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 welterweight Thiago Alves to debate the latest news and trends. Alves (21-10), 32, a former title challenger, hasn't fought since a TKO loss to Carlos Condit last June.
1. Will Conor McGregor lose in 2016? If so, to whom?
Thiago Alves: I think so -- if he takes the fights he claims he wants. I think Rafael dos Anjos would have smashed him. I see a lot of guys at 155 pounds that would give him a hard time. He has been fighting guys at 145 who he had a reach advantage against -- and props to him, he's a beast at 145. But moving up to 155 fighting better athletes? I don't think he'll have as much luck. I think he should defend his belt against Frankie Edgar. Edgar deserves that. If he's able to beat Frankie and wants to move up, then he should fight dos Anjos and then stay there. If he goes to 170 it's a waste of his time. He'll get smashed. I see a lot of guys at 170 not even in the top 10 who would whoop his butt. Don't get me wrong, he's a stud, but I really want to see him fight a guy who won't back down like Edgar or dos Anjos. If he stays in his lane at 145, I think he has a bigger chance of being successful. If he gets out of his lane and wants to move up in weight, he's going to encounter a lot of problems.
Brett Okamoto: I'm stuck right down the middle on this one. I mean, it's kind of like the "flying too close to the sun" thing. He wants to fight tough opponents and he wants to do it often. Winning and retaining one UFC title is difficult enough. Taking on the challenges that McGregor is willing to take on? A big part of me says he has to fail at some point. Does that point come in 2016? McGregor is a real tough one to predict right now because you just don't know what's next for him. Who would have thought that less than three months after winning a UFC title at 145 pounds, McGregor would be accepting a late-replacement opponent in a welterweight contest? The crystal ball is cloudy and worthless when it comes to McGregor. But, for today, I'll say McGregor does lose in 2016 and it happens against dos Anjos.
2. Was Nate Diaz the right choice to replace Rafael dos Anjos at UFC 196 this weekend?
Alves: For McGregor's people and management, it was a perfect choice. Ten days? There's no way Nate Diaz is going to be ready for this fight. It's just smart by McGregor to pick the easiest fight. Now, I don't think Nate is an easy fight for anybody but with 10 days' notice, against a guy who has been preparing himself for a 25-minute title fight? And Conor is saying all the right things. He's saying, "Well, Nate got the fight because he beat Donald Cerrone." Yeah, that was years ago. And Cerrone just put on a statement [in a first-round submission win against Alex Oliveira on Feb. 21]. If you're a true fighter and want to show you're the best, then pick the toughest fight. The toughest fight would have been Cerrone. But this is a business. He's looking out for his interest and if I was in his position, I'd say the same thing. Give me the easiest fight and get a payday out of it. Again, no disrespect to Nate, but if you want to be realistic, he's the easy fight on 10 days' notice. McGregor should have picked Cerrone who was ready to fight for 25 minutes.
Okamoto: All things considered, yes he was. I understand Alves' point about Diaz probably being the easiest fight and I don't disagree with it -- but I choose to look at it completely different. I don't think McGregor wanted Diaz because he was the easiest fight. I think he wanted him because he's the biggest fight. In all honesty, I kind of wish McGregor and the UFC had chosen Cerrone. In my mind, the fight against Diaz was inevitable at some point and I'd be willing to wait for it if it meant Diaz got a full camp ahead of time. But this was the biggest fight that could be put together and McGregor, who could have pulled out of the event altogether, agreed to move up to 170 pounds for it. I've given up on this idea McGregor is ever trying to "protect" himself. Not after he accepted the Chad Mendes fight. Not after he picked dos Anjos as an opponent to begin with on March 5. Plenty of big fights against lesser competition were out there, and he went with one of the most difficult options.
3. How much will weight play a factor when McGregor and Diaz meet at 170 pounds?
Alves: You know, in a way Nate is in a very good position. He has got nothing to lose and everything to gain. In a warrior's mind, it's a huge advantage. Not having to cut weight means he won't be drained or depleted. I don't know how his gas tank will be on 10 days' notice, but he's always in good shape, doing triathlons and the swimming he does. I think if he understands he has got nothing to lose, the only thing will be physical. Is his gas tank on point? I see him having a chance but McGregor is prepared for 25 minutes it seems like. Technically, I think McGregor is a little more skilled and a little more dynamic. He should be able to find openings. I don't think he'll finish Nate in the first round but I think he'll win after the third, maybe by decision.
Okamoto: I don't see it factoring in too much, but there's a chance I'm proven very wrong. In some ways, this is essentially a glorified lightweight fight. It's two lightweights electing to not cut any weight. It's not McGregor vs. a legitimate welterweight, let's make that clear. Now, could Diaz enjoy a bit of an advantage having the fight at this heavier weight? He could, and it might help him in a pretty significant area, which is grappling. If Diaz pulls off the upset, I think it will be by submission and some extra weight against a smaller opponent can't hurt. But any size advantage Diaz has pales in comparison with the advantage McGregor has of having a full training camp. And McGregor rolls with a UFC welterweight in Gunnar Nelson, so I don't believe he'll feel anything he hasn't felt before.
Alves: Of course. Nobody wants to be a one-hit wonder. Holly is the champ now and the champ has to prove herself every time. Miesha Tate is no joke. She has been in the business for a long time but she's still hungry. I think it will be great for Holm to defend her belt and make a statement. If she's able to do that against Miesha Tate, I think her rematch against Ronda is going to have even more draw. A lot more hype. She needs to go out and get it done. She has plenty to gain but a lot to lose, too.
Okamoto: I think there is plenty to gain here -- we just won't see it right away. Until the rematch happens, that's generally all the public is going to want out of Holm. It's unfortunate, but it's the way it is. This title defense is flying well under the radar, but in time, we might look back on it as a significant piece of a pretty incredible title run. What if, and there are plenty of "ifs" involved in this -- but what if Holm defeats Rousey, Tate, Rousey again and then, potentially, Cris "Cyborg" Justino? That might have to be considered the greatest stretch in female combat sports history. Again, plenty of "ifs" in there, and we're only on step one ... but you see the point I'm making? A potential win over Tate might not seem huge right now for Holm, but it could be part of a much bigger whole, which means absolutely she has something to gain.
Alves: Anderson Silva, I think in everyone's opinion, did more damage. Look at Bisping's face after the fight. I think the scoring system in MMA is a little messed up because, yeah, Bisping was pushing the fight and was more aggressive but he wasn't doing any damage. I would give Bisping the first two rounds and then in the last three, Silva took over. He wasn't as active but he did more damage. I can see how a judge would go Bisping because of control and output, but in fights like that, the guy was hurt in the third, fourth and fifth rounds. I think it would be good to give a rematch. There's a lot of unanswered questions in there. Let them do it one more time. It's a perfect matchup and I think it should definitely happen again to put an end to the debate.
Okamoto: First: What a great fight. One of the most entertaining fights of 2016 thus far. Second: I don't see controversy. Bisping was saved by the bell after the third round. He made it to his corner and continued on from there. All three judges scored the fight for Bisping exactly the same, awarding him rounds one, two and four. I scored it exactly the same way and honestly didn't think it was that hard of a bout to score, especially compared to some of the other five-rounders we've seen this year. And third: No, I don't want to see a rematch. I don't think it would look all that different. If Silva were to come back and beat Bisping in a rematch, would we then need to see a third? I guess I see the point of a rematch, I just don't see the real need for one. There's a difference. Let them move on.