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 bantamweight contender Urijah Faber to debate the latest news and trends. Faber (32-8), who is coming off a decision loss to Frankie Edgar in May, returns to the Octagon against Frankie Saenz on Dec. 12 at UFC 194.
1. Ronda Rousey appeared to hang up during a recent media call after being asked a personal question about her relationship with UFC heavyweight Travis Browne. Whether she hung up or not, has media coverage of Rousey grown too personal?
Faber: I guess she's in a position where people are interested in her. I'm pretty sure Travis Browne came out and made a conscious, public decision to talk about that, so it kind of opened that can of worms. She can do whatever she wants, though. The media is interested in these things. If someone wants to have an interview with her, maybe they learn their lesson from this so they don't get hung up on, but how was the guy asking the question supposed to know that?
Okamoto: I would say in some cases it has. I remember during one media appearance she made years ago, right before a fight, some "reporter" asked for specific details about what her sex life had been that week. Rousey told me during an interview last week she feels she has been made into an event rather than a person, and I'd imagine that's probably a good way to put it. In this case, though, I think a question about her relationship with Browne, who was suspended earlier this year after serious accusations were made against him (although no charges were filed and he has since been reinstated), wasn't out of line. If she decides to not comment on it, fine, but the question itself was acceptable.
Faber: A fight's a fight -- in a phone booth, in the backyard, playground, outside the bar. Whoever makes the rules is saying Jon Jones is OK to fight now and this is a business. The UFC getting into New York is a big deal. Jon Jones coming back is a big deal. The former, stripped champion trying to get his belt back is a big deal. This is the real world, that's how it works.
Okamoto: Absolutely. Cormier is the official UFC champion, and I've argued before that it's important to credit him as such -- but let's also not kid ourselves. It's not as if he's some longtime, dominant champ who's being made to fly across the world to fight some popular challenger for the sake of ticket sales. That would be messed up. But Cormier just lost to Jones at the beginning of this year. Jones, arguably already the greatest ever, is coming back from a life-altering event, and he'll be the main storyline. Cormier gets the respect of walking last and having the belt around his waist when he does. He doesn't get the right to choose where the fight takes place.
Faber: Obviously the guy hasn't learned his lesson. There's a common brotherhood in our sport where you're looking out for one another's interests even though it's a simulated death match. He's not able to do that for whatever reason, so at least two years is good. I don't know about a lifetime ban. It's hard for me to say that about someone else's livelihood. From what I know about his backstory, he might not have much else, and because of that he might have some mental issues. He needs to work on those, and hopefully he will.
Okamoto: I guess I don't disagree with it. I've seen a lot of comparisons between Palhares and the five-year ban Nick Diaz received for his third marijuana offense -- but to me, one has no bearing on the other. They are completely separate cases. Just because the Nevada commission botched the Diaz case doesn't mean it should then botch others to stay consistent. I've said before that I wouldn't be outraged to see Palhares banned for life. I think he's basically a menace at this point, and if I were a fighter, I'd probably refuse to fight him. That said, a lifetime ban from a regulatory body is nothing to take lightly. I don't think two years is a horrible call.
4. Will Vitor Belfort's controversial use of testosterone-replacement therapy (TRT) forever mar his fighting career?
Faber: I'm not up to date on all this stuff, but I think there's no doubt people are aware TRT has been a big part of Belfort's career. I'll say that I got USADA-tested this week and it was, like, a very big relief. They showed up to my house, to the gym, stayed outside my house until I woke up -- and I appreciate that, man. I'm a guy who has never cheated, so I really appreciate the fact that guys are being cracked down on. There's a lot to gain in this sport by having a slight edge -- whether it be monetarily, your brand, being a world champion -- so I think it's B.S. that guys are cheating. One thing I know about Vitor is he has been an amazing fighter throughout the years and I guess you have to ask what that is attributed to. Some people will look past the TRT and others won't.
Okamoto: Yes, it will. I think the past two years has been an eye opener on the sport in general, with commissions implementing better, random testing and high-profile fighters dropping like flies. If you were paying attention during that, it's hard to look back and have confidence anyone was 100 percent clean. Credit the UFC for recognizing that and responding to it in the form of the USADA program. (It could have moved sooner, but better late than never.) Belfort, in particular, even when you acknowledge he came up in that kind of era, has probably done irreparable damage to his reputation. I think fans are angry that he was allowed to basically hide in plain sight while the UFC allowed him to hulk up and fight exclusively in Brazil during 2013, only to return to Las Vegas in 2014 and fail his first random test. The shadow that cast on some of his performances will never go away.
Faber: The more I get to know VanZant, the more I think any matchup is good for her. She has a really natural ability to push the pace and be in amazing shape. It's like, you can't get that girl tired. So I think it's a real good matchup. People always like to downplay someone if they're marketable and good-looking, but the fact is that she gets out there and performs. Right now, a fight with Namajunas -- VanZant as to be able to win a fight like that, and I think she will. In her mind, she's ready for [champion] Joanna Jedrzejczyk, which is the important thing. The one thing I'd worry about is Jedrzejczyk has had 80 fights as a Muay Thai practitioner. So, as one of VanZant's mentors and teammates [at Faber's Team Alpha Male camp in Sacramento], I'd like to see her get more experience before she fights for the strap.
Okamoto: I don't see it that way at all. Namajunas is definitely more polished, has more experience than VanZant, but she's not a finished product herself. She's 23 and had her pro MMA debut only two years ago. I have Namajunas ranked as the No. 8 strawweight in the world and VanZant No. 9. That's not too much, too soon. And it wouldn't surprise me to see VanZant open as the favorite in this fight.