IN THE OCTAGON

A.J. Hoffman: UFC 225 preview

CM Punk is on the UFC 225 card. Valerie Macon/Getty Images

UFC 225 is arguably the most interesting card of 2018 from top to bottom, assuming that it avoids a weigh-in day collapse like so many recent events. It features a little bit of everything, with a title fight, an interim title fight, heavyweight fights all but guaranteed to end in a knockout, former champions on the undercard, and even a pro wrestler. 

The 185 lb. title is on the line in the main event, with Robert Whittaker defending his strap against Yoel Romero in a rematch of their closely contested matchup last year. Whittaker basically laid out the blueprint to beating Romero in their last fight. Stick, move, and don’t stand in front of him long enough for him to knock your head off. Romero was frustrated by Whittaker’s movement, and though he landed some pretty heavy shots, he was never able to land the fight ender that he used to lay waste to the rest of the middleweight division. Romero won’t go down easy, but he will have to dig into his bag of tricks to show the champion some different looks. 

The co-main is an (unneccesary) interim title fight in the 170 lb. division for the right to fight Tyron Woodley later in the year. Rafael dos Anjos is a former lightweight champion who has yet to taste defeat since moving up to welterweight. He has built an incredible resume, with wins over Robbie Lawler, Donald Cerrone (twice), Neil Magny, Nate Diaz, Anthony Pettis and Tarec Saffiedine. Colby Covington has basically talked his way into this spot. He has won five straight fights, but his resume’ is not that of a title challenger. He is a wrestler who will look to make it a 25-minute grind-fest, which dos Anjos seems unlikely to fall victim to. 

Rumors of Andrei Arlovski’s demise have been out there for years, and it seems like every fight he takes brings out the experts saying it will be his last. Tai Tuivasa has the power to make that come to be. The matchup is interesting because Arlovski, a former heavyweight champion, has beaten the odds in his last two fights after losing five straight. Tuivasa is a monster who has finished all seven of his fights without ever seeing a second round. Either Arlovski pulls off the big upset, or the experts may end up right, and Tuivasa could put a final hurting on Arlovski. 

CM Punk (Phil Brooks) and Mike Jackson are probably the most unlikely duo to show up on a pay-per-view in recent history. Both fighters are 0-1, and both are admittedly more proven as entertainers than fighters, but it is at a minimum an intriguing fight. Jackson is an excellent boxer, but could struggle if the fight hits the ground. Punk is a bit of an unknown. He has been training for the last several years for this moment, and it all culminates here. Rarely do I have concerns of this, but considering the fight is in his hometown and it means a lot to the organization for him to succeed, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Punk get a nod on the scorecards, even if he isn’t deserving. 

The prelims are stacked, with Alistair Overeem taking on Curtis Blades, Charles Oliveira taking on Clay Guida, Joseph Benavidez facing Sergio Pettis and Ricardo Lamas taking on Mirsad Bektic. Former 205 lb. champion Rashad Evans will also fight on the prelims. 

PREDICTIONS:

Whittaker def. Romero by DEC

Dos Anjos def. Covington by TKO

Anderson def. Holm by DEC

Tuivasa def. Arlovski by KO

Brooks def. Jackson by DEC

Overeem def. Blaydes by TKO

Gadelha def. Esparza by DEC

Bektic def. Lamas by TKO

Coulter def. De La Rocha by TKO

Smith def. Evans by KO

Benavidez def. Pettis by SUB

Oliveira def. Guida by SUB

Santiago def. Ice by SUB

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The clock is ticking. Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

If he is indeed to become an ex-Astro George Springer can officially sign with his new team starting at four PM Houston time this Sunday. Michael Brantley the same. All free agents can sign contracts starting Sunday afternoon. If the die isn't cast that Springer is leaving, it certainly feels like his renewing vows with the Astros would be an upset.

The Astros will make Springer a 18.9 million dollar qualifying offer for 2021. He will of course reject that because contract offers of at least five years and over 100 million dollars likely await. Should Springer move on the Astros would then get a compensatory draft pick. Brantley won't get anything in close range of Springer's haul-to-be but still should at least get multiyear offers. The Astros should make the qualifying offer to Brantley (if they don't they forfeit any compensation for his departure). If they don't out of fear that he'd accept the one-year deal, the Astros would look lame. I don't think it comes to that. Losing Springer would be a huge blow on multiple levels, but if somehow they were to keep Brantley while getting back Yordan Alvarez at even 80 percent of his rookie performance level the Astros' lineup would look to be in decent shape.

With MLB's economic outlook shaky for 2021, it's unreasonable to say Jim Crane and his partners should give Springer whatever he wants. A six or seven year megadollar contract for a 31-year-old player with some durability questions on his resume is an iffy proposition. At the same time, the Astros have been quite profitable in recent years (before 2020), and Crane said over the summer the Astros were positioned to be "aggressive, whatever the market looks like." 13 million Josh Reddick dollars are off the books for 2021, 10 mil of Roberto Osuna is gone. After next year more than 57 mil of Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke clear.

MLB's postseason awards will be doled out over the next couple weeks but for the first time in years the Astros don't have a credible candidate for any of the big ones (MVP, Cy Young, Rookie of the Year, Manager of the Year). The Astros do have three American League Gold Glove finalists. I think Carlos Correa wins the shortstop honor. Correa had a weak regular season at the plate but his defense was stellar, plus the two guys who divvied up the last four AL SS Gold Gloves (Francisco Lindor and Andrelton Simmons) had down seasons and aren't finalists. Quick: name the teams of fellow finalists J.P. Crawford and Niko Goodrum. Hard to see either winning over Correa. Yuli Gurriel and Kyle Tucker were also named top three at their positions. For the first time the finalist selections were driven entirely by stats and analytics.

Big week for the Rockets

With the Rockets settling on Stephen Silas as their new Head Coach, that hire coupled with the in house promotion of Rafael Stone to General Manager makes it appear as though owner Tilman Fertitta is doing more things on the cheap. The NBA economic environment is challenging and huge portions of the rest of Fertitta's portfolio are submerged in a COVID-driven bloodbath. Silas has paid his dues for a good while and most recently worked under the outstanding Rick Carlisle in Dallas. He has earned a lead chair opportunity. But with no prior head coaching experience and no bidding war for his services, Silas signs on at a much lower rate than, say, Jeff Van Gundy would have commanded. Former head coaches (and former Rockets' player rivals of the 90s) Jeff Hornacek and Nate McMillan would make for two strong Silas assistants. From their playing days if you combined Hornacek's offense and McMillan's defense into one player you'd have one of the top 20 or so greatest guards in NBA history.

Silas and Stone take the reins at a challenging time for the Rockets with their messy salary cap sheet, reduced draft capital, and one of the oldest core player groups in the league. Polite public statements aside, it's part of why Daryl Morey left. Maybe Mike D'Antoni too though that seemed more about feeling disrespected by the lack of a contract extension before this past season. D'Antoni may have overplayed his hand since he did not get fill any of the coaching vacancies elsewhere in the NBA. Only Oklahoma City remains open, and D'Antoni has gotten no run there.

Buzzer Beaters:

1. It seems sadly appropriate that the first meaningful positive in the Texans' 2020 season came in form of a COVID test result.

2. If we all commit to getting through it together, I think we can get by without a Texans' game this weekend. Remember, it's their open week, not a bye!

3. One hit wonder goodbye songs: Bronze-Terry Jacks "Seasons in the Sun" Silver-Norman Greenbaum "Spirit In The Sky" Gold-Steam "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye"

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