- Brett Okamoto, ESPN Staff Writer
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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 announcer and former ESPN MMA Live host Jon Anik to debate the latest news and trends.
Anik: I would have to say Frank Mir. Obviously, when you look back at where Andrei Arlovski was in 2011, you'd never think he would be in heavyweight contention again -- but Frank Mir, with that four-fight losing streak, he was staring retirement in the face. At the beginning of the year, if you would have told me that Frank Mir would have found his way into a title eliminator-type fight, I would have laughed you off the phone. I would have thought there was just no way, based on his form during that losing streak. I think he's had a couple favorable matchups, but there's definitely been a resurgence there. I think aligning himself with (boxing coach) Angelo Reyes, getting back to focusing on his hands, and coming through twice as an underdog this year, it really has impressed the hell out of me.
Okamoto: Definitely Mir. And it's for the reason Anik mentioned: He just didn't look right during that four-fight losing streak. Losing four fights in a row isn't good, but losing four fights in the manner in which Mir did -- I mean, he looked absolutely cooked. Yes, he was fighting elite competition, but he didn't look healthy in those four fights, or motivated. After his decision loss to Alistair Overeem at UFC 169 early last year, had you asked for my honest opinion on whether or not Mir should retire, I would have said, '100 percent.' He had reached that point in which it was difficult to see anything good coming out of him fighting again. Ultimately, Mir took a year off after that fight and that proved to be the right call. He doesn't necessarily look like a world champion again, but he looks re-energized and is definitely my front runner for comeback fighter of the year.
Anik: It's hard not to answer Ronda Rousey, but I'm not sure that is any great aspiration of hers -- whereas leading up to UFC 191, it's all what Demetrious Johnson is talking about. I've made the argument there is a parallel to be drawn between Rousey and Johnson when it comes to the gap widening between a champion and No. 1 contender. One thing Rousey spoke on before her last fight was these women are trying to close the gap on her and in reality, it's getting wider. I feel like with Demetrious Johnson, guys like John Dodson and Henry Cejudo, that gap is only getting wider because Johnson is improving. People don't realize Johnson has only been training full time for about five years. When he was in the WEC, he was working at a warehouse still. So, I think Demetrious Johnson has the best chance to break Anderson Silva's record. I think he's the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter and he's going to prove that by getting Dodson out of there inside 15 minutes this weekend.
Okamoto: While I completely understand Anik's argument here, my answer is still Rousey. We can try to predict how long fighters' careers will last, but to me, that's a difficult thing to do. Maybe Rousey only fights four more times before she decides to retire and doesn't break Silva's record. It's possible. The way to answer this question though, in my opinion, is to tune out retirement talk. Who has the best chance of getting to 11 consecutive title defenses? That's Rousey all day. Since entering the UFC, she's never been less than a 7-1 betting favorite, and she's lived up to those expectations. I can't see Rousey losing to anyone in her division right now. Could I see Aldo losing? Yes. Could I see Johnson losing? It's not likely, but yes, I absolutely could.
3. What is the most intriguing non-title fight currently booked in the UFC?
Anik: I might not be totally objective because I get to call this fight, but Frankie Edgar vs. Chad Mendes (TUF Finale, Dec. 11) is about as good of a main event as we've ever had on FS1. I think it's interesting because Frankie Edgar seemed to be campaigning for a fight against Max Holloway or Jeremy Stephens after those guys called him out and now, this is a much riskier fight for him. This, to me, feels like a championship fight, and it certainly speaks to the depth of the top 5 in that 145-pound division. I think Edgar has aspirations to be a three-division champion, not just two. I think that's why he's not moving down to 135 pounds and trying to get an immediate title shot there, because he feels that would be a cop-out. He wants to win a featherweight title before he entertains the thought of bantamweight. I thought there would be a reluctance from both sides to make this fight and the fact the UFC got them to sign on the dotted line, I'm super excited for Dec. 11.
Okamoto: It is absolutely 1,000 percent Edgar vs. Mendes. I felt like these two should have met up well before now. If they had, I don't think we would have run into the Edgar vs. Mendes debate at UFC 189, after Jose Aldo fell off the card and Conor McGregor needed an opponent. I'm actually surprised the UFC booked this now, given the fact Mendes has now lost to both Aldo and McGregor. Stylistically though, this is an insanely good fight. There are plenty of candidates out there in addition to this one. To name a few obvious ones: Johny Hendricks vs. Tyron Woodley, Ronaldo Souza vs. Yoel Romero, Junior dos Santos vs. Alistair Overeem. My pick for runner-up in this category is Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Tony Ferguson though. And guess what? That happens to be the co-main at the TUF Finale in December, which means it will share the night with Edgar vs. Mendes.
4. What has been the greatest moment in Demetrious Johnson's career thus far?
Anik: He's told me that his most complete performance was the second fight against Joseph Benavidez. Essentially, that was a pick 'em fight according to Las Vegas and he went out and starched Joseph in less than two minutes. He had Benavidez, another elite, elite fighter, twitching on the canvas. I thought with the Fox showcase that night, that was the biggest moment of his career. I think other people would point to the Dodson fight because of the back-and-forth nature of it, he got knocked down three times and rallied back for the win -- but to me, when I think about Johnson and this title run, I think about standing over a concussed Joseph Benavidez.
Okamoto: Yeah, it's hard to argue against that knockout over Benavidez. It's easy to forget this now, but back in the day, before Johnson won the inaugural title, it was widely assumed the 125-pound division would belong to Benavidez whenever the UFC created it. To see Johnson beat Benavidez for a second time, in that kind of fashion, after all of us had settled into our seats for a 25-minute fight, was shocking to say the least. And it happened in Benavidez' hometown of Sacramento! For sure, that's the top moment of Johnson's career.
5. With Johnson-Dodson II set to headline UFC 191, what is the No. 1 rematch you'd like to see booked?
Anik: What a great question. One fight that comes to mind is Carlos Condit vs. Tyron Woodley, because it did end with Condit's injury. I could very easily see that fight being the next welterweight championship after we see Condit fight Robbie Lawler. I do believe Tyron Woodley is going to fight for the UFC title at some point. I know he's an underdog to Johny Hendricks but I like him in that spot. That's what comes to mind. I'd also like to see Conor McGregor vs. Chad Mendes again. I would still favor Conor in a rematch, but I would like to see Mendes with the strength of a full training camp. There's no worse feeling in MMA, I've been told, than when your cardio abandons you on fight night. I think that would be an interesting rematch.
Okamoto: I dig Anik's picks, although I have to say, I don't find myself clamoring for a Condit-Woodley rematch. Not because I don't think it wouldn't be a great fight, but I wasn't left all that unsatisfied by the way it ended. Of course you hate to see a fight end that way, but I treated it as a legitimate win for Woodley. Anyway, the first rematch that comes to my mind (and I feel somewhat ashamed by this) is Georges St-Pierre vs. Johny Hendricks. The reason I feel ashamed is that a very big part of me doesn't want to see St-Pierre return to the Octagon. But I have to admit, given the circumstances surrounding that title fight, the controversial scorecards, that's No. 1 for me. Actually wait, what am I saying? Scratch that. My No. 1 choice is Robbie Lawler vs. Nick Diaz.