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, former UFC middleweight contender and current analyst Brian Stann joins the panel.
1. Who won the mental war between Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier?
Brian Stann: I think it was Jones and here's why: I think to the fans and the media, it was Cormier. Cormier comes out looking like the better guy and I think more people will cheer for him to win. But knowing Jon the way I know him, if you let him take you for granted and let him kind of stroll through his training camp -- it behooves you to do that. If you make him mad, then he's focused and training harder and I saw that firsthand when he fought Rashad Evans. I feel like he benefited from being mad.
Brett Okamoto: I don't think either won, really, but if I had to pick one, I'd say Jones. Part of that is the mental warfare and part of it is he's just in the better position. He has got what Cormier wants, so in my mind he's in the advantageous position. Anything Cormier said in the buildup to this fight -- the belt is still around Jones' waist. Conversation over.
Michael Huang: Is there ever really a winner in these kinds of sophomoric antics? I'm all for drumming up momentum for a fight and when dislike or hatred is genuine and palpable, then it'll emerge in public meetings. But neither Jones nor Cormier is an amateur, despite their amateurish approach to this fight. Public confrontations won't change their mental approach in the Octagon. Both have been in high-leverage situations before. This really should not be anything new to either of them. If anything, Cormier might feel he has more to prove, coming in as the challenger. But that won't unbalance a professional like DC.
2. Is Jones already the greatest of all time?
Stann: He is. I don't think anybody has ever defeated the level of competition he has beaten by such a wide margin. To me, when you look at Georges St-Pierre and Anderson Silva, they are the two who come into the equation and when you compare whom they defended their titles against, I don't think they beat the level of competition Jones has faced.
Okamoto: It really depends on how you look at it. If I had to pick one fighter to bet my mortgage on, it's Jones. He seems like the tallest of tasks. Anderson Silva, though, relative to his era, the run he had ... he's still the GOAT [greatest of all time] in my mind. Jones has spoken about beating Cormier, Alexander Gustafsson a second time, then moving to heavyweight. If he does all that, then he would surpass Silva in every way.
Huang: The GOAT conversation is always a difficult one in MMA because the sport is so new and the evolution of fighters, training and skills has been so rapid. What was considered innovative just five or six years ago might be considered commonplace or even obsolete by now. GOAT status for a guy like Matt Hughes circa 2006 wasn't out of the realm of possibility. But now? I wonder who thinks Hughes' particular skill set could maintain GOAT status for him right now. However, because progress connotes improvement upon the past, I'll look at it as if Jones is the best in the sport at a time when the sport itself is at its all-time best. If that is the case, then Jones must be the GOAT ... for now.
3. The most vulnerable champion heading into 2015 is ...
Stann: It's a tough question. You hate to say Anthony Pettis because he has looked so good, but it's because of the style matchup with Khabib Nurmagomedov. [With] the injuries that took place at 135 pounds, without Raphael Assuncao or Dominick Cruz, I don't see Renan Barao beating TJ Dillashaw. I think Jones could lose his belt but I think the most vulnerable is Pettis strictly due to the toughest No. 1 contender stylistically for any of our champions.
Okamoto: Yeah, I would have said Dillashaw before the injuries to Cruz and Assuncao. Demetrious Johnson has a tough fight on the horizon against John Dodson. Jones has a big year with Cormier and (if he wins) the winner between Gustafsson-Anthony Johnson. I also think Conor McGregor could beat Jose Aldo, I really do. Hmm ... I will ultimately agree with Stann and go with Pettis. Between Nurmagomedov and Rafael dos Anjos, he has got his hands full.
Huang: I'd have to say Robbie Lawler. I know he's the newest besides women's strawweight champ Carla Esparza, but the division is seven deep at 170 pounds, and any fighter within that top seven has a legit shot at beating Lawler. That depth will test Lawler, who reached his career apex at the relatively late age of 32. Unlike Jones, or Anderson Silva in his heyday, Lawler's skills are not head and shoulders above those chasing him. So it will be a challenge for Lawler -- one after another.
4. What are five fights you want to see this year?
Stann: 1. Pettis-Aldo; 2. Jones-Gustafsson II; 3. Chris Weidman-Luke Rockhold; 4. Weidman-"Jacare" [Ronaldo Souza]; 5. Cain Velasquez-Fabricio Werdum. Aldo-Pettis is the one that stands above all else. If I could see any fight in 2015, that would be it.
5. What's your bold prediction for 2015?
Stann: Jones could lose his title in 2015. I think at some point, between Cormier, Johnson and Gustafsson, those three guys on the right night -- and a night Jon defeats himself a little bit -- can take his belt. I don't know when it's going to happen, but in many cases, when it comes so easy to athletes, it's really hard to maintain that edge and stay primal. For Jon, it just comes too easy. There are fights where people thought he was in a fight, but there were things he did outside the Octagon that made those fights much harder than they had to be.
Okamoto: Anderson Silva fights for a UFC title in 2015. I think he'd have to beat Nick Diaz in January plus one more fight to get a title shot, and I think he's capable of doing that. Weidman has tough fights ahead of him (a Rockhold fight would be outstanding) but ultimately I think he holds on to the belt and meets Silva for the third time.
Huang: Aldo vacates the featherweight title after defeating McGregor and moves up to 155 to challenge Pettis. McGregor will get a shot at Aldo if McGregor wins his Jan. 18 fight against Dennis Siver in Boston. Should Aldo dispatch McGregor, he'll have virtually cleaned out the division and when he moves up, he'll request an immediate title shot at 155, which would be appropriate and Pettis will want it. We'll get to finally see that long-awaited Aldo-Pettis fight that was supposed to happen in 2013 and the lightweight division becomes the absolute best and deepest in the sport, if it isn't already.