The UFC 244 event was of the strongest cards from the promotion this year albeit with anti-climactic end to the night’s main event that saw Nate Diaz unable to continue due to a cut sustained earlier in the fight by Jorge Masvidal.
Masvidal took home the victory and ‘BMF championship’ and caps off a remarkable year that includes knockouts of Darren Till and Ben Askren prior to the victory over Diaz.
The card also featured Darren Till’s move up to middleweight and earning a decision victory over Kelvin Gastelum and a return to form for Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson as he outpointed the thriving Vicente Luque.
On this week’s ‘Five Questions’, we chat with Phil Chertok about the important moments to reflect on from UFC 244, a look towards Saturday’s card in Russia with Greg Hardy’s toughest fight to date, and the which fight stands out most as the calendar gets set to expire.
POST Wrestling: After Saturday night’s victory by Jorge Masvidal, where does he stand among the candidates for Fighter of the Year?
Phil Chertok: Masvidal is my pick in a field with really only two other candidates, Israel Adesanya and Henry Cejudo. Cejudo started the year by defending his flyweight title against bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw. He followed up that first-round knockout with a come from behind victory over Marlon Moraes to capture the bantamweight title and become a two-division champion.
Israel Adesanya won three fights this year, a technical battle with legend Anderson Silva, an unforgettable thriller versus Kelvin Gastelum that’s the fight of the year candidate, and his most recent two-round dismantling of Robert Whitaker to become middleweight champion. While both of those resumes are strong, nothing compares to Jorge Masvidal’s rise from possible journeyman to one of the company’s top draws. His 2nd round K.O. of Darren Till was only overshadowed by his backstage scuffle with Leon Roberts and the viral catchphrase that came from it. “Gamebred” followed that up with the fastest K.O. in UFC history against an opponent that was generating a ton of interest.
That led to last week’s headlining show in what was one of the company’s biggest events, ever. At the start of 2019, few would have picked Masvidal to be a titleholder, fast forward to now and Street Jesus is holding a belt that didn’t even exist six months ago.
There are many options for Masvidal coming out of this fight, what would you do next with Nate Diaz?
Chertok: The first thing Diaz needs to do is rest up and figure out if he wants to get surgery to help his cuts. Diaz fought twice this year which was a serious treat considering his lack of activity over the previous three. It only makes sense to put Nate in big fights and right now there are none available. A rematch with Masvidal is not on the cards anytime soon, nor should it be.
A trilogy fight with rival Conor McGregor seems more realistic but McGregor needs to return first and show something to fans before people turn on him completely. Much of the same can be said about Masvidal. He’s a much bigger star than the champion and #1 contender in his division. A match with Colby Covington looks to have the most heat should Covington get the victory at UFC 245 next month. Both men should sit out a while, rest up and see how the landscape looks in six months. MMA is a crazy sport and a lot can happen quickly, who knows what new championship could be invented in that time?
Beyond the main event, who improved their stock the most at UFC 244?
Chertok: There were so many terrific performances last week that a lot of great stories are going under the radar but Corey Anderson’s was the most notable. He defeated a rising contender and did so in thunderous fashion by knocking him out in the first round. Anderson had been quietly winning against tough competition, but he needed a big statement to get fans talking about him as a potential opponent for Jon Jones. Another standout was Jairzinho Rozenstruik who took out former champion Andrei Arlovski in 29 seconds with a fadeaway left hand. Rozenstruik has since agreed to step in to fight Alistair Overeem on short notice December 7th. If Rozenstruik can get another big K.O. there he’ll set himself up to make a run at the title in 2020.
This Saturday’s card in Russia features Greg Hardy returning three-weeks after his no-contest with Ben Sosoli. Do you feel this is a risk-averse fight for Hardy given the short-notice of the fight and how large an underdog he is?
Chertok: If you call stepping into a cage with a 250-pound man that has five times as many fights as you risk-averse, sure it’s a no-lose situation! Few are picking Hardy to win so a loss doesn’t set him back too much, a win catapults him into the discussion as a serious heavyweight contender. Hardy’s brief MMA career has been filled with negativity, and that’s completely independent of his controversial history, so having a bit of good news in the form of praise for stepping in late is a bit refreshing but don’t expect it to turn too many fans in Hardy’s favor.
With two months remaining, what is the biggest fight remaining in 2019?
Chertok: It has to be the previously mentioned main event of UFC 245, Kamaru Usman vs. Colby Covington. Covington is on the verge of breaking through as a big star and a victory over Usman would certainly help and would set up a potentially huge fight with mega-star Masvidal. Usman, despite being the champion, is further from that big star status then Colby. By defeating Covington, who is loathed by many, Usman could really raise his profile. There still wouldn’t be as much hype for a Masvidal fight as there would be for Jorge vs Colby, but by defeating Covington, Kamaru would make it unequivocally clear who the best welterweight in the world is, even if he’s not the most popular.
Phil Chertok is the co-host of our monthly UFC POST Shows and returns on Saturday, December 14th following UFC 245.