Five Questions: Diaz vs. Masvidal, USADA, Top UFC events

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Photo courtesy: UFC

On this week’s edition of Five Questions with Phil Chertok, it’s a heavy focus on UFC 244 this Saturday featuring Nate Diaz vs. Jorge Masvidal.

The fight endured a speedbump last week when Diaz indicated he would not be fighting until an issue with USADA was resolved and he was publicly exonerated. After detecting a trace amount of a SARM that discovered to have come from a plant-based multivitamin and he was not provisionally suspended because of the small amount.

Plus, we ask Phil how this UFC 244 card compares to past events at Madison Square Garden going back to UFC 205 in November 2016, and with the UFC hosting its 500th event, which one tops the list?

A reminder that Phil Chertok will join John Pollock late Saturday night for the UFC 244 POST Show on the site with a review of the entire card.

Of the past UFC events at Madison Square Garden (UFC 205: Alvarez vs. McGregor, UFC 217: Bisping vs. St-Pierre, and UFC 230: Cormier vs. Lewis), where does this Saturday’s UFC 244 card rank in terms of the overall quality and excitement heading in?

This card is as deep if not deeper than any of those, and the main event is right up there as well. My excitement level is probably as high as it’s ever been for an event and it seems as if other fans are feeling the same way. There are stories from top to bottom on this card with multiple fighters that could headline their own shows but it’s the main event between two savvy veterans that has captured the attention of sports fans. Last week’s USADA shenanigans and Nate Diaz’s masterful handling of them only added more passengers to the hype train, which I’ll be happy riding all the way to Saturday night.

What is your confidence level in the job USADA is providing following the latest case this past week where Nate Diaz’s status for this fight was temporarily in question? What is the good and the bad that USADA has brought to the UFC’s handling of anti-doping?

If we’re using an evolutionary scale, my confidence level in USADA falls somewhere between tadpole and salamander. Last week’s “atypical finding” of a Nate Diaz drug test and his subsequent claim that he was asked to not speak about it until after his scheduled contest is just another example of how the UFC and USADA are willing to bend the rules when the financial repercussions are big enough. Not even a year ago the UFC moved an entire event after Light Heavyweight champion Jon Jones’ drug test showed trace amounts of a drug, he tested positive for nearly two years prior. No reasonable person thinks that Nate Diaz cheated and maybe it’s right that Jon Jones can continue fighting despite continuing to show small amounts of Turinabol in his tests. One thing isn’t right though, how there’s one set of rules for the athletes that move needles and another set for the ones that don’t.

What kind of fight do you expect from Nate Diaz and Jorge Masvidal and beyond the BMF championship, what is at stake for the winner?

As the original funkmaster George Clinton said – Bow-wow-wow-yippie-yo-yippie-yay, Bow-wow-yippie-yo-yippie-yay! This is going to be a dog fight! I’ve never liked the term technical brawler, but nothing could better describe either of these fighters. Both are indeed highly technical, Nate Diaz with his elite Jiu-Jitsu and crisp boxing, Jorge Masvidal with his pinpoint footwork that makes him deadly from any angle. But what makes this fight so exciting for fans, is that when it comes down to it, these two men will go in there, bite down and go after it. The amount of performance and fight of the night bonuses that these two men have received throughout their career should be indication enough of the type of contest we will be in store for on Saturday. In terms of the stakes, they could be no higher, the victor of this fight is going to position themselves as the ultimate prizefighter. It’s not because they are the “best” fighter, or have the most skill, it’s because they are the one who claimed the biggest prize, not a title belt but the biggest, fattest paycheck in the game.

What are the other top fights on this card that have the most intrigue attached to them from your vantage point?

As I mentioned before, top to bottom there are terrific stories and very intriguing matchups but there are two that rise to the top of my mind. The first is Corey Anderson taking Johnny Walker. Walker is returning from his bizarre worm dance injury from earlier this year. Prior to that unfortunate incident, Walker was annihilating opponents. This is a massive step up in competition for Walker and a win in a similar fashion to his previous bouts will send him on the fast-track to a title fight with Jon Jones. The other contest that has me intrigued is Kevin Lee vs. Gregor Gillespie. Lee is returning to 155 after a brief stint at 170 and this is also his first match after switching camps to the famous Tristar Gym. His opponent Gregor Gillespie is undefeated and has looked phenomenal in the UFC controlling opponents with relentless wrestling. A win over Lee will have people wondering what Gillespie could do against the champion Khabib.

Finally, with Saturday’s card representing the 500th event in UFC history, what is your favorite UFC card of all-time and why?

I’ve been a UFC fan since day 1. when I was a kid, I was a huge Mortal Kombat fan and the idea of a real-life version was irresistible. I would walk to my local blockbuster and rent the VHS tapes until they stopped carrying them during the UFC’s dark period away from PPV. Under new ownership, the UFC returned to television from the brink of destruction and I was finally able to follow the events like a true sports fan. That’s when the sport inspired me to start training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, which I continue to this day.

Over the years I’ve been fortunate enough to attend a few UFC events including two involving all-time great Georges St-Pierre, so those events are probably my favorites. If I must think of the most memorable outside of those, it comes down to two. The first is UFC 189, an obvious choice. It featured Conor McGregor winning his first UFC title by defeating late replacement Chad Mendes and the rematch between Robbie Lawler and Rory MacDonald that many consider the best MMA fight ever. It also included two flying knee knockouts and featured amazing entrances for the main event fighters with Sinead O’Connor singing Conor McGregor’s walkout song and Aaron Lewis singing Chad Mendes’. The event also had the largest gate in U.S. MMA history at the time and established McGregor as a megastar.

The other top memorable show for me took place the day after I took off on a trip to Europe. Because of the time difference, UFC 199 was going to be airing early in the morning for me. I planned to wake up for the main card, but jet lag got me, and I turned on the TV to see late-replacement Michael Bisping giving a victory speech while holding his newly acquired UFC Middleweight title. Following his interview, I jumped online to check the rest of the results only to find that the top stories from the show didn’t involve any highlights or the underdog champ, they were about the announced return of Brock Lesnar to the promotion at UFC 200, and the subsequent banning from UFC events of GOAT journalist Ariel Helwani for breaking that news. It’s amusing to me that after all the events I’ve seen, it’s one I missed that I remember the most.

Phil Chertok can be heard on our monthly UFC POST Shows and will be back on this Saturday following UFC 244.

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When I was deciding which UFC event to choose for my Rewind-a-Wai selection, It came down to 189 or 199 funnily enough, for all the same reasons. In addition to all the insanity that occurred around 199 (including the best post-fight press conference ever), the fights were fantastic.

Definitely excited for this Saturday. Much better card then last years MSG offering.

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