant position, a dominant performance,” Nurmagomedov said. “And I’m not interested in both of those guys, because I need something new. I need new blood, new energy. Justin Gaethje gives me new motivation. He’s the real deal. Right now, he’s interim champ, he’s very tough guy.

“If I think about both, Dustin and Conor, they don’t give me good energy, they don’t give me motivation. Fight for what? For my legacy? I already put these guys on my list. I already beat them. Everything is finished with these guys.”

Nurmagomedov said a couple more fights will be “great for my legacy,” and his father, Abdulmanap, who died in July of heart problems complicated by the coronavirus, had suggested his son retire with a 30-0 record.

St-Pierre, who’s one of the greatest fighters in MMA history, has flirted with the idea of coming out of retirement, but only to face Nurmagomedov.

“If I come back, it would be for one fight,” St-Pierre told ESPN on Oct. 7. “And I need to take, for me, the biggest fish. And the one — for me, I believe — the top guy right now, the name is Khabib.

“As a fighter, the most exciting thing is to take the guy who seems invincible, unbeatable. He has the aura of invincibility. But it’s also the scariest thing to do.”

St-Pierre, who hasn’t fought since beating Michael Bisping on Nov. 4, 2017, isn’t sure about dropping down to 155 pounds for the first time. He fought most of his career at 170 pounds.

UFC president Dana White has expressed an openness to granting Nurmagomedov’s wish about fighting GSP.

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Is Tua Tagovailoa ready to become Miami’s biggest star since Dan Marino?

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Editors’ note: Rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa will take over as the Miami Dolphins’ starter beginning Week 8 against the Los Angeles Rams, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter. This story originally published on May 25, 2020.

Leaps into swimming pools. Emotional moments of jubilation. Tears of joy. Fifteen words delivered by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell — “With the fifth pick in the 2020 NFL draft, the Miami Dolphins select Tua Tagovailoa” — elicited all that plus a belief the moment will change the Dolphins’ franchise forever.

Over the past month, there has been an innate buzz burgeoning nationally, but especially in South Florida, that can be summed up as a Tua frenzy. An 11-minute fan-generated YouTube video provides a visual.

“Tua is far by himself — never seen anything like this buzz from a draft pick here. There’s no close second,” said Dolphins color commentator and radio host Joe Rose, who played for the franchise alongside Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino from 1983 to 1985. “We have a rock star here in Tua. This team has been in mediocrity for so long. It’s lacked the Dan Marino star power, the Ricky Williams star power. Tua’s the next guy in that group.”

Despite the love, it’s too early to crown Tagovailoa. He hasn’t even played an NFL game. Tagovailoa’s arrival is defined by hope and hype.

Even in his first month as a Dolphins quarterback, it is clear that if Tagovailoa lives up to expectations, he will be the face of South Florida sports for a while.

How will Tagovailoa manage the pressure, the buzz, overwhelming positivity, eventual negativity and everything that comes with being hailed as the next big thing in a city starving for its latest sports superstar?

“The great thing for Tua is Dan Marino retired 20 years ago,” Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon said. “So it’s not like he’s following right behind a legend like Aaron Rodgers following Brett Favre or whoever follows Tom Brady. He just has to be himself. He can’t be Dan Marino. Just be yourself and rely on the people around you.”

‘It’s going to be Dolphins town’

A Mount Rushmore of athletes who have led South Florida pro teams probably starts with Marino and the Miami Heat‘s Dwyane Wade, but the initial expectations weren’t as high with either legend.

Wade remembers it wasn’t until after he led the Heat to their first championship in 2006 that he became the face of South Florida sports. He returned to Miami and hopped in his convertible with a buddy. Fans sighted him and rushed the car. He couldn’t drive another block.

“I looked at my friend and said, ‘Yo, this is different,'” Wade said. “I enjoyed it. But I knew it would never be normal in this city from that point on. I had to get used to being a celebrity. The perks were great, but the non-privacy was not so great.”

“Wade County” was born and didn’t slow down. His presence remains large in Miami, but since he retired following the 2018-19 season, there has been an active-superstar void.

Enter Tagovailoa.

“He’s a hell of a player. Miami, especially at the QB position, really needs that. They need a leader. They need a player,” Wade said. “To come in as a young player and win a game in the second half of a national championship game — that shows some grit, that shows some balls. People have to really believe in you. Miami needs that. The Dolphins need that. Even though I’m a [Chicago] Bears fan, I was rooting for them to get him because Miami needs to get back to where the basketball program is.”

Wade’s advice to Tagovailoa centers on how to handle fame; the future Hall of Fame guard says he would often deal with anxiety when he left the house. He felt the need to always be on as D-Wade even when he wanted to just be Dwyane. Wade said even though he wasn’t expected to “save the franchise,” once he became a fan favorite, he had to “figure out how to enjoy what you worked hard for, but keep a level of sanity at the same time.”

Wade is optimistic Tagovailoa will lift the Dolphins to a place they never reached while he was with the Heat.

“If the Dolphins get it going, it’s going to be Dolphins town. We did as much to make it a basketball town as possible, and Miami Heat is there to stay. But let’s not get it twisted: Florida is football. Once they get their s— together, they are going to be big and bigger,” Wade said. “But those Heat guys — Bam [Adebayo], Tyler Herro — are going to battle him for it. He’s got to earn it.

“How you put yourself in that conversation is doing something great, something that people have never seen before, and obviously winning.”

Marino was a ‘rock star’

Tagovailoa passed his first test by eschewing his college No. 13 — Marino’s number in Miami. Instead, Tagovailoa is paving his own path by becoming the first Dolphins QB to wear No. 1.

“I understand No. 13 is retired, and it should be. Dan Marino, he’s the GOAT. He’s like the mayor out there, and I have much respect for him,” Tagovailoa said. “I just want to have the opportunity to go out there and compete.”

Every quarterback who has arrived in Miami has been met with some mention of Marino, and Miami has started 21 quarterbacks since the Hall of Famer retired in 2000. The Dolphins haven’t had a Pro Bowl QB since then, which marks the NFL’s longest streak.

So while the expectations might seem unwieldy for a 22-year-old quarterback coming off a serious hip injury, this isn’t just any NFL city. He’s coming to a franchise that is thirsty for a star QB, and fans have been waiting on Tagovailoa for more than a year.

“When I got down there, the Miami Dolphins were Dan Marino’s town and team. It’s still that way,” former Dolphins great Ricky Williams said. “I was a running back, but no one has even come close to eclipsing the success that Dan had in Miami as a quarterback. Even more so than what I experienced, Tua has the potential to be a big part of what it means to be a Miami Dolphin for a long time.”

Williams had a great run as the face of the Dolphins. Jason Taylor, Zach Thomas and Ryan Tannehill did, too. But none of them have the national pull Tagovailoa has now.

Rose says he remembers the buzz around Marino being relatively subdued when he arrived. The Dolphins, coming off a Super Bowl XVII loss, were led by their “Killer B’s” defense, and they selected Marino with the No. 27 overall pick when he fell to them in the 1983 draft.

By the end of his record-setting 1984 MVP season, Marino was a superstar.

“When we went to New York, I saw the phone calls we got in our hotel room. I saw what movie stars and celebrities came around. People wanted to be around this guy,” Rose said. “We didn’t have the media and social media that they do now, so it could be a lot more hidden. He was big stuff. He was a rock star.”

Marino is the standard, but Tagovailoa doesn’t have to reach that level to be remembered in Dolphins history. As Moon and Wade have stressed, he just has to focus on being himself.

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Dwyane Wade expresses his thoughts on the Dolphins drafting Tua Tagovailoa and gives some advice for playing in the city of Miami.

Work, gain respect, then build the brand

Moon knows all about highly anticipated arrivals. After five Grey Cup titles in the Canadian Football League, Moon signed with the Houston Oilers and became the NFL’s highest-paid player in 1984.

With stars such as running back Earl Campbell and linebacker Robert Brazile already in Houston, Moon was conscious of veterans believing he was too full of himself. Moon’s response was to work hard, including lifting weights with the offensive line.

“When people came in the building, I was already there. When people left, I was still there,” Moon said. “Yeah, I had a lot of attention, but they saw my work ethic. When I got on the field, they started to see I could really play. What you’re trying to do is gain respect, and I think Tua will get that, too, because of his work ethic.”

Showing that work ethic and building camaraderie with teammates could prove to be more challenging for Tagovailoa this offseason with virtual meetings instead of in-person practices. But Tagovailoa has reached out to many of his Dolphins teammates via text messages and phone calls.

The other balance Tagovailoa will have to maintain is his unique marketability with Moon’s advice “to go in there with your head down and work.”

Tagovailoa, who signed a four-year, $30.3 million contract, has endorsement deals with Adidas, Hulu, Muscle Milk, Verizon, Wingstop, Gillette, Lowe’s, Bose and Call of Duty. He recently signed a multiyear, exclusive memorabilia-and-collectibles deal with Fanatics. He also has a documentary in the works detailing his journey to the Dolphins.

Agent Ryan Williams and Athletes First have handled Tagovailoa’s marketing demands, and he has immediately become one of the NFL’s most well-known young players. The people love the former Alabama quarterback, and that has shown up in the numbers. Tagovailoa is the top-selling NFL player in terms of overall merchandise sales since May 1 across the Fanatics network, which includes NFLshop.com and online team stores — above Tampa Bay’s Brady and Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow, the No. 1 overall draft pick.

Moon remembered advice he was given by his agent, Leigh Steinberg, who also represents Tagovailoa: to take things slow on building your brand and try to avoid reading the headlines or social media.

“I just want to make sure that he doesn’t try to get too far ahead of himself. Football is what butters his bread,” Moon said. “If he doesn’t do well on the football field, everything else will go away. Knowing a bit about Tua, he’ll be fine.”

Tagovailoa showed humility throughout his college career. He has a connection to family and a desire to give back.

“I’m honored that the fans think so highly of me. But I haven’t done anything, yet,” Tagovailoa said. “What I did in college can’t translate to the NFL. It’s a clean slate. I’ve got to go out there and earn my respect and earn the trust from my teammates.”

‘The guys in that locker room’

The idea of becoming a star before even taking an NFL snap might be enough to make Dolphins coach Brian Flores’ head spin. A champion of competition and team-first mentality, Flores probably doesn’t care how many jerseys Tagovailoa sells as long as he produces on the field.

“The world will make you think that you’re this superstar. And maybe you are, but it doesn’t really matter,” Flores said last November regarding any particular player’s growing success. “The only thing that matters is the guys in that locker room.”

But there is an element of stardom Wade alluded to with which Flores probably will agree, and that’s winning. The New England Patriots became an NFL dynasty with a star quarterback because of their winning records and Super Bowl titles. The allure of Tagovailoa’s star power will be embraced should the Dolphins become title contenders year in and year out.

Before worrying about the celebrity, the more timely concern revolves around when Tagovailoa will get on the field. Some argue he should be an immediate starter, while others suggest a redshirt 2020 season. The most likely result appears to be somewhere in the middle.

The Dolphins are in Year 2 of a dramatic rebuild, but Flores always wants to win. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, the veteran incumbent, has the upper hand in securing the starting role for several reasons, thanks to his comfort in offensive coordinator Chan Gailey’s scheme, his success guiding the Dolphins in 2019 (to five wins), his leadership in the locker room and a lack of a true offseason.

But Tagovailoa is also eager to learn under Fitzpatrick, saying on draft day in April that he wants “to understand the kind of person he is … nitpick him, ask him how he goes about preparing for a defense … and just being able to question him.”

Fitzpatrick vows to be Tagovailoa’s “biggest cheerleader,” but he won’t hand him the starting job in 2020. Tagovailoa probably wouldn’t want it any other way, because when football returns, he will get the opportunity to prove his worth.

Once Tagovailoa hits the field, the hope is he gets to become the greatest version of himself instead of being constantly compared to Marino. That weight is too heavy.

But becoming the long-term face of the Dolphins and South Florida sports? That’s well within Tagovailoa’s grasp.

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Raptors’ Bjorkgren named Pacers head coach

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The Indiana Pacers have agreed to a multiyear deal to hire Toronto Raptors assistant Nate Bjorkgren as their head coach, sources told ESPN.

Bjorkgren, a disciple of reigning NBA Coach of the Year Nick Nurse, sold the Pacers on his history of innovation, adaptability and winning in his time as an NBA assistant and G League head coach, according to sources.

Bjorkgren worked with Nurse in two stops in the G League, winning a title with him in 2011 in Iowa. Bjorkgren reached the G League Finals as head coach of Santa Cruz in 2013 before arriving in the NBA in 2015 as an assistant with the Phoenix Suns.

Bjorkgren, 45, reunited with Nurse in Toronto in July 2018 and was a part of his staff in the Raptors’ championship season.

The Pacers are replacing Nate McMillan, who was dismissed after four consecutive trips to the playoffs. McMillan had a 183-136 record in Indiana, including 3-16 in the postseason.

The Pacers have made five consecutive postseason appearances but have been swept in the first round each of the past two years.

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