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, top-10 lightweight Eddie Alvarez joins the panel to provide his thoughts on UFC Fight Night 39, contracts and more.
1. Who has the most to lose Saturday: Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira or Roy Nelson?
Brett Okamoto: This is an awkward fight in terms of defining what's at stake. I would have to say Nelson has more to lose. Nogueira has reached a point in his career where if he loses to Nelson, so what? His status as a legend is completely intact. As long as he doesn't get seriously injured again, we probably all shrug it off and just say, 'OK.' If Nelson loses, it would be three in a row. It feels as if there's a higher expectation on Nelson to win his share of fights. He needs it more than Nogueira does at this moment.
Mike Huang: Nogueira is basically at gatekeeper status these days. Win or lose, he's not really going anywhere. It has been a long while since Nogueira has fought a bout that meant anything. Nelson, with two straight losses, needs a win desperately. I think Nelson has been a double-edged sword for the UFC because he is a fan favorite and will take a beating and put on an entertaining fight. But his physique is laughable and seems to irk Dana White and the UFC's image of finely tuned athletes. A loss and perhaps he might be on his way out.
Eddie Alvarez: I would say Roy Nelson. Nogueira, to me, already has stamped his foot in the world of MMA. He's done everything there is to do. For him, I think he's still fighting for the enjoyment of fighting. Nelson compared to Nogueira, I think he still has more to do and more to prove.
2. Did Ben Askren make the right move by signing with One FC?
Okamoto: Ben Askren has said publicly the deal could net him approximately $1 million over the next two years. He has an opportunity to introduce his "brand" to an entire new marketplace in Asia. Looking at the current One FC roster, the chance of him finishing his two-year contract still undefeated seems high -- at which point, he would have leverage to negotiate with any promotion he wants -- or stay with One FC. Sounds good to me.
Huang: Askren has always marched to the beat of his own drum. I wouldn't be surprised if that decision was made partially because the UFC doesn't want him (his grappling style too boring?) and that he's exercising a little bit of that anti-establishment attitude he's got. He's a smart, opinionated dude, so don't be surprised if this is part of a larger plan for himself.
Alvarez: Who gives a s---? Next question. That guy said some really stupid s--- about me and my court battle [with Bellator over a contract dispute]. He was very opinionated about how I should have dealt with my situation. Who gives a s--- is my answer to that.
3. What is Jake Shields' best option moving forward?
Okamoto: Wherever he'll get paid most. He's still immensely talented, but it's probably fair to say his value is declining and so, eventually, will his skills. He's not a prospect who needs to care about his exposure level. We know who Shields is by now. At this point Shields is about the paycheck. One FC or World Series of Fighting seem most likely to me.
Huang: Well, as we said in the Hot Button, Shields has had a tough time of it in the UFC, and the progress in his stand-up game has been slow ... at best. I don't discount the possibility of him showing up in the World Series of Fighting or Bellator. He is 35, so there isn't a whole lot of time for him to wait on another shot at some sort of title.
Alvarez: Jake could go anywhere and compete. WSOF or Bellator, either one of the two companies would be a good fit for him. Jake is a competitor and he's already proven he can go against the top guys in the world and do well. I hate to see guys who I know are talented get on a losing streak and get caught in things like that, but it sucks -- that's the nature of this sport. Hopefully he gets to WSOF or Bellator, proves himself, and gets back into the UFC -- if that's what he wants.
4. Is Tatsuya Kawajiri the most talented Japanese fighter currently in the UFC and how far up the featherweight ladder will he rise?
Okamoto: It would be a three-man race between Kawajiri, Hatsu Hioki and Takeya Mizugaki. Even though he's been a disappointment in the UFC thus far, I would still say Hioki is the most talented. I don't see Kawajiri rising very far. He could very easily lose to Clay Guida in Abu Dhabi. If he doesn't, he'll have to deal with so much speed once he gets to the upper ranks of the division. It's fun having him in the Octagon, but I don't think he cracks the Top 10.
Huang: Kawajiri is, but that's not saying much. Frankly, Japanese fighters have not fared well in the UFC despite all of their hype coming over. One after the other -- Takanori Gomi, Yoshihiro Akiyama, Yushin Okami -- they have disappointed. In the featherweight division, I can't see Kawajiri even breaking the featherweight Top 10.
Alvarez: I think Kawajiri is going to do really well. He fought me in a bad fight [in 2008]. I felt when we were fighting he was definitely the more talented fighter at the time; I was just able to overwhelm him with conditioning and some attributes that I had. Talent-wise and skill-wise, Kawajiri is the real deal. He's not just the best Japanese fighter on the roster. If I had to predict, he's one of the best 145ers on the roster. I think he's going to be stronger than a lot of guys at that weight class; he has a hard overhand right and on top of that he's supremely confident in what he's doing. He's paid his dues and it's nice to see a guy like that doing well.
5. Does Nate Diaz have a leg to stand on when it comes to opting out of his contract?
Okamoto: Unfortunately, no. Is it fair he's being paid a fraction of what lightweight teammate Gilbert Melendez is? No. But he signed a contract, an eight-fight contract, in what is, likely, his athletic prime. He had representation with him when he did it. Maybe not the best representation, but one chosen by him. Saying the UFC "conned" him into signing the deal won't hold up in any legal attempt to absolve him from it. Absent the power of a union or the ability to tie up a UFC belt, Diaz is stuck with his deal.
Huang: No. I know it's relatively commonplace in sports such as football, baseball and basketball for players to hold out or request a renegotiation of their contracts. But fighters have so little leverage. That is, unless a huge name such as Jon Jones says he wants a new deal. But for Diaz, whose brother Nick has waffled back and forth about retiring and what not and gotten little response or concern from the UFC, Nate probably will only sit and pout.
Alvarez: That's a contractual issue. I'm a fighter and I know what it's like to be on that end -- to sort of not be happy with what's going on. I hope things get better for him. This is a tough business man, we all want to get paid. It's hard to say what it's worth to go out there and fight. If it was up to us, none of us get paid enough. Fighting is fighting. It's a tough thing to get through. I hope it gets cleared up with him, not for any other reason than it's a fighter trying to get the money he feels he deserves. After I went through all my stuff with Bellator, I'm very open-minded and I'm not throwing my opinion on any contractual issue that I know nothing about.