Each week, ESPN.com MMA writer Brett Okamoto, ESPN Insider senior editor Mike Huang and a guest panelist tackle hot topics that are buzzing in the world of mixed martial arts.
This week, UFC lightweight contender Josh Thomson joins the panel.
1. Did the Nevada State Athletic Commission do the right thing in licensing Vitor Belfort to fight in December?
Josh Thomson: It's rough, you know? I've been in this sport a long time and I've been clean my whole career. I'm bordering on whether I want to retire or not because it hurts to get up in the morning and then you've got guys who are on PEDs (performance-enhancing drugs) and getting a free pass. It's not just in this sport but yesterday kind of set a precedent.
Brett Okamoto: I don't think you assess it in terms of right or wrong. The NSAC had to treat it like a court would. There is plenty of speculation on what Belfort's history is with PEDs, but the NSAC can't suspend a fighter on speculation. Based on what it had in terms of test results, the commission's ruling is not shameful. I do think the UFC could have taken a stance and booked Belfort to a non-title fight.
Mike Huang: From a logical standpoint, no. To most, Belfort's TRT (testosterone replacement therapy) usage was a sham, but he wasn't necessarily breaking the rules. Just like in baseball, when so many players were taking PEDs, it wasn't outlawed at the time, so you couldn't hold it over the players' heads. But now it is, and since Belfort is supposedly off, and he passes the test, I suppose you have to license him. But Belfort has always been a world-class fighter, so I'm not so concerned about Belfort being licensed now; TRT or not, his skills are still elite and he should be allowed to fight. Moreover, if he passes his tests going forward, he should be allowed to compete.
2. Which is the more intriguing matchup: Jones versus Gustafsson or Jones versus Cormier?
Thomson: I'll go with the rematch (Jon Jones versus Alexander Gustafsson). The reason I go with the rematch is that stylistically, Gustafsson is the same length as Jones. We saw in the first fight that poses a huge threat. Cormier has great wrestling and quite a bit of speed. We call him Kung Fu Panda in the gym because he looks lazy but he's really explosive. But Jones is not used to dealing with someone as big as Gustafsson. When he has to deal with someone his own size, he's not as good as he thinks he is.
Okamoto: To me, the more intriguing fight is the rematch. I was fortunate to be in the building for the first one and it was an incredible fight. As good as Jones-Cormier is (trash talk included), I was looking forward to a rematch. I loved the fact Gustafsson felt he won and how it didn't seem like Jones wanted to fight him again. Again, Cormier is great, but I was amped for the rematch.
Huang: Jones versus Gustafsson would have been more intriguing simply because it was a rematch of the one fight in which Jones has shown true vulnerability. Could Gustafsson do it again? Was Jones really just out of shape? I love DC, but the fight comes off as a consolation prize. And while DC could prove a stiff challenge -- and if he wins, there will be huge intrigue -- it's still not on the level of Gustafsson. I also think some fans are not convinced DC will be any more viable a challenger to Jones than past opponents. I would disagree with that, but the fans are the ones who will (or won't) be buying the PPVs.
3. How big of a threat is Anthony Johnson at light heavyweight?
Thomson: A very big one. He's fast, explosive and he's got -- I wouldn't even call it dynamite, it's more than that -- so much power in his hands. I've known Johnson since before he was in the UFC, so I know what he's capable of. I think he seems rejuvenated by being back in the UFC. He's got a fire lit under his butt. I think Anthony is a really big threat.
Okamoto: To the title? I'll put it this way: Johnson is a threat to win any fight he's in. Will he put together a run and win a title? We'll see, man. I like Johnson a lot, but the top of that division is so talented in Jones, Gustafsson and Cormier. Anyone with the knockout power and defensive wrestling of Johnson is certainly a threat, though.
Huang: I think he could be a big threat to Jones. This is provided he doesn't just come straight ahead and try to only bang with Jones. He is brutal and fierce, like Glover Teixeira. However, what we saw with Teixeira is that brawling type of strategy can only do so much and Jones can keep distance. I think "Rumble" will have to get Jones to the ground and punish him with ground and pound, where Jones can get little leverage. The fear is Rumble's relative nascence in jiu-jitsu. His wrestling will help, but Jones could catch him.
4. Who is a tougher matchup for Johny Hendricks: Robbie Lawler or Matt Brown?
Thomson: I would say Lawler. He's already fought him, has that experience, knows what he's capable of. That first fight, after Hendricks realized how hard Lawler hits and the playing field was equal, it was a different story. I think you're going to see a more dynamic second fight between those two. In the first fight it was two guys who nullified each other's wrestling and had no choice but to stand. A second time around, I think they'll prepare a little more on wrestling to gain an advantage and steal a round.
Okamoto: Have to go with Lawler. The first fight showed those two are neck and neck. I know Hendricks was fighting injured (torn bicep), but I still think that fight is close with a healthy Hendricks.
Huang: Well, if their first matchup was any indication, Lawler has to be the tougher fight. After watching Lawler in his last couple of fights, his boxing and takedown defense is as crisp as ever. I think Brown will have a hard time matching Lawler's multifaceted game tonight. That's not something you could say about Lawler even three years ago. It just shows how much he's progressed.
5. Is Dustin Poirier too much too soon for Conor McGregor?
Thomson: Really depends on which Poirier comes out. Poirier, to me, is one of the most fun fighters to watch. I haven't met McGregor in person, but he looks like a pretty big 145er. I know Dusin is a big 145er because I've trained with him. It might be (too much for McGregor) but this is his moment for a coming out party. I think Dustin has the tools to beat him, just depends. I've seen a great Dustin, and a not so great Dustin.
Okamoto: He definitely might be, but we'll see. Oddsmakers don't seem to think so. McGregor is the favorite, which definitely surprised me. I know McGregor is popular and very talented, but Poirier is a far more proven guy. Either way, I love the fight. They've both got a mean streak and the each have a ton to gain by beating the other.
Huang: No. And I doubt McGregor would ever think that, either. It's a good test for each of them. Both are hungry to prove they're elite contenders. After his long layoff from the knee injury, Mcgregor looks like he'll run through a wall. Poirier isn't afraid of anyone. Should be a great stand-and-trade fight.