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’s Landmark Weekend

By: S. Davis

Seventy-five percent of this original article had to be trashed because of Jon Jones. If you follow mixed martial arts then I’m sure you’re up to date on the news that Jones was yanked from UFC 200 for a positive PED test last night. Fans get shafted, the weekend is without it’s main event and Daniel Cormier loses a chance to unify the titles and earn the public’s respect as the true light-heavyweight champion (one in which he needed as he won the title when Jones was stripped due to a traffic incident of his own doing).

Since most of the copy I had ready to post last night is invalid I’ll dive right into the fights I’m most looking forward to seeing. This is not a ranking; it’s some of the fights I’ll be most intrigued to watch. There might even be a prediction or two. What could possibly go wrong?

1. Raphael dos Anjos (C) vs. Eddie Alvarez: Being that this fight is taking place in a few hours it’s safe from being blown off the card, I think. Dos Anjos has been a complete buzz saw since his last loss to Khabib Nurmagomedov in 2014, putting together a string of five wins in a row (with three finishes). Alvarez steps into the cage having won two split-decisions after a debut loss to Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone.

Alvarez has the resume to be confident heading into this fight. A former Bellator champion, the big fight atmosphere won’t shake him as he’s “beaten champions his whole career” which he likes to say – and is true. He’s got a legit chance to add the UFC gold to a treasure chest full of them. A drawback to Alvarez’s – mostly – exciting style is that he goes into fight-and-survive mode all too often once a few big punches or kicks find a home. Meaning, he has no problem taking part in a firefight because he’s tough. Being tough is a trait that every fighter needs but if he’s using that as a crutch this evening, it’s going to be a short night. He needs to ensure he remains technical while controlling the terms of engagement. Closing distance and working takedowns could be the recipe to success although standing anywhere in a cage with dos Anjos is a scary proposition.

Once labeled as a pure jujitsu ace, dos Anjos has completely added a fluid striking element that makes him one of the most offensively diverse and well-rounded athletes on the roster. You want a grappling match with dos Anjos? Good luck with that. You want to be lazy standing in front of him? Talk to Anthony Pettis’ left eye socket about dos Anjos’ punching power. If you care to be dismissive of his body attacks, well, Cowboy can answer the phone about that one.

In all fights, a myriad of looks needs to be utilized in order to stack the odds of victory in a fighters favor. RDA has more ways to win whereas Alvarez needs to be measured and calculated, traits he likes to ignore at times. Although he fought with those two in abundance which gained him this title shot in the first place. This is going to be a great fight.

Prediction: RDA; fourth round TKO.

2. Cat Zingano vs. Julianna Pena: Not a single person on the planet knows what’s going to happen with Ronda Rousey and I hate having to mention her here but she looms over every fighter in the bantamweight division. The victor, here, could very well challenge for the next title shot depending on Rousey, what happens in the aftermath of Tate vs. Nunes and whether Holly Holm wins over Valentina Shevchenko (next month). It’s a lot to sift through but a win stamps a spot on the shortlist, does it not?

Pena is such a dynamic athlete. She’s fast, explosive and seems on the verge of a breakout. She faces the woman – who I thought – would push Rousey but we saw how that ended. Zingano’s said in interviews that she’s learned from the Rousey setback, her last fight before a long sabbatical, by the way.

Zingano can compete anywhere. She can take punishment, whether the storm and rally back from defeat. She’s great in the clinch with crushing elbows (talk to the champ, Miesha Tate about that), she’s powerful, fast and her knees to the body are formidable as well. I worry about the long layoff (the defeat versus Rousey coming back in February 2015) for her when Pena knows that an impressive showing against a former title challenger earns her a spotlight to share with Holm and Rousey. I want to see who initiates the clinch and where that goes. I’ll also be watching for Zingano’s endurance as Pena is sure to test her gas tank.

Prediction: Zingano by unanimous decision.

3. T.J. Dillashaw vs. Raphael Assuncao: Dillashaw dropped a close split-decision to Assuncao in 2013 before he scorched the division on the way to the bantamweight championship (which I don’t think he lost to Dominick Cruz). This fight is on the UFC 200 preliminary card! Dillashaw isn’t even the same fighter as he was then and I think his footwork will cause Assuncao headaches all evening.

Prediction: Dillashaw; third round TKO.

4. Jose Aldo vs. Frankie Edgar: This is a fantastic fight…that SHOULD NOT take place…for the interim featherweight championship. I don’t mean that it’s not worthy of UFC 200, in fact it’s the opposite. My problem is that Conor McGregor, the undisputed title holder in the division, is forcing the top two contenders at featherweight to kill one another off so that he only has to face one of them after his dalliance with Nick Diaz. He should have to share the Octagon with them both at some point.

Aldo faces a lot of questions as many think this is the end of his career unfolding right before our eyes. Losing in 13 seconds in his last showing was devastating but how does that erase everything else he’s accomplished since beginning his career as a poor kid from Brazil? In my eyes it doesn’t. However you have to wonder if Aldo got lazy and just got caught with a perfect punch or if it’s foreshadowing a steep decline. Hmm…

Edgar, fully entrenched as a featherweight, is staring directly at history on Saturday. He’s looking to join the two person list of Randy Couture and B.J. Penn as the only fighters in UFC history to hold belts in two weight classes. His footwork, boxing, angles, defense and speed make him a tough out for anyone (looking at you McGregor) and I do think he’ll have a closer showing with Aldo in this fight. Their first battle at UFC 156 was hotly debated but I thought it was a clear victory for Aldo.

It bothers me that one of these remarkable fighters has to lose, to then become further disrespected by the UFC, and fall within the division. Edgar is cooked if Aldo comes out the victor this weekend as that will be his second loss to him in another title fight while Aldo might have to look at a lightweight move as McGregor seems uninterested in making featherweight any longer.

Prediction: Aldo by unanimous decision. I think his style just matches well with Edgar’s. They shouldn’t be fighting each other at all, at least not now. I don’t want either to have a loss after the weekend. Is there any way this can end in a fascinating, exciting, draw?

5. Joanna Jedrzejczyk (C) vs. Claudia Gadelha: My pick for fight of the weekend! These women really want to beat each other around Nevada and it’s going to be a sight to see tomorrow night. In their first meeting, Jedrzejczyk barely escaped a fight many feel she lost. (I think Gadelha won that fight but the uppercut that dropped her in the last 10 seconds of that first round had to be the clincher for the judges and I understand it.)

Jedrzejczyk is going to aim to keep the fight standing where she can dictate terms from any range and work her opponents over with volume and crippling power. Gadelha, while not as polished on the feet, is solid there and a better fighter in more facets of MMA, in my opinion. Takedown defense will be the crucial key for the defending champion but I do think Gadelha will get the fight to the ground on at least two occasions and the interest will spike there. I expect both of these ladies to have their moments during the fight and I’ll be looking to see if either party attempts to end it early because of the real disdain they have for each other – and empties their endurance in the process.

Prediction: Gadelha takes the title by unanimous decision.

Have fun fight fans, I’m sorry the card was ruined but there’s a lot to love about three cards in three days.