Each week, ESPN.com writer Brett Okamoto provides his take on the hottest topics in the world of mixed martial arts.
This week, Okamoto squares off with UFC lightweight contender Michael Johnson to discuss all things MMA. Johnson (16-10), headlines Saturday's UFC Fight Night card in Hidalgo, Texas, against Dustin Poirier (20-4).
1. What is the final say on CM Punk's UFC debut: inspirational or a joke?
Johnson: I can't sit here and watch what CM Punk did and call it inspirational. Yes, he went in there and fought a UFC fight, but I think he should have tested himself somewhere else before going in and giving a performance like that. Mickey Gall didn't even really do much. He took Punk right down and controlled him, and I think CM Punk didn't know what to expect once he started getting punched. To get an opportunity like that [and] fight for the biggest promotion -- that's a blessing. People work their entire life to get to that point and never do, and he was just given it. To go out there and perform like that? That's not inspirational.
Okamoto: This topic has been beaten into the ground the last three days. To sum my thoughts up one more time: Punk won me over. Maybe I'm being gullible, but I believe his interest in this sport was (and still is) genuine. I think the UFC saw an opportunity to monetize his debut and offered him a deal anyone in his position would have accepted. You can't fault Punk for taking a golden opportunity. I also think he looked very bad in his debut -- so bad the UFC can't justify giving him a second shot. I hope months from now we hear about Punk fighting with some random independent promotion, unbeknownst to the rest of the world, taking a fight against a similarly skilled opponent. He always said he was doing this for himself and no one else. That'd be the way to prove it.
2. No UFC heavyweight champion has ever defended a title more than twice consecutively. Will Stipe Miocic become the first?
Johnson: Yes, I think Stipe will defend it more than twice. It's his attitude. The way he's approaching his last few fights and approaching the game, it just seems like he has no pressure on him. That's very dangerous for opponents, when a fighter comes in and doesn't have any worries, just a great camp. I think that's what is setting him aside from everyone else right now.
Okamoto: Man, history says no -- and how can you disagree with history? Miocic is the 17th heavyweight champion in UFC history. There have definitely been champs before him I thought were up to the task, and they all fell. Not to mention, 2016 has been the year of fallen champs. I agree 100 percent with what Johnson said about Miocic's demeanor. He's a very comfortable champion. He's got a lot of self-belief and his pulse never seems to go up, regardless of his surroundings. I want to say yes on this, but I can't get over the fact we've been here before and no one has been able to do it. My final answer is no.
3. Will Alistair Overeem ever make it to a UFC title fight again?
Johnson: I don't think he'll ever get back from that performance [his loss to Miocic on Saturday in UFC 203] and he doesn't deserve to, if you ask me. I don't know what you can even say about a performance like that. I think it was a huge letdown. To see a guy fight like that in a championship fight makes you wonder if he even deserved to be in that fight. We all saw him running around. That's not what people want to see. Alistair comes from a background as a great striker -- that's what people expected to see. They didn't expect to see him turn his back and run from Stipe. I don't know if that was his game plan, to try and lure Stipe into something -- we saw Overeem drop Stipe once -- but after that it didn't work, and I thought he fought really scared. I don't think he deserves another shot at all.
Okamoto: This is a tough one. I worry about Overeem's ability to take a shot. You saw it at UFC 203. He was in control of that fight against Miocic and then, in a matter of milliseconds, he wasn't. A lot of that had to with durability. Miocic got dropped by a clean left hand, but he recovered quickly. Overeem, on the other hand, took a couple combinations and never looked the same. It seemed that he needed the bell to save him as soon as he took his first shot. That doesn't bode well in the heavyweight division, but at the same time, there's no denying Overeem's skill. A bounce-back of two or three wins in a row is very feasible. I'll actually say yes here, but it's not a very confident answer.
Johnson: It's Cain Velasquez, in my opinion. Werdum suffered a knockout to Stipe [in May at UFC 198] and I don't think Werdum's performance against Travis Browne was good enough to make him the No. 1 contender. I think Stipe vs. Cain is a great matchup. I think Cain will press him Stipe and try to take him down, while throwing heavy hands. The way Stipe moves around, it seems he's really finding his niche -- his game -- right now. I would definitely go with Stipe in that matchup. I think his movement and punching ability would favor him.
Okamoto: I agree it's Velasquez. Werdum is ranked higher, so if he is jumped by Velasquez, Werdum will have a legitimate gripe. But even so, doesn't it still strangely feel like Velasquez is the man to beat in this division? Don't get me wrong, Miocic is the champ and the undisputed No. 1 heavyweight, but there's still that feeling of, "Well, if Cain could only stay healthy." He's healthy now and coming off a very Cain-like performance at UFC 200. The time to book that fight is now. If we know anything about Velasquez, it's that he might not be healthy for long. Book that fight while the opportunity exists.
5. What is the best sleeper fight at Saturday's UFC Fight Night card in Hidalgo, Texas?
Johnson: I'm gonna say featherweights Chas Skelly [15-2] and Maximo Blanco [12-7-1]. Chas has been down here at Blackzilians in Boca Raton, Florida, training with us. I've seen how dedicated he is. He's really tough, and I don't think many people are watching this card to see this fight. It's a sleeper.
Okamoto: You could probably call the main event a sleeper if you wanted, as this entire event is flying under the radar. I actually like Johnson's pick a lot. Skelly will likely look to use his wrestling against Blanco, who I think will be able to stuff plenty of those attempts and look to make Skelly pay for it. It looks like a potentially high-action fight. I'll also mention lightweights Islam Makhachev and Chris Wade. Makhachev is a 24-year-old prospect with a lot of promise, but he's coming off a very ugly loss in his last fight, plus a situation with the United States Anti-Doping Agency in which he was pulled from an event in April but later cleared of any wrongdoing. I've heard plenty of positive reviews about Makhachev's potential, and he has a legitimate test in front of him in Wade.