The UFC returns this weekend with a card in China, which means an early start with preliminary fights at 3 am and the main card at 6 am.
The show is heavily focused on one fight, which sees Jessica Andrade defend the women’s strawweight title against Chinese fighter Weili Zhang. Andrade won the title from Rose Namajunas this past May in Brazil and meets Zhang, who is 19-1 and unbeaten since her pro debut in November 2013.
This week, much discussion arose from Conor McGregor’s interview with ESPN’s Ariel Helwani. The former two-division champion broke his silence addressing the recent bar incident where he struck an unsuspecting individual seated at the bar. McGregor also expressed a desire to return to fighting and rattled off a variety of possible opponents.
Phil Chertok is here to dive into these subjects and more on the latest edition of Five Questions.
POST: What is your level of interest for the main event this Saturday with Jessica Andrade defending the women’s straw-weight title against Weili Zhang in China?
Phil Chertok: I have a strong interest in this match-up. Weili Zhang has looked like a potential title contender since her first UFC fight, just over one year ago. Zhang has looked poised and has fought with a veteran savvy in her first three octagon encounters but taking on the new strawweight champion Andrade is a tall order. In an ideal world, Zhang would have received a couple more fights before getting a shot at the title but with the UFC hosting their first event in Shenzhen, it was a no brainer for them to try to put a hometown fighter at the top of the card, especially if it could result in the UFC’s first Chinese champion.
Are there any other fights on this card that will force you to awaken at 3 am Eastern to tune in for?
Chertok: The only other bout I’m remotely interested in is the welterweight contest between Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos and Li Jingliang. Both are on pretty good runs in the UFC and a win here for either should get them a serious step up in competition. Zaleski Dos Santos is on a particularly impressive run. Since losing his UFC debut, he’s put together seven wins in a row against some decent completion. A win over a game Li Jingliang would make a statement for the rising Brazilian.
This past Saturday’s Bellator card did 285,000 viewers featuring Sergei Kharitonov’s victory over Matt Mitrione. Bellator’s viewership has not been great on the Paramount Network this year, have they fallen off the casual fan’s radar? Has DAZN significantly limited the visibility of the promotion?
Chertok: It’s hard to pinpoint the ratings trouble Bellator has been seeing recently. On the surface, it looks like it might be a talent problem. Bellator originally tried to grow their brand using a tournament format, but when the company was purchased and Scott Coker was put in charge, a different approach was taken. Coker used older stars to drive viewers to the company in the hopes that it would be good exposure for home-grown Bellator talent. This is how we ended up with Bellator main events featuring Royce Gracie, Ken Shamrock and Kimbo Slice. That strategy worked at getting eyeballs on Bellator for that one night, but it never seemed to translate into viewers for the promotion’s other events and the company can no longer rely on those names from the past. Now add the trials and tribulations of launching on a digital service and the drama of going through the Spike TV/Paramount re-branding and it’s easy to see why Bellator might be struggling in the ratings department.
With several days to reflect, what did you take as the key message from Conor McGregor during his interview with ESPN’s Ariel Helwani last week?
Chertok: While on the surface McGregor seemed contrite and authentically apologetic for some of his recent poor behavior, I have to shrug my shoulders a bit. I’m all for giving people a second chance and am not one to write off anyone, certainly not someone as talented and dedicated as Conor McGregor, but in this instance, I’m not interested in apologies, I’d like to see some action. It’s like the Jon Jones situation, any individual transgression can be potentially forgiven but when those incidents compound, apologies stop cutting it and fans lose hope. I’m hoping that McGregor can turn it around, he’s potentially got some great years left and I’d hate to see them wasted with off-the-field shenanigans.
Do you believe McGregor will fight in 2019 and who would be the best opponent for him in that return fight?
Chertok: Call me an optimist but I believe the former two-weight world champion will fight again this year. If you watched Ariel Helwani’s interview with McGregor, you could clearly tell that the Irishman is itching to get back inside the cage. While there’s a lot of hurdles that need to be overcome to get a superstar like McGregor to step back into the Octagon, he’s made it clear he wants to return which is the most important factor. In terms of next opponents, McGregor mentioned Justin Gaethje which sounds like a ludicrously exciting fight so sign me up for that one. In all honesty, for Conor’s return fight, I’d be happy with anyone at this point, he’s been out of the cage too long and I just want to see him back.
Phil Chertok is the co-host of our UFC POST Shows and will return on Saturday, September 7th with John Pollock following UFC 242.