This past weekend saw Joanna Jedrzejczyk return to the 115-pound division earning a commanding decision over perennial contender Michelle Waterson. The victory propels the former champion into the conversation of the next title challenger for new champion Zhang Weili. Jedrzejczyk’s week was full of coverage after reports surfaced of Jedrzejczyk contacting the UFC in the lead-up to the fight and stating her concerns about not being able to make the limit. While playing her cards close to the vest, Jedrzejczyk did not deny the reports but come Friday, did make weight for the strawweight fight.
In other news, ESPN aired the premiere of their latest documentary in the “30 for 30” series focusing on former UFC light heavyweight champions Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz. In this week’s edition of “Five Questions,” we re-visit one of the top feuds in MMA history.
Plus, Chris Weidman makes the long-awaited move to light heavyweight this week but is hardly being given a smooth transition to the new division. Weidman will step into the cage on Friday night in Boston against undefeated Dominick Reyes, who has produced an inarguable case for the next title fight with Jon Jones with a victory over Weidman representing an exclamation point on his credentials. For Weidman, it’s not hard to imagine that a victory over Reyes would catapult the former middleweight champion above the other contenders and into a fight with Jones next year.
We welcome back Phil Chertok and ask him “Five Questions”.
POST Wrestling: After successfully making weight and putting forth a great performance against Michelle Waterson, is Joanna Jedrzejczyk best served at 115 pounds and is a championship fight in store for the former titleholder?
Phil Chertok: There was a lot of speculation that Joanna would not make weight for last Saturday night’s main event, but ultimately she made it and put on a vintage performance. If she can make the weight in a consistent and healthy fashion, I see no reason for her to bail on 115. Until she lost her belt, she looked unbeatable, dominating all her opponents, including former champion Jéssica Andrade. Joanna is still a big star with a ton of charisma and putting her in a title fight makes a lot of sense. If she wins it would put the belt back around the waist of their most decorated strawweight champion that is already a proven draw. If she loses, it’s an opportunity for the world to see how good the recently crowned champion Zhang Weili really is. Although Zhang is a tremendous fighter, she’s still unknown to much of the audience and the main event contest against Jedrzejczyk is a great way to expose her to the world.
POST: This week ESPN ran its 30 for 30 documentary chronicling the rivalry between Tito Ortiz and Chuck Liddell, how important was this feud in the UFC’s history?
Chertok: It’s certainly one of the most important rivalries in the history of the sport. Tito Ortiz was the main star of the promotion during its dark days when it was banned from several states and off traditional PPV. Chuck Liddell was the big star that emerged during the UFC’s era of rapid growth after The Ultimate Fighter premiered on Spike. The Iceman’s unique look and incredible ability to knock out his opponents made him a household favorite. Ortiz on the other hand, with his bad-boy image and often bizarre trash talk, was the fighter fans loved to hate. Their first match occurred before the UFC and Liddell blew up, but it was their rematch at UFC 66 for Liddell’s light heavyweight title that really captured the audience’s imagination. It was the UFC’s first event at the MGM Grand and it was rumored to be the show event that recorded more than one million PPV buys for the promotion. Despite the dominant fashion in which Liddell defended his belt, the two continued their rivalry for years to come. Unfortunately, that culminated in an embarrassing third fight in the fall of last year, where Ortiz was finally able to get his revenge. Even with the stench of their third contest still fresh, the rivalry between these two MMA pioneers remains one of the most enduring and significant in MMA’s relatively brief history.
POST: If Cain Velasquez has fought his last fight, how do you view his legacy that he leaves behind in MMA?
Chertok: Cain Velasquez had an impressive career in the UFC, capturing the heavyweight title and for a time establishing himself as the baddest man on the planet. Before even entering the UFC, rumors swirled about an unbeatable heavyweight, with cardio for days training in San Jose. When Cain finally made his UFC debut it appeared like all the hype was justified as he steamrolled opponents in a fashion that looked effortless. Cain rose quickly to the UFC championship after defeating fellow WWE superstar Brock Lesnar, before a series of injuries kept him out of the Octagon for long periods of time. There was a brief moment at UFC 200 when Cain returned after another long layoff and looked absolutely spectacular defeating Travis Browne by TKO in the first round. Unfortunately, what followed was a nearly three-year layoff and when Cain finally returned he was KO’d in less than two minutes by terrifying striker Francis Ngannou. To make matters worse, it appeared as if Cain injured his knee during the brief fight. Although Cain was a tremendous heavyweight and almost certainly will be a UFC Hall of Famer, his lack of activity and frequent injuries will always leave a question as to if Cain ever reached his true potential.
POST: Chris Weidman will make his light heavyweight debut on Friday in Boston against Dominick Reyes, do you like this matchup for Weidman in his first fight at 205 pounds?
Chertok: I don’t really like this matchup. Chris Weidman is a tremendous fighter but he’s been on the wrong side of some brutal losses recently and as we saw with his former rival Luke Rockhold a few months ago, moving up to 205 is no easy task. Dominick Reyes is undefeated and most of his wins have come by KO, not to mention he’s knocking on the door of a title shot. While a big win by the former middleweight champion would almost certainly propel him to a title fight with long-reigning champion Jon Jones, I would have much preferred a contest against someone a little lower in the rankings to get Weidman’s light heavyweight feet wet.
POST: There is a lot of depth to the card in Boston, among the prospects on the rise, who are a few that you have your eye on this Friday?
Chertok: That’s easy, it’s undefeated light heavyweight Deron Winn. Winn made his UFC debut in June defeating a game Eric Spicely. He’s taking a step up this weekend to battle Darren Stewart who’s had eight UFC fights and despite a slow start has won three out of his last four, including a TKO win over Spicely himself. Winn, a protégé of former heavyweight and light-heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier, fights in a very similar style to D.C., using his boxing to close the distance and then excelling at the wrestling on the inside. There’s a lot of hype around Winn and with a big win this Friday, I fully expect him to be placed against a more marquee name as he tries to break through in 2020.
Phil Chertok can be heard on our monthly UFC POST Shows and will be back on Saturday, November 2nd following UFC 244.