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, Bellator fighter/lightweight standout Michael Chandler joins the panel.
1. Was releasing Eddie Alvarez a good or bad move by Bellator?
Michael Chandler: I don't like to get wrapped up in that kind of stuff. I would like to think that [Bellator president] Scott Coker and [Spike TV president] Kevin Kay and the other higher-ups know what they're doing. I have to stand by their decision. I do think it was a good move. People are calling it Bellator 2.0 right now and it truly is. Coker has proved himself above and beyond. I had people texting me the day Coker took over saying I had just hit the jackpot because of his reputation as a promoter.
Brett Okamoto: Good move. In some ways, it was inevitable. Alvarez had one fight left for Bellator and contractually he had a right for it to occur on pay-per-view. The company is not ready to jump into another PPV already, so releasing Alvarez and moving on with a lightweight title fight between Chandler and Will Brooks is really the best thing for both sides.
Mike Huang: In the short term, it's a bad move for Bellator; it loses arguably its biggest star to its direct competition, the UFC. However, that was going to happen regardless, and considering Alvarez's feud and displeasure with how Bellator (namely, ex-Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney) treated him, the venom on both sides needed to be dissolved and Bellator needed to move on.
2. Will Alvarez win the UFC lightweight title at some point?
Chandler: I think he will. Eddie is still young. He just turned 30. He's still got a good, solid couple of years in this sport and he's definitely improving. Obviously, he won his last fight against me, which didn't leave a good taste in my mouth. As a competitor, though, I respect him. I think he will win a title there. I guess we'll find out soon how he performs in a different organization against a very tough Donald Cerrone [at UFC 178].
Okamoto: I don't think he will. I would never put it past him, but the UFC's deepest division is 155 pounds and Alvarez has a tough matchup out of the gate in Cerrone. I love Alvarez's intelligence, output and well-rounded game, but considering the talent at the top of that division, his odds of winning a title aren't extremely high to me.
Huang: It depends on how Anthony Pettis returns from the knee injury. Pettis' game was built on speed and striking. It's the only significant injury he's had during his meteoric career. I wonder if it will take a long time for him to fully regain his championship form. If it is a while, and he ends up losing the title in the meantime a la Cain Velasquez, 155 is open season for a number of contenders, including Alvarez.
3. With Alvarez gone, who is the face of Bellator MMA?
Chandler: We have a lot of personalities like Rampage [Quinton Jackson], Tito Ortiz, King Mo [Muhammed Lawal]. Bellator is continuing to sign great talent and I think in the future there will be even more talent and more big names. I'd say right now it's that core group of myself, Pat Curran, Mo, Tito and Rampage.
Okamoto: Jackson and Ortiz are the biggest stars, but I'm not sure fans associate the two with Bellator quite yet. As they fight more under the Bellator banner and maybe fight for a title, that will change, but currently I think the face of Bellator is actually Scott Coker. That's part of the reason he was hired. When he stands at a podium at a news conference, people know him and he's highly respected. It's not a bad thing if a promoter is the face of a fight organization by the way: see Dana White.
Huang: Bellator still struggles putting fans in the seats, so there have got to be faces that simply draw -- King Mo, Rampage, Ortiz. But a couple of their current champions-- welterweight Douglas Lima for one -- have potential to grow into very successful fighters and be that homegrown success story. Lima already has some big endorsement deals and has legit wins over several former UFC fighters.
4. Can UFC lightweight Gray Maynard turn things around at this point?
Chandler: I think he can. Gray is not old by any means. He's getting up there and he's been fighting for a while but I think he's got some good years ahead of him. Gray made a change for this last fight, training at Power MMA [in Arizona]. He went away from his wife and baby girl. He's making the right sacrifices, which indicate to me he's still looking to make a run.
Okamoto: Really hate to say it, but Maynard looks done. As an elite lightweight, he's probably finished. His reaction times just are not what they used to be and neither is his chin. He's been through a lot of wear and tear, including a long wrestling career before he began in mixed martial arts. I'd rather not see him take punches again.
Huang: I've always thought Maynard was one of the great tough guys of the UFC. He never said much, worked his butt off and had an iron jaw. Maynard-Frankie Edgar I was one of the greatest fights in modern MMA (despite the judges' decision of a draw). But I think those days are past him. With knockouts in three of his past four fights, his chin sort of resembles Chuck Liddell, Rich Franklin, BJ Penn and Matt Hughes at the end of their careers.
5. Which will be the more exciting fight: Michael Bisping versus Cung Le or Ben Henderson versus Rafael dos Anjos?
Chandler: Definitely Ben Henderson. He always comes after it. Always keeps a high pace. Luckily for him, he turned the tide in his last fight and got a finish, which was a lot of people's criticism of him. Dos Anjos, honestly, I think he flies under the radar. He doesn't get a lot of respect. I like the guy's style. He's a southpaw. Both of them attack, attack, attack. I think there's more potential for a great fight with those two.
Okamoto: I like the Bisping-Le fight. Stylistically, I think Bisping is playing with fire if he chooses to stand and trade with Le. Le looks like he's in the best shape of his life at 42 -- so much so that people are questioning the legitimacy of it. I think Bisping has to execute a tactical game plan, especially early. Whether he can do it is pretty intriguing.
Huang: Though both fighters seem like they are in decline, I think the Bisping-Le fight will offer more fireworks. Obviously both love to throw strikes and Le doesn't quit with his roundhouses and wheel kicks, even into the third round; and Bisping is a terrific boxer with very underrated jiu-jitsu skills. I love Bendo, but it'll be more methodical grappling in his fight with dos Anjos.