FIVE QUESTIONS: MMA's handling of COVID-19

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It has been a tumultuous week for everyone and combat sports with not excluded. With the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, UFC and Bellator both had to make decisions ahead of their fight cards this weekend.

In the case of Bellator, they opted to postpone Bellator 241 in Connecticut hours before the first fight was to take place at the Mohegan Sun Arena. To their credit, those attached to the event were paid and the company will have time to reassess as their next event is not scheduled until May.

UFC has received criticism for pushing forward with tonight’s Fight Night card event in Brasilia, which is closed to the media and the public. However, they are still promoting next Saturday’s show in London, England that is open to the public. All could change in the coming hours and days.

We spoke with Phil Chertok earlier this week regarding the promotion’s handling of shows (this was conducted prior to Bellator’s postponement news) along with other topics from last weekend’s UFC 248 card that feels like an eternity ago.

Here are Five Questions (give or take) with Phil Chertok.

POST Wrestling: How did you feel the MMA promotions reacted to the COVID-19 news this week with events scheduled for this weekend?

Phil Chertok: My initial reaction is a bit of discomfort, even though the fighters are already in place to compete this weekend, I’d prefer if the events were canceled. Not because I see it as a terribly risky proposition, more that I don’t think it’s fair to ask the fighters to cut weight and compromise their bodies and undergo additional anxiety at this volatile time. There’s no doubt that the millions of people that are going to stay in this weekend would really enjoy high-level martial arts as it would be a much-needed respite from the whirlwind that the 72 hours has been. As much as I would like to see some of the fantastic fights scheduled for this weekend, I’d love to know that the athletes are spending time safely with their families or are on their way to be with them.

POST Wrestling: Where does Zhang Weili vs. Joanna Jedrzejczyk rank among your most favorite fights and what else is on your list?

Phil Chertok: I’m not ready to give that fantastic fight a ranking yet. I’m going to let it gather some dust on a shelf in the library that is my MMA memory. When I inevitably pick it up, I’m sure it will be amongst the highest-ranking that I can recall. There are probably a couple of fights it will still fall second to though, one of which is the first bout between former Pride two-division champion Dan Henderson and former UFC light-heavyweight champion Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua. That was a back and forth contest that saw Dan Henderson dominate early with his thunderous power. Despite taking ludicrous punishment Rua mounts an improbable comeback that saw him dominate the later rounds against a fatigued but unyielding Henderson. The other contest that will be hard to dethrone was the final WEC match of all time a lightweight bout between Anthony Pettis and Benson Henderson. That was MMA at it’s finest as both traded striking and grappling exchanges before Pettis landed one of the most memorable strikes in MMA history, the cage-assisted ‘Showtime’ kick that made it onto every sports highlight reel across the globe.

POST Wrestling: What is next for Yoel Romero and has he fought for his last UFC championship?

Phil Chertok: Romero is in a tough spot after losing four of his last five but it’s not the record that’s going be a hindrance to him, it’s the uninspired performance that might cost him another crack at gold. Part of the reason one could make a case (and admittedly weak one) for last weekend’s title fight was that Romero was an extremely exciting fighter that fans just had to see in there with Israel Adesanya. With that said, I’m still not prepared to eliminate him from title contention again, a couple of exciting performances against the right opponents and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if he finds his way into another championship opportunity. If I had my way, I’d match him up against Jack Hermanson as that would hopefully finally yield a Romero grappling match, but he’s booked to fight Chris Weidman already. Since that’s not an option how about Darren Till? He’s only got one win in the division but is still pretty close to a title shot, a decisive victory against Romero could have people clamoring to find out what he could do against the champ.

POST Wrestling:
Outside of the strawweight title fight, who had the most impressive performance at UFC 248?

Phil Chertok: It was a night filled with terrific showings but the most impressive had to be ‘Sugar’ Sean O’Malley’s flawless return after dealing with 2 years of inactivity. He was precise, powerful and measured in a brief but emphatic performance. He looks stronger than when he last stepped into the octagon yet continues to possess the unique charm that’s going to have a lot of fans anxious to see him return rather quickly to make up for lost time.

POST Wrestling:
If Charles Oliveira adds the seventh win a row this Saturday against Kevin Lee, does he jump into the championship discussion at the weight class?

Phil Chertok: He should be, the Brazilian might be the most exciting fighter in the UFC that no one talks about. Along with being that all-time submission holder at just 30 years of age, he’s received more than fourteen performance bonuses throughout his career. There was a rough part for him at featherweight where he lost several fights and missed weight repeatedly. Now that he’s back at 155 pounds he appears to have found his groove. Kevin Lee is going to be a significant challenge though, Lee is highly ranked and while he’s had a few less than inspiring showings, it appears that he might finally be on the right track after moving his camp to Tristar in Montreal. In the case of a victory for either man though, it’s going to be a long wait for a title opportunity as they are surely going to be behind Justin Gaethje and perennial number one contender Conor McGregor.

POST Wrestling:
What are the other standout fights this Saturday for the UFC’s card in Brasilia that you’re interested in?

Phil Chertok: In terms of title implications, the most important fight on the card is Jussier Formiga vs. Brandon Moreno as the winner has a strong chance to be an opponent for Deiveson Figueiredo who could have been flyweight champion right now had he not missed weight two weekends ago. Personally, though, the fight I’m looking forward to will come as no surprise to those who know me. It’s the co-main event between Demian Maia and Gilbert Burns. Maia is widely regarded as the greatest grappler in MMA history and despite being 42 years of age is still able to compete and beat some of the best fighters in the world. His opponent Gilbert Burns is an accomplished grappler himself and has looked extremely sharp as of late. This continues a trend of the UFC booking Maia against young savages, who despite his advancing age, he’s been able to tame time and time again.

Bonus Question: If someone is looking for a new podcast that ‘focuses on a wide range of topics including but not limited to business, culture, technology, health, fitness, sports, gaming, politics with a GTA / York Region spin’, are there any shows you can recommend?

Phil Chertok: Wow, what an incredibly well-timed question John. Actually, I have the perfect podcast that satisfies all those requirements. It’s called the Fishbulb Podcast and coincidentally enough… I’m the host! I’m going to be talking with a wide range of guests about business, health, politics, fitness and I’m sure martial arts at some point. My first guest is Dr. Christian Rizea, a clinical psychologist, hypnotherapist and relationship coach. The show is available everywhere you get your podcasts and if you want to be informed about guest announcements and updates then feel free to follow me on both Instagram and Twitter @fishbulb_ca.

Listen to The Fishbulb Podcast with Phil Chertok at