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Five Rounds: Lawler talks Holm, McGregor, more

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 welterweight champion Robbie Lawler to debate the latest news and trends. Lawler, 33, defended his title by split decision against Carlos Condit at UFC 195 in an early candidate for fight of the year.

1. How big of a risk is Holly Holm taking by fighting another opponent (Miesha Tate on March 5) before entering a rematch against Ronda Rousey?

Lawler: Holly Holm is a heck of an athlete and a heck of a fighter. She comes from one of the best camps in the world. It's a risk, but how big is it? I wouldn't call it that much of a risk. She's highly trained. Her camp [Jackson-Wink MMA] is very strategic. I don't think that camp really takes risks. That's their champion. They're going to do what they think is best for her. She's really good. She won the UFC championship for a reason. They believe in her and that's all that matters.

Okamoto: Call me crazy, but I see very, very little risk here. The perceived risk, of course, is that Holm would lose and the rematch would be less attractive. But let's say Holm were to lose the championship to Tate; would that loss ruin a future rematch against Rousey? You're crazy if you think it does. Regardless of what happens between now and whenever Rousey decides to step back into the Octagon, when that moment happens, it will be enormous. The world wants to know if Rousey can rise back up and beat the woman who defeated her on Nov. 14 in Australia. In that respect, any kind of potential Holm loss would be irrelevant.


2. With Nick Diaz suddenly eligible to fight again by Aug. 1, who would you like to see him face in 2016?

Lawler: That's a good question, but that's a [UFC matchmaker] Joe Silva or [UFC president] Dana White question. There's a lot of good guys at welterweight. I don't know. Maybe he goes up against someone in the top five and then works his way down. I've been doing this for so long that it's a business thing to me. The UFC is going to decide what it wants to do. I don't really pick my opponents. Really, anybody is a good fight with Nick. Nick forces a fight every time. He can stand with anybody. He's long and rangy and he's in your face. If it goes to the ground, he's good at submissions. So, he's dangerous everywhere.

Okamoto: Well ... on one hand, suggesting Nick Diaz should be in any kind of UFC title fight would kind of make a mockery of the division. At the same time, a big part of me yearns for Lawler-Diaz II -- a rematch more than 11 years in the making (Diaz knocked out Lawler in 2004). That remains the only knockout loss of Lawler's career. That's incredible when you think about it. I can't bring myself to settle on that answer though, because Diaz is winless in his past three fights. My answer is Matt Brown.


3. TJ Dillashaw defends his UFC bantamweight title against former champion Dominick Cruz on Sunday. Whose style do you think is more difficult to prepare for?

Lawler: They're very similar in the way they fight and the way they move around. I haven't really dissected them closely, but they move a lot. I would say Dominick Cruz because I feel like he does a better job of mixing in his takedowns with his movement. Not that TJ doesn't get takedowns, but I feel like there's a better flow with the way he does.

Okamoto: Cruz. Fighting Cruz reminds me of when you sit down to play a Mortal Kombat kind of game -- it's your first time playing, but your friend who owns it knows every move and just toys with you for the first couple of matches. Like, your character is randomly crouching or jumping harmlessly in the air and he's getting hit by fireballs or transporting kicks or whatever is in those games these days. Cruz has all the moves and his opponents seem like they're trying to figure the game out, get their bearings, throw a punch that doesn't miss by two feet. Dillashaw is scarier in terms of power and finishing ability, but trying to plan for Cruz? Where do you start?


4. Cruz, 30, has recorded just 61 seconds of Octagon time during the past four years. What's the biggest challenge for him entering a five-round fight after such a long layoff?

Lawler: I don't think there's going to be a challenge for him. He has been around the sport a long time and he has fought in championship fights. I think he's one of those guys who crosses his T's and dots his I's. He's ready to go, otherwise he wouldn't be stepping in there. I think he's going to be really good. He has grown up. He's not a kid anymore. He's a grown man. I think you'll see huge growth in him. Just seeing what he did to [Takeya Mizugaki at UFC 178 in September 2014] after a long layoff, I think he'll build off that.

Okamoto: I'm not a professional fighter so I'll defer to Lawler on this one. My outsider opinion on this would usually be confidence. Timing is another one, but in some ways timing can be an extension of confidence. You walk into the cage for just the second time in four years -- for a title fight no less -- I imagine it might be hard, especially early, to really believe in everything you're doing. That's not to mention the confidence factor in your own body, one that's consistently let you down in the form of injuries in the past four years. But Cruz is so naturally confident, I just don't see this being a problem for him.


5. Conor McGregor is not just talking about winning a lightweight belt against Rafael dos Anjos, but his coach is also talking about interest in the welterweight belt. Will the UFC ever have a three-division champion?

Lawler: I mean yeah, it's possible. The sport is still young. Who knows? Maybe they'll add new weight classes. When I first started, who would have thought there would be this many weight classes? This sport is constantly evolving, the athletes are evolving and the weight classes are evolving. There's always going to be some phenom fighter coming up. If they're special athletes and highly trained, they'll do big things. It's not ridiculous for McGregor to say that. Look at what he has done. Who am I to say anybody can't do what they want to do and create their own destiny if they believe in something?

Okamoto: Eventually this has to happen, right? It's probably more likely in the smaller weight classes. I don't see one individual claiming the middleweight, light heavyweight and heavyweight belts. That would be quite a feat, a potential span of 85 pounds. I think it's a tad ridiculous to start talking about McGregor winning at welterweight, but that's why we love the guy. He (and his camp) puts these things out there and believes in them. I wouldn't completely put it past McGregor, but let's focus on Rafael dos Anjos first. I have a feeling that title fight is going to last longer than McGregor's most recent.