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 Bellator MMA lightweight champion Will Brooks to debate the latest news and trends. Brooks (16-1), who is 8-1 since joining the promotion in 2013, defends his title against Marcin Held at Bellator 145 on Nov. 6 in St. Louis.
1. In honor of Halloween this weekend, who is the scariest fighter in MMA?
Brooks: [UFC flyweight champion] Demetrious Johnson is the scariest fighter because I believe that guy is the most well-rounded fighter in mixed martial arts. From his wrestling to his jiu-jitsu to his striking, to transitioning between them. A lot of people talk trash about him not finishing [fights] but he has finished a lot of fights. And the ones he's not finishing, people don't realize that guys get better, they study you and don't give you an opportunity to finish. He's still going out there, like in his previous fight against John Dodson, and picking these guys apart [from] start to finish. He made Dodson look like an amateur. I'm blown away by him.
Okamoto: UFC strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk. The defenseless look worn by her past two opponents told you all you needed to know. Few things look as painful in MMA as a fight against Jedrzejczyk. That 115-pound weight class just isn't going to produce as many clean, one-punch knockouts as you see in other divisions. That can sometimes translate to fighters in this weight class taking too much damage because, technically, they heaven't completely gone down to the point of a referee saving them. Jedrzejczyk is truly an administer of pain. You see it in her fights where an opponent reaches that point of, 'Well, I have to try something because I'm getting hurt out here.' But that something, whatever it turns out to be (a defensive, home run haymaker; a desperation takedown shot; a body clinch intended to slow things down), usually makes matters worse, as Jedrzejczyk anticipates it and uses it to her advantage. She's hands down my pick for most frightening opponent in the sport right now.
Brooks: No. I don't believe he should have. I actually texted him and told him that. [Note: Brooks and Poirier are teammates at American Top Team in Coconut Creek, Florida.] There's no reason he should receive any backlash for that. We're not in this business to just take fights someone throws out there. We're in this business to take fights that propel us to the stages we want to be in. Nobody's talking about Norman Parke. Why would [Poirier] want to go out there and take a risk, maybe get robbed in a decision or suffer an injury, when he could have a main event fight against an opponent with a lot of hype like Joseph Duffy? The UFC already made the fight again [at UFC 195 on Jan. 2].
Okamoto: Not much to add to Brooks' answer here. No, Poirier shouldn't have taken the Parke fight. No disrespect to Parke, but when you look at where he's at in his career -- and then compare that to where Poirier is -- what's the incentive for Poirier in that matchup? A paycheck and the experience of fighting in front of an awesome Dublin crowd. That's about it. Beating Parke, on a relatively low-exposure card aired on UFC Fight Pass, would have barely elevated Poirier's standing at 155 pounds. A loss, however, would represent a major step back for him. Absolutely, 100 percent cannot blame the guy for handling his career with a level of professionalism. In fact, I applaud him for it. I'm sure it was a difficult decision to not fight after paying for a training camp and flying across the Atlantic.
Brooks: It's a technique you can use to hinder a guy and slow him down. It's hard to say what a guy's intent is. For me, if I'm throwing that type of strike, I only want to slow you down. I'm not trying to hurt you or hinder your career. But if you throw that kick and that's the reason a guy tears his ACL, intent really goes out the window because people will say, 'You shouldn't have been throwing those kicks in the first place.' I don't know man, this is the hurt business. That's just what it is. You throw that oblique kick, tweak a guy's knee, he can't fight and you capitalize on it? That's just how it goes. You should have known the guy you're fighting throws those and be prepared for it.
Okamoto: This is one of those questions that sort of has two answers in that, right now, I can't fault Jones at all for throwing side kicks towards the knee -- but at the same time, I can remember wincing as he did it repeatedly to Jackson during their 2011 title fight and wouldn't mind seeing it banned. Unless the rules prohibit side kicks to the knee, which some states actually do, Jones is free to throw it. Is it "cheap"? I would say even if it is, this is a fist fight, and in addition to wins and losses, the health of one's brain is on the line. So if there's an effective technique you can use to defend yourself that's legal, by all means use it until it's not. That said, again, I wouldn't miss this strike if it were outlawed. Jones himself has said it can "destroy" an opponent's knee, and I think it can come across as somewhat unsportsmanlike. That's my take.
4. Following his ninth win last weekend, is Bellator MMA welterweight standout Michael Page ready for an elite opponent and, if so, whom would you match him up against?
Brooks: I don't know, man. Honestly, I've only watched him a few times. I like Michael Page and I think as a person, he's a good dude, but I have a hard time watching him fight. I appreciate putting on a show, but all the pop-locking and dancing and things of that nature, I feel like it's highly disrespectful. I think he's talented. I think he's good. If I had to say somebody to fight him, I'd put him against Brennan Ward, who's going to be in your face, wrestle you, grind you, take you down, not respect you. That's when you'll learn what Michael Page really is.
Okamoto: Yes. Please. Can we do this already? I am all for development, not rushing a guy, building him properly, giving him a chance to succeed -- all that. But let's go already with Page. I'm not saying he needs to fight Andrey Koreshkov for the title next, but I'm good when it comes to seeing him against overmatched opponents. We've seen his ridiculous, flashy side and, now we've been through the "You can tell this guy wants to be more than a circus act; he's really improving'' stage. Now let's give him a decent opponent and find out where he's at. I'm cool with Brooks' suggestion of Ward. I actually think Fernando Gonzalez would be fun as well, or a tested veteran who's on the downside of his career, like if John Alessio wanted to move back to welterweight.
5. Who is the most underrated fighter on the Bellator roster?
Brooks: [Unbeaten bantamweight] Darrion Caldwell. He's talented and he's somebody people aren't really thinking about. He's building and putting it all together. I think people need to pay attention to what he's doing. He's one of those guys Bellator needs to be promoting and talking about even when he's not fighting. They need to be mentioning him.
Okamoto: Yeah, it's Caldwell. A 27-year-old, former NCAA Division I wrestling champion and 2012 Olympic qualifier hopeful? Uh, check please. Tough to beat those credentials when looking for a hot prospect in MMA. Chances are Caldwell appears in more than his fair share of high-stakes bantamweight fights in the years to come.