Last weekend, the UFC returned with New Zealand with a dynamite main event involving lightweights Dan Hooker and Paul Felder. In the end, Hooker left with a split decision nod and a debate over whether Felder won the fight. Regardless, it was one of the early contenders for the ‘best fight’ of 2020 with two providing an outstanding fight for the Auckland crowd.
This weekend, the UFC is in Virginia and a new flyweight champion will be crowned. After champion Henry Cejudo relinquished the title, it led to Joseph Benavidez getting one more chance after two failed attempts at the championship since 2012. His opponent on Saturday is 17-1 Deiveson Figueiredo with either Benavidez or Figueiredo joining Demetrious Johnson and Henry Cejudo as the only fighters to become champion of the division since its inception eight years ago.
Plus, we take a look at the controversial comment made by Israel Adesanya, his handling of the apology and if fighters can take a lesson from Adesanya’s response – and Phil Chertok reacts to Tyson Fury’s dominant victory against Deontay Wilder last weekend and whether an immediate rematch is wise for Wilder after the one-sided fight.
All that and more on this week’s edition of Five Questions!
POST: How did you score the Dan Hooker vs. Paul Felder fight and where does this place Hooker among that logjam atop the UFC’s lightweight division?
Phil Chertok: It was a very close fight that quite frankly I wasn’t being the best judge for but I was being a great fan! I was on the edge of my seat throughout as both men delivered thrilling performances even better than what we anticipated. When the dust had settled. I was leaning towards Felder but I was hardly surprised by the result as Hooker banked early rounds and used wrestling and the crowd to squeeze out the decision. Hooker still needs to beat someone right at the top of the division to really earn a title shot so it’s not really a problem that the division is moving along slowly. If Justin Gaethje is indeed being pegged for Conor McGregor, then Dustin Poirier is the obvious next best opponent. It’s a perfect style matchup that fans would love and it’s a good option for Poirier who is looking for a win to stay at the top of the division.
POST: This week, it was confirmed that Henry Cejudo will defend the UFC bantamweight title against Jose Aldo. Does Aldo’s place in the sport make it easier to understand why he is jumping over several contenders while also coming off a loss in his bantamweight debut?
Chertok: It’s easier to understand I suppose, that doesn’t mean I agree with it. There’s no doubt that Jose Aldo is a legend in MMA and a future Hall of Famer but he’s 0-1 at bantamweight and it’s not like there is a lack of potential title challengers. On the other hand, from Henry Cejudo’s perspective, it makes a lot of sense. He’s trying to cash in on his amazing 2019 with a marquee fight and unfortunately for Aljamain Sterling and Petr Yan, they aren’t nearly as popular as the long-time featherweight king. While both Yan and Sterling are exciting fighters with impressive resumes, neither has even headlined a fight night let alone the eight PPVs that Aldo’s name has sat atop throughout his illustrious career. I supposed that if you add that Aldo did indeed look impressive despite losing his Bantamweight debut, it makes it all a bit easier to swallow.
POST: After issuing an apology, Israel Adesanya appears to have quelled a lot of backlash following a poor choice of an analogy of the Twin Towers crumbling on 9/11 to build up his fight with Yoel Romero. Is there a lesson to be learned for fighters in this instance when trash talk clearly crosses the line into bad taste?
Chertok: I guess the lesson is to think through your public words and actions a little more carefully. I’m not one to get up in arms about much of anything public personalities project through the megaphone that they possess but that doesn’t mean it’s OK to have at it with disregard for others. Common sense, a little courtesy and you’re probably safe 99% of the time. Now, I realize that this is the fight game and many fans aren’t looking for courtesy, they are looking for that type of aggressive rhetoric and they build up and encourage fighters to deliver with bravado talk. Let just not tear down those icons the second that they take it too far and deliver too much of what you asked for.
POST: How important is this Saturday’s fight for the legacy of Joseph Benavidez where he fights Deiveson Figueiredo for the vacant flyweight title?
Chertok: This is a big one for Benavidez who’s long loomed in the shadow of former flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson. Despite having a win over current titleholder Henry Cejudo, Benavidez himself has never held gold thus making this the biggest contest of his career. He’s been a UFC and WEC staple for more than 12 years, constantly fighting the best of the best in both the flyweight and bantamweight division. His wife Megan Olivi is a UFC broadcaster so it would be a wonderful addition to their family if he’s able to bring home a championship belt Saturday night. If he’s not able to get it done it would be pretty crushing and it might take a while to get back to a title shot seeing as the flyweight division has a few interesting contenders waiting in the wings. I’m not saying it’s now or never for the 35-year-old Benavidez but if I were him, I’d be fighting as if it were.
POST: Finally, you spoke about your enthusiasm for Tyson Fury vs. Deontay Wilder – how did the fight measure up to your expectations and do you feel it’s a mistake for Wilder to invoke his automatic rematch clause?
Chertok: The fight lived up the hype with a pageantry-filled evening that culminated in an absolutely masterful performance by undisputed heavyweight king Tyson Fury. I don’t necessarily feel it’s a mistake to invoke the rematch clause because the third fight between the two would be big business and boxing is cruel so there’s no guaranteeing that the money and opportunity will be available later. Unfortunately, though for Wilder, the way the fight went it’s hard to imagine what he could do to prepare for a rematch other than put on some size. Fury pretty much bullied him around the ring before Wilder’s corner threw in the towel. For Wilder to win a rematch he’s going to need to find a way to stand his ground and make Fury respect which looks nearly impossible to do.
Phil Chertok can be heard on our monthly UFC POST Shows and will be back on Saturday, March 7th following UFC 248.