02 May

UAB becomes first Division I team to join players association seeking fair compensation for college athletes

UAB’s entire football team has signed with The Athletes Organization, a players association aimed at representing the interests of college athletes at a national level, it was announced on Monday. Blazers coach Trent Dilfer, who was a member of the NFL Players Association, was a major catalyst behind the decision.

UAB is the first Division I school to enter such an agreement with a noted players association.

“You guys have followed the conversation in college football. People are making a lot of money,” Dilfer said while addressing his team in a video posted by Athletes.org. “Billions of dollars. How much are you getting? The actual money that’s negotiated for you to play on TV, you are getting none of. So who’s getting it? The conference and the institutions. I’m one of the few people who believes you deserve some of that.”

For the first time in history, a Players Association for college athletes presented its entire solution to a team and its staff. After the University of Alabama-Birmingham’s football team heard https://t.co/GyRYIKxTK9’s (AO) full presentation, the entire team decided to become… pic.twitter.com/pMCudEhJ7v

— The Athletes Organization (@AthletesOrg) April 29, 2024
Given the recent changes allowing athletes to profit from their name, image and likeness, and a litany of recent lawsuits challenging the NCAA’s ability to govern its member institutions and assert its status as a potential monopoly, revenue-sharing models for athletes have become a hot-button issue. Prominent figures such as former Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh — who led the Wolverines to a 15-0 season and a win in the College Football Playoff National Championship last season — have come forth in support of players getting a cut of revenue generated by television deals and other opportunities at the conference level.

It’s in that environment that Athletes.org has started to gain momentum. Brandon Copeland, who played linebacker at Penn and spent 10 years in the NFL after entering as an undrafted free agent, serves as the organization’s CEO.

“The reason why we spend time doing Athletes.org is cause, frankly, I just want to see y’all eat,” Copeland said while visiting UAB. “I want to see y’all win. I’m tired of seeing people take advantage of us. Who represents the athletes? Who’s going to be fighting for you to get a bigger piece? We like to say that decisions are being made about you without you.”

In addition to Copeland, several prominent former college athletes serve on Athlete.org’s board, including Georgia alum Omari Hardwick, former All-SEC safety and Alabama star Roman Harper and ex-Syracuse basketball coach Jim Boeheim.

Athlete.org also lists several current basketball players, such as North Carolina’s RJ Davis and Duke’s Jeremy Roach, as members of its association. Veteran Alabama defensive back Malachi Moore, who’s entering his fifth season as a starter with the Crimson Tide, is the only football player included publicly on the list of members thus far.

02 May

Mountaineers OL was All-Sun Belt selection in 2023 season

Appalachian State offensive lineman Jack Muprhy has died, coach Shawn Clark announced Monday on social media. Murphy died Friday and foul play is not suspected, according to a statement from the university provided to ESPN. No further details have been released by the school.

“We are deeply saddened by the loss of Jack Murphy. He was a beloved Mountaineer,” Clark wrote in his post. “Please keep his loved ones and our App State family in your thoughts and prayers during this difficult time.”

Murphy started 14 games — one at left tackle and 13 at right tackle — for the Mountaineers in 2023 and earned third-team All-Sun Belt honors. Prior to transferring to Appalachian State, Murphy spent three years at Marshall.

We are deeply saddened by the loss of Jack Murphy. He was a beloved Mountaineer. Please keep his loved ones and our App State family in your thoughts and prayers during this difficult time. 🖤💛 pic.twitter.com/JsACv8lhqU

— Shawn Clark (@coach_sclark) April 30, 2024
“The hearts of the App State community are with Jack’s loved ones during this very difficult time,” Megan Hayes, senior associate vice chancellor, said in a statement to ESPN. “We are respecting his family’s wishes and requests and are providing support and assistance as requested.”

A native of Fairfax, Virginia, Murphy signed with Marshall in 2020 after a post-graduate season at Fork Union Military Academy. Murphy was also an all-state selection at Bishop O’Connell High School in Arlington, Virginia.

02 May

Missouri state law, university’s progressive NIL approach give Mizzou advantage amid evolving landscape

COLUMBIA, Mo. — Williams Nwareni is incredibly laid back for a young man about to hit it big. As the highest-profile benefactor of the nation’s highest-profile name, image and likeness law, the five-star senior edge rusher from Lee’s Summit North knows exactly what’s next.

“Prom is May 4, so this weekend,” Nwareni told CBS Sports.

That’s not only a refreshing perspective of an 18-year-old high school senior but also a glimpse into a ground-breaking future. Nwareni can expect an NIL payout any day now. Not that he is going to break the bank, though one valuation of his NIL worth comes in at approximately $250,000. No, the most eye-opening aspect is that he’ll still be in high school.

In August 2023, Missouri passed a first-of-its-kind law allowing high schoolers to earn NIL benefits once they’ve signed with a school. The law applies only to Missouri residents. But in a state that typically produces only single-digit blue-chippers in any given year (Texas had 57 four-stars or better in the Class of 2024), keeping the best at home can make a program.

“We’re leading the country in this space,” Missouri Rep. Kurtis Gregory (R), who helped write the law, told reporters when it was signed.

Now, it’s a case of carrying that statement through on the field.

These are heady times for Missouri. The program won 11 games last season for the first time since 2014 and defeated Ohio State in the Cotton Bowl. Had the expanded College Football Playoff field been in place, the Tigers would have met Oregon in a first-round game based on last year’s final CFP Rankings.

“For me, it’s a chance to create a competitive advantage,” said Missouri’s Eli Drinkwitz, the 2023 SEC Coach of the Year. “You can either embrace it or hate it. I’m going to choose to embrace it and try to create the best advantage that I can for my football team.”

The law came at a time to goose that momentum. Politicians in the unabashed red state of Missouri had been considering ways to ride the NIL wave for a while. Long ago, the courts ruled it an antitrust violation to cap college athletes’ ability to earn compensation for their name, image and likeness. Last week, consulting firm Husch Blackwell concluded, “there is little to no deference to any concept of NCAA amateurism.”

Missouri legislature took it a step further by essentially creating NIL as an inducement for high school athletes to stay in-state. In football, that means a high school athlete could go six-to-10 months earning money for themselves before hitting the college practice field where they actually have to earn playing time.

The message: Come to Mizzou, get paid early.

“Missouri has the best NIL setup of any state, any school in the country. Guaranteed,” said Blake Lawrence, founder and CEO of NIL technology company Opendorse. “One school that’s not waiting for the future is Missouri.”

The law even shields the NCAA from investigating signees for their NIL benefits. School officials can help arrange those deals.

“Everything about recruiting is an inducement,” countered Gregory, a former Tigers offensive lineman. “Telling a kid we’re going to have a nice, new locker room next year, or a new weight room. How is that not an inducement to get a kid to commit?”

Nwareni becomes that distinctive NIL experiment because the question ultimately has to be asked: Would an athlete who is arguably the best high school prospect in Missouri program history have signed elsewhere had the state law not been place?

The 6-foot-6, 260-pound Nwareni, the No. 6 overall prospect in the 2024 class according to 247Sports, picked the Tigers over Tennessee, Oregon, Oklahoma and Georgia.

“I was going to get a good NIL [deal] regardless of where I went,” Nwareni said. “It definitely was a positive. It was never like the main thing. I wanted to go to somewhere where I was comfortable, felt like my family was comfortable and somewhere I could see myself being successful.”

Gregory was asked the same question. If the prospect would have signed with Tennessee or Oklahoma, Nwareni would have had to wait at least eight months to receive NIL benefits. But in signing with Missouri, he’ll show up on campus May 26 having already been eligible for NIL benefits for the past five months. Perhaps some of the money already in his pocket.

Athletes are not compelled to reveal their NIL deals.

“It’s a great question,” Gregory said. “One would like to think that winning and everything else that you absolutely still stand a chance. For me, the fact we clearly laid out in the in-state statute what could happen [matters]. Before there was this law there weren’t some coaches talking to them about what could be done NIL-wise?”

Missouri’s primary NIL dealmaker for athletes is Every True Tiger, a non-profit facilitator that gets its funding from donors, corporate donations and subscriptions. (Members can pledge monthly amounts.) CEO Nick Garner is a respected former executive at Learfield, where he was once general manager of Mizzou Sports Properties.

“The important piece is that state law has allowed state of Missouri high school athletes the opportunity to unlock these opportunities early. It is a recruiting tool,” Garner said. “I’m sure in a case like [Nwareni’s], that’s great. Maybe it helped put him over the edge. The story is, does it flip the script or not?”

The question of whether Mizzou joins the elites of college football as a result of the advantage may take six years to answer. Or it may take six weeks. The math may have changed, however, as sources told CBS Sports a revenue-sharing deal with players was possible in the near future.

As it stands, the list of states with similar NIL laws to Missouri is growing almost daily. Mizzou’s advantage could soon be a footnote as states line up basically to copy law. The race between legislatures and recruiting has become a competition. A giant hole has been left in the system as the NCAA never acted quickly enough and was basically forced to open the NIL gates in July 2021.

Congress doesn’t seem anywhere close to granting an antitrust exemption so that the NCAA can apply its rules.

“I would definitely say so [it has become a competition] in a roundabout way …,” Gregory said. “Do you honestly think a senator from Alabama — say Alabama has a better [NIL] law than LSU — is going to vote for parity for LSU to have the same thing?

“We don’t want the feds to come in and screw up the fun.”

Among the first remarks during his introductory press conference Friday, new Missouri athletic director Laird Veatch praised the administration for its “progressive approach” to NIL.

“You’re going to have to be aggressive and not think like everybody’s been thinking for the last how many years,” Veatch said.

Missouri fans have thought one way for years while crying out for the program to lock down the best in-state players. That wasn’t unlike other states except, again, Missouri doesn’t tout too many elite prospects. The top players from the state usually went to bigger, better programs.

But there is historical evidence Missouri can win from within. In 2007, Gregory was one of 10 in-state starters on offense. Only quarterback Chase Daniel (Texas) hailed from out of state. Missouri went 12-2 that year and was ranked No. 1 for a week.

Hall of Fame coach Gary Pinkel led that 2007 Tigers team.

“You’ve got to get in the game,” he said. “You have to have money. There is no way around that. Where it’s going to go someday, I don’t know. I used to hear the words ‘student-athlete’ and ‘graduation rates.’ I don’t hear anything about any of those things anymore.

“My biggest problem with the whole thing is I don’t want the coach who has the most money [to win] when this guy is a better coach and has a better team … but they just don’t have the money to compete at this level. I think that’s unfair.”

What’s fair about any of this except the players getting their cut?

Missouri’s venture into the NIL space has been tasteful. Schnucks, a leading supermarket chain, has brokered deals with numerous Missouri athletes. When five-star wide receiver Luther Burden came to Missouri (prior to the law), his advisor Demetrious Johnson told CBS Sports he wanted to keep Burden’s head on straight.

Instead of getting a used luxury car from Mercedes-Benz of Columbia, Burden was compelled to drive a used Impala as an NIL benefit once he arrived on campus.

“They were willing to give him a very nice car, a Mercedes-Benz. I told him we were not going to do that,” Johnson told CBS Sports. “We want to keep him very, very nice and humble.”

In this NIL era, humble is a relative term. Tennessee redshirt freshman quarterback Nico Iamaleava reportedly signed an $8 million NIL deal full of bonus clauses — an NIL outlier in a conference (SEC) that isn’t going to be left behind.

“I feel like [the law] was long overdue,” Nwareni said. “I also feel like they’re going to put some kind of limit or cap [on it]. Right now, I feel like it’s a great thing for the sport and for athletes like myself around the country.”

Yeah, but are you good for prom, Mr. NIL? Tux? Ride? Nosegay?

“Stuff like that, it makes even more easy [to afford],” Nwareni said.

27 Mar

Dustin Poirier bounces back with stunning knockout of Benoit Saint Denis

As if Dustin Poirier’s reputation for being a battle-tested legend needed more validation, his UFC 299 knockout of red-hot contender Benoit Saint Denis on Saturday in Miami was one for the ages.

The 35-year-old Poirier, a former interim lightweight titleholder and future Hall of Famer, went from being walked down and repeatedly bullied by his younger opponent to heroically turning the tide in the co-main event. Poirier (30-8, 1 NC) rallied behind pinpoint counterpunching with his back to the cage to wobble Saint Denis (13-2, 1 NC) before finishing him with a vicious right hook and a brutal follow-up on the ground to remove him from consciousness.

“I was getting beat up a little bit and getting rolled out by this guy,” Poirier said. “I got him at the end. I touched him a couple times at the beginning but he was pretty strong.”

THE DIAMOND GETS THE KO IN ROUND 2 😤#UFC299 | @DustinPoirier pic.twitter.com/DouV3eQeKD

— UFC (@ufc) March 10, 2024
Saint Denis, a former member of the French Army Special Forces Command, rode a win streak of five straight fights — all by finish — and was having his way with Poirier in their all-action affair behind constant pressure, physicality, body kicks and combination punching.

After closing Round 1 with a deep armbar attempt, the 27-year-old Saint Denis reversed into full mount early in Round 2 and flattened Poirier out before threatening chokes until the momentum dramatically swung in Poirier’s favor.

“This is the shit that make you a f—ing legend,” UFC CEO Dana White said. “These are legendary fights when you go in and you face a guy who is a savage, and it looks like you can’t win this fight or people think you can’t win this fight and then you do it, in spectacular fashion in the way he did tonight. We don’t determine whether you lose or whether you win, you do. What we try to do is put on the best match-made fight that we can possibly do, and that’s why big stars are built in the UFC and legendary fights happen every weekend.”

Poirier took a risk in even accepting the fight rather than relying on his celebrity fighting name to hopefully secure another shot at an elusive UFC undisputed title but said after the victory that he wouldn’t have imagined acting any other way.

“I took this fight because he finished his last five opponents,” Poirier said. “He’s not a name everybody knows but he is on his way up and he’s dangerous. He has a never say die attitude and I told myself that I have to take this fight. Hold your position or lose it, that’s the nature of the beast. That’s what we do.

“I’m just a man. I’ve got a lot of respect for Benoit Saint Denis and his grit.”

27 Mar

Sean O’Malley vs. Merab Dvalishvili, next fights for Dustin Poirier and Michael Page

Great matchmaking leads to even more great matchmaking. UFC 299 was a loaded card from top to bottom and the promotion can follow up in big ways.

UFC bantamweight champion Sean O’Malley wants a super fight against featherweight champ Ilia Topuria, but there is a contender who rightfully deserves a crack at “Suga.” Merab Dvalishvili has the best resume among any active bantamweight contender. His list of beaten opponents might even be better than the champ’s. UFC president Dana White said that Dvalishvili was next in line after UFC 298 and the promotion had him weigh in as the backup fighter for Saturday’s pay-per-view in Miami. All signs point to O’Malley vs. Dvalishvili next.

Then there’s the matter of Dustin Poirier. The veteran striker remains an elite lightweight and is closing in on another title shot. Michael “Venom” Page made good on his transition from Bellator to UFC. He didn’t show enough to suggest a UFC welterweight title in his future, but there are fun fights to make for him against name opponents.

Let’s break down the best fights to make in the bantamweight, lightweight and welterweight division after UFC 299.

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Bantamweight division
UFC Bantamweight Championship — Sean O’Malley vs. Merab Dvalishvili: White doesn’t sound keen on Ilia Topuria vs. O’Malley next. Thank goodness because Dvalishvili is long overdue for a bantamweight title shot. The Georgian is on a record nine-fight bantamweight winning streak — 10 including a catchweight win — and has defeated UFC champs in his last three fights. There may not be a fighter right now more deserving of a title shot in any division. Dvalishvili will likely hold the record for most UFC takedowns one day. That’s an interesting puzzle for O’Malley to solve and a win that really validates his superstar ambitions. There is also a rivalry between the two stemming from O’Malley’s knockout of Dvalishvili’s close friend Aljamain Sterling.

Marlon Vera vs. Deiveson Figueiredo or Cody Garbrandt: Vera vs. Figueiredo sounds like fireworks. The expectation is the former UFC flyweight champion will run through Garbrandt at UFC 300. It’s unclear how long “Chito” needs to recover from the damage he took in the O’Malley fight. The five-week separation between UFC 299 and UFC 300 helps line up Vera’s timetable with the other two men. Figueiredo is possibly the hardest-hitting flyweight in history. The power stuck with him in his bantamweight debut against Rob Font. That sounds like an appealing scrap, a necessary step back in the division for Vera and a step towards a second UFC title for Figueiredo.

Petr Yan vs. Henry Cejudo: Yan is another tantalizing matchup for either Vera or Figueiredo. But since we’ve matched those two already, let’s try something different stylistically. Yan’s defensive wrestling held up against Song Yadong and he won the fight, but he was badly biting on Song’s takedown feints. It seems the 50 takedowns that Dvalishvili attempted in Yan’s last fight are still haunting him. Matching him with Cejudo is a great way to test that. Cejudo was competent against Sterling and Dvalishvili, but it looks like his title days are behind him. A battle between two former champs is a great way to get someone back in the mix.

Lightweight division
Dustin Poirier vs. Charles Oliveira, Arman Tsarukyan, Justin Gaethje or Max Holloway: Poirier defended his status against a rising contender in Benoit Saint Denis. Now he can turn his attention back to the UFC lightweight championship. Poirier is among the greatest UFC fighters never to win an undisputed belt. A head-kick KO loss to Gaethje set him back, but he’s still in the mix. Poirier will have to wait for Oliveira vs. Tsarukyan and Gaethje vs. Holloway to play out at UFC 300. Oliveira vs. Tsarukyan is supposed to be a title eliminator but the winner of Gaethje vs. Holloway is a viable fight for champion Islam Makhachev. There are too many moving parts to nail down one opponent for Poirier. His most likely path to the title is either facing the loser of Oliveira-Tsarukyan or the winner of Gaethje-Holloway. If for some reason Gaethje or Holloway get the next title shot, Poirier could face the winner of Oliveira vs. Tsarukyan. It’s not like winning a title eliminator is an iron-clad claim to a UFC title fight anyway.

Welterweight division
Michael “Venom” Page vs. Stephen Thompson: It could be a snoozer or absolute magic. Either way, it’s a stylistic dream match that needs to be made. MVP and “Wonderboy” are the two best sport karate fighters in MMA. Page looked slick in his UFC debut and should be ranked in the UFC’s official welterweight top 15 next week. White said they need to matchmake Page carefully. Thompson makes a lot of sense. “Wonderboy” needs a step back in competition, it’s a chance for Page to crack the Top 10 and they both most recently defeated Kevin Holland.

Jack Della Maddalena vs. Ian Machado Garry: It’s time to put the new wave of UFC welterweights against each other. Della Maddalena scored a Hail Mary knockout of Gilbert Burns with less than two minutes left on Saturday. With Della Maddalena, Garry and Shavkat Rakhmonov all likely in the top half of the welterweight rankings, they’ll need to fight each other soon. It sounds like Rakhmonov is on the UFC’s radar for a title fight against Leon Edwards, despite Belal Muhammad being overdue for his chance. Della Maddalena vs. Machado Garry is a great way to tee up another future title challenger. Both guys are smooth operators on the feet and it should make for a fun stylistic fight.

27 Mar

Fight card, date, rumors, odds, location, complete guide

After a wild start to 2024, things are about to get kicked up a notch. UFC 300 is getting closer after the conclusion of UFC 299 in Miami and the promotion is pulling out all the stops to mark this special occasion. The event, set for April 13 in Las Vegas, will feature 12 current or former champions as well as a former two-time Olympic gold medalist and a standout collegiate wrestler.

The main event sees the return of UFC light heavyweight champion Alex Pereira as he looks to make his first defense of the crown against former titleholder Jamahal Hill. Pereira earned the the title in November with a knockout of Jiri Prochazka. Hill was forced to vacate the title last year after suffering a torn Achilles while playing basketball.

Also on the main card is an All-China throwdown when women’s strawweight champion Weili Zhang takes on Yan Xiaonan. Zhang earned her title back after a throttling of Carla Esparza. She has defended it once since with a beatdown of Amanda Lemos last August. Xiaonan, meanwhile, earned the opportunity with a TKO of Jessica Andrade last May.

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Plus, the ceremonial “BMF” title is up for grabs once again when “champion” Justin Gaethje takes on former featherweight king Max Holloway. Gaethje earned the crown with a vicious head-kick KO of Dustin Poirier last July. Holloway got back on the winning track by retiring the Korean Zombie last August.

The other significant announcement so far sees former Olympic gold medalist and PFL lightweight champion Kayla Harrison make her promotional debut when she takes on former champion Holly Holm in a bantamweight contest. The 135-pound limit marks the most dramatic cut Harrison has undergone in her career after competing at 155 pounds with PFL and at 172 pounds at the Olympics.

Below is the complete fight card for UFC 300 along with the latest odds. Check back for the latest news, features and other content around this massive event.

UFC 300 fight card, odds
Alex Pereira (c) -145 vs. Jamahal Hill +122, light heavyweight title
Zhang Weili (c) -350 vs. Yan Xiaonan +275, women’s strawweight title
Justin Gaethje -210 vs. Max Holloway +175, “BMF” title — lightweights
Bo Nickal vs. Cody Brundage, middleweights
Arman Tsarukyan -190 vs. Charles Oliveira +160, lightweights
Aleksandar Rakic -125 vs. Jiri Prochazka +105, light heavyweights
Aljamain Sterling -115 vs. Calvin Kattar -105, featherweights
Deiveson Figueiredo -340 vs. Cody Garbrandt +265, bantamweights
Kayla Harrison -450 vs. Holly Holm +350, bantamweights
Sodiq Yusuff vs. Diego Lopes, featherweights
Jessica Andrade vs. Marina Rodriguez, women’s strawweights
Jim Miller vs. Bobby Green, lightweights
Renato Moicano vs. Jalin Turner, lightweights

27 Mar

Sean O’Malley shines once again, but Merab Dvalishvili lies in wait

If the old adage is true that you’re not truly a world champion until you defend your title, UFC 299 pay-per-view card in Miami was a coming-of-age moment in the rise of bantamweight king “Suga” Sean O’Malley.

O’Malley didn’t just redeem his lone pro defeat suffered four years earlier against Marlon “Chito” Vera, he delivered a five-round beating that challenged every fiber in Vera’s immaculate reputation as one of the most durable fighters in UFC history.

In just about every single category, the 29-year-old O’Malley shined brightly, particularly in his virtuoso striking that lit up Vera throughout. Even O’Malley’s chin and recuperative skills were challenged as he survived Vera’s Round 4 flurries that bloodied his nose and a body shot in the closing seconds of Round 5 that forced the champion to take a seat to nurse the pain after the win horn to end the fight.

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Vera certainly wasn’t the most skilled challenger available to O’Malley in the sport’s deepest division and may have benefited from his history with the champion in getting the title shot. But his name adds yet another dangerous challenge that O’Malley was able to vanquish, combining with wins over former champions Aljamain Sterling and Petr Yan over the past 18 months to solidify “Suga” among the pound-for-pound best.

Few strikers can move with the fluidity of O’Malley while combining such a sublime mastery of distance and a creative arsenal of offense. But despite the ambitious side of O’Malley offering up a challenge to new featherweight king Ilia Topuria after the fight, the true test of his career will likely come in his next title defense, which is expected to be against top contender Merab Dvalishvili.

After spending years waiting for his shot while his friend and teammate Sterling ruled the division, the 33-year-old Dvalishvili is now overdue to test himself for the sport’s top prize at 135 pounds as he rides a 10-fight win streak and brings the perfect contrast behind a never-ending motor and elite grappling skills to counter O’Malley’s offense.

Using a criteria that takes into account everything from accomplishments to current form, let’s take a closer look at the top fighters inside the Octagon.

For CBS Sports’ updated divisional rankings, click here.

Men’s pound-for-pound rankings

  1. Islam Makhachev — Lightweight champion
    Record: 25-1 | Previous ranking: No. 1

A pair of title defenses against former featherweight king Alexander Volkanovski, including a head-kick knockout in their short-notice rematch at UFC 294, helped Makhachev capture fighter of the year honors in 2023. The 32-year-old is expected to return this spring after observing Ramadan and has called out Dustin Poirier.

🤫🤫🤫 #UFC294 pic.twitter.com/i9FgTUBAmt

— UFC (@ufc) October 21, 2023

  1. Jon Jones — Heavyweight champion
    Record: 27-1, 1 NC | Previous ranking: 2

Jones’ first title defense at heavyweight, scheduled for UFC 295 in November against former champion Stipe Miocic, was canceled after Jones suffered a pectoral tear in training. An eight-month recovery is expected for Jones, who will turn 37 this summer. Despite the ill-timed injury creating more havoc in the heavyweight title picture, Jones has vowed he will be back.

  1. Leon Edwards — Welterweight champion
    Record: 21-3, 1 NC | Previous ranking: 3

If anyone felt Edwards’ run to the 170-pound title was a fluke, his UFC 286 trilogy win over Kamaru Usman silenced those doubters. His second title defense, against Colby Covington in December, brought Edwards another dominant win yet plenty of boos for the lack of action thanks to Covington’s avoidance.

  1. Alex Pereira — Light heavyweight champion
    Record: 9-2 | Previous ranking: 4

In just seven UFC bouts and 11 pro MMA fights overall, “Poatan” is now a two-division champion after knocking out Jiri Prochazka for the vacant 205-pound title at UFC 295 in November. The 36-year-old Brazilian slugger returns in April for the main event of UFC 300 against former champion Jamahal Hill.

Poatan does it again 🏹

He gets the finish in round 2 to become the LHW champion! #UFC295 pic.twitter.com/7BXxXE81nr

— UFC (@ufc) November 12, 2023

  1. Ilia Topuria — Featherweight champion
    Record: 15-0 | Previous ranking: 5

A changing of the guard atop the 145-pound division at UFC 298 in February might have produced the next breakout star of the sport. Topuria did everything he said he would against Alexander Volkanovski, including finishing him in the first two rounds. His precision was only trumped by his one-punch power as Topuria patiently dismantled one of the best fighters in history.

HE IS KING 👑@TOPURIAILIA IS YOUR NEW FEATHERWEIGHT CHAMPION OF THE WORLD 🇪🇸🏆 🇬🇪 #UFC298 pic.twitter.com/eKRjZsP7yI

— UFC (@ufc) February 18, 2024

  1. Charles Oliveira — Lightweight
    Record: 34-9 | Previous ranking: 6

The former 155-pound champion redeemed himself after losing his title by finishing Beneil Dariush in the first round at UFC 289. But the Brazilian submission threat suffered a costly cut above his right eye in sparring that pulled him from a title rematch at UFC 294 against Makhachev. “Do Bronx” will return at UFC 300 in April against fellow top contender Arman Tsarukyan.

  1. Sean O’Malley — Bantamweight champion
    Record: 17-1, 1 NC | Previous ranking: 8

The “Suga Show” turned in quite possibly the best striking performance of his career over five rounds in dominating Marlon Vera at UFC 299 to make his first title defense. O’Malley avenged the only defeat of his pro career and challenged featherweight champion Ilia Topuria during his post-fight interview.

Sean O’Malley’s +141 significant strike differential ranks 2nd largest in a UFC bantamweight fight, behind only O’Malley’s own +160 vs. Kris Moutinho 👊#UFC299 | @SugaSeanMMA pic.twitter.com/OVRs8mpjgM

— UFC (@ufc) March 10, 2024

  1. Alexandre Pantoja — Flyweight champion
    Record: 27-5 | Previous ranking: 7

The Brazilian submission threat relied much more on his chin and iron will to edge Brandon Moreno by split decision at UFC 290 in one of the most thrilling and savage fights in flyweight history. At 33, Pantoja now owns three wins over Moreno and he returned in December to record a hard-fought decision over Brandon Royval in his first title defense.

  1. Dricus du Plessis — Middleweight champion
    Record: 21-2 | Previous ranking: 9

Unbeaten in his seven trips to the Octagon, the proud native of South Africa can now call himself champion after edging Sean Strickland via split decision at UFC 297 in January. Du Plessis, who called out former champion Israel Adesanya in the aftermath, has evolved at an alarming rate to mix technique and a deep gas tank to his big power and takedown threat.

NEW CHAMP ALERT 🚨#UFC297 | @DricusDuPlessis pic.twitter.com/qExDirZg61

— UFC (@ufc) January 21, 2024

  1. Merab Dvalishvili — Bantamweight
    Record: 17-4 | Previous ranking: 10

By improving his win streak to 10 fights, Dvalishvili finally secured a title shot thanks to his breakthrough win over Henry Cejudo at UFC 298. The victory now gives Dvalishvili three straight over former UFC champions. Dvalishvili, 33, has a gas tank like no other and remains a problem for any style of opponent he will face.

Dropped out: None
Just missed: Alexander Volkanovski, Israel Adesanya, Justin Gaethje, Sean Strickland, Aljamain Sterling

Women’s pound-for-pound rankings

  1. Zhang Weili — Strawweight champion
    Record: 24-3 | Previous ranking: No. 1

The first Chinese-born UFC champion regained her 115-pound crown by dominating Carla Esparza at UFC 281 via second-round submission. The 34-year-old followed it up with a statistically historic beatdown of Amanda Lemos in August and returns at UFC 300 against Yan Xionan.

  1. Alexa Grasso — Flyweight champion
    Record: 16-3-1 | Previous ranking: 2

The native of Mexico teamed up with former champion Valentina Shevchenko to co-author an exciting and tactical 125-pound title rematch at Noche UFC. A split draw was the result as the defending champion Grasso benefitted from a controversial 10-8 final round to curtail defeat. The two fighters will coach opposite one another on “The Ultimate Fighter” this spring ahead of a fall trilogy fight.

  1. Valentina Shevchenko — Flyweight
    Record: 23-4-1 | Previous ranking: No. 3

The future all-time great nearly regained her flyweight title from Alexa Grasso in their September rematch. A disputed draw was the result, with Shevchenko openly considering an appeal in the aftermath. Now, at 36, Shevchenko will coach opposite Grasso on TUF before a likely third meeting at Noche UFC this fall.

  1. Erin Blanchfield — Flyweight
    Record: 12-1 | Previous ranking: 4

The native of New Jersey is 6-0 in the UFC and seemingly on the verge of a title shot following consecutive victories over Jessica Andrade and Talia Santos. Although Blanchfield’s grappling skills remain her calling card, her striking has improved tremendously. She returns in a pivotal No. 1 contender’s match against Manon Fiorot on March 30 in Atlantic City.

  1. Manon Fiorot — Flyweight
    Record: 11-1 | Previous ranking: 5

Add Fiorot’s name to the list of those knocking on the door of the 125-pound crown. The native of France is a dynamic kickboxer who is fresh off a unanimous decision win over former strawweight champion Rose Namajunas in September. She meets Erin Blanchfield in the main event of UFC Atlantic City in March.

Dropped out: None
Just missed: Yan Xionan, Tatiana Suarez, Rose Namajunas, Raquel Pennington, Julianna Pena

27 Mar

Alexa Grasso hopeful trilogy bout with Valentina Shevchenko takes place at The Sphere, ‘Bullet’ pushes back

Fighters are champing at the bit to fight at The Sphere in Las Vegas, which will host UFC’s second annual Mexican Independence Day fight card. That bodes well for women’s flyweight champion Alexa Grasso but her dance partner, Valentina Shevchenko, wants nothing to do with a second Noche UFC.

“I’ve seen some memos about how the fight could look inside that place. It looks amazing,” Grasso told CBS Sports. “I would love to fight there. I hope this is true and I hope we can have this big opportunity to present ourselves and perform in The Sphere. I think our job here in ‘TUF’ will be important for that decision.”

Check out the full interview with Alexa Grasso below.

Mexico’s Grasso and Kyrgyzstan’s Shevchenko will coach opposite each other on “The Ultimate Fighter” season 32. Grasso believes that generating interest in the show is crucial to securing them a spot at UFC’s Sphere premiere. “TUF” coaches traditionally fight each other at a later date. With the show filming in March and debuting on June 4, it perfectly tees up the rivals to start three-month training camps ahead of Mexican Independence Day weekend in September.

Grasso may be all-in on The Sphere, but Shevchenko is far from it. Their second fight ended in a split draw at Noche UFC last September. Both women believe they deserved to win. Shevchenko took issue with the setting, arguing that hosting the fight around Mexican Independence Day gave her a disadvantage with the judges. It’s not unusual for fighters playing away games to worry that loud fan reactions might influence how the scorecards. For example, if the crowd responds loudly every time their fighter throws a strike, a judge may overestimate the impact of that strike.

“I think it would be fair — as we already fought at Noche UFC and we already had that experience — to have something towards my side as well,” Shevchenko told CBS Sports. “Even now, I see there is a Mexican fighter on the [‘TUF’] roster but there is no Kyrgyzstani fighter on the roster. No fighter from Kyrgyzstan. I think it would be fair to have one for her and one for me.”

27 Mar

UFC legend Mark Coleman awake and responsive after hospitalization from saving parents in house fire

UFC Hall of Famer Mark Coleman is awake and responsive after being airlifted to the hospital. Coleman, 59, was transported to a local hospital in Ohio for smoke inhalation after rescuing his parents from the fire in the early hours of Tuesday morning, his daughter said earlier this week in an Instagram post.

“I’m the happiest man in the world! I swear to God, I’m so lucky. I can’t believe my parents are alive…” Coleman said in an emotional reunion with his family posted to his Facebook page. “I had to make the decision because I got out of my room and opened the door and it was already horrible. I couldn’t breathe. I almost had to go outside. And I went back and I got them, I can’t believe it. I got them. I couldn’t find Hammer.”

Great news to start the day.

Per his Facebook page, Mark Coleman is responsive, talking and laughing with his family.

Mark says “I’m the happiest man in the world!”, as he recalls saving his parents lives.

(h/t @JMurrayMMA) pic.twitter.com/qgG9s2XKrt

— Aaron Bronsteter (@aaronbronsteter) March 14, 2024
Coleman’s daughter, Kenzie, noted in the Facebook post that he is breathing on his own. It is unclear how much longer Coleman will need to stay in the hospital or how much damage was done to his lungs.

Coleman was alerted of the fire by his dog, Hammer. The UFC legend managed to rescue his parents before succumbing to smoke inhalation while attempting to rescue his dog. The fundraising site, GoFundMe, showed a photo of Mark Coleman strapped up to a ventilator.

“As many know, our dad was involved in a house fire early this morning along with his parents and beloved dog, Hammer,” Morgan Coleman wrote Tuesday on Instagram. “He managed to carry both of his parents out of the house but despite his best efforts was not able to save Hammer. He was life-flighted to the hospital where he is currently battling for his life after this heroic act.

“Our father has always been our hero and means the world to us. He is and always will be a fighter. The strongest and bravest man I know. Please continue to pray for him and our family during this extremely difficult time. We will miss our sweet Hammer so deeply.”

Coleman is a pioneer of mixed martial arts and an accomplished amateur wrestler. Coleman won an NCAA Division I title for Ohio State in 1998 before representing the U.S. in the 1992 Olympics. Coleman became the first UFC heavyweight champ in his sixth professional fight and later won the Pride FC 2000 Openweight Grand Prix Tournament. He retired after fighting fellow legend Randy Couture in the first fight between two active UFC Hall of Famers in 2010.