Each week, ESPN.com MMA writer Brett Okamoto, ESPN Insider senior editor Mike Huang and a special guest panelist will tackle five questions that are buzzing in the world of mixed martial arts.
This week, UFC lightweight contender Erik Koch joins the panel to provide his thoughts on the ongoing PED issue and more.
1. Should fighters be administered the more stringent blood tests to curb PED use?
Erik Koch: I think it's getting to the point that something has to be done. Everybody is gonna look for a small edge somewhere; everybody is a top athlete now, everybody is well-rounded. So what's the next logical step for some guys? PEDs. I think we should be taking [PED] testing more seriously. As a guy who's never taken anything in his life, I welcome it.
Brett Okamoto: The sport needs more random drug testing -- urine and blood. The NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL all randomly test athletes. It wouldn't be cheap to do so regularly and the costs would likely fall on promoters, but it would further legitimize the sport. Fighters should be under the impression they can be tested at any time, possibly blood tested.
Mike Huang: Absolutely. However, I'm not naïve to think that fighters will stop trying to find that edge. But with the present climate regarding PEDs in the NFL, MLB and NBA emphasizing harsh penalties, MMA must do the same. The sport still struggles somewhat with its image as a brutal sport. It doesn't need to be seen as a dirty sport, too. It has taken a decade for baseball to wash itself of that grime. MMA cannot afford that.
2. How would Bellator middleweight champion Alexander Shlemenko fare in the UFC?
Koch: I think he'd fare well and eventually challenge for a title. The UFC's got the best in the world, but there are a lot of good fighters in Bellator. The sport is so big, there are good fighters in every league. Right now, though, the top of 185 is pretty deep in the UFC, so probably not right away. But he could handle his own.
Okamoto: Not great. Bellator's middleweight division is not remarkably deep. Hector Lombard dominated the weight class from 2009 to 2012, including a win over Shlemenko, but sank quickly once he transferred to the UFC. Shlemenko is around a top-15 middleweight to me. He'd win some fights in the Octagon, but wouldn't compete for a title.
Huang: He potentially could move very quickly within a division that's pocked with a lot of questions, from Vitor Belfort's status in the wake of the TRT ban, to Michael Bisping and Anderson Silva recovering from injuries. Though Lyoto Machida is a clear contender, Luke Rockhold and Mark Munoz have been inconsistent. Shlemenko could put together a solid run on the basis of mediocre competition rather than his own merits.
3. Who has the best chin in MMA?
Koch: After watching his fight with Shogun [Rua], I'd have to say Dan Henderson. The right-left combo Rua landed would have knocked most people out cold, but Henderson was still there. I was at his Strikeforce fight against Fedor [Emelianenko]. He was taking bombs, then comes back with a stiff right and that's it. He's been tested and proven it for years. Dan is just special; he just keeps on going.
Okamoto: Roy Nelson. I wouldn't mind seeing him develop more striking defense so he didn't get as much, but it really doesn't seem to bother him. Junior dos Santos leveled him for 15 minutes and Nelson never went down. Stipe Miocic hit him 106 times at UFC 161 and he survived. Other names that come to mind: Diego Sanchez, Rick Story, Alexander Gustafsson, Carlos Condit and (sleeper pick) Junior dos Santos.
Huang: To me, Frankie Edgar endured wars against Gray Maynard and Benson Henderson and still has never been knocked out. His cardio is so good, he seems immune to knockouts. Even when he's reeling, out on his feet, he still can shoot or scramble enough to gather himself as he did in UFC 144, when Henderson rocked him early and he still managed to go the distance.
4. Between injuries and lack of star quality, does the UFC need to scale back on its events?
Koch: It all depends. The UFC is putting on a lot of events, but they also have a lot of fighters. Maybe eventually it will get to a point they don't have to add anymore, but as a fighter, I like it. I want to fight more often. So if it means more events, I'm all for it.
Okamoto: No. The promotion has spread itself thinner than some might like, but global expansion calls for more events. Promoting more cards also creates more roster spots, which (ideally) leads to deeper weight classes. The undercards of some of these events might suffer a bit as a result, but in reality, most UFC main cards can be counted on to produce. Rarely are there complete duds.
Huang: Not at all. The United States is not the be-all, end-all for marketing the sport. Even if the UFC is experiencing a flat period in the United States, the UFC's expansion around the world could potentially be even more lucrative, a la soccer. To American UFC fans it might seem like a bit of dilution, but there's a larger crusade here. It's a cliché, but fighting is universal. In any language, people know when two guys are going to scrap, and they love it.
5. Down, but not out: On the heels of Dan Henderson's stunning comeback from the brink of defeat, who is most likely to deliver a must-needed finish in the waning moments of a fight?
Koch: Honestly, I think either Johny Hendricks or Robbie Lawler. Their fight was classic. I mean, I'm a striker and that fight was unreal to watch. Both were taking punches from each other that would've put most people out. I think either one of them, if they got knocked down they still have that knockout power to land one and come back to win a fight.
Okamoto: This won't be a popular answer but here goes nothing -- Anderson Silva. He lost twice, legitimately, to Chris Weidman and I doubt he fights in 2014, but when it comes to finishing a fight, something in me says Silva isn't done yet. He no longer can be considered the best fighter in the world, but if my chips are down and I need a finish in the final round, I kind of still want my bet on Silva once he's healthy. Runners-up: Dan Henderson, Mark Hunt, Matt Brown.
Huang: That guy has to either slap on a quick submission move -- and actually hold it in late rounds -- or have one-punch knockout power. Travis Browne survived that onslaught from Alistair Overeem at UFC Fight Night 26 and came back to win by knockout. If tested again, I think Browne has got the requisite power, chin and cardio to survive and surprise his opponent. We'll see in three weeks at UFC on Fox 11 when he takes on Fabricio Werdum.