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Cyborg chokes out Blencowe for first submission victory, retains Bellator title

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It was the same old Cyborg. It was a brand-new Cyborg.

Cris Cyborg put on another dominant performance in a career full of them, and added a new twist by scoring her first submission victory in 26 pro bouts, choking out Arlene Blencowe to successfully defend her Bellator women’s featherweight championship in the main event of Bellator 249 on Thursday at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut.

Cyborg battered her challenger in a one-sided round and a half, bloodying Blencowe in the stand-up fighting before taking her to canvas and locking in a rear-naked choke to get the tapout at 2:36 of Round 2.

“This is a dream come true,” said Cyborg (23-2, 1 NC). “I’m really happy, and excited for the next one.”

Cyborg, who had scored knockouts in 18 of her previous 22 victories, was making her first defense of the 145-pound championship she won from Julia Budd in January in her Bellator debut. That completed a sweep of all major featherweight titles in women’s MMA, as Cyborg previously had reigned in the UFC, Invicta FC and the now-defunct Strikeforce.

A 35-year-old native of Brazil who lives and trains in Southern California, Cyborg has suffered just one defeat in 15 years, a TKO loss in 2018 to two-division UFC champion Amanda Nunes, who is No. 1 in the ESPN women’s pound-for-pound rankings. Cyborg is ranked third.

Blencowe (13-8), a 37-year-old from Australia, is a former two-time world champion in pro boxing. But her boxing never was a factor in this fight. Cyborg hurt her in the first round with leg kicks and fast combinations of punches, and when the champ got the fight to the canvas just two minutes in, she seized a dominant position and nearly ended it then.

Blencowe survived to the bell, but she was damaged goods coming out for the second round. Cyborg swarmed her, took her back to the mat and finished her.

It was Blencowe’s second unsuccessful bid for the Bellator women’s featherweight title. She lost a split decision to Budd in 2017.

Earlier in the evening, the fight card lost its co-main event when Patricky Freire was pulled from his 159-pound catchweight bout with Jaleel Willis because he fell ill. Mike Mazzulli, director of athletic regulation for the Mohegan Tribe, said Freire was removed from the card “because of an illness unrelated to COVID or weight cut.”

Later, the fighter’s brother, Bellator men’s featherweight champ Patricio Freire, wrote on Instagram that he and Patricky’s trainers had called off the fight, saying, “I caught him in his room a bit dizzy right when we were going to leave to the arena.”

He said his brother was seen by two commission doctors, had been medicated and was feeling well “but devastated by the cancellation.”

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Joe Thornton spoke to Joe Montana about leaving Bay Area

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While considering a move to the Toronto Maple Leafs as a free agent, center Joe Thornton of the San Jose Sharks sought as much advice as possible.

He spoke with family and friends. He spoke with Joe Pavelski and Patrick Marleau, former San Jose teammates who left the team via free agency. But Thornton said the most memorable guidance he received was from another Bay Area sports legend.

“I actually talked to Joe Montana. I think Joe gave me some good advice. He just talked about leaving San Francisco and going to Kansas City,” said Thornton, who signed a one-year deal with the Leafs on Friday.

In 1993, Montana requested a trade from the 49ers, who shipped the 37-year-old quarterback to Kansas City, where he finished his career with the Chiefs.

“I had so many people I talked to over the last week. I’m just blessed I had a chance to talk to some great people. He was one guy who offered me some good advice,” Thornton said.

Thornton, 41, is skating with HC Davos in the Swiss National League in preparation for the upcoming NHL season. His contract with the Leafs is for $700,000.

The decision to join Toronto ended Thornton’s 15-season run with the Sharks. In 1,636 games with San Jose and the Boston Bruins, he amassed 1,509 points — most among active players. He’s 14th all time in career points and seventh in career assists (1,089). He won the NHL scoring title and MVP honors in 2005-06.

“The emotions I feel are appreciation and reflection. It’s hard to put into words what Joe meant for this franchise over 15 seasons,” San Jose general manager Doug Wilson said. “I think there are very few players in pro sports that can alter a franchise the way he did.”

Thornton praised the organization and the fans in San Jose.

“They loved me and I loved them right back,” he said. “The Shark Tank was one of the best buildings to play in, and we had a lot of memories there.”

But after he and Wilson were unable to find a landing spot for Thornton on a contender at the most recent trade deadline, the veteran center found one through free agency.

“It was probably the hardest hockey decision I ever had to make. But with the roster [the Maple Leafs] have, the guys that they picked up this offseason, they’re ready to win now and I’m ready to win,” Thornton said.

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Zeke on Dallas loss: ‘I’m sorry; this one is on me’

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ARLINGTON, Texas — Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott was not blaming any part of the 38-10 loss to the Arizona Cardinals on Dak Prescott‘s absence. He was putting it all on himself.

“I don’t think we can use that as an excuse,” Elliott said of not having Prescott because of a compound fracture and dislocated right ankle. “I’m just going to keep saying it over and over — I started the game out with two fumbles, gave the ball away and gave them all the momentum they need to go take off. I want to say I’m sorry and this one is on me. I need to be better.”

Elliott finished with 49 yards on 12 carries and caught a team-high eight passes but for just 31 yards. However, it was fumbles on back-to-back drives in the first and second quarters that changed the complexion of the game.

The first fumble came after catching a short pass from Andy Dalton on second down, but safety Budda Baker stripped the ball free and Jordan Phillips recovered. Eleven plays later Kyler Murray and Christian Kirk hooked up for a 6-yard flip for a touchdown.

Two plays into the next possession, Elliott fumbled again with Phillips poking the ball free at the Dallas 30. Five plays later, Kenyon Drake scored the Cardinals’ second touchdown and a 14-0 lead.

“I mean, when you’re fumbling every game obviously teams are going to lock in on it and go for it even more,” Elliott said. “That’s even more of a reason I need to figure it out, man. I don’t want to keep talking about it, but I’ve got to figure out a way to figure it out.”

When the Cowboys took the field after Elliott’s second fumble, Tony Pollard was the running back. When Elliott returned to the field after eight snaps, there was a murmur among the crowd.

“Every player that plays in this league, no different on our football team, if you don’t take care of the football, it does affect your opportunities,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “Tony got an opportunity and I thought he did some really good things with his opportunities.”

Elliott has lost a career-high four fumbles in six games and the opponents have turned every takeaway into a touchdown. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the other top-10 rushers have combined for three lost fumbles in nearly 900 fewer touches this season. Elliott has 133 touches, while the nine other backs have 1,014 touches.

“I’m giving the ball away,” Elliott said. “I wasn’t helping my team. I think they did the right thing and gave some of those reps to TP, but I can’t do that. I have to be a guy this team can lean on, especially at times like right now with so many of our starters hurt and not playing. So it’s not acceptable and I need to figure it out.”

Elliott said he focuses on keeping the ball tight in practice. The Cowboys do ball-handling drills every day in practice.

“I just got to have a short memory,” Elliott said. “I’ve got to get that behind me and play some good ball and get on a roll.”

Elliott has gone a career-long six games without a 100-yard outing. He had a five-game drought in Weeks 10-14 last season. He had not gone more than two games to open a season without a 100-yard game to his credit.

Some of that can be pinned on a defense that has struggled, but 84 of the 218 points the Cowboys have allowed this season have come off turnovers.

“He understands that. He knows that,” Dalton said. “Zeke’s going to get this thing fixed.”

He also knows he needs to get it fixed quickly.

“At the end of the day, Zeke is our bell cow, and we need to get it right,” McCarthy said. “He’s part of the plan. He’s going to be part of the success. We have to get it right. We have to take care of the football and that’s for everybody that touches the football on our team.”

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Allen says Bills ‘can’t afford’ his recent struggles

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After a 4-0 start to the season during which Josh Allen resembled a possible MVP candidate, the Buffalo Bills have now dropped two games in a row, with their struggling quarterback acknowledging, “This team can’t afford to have me play poorly.”

Playing in his second consecutive prime-time game Monday night, Allen completed just 14 of 27 passes for 122 yards against the Kansas City Chiefs in a performance reminiscent of his 2018 and 2019 seasons. Although he threw two touchdown passes, he also recorded his fourth interception of the season and missed receivers throughout the game, culminating in a 26-17 loss in Orchard Park, New York.

The third-year quarterback took responsibility for his performance, directly tying his team’s success — or lack thereof — to his play.

“We weren’t good enough — I was not good enough. I got to do a better job, it’s plain and simple,” Allen said. “I didn’t play very good tonight. I know that. I understand that. This team can’t afford to have me play poorly.

“Early on just not being as accurate with the ball as I should have been. Making the right reads, making the right throws, and we turned it on a little too late there.”

Through the first four weeks of the season, only Dallas‘ Dak Prescott threw for more yards than Allen’s 1,326, and only Seattle‘s Russell Wilson and Green Bay‘s Aaron Rodgers threw for more touchdowns than Allen’s 12. After failing to eclipse 300 passing yards in a game during his first two professional seasons, Allen did so in three consecutive outings to open 2020, including a career-high 415 yards against the Miami Dolphins in Week 2.

However, he looked far from an MVP candidate during a 42-16 loss to the Tennessee Titans in Week 5; he completed 26 of 41 passes for a then-season-low 263 yards, two touchdowns and season-high two interceptions.

Against the Chiefs, Allen’s 122 passing yards marked his lowest total since Week 6 of his rookie season, excluding a Week 17 game against the New York Jets last season when he played only one series.

Allen and the Bills get a bounce-back game against the winless Jets in Week 7 before hosting the New England Patriots in Week 8.

Buffalo has publicly stated its goal of winning the AFC East for the first time since 1995, and in order for the Bills to do so, Allen must return to a level of play comparable to what he showed during the first four weeks of the season.

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