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Real or Not: Will Conor McGregor fight Manny Pacquiao next? Can he beat him?



Former UFC champion Conor McGregor tweeted on Friday that his next fight will be against boxing’s only eight-division world champion, Manny Pacquiao. McGregor, who announced his retirement (again) over Twitter in June, yet stayed in the USADA testing pool, has only fought in the UFC twice in the past four years, a submission loss to Khabib Nurmagomedov on Oct. 6, 2018, and a KO victory over Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone in January.

McGregor said ahead of his bout this January that he wanted to fight three times in 2020. MMA fans were thrilled to have its biggest star back, and after beating Cerrone it seemed like a quick turnaround was indeed possible. But that turnaround never came, and now eight months later McGregor seems ready to head into the boxing ring once again.

A bout against Pacquiao would be McGregor’s second professional boxing bout. In 2017, McGregor lost to Floyd Mayweather by TKO in the 10th round of a fight that generated more than $600 million in total revenue.

Pacquiao (62-7-2, 39 KOs), 41, a Senator in his home of the Philippines and a current welterweight champion, defeated the previously undefeated Keith Thurman in July 2019 by split decision. Pacquiao was hoping to unify titles with the other champions in the division, but has also been open to a fight against McGregor. In February Pacquiao signed a management deal with Paradigm Sports Management, the company that manages McGregor.

If McGregor and Pacquiao do end up fighting, McGregor would be the sixth common opponent between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, joining Juan Manuel Marquez, Miguel Cotto, Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton and Shane Mosley

Should McGregor head back to boxing? Is that the right fight for perhaps the biggest star in all of combat sports? Can he pull the upset against one of the best boxers in history?

Marc Raimondi, Brett Okamoto, Ariel Helwani and Jeff Wagenheim weigh in on what may be ahead for McGregor this year.

Real or not: McGregor will fight Pacquiao next

Helwani: On this Friday, Sept. 25, 2020, I’ll say yes because McGregor’s manager Audie Attar, who also represents Manny Pacquiao, told me the talks are very real and the UFC is on board with the idea. The latter detail is crucial because it would be much easier for McGregor and his team to get this done with the UFC’s blessing — since he is under contract with them — than if they tried to do it on their own. Also, the fact that Attar reps Pacquiao helps immensely, too.

It’s important to note that Attar said it isn’t a done deal just yet, but he feels confident the superfight will happen by either the end of the year or early 2021. I think the UFC wants McGregor to fight the winner of Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Justin Gaethje. That fight happens on Oct. 24. If he is willing to squeeze in the Pacquiao fight in December or January before fighting the winner of that lightweight title fight in the spring, I think this could happen.

Heck, no one thought the Mayweather fight would happen, right?

Ultimately, does it happen? Hard to say for sure right now. It’s still developing. But if we want an answer right here and now, I’ll say sure, if only because it seems like all parties involved are interested, which means there aren’t any serious road blocks.

Real or not: McGregor will get the winner of Gaethje-Khabib

Raimondi: It doesn’t seem very likely. At this point, I’d say it won’t happen. There are too many variables — including the global pandemic — to say for certain, but right now it doesn’t seem to be in the offing. Especially not if Pacquiao is truly next for McGregor. Even Nurmagomedov has expressed interest in going in a different direction if he beats Gaethje. He has never truly been all that on board with a rematch against McGregor. Nurmagomedov would much rather fight someone like Georges St-Pierre if he beats Gaethje and is going for a perfect 30-0 record. Meanwhile, McGregor is sticking hard to being retired from MMA and is seeking a big-money boxing match. It doesn’t seem like the stars are aligning here at all.

Now, that doesn’t mean this won’t happen. There is still one major thing that could trump everything: money. Nurmagomedov vs. McGregor 2 is one of the biggest fights — perhaps the biggest — that the UFC could put on right now. It’s also the fight that UFC president Dana White has said he want the most. That bout surely could happen in the future — I’d even say it most likely will at some point. But is McGregor next for the Nurmagomedov vs. Gaethje winner? At this moment, I’d say that’s extremely doubtful.

Real or not: McGregor vs. Pacquiao is a good thing

Okamoto: Depends on what you mean by “good,” and also … good for whom?

Bottom line, I’m not against it. Why not? A “Conor McGregor season” in 2020 would have been something to behold. And even though I think McGregor’s request to fight Diego Sanchez was downright bizarre, his enthusiasm to fight multiple times in 2020 should have turned into a promoter and fight fan’s dream. But, as we all know far too well, 2020 didn’t care about any or our plans.

So, now what for McGregor? Should he fight the winner of October’s lightweight fight between Nurmagomedov and Gaethje? That’d be great, but honestly, at this point, I don’t really want McGregor to become a UFC champion again. Right? He’s too unpredictable. If he were to win a title, he could tie up the division again for months — years even!

I badly, badly want to see McGregor fight but I don’t think it’s wrong to call him for what he is: He’s a superfight. He doesn’t need to fight for a UFC championship. Who cares about that? I want to see him fight Jorge Masvidal and Nate Diaz for the third time, more than I want to see him fight for a lightweight title. And you know what? Considering where everything’s at … no, I wouldn’t mind watching him fight Manny Pacquiao in December. Not at all.

Real or not: McGregor can beat Pacquiao

Wagenheim: Sure. Why not? It’s 2020, and anything that we think cannot possibly happen will happen.

It would defy everything we know about combat sports, though, to favor a martial artist with only one professional boxing match to his name over an eight-division world champion considered among the greatest boxers of all time. Even at age 41, and not having fought in over a year, Pacquiao should be able to toy with McGregor until he sees fit to knock him out.

Now, before you call me a Conor hater, I will add that the mismatch would be way worse if conducted in mixed martial arts. Pacquiao would be helpless and hopeless in a fight that went to the canvas (see: Toney, James), while McGregor does have a strong command of standup fighting. But even setting aside the fact that MMA staples such as kicks and elbows and knees aren’t allowed inside a boxing ring, the Irishman simply doesn’t have the hands to compete with the best boxers of this generation. That’s no insult to McGregor.

But winning and losing isn’t really the essence of this whole enterprise, is it? There’s a whole lot of money to be made by McGregor, by Pacquiao and by all those around them — including the UFC, which has McGregor under contract. People will watch. People will care. That there will be more words written and opinions spouted about this potential bout over the next month than there will be about the Oct. 17 Vasiliy Lomachenko vs. Teofimo Lopez Jr. lightweight unification boxing bout or the following week’s Nurmagomedov vs. Gaethje UFC lightweight title fight — and there will be, just wait — tells you what sells in combat sports in 2020.

Beyond the bare-faced commerce, though, I actually like that McGregor is always looking to test himself. In the leadup to his 2017 meeting with Mayweather, a lot of people I spoke to — boxing fans, MMA fans, general sports fans — felt like the whole spectacle was just a con job. And it’s true, the promoters knew better than to believe, as they proclaimed, that Conor vs. Floyd was a legitimate matchup. But McGregor believed. I have zero doubt that he felt, deep inside, that he was going to knock out Mayweather. It is that unflagging self-belief that has fueled him to the greatest heights of MMA.

No, I do not believe McGregor can beat Pacquiao. But McGregor believes, and there’s something intoxicating in seeing that inner spirit resurface. And, hey, this is the twisted year of 2020. So here Conor goes again, sticking his chin out to test himself at a high level. And making a few bucks doing it.


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



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.”

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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.”



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



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



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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