-- Each week, ESPN.com writer Brett Okamoto provides his take on the hottest topics in the world of mixed martial arts.
This week, Okamoto squares off with UFC lightweight Al Iaquinta to debate the latest news and talk about the UFC belts changing hands, Nick Diaz's return and more. Iaquinta (12-3-1), 29, hasn't fought since a split-decision victory over Jorge Masvidal at UFC Fight Night 63 in April 2015 in Fairfax, Virginia.
1. Seven UFC champions have lost their title in 2016. Why?
Iaquinta: The level of fighting is getting so competitive now. One little mistake, that's all it takes to lose. As time goes on, people get better and better. Technology and training is improving. I think it's going to be harder for these champions to hold on to their titles and have those long reigns they did years ago.
Okamoto: Because divisions are deep and the sport is evolving. I agree with Al all the way. We're not watching striker vs. grappler anymore. We're not seeing one athlete who knows how to cut weight against one who doesn't cut at all. Everything is a science. There are a lot of ways to lose. One style doesn't beat every other style around it. It used to. Anderson Silva set a record 12 consecutive title defenses with takedown defense, pinpoint counter-striking and debilitating mind games. That worked for years. Then he ran into Chris Weidman, a composed, athletic middleweight with a collegiate wrestling background and a good pressure offense, and Silva went down in consecutive matches. Current UFC champs are facing well-rounded, elite competition on a nightly basis. It's hard to win every time when that's the case.
2. In these dangerous times for a champ, who is the safest to maintain his or her belt? Who is the most at risk?
Iaquinta: [Flyweight] Demetrious Johnson is definitely the safest. He's had the belt for so long. That 125-pound division hasn't caught up yet. He's so far ahead. Eventually, there might be a younger guy we might not have even heard of yet, comes out of nowhere and beats him, but not right now. And you know what? [Heavyweight] Stipe Miocic, actually. He's still improving. He's been around, but he's still getting better. I know that's one of the hardest divisions to hold on to a title, because at heavyweight, you get hit with one shot, that's it. But I think he's going to have [Alistair] Overeem's number [at UFC 203 on Sept. 10]. I think he'll hold on to it. Who is most at risk? I think Conor McGregor is going to have a very tough time going back to 145 pounds. I'm going to say either he tries to defend it and loses or decides not to go down. I think it's more likely he just vacates the belt.
Okamoto: Safest: strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk. Frankly, Jedrzejczyk could have an off night and still beat most of the contenders she's apt to see in that division. Something very, very wild would have to take place for her to lose the belt at this point. Nearly as safe: Demetrious Johnson. Everyone else, as far as I'm concerned, is pretty vulnerable. Most at risk? Hard to say when we don't know who some of these champions are fighting next, but in general, I don't expect long title reigns out of lightweight Eddie Alvarez, welterweight Tyron Woodley or middleweight Michael Bisping. Those divisions are loaded. Expect those belts to bounce around.
3. Who should newly crowned UFC welterweight champion Tyron Woodley's first title defense be against?
Iaquinta: It's gotta be Wonderboy ( Stephen Thompson). I went into the fight this weekend pretty much watching to see who was going to fight Wonderboy next. Recently, nobody has been able to touch him. He's putting people away, making them look like amateurs. So, I think that's the fight that's got to happen. Wonderboy is the No. 1 contender and he might have been more deserving of a title shot than even Woodley was.
Okamoto: One-hundred percent, Thompson. I actually have Thompson ranked No. 1 in the welterweight division, ahead of Woodley. That's no knock on Woodley, and it's very, very close, but in my opinion, Thompson deserves the No. 1 rank based on their respective resumes. Since January 2015, Thompson is 3-0 with two finishes, and two of his wins were against Johny Hendricks by knockout and Rory MacDonald in a five-round decision. Woodley is 2-0, with a split decision against Kelvin Gastelum and then the knockout over Lawler. Like I said, we're splitting hairs, but I have Thompson as my No. 1 welterweight. He deserves the shot, clearly.
4. Nick Diaz is a free man. His 18-month suspension ended on Aug. 1. Whom should he return against?
Iaquinta: I would love to see Nick Diaz have a rematch against Robbie Lawler. I remember watching that fight years ago (April 2004). Nick Diaz kind of came out of nowhere, Lawler was getting the hype. That was, what, 10 years ago probably? Twelve? Both of these guys are still at the top of the game. Neither of them are ever in a boring fight. The lead-up to that fight would be fun. I think it's a great matchup. I could see it going the same way as the first one, but Lawler has matured a lot. I think he went real crazy on Diaz the first time and kind of walked into a punch. It might be more of a technical fight on Robbie's end. As far as who wins, I don't know. It's just a fight I'd love to see. I'm a fan of both guys.
Okamoto: There's no question at all, it's Robbie Lawler. This rematch has been 12 years in the making. It's been talked about as if it's some mythical creature, like something we all caught a brief glimpse of and have quietly searched and longed for ever since. Diaz told me he's not interested in the fight, because Lawler is coming off a loss. I love the attitude. That mentality right there -- call it delusion if you want, maybe there's some truth in that -- but that's what makes the Diaz brothers so popular. Everybody needs me more than I need them. It's great. In reality, of course, it doesn't hold up. Diaz hasn't won a fight since 2011. If anything, it's Lawler who should be asking for a higher-ranked opponent. Hopefully, when the dust settles, this is the matchup Diaz returns to.
5. We're eight months into 2016. Who is the current front-runner for fighter of the year?
Iaquinta: Wonderboy's gotta be up there, right? I think he's gotta be the guy. Tyron Woodley's only fight was the win against Robbie. I'm trying to think of who else -- nothing. I've gotta go with Wonderboy.
Okamoto: Michael Bisping, by a landslide. Very, very good chance it's Bisping when we hit Dec. 31, too. We''re possibly looking at a year in which a 37-year-old Bisping will have defeated Anderson Silva in a five-round fight in February, knocked out Luke Rockhold in the first round of a middleweight championship fight in June, and defended the title once against Dan Henderson in front of his hometown of Manchester in October. We'll see about that last one, obviously. I'm not taking anything for granted in this sport, not with the way 2016 has gone. But what a chapter this has been in Bisping's career.