The UFC is closing 2019 with a look to the new year and several key fight announcements for 2020.
Last week, we looked at Conor McGregor’s return that is slated for January 19th against Donald Cerrone. Days later, it was revealed that lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson have agreed on a fifth attempt to fight with a date scheduled for April 18th.
We will discuss one of the most anticipated lightweight fights in UFC history in this week’s edition of ‘Five Questions’ while also looking this weekend’s UFC card on ESPN.
A tragedy involving the death of Walt Harris’s stepdaughter, Aniah Blanchard, led to Harris withdrawing from this weekend’s main event in Washington, D.C.
In his place is rising star Jairzinho Rozenstruik, who has electrified fans with lightning-fast stoppages of Allen Crowder and Andrei Arlovski in his last two fights. On Saturday, he steps into a UFC octagon for the fourth time this year opposite a rejuvenated Alistair Overeem. The veteran Overeem had been written off by some after losses to Francis Ngannou and Curtis Blaydes but rehabilitated his standing with back-to-back wins over Sergei Pavlovich and Alexey Oleynik in the past thirteen months.
Plus, a look at Combate Americas pay-per-view main event on Saturday night between Tito Ortiz and Alberto Rodriguez a.k.a. ‘Alberto El Patron’.
POST Wrestling: Is Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson your most anticipated fight in the new year? Will this fight finally happen?
Phil Chertok: It’s definitely my most anticipated fight. There’s not another fight that the UFC can put on that has a higher skill cap. Even though the UFC is an entertainment brand and they have had success with quirky fan-friendly events over the last few years (see last month’s BMF title fight for the latest example), it’s their history of putting on the highest-level competition that has allowed the organization and MMA to grow into the sports pillar it is today. Now, will the long-teased contest actually happen? I’m certainly no Nostradamus but the fifth time has to be the charm? Right?
POST: With all the fight announcements over the past week, is Justin Gaethje the odd man out and what do you do with him next?
Chertok: He is a bit of the odd man out, he’s probably deserving of a title shot right now but we won’t know how long he has to wait until the dust settles for the top of the division in April. A logical fight in the meantime would be a rematch with the most recent title challenger Dustin Poirier. Poirier won their first encounter in a thriller and he’s more well known than ever. If Gaethje can avenge that loss with a victory over ‘the Diamond’, it would leave no question as to whom the next title challenger is.
POST: If Alistair Overeem defeats Jairzinho Rozenstruik this weekend, that would be three straight wins for Overeem. Is a heavyweight title fight out of the question in 2020?
Chertok: I wouldn’t say it’s out of the question because heavyweight is a fairly shallow division and Overeem is one of the most recognizable faces in that weight class. The problem is that Overeem has brutal losses to the current champion Stipe Miocic and top contenders Francis Ngannou and Curtis Blaydes. Rematches with any of those fighters don’t seem particularly interesting. If Overeem can get the win on Saturday, I’d like to see him fight Derrick Lewis. It’s pretty amazing that the two giants have never crossed paths. With a win over ‘the Black Beast’ I might be more inclined to consider giving The Reem one more crack at UFC gold.
POST: Are there other interesting stories for you on this Saturday’s UFC card on ESPN?
Chertok: Jairzinho Rozenstruik stepping in on short notice to face the Reem is definitely a great story. Rozenstruik looked terrifying in his last fight and seems to possess otherworldly power. A big KO would make a statement and would have fans lining up to see fight the other terrifying heavyweight, Francis Ngannou. Also, the return of strawweight Cynthia Calvillo should be interesting, she’s a legit prospect and while her original opponent Cláudia Gadelha would have made for a more fascinating fight, I’m still curious to see how she’s progressed. Lastly, this is the first fight for Ricky Simon since losing to UFC Hall-of-Famer Urijah Faber. Simon still has a lot of potential and I’m curious to see how he bounces back from his first defeat in the UFC.
POST: Will you be watching Tito Ortiz vs. Alberto El Patron this weekend and does this fight hold any interest for you?
Chertok: I won’t be watching, I have no interest in seeing Tito Ortiz and even less in seeing Alberto El Patron. My only recollection of Alberto is from his bizarre 2003, sadomasochistic mask-adorned fight against Croatian assassin Mirko Cro Cop in Pride. Sixteen years later, there’s nothing that remotely makes me interested in watching him square off against the Huntington Beach Bad Boy or anyone else for that matter. Instead of watching El Patron on Saturday night, I’ll hopefully be sipping some Patron Silver instead.
Phil Chertok is the co-host of our monthly UFC POST Shows and returns on Saturday, December 14th following UFC 245.