Each week, ESPN.com MMA writer Brett Okamoto, ESPN Insider senior editor Mike Huang and a special guest panelist will tackle five questions that are buzzing in the world of mixed martial arts.
This week, UFC lightweight contender Joe Lauzon joins the panel to provide his thoughts on the dangers that come with cage fighting and more.
1. Has The University of Toronto study on head trauma in MMA altered your thoughts on the dangers fighters face?
Joe Lauzon: Not really. Look, I understand there's an assumed risk in anything you do. If you're a fighter, inevitably you're going to run into head trauma of some sort. I think the thing is to do your best to try to minimize the amount you take. I think when you see guys who have head trauma issues, some could be attributed to the fight, but fight camp is way harder. Let's say you spar two times a week, that's eight times a month, and fight camp is three months. How many punches am I taking during sparring instead of that one fight? So it's wrong to judge it just on the one fight. The study doesn't change my perception. I've never been naïve about fighting. Will there be repercussions? Of course. But I just have to do my best to manage it and minimize it.
Brett Okamoto: No, it did not. The study doesn't answer physiological questions regarding head trauma. All it did was calculate what percentage of fights end in KO/TKO. What is the medical difference in head trauma between a one-punch knockout in MMA and a 12-round boxing match with three knockdowns? How do those compare to the trauma caused by a helmet-to-helmet collision in football or a 90 mph fastball to the helmet of a baseball player? You need those answers (among other things) to compare head trauma in different sports, and this study doesn't provide those.
Mike Huang: No. In combat sports such as MMA, collegiate wrestling and karate, or even a collision sport such as pro or college football, there is an inherent risk of injury. Adults engaging in training or competing in MMA should be fully aware of those risks. As for child and teen competitors, when the brain is still very susceptible to injury, perhaps some version of uniform headgear might be appropriate, just as they do in taekwondo tournaments.
2. Did a potential women's megabout between Ronda Rousey and Cris Justino lose some of its luster following Cyborg's loss in a Muay Thai bout?
Lauzon: First of all, I think Ronda would smoke her regardless, before or after the Muay Thai fight happened. But it's comparing apples and oranges. There are plenty of MMA fighters who are good boxers, but you don't put them in the ring with a pro boxer! We're good at putting everything together. But I have respect for Cris for going out there and putting herself against pro Muay Thai fighters, because I'm sure she knew there was a chance she could lose and she's out of her element. But that's part of the process of getting better -- challenging yourself.
Okamoto: Not to me it didn't. Some fans might see it as a hit on Justino's "invincible" tag, but they really shouldn't. You could kind of compare it to an MLB star playing a pro game of cricket -- he might make solid contact, even go yard (or whatever it's called in cricket), but he wouldn't be the best guy on the field. Justino just couldn't keep up with an opponent who had far more experience than her in Muay Thai. It probably has some small effect on a fight with Rousey, unfortunately, but not much of one.
Huang: For me, not really. I wasn't eager for that fight simply because of Justino's checkered past of failing drug tests. And what's the allure, really? Justino's appeal seems based more as a curiosity rather than her MMA skills.
3. Repeat offender: Did World Series of Fighting's Rousimar Palhares hold on to a heel hook submission for too long?
Lauzon: I think Palhares is always going to be under the microscope now. I think if it was someone different, no one would even think twice. But because it was Palhares, someone's always going to question it. I know when I'm fighting, and I catch a finish, I want the guy to tap quickly. There's nothing better than a referee telling me to let go. But with Palhares, he never seems to let go ... right away. There's always just a slight delay. I don't know if he's just caught up in the moment or what, he's just a little slow (releasing the hold). But he did a much better job in this fight.
Okamoto: No, he did not -- but I thought he could have chilled out just a bit on that heel hook. I'm sorry, but Palhares' reputation comes into play on this one. He locks Steve Carl into one of the most dangerous submissions there is and goes full blast, after Carl taps twice. I understand you go until the referee stops you, but Palhares continues to push that more than any fighter in the sport. He should not be fined, suspended or anything else -- but I don't think this problem of his is quite solved yet.
Huang: No, Palhares let go as soon as referee Yves Levigne swooped in to break up the hold. Palhares' opponent, Steve Carl, didn't seem any worse for the wear, as he came over to congratulate him. If Carl suffered any real damage, people might be chirping louder, including Carl.
4. Did the UFC make the right call by moving Renan Barao-TJ Dillashaw to main-event status, or should the promotion have considered booking another bout?
Lauzon: Hey, I'm always excited to watch Barao and Dillashaw. But I think when you're the smaller guys, they don't get the praise or respect they deserve. To a lot of people, it doesn't matter that they're 135 or 145 and fighting guys their own weight. People want the heavyweights or the 205-pounders. Personally, I think the smaller guys are faster and more entertaining. For me or the educated fan, I don't need that heavyweight fight.
Okamoto: It's hard to criticize the UFC on this one. Four of the promotion's champions are currently injured. They have a full calendar of events announced this summer, so some of the other marquee names aren't available. Obviously, the UFC wants to book the best main event possible -- how does it help the company if it punts a pay-per-view every now and then? I think the UFC was low on options and did what it could.
Huang: It was fine to elevate their fight to the main-event status. After all, it is still a title bout. And it's only being questioned because it's a bantamweight bout. The fact is the bantams and flyweights are just exciting if not more so, and we haven't seen Dillashaw in this setting yet. He's been a solid up-and-comer. Will he be a significant underdog? You bet. However, with the event being over a month away, the UFC probably could have found another fight for the main card.
5. What is the best under-the-radar fight scheduled for April?
Lauzon: I think that the Rafael Dos Anjos-Khabib Nurmagomedov fight is going to be sick. Khabib is an animal. He's the type of guy I really like to watch. He's exciting, he gets a ton of takedowns; just throws guys around. He's not trying to go out there and impress anyone. He's just ready to ground and pound. That's going to be an awesome fight.
Okamoto: The best non-headlining fight this month is between UFC lightweights dos Anjos and Nurmagomedov. Hands down. You can see that on the prelims of a UFC on Fox event on April 19. Even more under the radar than that one, however, is a lightweight bout between Jim Miller and Bobby Green at UFC 172 on April 26. Green has looked phenomenal, flashy and somewhat cocky. Miller is the Ying to that Yang -- hard-nosed, blue collar, cagey veteran. Highly underrated fight.
Huang: I'm really intrigued by the Dustin Poirier-Akira Corassani fight on the TUF Nations Finale on April 16. Both are riding winning streaks coming into the bout, but I still think both have much to prove. Poirier has looked great in his past two fights, but he's still trying to get over that hump. Not sure if Corassani does that for him, but Poirier does that for Corassani. This will be a big notch in his belt. For Poirier, it'll be tough to ignore a four-fight win streak. One thing's for sure -- they'll be trading leather.