Each week, ESPN.com MMA writer Brett Okamoto, ESPN Insider senior editor Mike Huang and a special guest panelist tackle five topics that are buzzing in the world of mixed martial arts.
This week, featherweight contender Cub Swanson joins the panel.
1. Who is the most technically sound fighter in the UFC?
Cub Swanson: I would have to say Anderson Silva. I think his timing, distance, the way he is able to pick people apart and dictate the range of a fight. The funny thing is, his two losses to Chris Weidman, he didn't do that. Especially the second fight. He threw strikes in anger and didn't set them up, which is kind of a rookie mistake. You don't throw a kick without setting it up, because it can get checked really hard. But for a long time, he made it look easy -- and this sport isn't easy.
Brett Okamoto: Flyweight champ Demetrious Johnson. He has to be. Technique is the name of the game in the lighter weight classes and Johnson is the best. While it's true that a mistake can potentially cost a fighter more in a heavier weight class (because the strikes are heavier), flyweight fights come down to minute differences in balance, rhythm, speed and timing -- and Johnson dominates those chess matches.
Mike Huang: I'd make it a tie between Johnson and Rory MacDonald. If you had to scout their abilities in multiple disciplines, they'd grade out at least above average to plus in every one. But what makes that so effective is how flawlessly they weave the boxing, wrestling, jiu-jitsu, Muay Thai, etc., all together. In their most recent fights, both Johnson and MacDonald were literally one step ahead of their opponents. There was no hesitation going from a wicked scramble straight to firing a solid combo for Johnson. With MacDonald, his striking was so accurate, and his takedown defense completely negated Tyron Woodley's brutal, attacking style..
2. Is welterweight Rory MacDonald ready for a title shot?
Swanson: I definitely think MacDonald is ready for a title shot. I think that little stretch of bad performances he had kind of changed him. I think fighters need that. For some reason, being around Georges St-Pierre and that [Tristar] camp -- they seem to do things like play it safe and just do whatever it takes to win. I think Rory lost sight of the fact he could put pressure on and dominate people. Pick them apart, but also keep pressure and break them mentally. I think he has gotten back to that.
Okamoto: Yes, he's ready to fight for a UFC title. That doesn't mean he has reached the peak of his career, though. In terms of development, MacDonald will get much better than he is right now. But he has been so successful at a young age, the UFC has to give him a shot soon. He has earned it. One great thing about MacDonald is that he seems to have learned a lot from each of his two losses, which has matured him beyond his 24 years of age.
Huang: I believe so, although I'd like to see him take on the loser of Robbie Lawler-Matt Brown first, which is likely because the winner of that fight gets a shot at champion Johny Hendricks. Another quality win against either Lawler or Brown would cement a title shot for MacDonald.
3. UFC president Dana White thinks Tyron Woodley chokes in big fights. Do you agree?
Swanson: No. I hate when people say that about certain fighters. To me, every style has a bad matchup and it's very hard to go out and be at our best every single time. It's almost impossible. We don't get to fight every other day. We get one fight a couple times a year and we're expected to look our best. There are so many variables, especially when we are facing a completely different opponent every time. Losses are bound to happen unless you're just that much better than everybody.
Okamoto: A little. On one hand, Woodley has shown up big in big fights. He starched Jay Hieron in his UFC debut. He manhandled Josh Koscheck and Carlos Condit -- two very big big-name opponents. I think what White is referring to, however, is that in the two losses Woodley does have in the Octagon (to MacDonald and Jake Shields), he has looked truly awful and gun-shy. Almost sort of a mental checkout, like he didn't want to be there. Champions don't make a habit of those performances.
Huang: I wouldn't say it's nerves that get the best of Woodley. Rather it's his limited skill set. Like Phil Davis, when he runs out of tricks in his bag, he gets predictable and frustrated, telegraphing his punches. I think that can happen to Ryan Bader sometimes, too. And I love Bader, Davis and Woodley because they're all wrestlers. But that's the problem -- they're wrestlers and the gap between their striking (which continues to improve) and grappling is considerable. So when Woodley finds MacDonald stuffing his shots and has him pinned on the perimeter of the Octagon on his heels, he has nothing to go to.
4. Who is the best UFC fighter to never fight for a title?
Swanson: I'll say [Donald] "Cowboy" Cerrone. I think for him, fighting has always been kind of fun. He's the kind of person who can't take it too seriously. The times he did take it too seriously -- [when he] put that pressure on himself to the point it wasn't fun anymore -- is when he had bad performances.
Okamoto: There are different ways you could go about answering this question, but the first name that comes to my mind is Michael Bisping. You think about how long the guy has been in the UFC (eight years), all the big fights he has been in, his ability to stay in headlines -- it really, really feels like Bisping should have fought for a title by now. Not so, however, and it's starting to really look like he never will.
Huang: I've always thought that Martin Kampmann danced on the cusp of top contendership for so long, he should've gotten a shot. He almost did a couple times, but odd circumstances just kept happening that dropped him in the rankings after he would methodically climb back up.
5. What is an appropriate punishment for Wanderlei Silva skipping a drug test?
Swanson: I think nothing less than [what he would have received] for a failed test. Running is the worst thing you could do, probably. It just shows a lack of respect for the system. Running from a test makes the sport look bad.
Okamoto: Nine-month suspension, which is standard for a first offense of this nature in Nevada. I say "this nature," meaning a failed test. If the commission wanted to suspend Silva further (a year?) because he ran out on the test, cool. I'm fine with that. You don't run from a random drug test and then come back more than a month later claiming "I have nothing to hide." That's because you already hid what there was to hide by not taking the test. That's sort of worse than had you just failed it.
Huang: Boy, isn't raw humiliation enough? Seriously, not sure how relevant he is anymore, although he's still a draw. If he didn't fight again, would we notice? Between him and Chael Sonnen, we really should be done with PED side shows. Just makes the UFC look bad. Perhaps he should be suspended from fighting for a year. But that would actually be like a life sentence anyway because of his age and decline as fighter. By the time he comes back -- if he comes back -- there might not be much, if anything, left in the tank. Is it worth suspending him? Just be done, Wandy, just be done.