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Will an inspired Tyron Woodley show up vs. Colby Covington?

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Does Tyron Woodley want to fight? It’s a question that has plagued the former welterweight champion — probably unfairly at times — for the better part of a decade.

There were moments early in his UFC career — losses to Jake Shields and Rory MacDonald — in which Woodley simply did not show up. Critics called them uninspired performances. And after he won the UFC title in 2016, his title reign drew criticism from UFC president Dana White and fans alike, many of whom said he didn’t show killer instinct and always looked for the safe route.

When he lost his title to Kamaru Usman in March 2019, the popular narrative was that Woodley (19-5-1, 9-4-1 in the UFC) was more focused on his music and acting careers than fighting. And when he lost to Gilbert Burns, badly, less than four months ago, the resounding takeaway was that it just didn’t look like Woodley wanted to be there.

Well, if there was ever a time for Woodley to show up, it’s for his UFC Fight Night main event Saturday in Las Vegas, opposite bitter rival Colby Covington. Woodley, 38, appears to still have all the physical attributes of an elite welterweight, but his mental determination has never been more in question.

And Covington (15-2, 10-2 UFC), who has picked at Woodley from the sidelines on social media for years, is the type of opponent who will absolutely show whether someone wants to be in there or not. His offensive pressure is relentless and suffocating. Colby Covington is not a fun fight. It’s usually a gritty, dig-deep, frustrating one.

If Woodley shows up, the consensus is he can absolutely win. Back when he was champion, he was considered a healthy favorite to beat Covington if they fought. Now he’s a considerable underdog.

Woodley hasn’t appreciated being questioned about his commitment, and he definitely has not appreciated critiques of his style — this notion that he’ll do anything to take the most risk-averse path to victory.

Does Tyron Woodley want to fight? Saturday is his best chance (and maybe last chance) to finally put the question to bed.

By the numbers

58: Takedowns by Covington, the most among active UFC welterweights and third most in division history, behind the 87 of Georges St-Pierre and the 61 of Johny Hendricks, both former champions.

91.1: Percentage of opponent takedown attempts successfully defended by Woodley, which is the best all time among 170-pounders. Woodley is 9-1-1 in his UFC career when allowing no takedowns, 0-3 when he does get taken down. He allowed two takedowns in each of his past two fights, both losses.

1,294: Total strikes landed in the UFC by Covington, the sixth most for an active welterweight. He threw a UFC-record 515 significant strikes in his August 2019 win over Robbie Lawler, landing 179 of them, the most in a fight in welterweight history.

10: Knockdowns landed by Woodley, tying him with Stephen Thompson and Vicente Luque for the most among active 170-pounders. Thiago Alves is the all-time leader with 13.

48.7: Percentage of Covington’s total UFC fight time during which he has been in a controlling position. That puts him second among active welterweights, behind only champion Kamaru Usman (54.3%). Covington also spends the second-smallest percentage of time in bottom position, at 1.97%, again ranking behind only Usman (0.02%).

Sources: ESPN Stats & Information and UFC Stats

A look back

Five vs. five

Colby Covington’s most recent results
Loss: Kamaru Usman (TKO5, Dec. 14, 2019; watch on ESPN+)
Win: Robbie Lawler (UD, Aug. 3, 2019; watch on ESPN+)
Win: Rafael dos Anjos (UD, June 9, 2018)
Win: Demian Maia (UD, Oct. 28, 2017)
Win: Dong Hyun Kim (UD, June 17, 2017)

Tyron Woodley’s most recent results
Loss: Gilbert Burns (UD, May 30, 2020; watch on ESPN+)
Loss: Kamaru Usman (UD, March 2, 2019; watch on ESPN+)
Win: Darren Till (SUB2, Sept. 8, 2018; watch on ESPN)
Win: Demian Maia (UD, July 29, 2017)
Win: Stephen Thompson (MD, March 4, 2017; watch on ESPN+)

And the winner is …

One thing Woodley has going for him in this matchup is that I don’t think he’ll fear Covington’s power. Not that he necessarily “feared” the power of Usman or Burns, but especially in the Burns fight, you could tell he felt his opponent’s power and respected it. Will he respect the punching power of Covington, who has just two career knockouts? Because if Woodley can fight freely — with little care about Covington’s power or the threat of being taken down — why can’t he win this fight? If Woodley moves forward and lands some of his powerful kicks and draws Covington into exchanges in the open cage, who’s betting against him in that scenario? The problem is, will he do it? Or will his back be to the fence, as it has been in so many of his recent fights? It’s hard to expect killer Woodley at this stage. It could happen, but the pick is Covington by decision.

Saturday’s fight schedule

ESPN+, 8 p.m. ET
Colby Covington vs. Tyron Woodley | Welterweight
Donald Cerrone vs. Niko Price | Welterweight
Khamzat Chimaev vs. Gerald Meerschaert | Middleweight
Johnny Walker vs. Ryan Spann | Light heavyweight
Mackenzie Dern vs. Randa Markos | Strawweight
Kevin Holland vs. Darren Stewart | Middleweight
ESPN+, 5 p.m. ET
Jordan Espinosa vs. David Dvořák | Men’s flyweight
Mirsad Bektić vs. Damon Jackson | Men’s featherweight
Mayra Bueno Silva vs. Mara Romero Borella | Women’s flyweight
Jessica-Rose Clark vs. Sarah Alpar | Women’s bantamweight
Journey Newson vs. Randy Costa | Men’s bantamweight
Andre Ewell vs. Irwin Rivera | Men’s bantamweight
Darrick Minner vs. T.J. Laramie | Men’s featherweight
Tyson Nam vs. Jerome Rivera | Men’s bantamweight


How to watch the fights

Watch the fights on ESPN+. If you don’t have ESPN+, get it here.

There’s also FightCenter, which offers live updates for every UFC card.


What to look for … beyond the main event

‘Cowboy’ rides again (and again)

Look out, Jim Miller. Donald Cerrone is coming for you.

No, Cerrone is not fighting Miller on Saturday. But “Cowboy” is chasing Miller for the distinction of having the most fights in UFC history. When Cerrone tangles with Niko Price in the co-main event, it will be his 36th appearance inside the Octagon, tying the record Miller set last month.

Cerrone already has a significant presence in the UFC record book. His 23 victories are the most ever, placing him one ahead of Demian Maia. Cerrone has a record 20 knockdowns, two more than Anderson Silva and Jeremy Stephens. Cerrone has been awarded 18 fight-night bonuses, two more than Charles Oliveira. And Cerrone’s 16 finishes tie him with Oliveira at the top of the all-time list.

The number that likely concerns Cerrone more than any of those, though: He has lost four fights in a row.

Two months in, Chimaev is speeding toward the top

Khamzat Chimaev, who had his UFC debut in July, will be making his third appearance in the Octagon when he faces middleweight Gerald Meerschaert.

How has Chimaev (8-0), a 26-year-old Chechnya-born Swede, drummed up so much interest so fast?

Some numbers:

  • In his two UFC bouts, he outlanded his opponents 83-1 in significant strikes and 162-2 in total strikes.

  • He has finished all eight of his wins (four by knockout, four by submission).

  • Chimaev is seeking to become the fastest to 3-0 in the UFC’s modern era, at 66 days. The current record is 105 days by Johnny Walker.

As for Meerschaert (31-13, 6-5 UFC), despite being 2-4 over the past two years, he has put up some notable numbers that should give Chimaev pause. The 32-year-old from Milwaukee has 29 finishes among his 31 wins (23 by submission, six by knockout). Meerschaert is tied for the most submission wins in UFC middleweight history (five).

Four more things to know (from ESPN Stats & Information research)

1. Ryan Spann enters Saturday’s fight with Johnny Walker on a four-fight winning streak. With a win, Span would have the longest active win streak at light heavyweight, surpassing Magomed Ankalaev and Glover Teixeira.

2. Mackenzie Dern, who meets strawweight Randa Markos, is coming off the first kneebar victory by a female fighter in UFC history. Dern, who pulled off that rare submission against Hannah Cifers in May, has two wins by submission in the UFC, one shy of the strawweight record held by Cynthia Calvillo and Rose Namajunas.

3. Kevin Holland takes to the Octagon for the third time this year, looking to become the seventh fighter to win three 2020 fights. Holland has two knockout wins this year and will look to join Brian Kelleher as the only fighters to earn all three 2020 wins by stoppage. Khamzat Chimaev can also achieve this feat.

4. The fighter riding the longest win streak into Saturday: Czech flyweight David Dvorak, who has won 14 in a row since October 2012. Dvorak won his UFC debut in March, defeating Bruno Silva by unanimous decision.

ESPN’s Jeff Wagenheim contributed to this report.

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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
– MLS on ESPN+: Stream LIVE games and replays (U.S. only)

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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2:00

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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