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 former UFC middleweight champion Rich Franklin to debate the latest news and trends. Franklin (29-7), 41, retired from the UFC in 2012, and is the current ONE Championship vice president.
1. Was the UFC justified in pulling Conor McGregor from UFC 200 over his refusal to fly to Las Vegas to film a commercial?
Rich Franklin: Obviously, there are certain media days you have to attend, but we live in a social media age where there are creative ways to do things. I've been on those media tours where you're flying from city to city and it's not easy and it can derail your training. You just have to creatively think of doing things in ways that minimize the amount of time he has to spent out of camp. There has to be flexibility. Now, I don't know the terms of Conor's contract and I don't know the conversations that were had but if I, as a promoter, had an agreement with a fighter to do a certain set of media and as the fighter got to thinking about it and said, "I don't want to disrupt my camp," then we'd have an issue. The way Conor went about it, basically announcing his retirement -- once the UFC pulled him and made that statement as the promoter, it's kind of like disciplining a child. Once you've made a statement, consistency is probably the most important thing.
Brett Okamoto: Justified? Yes. Should they have stuck to the decision? It's not black and white. On one hand, if anyone has earned the right to sit out one press event, it's McGregor. He has saved events in the past by accepting short-notice fights. Last year, the UFC put together the biggest world media tour in company history for a fight between McGregor and Jose Aldo, and McGregor carried that thing. So, it's reasonable to suggest he deserves some goodwill. On the other hand though, he missed a commercial shoot. UFC 200 needs a commercial and it needs to feature both participants of the main event. The argument that McGregor's "retirement" tweet promoted the fight better than any commercial ever could is, in some ways, irrelevant to me. Even if McGregor's tweets get a billion "likes" on social media, the UFC asking him to film a commercial three months out from a fight seems like a reasonable request. Hate to sit on the fence here, but I can see both sides. But to answer the question, yes, the UFC's stance is justifiable.
2. Now that McGregor won't fight on July 9, should his next bout be a defense of his featherweight title or a welterweight rematch against Nate Diaz?
Franklin: As a fan, I'm more interested in seeing Conor defend his title against Frankie Edgar or Aldo. As a promoter, you're going to sit back and keep in mind what makes sense as far as what fans are interested in and what drives pay-per-view ratings. But I believe Conor fighting Frankie or Jose would draw the same PPV numbers as a rematch with Nate would. Once you've won the title, you have that belt around your waist, it doesn't give you the right to say, "OK, this weight class is mine and I can treat it how I want." There is a responsibility to that belt, in my opinion. I'll be honest, as a promoter, if for whatever reason there was a No. 1 contender that people just aren't interested in, I could see myself going with a fight for the champion outside his weight class, but that's not the case here.
Okamoto: This all comes down to timing. If the UFC and McGregor can resolve their differences relatively quickly and re-book the Diaz rematch by, say, August, then by all means go ahead. Edgar and Aldo are fighting for a vacant title on July 9. The winner likely wouldn't be ready to compete by August anyway, so giving McGregor the fight he wants against Diaz is no problem. If it takes longer for the UFC and McGregor to settle their differences, however, then his obligation to defend the title has to be considered. If he ends up not fighting until late 2016, then I do believe he should have to defend the belt against Edgar or Aldo if he wishes to hang on to it.
Franklin: Yeah, probably. Just because the history between Jones and Cormier, how much those two guys don't like each other -- I believe they can turn this into as big of an event as it would have been with the McGregor fight.
Okamoto: No. It's still a massive event and an outstanding card top-to-bottom, but the new main event is not as big. Outside of perhaps Ronda Rousey's return from her first loss, nothing is bigger than McGregor right now. His past three fights stand as the highest live gates in Las Vegas history for mixed martial arts. According to UFC president Dana White, the last pay-per-view he headlined (which featured him in a non-title fight) broke "so many records" for the company and produced 1.5 million buys. McGregor's star power coupled with the landmark effect of UFC 200 would have been an absolute grand slam. Without McGregor, it's just a home run.
4. How would you grade Jones' performance against Ovince Saint Preux at UFC 197 last weekend?
Franklin: I didn't watch the entire fight; I saw the highlights. With Jon, I don't see ring rust as much of a problem as him having his head in the right place. When you look at some of the training videos, it's obvious that in his down time, it's not like he walked away from the game. The time he took off is not that significant. He's in the prime of his career. So, none of that ring rust stuff is a factor for me. But where is his head at? Jon Jones is one of the most talented fighters to ever step into the cage. He has always been in that position, this guy coming up who was going to be a champion someday. I knew it the moment I saw him. When I met him, I said, "Big fan of your work." He had only had a couple fights in the UFC, and I said, "Keep your head on straight and you're going to be a champion some day." Now, after the trouble he got in last year, this is the first time in his career where he's in a position to have to prove himself.
Okamoto: "S" for satisfactory. Was it a performance we'll remember for all time? No. But the reality is that it didn't really have to be. Jones just needed to come back from the mess he created in 2015 and get a win. That's it. He needed to preserve a rematch against Cormier by getting his hand raised. I've seen plenty of talk about how Jones was "lucky" that Cormier got injured and wasn't able to fight him last weekend, but we'll never know if that's true or not. My guess is that it's not. Had Cormier been in the Octagon, the fight would have been completely different. I think Cormier would have pushed Jones in ways Saint Preux didn't and history tells us that when Jones is pushed, he rises to a whole other level. Fighting an opponent who seemed to be a little in awe of him actually appeared to throw Jones off against Saint Preux. I will agree with those who have said Jones didn't look as confident as usual, but still, he dominated the fight.
5. Is there reason to believe Jones-Cormier II will look any different from their first meeting in January 2015, which Jones won via unanimous decision?
Franklin: This ties in to what I was saying before. Jon came off the allegations of last year and got himself back on track, but then you see a video of him getting pulled over by a police officer. [Note: Jones was cited for drag racing in March, he has pled not guilty and denied all wrongdoing.] I wasn't there that night and I'm not here to pass judgement, but you see something like that and it's enough to make you think, "Have you really redirected your life, or are you going down the same path and fooling everybody?" Jon Jones is the only person that knows the answer to that question. He's the only one. He's at a point where he has to prove he's back on track because facing a guy like Cormier is no joke. If you don't have your house in order, it's going to be costly. So, yeah, I do believe there could be a different outcome in this rematch.
Okamoto: I agree with Franklin's assessment that we really don't know how much Jones has changed in his personal life. Where I guess I would disagree with him is whether or not the answer to that has any impact on his rematch against Cormier. Whether Jones is living a squeaky clean life or not, why would it matter when it comes to July 9 inside the Octagon? Jones has already proved he can dominate the game regardless of what his extracurriculars are. I have always felt Cormier fought well when they met in a title fight 15 months ago, and he still lost four out of five rounds to Jones. I'm not expecting a ton to change in the rematch, but I've certainly been wrong before.