Each week, ESPN.com MMA writer Brett Okamoto, ESPN Insider senior editor Mike Huang and a special guest panelist tackle five questions that are buzzing in the world of mixed martial arts.
This week, Roufusport Mixed Martial Arts Academy head coach Duke Roufus joins the panel to provide his thoughts on Nate Diaz, Matt Brown and more.
1. Was the UFC wrong to drop Nate Diaz from its rankings?
Duke Roufus: I think if you're not taking fights, you shouldn't be on the list. Let's give rankings to an active fighter. I think the world of Nate Diaz, but if he's not fighting, he's not capable of being ranked, in my humble opinion. They are offering him fights. He signed a contract. It's not what you're worth, it's what you negotiate you're worth in the fighting. If you don't like what you negotiated, you shouldn't have negotiated it.
Brett Okamoto: I can wrap my head around the reasons they gave for doing it, but it sure doesn't make the rankings look legitimate. At no point did the UFC ever establish guidelines as to what identifies an active fighter. This feels like a knee-jerk reaction to send a message to Diaz, not an action taken to improve the system overall. Regardless of what those rankings say, Diaz is a top-10 lightweight.
Mike Huang: It's not a question of right or wrong. The UFC owns its rankings -- it can do what it wants with them. It's how much stock anyone takes in those rankings, that's the question. Rankings -- even ESPN's own -- simply act as flash points for debate. But to have that spirited debate, there has to be some credibility to them. Ostensibly, that's why they have the media formulate them. However, when they're manipulated as the UFC did, it further reduces the rankings' credibility and thus their ability to incite that debate. Who wants to argue about rigged rankings?
2. Is Stipe Miocic-Fabio Maldonado a blessing in disguise for fight fans?
Roufus: Yeah, for sure. First and foremost, besides coaching, I love combat sports. I enjoy watching fun fighters like Maldonado. Ever since he came to the UFC, he's been a ball to watch. For fight fans, we hope this can stay in Maldonado's wheelhouse. He does have a good boxing style for MMA, but Miocic is a big, strong, determined athletic guy who was training to take down Junior dos Santos before Maldonado replaced him. I tip my hat to Fabio. I love fighters who want to fight.
Okamoto: In no way is it a blessing in disguise. You have to give it up to Maldonado for taking the fight, but this is sacrificial-lamb stuff at its most obvious. The original fight between Miocic and dos Santos was a strong fight. Has dos Santos evolved his game after getting whupped by Cain Velasquez a second time? I wanted to know the answer to that. Instead, we get a Miocic beatdown of Maldonado, who has promised "blood," as if we didn't already know that was coming.
Huang: No. That almost insinuates that Miocic might have been outclassed by dos Santos, and I don't believe that to be the case. True, Miocic's last win was less than impressive -- a hugfest against Gabriel Gonzaga at UFC on Fox 10 -- but Miocic is a terrific athlete and technically superior fighter. He could easily hold his own against dos Santos. At 10-1, Miocic needs his competition to jump up a notch to prove he should be considered among the elite heavyweights. Until he does, he'll be considered a fringe contender. And this fight does him no favors.
3. Should Matt Brown be in line for a title shot if he defeats Erick Silva?
Roufus: Brown is on a great streak and I think he's a fun fighter to watch, but a couple of guys at the top have fought Georges St-Pierre and Johny Hendricks. You've got Rory MacDonald. There are some good contender-earning welterweight fights coming up. That's a deep division. I'm a big fan of Brown and I hope he pulls it out, but I don't think he's ready for a title shot yet.
Okamoto: Not with a win over Silva, no. Brown still needs that one signature win over a highly ranked guy. When he gets that opportunity, who knows whether he'll win it. But if he beats Silva, he deserves to find out. If Brown wins, have him face Hector Lombard -- a real welterweight contender currently without a fight.
Huang: No. It's weird. At times Brown looks like a wrecking machine, throwing combinations and kicks like a whirling dervish -- and connecting. As Kenny Florian would say, this guy "finishes fights." Other times he just looks careless. Silva is a hard-nosed, straight-ahead fighter, but just terribly inconsistent. With the likes of Lombard, Tyron Woodley, MacDonald and Robbie Lawler ahead of him, Brown should start looking at the guys above him in the rankings rather than below.
4. He's only 29, but is Erick Silva already running out of time to live up to his potential?
Roufus: Silva is kind of at that age where you've got to buckle down and make things happen. At 29, he's not old, but you've got to turn that corner in your career. When you get higher in the rankings, fights don't come as often. One, you're fighting bigger fights, and two, it's just not the same as being a young, beginning fighter who seems to pop up in fights all the time. So each fight has more on the line, and you've got to make it happen.
Okamoto: He's not running out of time necessarily, but the best time would be now. Ever since his UFC debut in 2011, Silva has been in the back of our minds as a future title contender. Here we are three years later, and his biggest win is what? Charlie Brenneman? He's a 2-to-1 favorite to beat Brown, which illustrates those high expectations. Good time to live up to them in his first UFC main event.
Huang: As I said earlier, Silva has been horribly inconsistent. Maybe it's just me, but I don't ever detect any urgency in his bouts. He continues to hover in this limbo of meh fighters. Beating Brown would be a big feather in his cap. He reminds me of former lightweight Roger Huerta, who rarely seemed to fight with passion. Silva has had such high expectations heaped on him that perhaps he might never reach them. He's a prime candidate to be like Lawler or Anthony Johnson -- uber-talented fighters who don't reach their potential until they're older.
5. One to watch: Who will steal the show on Saturday at UFC Fight Night 40?
Roufus: Two fights: Matt Brown and Erick Silva is going to be tooth and nail, and obviously I like Daron Cruickshank versus Erik Koch (Roufus trains Koch). I think both of those are super fan-friendly fights. The UFC is doing a great job of putting on exciting fights. It kind of reminds me of the old days, "Tuesday Night Fights" on USA for the boxing people.
Okamoto: I doubt anything really steals the show from Brown versus Silva. That's the fight with the highest stakes, and I can't in any way envision it lacking action. An under-the-radar fight to watch is Darrell Montague versus Kyoji Horiguchi. If that fight stays on the feet, expect some good back-and-forth.
Huang: I really like the Koch-Cruickshank bout. Both guys looked downright destructive in their previous fights. Both love to throw leather and have quick feet and good endurance. Cruickshank is a bit more athletic than Koch, and his wheel-kick knockout of Mike Rio was dynamic. But Koch is a pit bull and is supremely confident in his skills. "I'm gonna win this weekend, and it'll be a finish," he said Thursday.