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 flyweight contender Joseph Benavidez joins the panel.
1. What are possible repercussions for UFC president Dana White's judging mishap last weekend?
Joseph Benavidez: I don't know exactly how it went down. If it was pretty obvious to everybody that the guy was a terrible judge, I think White did everybody a favor. If there's nobody else there, like a commission, to make that kind of call, then who better to do it than the boss of the organization? If he feels something isn't running right, who better to, I guess, fire the person?
Brett Okamoto: There will be no repercussions for White, who pulled a judge from the event in Macau after the first two fights. He apologized, and Marc Ratner, UFC vice president of regulatory affairs, told me, "it's over." White sent the message that he doesn't trust his own staff's judgment, as it's Ratner who carefully selects these judges at self-regulated events. Simply put, White lost his mind, but he won't face any punishment for this kind of thing.
Mike Huang: White wields a lot of power. I don't think much will come of this so long as he doesn't keep doing it. Regardless, White compromised the integrity that the UFC and Ratner have worked so hard to build. For a sport that already struggles to make its reputation and image mainstream, White's actions set it back a bit, especially in a year when the UFC has seemingly struggled. Worse yet, he comes off looking corrupt. That kind of stain is permanent both on him and the league.
2. On a scale of 1 to 10, how competent is judging in MMA?
Benavidez: It's hard because it's so up-and-down. The only time you really hear about it is when someone messes up royally. To answer the question 1 to 10, I guess a 6. I really don't think about it because to me, I'm the judge. It's up to me to finish a fight. But yeah, my fights that have gone to decision, I've thought, "I hope these guys are competent." And when you go into a fight, you know judges can be nuts, and wild cards and anything can happen.
Okamoto: Probably about a 7. Fans are always waaaaaay too fast to use the word "robbery," and White, the face of the promotion, tends to get a little batty when he doesn't agree with a score. But, for the most part, bad judging isn't "plaguing" the sport, in my opinion. Commissions need to better define what constitutes scoring to improve uniformity, and bad judges need to be held accountable for bad scores. There are improvements to be made in judging, but it's not a crisis.
Huang: I'd give it a 6.5. There are some real stinker decisions for sure, but if you compare the number of decisions that judges do get right, it's overwhelmingly in their favor. But people remember only the bad ones. What I'd like to see is more retired MMA fighters get into judging. I mentioned a couple of months ago that if more MMA fighters got into judging, we'd have more trained eyes evaluating fights, eyes that know from experience what is happening in the Octagon.
3. How much will TJ Dillashaw-Renan Barao II resemble the first fight?
Benavidez: As far as domination goes, I think it will be roughly the same. I'd say another finish for Dillashaw. I just don't feel like Barao had enough time to improve. I heard he had a 10-week camp, but they fought only 12 weeks ago. You're telling me that he went out and sparred two weeks after getting beat up like that? And even if he did, it's not a long-enough time to change as a fighter, and I think Barao, to beat Dillashaw, would literally have to do a 180 as a fighter to win this fight.
Okamoto: Only a fool would count Barao out, but styles make fights. Dillashaw is going to move, move, move -- just like the first fight -- and I don't think Barao will track him down. If Barao wins, it'll be because he catches Dillashaw with not a lucky punch but a perfect punch. Over the course of 25 minutes, I think Dillashaw pulls away.
Huang: I think it might very much resemble the first fight. It's incumbent on Barao to change what didn't work for him in their first fight and adapt to what Dillashaw did to him. But even if Barao does, I think he will continue to have a tough time with Dillashaw, who is a superior boxer and whose ring movement flummoxed Barao. If Barao can't cut off Dillashaw in the early rounds, he'll never get him, and he will get frustrated and desperate.
4. Who is the most unsung fighter in MMA?
Benavidez: Danny Castillo. The guy has more fights under UFC parent company Zuffa than anyone on Team Alpha Male aside from maybe Urijah Faber, but you bring up the team and some people don't even talk about Danny. They talk about me, Chad Mendes, Dillashaw and Faber. They don't even say Danny. It's crazy. And talentwise, I don't think people realize Danny could really be on a seven- or 8-fight win streak. The fights he lost in that time, he should or could have won.
Okamoto: In the UFC, I'd say welterweight Tarec Saffiedine and Castillo would be my top choices. Outside of the UFC, ONE FC bantamweight champion Bibiano Fernandes is mostly unknown but shouldn't be. I love WSOF featherweight Marlon Moraes, but he hasn't fought the best in his weight class. Benavidez stole my answer, though. Castillo has turned the corner in his career but hasn't really gotten his due yet.
Huang: He might be a former Strikeforce and DREAM middleweight champion, but Gegard Mousasi doesn't seem to get the accolades one would expect as a former champ. Among the rank-and-file UFC fans, no one seems to really care, but he's a great fighter with a number of big wins. He started building momentum in Strikeforce, but he has kept a low profile in the UFC after coming over, with a lackluster win in his UFC debut and a loss to Lyoto Machida. But if he beats Ronaldo Souza -- whom he has already beaten once -- on Sept. 5, Mousasi should start opening eyes again.
5. What should we expect from U.S. Olympic wrestling gold medalist Henry Cejudo?
Benavidez: It's hard to say. I don't think he's ever officially made weight at 125 pounds. He's a high-level athlete and a gold medalist in a sport that is the best background to have as an MMA fighter. I think he'll be competitive, for sure. I don't think anyone is calling him a prodigy or anything like that, but when you take a wrestler that high-level, he'll be able to compete with anyone; probably without even knowing striking or jiu-jitsu, just going by instinct.
Okamoto: His former promoter at Legacy Fighting Championship has questioned Cejudo's desire to fight, which is never a positive sign. He has had difficulty making weight. That said, the guy is a gold medalist in wrestling, so of course expectations are high for him. It's hard -- as much potential as Cejudo clearly has, he's still developing. And the Octagon can be a bad place for developing fighters. It wouldn't surprise me if the UFC proves to be too much, too soon right now for Cejudo.
Huang: I remember talking to former Arizona State wrestling coach Thom Ortiz, who first told me Cejudo was starting to train in MMA back in 2010. Cejudo's world-class wrestling base should allow him to control the tempo of the fight and win. But a wise coach once told me, "Everything changes when a guy gets hit in the face. Then you can tell whether he wants to fight." I guess we'll find that out about Cejudo.