UFC

UFC 250: Dominant Nunes to face 'FeeNom', returning Garbrandt has point to prove

By Sports Desk June 05, 2020

Amanda Nunes and Cody Garbrandt will rock up at UFC 250 this weekend aiming to make statements for vastly contrasting reasons.

For Nunes, her bout with Felicia Spencer at UFC's APEX facility in Las Vegas marks the first defence of the featherweight belt she took from Cris Cyborg in sensational fashion a year and a half ago.

Garbrandt, meanwhile, returns to the Octagon after a 15-month hiatus with the former bantamweight champion on a three-fight losing streak.

Here, we take a look at three talking points ahead of Saturday's fight action.


NUNES FACES 'FEENOM' THREAT

The fearsome Nunes needed just 51 seconds to wrest the featherweight strap from Cyborg in December 2018 to become UFC's third simultaneous two-weight champion. It was a devastating performance but not out of sync with her dominance in UFC, which now sees her on a 10-fight winning streak including a 48-second win over Ronda Rousey and triumphs over Miesha Tate, Valentina Shevchenko and Holly Holm. Since defeating Cyborg, Nunes has defended her bantamweight strap against Holm and Germaine de Randamie while she waited for Germaine de Randamie the 145-pound scene to take shape.

For former Invicta FC featherweight champion Spencer – who put on a game showing in a losing effort in Cyborg's final UFC fight – Nunes represents the greatest challenge of her career. The submission specialist is likely to try and take this one to the ground to avoid the striking ability of Nunes – this one could get feisty.


GARBRANDT AT CAREER CROSSROADS

In December 2016, the bantamweight world was at Garbrandt's feet as he shocked the legendary Dominick Cruz to become champion at 135lbs. But a couple of devastating knockout defeats to fierce rival T.J. Dillashaw were followed by a first-round loss to Pedro Munhoz in March last year. With champion Henry Cejudo announcing his UFC retirement after defeating Cruz at UFC 249 last the month, the bantamweight division is wide open and Garbrandt has a huge opportunity to get his career back on track.

However, 'No Love' comes up against the fifth-ranked Raphael Assuncao – a man also out to recover from damaging defeats to Marlon Moraes and Cory Sandhagen. Victory could propel either towards a future title fight. Defeat… well best for both men not to contemplate what that could mean for their UFC futures.


STERLING-SANDHAGEN TO STAKE BANTAMWEIGHT CLAIMS

In a night that will go a long way to shaping the future of the bantamweight division, the highly rated Aljamain Sterling goes up against Sandhagen to lay their respective claims for a title fight. Sterling, ranked second in the division, is an upcoming star who has won four straight bouts. His 'Funk Master' moniker is a fair reflection of his flair-fight style but in Sandhagen he goes up against a fighter who is also riding the crest of a wave.

The American has won each of his five fights in UFC and only has one defeat overall on his MMA resume. This one has serious 'Fight of the Night' potential and is sure to have ramifications for the outcome of the title.

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    Manchester United win and Bruno Fernandes scores a penalty? Sounds familiar enough. But Monday's Europa League quarter-final against Copenhagen, a peculiar one-off meeting in the strangest of seasons, was fittingly weird.

    United mostly dominated, had 26 shots, hit the target 14 times, hit the post three times, but needed an extra-time spot-kick to progress 1-0. Copenhagen defended, failed to test Sergio Romero once in 120 minutes, but never looked out of the game - one that finished at close to midnight in Cologne with the temperature still at 28 degrees Celcius.

    In United red, there were performances that were brilliant and infuriating in equal measure. Anthony Martial led the Copenhagen defence on a merry dance but finished as though he had two left feet; Brandon Williams controlled the left flank but gave the Danes their best opening; Juan Mata was exceptional off the bench and still made a mess of three chances for a second goal.

    United can be certain of one thing, though: this is the sort of game where smashing the British transfer record for Jadon Sancho would come in handy.

    Monday marked Borussia Dortmund's deadline for a Sancho deal to go through. The player travelled with the squad for their pre-season training camp and sporting director Michael Zorc declared the matter was at an end, saying: "We plan on having Jadon Sancho in our team this season. The decision is final. I think that answers all our questions."

    It doesn't, of course. United never looked likely to strike a deal so early in a transfer window that runs until October and it's largely expected they will continue to seek an agreement that won't threaten the stability of either the club's finances post-pandemic or the dressing room. Their latest performance is unlikely to change that.

    Copenhagen had conceded more than one goal just twice in their previous 42 games in Europe. They knew the onus was on United to dictate and, presumably, also knew the difficulty the Red Devils have had in breaking down sides this season. Their approach was not a surprise, and nor was United's inability to unsettle them.

    Luck was against Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side, it's true. Mason Greenwood had a goal disallowed for offside, a penalty was overturned because of Harry Maguire straying beyond the last man, and Greenwood, Fernandes and Victor Lindelof each hit the woodwork.

    There was also an inspired Karl-Johan Johnsson in the Copenhagen goal. In a remarkable performance, he made 13 saves, the joint-most of any keeper in a Europa League match since the competition's rebranding from the UEFA Cup in 2009. The best came against Martial, who grew increasingly dangerous as the game wore on and was the only United forward to drive at the Copenhagen defence and destabilise their impressive rearguard.

    That's where Sancho would be invaluable. The 20-year-old has plundered the Bundesliga in a Dortmund side where he is encouraged to run straight at a full-back or centre-half at every available opportunity. Against a team like Copenhagen, built around zonal marking and covering the space in front of the box, that kind of approach can shift matters in your favour.

    Of course, United should be expected to beat teams like this without an extra-time penalty or the need to spend around £100million on a new winger, and they certainly created enough to have made the scoreline more comfortable. The inescapable truth remains that Solskjaer's side lurch from dazzling to tedious, too often attacking down blind alleys while trying to follow the trumpeted United Way.

    Sancho would change that - assuming he would want to go.

  • Rumour Has It: Chelsea to battle Leeds and Liverpool for Ben White Rumour Has It: Chelsea to battle Leeds and Liverpool for Ben White

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    Frank Lampard and Chelsea have identified the highly rated White as a solution to their issues at the back, reports the Daily Star.

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    ROUND-UP

    - The Daily Star also has an update on Alexandre Lacazette, who could join Atletico Madrid in a €31.1million (£30m) move once Arsenal tie Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to a new contract.

    - Manchester United are looking to sell Phil Jones after deciding against sending the defender for knee surgery, reports the Mirror.

    - Ligue 1's Monaco are in talks to sign Weston McKennie from Bundesliga club Schalke, according to L'Equipe, although the United States international is also attracting Premier League interest.

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    They might have lost LaLiga's title race, but Barcelona at least got one over on Real Madrid by reaching the Champions League last eight.

    A day after Madrid fell in Manchester, Quique Setien's Blaugrana, maligned this season for lacking a clear plan and a firm backbone, showed both in overcoming Napoli at Camp Nou.

    Juventus were also knocked out on Friday, Cristiano Ronaldo's two goals not enough to spare them from elimination by Lyon or to keep Maurizio Sarri in a job. Not so for Lionel Messi: he scored, had another disallowed and won a penalty converted by Luis Suarez as Barca won 3-1 in the last-16 second leg and 4-2 on aggregate to reach a 13th straight quarter-final.

    The suggestion is Sarri was facing the sack regardless of the Lyon result, but it seems unlikely Juve would have pulled the trigger had he got them into a quarter-final tie with Manchester City. The same can likely be said for Setien, who would almost certainly not have been Barca coach much longer had Napoli triumphed, and who may well find his days numbered if they cannot find a way to best red-hot Bayern Munich, who destroyed Chelsea 7-1 on aggregate, in the last eight.

    Messi - and Setien - deserve real credit for Saturday's victory, though. Those nightmarish visits to Roma and Liverpool in the past two seasons will not be forgotten, but this time, as tension tightened in a crowdless Camp Nou, Barca showed they can hold their nerve.

    It was mostly an un-Barca, un-Setien-like performance: perfunctory, moderately adventurous, the best work done largely without the ball. Napoli had close to 80 per cent of the possession in the first 10 minutes and then found themselves a goal behind when Clement Lenglet headed in an Ivan Rakitic corner. It was hard to know which of Setien or Gennaro Gattuso seemed more surprised.

    It was a simplistic goal befitting a rare uncomplicated approach from Setien. Messi, Suarez and Antoine Griezmann were joined in a three-pronged attack, with licence to roam and a requirement to hustle for the ball high up the pitch. Behind them, with Sergio Busquets suspended, were Rakitic, Sergi Roberto and the excellent Frenkie De Jong, whose primary task was to disrupt as much as dictate.

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    Messi, it is said, is borderline obsessed with winning the competition again this year. He certainly played like it in the first 45 minutes. His goal was one of those maddening combinations of skill and tenacity that must exasperate defenders, as he bustled into the area, fell to his knees, scrambled back up and found the bottom-left corner while falling again, all before Mario Rui had realised where he was.

    Messi scored again, chesting the ball down and smashing it in, only for VAR to penalise the faintest grazing of the ball on his arm. He had the technology to thank before the break, though, when he hustled and harried Kalidou Koulibaly, who swung his foot to clear the ball and seemed surprised when Messi's calf appeared in the way.

    The Argentine was hurt badly, and you suspect he might have come off at half-time had Lorenzo Insigne not scored a penalty for Napoli moments before the break to give Barca that all-to-familiar sinking feeling.

    So, he stayed out, and he led. He wasn't the inspiration Barca were used to, but he was the one they needed: a hurrying, scurrying, scrapping captain who dragged his team over the line.

    Napoli had 18 shots to Barca's seven, 11 crosses to their two, and only 2.2 per cent less of the ball, but Messi and Barca won't care if this result means they have finally learned again how to see out a cup tie. They'll need every ounce of that new-found nous if they are to halt the Bayern juggernaut in Lisbon and keep Setien in the job a little while longer.

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