The MMA world is still existing on the fumes of UFC 246 where Conor McGregor stopped Donald Cerrone and sets the stages for a potentially huge year for the Irish star.
Surprisingly, one of the biggest discussion points that won’t go away is the post-fight analysis from ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith regarding Cerrone’s performance in the fight and not learning much from McGregor given its short nature. Smith has come under fire from some for believing that Cerrone ‘quit’, which he did acknowledge this week was probably not the proper term to use given how the fight ended. Smith has refused to apologize for his ability to share his opinions on what he saw and that has come under fire from the diehard MMA fanbase seeing a perceived ‘outsider’ cast criticism on a figure like Cerrone.
We will discuss that subject as well as this past Saturday’s heavyweight main event where Curtis Blaydes defeated former UFC heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos in Raleigh, North Carolina. This difficulty for Blaydes is that there are two losses on his record to Francis Ngannou, who fights Jairzinho Rozenstruik on March 28th. Even worse, is that the heavyweight title is on hold while champion Stipe Miocic recovers from an eye injury with Daniel Cormier pushing for a third fight before he retires.
And, with a UFC off this weekend, we look ahead to UFC 247 next weekend where Jon Jones defends the UFC light heavyweight title against unbeaten Dominick Reyes and flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko will fight Katlyn Chookagian in Houston, Texas.
Here are ‘Five Questions with Phil Chertok’:
It seems the biggest topic in MMA centers around Stephen A. Smith’s comments regarding Donald Cerrone after his loss to Conor McGregor. Did you have a strong opinion of the comments and do you feel Smith adds something to ESPN’s MMA coverage?
Phil Chertok: I don’t really have a strong opinion on the comments, I don’t have too much of a problem with a pundit giving some hot takes, although I understand people’s frustration. As a long-time MMA fan and BJJ practitioner, it’s very hard for me to not feel a sympathy when a fighter gets brutalized. Even though I have favorites like everyone else, I never root against people, only for victors, it’s because there’s a certain level of respect that I have for any man or woman that risks themselves to step into the cage. I think people’s biggest problem with what Smith said, is that he seemed to show no respect for Cowboy and the career he put together. I think it’s entirely fair to criticize Cerrone’s performance and his inability to deliver in clutch situations but to suggest he ‘quit’ demonstrates a fundamental lack of knowledge of the sport. I do feel that Smith adds some value to the coverage as it is important to hear from casual sports fans who may not have the most robust and nuanced knowledge of the game, he provides a good bridge for sports fans who only tune into the UFC on occasion. I just hope he can refine his approach to show a little more reverence for these athletes, even when they don’t perform at their best.
The heavyweight division appears to be on hold until Stipe Miocic and Daniel Cormier fight, where does Curtis Blaydes go next after this victory against Junior dos Santos?
Phil Chertok: Blaydes is in a tough spot with two losses to top contender Francis Ngannou but outside of those he’s been quite an impressive winning and finishing other top fighters in the division. If I were him, I’d start doing more work outside the cage, it’s time he started making some noise and calling people out. One move that I’d love to see, is for him to call out light-heavyweight champion Jon Jones to lure him into his first heavyweight fight. It seems inevitable that Jones moves to heavyweight and even if Blaydes doesn’t get the match, it would attach his name to a championship level fighter. If he must stick to existing heavyweights, Derrick Lewis seems like a good opponent as he has a large fan-base and it’s a favorable style match-up for Blaydes. For me personally, I’d love to see him against Blagoy Ivanov who showed incredible grit in his loss to Lewis in November. Ivanov is not a big name but he’s a tough test for anyone in the division.
Do you believe the rubber match between Miocic and Cormier will happen this year or do you see an alternative fight for either one?
Phil Chertok: I do think that the fight will happen this year because it’s really the only one that makes sense for Cormier and there are not too many other options for Miocic either. The fact that both fights ended with alternating competitors getting a KO win, makes it a no-brainer that they run it back. The only legitimate alternative that could derail this contest is if Jon Jones finally steps up to heavyweight and challenges Miocic.
What did you take away from Junior dos Santos’ performance against Curtis Blaydes and can he still compete at the top level of the division?
Phil Chertok: I thought dos Santos was on his way to winning the fight before well… he wasn’t. He was able to defend against the wrestling very well in the first round and looked like he would be able to turn the fight in his favor. Blaydes did show improved stand-up, mainly by being aggressive and ensuring he touched dos Santos before going for his takedowns. He continued that into the second round and was able to secure a brutal TKO win, the second such loss in a row for the former champion. At this point, it is hard to imagine Junior getting another crack at the belt, but I do feel like he can still defeat a lot of top heavyweights. A good opponent for his next fight could be another former champion, Fabrício Werdum. Werdum is coming off of a suspension so putting him in a high profile fight against another former titleholder would be a wise move to reintroduce him to fans.
What is your level of excitement for the UFC 247 pay-per-view and does it feel like a big card with over a week remaining?
Phil Chertok: It doesn’t really feel like that big of a card for a few reasons. First, we’re still in hangover mode a few weeks removed from Conor McGregor’s triumphant return. Also, the Super Bowl is this weekend, so it is stealing all the media attention. This is par for the course for many Jon Jones fights though. He’s often faced opponents who don’t seem to have strong name recognition, and they don’t seem to have too much of a chance of winning with fans and odds-makers. It’s very rare for a single fighter to be able to draw regardless of opponent, McGregor is an obvious exception. If Jon Jones really wants to make some money, he’ll need to make a dramatic move that stirs the imagination of fans. Hmmm… I wonder what that could be? Wait, I’ve got it! What if he took a fight at heavyweight?????!!!! Has that been suggested before?
Phil Chertok is the co-host of POST Wrestling’s UFC POST Shows immediately following the monthly pay-per-views cards. Phil returns on the UFC 247 POST Show on Saturday, February 8th.