The Thanksgiving holiday was not a quiet one within MMA with the report from ESPN that former two-division champion Conor McGregor has signed his agreement to fight on January 18th with Donald Cerrone agreeing to the fight and the fight just about finalized.
McGregor will return after 15 months between appearance from his last outing in October 2018 against Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 229. This fight will be contested at 170 pounds as opposed to 155, the first time McGregor has fought at that weight since the two Nate Diaz fights in 2016 while Cerrone spent considerable time at welterweight but has fought at lightweight over his past four fights.
This will immediately launch the UFC into a hot start for 2020 with McGregor mapping out a potentially busy year to make up for the lost time.
The media attention should be enormous for McGregor’s return and with will come plenty of coverage on his out-of-the-cage legal issues, court appearances, and allegations about the fighter.
Plus, Jon Jones is set to fight Dominick Reyes in February, Gina Carano re-surfaced in the MMA landscape this week, and we look at Anthony Pettis returning to lightweight, and how Bellator should match-make for Michael ‘Venom’ Page.
It’s a special Five (+1) Questions with Phil Chertok.
POST Wrestling: Do you like this fight for Conor McGregor’s return bout in January and do you prefer Donald Cerrone over Justin Gaethje for this fight?
Phil Chertok: I do like the fight as I think Cowboy is the perfect match in terms of skills and stature to be a suitable opponent for Conor’s return fight. The problem I have is that it’s being contested at welterweight. The obvious deduction is that everyone is trying to set up a potential superfight with BMF™ champion Jorge Masvidal. If I had a personal preference over Cowboy it would be a 155 match with Dustin Poirier, not Gaethje. Poirier and Conor are both coming off losses to the champion Khabib Nurmagomedov and they have a history from Conor’s rise to 145-pound glory so a rematch would generate a lot of interest. While Conor vs Gaethje would have been fun as well it doesn’t have the same sex appeal as the other matchups even though Gaethje is higher ranked than all of them.
Over the past week, it was officially announced that Jon Jones will defend the UFC light heavyweight title against Dominick Reyes on February 8th in Houston. What elements have you seen from Reyes that could present problems for Jones, and is this a title fight that interests you for Jones?
Phil Chertok: While it’s not the most interesting of potential matchups, it’s the best option at the moment for Jones so I’m happy it’s taking place. Reyes is undefeated as both a professional and an amateur and has a long history of vicious knockouts including his most recent one against former middleweight champion Chris Weidman. Reyes is a phenomenal athlete with an extremely strong base and posses a very crisp, technical skillset. Unfortunately, he’s going against the greatest light heavyweight of all-time and he’s never been in a fight longer than three rounds. While I think he’s definitely earned his chance to become champion it’s hard to imagine too many scenarios where he dethrones Jones. Jones tends to fight at the level of his opponents though, so if Jon is a little too lackadaisical in there and Reyes stays disciplined, that could lead to opportunities for him to land.
Gina Carano resurfaced this week in the MMA world speaking with Ariel Helwani about her career. How do you view Carano’s legacy in the sport and would the proposed fight between Carano and Ronda Rousey have been larger than any of Rousey’s other fights?
Phil Chertok: It absolutely would have been bigger than Ronda’s other fights. Rousey never truly had a superfight with an opponent with significant star power, all of her fights she was the main attraction. A fight with Carano or the long-teased bout with Cris Cyborg would have been absolutely huge had they occurred during Rousey’s peak. Carano was the original star of women’s MMA at a time where the sport was still struggling to gain acceptance among a mainstream audience. Quite frankly, we did not deserve such a lovely ambassador. Gina has always been extremely charming and gracious throughout her career despite herself proclaimed ‘awkwardness’. This week’s interview with Ariel brought all that back, she was just as captivating as ever and it made me so happy to see her having so much success in Hollywood. I do miss her having her around in the MMA world, it’s ok though, she gave us a gif to last a lifetime.
Were you surprised to see Anthony Pettis accept a fight at lightweight with Diego Ferreira after competing at 170 pounds in his past two outings? Do you like this decision?
Phil Chertok: I am a little bit surprised; Pettis didn’t look bad at all at welterweight despite losing his last fight there to Nate Diaz. I’m also a bit surprised by the choice of opponent, Ferreira is a dangerous foe, but he’s not widely known and Pettis is coming off huge fights Diaz, Wonderboy Thompson and Tony Ferguson so you’d think that he’d want a more marquee name. I’m going to throw in some wild speculation and suggest that he’s nearing the end of his contract and this fight and his spot on the card is more a reflection of that than any lack of star power.
Last weekend, Michael ‘Venom’ Page knocked out Gianni Melillo in 1:47 of the first round. Given Page’s unique style – are you in favor of these styles of fights as a showcase for Page or would you prefer, he be matched with the upper echelon of Bellator’s welterweight division consistently?
Phil Chertok: I didn’t mind these fights when Bellator was building up page and I didn’t mind it when he came off his first defeat against Douglas Lima but at this point Page should be facing tougher opponents. Last year he did take a step up in competition when he finally got in there with long-time rival Paul Daley and current champion Lima but at this point, MVP has seen enough cans that he could give Andy Warhol a run for this money.
What is Phil Chertok thankful for in MMA this year as our American readers celebrate Thanksgiving?
Phil Chertok: I love Thanksgiving! The turkey, stuffing, family, football and most of all… the sentiment. This year I’m thankful for the amazing fighters that literally put their life on the line to entertain me. I’m thankful that the skill level in the sport is at an all-time high and the level of competition is increasing leading to even more exciting fights. I’m thankful that after so many failed attempts at Tony Ferguson versus Khabib Nurmagomedov, the UFC is still going to make that fight. I’m thankful for the opportunity to answer your questions John and speak to you each month, and most of all I’m thankful to everyone who takes the time to listen to our show or read this column, it’s cliche but without them, this really would not be possible. Happy Thanksgiving America!
Phil Chertok is the co-host of our monthly UFC POST Shows and returns on Saturday, December 14th following UFC 245.