<
>

Five Rounds: Any interest in Fedor Emelianenko's comeback?

Fedor Emelianenko won easy in his return, stopping Jaideep Singh in Round 1 at RIZIN FF. AP Photo/Jeff Chiu

Each week, ESPN.com writer and MMA Live Extra analyst Brett Okamoto provides his take on the hottest topics in the world of mixed martial arts.

This week, Okamoto squares off with veteran former UFC heavyweight Chuck Liddell to debate the latest news and trends. The "Iceman," 46, retired in 2010 and finished his MMA career with a record of 21-8.

1. Fedor Emelianenko officially comes out of retirement this week against Jaideep Singh (2-0) at RIZIN FF in Saitama, Japan. Are you interested in Emelianenko's comeback at this point?

Liddell: I don't have any real interest in watching him fight at this point. Fedor, he came out throwing bombs, he's always going to be dangerous -- especially fighting a kickboxer. But yeah, I'm not that interested in watching him fight. I like to watch guys who are still at the top of their games. If he were fighting someone in the top 10 of the division I'd be interested in seeing how he'd do. Maybe he'll do this fight and then fight someone in the top 10. I liked Fedor, but I think a lot of what he did had to do with matchups and them keeping him away from certain guys. I don't know. He was a good heavyweight. He was a small heavyweight. It would have been interesting to see him come down to 205. Personally, I miss fighting and if I were to ever come back, it would only make sense to have me fight someone else who probably shouldn't be fighting. But I'm past that. Fedor coming back, if I want to watch Fedor fight I'll look up some old DVDs. I don't have that nostalgia of wanting to see fighters who should have stopped years ago.

Okamoto: I'm just not that interested. Sorry. I kind of want to be, but if we're being real, Emelianenko and RIZIN have made it difficult to care about this comeback fight. The promotion refused to announce Emelianenko's opponent until mid-December (and the opponent, of course, turned out to be very underwhelming). There have been little to no details regarding Emelianenko's contract (length) or the relationship between RIZIN and Bellator MMA -- which makes it hard to assign any type of stakes to the fight. Is it building towards something else? A fight between Emelianenko and someone on the Bellator roster? We're left with no idea. There haven't even been any pre-fight interviews conducted with the man of the hour himself, as Emelianenko has basically kept himself completely away from media (particularly in the U.S.) So, no. Emelianenko's return all by itself, void of additional meaning or storyline or even decent opponent? It does not have my interest.


2. After Conor McGregor's UFC featherweight championship win on Dec. 12 and Rafael dos Anjos' lightweight championship win on Dec. 19, is a fight between those two the matchup to make?

Liddell: I think if he's going to move up to 155 pounds, honestly he should take a non-title fight up there -- fight Nate Diaz or Donald Cerrone, get acclimated to being at 155. It's different. I also think at 145, he should finish cleaning up that division. I think he needs to give Frankie Edgar a shot. I think I'd want to see him fight Frankie the most. He's well-rounded and been around for a long time. That's a great fight and an interesting fight to me. Nate is a tough guy. It would be fun to watch them talk back and forth and it'd be fun to watch them go at it because those two would stand toe-to-toe. That's just the way they fight. Actually 'Cowboy' (Cerrone) would be fun, too. He'd come out and bang with McGregor. I know Cowboy just lost, but -- yeah, if I had to pick one it's probably Frankie right now.

Okamoto: The fight to make is McGregor vs. Frankie Edgar. McGregor has walked the walk, he beat the most dominant fighter in the history of his division and he is the undisputed featherweight champion. If he were to move up to 155 pounds, I would not even remotely consider accusing him of 'ducking' Edgar. This guy doesn't 'duck' anyone. But I will say that Edgar at 145 is unfinished business. I know McGregor says he wishes to move back and forth between the two divisions, but quite frankly, a fight against Rafael dos Anjos isn't a 'money fight' in terms of the opponent. McGregor can generate interest all by himself, but Dos Anjos isn't a home run in terms of a marketable opponent. Edgar has done everything he could possibly do to get this fight. He was in shape and wanted to fight McGregor at UFC 189 when Aldo fell out. He made a statement against Chad Mendes on Dec. 11. He deserves the fight. McGregor should respect that and give it to him.


3. Does McGregor deserve to be ranked among the top 10 pound-for-pound fighters in the world right now?

Liddell: Well yeah, I mean, he deserves to be in there. Look at what he just did to Jose Aldo. Look at what he's done to the entire division. Every guy you've put in front of him, he's decimated. He's done a good job of taking it to guys. You've got to put him in there somewhere. He's in that conversation. I'm not a big fan of pound-for-pound rankings. It's just different styles, different fights -- I've never been a fan of that. One style doesn't necessarily work against the other. When people ask me for my top pound-for-pound fighter I usually answer with fighters I like to watch fight.

Okamoto: I would vote 'yes.' I have him ranked No. 7. I agree with Liddell, I'm not a big fan of pound-for-pound rankings. I don't mind discussing them, they're a fun barstool topic I suppose, but when it really comes down to it -- what are they really? Bottom line, has McGregor done enough to call himself one of the best 10 fighters in the game today? Yeah, I would argue he has.


4. With two of the most entertaining fighters in the game (UFC welterweight champion Robbie Lawler and Carlos Condit) squaring off at UFC 195 this weekend, name five athletes on your "I'd pay to watch fight" list.

Liddell: Robbie for sure. I've known him a long time and he always brings it. I like watching Anderson Silva. Conor McGregor, I like the way he fights. I've said it a bunch of times, I could do without his style of trash talk but man -- I love the way he fights. He brings it. Trying to think of who else -- Jose Aldo. And Luke Rockhold. He comes out to fight. I like guys who come out to fight. I understand the skill it takes to win a fight on points and I appreciate it, but I don't necessarily enjoy watching it.

Okamoto: Narrowing this down to five is quite a task. Alright ... 5. Frankie Edgar. 4. Jon Jones. 3. Nate Diaz. 2. Conor McGregor. 1. TJ Dillashaw. I'm guessing No. 1 is pretty surprising. I enjoy Dillashaw, man. He's a perfectionist in the gym and it shows when he fights. I love the angles he creates -- he's looking to finish opponents but he's clever in avoiding damage. When you can be both: capable of burying an opponent with a knockout but also limit your exposure to damage, that's impressive. Before the injuries, Dominick Cruz was near the top of this list for me, too. So you can imagine I'm pretty excited for Boston next month. If you have a name in mind that you can't believe I didn't include, just know I probably considered it. You try cutting your list to five.


5. Six UFC titles changed hands in 2015. Will champions have as hard a time defending their titles in 2016?

Liddell: I think the fact it happened more this year than others was more coincidence than anything else. When you're putting the top fighters against the top fighters, anything can happen. I think there's going to be a good chance of that belt changing hands every year. No one has a lock on it. The long title runs are rare. Anderson Silva, Georges St-Pierre -- those are just special guys. I don't know, maybe it is getting harder to have those types of long title runs but they've always been rare. You face the toughest opponents out there, losses are going to happen.

Okamoto: Yeah, I think so. You just go up and down the board, Joanna Jedrzejczyk has a very difficult fight in Claudia Gadelha. Holly Holm is going to get the best of her division and don't forget, she's still relatively new to the sport. Demetrious Johnson will draw an Olympic gold medalist in Henry Cejudo. TJ Dillashaw vs. Dominick Cruz is essentially a pick-em. Conor McGregor vs. Frankie Edgar? I'd be tempted to pick Edgar. Rafael dos Anjos is staring at potential fights against Anthony Pettis, Khabib Nurmagomedov and McGregor. Robbie Lawler vs. Carlos Condit, also a pick-em. Luke Rockhold seems relatively safe to me actually, but Chris Weidman will be in that conversation in 2016. Daniel Cormier will be an underdog to Jon Jones. A pretty big one. And Fabricio Werdum is an underdog to Cain Velasquez as well! When you really lay it out, yeah -- it will be kind of shocking if titles don't change hands as frequently as they did in 2015.