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 light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier to debate the latest news and trends. Cormier (17-1) has won two straight fights since he lost to Jon Jones in January 2015. Cormier and Jones will meet again in the main event of UFC 200 in Las Vegas on July 9.
1. For the first time, the UFC has waived a mandatory four-month drug testing window for a previously retired fighter (Brock Lesnar). Should we be cool with this?
Cormier: So there's two sides to this. One, the side [of somebody] that's fighting in the main event of that card is OK with Brock Lesnar getting that thing waived. Two, [as a] fighter, I feel like, to be 100 percent real, there should be testing for everyone. Now, there is a difference though: Brock has been fighting in the WWE, right? ... The WWE says -- and sometimes guys do get suspended for it -- [that] there is a wellness program in the WWE where those guys are tested for performance-enhancing drugs. So, if he's been getting tested in the WWE, obviously it's not as strict as the UFC's program, but he's been getting tested. So, I guess I can see both sides.
Okamoto: It's hard for me to get over this simple feeling: Why have a rule if it can be thrown out at the promotion's discretion? That's how this thing is written. Essentially: All returning fighters must fall into a four-month testing window before competing ... unless the UFC says they don't have to. What kind of rule is that?
At the same time, I remember the days before USADA well. As a journalist covering this sport, I spent a lot of time researching testing methods and procedures, talking to athletic commissions on how they intended to fund random tests (in most cases, they couldn't), arguing with UFC president Dana White about whether the commissions were doing enough, and routinely coming to the realization, "No one is being tested at all in this event." So, I very much commend the UFC for its partnership with USADA.
In this case, with a unique athlete who has a complex contract -- I still don't like that the UFC can waive a "required" four months of testing whenever it wants to, but I'm willing to live with it.
Cormier: Both of those fights are going to be tremendously successful. I think UFC 200 will undoubtedly be the most successful pay-per-view in UFC history. You have nine former or current UFC champions on the card. ... The first fight of the night might be either Diego Sanchez versus Joe Lauzon or Takanori Gomi versus Jim Miller. These are sick fights, and they're the ones who are opening the curtain.
TJ Dillashaw is on the card against Raphael Assuncao. Cat Zingano versus Julianna Peña, two fireballs. And then when the main card starts. Cain Velasquez, who has been in the main event of every fight card he's been on for the last six years, is fighting to open the night against Travis Browne. How sick is that? [And] the return of Brock Lesnar.
Conor McGregor is a massive star in the UFC, as is Nate Diaz, but I can't imagine people would say that Brock isn't the biggest star UFC has ever seen.
Okamoto: I imagine they'll be close. The addition of Lesnar to UFC 200 is huge. Without Lesnar, I'd say UFC 202 wins, hands down. But the trifecta of Lesnar, Jones/Cormier II and the "landmark" number of UFC 200 might be enough to outperform McGregor/Diaz -- which, by the way, plenty of people scoffed at when it was originally announced for UFC 200.
For all of its amazing fights (and it truly is an outstanding lineup), UFC 200 pre-Lesnar was lacking a mainstream "hook." It was going to be on casual sports fans' radars but it lacked that strong water cooler, conversational element to generate the mainstream buzz that results in a high pay-per-view number. Now it has that and feels complete.
McGregor versus Diaz will be an absolute blockbuster and might feel "bigger" than UFC 200 in plenty of ways, but if I had to guess on pay-per-view, UFC 200 will draw better.
Cormier: Man, that is a crazy fight. ... I like "Wonderboy" [Thompson]. I think he's great, but Rory MacDonald is at a different level. The only guy who can really compete with him is Robbie Lawler. Everybody else, he kind of takes them out. He takes them out with ease. Robbie is fighting Tyron Woodley, who is a good friend of mine, but you saw what happened when Woodley fought Rory. He seemed like he was out of his element.
Rory MacDonald, skill for skill, is as good as they come and you have to be able to put some damage on him like Robbie did in order to beat him -- and I'm not sure Stephen Thompson can do that.
Okamoto: I like MacDonald. It's a big, big spot for him. Final fight on his current UFC contract. He and the promotion tried to come to terms before this fight but couldn't reach a deal. MacDonald acknowledged that this fight could be the difference in "thousands, or even millions" of dollars over the course of his career -- it could be that significant in his upcoming negotiations.
That sounds like a lot of pressure and who knows, maybe it will affect him negatively -- but MacDonald is a calm, composed martial artist, especially for his age . He matches up with Thompson's size, which I think Johny Hendricks had trouble with in February. I think he has the technical ability to tame a lot of what makes Thompson great.
There is an unknown, in that this is the first fight we've seen MacDonald in since his five-round war with Lawler last year. No way of knowing how that affects him until he gets in there, but I'm picking MacDonald by either submission or decision.
Cormier: Dan is in a weird situation. How often do you get a guy who says, "This fight may be the last one" -- saying if the UFC gives him an office job, he'll pretty much take it -- and [is] being considered for a UFC title? So his two options are either fight for the title and possibly become a champion or be told, "You're too old to even be competing at all anymore." How crazy is that? That's pretty much the situation we're faced with when it comes to Dan Henderson.
The reality is, I would not be opposed to seeing Dan Henderson fight Michael Bisping for the title. Obviously I'm a homer for [AKA teammate] Luke Rockhold to get a rematch, but Bisping and Henderson have the history with "The Ultimate Fighter" and one of the greatest knockouts in UFC history. You know Bisping would get after Dan and sell the fight in terms of the rematch. Could you imagine Dan Henderson being the champ at age 45?
Okamoto: The reason I'd be OK with this is that Henderson earned a UFC title shot in 2012 and never got it. He was supposed to fight Jon Jones at UFC 151, injured his knee, Jones famously withdrew from the event entirely and the UFC ultimately pulled the plug on the entire thing. Henderson went on to fight Lyoto Machida and "lose" a ho-hum three-rounder. It was a strange fight, with Machida doing his usual elusive thing and just barely outpointing Henderson in a split decision. That's a tough pill to swallow.
Henderson was the Strikeforce champion when he rejoined the UFC roster. He won an amazing back-and-forth fight against Mauricio 'Shogun" Rua to earn his title shot ... and then lost it to what? A knee injury and a 15-minute point-contest with Machida? That didn't feel right. So, if history is now repaying him for that, that's well and good -- but, I mean, he doesn't deserve a title shot. Ronaldo Souza deserves a title shot.
I would have interest in Bisping versus Henderson II, but it's certainly not my first choice for a UFC championship fight.
5. A bill that would expand the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act to mixed martial arts has been introduced to Congress. Are you in favor of the passage of such a bill?
Cormier: I don't really know the specifics of the Ali Act. Obviously, if there is more money involved for the fighters, then I'm all for it. But I don't know the specifics, so I don't really know where I stand. ... But from what I've gathered it would mean more money for the fighters.
Right now, when you go to negotiate your contract, I guess it kind of depends on the environment. Right now you have the option of signing with Bellator MMA, so the process doesn't seem unfair. My last contract, I walked in and told them what I wanted, we shook hands and I left -- so I've had good experiences with the UFC in terms of negotiating. So, more money for the fighters, great. But like I said, I don't understand it enough to speak on the specifics of it.
Okamoto: Very few seem to know exactly what effect expanding the Ali Act to MMA would have -- and that in itself is reason for me to not completely jump behind it.
Not that I'm against it either, by any means. It would do several tremendous things -- the most important of which is calling for financial revenue disclosure from promoter to athlete. Currently, only certain UFC fighters (the ones who receive shares of pay-per-view revenue) have this right. It should apply to all of them. Even the athletes who compete on an undercard, it's not their names headlining but collectively they make up the product and brand the UFC sells to its television partners and consumers. Those athletes deserve to know the UFC's profits.
But based on my conversations, the Ali Act is somewhat flawed and weakly enforced even for boxing. I'm not a legal expert, but if the federal law is expanded to MMA, I think it will lead to multiple lawsuits where its effect and reach will have to be decided in court -- and athletes don't like to engage in lawsuits because they are consuming, both in time and money.
In a perfect world, MMA would receive its own bill, with specific language that would make it even stronger than the Ali Act has been for boxing.