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Is Israel Adesanya next for Robert Whittaker? Who’s next for Justin Gaethje?

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Saturday’s UFC main event was predictable in a way, in that the undefeated champion Khabib Nurmagomedov won. What happened next was not as predictable.

Nurmagomedov (29-0) announced his official retirement from mixed martial arts, following the death of his father Abdulmanap in July. He revealed his mother did not even want him to compete at UFC 254, but he promised her it would be the final bout of his career.

The Dagestani legend retires as arguably the greatest fighter of all time. And he departs a lightweight division that is now full of uncertainty. UFC president Dana White admitted he does not know what he’ll do in the aftermath of Nurmagomedov’s retirement. There is a massive fight between Conor McGregor and Dustin Poirier tentatively scheduled for January, but not official. Will there a title on the line in that bout or will Justin Gaethje get his chance against the winner?

Robert Whittaker also made his case to be next up for Israel Adesanya with a strong performance over Jared Cannonier, but will he get the rematch he believes he should get? Will he get jumped by another surging middleweight or will he take another fight in the interim?

Brett Okamoto plays matchmaker after UFC 254 and lays out the course for the lightweight title and other standouts from Fight Island.


Justin Gaethje, lightweight (lost to Khabib Nurmagomedov by second-round submission)

Who’s next: Winner of Conor McGregor vs. Dustin Poirier on Jan. 23

Assuming the McGregor-Poirier rematch goes ahead on Jan. 23, Gaethje fighting the winner makes a ton of sense to me. He has history with both. After Gaethje beat Tony Ferguson back in May to capture the interim title, McGregor came out publicly saying he wanted to fight him. Gaethje wasn’t interested, as he was to fight Nurmagomedov and Nurmagomedov only. Well, it would seem a perfect time to book that fight now. If Poirier wins, a second fight between Gaethje and Poirier would be as fantastic as their first meeting in 2018, which Poirier won via TKO, was spectacular.

Wild card: Nate Diaz

Look, I have no idea if Diaz is interested in this fight. He hasn’t shown much interest in Gaethje previously … although he did Tweet a little trash talk in his direction the second Saturday’s fight ended. Would this not be an incredible matchup? And now that it appears, for now, that Diaz will not get that Jorge Masvidal rematch he truly wanted, what’s a big fight out there for him? He’s been hinting at a fight against Dan Hooker, but with all respect to Hooker, isn’t Diaz vs. Gaethje a much bigger fight? I’ll answer that. Yes. It’s massive. Look into this one, UFC.

Robert Whittaker, middleweight (defeated Jared Cannonier by unanimous decision)

Who’s next: Israel Adesanya

Prior to his recent title defense against Paulo Costa, Adesanya was singing Cannonier’s praises and even predicted he would “destroy” Whittaker in this fight. Well, Whittaker proved that prediction wrong, and now he should get a chance to make Adesanya eat his words even further.

Yes, these two just fought in 2019, and Adesanya won. Handedly. He knocked Whittaker out inside two rounds, and it’s quite possible the rematch would go the same way. But consider the following:

A) That loss almost doesn’t matter. Whittaker is clearly the No. 1 contender. So, even if he falls to Adesanya again, he’s earned the right at a second shot. That’s how sports work.

B) Whittaker said he was burned out from MMA ahead of the first fight against Adesanya. Again, that might mean nothing in terms of the rematch, but I believe Whittaker is telling the truth about it.

C) Whittaker is an intelligent fighter and lest we forget, he’s won 11 of his last 12 fights. He’s still one of the best fighters in the world!

This is a rematch I actually very much want to see.

Wild card: Paulo Costa

I don’t see this happening, and I don’t particularly think it should happen, but if Adesanya defends his title against someone else before Whittaker — well, what does that mean for Whittaker? Is he gonna wait? That’s potentially a very long time to wait.

So in that scenario, would he take a fight against Costa to even further prove he’s the rightful No. 1 contender? Say it were to play out that way, I mean, no one could deny Whittaker a title shot if he were to go out and beat Costa, on the heels of beating Darren Till and Jared Cannonier.

Jared Cannonier, middleweight (lost to Robert Whittaker by unanimous decision)

Who’s next: Kelvin Gastelum

I really love the idea of this fight. I must admit, I haven’t really thought about this matchup before now, because there was never an obvious time for it. But this is the fight right here. Stylistically, this is a barn-burner. Two very quick, explosive guys on the feet with well-rounded games. Gastelum was very nearly an interim champion 18 months ago. I know he’s on a three-fight skid, but he’s capable of competing with the best on any given night. And Cannonier is still a contender. One loss to a former champ in Whittaker doesn’t change that. Yes, put me down for this one.

Wild card: Uriah Hall

If Hall beats Anderson Silva at UFC Fight Night on Oct. 31 in Las Vegas, his stock will be on the rise. And as I always point out, the UFC doesn’t typically like pairing a fighter coming off a loss with one coming off a win — and I get that — but I also think it’s not a necessary rule to follow all the time and this matchup would certainly make sense despite that. It’s also a very fun stylistic matchup, although granted, most of the fights at middleweight right now are.

There are a lot of entertaining middleweights at the moment, and these are definitely two of them. If Hall wins on Halloween, there’s a strong case for him getting Cannonier next.


Magomed Ankalaev, light heavyweight (defeated Ion Cuțelaba by first-round KO)

Who’s next: Johnny Walker

Ankalaev is good. Really good. That first fight against Ion Cutelaba, the one that didn’t last a minute and ended in controversy, you couldn’t take much from it because it was basically 38 seconds of chaos. But this second fight, we really got a great look at how fantastic of a counter striker Ankalaev truly is. He believes in his speed and his ability to see punches, which results in very, very confident counters. He’s probably one of the fastest guys in this division. Similarly, Walker is considered one of the better athletes at 205 pounds. I’d be very intrigued by this matchup, and even though Walker is only 1-2 in his last three, it makes sense from a rankings perspective.

Wild card: Jiri Prochazka

Prochazka is just 1-0 in the UFC, but I’m hearing whispers about them having a hard time finding him an opponent. He’s unorthodox on the feet, and it would be fascinating to see Ankalaev try to counter that unpredictability. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Prochazka booked against more of a household name than Ankalaev, something that might help turn him into an attractive title challenger, but if that’s an option, I could see the UFC going this route. It’d be a great clash of styles.


Lauren Murphy, flyweight (defeated Liliya Shakirova by second-round rear-naked choke)

Who’s next: Cynthia Calvillo

Great result for Murphy as she notched the first submission win of her career. She handled the late change in opponent beautifully and she gave a great post-fight interview, in which she stated her next fight would be for the title. I respect the call for a title shot, but I don’t think it’s realistic.

Valentina Shevchenko has Jennifer Maia lined up in November, and I think Jessica Andrade will be (and should be) after that. So, in the meantime? Go back to the original fight, the one that always made sense. Murphy was supposed to fight Calvillo at UFC 254, but Calvillo was pulled due to a positive COVID-19 test. Murphy is in shape, and prepared for Calvillo. It appeared she took no damage in this fight.

Book that matchup again, before the end of the year. And if she wins that, I think. she’ll get her title shot.

Wild card: Jessica Andrade

Conceivably, Andrade could be next for Murphy. If Andrade’s next fight isn’t for a title, there are only a couple options that would even make sense for her and Murphy is one of them. I only think this would happen if Andrade is bullish on fighting soon though. She’s already, very clearly, the most attractive option for a title shot after Maia in November. There’s no need to book her another non-title fight.

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Toronto FC hoping to make MLS Cup run having spent much of 2020 far from home

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On a recent Thursday in Hartford, Conn., Toronto FC goalkeeper Quentin Westberg pondered the dichotomy of wanting to reach MLS Cup on Dec. 12, but also desiring to see his family again. Meanwhile, Jim Liston, the team’s director of sports science, was planning a trip to Lowe’s to buy 15 garbage cans so players could have an ice bath after training. As for manager Greg Vanney, he was fretting about his team’s health and the lack of practice time their schedule was affording.

Such is the life of a team as it attempts to not only navigate its way through the COVID-19 pandemic, but has been forced to do it away from home.

Due to travel restrictions between the U.S. and Canada, TFC — like the league’s other two Canadian teams, Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps — set up a “home” base in the U.S. for the remainder of the season; Toronto were stationed in Hartford. (Vancouver Whitecaps took roost in Portland, ground-sharing with Timbers, while Montreal Impact split use of New York Red Bulls’ facilities in Harrison, N.J.) This was on top of nearly every team spending nearly a month inside a bubble back in July at the MLS is Back Tournament outside Orlando, Florida.

The Reds spent about seven weeks back in Toronto as they played a series of matches against Canadian teams. In mid-September, the remainder of the regular season — and the temporary move to Hartford — beckoned. The vagabond nature of the campaign is what led Liston to joke that he was willing to discuss “whatever five seasons” the team has been through so far. But for Vanney and the players, the campaign has required a special kind of focus.

“A lot of what we’ve done here, and what we try to preach here is just control the controllables, and don’t get too drawn into the things you can’t,” Vanney told ESPN. “Roll with it, and make the best out of whatever the situation is.”

Stream FC Daily on ESPN+
– 2020 MLS Playoffs: Who’s in, schedule and more
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Toronto has largely succeeded in spite of its odyssey. While there was disappointment at missing out on the Supporters’ Shield to the Philadelphia Union, TFC went 7-3-2 during its Hartford sojourn and finished with the second-best record in the league. But the challenges have still been immense. Simply being out of one’s home environment is difficult enough, but the time spent away from family and loved ones weighs heavy on the psyche, even as Vanney has given players the occasional trip back to Toronto — under quarantine — to reconnect with loved ones.

“It’s just very different, very challenging and emotionally exhausting,” Westberg said of his experience while based in Hartford.

Westberg has arguably had it tougher than most. The TFC goalkeeper is married with four children, including a baby girl who was born in June. For that reason, Westberg and his wife, Ania, made the decision at the end of September that it would be better for her and their kids to head back to his native France so they could be surrounded by family. Westberg called it “the least bad decision,” but there are difficulties nonetheless.

“I’m a very even person, and this year has challenged me a lot,” he said. “I’m still pretty even, but I keep a lot to myself and for sure there’s some difficult days, seeing your family [struggle] from your absence.”

The inability to be home has affected the players and staff in other ways. In Toronto, there are ways of disengaging from the game. Being with friends, loved ones or even in familiar surroundings can be the best medicine in terms of forgetting a bad game or training session. But in Hartford, at the team’s hotel, that escape is nearly impossible even as players try to distract themselves by reading or taking online classes.

“You don’t really unplug,” Westberg said. “You FaceTime family, or this or that, but it’s too short. You’re 100 percent focused on your soccer, and your whole day basically relies on being ready for whatever soccer activity that you have next, whether it’s practice or game. It’s good for your physique, it’s optimal for the way you eat and the way you [train]. But mentally, you’re not as fresh as your body.”

That isn’t to say there are only negatives to the separation. There is also an us-against-the-world mentality that Toronto has adopted, given that their players and personnel are experiencing the season in a way that is vastly different than most other teams. The team staff has done what it can to make their surroundings a home away from home, whether it’s personalizing the locker rooms at Rentschler Field or having hotel staff brand the surroundings in TFC colors. The hotel went so far as to bring in a barista who could consistently give the players their coffee fix. Supporters groups have even sent down banners in a bid to convey the fact that the players are remembered.

The care that TFC takes for players has extended to families back home, with the club supplying meals to loved ones three times a week.

On the logistical side, Liston made sure that one of the gyms used at MLS is Back was brought to TFC’s hotel in Hartford, and he remarked that the food at the hotel is “arguably the best we’ve ever had on the road.”

There have also been efforts to create new routines. Assistant coach Jason Bent, aka DJ Soops, has been in charge of the pregame music selection for the past 18 months — no easy feat for a squad that has a considerable international presence. In Hartford, Bent has set aside Thursday nights to spin music in one area of the hotel. He’ll even go live on Instagram or Twitch for those who prefer to relax in their rooms.

“[We] opened it to players and staff and basically anyone that’s part of our bubble to come relax, listen to music and just enjoy each other’s company,” Bent said. “I enjoy making people happy so if it’s helping everyone even in the slightest, I have no problem arranging the set and spinning.”

For Vanney, the pandemic and operating outside of the team’s home market has meant any number of challenges. He said the team has used three different training facilities in Hartford, with varying field conditions. He recognizes that the trips home are vital for the mental health of his players and staff, but any breaks also mean less time spent on the practice field. The compressed schedule, which at times involved games every three or four days, has had an impact as well. Even the best-laid plans in terms of squad rotation were impacted as minor injuries began popping up.

“We end up with a lot of guys in different positions because they need special kinds of treatment or care to help them get fit and back to health,” Vanney said. “So it ends up being a lot of different things kind of going on all at once, and that’s been the challenge of it.”

Recovery from matches has been complicated by the fact that TFC doesn’t have access to the same level of facilities that it does at home — hence Liston’s emergency trip to Lowe’s to fashion impromptu ice baths for the players. Then there are the different ways the players occupy themselves on the road as compared to home, especially amid the pandemic.

“There’s really no life outside of the hotel,” Liston said. “[At home], you may go walk the dog in the afternoon or go for a walk with your wife or friend or girlfriend or family and you’re out and about. The recommendation [here] is to kind of stay put. So you’ve got a really active population and pro athletes, who we’re asking them to be sedentary the rest of the time, kind of stay in the hotel from a COVID and safety standpoint. That’s not optimal for recovery either.”

There are also the creature comforts of home that are no longer available on the road, which can impact sleep.

“Sleep is the number one tool for recovery, and that’s definitely been a challenge,” Liston said. “We do well-being questionnaires and the scores on quality of sleep, and hours of sleep, just drop.”

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Tom Barlow and Brian White seal Toronto’s fate in a 2-1 win for New York Red Bulls. Watch MLS on ESPN+.

Another change has been same-day travel, which has drawn mixed reactions from the TFC players and staff. Vanney and Westberg are generally in favor, saying it reminds them of when they each played in France. Flying back the same night also means a training day isn’t lost. Liston has a different perspective in that he prefers arriving the day before, and then leaving the same day.

“I think [same-day travel] makes for a really long day,” he said. “And there’s definitely a negative impact on performance, taking three bus rides and a plane ride before your game. You’re getting home — it can be 12:30, but it could also be 1:30 in the morning, and that’s where you know our well-being scores and sleep hours and quality just disappear. When you have so many games in succession, you can’t make up the sleep.”

With the playoffs set to begin for TFC on Nov. 24, the end is in sight, even as it makes for a complex — and even conflicting — set of emotions.

“This is the tricky part. I miss them a lot,” Westberg said of his family. “But in a way I want to see them as [late] as possible in December, because obviously, there’s this idea that we want to do well in the playoffs and we want to keep going. TFC has a history of setting high standards and high expectations. It’s a heavy load to carry but also an exciting one.”

Win or lose, it’s a season they’ll never forget.

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Bettman: NHL is mulling temporary realignment

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The NHL is considering a temporary realignment of its teams for the 2020-21 season due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, according to commissioner Gary Bettman.

Bettman said Tuesday that restrictions on travel across the Canadian border, as well as “limitations in terms of quarantining when you go from certain states to other states” within the United States, could mean the NHL creates a more regionalized alignment for its upcoming season.

“As it relates to the travel issue, which is obviously the great unknown, we may have to temporarily realign to deal with geography, because having some of our teams travel from Florida to California may not make sense. It may be that we’re better off — particularly if we’re playing a reduced schedule, which we’re contemplating — keeping it geographically centric and more divisional-based; and realigning, again on a temporary basis, to deal with the travel issues,” Bettman said during a 2020 Paley International Council Summit panel with fellow commissioners Adam Silver of the NBA and Rob Manfred of MLB.

The NHL board of governors has a meeting scheduled for Thursday which will provide a progress report and possible recommendations for a season format, based on talks between the league and the NHL Players’ Association. The target date for starting next season remains Jan. 1.

Bettman said the league is considering a few scheduling options for the 2020-21 season. Something that’s off the table: playing the entire season in the kind of bubbles the NHL had in Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta, to complete last season. But Bettman said teams opening in their own arenas is a possibility, along with a modified bubble.

“We are exploring the possibility of playing in our own buildings without fans [or] fans where you can, which is going to be an arena-by-arena issue. But we’re also exploring the possibility of a hub. You’ll come in. You’ll play for 10 to 12 days. You’ll play a bunch of games without traveling. You’ll go back, go home for a week, be with your family. We’ll have our testing protocols and all the other things you need,” he said.

Bettman also indicated that the NHL is exploring “a hybrid, where some teams are in a bubble, some teams play at home and you move in and out.”

The NBA’s board of governors unanimously approved a deal with the players’ union that sets the stage for a season that will open on Dec. 22 and with a reduced schedule of 72 games. Silver said that the commissioners are in communication on COVID-19-related issues, especially the NBA and the NHL, since the two leagues’ teams share arenas and, in some cases, team owners.

Silver said he senses that the NBA will have fans in many of its buildings this season.

“We’re probably going to start one way, where we’re maybe a little bit more conservative than many of the jurisdictions allow,” he said. “What we’ve said to our teams is that we’ll continue to work with public health authorities. Arena issues are different than outdoor stadium issues. There will be certain standards for air filtration and air circulation. There may be a different standard for a suite than there will be for fans spaced in seats.”

Silver said there will be standardized protocols that are consistent from arena to arena, such as proximity between players and fans: “In certain cases, for seats near the floor, we’re going to be putting in testing programs, where fans will certify that they’ve been tested — some within 48 hours, some within day of game.” While Silver supported a continued expansion of the NBA postseason through its play-in tournament, Bettman said that he’s not in favor of expanded playoffs or “playing with the fundamentals of the game.” The NHL had 24 teams in its postseason last summer.

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The Battleground States Where We’ve Seen Some Movement In The Polls

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With apologies to The Raconteurs, the presidential race continues to be “steady as she goes,” with little sign of tightening despite a plethora of new polls. FiveThirtyEight’s presidential forecast gives Joe Biden an 89 in 100 shot at winning the election, while President Trump has just an 11 in 100 chance. This makes Biden the favorite, but still leaves open a narrow path to victory for Trump, for whom a reelection win would be surprising — but not utterly shocking.

At the same time, we also have fewer polls from live-caller surveys, which have historically been more accurate and have shown slightly better numbers for Biden, than polls that use other methodologies, such as polls conducted primarily online or through automated telephone calls. Nevertheless, while the overall picture has shifted only a little in recent days, a few battleground states have seen at least some movement in their polls, which has slightly altered the odds Biden or Trump wins in each of those places.

What election stories need to get more coverage | FiveThirtyEight Politics Podcast

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