Five Questions: Khabib Nurmagomedov, Cerrone-Gaethje, Fighter Pay

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This past weekend, Khabib Nurmagomedov returned eleven-months removed from his UFC 229 victory over Conor McGregor with a dominant performance against Dustin Poirier.

The win catapulted Nurmagomedov into the discussion over the top pound-for-pound fighters in the world and his standing among the greatest lightweights of all-time with a strong case made by the undefeated star.

This weekend, the UFC hits Canada with the lightweight division taking center stage again. This time, two of the most exciting fighters in the sport are scheduled for five rounds as Donald Cerrone and Justin Gaethje meet in a dream fight of sorts. The likelihood for disappointment is nearly non-existent given their styles and the combination of high-action fight with major stakes attached.

The division seems laser-targeted for the eventual showdown between champion Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson, but the winner of Saturday’s fight will instantly be linked to Conor McGregor, who remains on the sidelines and questions surrounding his next move. For Cerrone and Gaethje, a potential fight with McGregor could be valued above a championship fight with the attention such a fight would bring and almost surely set up a championship fight immediately after.

POST’s Phil Chertok discusses all these lingering issues along with other stories attached to this Saturday’s card in Vancouver, including Todd Duffee’s interesting interview with MMA Junkie and his opinion of the media’s role when it comes to fighter pay.

POST Wrestling: Where does Khabib Nurmagomedov rank among your pound-for-pound list and has he made his case for being the top lightweight in UFC history?

Phil Chertok: Nurmagomedov is #1 on my pound-for-pound list. He’s dominated every opponent he has faced and has never looked remotely in trouble in any of his UFC fights. He’s 28-0 over his entire MMA career, has faced world champions and made them look like amateurs if he’s not the best lightweight ever I don’t know who is. With a win in the elusive Tony Ferguson fight and one more title defense after that, a 30-0 Nurmagomedov could retire as the greatest mixed martial artist of all time.

Do you see this loss placing Dustin Poirier at a crossroads within the division? Do you believe he can work his way back to a title fight given his age?

I think this fight will be an opportunity for Dustin Poirier to be more selective and take more marquee fights in the next stage of his career. Despite the one-sided loss to Nurmagomedov, Poirier made many new fans on Saturday night with the graceful way he handled defeat. His charity work is inspiring and his long tenure in the UFC, grinding up the ranks has given him O.G. status. Picking fights against named opponents is the right move at this point of his career if those bouts prove to be lucrative and Dustin can string some wins together, I don’t think it’s inconceivable he gets another crack at the belt.

What is at stake for the winner of Donald Cerrone vs. Justin Gaethje this weekend? Who do you favor in this fight?

The most obvious thing at stake is a potential matchup with Conor McGregor. McGregor has indicated he’s ready to return and both Cowboy and Gaethje have been linked as potential opponents in the past. While both are close to a title shot, that looks to be far off as the champion, Nurmagomedov just fought, and his next opponent is already lined up. A win in this highly anticipated fight would be the perfect platform to call out the former lightweight champion and both opponents would be exciting style matchups that fans would get behind.

At one point, Misha Cirkunov was a rising light heavyweight within the UFC and has not lost three of his past four. Is his fight with Jim Crute a must-win this Saturday?

It’s definitely do-or-die for Misha Cirkunov here. He’s looked promising but some very tough losses have sent his UFC trajectory backward. His opponent Jim Crute looks like a legit blue-chip prospect and this feels like classic UFC matchmaking where they are looking to propel a youngster off the back of an exiting vet. I’m not writing Cirkunov off yet, his losses have been to extremely elite competition and this is a big step up for Crute. But if Misha is not able to pull it together and suffers another brutal KO, it’s hard to imagine how his career could recover.

Earlier this week, Todd Duffee got frustrated during an interview regarding fighter pay and placing blame on the media for not doing enough. When it comes to fighter pay, is this subject being covered properly and are fighters putting action behind their criticism of the system?

It’s not the media’s job to get fighters more money. That falls on them and their managers. They can make more money by making people want to see them, Todd Duffee hasn’t fought in four-years so he hasn’t even given people an opportunity to watch him. If fighters truly want to get a bigger slice of the pie they are going to need to act collectively. The blueprint has been set out in the other major sports, but the individualistic nature of fighting makes it hard to organize. Until the fighters can come together and combine their negotiating efforts, the biggest dollars are going to be reserved for the fighters at the top of the card with proven drawing power.

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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