MMA trades we want to see

MMA fighters Demetrious Johnson and Ben Askren are set to switch organizations. ESPN Illustration

Trades in MMA? What never felt possible might actually occur, as the UFC and ONE Championship are set to swap fighters in Demetrious Johnson for Ben Askren. It's not a "trade," per se, as both will be released and then freed to join new organizations. But it's about as close as we'll get.

What other trades in the sport would we like to see? Our MMA panel -- Brett Okamoto, Ariel Helwani, Chamatkar Sandhu, Greg Rosenstein, Jeff Wagenheim, Phil Murphy and Max Bretos -- gives its take.

Okamoto: How about the PFL trades two-time Olympic gold medalist and female lightweight Kayla Harrison to the UFC for Donald Cerrone?

Bottom line: Harrison is on a collision course with Cris "Cyborg" Justino. She is one of the few, legitimate females fighters in the world who can match Justino's size and potentially give her a real fight. She needs experience in MMA first, but there is going to come a time when this matchup will need to happen, and it will be a better fit in the UFC's pay-per-view model than in the PFL's season/playoff format.

And on the other side, you know how many times a PFL champion fights in one calendar year? Five. You know how many times Cerrone likes to fight per calendar year? Probably 12, if they'd let him. Cerrone is one of the most exciting fighters in the sport, and he's at a point in his career when a UFC title isn't the end-all be-all anymore. I wouldn't put it past him to enter the lightweight and welterweight brackets of PFL's format. What do you say, Cowboy?

Helwani: My first thought was Nate Diaz to Bellator. He's unhappy. He has a good relationship with Bellator President Scott Coker. Seems like a no-brainer. The only issue is for who? I don't think Bellator has anyone on its roster who is as popular as Diaz right now, but let's get creative.

I propose a Diaz for Fedor Emelianenko and Michael Chandler trade. Sure, Emelianenko and Chandler have fights coming up, but let's just ignore those for these purposes. Both fighters are two of the best to never fight for the UFC and there are intriguing matchups awaiting them in Zuffa-land. I know Emelianenko is past his prime, but I would just like to see him fight once inside the Octagon. Bellator gets one of the most popular fighters in the game, and the UFC gets a legend and a former champion in his prime. Win-win.

Sandhu: OK, so this is fun.

Who would've thought we'd be talking about fantasy trades in MMA? With reports of the impending Demetrious Johnson-for-Ben Askren swap, this could potentially lead to similar deals down the road.

Who would I want to bring into the UFC? That's the easy one. Michael Chandler. Arguably the best lightweight fighter in the world to not have competed in the UFC. A two-time Bellator 155-pound champion and still very much in his prime. Although he's been Mr. Bellator, I'm sure he's got the itch to test his mettle against the likes of Conor McGregor, Khabib Nurmagomedov, Dustin Poirier, Nate Diaz, Tony Ferguson, Kevin Lee and the list goes on and on. His old "fight of the year" rival Eddie Alvarez made the jump and was able to fight his way to UFC gold. Is Michael Chandler up there with the best of them? I'd certainly like to find out.

So, who goes the other way? Who has a prior fighter/promoter relationship with Scott Coker and wouldn't mind working with him again? Alistair Overeem jumps off the page. He's already stated that retirement is creeping up on him and is just around the corner. Wouldn't it be fun to see him go on one more legends tour with the likes of Fedor Emelianenko, Rampage Jackson, Frank Mir and Mirko Cro Cop?

But wait, there's more.

I think it would be hard for Bellator to part ways with Chandler, so you'd have to sweeten the pot. You got to go two-for-one because Chandler's worth it.

I'd also trade Mark Hunt. He's got a lawsuit against the UFC and has repeatedly expressed his frustrations with the organization. Probably best to part ways. He's someone Coker would work well with, and, much like with Overeem, I'm sure the "Super Samoan" would love the prospect at fighting some old friends from his days in Pride.

Rosenstein: One of my favorite fighters to watch in MMA is Michael Chandler. He just brings it every time he enters the cage. And it's why I was a bit sad Chandler decided to re-sign with Bellator earlier this year rather than join the UFC. Bellator overall has improved its talent level recently, but its lightweight division pales in comparison to the UFC's. Chandler against any of that top 10 (Kevin Lee? Justin Gaethje? Anthony Pettis?) would be instant fireworks and allow him to prove he could hang with the best in the world.

In return for Chandler, Bellator would gain Cris Cyborg. Arguably the most dominant female fighter ever, Cyborg will fight Amanda Nunes, the bantamweight champion, at the end of December. But the relationship between Cyborg and the UFC over the years has been anything but easy. The promotion has had a difficult time finding strong matchups (largely because of her size) and in my opinion could have marketed her better. Scott Coker has proven to be one of the most creative minds in the game over the years dating back to his time leading Strikeforce. I think a fresh start in a new organization could pay major dividends for Cyborg as she enters the later part of her career.

Wagenheim: CM Punk to Bellator for one of those machines that shoot sparks into the air during a fighter walkout? Or maybe the UFC would rather have Royce Gracie sent back in return, just for this fall's 25th-anniversary celebration of the promotion's landmark first event, which Royce won as a young man of 26?

Slightly more seriously, how about if the UFC holds off on its wheeling and dealing until New Year's Day, at which point it starts off 2019 fresh by trading Cris "Cyborg" Justino to the Professional Fighters League for the two fighters who most impress Dana White & Co. at the PFL's season finale on Dec. 31?

Cyborg will have just super-fought bantamweight champ Amanda Nunes in perhaps the biggest fight in the history of women's MMA, but win or lose on Dec. 29, where does Justino go from there? The UFC simply has failed to assemble a featherweight roster for her to dominate. So, just as the imminent departure of Demetrious Johnson has fueled speculation that the UFC is about to shutter the men's flyweight division altogether, perhaps it's time for the promotion to say goodbye to the women's 145-pound weight class, as well.

The PFL doesn't have a roster of 145-pounders, either, but it does have Kayla Harrison. The two-time Olympic gold medal judoka has fought just twice in MMA, both times at 155 pounds, but she's publicly set her sights on Cyborg and perhaps by next spring she'd be ready for that challenge. For Justino, this would be an opportunity to finally pick on someone her own size.

What would the UFC receive in return? Its talent evaluators could choose from among the PFL playoff finalists in six weight classes. At the quarterfinals and semifinals earlier this month, all-action welterweight Ray Cooper III scored a couple of first-round KOs and former UFC light heavyweight Vinny Magalhaes submitted two opponents, each in less than 2 minutes. Maybe someone else will shine on Dec. 31.

Murphy: I don't know if he's a better fit in a different promotion, but someone I've been itching to see make the ONE-to-UFC jump is ONE bantamweight champion Bibiano Fernandes. He was a long-timer on the short list of world's best bantamweights -- and nearly joined the UFC in 2012. At age 38, it's now or never to see where the Brazilian jiu-jitsu whiz might stack up at 135.

The tea leaves suggest the UFC flyweight division days are numbered, so the promotion could trade any contenders of note to acquire The Flash and add depth behind Demetrious Johnson in ONE.

One other possibility: the UFC remains the ultimate MMA proving ground, and you never want to dilute weight classes. For the sake of this story, why not trade to Bellator the loser of Kevin Lee vs. Al Iaquinta? They're set to meet at the final UFC on FOX card in December, a fight in which the loser would fall way down the line of title contenders.

A trade to Bellator -- maybe for a prospect and cash considerations à la major league baseball -- would put Lee or Iaquinta one win from a 155 title shot there. The Bellator strap has proven value and could kick-start a career with significant time left.

Bretos: The UFC trade of Demetrius Johnson tells me the company might be wiping its hands of the flyweight division. They should now focus on building the next weight class up at bantamweight, which they might be eyeing with the potential matchup of TJ Dillashaw and Henry Cejudo. The UFC needs another big name there, and in my estimation, there is no better 135-pounder in the world than Darrion Caldwell. He is an exciting fighter who could create multiple great rivalries in the division.

To get him, UFC needs to repay Bellator by trading champion for champion. Tyron Woodley is a huge star, but never seems to get the right push by Dana White and is screaming to get the red carpet treatment. Woodley would get that at Bellator, where he would join what would be the best welterweight stable in MMA, with the potential of some PPV-type fights against Rory MacDonald, Michael "Venom" Page and whoever wins Bellator's Welterweight Grand Prix.