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 bantamweight Cody Garbrandt to debate the latest news and trends. Garbrandt (8-0), who is 3-0 since making his UFC debut in January 2015, returns on May 29 in the main event of a UFC Fight Night card against Thomas Almeida.
1. With New York legalizing professional MMA for the first time since 1997, what would be the dream headliner for UFC's first card in Manhattan?
Cody Garbrandt: Definitely something with Chris Weidman [former middleweight champion from Long Island]. I don't know who he'd fight, though. It's too bad he and Luke Rockhold are already fighting at UFC 199, I would have said that. But you need a New York face. Maybe bring Phil Baroni back, the "New York Bad Ass," you know? That'd be funny. But Weidman is the guy who sticks out as a New York guy, proud to be from there. [He's a] family guy, and he has been pushing for it to be legalized there. Him against anyone. Whoever they put in the main event, it's going to be a sellout since it's the first one at Madison Square Garden. Weidman deserves to headline that.
Brett Okamoto: Had this news come out a little sooner, I think Jon Jones' return from everything that happened in 2015 would have been the fight. Jones lives in New Mexico now, but he's a native New Yorker and he also played an early role in the UFC's efforts to get the sport legalized in New York. Weidman really took over the reigns in the later years, but if you go back to 2011, when the UFC sued the New York officials, Jones was a lead plaintiff. Instead, Jones' comeback fight will take place in Las Vegas in April. He's still a great candidate to headline the first MSG card, as is Weidman, but maybe I have a thing for comebacks. Ronda Rousey's first appearance since the Holly Holm loss? MSG, November 2016? That's the headliner, if you ask me.
Garbrandt: I don't think so. I believe Nate Diaz should be fighting [UFC lightweight champion] Rafael dos Anjos for the title. I don't believe in that rematch. I could see if it was a close fight, Conor went in there and got beat by decision or whatever -- but like Nate said, he didn't get a lot of rematches against guys he felt he beat. Conor got stopped in the second round and Nate was coming off partying, not training for a fight. I think Conor should go back to 145 and defend his crown instead of making Frankie Edgar and those other guys who deserve title shots wait. I don't believe what Conor says about that fight. These bigger guys can take more punches. Of course, I hit everyone like they're heavyweight. I don't ever change the way I hit someone, so I don't know what he's talking about. Nate Diaz can take a beating, he always comes to fight. I think it's going to be the same thing, honestly. I think [Diaz] won't get hit as much. He'll be in shape and his timing will be on.
Okamoto: I mean, on one hand, sure -- if it's the fight McGregor gets up for most (and the fight Diaz gets paid for most), who am I to say either one of those is a bad thing? I really think it should take place at 155 pounds rather than 170, but that's my main beef with it. Personally, the No. 1 fight I'd want to see McGregor in right now is against Frankie Edgar, but I'm not outraged if he wants the Diaz rematch first. The reality is, McGregor has reached a level where he's bigger than the UFC title around his waist. When you're that kind of draw, you get to have a say in who you fight.
3. If McGregor does face Diaz in a rematch, should he be forced to vacate his UFC featherweight title?
Garbrandt: I don't think so. Conor knocked out Jose Aldo. I know you've got Frankie Edgar up there, Max Holloway is in the mix, but I don't think you should even do an interim title. I think what makes sense is Aldo has been a reigning champion forever and, yeah, he got knocked out, but I'd give him his rematch and go from there. Jose Aldo vs. Conor McGregor for the title. If Conor is getting a rematch for a fight he lost, why shouldn't Aldo -- one of the greatest featherweight fighters in UFC and WEC history? He got knocked out in 13 seconds, who knows how good that fight is if that doesn't happen? I don't agree with Conor getting a rematch against Nate, but if that's what the UFC wants to do, I'd say Aldo should hang out. For his legacy, he has to go in there and fight McGregor again. He had that whole long legacy of beating people and then went out there and got iced in 13 seconds. That will haunt you forever, honestly. It would me. Sit and wait for that McGregor rematch.
Okamoto: No. I understand he's looking at back-to-back fights outside the division, but it's been three months since the guy won the belt. Let's all calm down a bit. When Aldo was champion, he regularly went six months between title defenses. Prior to his loss to McGregor, Aldo actually went an entire year without a title defense due to injury. I'm not saying the circumstances are the same -- Aldo was injured, McGregor is choosing other fights -- but the time frames are still relevant. If the UFC wants to book an interim title fight between Aldo and Edgar and have the winner of that fight McGregor, that sounds like a plan to me.
4. What is the best "walk-off knockout" of Mark Hunt's career?
Garbrandt: The Stefan Struve left hook was pretty cool, body-shape-wise. Struve is tall, and then you've got Mark, short and stocky. That was a cool walk-off. He hit Roy Nelson with a walk-off, right? That's pretty impressive because Roy Nelson is hard to finish. I'd have to say that was his best one.
Okamoto: Struve knockout, 100 percent. Hunt always basically drops his hands and walks away, but in this particular one, he was a little tired at that point and the way he just shuffled off and didn't even look down at Struve after knocking him down -- you just don't see that. It was all one fluid motion, too, almost like he was halfheartedly shadowboxing at the end of a training session and just walked off the mats after throwing the final punch. The referee had no idea what to do. Struve was still conscious. Hunt actually had to turn and walk back towards him, at which point the referee (thankfully) stepped in. Only in a Mark Hunt fight will you see these kinds of things.
5. With losses in six of his last eight fights, should former UFC heavyweight champion Frank Mir retire?
Garbrandt: Definitely. I've watched Frank fight for awhile now. He has been a world champion. He has come back from adversity, won another world title. He beat arguably one of the best heavyweights of his era in Brock Lesnar with the kneebar [in February 2008]. He has built his legacy, why would you ... I don't know. I guess for me, I hope someone is looking out for me when this fighting is up. Like, "Hey man, you've built a legacy. You've done well. It's time to hang them up." I think it's tough for fighters who have done this their whole lives and don't know anything else. You're always going to be a fighter no matter what. But I do think it's time for Frank to hang them up. He has done more than a lot of other humans will in his life. He should enjoy the next chapter of his life.
Okamoto: Always struggle with the "retirement" questions of these Five Rounds -- but this is one I'm willing to say, yes, Mir should retire. We talked before the Hunt loss and Mir reminded me he's only 36. That's not that old, especially in the heavyweight division. The champ, Fabricio Werdum, is 38. As the saying goes though, age is just a number -- and in this case, it doesn't indicate the wear and tear on Mir's body. He has now lost via knockout eight times. He has battled other injuries along the way. He can still make money at this point in his career because he's a draw, but is it worth it? He's a dedicated family man. I'd be happy to see him save the rest of his health. And he's articulate and knowledgeable on the sport and shouldn't have trouble finding work in his post-fighting life. Looks like a good time to walk away.