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 UFC heavyweight contender Ben Rothwell to debate the latest news and trends. Rothwell (35-9), who has won his last three fights by stoppage (2 TKO's, 1 submission), was supposed to face Stipe Miocic at UFC Fight Night 76 in Dublin on Saturday, but his fight was canceled after Miocic suffered an injury during training camp.
1. Ahead of her scheduled title defense on Nov. 14, could Ronda Rousey be distracted by her mother's disparaging comments regarding her longtime coach, Edmond Tarverdyan?
Rothwell: I'm sure it's not helping her. Obviously, she's very close to her mother and values her opinion. You know, I don't want to cross a line or insult anybody, but Rousey's mother speaks her mind and she speaks a lot of truth. The fact remains, when Ronda first walked into that gym, [Tarverdyan] didn't care about her. Now, he's got a gold mine. I think Ronda's mother is just telling it like it is, but should she have talked to Ronda before going public? Probably. I'm sure Ronda is getting asked a bunch about it. She's the best at her weight class for a reason, though. I think she knows how to handle these things.
Okamoto: I guess she "could" be distracted by it. Is there a better question to ask here, though? Let's assume Rousey is distracted by it; does it matter? Of course, when your own mother up and blasts your longtime head coach one month before a title fight, it isn't ideal -- but it's going to take a lot more than that to shake someone like Rousey. Sure, she might be forced to answer a billion questions about it between now and UFC 193, but she was going to be asked a billion questions about something during that time anyway. I'm interested to see whether the comments ultimately have an effect on Rousey finding a new coach, but as far as affecting her performances in the meantime? Doubtful.
2. With the announcement of a newly formed MMA rules committee, what is the No. 1 rule/regulatory issue that needs to be addressed in MMA?
Rothwell: I'm old-school. So honestly, the fewer rules there are, the better I fight. I'm undefeated on the street for a reason. I'd love to see them go back to allowing knees to the head on the ground. I'm a completely different fighter without that rule. That said, we're constantly trying to move this sport forward and you have to appease the right people, like it or not. The things that are most important to me involve the judging. What is a 10-8 round? Do you deduct a point on a foul or not? I hope they get those things figured out.
Okamoto: I think all the issues this committee will look at are important, but yeah, a clear definition of what constitutes a 10-8 round is No. 1 for me. MMA adopted its scoring system from another sport and there's a real debate to be had on whether it's the best option available. I believe the 10-point must system, as it's currently being used in MMA, is a little flawed, mostly because so many judges are hesitant to score anything other than a 10-9. Whether it's making tweaks to the system or reassuring judges within the very Unified Rules that, "Hey, we want you to score 10-8 rounds," there has to be an improvement to what we have now.
Rothwell: I can speak from personal experience. Andrei Arlovski has a win over me, but when we fight again, it's going to be a completely different fight. I've watched him and he's kind of who he is. I'm completely different. Conor McGregor is the same as me. Who he was five years ago is not who he is now. Duffy has proved himself and he's talented -- I'm in Dublin and I've asked the locals what they think and people aren't even that interested in that fight. That's the feeling I'm getting from being here, at least -- and I was interested to see what they thought of that rematch. Who knows? I guess with Duffy fighting Dustin Poirier, we'll have a lot of answers on Saturday.
Okamoto: I think it would be very close. If I were setting a betting line for that fight at 155 pounds, I'd probably make McGregor a minus-145 favorite. Throw that 2010 fight completely out. It has little to no bearing on what would happen between them now. Each has completely evolved -- which is why they're both so successful in 2015. Hard to not give an edge to McGregor: striking ability, momentum, has fought better competition. I register a 10/10 on the Duff-meter, though, I really believe in his ability to shake up the entire division.
Rothwell: It's really tough for him. I can understand [Bader not wanting the fight] because it's probably not a good one for him. Here's a heavy striker in Johnson who can maybe deflect some of Bader's takedowns. It's a bad fight for him because if he loses that fight, he's getting pushed to the back of the bus again and he's worked hard to get a title fight. You have to get fans excited for a title fight. Bader, I like the guy personally, but I watched his last fight as a fan and am I excited to see him in a title fight? I'm not. I don't like decisions and Bader is his own worst enemy in that aspect.
Okamoto: Man. Tough one. On one hand, earning a No. 1 contender's spot is similar to being a champion, in that you sort of have to take on all comers. Bader, despite his five-fight win streak, is still ranked lower than Johnson according to ESPN. When you look at it that way, what right would he have to turn down a fight against him? On the other hand, while Bader's five-fight win streak hasn't set the world on fire, it's probably earned him the right to at least have a say in whom he fights next. I'm 50/50 on this. Bader put in the work, five training camps, won five fights -- it doesn't seem right to "reward" him with a fight against Johnson, who is a nightmare matchup on paper. At the same time, when you look at the division, that's kind of the fight to make, isn't it?
Rothwell: Probably Jake Shields, solely for the reason that Jon Fitch was a huge advocate against PEDs and then he got busted [elevated testosterone in December 2014]. It makes him a hypocrite. People have come after me for the same thing [Rothwell was suspended in 2013 for elevated testosterone], but the thing is I never hid behind anything and I took full responsibility when it happened, unlike someone like Anderson Silva. Guys who take that path have been deceiving and it's hard for me to root for a guy like that. Jake Shields, I don't like his fighting style, but he's a veteran. I think he's got the submission skills to win that fight.
Okamoto: Shields. The "I have great respect for your grind, tenacity and skill, plus the outstanding accomplishments you've had in your career -- but man, is it a struggle to watch you compete sometimes" title is on the line. There can only be one.