Five Questions: Covington vs. Lawler, Cris Cyborg’s future, BJ Penn

Phil Chertok looks at Max Holloway's win over Frankie Edgar, Cris Cyborg's future, BJ Penn receiving another fight and Covington vs. Lawler this weekend.

Phil Chertok returns to discuss last weekend’s UFC 240 pay-per-view featuring Max Holloway’s return to the featherweight division and a successful defense of his championship against Frankie Edgar, as well as Cris Cyborg’s plans following the completion of fights on her UFC contract.

This Saturday, the UFC has an afternoon card from New Jersey headlined by a welterweight fight between Colby Covington and Robbie Lawler. With a win, Covington would be on the shortlist to fight Kamaru Usman for the title later this year with Jorge Masvidal angling for the same fight.

With a few days to reflect, how to assess Max Holloway’s performance against Frankie Edgar and what type of challenge does Alexander Volkanovski represent for the champion, if that is the next fight?

It was another stellar performance from the featherweight king. He controlled the fight with a pinpoint jab and kept a game Frankie Edgar at bay for 25 minutes. Holloway was never in danger and he did a spectacular job reminding us just how good he really is.

Despite the terrific performance, we’re already on to finding a next suitable challenger, and right now the best option has got to be Alexander Volkanovski. He’s undefeated in the UFC and his only loss in MMA came more than six years ago. Alex the Great has shown no weaknesses in his seven previous UFC fights which include wins over both long-time contender Chad Mendes and the former champion Jose Aldo. While I would still favor Holloway going into that possible match, it wouldn’t be a stretch to consider Volkanovski the toughest featherweight challenge that Holloway has faced during his title reign.

What is the best option for Cris ‘Cyborg’ Justino regarding where she fights next and where do you expect her to land?

I’d say the best option for Cyborg is to go to the organization that will pay her the most. While no doubt the UFC has the deepest pockets, Bellator chief Scott Coker has already expressed interest in the former Strikeforce champion who he’s already worked with extensively and he might be willing to overpay. Considering that Cyborg’s relationship with the UFC has been rocky at best, Justino jumping ship to another promotion, even with few possible competitors, doesn’t seem like a longshot at all.

With that said, I do expect her and the UFC to come to terms and for her to rematch Bantam/Featherweight champion, Amanda Nunes. It’s the biggest fight that can be made currently in Women’s MMA and like Cyborg herself has said, it’s the fight that the fans want to see. So even with their disagreements, I expect Cyborg and the UFC to align in the common goal of giving fans the fights they want to pay for.

If Cyborg left the UFC, do you feel that would signal the end of the women’s featherweight division?

I don’t, she’s no longer the champion and for the first time in years there’s some presence in the division. Yes, she beat Felicia Spencer clearly on Saturday night, but the Canadian grappler made a name for herself with her toughness and her will to win. Megan Anderson is also an exciting and popular featherweight fighter. She’s lost 2 of her last 3 but she’s still quite young (29) and has a lot of room to improve. There are also a few bantamweights that can straddle the two divisions, mainly I’m thinking of Holly Holm, Germaine de Randamie and champion Amanda Nunes. No that’s not the deepest talent pool in the UFC but it’s good enough to continue having quality contests if Cyborg exits the promotion.

This past week, Dana White announced that he is granting another fight to BJ Penn on the condition it’s his final one with the UFC. Do you have a strong opinion either way of Penn continuing to fight?

I don’t have a strong opinion on BJ Penn continuing his fighting career, but I do have a strong opinion on the UFC booking him. He’s on the longest losing streak in UFC history and hasn’t won a match since 2010. Any other fighter with a streak like that would have been booted from the promotion a long time ago.

While Penn is not quite at the deteriorated state that other legends like Chuck Liddell are at, he’s not that far off either. The UFC and their fans have poked fun at Bellator and Golden Boy for putting on ‘legend division’ matches but with the way that the UFC has been booking Penn, those chuckling at other promotions may want to bite their tongue. While it would be my preference for Penn to fully retire, that’s ultimately a decision for him and his family. On the other hand, when it comes to asking if he should be competing in the most elite MMA organization in the world against the best fighters on Earth, that answer is reserved for the UFC matchmakers and it should be a resounding, unequivocal NO!

This Saturday, Colby Covington is a comfortable favorite over Robbie Lawler for their welterweight main event in New Jersey. Does Lawler have the ability at this stage to upset Covington and/or stifle his wrestling?

Robbie Lawler definitely has the ability to upset Covington. Despite almost 20 years (!!!!) as an MMA fighter, Lawler remains just as dangerous and savage as ever. This was demonstrated clearly with an amazing slam and ground and pound against Ben Askren during Funky Ben’s UFC debut. Historically though ‘Ruthless’ has had a tough time with wrestlers but he’s improved over the years and has secured wins over former NCAA standouts, Johny Hendricks, Jake Ellenberger, and Josh Koscheck. Covington’s style involves a furious pace that’s difficult to match but if Robbie can control enough of the wrestling and slow down that blistering pace, I wouldn’t be surprised if he comes away with a TKO as his striking should be significantly better than Covington’s.