UFC 214: Cormier vs. Jones 2

By: S. Davis

 

Has everyone made weight?

I’ve been writing about mixed martial arts for a few years and I’ve been a consistent viewer since 2008-ish. As I’ve become more educated about technique, psychology and the skill involved to even step into a cage…for a fight, I’ve always had a great deal of fun picking winners. Everyone does it with any sport that they spend their attention – and dollars – on.

Who doesn’t? I’m not a gambler in any sense – at least not financially – but selecting winners does add a little mini-game to the viewing experience. Since Jon Jones’ UFC debut I’ve watched every one of his fights. I’ve picked him as the victor early in his career just based on athleticism, honestly. I didn’t know much about him so I was just throwing stuff at the wall, so to speak. As he’s grown to become one of the best martial artists to compete in such a young sport – mind you he’s already considered as the best fighter EVER – choosing him to have his hand raised after he competes is easy. It’s chalk selections on an NCAA bracket. Easy work!

However there is one time I picked against him: UFC 128. Close your mouth, relax and don’t revolt. Walk with me for a minute…

Mauricio “Shogun” Rua seemed – at least to me – as if he was about to replicate his Pride FC form as UFC Light Heavyweight Champion. He came off taking the title from Lyoto Machida – after being robbed in their first bout – and looked healthy, strong and sharp. I heard about his Pride run, specifically his 2005 year, and I was blown away by the resume. He defeated Hiromitsu Kanehara, Quinton Jackson, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Alistair Overeem and Ricardo Arona; stopping each with the exception of Nogueira in the span of…six months. I thought he was going to defeat Jones. Mind you, I felt Jones would eventually earn a rematch, setting up a trilogy of fights, in which “Bones” would ultimately prevail as the king of the division. I considered the notion that Rua would then feast on the division, possibly getting back to Jones, or dropping to middleweight for a run there. In hindsight you may think I’m crazy and it’s possibly a questionable selection in 2017 but I felt justified – and I stand by it.

Daniel Cormier will enter the cage as prepared for any fight he’s had in his entire career. There’s a chorus of MMA idiots who also happen to hold doctorates in armchair psychology screaming to other idiots – by another name: MMA fans – that Cormier is “scared.” Sure. Hey doctors, I have a prescription that imbues you with the power of Superman for three days. I’m willing to sell you a pill for $100.00 each; how many do you need?

I would agree that this is probably the biggest fight in the current era of the UFC – and possibly the most important in the history of the sport to date. I’m not one for hyperbole, I detest it, but the statement is grounded in reality. Now the magnitude of the main event is in no way related to the possible outcome.

About that outcome….

It would be a splash for the sport if Cormier successfully defends his title. It books a trilogy and heightens their rivalry for another year or so. A Jones victory ridiculously invalidates Cormier’s reign – sadly, it’s easy to connect the dots to reasonably agree with that conclusion – and possibly pushes him to his media career, as his only career. Whether he walks out victorious tomorrow evening he’s firmly in the top five-to-seven fighters ever; if not higher. His resume glows – and he’s legitimately a champion in two divisions. There’s no debate there.

I’ve only picked against Jones once.

So ring rust is easily tossed around when other fighters experience long stretches of inactivity but many are overlooking it as it pertains to him. Rather recently I’ve been reading about how that will be Jones’ automatic excuse if he suffers his first, true, loss of his career. Since UFC 182, Cormier has been far more active; winning four fights while Jones’ terrible decisions have enabled him enter the cage once.

Did I miss something in Jones’ fight with Ovince Saint Preux? Ever since winning he was tagged as having a bad night when I felt going five rounds was something he would be able to benefit from being that he needed to get back into competition. I guess I’m wrong here. I’m not overlooking the lack of activity because it just has to matter here, somewhere, right?

Cormier turned away Anthony Johnson (twice), Alexander Gustafsson and Anderson Silva. He’s been in the cage consistently. I’m sure Jones has been training over the time of his self-induced exile from the UFC but training, sparring, cardio, biking, lifting, etc; is not equivalent to a real fight, with real stakes and enormous pressure. Especially when you consider that he’s been at the top of the sport since dethroning Rua in 2011.

I’ll be watching for pacing in the bout as Jones’ cardio has always been a positive whereas Cormier admitted it was an issue for him in their first meeting. It’s no secret the weight cut to 205 is arduous on him and we all remember the towel trick he pulled back in April. With the amount of time Jones has spent outside of MMA competition, can Cormier press the action to make the challenger wilt? Will he institute a wrestling-dominant approach hoping to break him in the championship rounds? I think it would be wise for Cormier to go there.

As for Jones, he’s proven he can win in any arena of fighting. He’ll wrestle with the decorated grappler, he’ll stand and trade with the dangerous striker, he’ll choose to dirty-box the opponent that excels in tight quarters and he’ll put on a showcase for five rounds if he can’t produce a finish. He takes it upon himself to challenge his opponent in their area of expertise. It’s one of the reasons I find him and Georges St-Pierre so compelling.

With all the real hatred, I guess, coming from them at the slightest mention of the other I think they will both push for a finish…a memorable one; the type of exclamation point that will be added to highlight reels for decades to come. If Jones earns a finish I see it happening from the mounted crucifix position with a barrage of elbows or – for some reason – a standing guillotine choke. As for Cormier, I can see him earning a stoppage after an abundance of suffocating wrestling leads to a rear-naked choke in the later rounds.

I think Jones will look to utilize his patented oblique and body kicks to hamper Cormier’s pursuit. His elbows will also be a large factor in this fight and I think he’ll fire them like jabs, sudden and hidden, as in not telegraphing them at all, like he managed to in his title defense against Rashad Evans. I like Cormier to get in close and fire uppercuts, selectively, as I do think he’ll be watching for Jones’ wrestling. This should be a stellar title bout. This event looks to be the best MMA card of the year.

I’ve only picked against Jones once.

Observations for the rest of the card:

1. Cristiane Justino vs. Tonya Evinger has been ignored, honestly. It’s viewed as a forgone conclusion and I understand that but what’s the future of the UFC Women’s Featherweight division if “Cyborg” ascends to her throne? Why aren’t the owners creating a season of The Ultimate Fighter based solely on women that can compete at 145? It takes time to populate any division and they need to get, at least, 12-20 challengers in a fertile weight class so that Justino has opponents lined up…you know, provided she becomes the champion.

One thing that’s been picking at me for months, no years, is how she draws scorn for testing positive for banned substance use in 2011 – yet it’s easy to forget that she passed every drug screen since then. She was wrong for failing in 2011 and deserves blame but fans are quick to move on when it comes to her male counterparts who have tested for performance enhancing drugs on several occasions and yet find themselves draped in acclaim and love. The internet trolls make me want to vomit when it pertains to her. I know she had a USADA infraction in December of 2016 which was attributed to a substance which aided her in her recovery from a weight cut but even after she was granted a therapeutic use exemption – and had her suspension lifted – she’s a “cheater.”

I wish there was a reality show hosted by Luke Thomas or Joe Rogan that located “Cyborg” trolls – by their IP addresses – and knocked on their doors with complete gear and pads. Rogan or Thomas – hell, both – would put a microphone in their faces, pepper them in regards to their hideous posts about Justino and take them outside of their homes where an Octagon is affixed to a platform towed behind a massive “Cyborg” truck. Inside, she’d be shadowboxing while the host brings the troll to the cage where Herb Dean, John McCarthy or Dan Miragliotta is waiting to start one, five-minute, round. How many of them would soil themselves and apologize? How brave would they attempt to be when Justino is standing across from them ready to knuckle them into ground sirloin? Who doesn’t watch this program? Hey, WME can you grant me an “executive producer” credit, a per diem and a few million dollars in salary for the idea? Let’s get this done!

2. Why are most people ignoring that Donald Cerrone is recovering from a blood infection and is competing so soon after healing? I bet the same jerks that were killing Amanda Nunes for backing out of her title defense against Valentina Shevchenko at UFC 213 are happy that the doctors cleared Cerrone for this. Does it seem safe? Does anyone remember how he was knocked out, twice, by Jorge Masvidal?

What about Robbie Lawler; what will we see from him? Lawler and Carlos Condit took something away from one another at UFC 195 that can’t be recovered. Lawler left that contest and was knocked out by Tyron Woodley in the first round of UFC 201, surrendering the UFC Welterweight Championship. Condit fought Demian Maia, got submitted in the first round, and said he was stunned by a punch Maia fired that didn’t seem to have much steam on it; he hasn’t competed since. The MMA world is pumped for this fight while I’ll be watching with a grimace the entire time.

3. Woodley vs. Maia has flown under the radar as well and I think it speaks to the power of the main event. Woodley is a bad style matchup for Maia as he’s a great defensive wrestler and a knockout artist that can close a fight at any time. However Maia scares everyone because once he closes distance and grabs even a strand of forearm hair, a submission is probably next on the checklist. I want to see the chess match if they’re locked into a grappling exchange. How quickly will Woodley disengage? What traps will Maia set?

Picks: Fili, Ortega, Sterling, Lamas, Oezdemir, Lawler, Justino, Woodley…#AndStill/#AndNew, Jones.

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UFC 210: Buffalo

By: S. Davis

A few days ago two guys were in line at the grocery store talking (too) loudly about how muddled the UFC Middleweight division is in lieu of the returning Georges St-Pierre. They were passionate, playfully argumentative and definitely had the feel of loyal supporters of mixed martial arts. As my items traveled the conveyor belt behind theirs, one of them accidentally knocked down my chunky blue cheese and apologized. I nodded in response and asked if they were as demonstrative about the chaos that the featherweight and lightweight divisions are engulfed in.

Why are fans – and appallingly, MMA media – outraged at this brief blip on the radar? Why are they griping about what’s fair for deserving contenders? Did I miss the very same outcry when a slew of elite contenders at 145 and 155 had to sit on their hands while others had to feast on each other in the hopes of earning a title shot?

There wasn’t an outcry then – and there shouldn’t be one now.

Neither of them had an answer and agreed with my point of view. Full disclosure: They had two 24 packs of Corona on the checkout counter so that may have played a minor part.

On to UFC 210:

I thought I posted my analysis of the last two televised fight cards for the UFC but I didn’t. I had an incomplete post sitting pretty in my drafts folder and I realized I didn’t publish it. Why? I just didn’t care. The noise and hypocrisy surrounding the sport put me in a comfortable corner where I’ll engage when it calls for it. Daniel Cormier defending his title against Anthony Johnson this Saturday night calls for it.

No matter what your personal preferences happen to be as they pertain to pound-for-pound lists,  Cormier should sit firmly in the top three along with Demetrious Johnson and Jon Jones. If those three names aren’t scribbled on your mythical ranking, your list needs to be doused in lighter fluid and barbecued. As someone who admires all three, Cormier gets slighted as one of the best in the sport. It’s not his fault that Jones disqualified himself from their rematch. Furthermore the fact that he’s the light heavyweight champion – despite not taking the title from Bones – is an element far out of his control.

If not for his friendship with Cain Velasquez, he’d be the heavyweight champion of the UFC. He’s a legit two-weight champion – and he was established as one at a time when that actually was something to take notice of. He didn’t make his name by beating smaller fighters; he was the smaller heavyweight putting larger opponents through the wood chipper, so to speak. He moved down because of friendship – and became a champion without a blemish. What’s his crime exactly?

Now I have to admit that Daniel Cormier, the analyst, is grating and I’m doing my best to be kind. He is sharp behind the desk, he seems like a natural and he’ll have a long career as a broadcaster but some of his observations come across as heavy-handed. That’s not unlike many in the profession who get paid to talk as a television personality. Is he disliked, discredited and derided for that? Maybe.

His only career defeat is to a fighter many deem to be the best fighter that’s been created in MMA history – and he damn well might be already.

Boooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo! Fans make me cringe, I tell you.

As for the man nicknamed Rumble…

I’m torn on how much I need to (or should) take their first meeting into account here. Rather recently Johnson has been labeled as a seven minute fighter – I know Cormier said something close to that – but he’s gone the distance (in three round contests) in six of his 27 career bouts. He’s not just dangerous in the first round of the fight; he’s a menace once he scribbles his name on the contract to confirm one. I would like to see his pace if the fight goes to the championship rounds as he’s never competed in them.

In a rematch where the skill level is close, the fighter that fell short in the first encounter usually emerges with the victory in chapter two. Any obvious reason? The losing fighter has more tape to diagnose their mistakes. They refine their strategy in detailed fashion; going over each engagement, positioning, foot placement, defense, etc. There are times that it seems like the victorious fighter enters a rematch underestimating the opponent they recently defeated. I think mentally they take inventory of the challenge ahead and think to themselves, “So…they look the same, have the same toolkit of skills so why should the outcome be any different this time around?”

My brain tells me that Cormier will ignore every aspect of their initial meeting yet my heart gives me a slight pause because what if the slightest morsel of complacency takes root? We’re all human, right?

Chris Weidman vs. Gegard Mousasi

Let’s jump on this early, ok?

Weidman isn’t a scrub, isn’t washed up and he wasn’t overrated. MMA fans are idiots for the most part, well, sports fans overall are brainless druids and I’ve yet to be convinced otherwise. There is no foundation on which to knock a fighter for facing off against killers at every step along their journey and then spit in their faces the moment they suffer a loss (or two). Especially when it’s conveniently lost on most that he was beating both Luke Rockhold and Yoel Romero before the official stopped the action. Watch the tape, it’s clear! He’s an elite middleweight but strange things transpire when the best martial artists in the world are locked in a cage together: A loss is getting stamped on someone. Period.

Building up a fighter, step by step, is a luxury that happens only for a select few in the UFC. I’m sure the former middleweight champion wanted the challenge of stepping into the cage against another deadly competitor, in a deadly division, but the matchmaking seems questionable. Wouldn’t Weidman be far better served taking on someone ranked in the bottom half of the division? Why court disaster when you don’t have to? Couldn’t someone have thought about finding an opponent to help one of the few marketable athletes on the roster regain his confidence? Interesting.

Well, in their defense the UFC did feed Ronda Rousey to Amanda Nunes for no logical reason so maybe I’m wrong here.

Mousasi is fantastic in most aspects of the sport and his wrestling defense has improved enough that it’s no longer his most glaring weakness – as it once was. I’m intrigued by his prowess on the feet and how he’ll attack Weidman as the former champion is extremely flat-footed for such a seasoned veteran.

Picks: Cormier, Mousasi, Calvillo, Alves and Brooks.

After everyone competes they should all rush to Just Pizza for the best three-cheese steak pizza in the world. New York, New Yoooooooooooooooooork!