<
>

Bendo, Wanderlei Silva, PPV, more

Each week, ESPN.com MMA writer Brett Okamoto, ESPN Insider senior editor Mike Huang and a special guest panelist tackle five questions that are buzzing in the world of mixed martial arts.

This week, perennial contender Diego Sanchez joins the panel.

1. Who is the most exciting fighter in the UFC?

Diego Sanchez: Without a doubt, I've got to say myself. I'm going on 21 fights in the UFC and there have been a lot of really good ones. If not myself, man, I'd have to go with little John Dodson. My homey. He entertains the heck out of me because he's just a little fireball. One of his fights that sticks out to me is when he knocked out TJ Dillashaw [in December 2011].
Brett Okamoto: Nearly impossible to pick just one fighter for this. I'm going to say Robbie Lawler at this particular moment. You could not pay me to miss a Lawler fight right now. Runners up on my "most exciting" list would include: Demetrious Johnson, Cub Swanson, Anthony Pettis, Matt Brown, Carlos Condit, Nick Diaz and Jon Jones.
Mike Huang: The trio of "new" champions -- Chris Weidman, Johny Hendricks and TJ Dillashaw -- all provided their own brand of fireworks. Part of that excitement is expected simply from having a new champion after all three replaced long-standing champions, and in Dillashaw's case, overcame historic odds. But to me, Jon Jones remains the UFC's lone must-watch fighter. His unique physical attributes, improvisational skills and often unorthodox moves make Jones' fights unpredictable and provide for edge-of-your-seat action.

2. Does Ben Henderson need to finish a fight before he gets another UFC title shot?

Sanchez: Yeah, I think Ben has to do something very impressive -- get a big knockout or something. Ben is in this weird place right now where there's just so many guys in the lightweight division, people haven't been happy with his fighting style and Anthony Pettis has defeated him twice. Really? A third time with Pettis? He's going to have to do something big. I think he needs a couple of finishes.
Okamoto: No. Technically, he doesn't need a finish to get back to that point. Would it make it happen a little quicker for him? Probably. But so long as Pettis is holding the belt, Henderson will need a handful more wins anyway, regardless of whether they are finishes or not. Fans are starting to associate "controversial decisions" with his name, which isn't ideal, but if he keeps winning, he'll eventually get a title shot.
Huang: No. Bendo has more than proved himself against the best lightweights in the world, successfully defending his title against Frankie Edgar, Gilbert Melendez and Nate Diaz as well as recording wins against Josh Thomson, Clay Guida and Jim Miller during his career. Doesn't he deserve one regardless? While finishes are exciting and offer a climactic end, fighters aren't exactly preoccupied with them. Getting the "W" is the priority. And because the UFC knows Bendo usually will provide an exciting fight somehow, it won't stop them from giving him another title shot, decisions or not.

3. Should the UFC cut Wanderlei Silva following his recent licensing issues?

Sanchez: I look at it like this: There are always two sides to a story. Who knows? Only Wanderlei and the [Nevada State Athletic Commission] know the truth. And I can see what Wanderlei is saying -- that he doesn't speak great English. Who knows what went down with that? If he was on something illegal, it's not hard for the commission to find him and test him right now. He's a legend of the sport. I hope they figure it out.
Okamoto: The whole situation will likely be discussed at the NSAC meeting June 17. At that point, when more details come out, this question will be easier to answer. It doesn't look good, though. NSAC shows up to take a random drug test, Silva flees the scene and then the country? Really, really not good. In that scenario, the commission is going to treat it the same way as a failed test (as it should). The UFC doesn't have to cut Silva for that level of offense, but they could.
Huang: I think Silva should retire. He's a legend of MMA, but hasn't been relevant for some time. Before he becomes a complete car wreck, he should hang up the gloves. He'd be better served as one of the growing number of retired fighters the UFC retains to promote the sport around the world. The Axe Murderer's fan base remains pretty solid. So many aging fighters -- pro athletes in general -- find it so difficult to understand that in the promotional arena, they can be great again.

4. How much control should Jon Jones, or any UFC champion, have when it comes to picking opponents?

Sanchez: Not being biased, but he's the champ. He's defended the belt. I think he's earned his spot. I don't care what anybody says, he legitimately won that fight against Alexander Gustafsson [at UFC 165 in September]. I'm siding with Jon Jones on this one. He's a tougher fight, anyway. I could see it if Jones hadn't defeated Gustafsson already. If he hadn't, I would be like, "Just do whatever the UFC wants." But he already has a win over Gustafsson [Jones has since agreed to fight Gustafsson, but admitted he felt Cormier is the tougher fight].
Okamoto: Very little. I'm all for fighters receiving more rights in their contractual statuses with promotions, but when it comes to defending a title, a champion should meet all comers. No questions asked. Jones has the right to voice his preference, but if the UFC says, "Jones, we hear you, but Gustafsson is our No. 1 contender," then Jones should fight Gustafsson. The belt belongs to Jones ... but technically it belongs to the UFC more. And he has what amounts to a mandatory challenger in Gustafsson.
Huang: Some, but not complete veto power. As champ, you have earned the right to steer your career and choose the fights that will best further your career. Not to say Jones was ducking Gustafsson, but just as a fail-safe against any champion who might be, the UFC should feel free to step in and "strongly encourage" a champion to take a fight. It is the UFC's league, of course.

5. Within the next 12 months, what is the biggest UFC fight that could be made in terms of PPV buys?

Sanchez: I would say Chris Weidman versus Jon Jones. Champion versus champion. People love the champion versus champion thing. People aren't giving Weidman enough credit. I think he should be right up there in the pound-for-pound list. This dude is legit. Another one that comes to mind is Anderson Silva versus Jon Jones. Who doesn't want to see that one? Another one is Silva versus Georges St-Pierre.
Okamoto: Not sure how realistic it is, but Anderson Silva versus St-Pierre would probably net the most buys. Kind of crazy. Neither has a belt and both are currently sidelined with injuries. Silva versus Nick Diaz would sell very well. If the UFC signs Gina Carano, obviously a fight between her and Ronda Rousey would be a home run. As of today though, I'm sticking with Silva versus GSP as the top seller.
Huang: In the aftermath of Anderson Silva's broken leg and St-Pierre's sabbatical, you could see how each individual fighter's popularity ebbed to an eventual career nadir, likewise any idea of a superfight between them. Indeed, what would be so super about a fight between them? However, while they're out, let's say news trickles out of Silva's and/or GSP's possible returns. Don't you think the buzz around an eventual superfight might be significant? Think of the momentum that could be built around this fight as both legends return to the Octagon. Maybe they take a warm-up fight first, but I think the drama would quickly build around that matchup again. Let the cash registers sing.