Five Questions: Justin Gaethje's win, Yair Rodriguez-Jeremy Stephens, Colby Covington

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This past weekend, the UFC returned to Canada with a card in Vancouver spotlighting the lightweight division. Justin Gaethje won his third consecutive fight, stopping the durable Donald Cerrone and eyeing a future showdown with lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov. When asked about the option of fighting an “Irishman”, Gaethje was quick to blow off the possibility of believing Conor McGregor is retired.

The top of the lightweight division has many moving pieces and despite Gaethje’s belief, Conor McGregor is one of those pieces in play. With no official announcement of Nuramgomedov’s next title fight, we assume it will be Tony Ferguson but nothing is set in stone.

Looking ahead, the UFC continues their international tour that hits Mexico City this Saturday at Arena Ciudad. In the main event, featherweight stars Yair Rodriguez and Jeremy Stephens will headline the card. Rodriguez is coming off one of the most impressive knockouts in UFC history when he stopped Chan Sung Jung with one second remaining in their November 2018 contest. Stephens has been fighting the top talent at 145 pounds and it has yielded a pair of losses to Jose Aldo and Zabit Magomedsharipov in his last two appearances.

This week, Phil Chertok looks at the fallout from Vancouver, previews this Saturday’s main event, and a discussion about Colby Covington’s strategy in negotiating for the welterweight title fight with Kamaru Usman.

POST: If we presume Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson are going to fight next, what does Justin Gaethje do? Is it best to await the winner, keep pushing for the Conor McGregor, or do you see another option?

Phil Chertok: Taking the Conor McGregor fight makes the most sense as it would broadcast Geathje’s name to a much bigger audience. While a title fight is deserved for the former WSOF champion, it could be a long wait and we all know from experience that waiting in MMA is a recipe for missing your shot. Outside of a title bout and the Conor fight, there are few other options for Gaethje. A potential rematch with recent title challenger Dustin Poirier makes a lot of sense but it’s not as lucrative as a McGregor match and is definitely a big risk.

Following his loss to Justin Gaethje, how did you assess the performance of Donald Cerrone and where he fits within the lightweight picture moving forward?

Cowboy Cerrone’s position in the lightweight division seems to have not moved in close to a decade. The perennial title contender is always in the upper echelon of the division but is never quite able to defeat the top guys. Cowboy can still headline Fight Night events and is always a valuable addition to a PPV card, as long as he can still keep up with most of the division, I don’t see him going anywhere. I suspect he’ll continue to be a fan favorite and if he’s able to win a few in a row again it’s not inconceivable to see him in another high-profile title-eliminator.

What were some of the other highlights and stories coming out of Saturday’s card in Vancouver that stuck with you?

The “not dead yet” performances of Glover Texeira and Misha Cirkunov would be my picks. Glover has quietly won 4 of his last 5 and while no one is clamoring for a rematch with champion Jon Jones, the weak list of contenders means that the veteran is near the front of the line for another crack at the belt. Cirkunov showed a lot of veteran savvy to control a wild fight and secure a much-needed victory against a rising youngster. Misha has had some brutal losses recently so watching him get back on the winning track is nice to see, especially for someone who was so close to breaking through to the upper echelons of the division.

Who do you favor this Saturday in the main event between Yair Rodriguez and Jeremy Stephens and who has the most to gain with a win?

Yair Rodriguez is definitely the one with the most to gain. Jeremy Stephens is an excellent fighter who is always in thrilling fights, but it feels like we’ve seen him cap out. Yair Rodriguez is an exciting young fighter that many are hoping will challenge for a title someday. Rodriguez had some career hiccups with a brutal loss to former lightweight champion Frankie Edgar and difficulties outside the octagon with UFC management. With a big win on Saturday, it won’t take too many more for Rodriguez to find himself challenging for UFC gold.

Finally, with everything that has gone down involving the UFC welterweight title picture, what is your opinion of how Colby Covington has handled the negotiations and has he risked being passed over for the next title fight because of it?

Right now, it’s hard to make a judgment on Covington’s negotiating, he’s not yet been passed over and the Usman title fight still makes the most sense. Based on the crowd reaction at the UFC’s event in Anaheim in August, Covington may have made a breakthrough with his win over Robbie Lawler the month before and his schtick might finally have fans engaged. He does need to be smart and not overextend, he’s not some superstar yet and overplaying his hand could easily lead the UFC to book another opponent against the champion. But if he plays things right then Covington and the UFC should come to terms because love him or hate him, it appears that people want to see him.

Phil Chertok can be heard each month on our UFC POST Shows with the next one scheduled for Saturday, October 5th following UFC 243.

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