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 welterweight contender Tyron Woodley to debate the latest news and trends. Woodley (15-3) returns to the Octagon to face champion Robbie Lawler at UFC 201 on July 30 at Philips Arena in Atlanta.
1. What are the chances Michael Bisping shocks the world and defeats Luke Rockhold for the middleweight title on Saturday?
Tyron Woodley: I think the elements to shock the world is either the ability to wrestle and grind somebody out or the ability to knock someone out. I don't think Bisping possesses either one of those gifts. I like Bisping. I like him as a fighter and as a person. But as a matchup, this is just not a favorable matchup. He's wanted a title shot for a long time, unfortunately he's getting it against a guy who is not a good matchup for him.
Brett Okamoto: Rockhold is about a 10-to-1 betting favorite, which implies he has a 91 percent chance to win. I'd maybe go even a little higher than that, mainly for the reasons Woodley stated. Bisping is one of the most consistent fighters of his era, but he doesn't have a ton of one-punch power to alter the course of a matchup that appears lopsided on paper. He's also coming into the fight on short notice, which could compromise his best attribute -- stamina. If you're not happy to see Bisping receive a title shot after nearly a decade in the UFC, you are one cold individual. It would have been something of a tragedy had Bisping never gotten a shot. But I'm with Woodley on this one. The matchup Bisping is walking into does not favor him.
2. In terms of potential matchups, what is the most exciting division in mixed martial arts right now?
Woodley: This is going to sound biased but I think it's the welterweight division. If you look down the rankings, [Nos.] 1 through 15 are all killers. You can even stretch that to 20. You have guys like Rick Story, Tarec Saffiedine, Lorenz Larkin and Jorge Masvidal. You have different layers of fighters. Top five guys always fighting for the title and then the guys trying to break through, like Stephen Thompson and Neil Magny, breakthrough fighters who are cracking through and becoming contenders. Then you have the up-and-coming guys, guys who have been around for awhile. You've got Thiago Alves, Gunnar Nelson -- guys you can't ever count out. Demian Maia, who doesn't always get the credit he deserves. Overall, it's a great time for the welterweight division.
Okamoto: I think we had a similar question to this about two years ago and my answer was featherweight. You had a dominant champ in Jose Aldo. Chad Mendes was knocking out everybody and running toward a second title shot. Conor McGregor was rising. Cub Swanson looked amazing for a stretch. Frankie Edgar was building his case at 145. Max Holloway, Ricardo Lamas, Dustin Poirier, Dennis Bermudez -- there were so many good matchups. That's how I feel now about bantamweight. No shortage of fun fights. This is my favorite division right now, and it's not even close. Dominick Cruz is back. T.J. Dillashaw is still a top-10 pound-for-pound fighter. Raphael Assuncao is healthy. Michael McDonald is healthy (and still only 25, after a two-year layoff). The Johns (Dodson and Lineker) are up from flyweight. Cody Garbrandt is a stud. Thomas Almeida and Aljamain Sterling could still be studs. Bryan Caraway is quietly 7-2 in his last nine and fighting with a chip on his shoulder. And on top of that, I think we're going to see Demetrious Johnson bump up to this weight within a year or two. Outside the UFC, you've got elite talent in Marlon Moraes, Marcos Galvao, Eduardo Dantas and Bibiano Fernandes. So, like I said, bantamweight all the way.
3. With two UFC title fights coming up this weekend, what is the most intriguing championship fight currently on the UFC's schedule?
Woodley: Well, definitely, I'm going to say my own [UFC 201 on July 30, vs. Robbie Lawler] because my fans have a short-term memory, forget about the power I possess, the wrestling I possess. It's an intriguing matchup because we both possess power and Robbie has some very effective counter wrestling that negates a lot of guys' wrestling abilities. Also, we're teammates. It's a very awkward situation. It didn't get awkward until very recently, but now it's starting to become real and I think I'll remind people of my skills on July 30. Outside of that, there are certain fights I'm looking forward to. Michael Bisping and Luke Rockhold, I feel Luke's going to take that one. I think Demetrious Johnson will take his. I think Dominick Cruz and Urijah Faber will be a war, but Cruz will come out on top. The fight I'm looking forward to most that people aren't is Miesha Tate vs. Amanda Nunes [UFC 200 on July 9]. People don't realize how sick Amanda Nunes is. She beats some of the UFC bantamweight males in the gym. I'm talking about current UFC bantamweights, she has competitive rounds with those guys. I think Miesha Tate has finally gotten the status she wanted and she's talking about Ronda Rousey, Cyborg Justino. She's doing what she should be doing from a marketing standpoint, but she can not be overlooking Amanda Nunes.
Okamoto: It's a tie for me, between two completely opposite ends of the spectrum. September's UFC 203 heavyweight matchup between Stipe Miocic and Alistair Overeem and July's strawweight title fight between Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Claudia Gadelha. I'm bought in to Miocic as a legitimate heavyweight champ, just like I'm bought in to Overeem's comeback, after initially looking like a complete UFC bust. I think taking the fight to Miocic's native Cleveland is a nice touch and looking forward to that atmosphere. Jedrzejczyk-and-Gadelha is just a terrific fight stylistically, a rematch of a 2014 three-round bout that begged for two more rounds. I don't find strawweight to be one of the deepest divisions, it's going to take some time for that to happen, but as far as these two are concerned: world class. That will be a good fight.
4. Who has had the better overall career: Dominick Cruz or Urijah Faber?
Woodley: From the standpoint of titles and victories over tough opponents, I would say Dominick Cruz. As far as actual career of entertainment and brand, I think Urijah has had better stint of that. Dominick Cruz's only loss is to Urijah. And a fight we didn't give him enough credit for is his win against Demetrious Johnson (in 2011), that was a Hall of Fame fight. For him to outclass him the way he did -- today we call DJ the most well-rounded pound-for-pound fighter in the entire world. I think coming back from years off due to injury, winning the belt again, showing no ring rust -- a guy like me who has been out for a year, I try to pick his brain as much as I can as far as how I'm going to go out and compete at the highest level after a year and half out of competition.
Okamoto: Woodley sums this one up well. Based on athletic achievements, it's Cruz. In my opinion, had he never gotten injured, I think Cruz had the potential to go down as the greatest of all time. He was and still is that good. One loss in 11 years ... and 3-0 in UFC title fights. If you base this more on financial, commercial, influential success however, the answer is Faber. He's turned his "brand" into more than just a name on a fight card every four or five months. He has pioneer status, as one of the guys (really, the guy) who put lower weight classes on the map. And let's not forget, he's also won more than 30 fights and held the most prestigious championship of his weight class. History will look back on both very kindly.
5. Coming off the biggest win of his career over Thomas Almeida, what should be next for UFC bantamweight Cody Garbrandt?
Woodley: Oh my God. You know what's funny? I'm walking around with a [Garbrandt's nickname] 'No Love' shirt on right now. I'm a prospect watcher, man. I'm always watching the younger guys. [Stephen 'Wonderboy' Thompson] never caught me by surprise. There are other guys who didn't quite develop like we thought they would, the Erick Silva's and Brandon Thatch's. Cody Garbrandt and Thomas Almeida were two of the most promising prospects in the UFC, in my opinion, as far as upside and the composure they already have at this point. When I saw that matchup, I'm like 'S---, this is happening too soon! I like both of these guys.' I think Cody is just, he showed with his mannerisms he had no intention of losing that fight, no intention of feeling it out. He just needs to stay ready now. He gets a call, 'Hey this person fell out of UFC 200.' T.J. Dillashaw and Rafael Assuncao are supposed to be fighting at UFC 200. What if one of those guys gets hurt? Cody has to be ready. I have a gut feeling somebody in the bantamweight division is not going to be able to make it to the Octagon and he's going to get an opportunity that will jump him two or three fights forward.
Okamoto: I'm still hung up on a fight we didn't get to see: Garbrandt vs. John Lineker. That matchup was supposed to happen in February but did not, when Lineker came down with illness. Garbrandt is all action and we haven't seen him truly pushed yet. Lineker's style fits in to both of those well. He'll pressure Garbrandt in a way many, myself included, thought Almeida would last weekend. Lineker has a fight booked against Michael McDonald on July 13. I like Woodley's idea of Garbrandt staying ready for a phone call, in case a big bantamweight fight needs a replacement. If we get to July 14 and Garbrandt needs an opponent and Lineker defeats McDonald? That's the matchup I want to see.