UFC 226: Miocic or Cormier?

By: S. Davis

Since this is the second iteration of this piece I wanted to wait until the event actually began before I posted it. Get well soon, Max Holloway. There isn’t much time to waste here so let’s take a look at the main event.

The ideal of what a superfight truly is seems to be superfluous depending on the marketing demands. This is a contest between two of the elite martial artists of their time with no clear contenders, currently, in either of their divisions. They both traveled a treacherous path leading to one another for the biggest prize in mixed martial arts; this is the one.

Photo: UFC

I’m not diving into GOAT discussions as I find them abhorrent in a sport currently in its infancy but it’s clear the winner at the end of the night will have a substantial imprint on the sport – even as they both are cemented as greats before a single punch is thrown. It’s exciting and will be fascinating to see how it unfolds.

Stipe Miocic wins if he can stay on his feet. I’m not making it out to be as simple as that since he’s facing Daniel Cormier. Don’t you have the feeling that if it’s a five-round grinder, there’s a good chance that Cormier walks away with another championship? That’s the way it seems. Miocic is a balanced athlete no matter if he’s a heavyweight or a middleweight. He moves crisply, stepping off, resetting and firing from all angles. His boxing and footwork – which I find to be equally, if not more impressive than his hands – are masterful. His best advantage is to deploy those tools along with his accuracy, range and power.

He’s no slouch as a wrestler either but it’s something he uses more when a change of pace is needed – and it’s a main factor why he turned away the promotion’s new crush in Francis Ngannou; Miocic just has a deep variety of tools of which to mine. I like him to retain if he dictates the fight whether in close, or at distance. If he elects to fire from range and keep Cormier trying to fight inside his reach, I feel strongly that Cormier will fall due to the volume that Miocic can turn on.

He could also go the opposite route and try to overpower the smaller, in height, at least, challenger. That would be a twist though. Imagine Miocic going to the grappling and using his physical advantages to (probably) confuse the challenger by meeting him on his terms. If the reigning heavyweight champion can keep Cormier at the end of his attacks and stuff the takedown he should have a successful evening.

Cormier wins if he dictates the terms. While being a small heavyweight sounds oxymoronic, it’s apt when referencing the challenger. During his career at heavyweight he’s had to outlast Josh Barnett, Frank Mir, Roy Nelson and Antonio Silva based on speed, precision and skill. The size advantage can’t be as wide as it was when he shared the cage with the aforementioned staples of the division. Miocic is lean for such a big man. According to the scale, Cormier is 246 lbs to Miocic’s 242.5. They’re three-and-a-half pounds away from one another. It’s close to being equal.

Also it can’t be overlooked that the light heavyweight champion has been fighting Cain Velasquez for years, for training. Yeah. His heavyweight run is a clean 13-0. He’s a true heavyweight and just manages as a light heavyweight.

I see the people picking Cormier are leaning highly on his wrestling as the key to victory. It is. However there’s a path to DC earning a knockout. He’s a good striker, he isn’t out of his element on his feet. There’s an avenue for an overhand shot that can stagger the defending champion. Every competitor that opposes Cormier has to worry about the takedown so he can fake a shot, have Miocic drop his hands and…

I also noted the two, nearly identical, ways he turned back Anthony Johnson with the takedown as a precursor to the rear-naked choke. Small nugget: Cormier has a tendency to duck his head to the right without protecting himself which was all the opening Jon Jones needed to close their last bout. Miocic doesn’t use head kicks often so I wonder if it’s a surprise he’s holding in case of emergency.

Lastly, I can’t help but mention the Jones and Brock Lesnar carrots that are dangling for the UFC executives to salivate over. The winner will have a slew of options after the event closes.

The rest of the card…

I wonder if Anthony Pettis will truly be labeled as a gatekeeper with a loss. While it’s been affixed to him for a while now I think this challenge from Michael Chiesa could alter his present and future. His weaknesses are evident: A great striker with bad defensive wrestling. He’s not unlike a large portion of the roster but his flaws are so evident that his opponents know if they can avoid the knockout or submission early in the fight they have a way to win in the later rounds. Derrick Lewis and Ngannou square off in a battle that could obviously stamp the next challenger for the heavyweight title-holder at the conclusion of the event. Don’t step away from the television for that one.

Picks: Gokhan Saki, Chiesa, Paul Felder, Lewis and Cormier.

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UFC 220 + Bellator 192 = Supercard

By: S. Davis

Can you hear that? You should be able to if you’re on this planet. The world has been entranced with the power of Francis Ngannou and it’s no longer a secret that the soft-spoken, jovial, survivor from Cameroon is on a swift track to stardom. We’ve seen improvement in his footwork since his debut even though he hasn’t spent much time in the cage – other than having his hand raised.

The UFC hasn’t ignored his rise in popularity and are primed to push him with the entire promotional machine. The official trailer/teaser highlights both men in the main event but there’s a certain angle they’re portraying – or, at the very least, attempting to. The production value is stellar and it’s driving a point home: Ngannou stock is being purchased in droves and they’re in the market for him as a face of the company…deeply.

The flavor-of-the-month cliché has been in full bloom. That’s not a slight to the challenger at all. In events such as these, when all the attention is devoted to the shiny new toy on Christmas morning it’s easy to overlook the action figures that were there when you were bedridden with the measles, the weekend at grandma’s when her wi-fi was down because she switched providers hours before you arrived and the time your little brother threw a fit because his favorite toy broke so you handed him yours. Remember that? Reliability. Consistency.

Miocic is the man actually in possession of the championship, just in case anyone forgot. He’s the one over there garbling his words, hanging up the phone on his wife while piling up an impressive list of finishes as well. Let’s take a moment to acknowledge his skill and technical acumen in the cage.

The champion seeks a successful defense to set the heavyweight record at three while the challenger looks to stamp his rise by winning one of the few, shiny, gold titles that actually mean something within the company. The problem with predictions in the heavyweight division is the fact that the weakest heavyweight can end the night with an accurate strike. These two both launch missiles to end fights but Ngannou has the kind of sudden power that’s both impressive and chilling. When his uppercut found Alistair Overeem’s chin, I was concerned that he might not walk again.

As for the bout itself, I want to see if Miocic pulls the fight into the later rounds as Ngannou has yet to enter the third frame in his entire career. There could be an opportunity to frustrate the challenger and test those lungs should the fight last longer than ten minutes. As a boxer, I give the champion the edge in terms of foot placement and movement. I also add a plus in the champion’s column as it pertains to cardio.

Defense is going to be paramount here. Miocic has been hit – and has survived in most cases but it only takes one to land for that belt to be wrapped around the challenger. As of yet Ngannou hasn’t been frustrated in a fight nor has he been tasked with fighting from a deficit. How will he respond if the champion remains poised, active and outside of his reach while scoring points? What’s the strategy if he finds himself pinned against the cage when he gets in punching range and can’t turn out the lights quickly? Will he use raw strength to escape a bad position over a technically sound option that leaves him vulnerable to being added to Miocic’s highlight reel?

I wonder.

I appreciate the fact that Bellator 192 – I wish they would change the name – is holding their event on the same evening as I’m melding both cards together. I’m not going to pay much attention to UFC 220 outside of the two title fights. The best fight of the night could be Douglas Lima defending his welterweight crown against Rory MacDonald. I’ll change that: It will be the best fight between both cards.

By the time Chael Sonnen vs. Quinton “Rampage” Jackson begins, I’m hoping that Daniel Cormier is walking to the cage so I can shift focus from my laptop to my television. I don’t have high hopes for that tilt and I’m concerned about the viewing experience for the customers when Sonnen does what he does. I think Michael Chandler is going to put on a show and Aaron Pico returns to kick off their main card.

A brief aside to discuss the circus around the UFC Lightweight Championship, if I may…

I think stripping Conor McGregor is too…clean. It’s easy and it would be the lazy course of action. Simply remove the “Interim” tag from Tony Ferguson’s portion of the title and name him the “Co-Lightweight” champion while also affixing the same label to McGregor. (It seems like they’ve done this at 7:49 of this video for what it’s worth.) Transfer the lineage of the 155 pound title to both men. Eventually McGregor will have no choice but to defend his half of the title – that would be split in this scenario – because he chose to sit on the bench. He’s healthy and therefore there’s no reason why he can’t compete. UFC brass capitulated and allowed him to box instead of draining his bank account in court proceedings when that was their standard modus operandi when they wanted to flex their power; at least in the Fertitta-era.

Of course if he’s truly stripped, he’ll rally his followers to dismiss Tony, Khabib Nurmagomedov or whoever reigns over the weight class. He’ll accuse them of being fake. MMA drones will agree and if he were to come back to capture the title a second time, he’ll boast about becoming a two-time champion, casually ignoring his refusal to defend. If he’s stripped, he dances around the responsibility of defending – and losing the title. It’s a hurdle that every combat athlete must clear. He’s not exempt from the same standard that every title holder in the history of sport is mandated to meet by virtue of becoming a champion. He’s a legitimate champion because he won the belt – and that can’t be dismissed. However he hasn’t defined his reign with a single defense. If McGregor were chasing after a champion that conveniently refused to defend, denying him the opportunity to share the cage in a title bout, fans of mixed martial arts would riot. It’s time to make the walk; put down the phone or become an asterisk in the history books.

Picks: Miocic, Cormier, Sonnen, Lima, Chandler, Font, Karakhanyan and Pico.

UFC 219: The Best Women’s Fighter Ever?

By: S. Davis

 

 

I’ll avoid the legacy blabber as it pertains to the winner of the contest. You can get all that analysis elsewhere. A sound argument can be made to validate the fighter that gets their hand raised at the conclusion of the event. No matter your thoughts on the outcome this is a monumental fight in the women’s division overall. Taking their collective accomplishments into consideration both competitors enter tonight’s bout supremely decorated.

Cris “Cyborg” Justino wins after pinning Holly Holm’s back against the cage and unleashing a relenting, punishing barrage that leads to a stoppage! I’ll buy that. Holm stays true to her counterstriking prowess, uses Justino’s aggression against her – matador style – and captures the title with a pinpoint, devastating head kick. It’s possible.

I’ve been wondering over the last week if Holm could employ a strategy that could win her the title on points. It’s strange to consider once you begin to realize that in Cyborg’s 20 fight MMA career she’s 18-1-1 with only two of those contests reaching the scorecards. She’s a fight finisher unlike most of the loudmouths of the sport boasting 16 stoppages on her ledger. Throughout her career only one made it to the fourth round; a TKO of Marloes Coenen.

Imagine Justino eschewing her new-found, measured, approach after (possibly) finding minimal success this evening, provided Holm remains on the horse. As one that doesn’t initiate a ton of offense as a lead fighter, Justino does bring the kind of style that could allow Holm to flourish. Holm has to keep the fight at distance! In close-quarters, Justino will use her elbows and knees and if that’s the route the evening takes this is an easy night for the defending champion.

If Holm dictates the fight and controls the pace on her terms there is a path to a victory. Her oblique, side, and push kicks will be crucial and I can see her scoring points with her combinations – which, honestly are foreshadowed with her loud exhalations – to begin building a slight lead.

Will any of this happen? That’s why they’re in the ones locked in the cage. Cyborg’s path to a successful defense is written in her previous matches. She takes control early and often with her physical dominance and powerful strikes, especially her right hooks. Now I have noticed that she ducks her head to the left when launching the strike and tends to drop her left hand at times as she hits the target. Hmm? If this minor technical glitch has been scouted by Jackson-Wink, the right side head kick is there.

Size won’t be the advantage that it has been in the past for the champion as Holm is the same height – and does boast a one inch reach advantage. That advantage is negligible as Holm doesn’t employ the jab as a true weapon which is startling as she’s a former boxing champion and a dominant one at that. Cyborg’s built like a tank whereas Holm is leaner but physically impressive in her own right. I’d love to see them in a clinch battle although it does expose “The Preachers Daughter” to clinch fighting and the understated jiu-jitsu of the defending champion.

I think the fight will be exciting after the first three minutes; I believe there will be an auditing process as they survey one another and calculate their moves. Both women are great fighters and I hope they both enter and exit the cage with their health intact.

Has Khabib Nurmagomedov made weight? Can someone check? Whew. Lastly, since The Ultimate Fighter has been relegated to building the roster while paying the new fighters pennies why haven’t they built a season on unearthing talented women at women’s featherweight? Why isn’t the UFC propping up their champion and creating a true division around her?

Women’s flyweight was created on the reality show – and it was needed to give the women more options – but did they have to crown a champion? Since they did, why not blow out a season on finding true featherweights or maybe, I don’t know, three other women that are actually fit to compete at 145? The only women listed at featherweight according to the UFC website are Megan Anderson and Tonya Evinger – a bantamweight. As for the rankings in the division, there aren’t any.

Looking past tonight, who’s the next challenger in the division? I’m sure that if Holm wins they will book an immediate rematch but who does Cyborg fight next if she retains? Use TUF  to populate the division and give Cyborg some exposure by having her do interviews on each show and have her interact with the women who will be vying for a title shot upon completion of the season.

It seems obvious the UFC doesn’t want to put her on a pedestal and give her a larger platform. Why?

They haven’t promoted this event like they have others. Maybe they were afraid about Nurmagomedov’s reliability on the scale. They were scrambling to find a marquee fight to headline tonight and were forced to push the women into the main event once those options evaporated. It’s the show that closes the year and the main event can sell the card, if the promoter actually went out and promoted.

Picks: Carlos Condit, Carla Esparza, Marc Diakiese, Nurmagomedov and Cyborg.

UFC 218: Picks & Thoughts

By: S. Davis

Demetrious Johnson is the GOAT. Oh wait, no that’s Jon Jones. What about Anderson Silva, bro? Jones is out due to a (second) PED suspension so what now? Let’s take that back and give it to Johnson…but we can’t do that because he’s not being challenged in a shallow division. He’s the GOAT though.

Did Georges St-Pierre just choke out Michael Bisping to win the UFC Middleweight strap? Yeah I remember how great that guy is; okay it’s got to be GSP. He’s the GOAT now! What about Fedor Emelianenko? Maybe, but he never competed in the UFC. However he did beat the prime versions of notable heavyweights that competed for the promotion so that has to count – and his run of dominance is almost with peer. It’s him! I’m sold.

I have to take Royce Gracie over here. He’s only the most – I don’t know – influential figure in the sport. All sizes, all comers, any combat background…he defeated them all while being the smaller man the majority of the time. He’s Bill Russell of mixed martial arts; Babe Ruth too. It started with him.

What about Jose Aldo? I’ll take Cain Velasquez all damn day! His health, bro; it’s going to make him a what-could’ve-been case. Does Alistair Overeem get a nod? Can we get a vote for Fabricio Werdum? Daniel Cormier is the GOAT though, too…right? Where’s Dan Henderson? He held TWO Pride titles when it was the premiere mixed combat promotion. Don’t forget that key point! Yo bro hold my beer it’s got to be the ‘Iceman” or we’re taking this outside. Fuck that player it’s the OG, Tito Ortiz. Weak sauce bro-seph, it’s BJ all damn night!

Where’s the love for Randy Couture? He’s one of the best ever too! There’s no vote for one of the most dominant fighters – regardless of gender – in Cristiane Santos? Oh damn, we can’t hate on Gina Carano. Ronda Rousey is the GOAT! NOOOOOO…it’s Conor McGregor dude!

Now maybe a few salient points were made above but do you get where I’m going here? It’s impossible to quantify the Greatest Ever in a sport that began – in earnest – in 1993. The sport has been around for 24 years. It’s pointless, no outright stupid to claim any one fighter as head and shoulders about the rest when it’s not even at the 50 year mark. Everyone falls victim in trying to stamp the most recent event as the most stellar because it happened during their specific time or it aligns with their specific, and/or emotional, rooting interest.

Over the last year, the GOAT mantle has been passed from Johnson, then moved to Jones, and then back to Johnson. A small section began to make noise for Dominick Cruz, and those same eyes turned in the direction of Cody Garbrandt after his impressive win in their title bout. Daniel Cormier’s name, honestly, doesn’t enter the conversation enough which is absurd when you consider he is legitimately a two-weight champion…you know, back when that accomplishment actually was worthy of merit and not just marketing strategy. TJ Dillashaw recently had his name mentioned and so has Max Holloway. I’m dizzy.

GSP returns and automatically he’s the GOAT – which, honestly, since the sport is still in it’s infancy he may be it’s greatest, most complete, most versatile, competitor along with Jones – and his name should never be lower than second or third on anyone’s list that knows anything of substance. That’s my personal opinion and I’ll defend it against any dissenting argument.

Organized mixed martial arts are truly unlike the other major sports entities in the world that have a century of history that lends itself to these types of definitive arguments. Soccer, basketball, baseball, American football, cricket, tennis, boxing and hockey have over a century of roots of which to mine from – and even the arguments in those respective sports struggle to reach a consensus fit to deem a single athlete The One.

If MMA fans – and sadly – the media tasked with covering the sport, with a lack of reason and measured perspective far too often, I’m afraid, pass the GOAT around every month then how valid is the honor? If there’s a Greatest Of All Time after each event then a greatest doesn’t exist.

Picks: Tecia Torres, Justin Gaethje, Henry Cejudo, Francis Ngannou and Aldo.

UFC 217

By: S. Davis

I last wrote about martial arts for UFC 214 so I wanted to do my best to write about the return of Georges St-Pierre to the sport. He’s on my short list of favorite fighters along with Jose Aldo, Jon Jones and Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos to name a few. St-Pierre, in my eyes, is as perfect a fighter as there’s ever been in mixed martial arts. He’s returning to action, at middleweight, after being away for 12 days shy of four years.

Yet the world surrounding the sport of mixed martial arts and the UFC, specifically, are crying that he cuts the line at middleweight? He’s the ill of the UFC roster? So St-Pierre returning to an immediate title fight is a threat to the integrity of the sport? Right.

The UFC, itself, has done a fantastic job of subverting their entire roster with the proliferation of interim championships, ignoring the fundamentals of match-making based on meritocracy and a rankings system comprised by some questionable outlets – which makes those numbers listed next to a fighter’s name hollow and plot points for marketing purposes only…among other maladies. The mess that the lightweight and – to a smaller degree – featherweight divisions are currently mired in drive this point home.

There is a pile of crying about Michael Bisping’s title reign. Is it his fault that Luke Rockhold walked into the cage with a smug demeanor, treating a fellow professional fighter like he shouldn’t have dressed to compete and was overconfident? He held a prior win over Bisping, and the Brit had only two weeks to prepare so it was a cake walk, right? I’m sure the majority of media and fans had this thought.

Bisping knocks Rockhold into the clouds and turns around to defend his title against Dan Henderson and championship merit evaporates completely? He’s the sole culprit in this kind of behavior? There are some selective memories around this sport if that’s the case. Bisping is taking a torch to the structure of all of mixed martial arts by trying to get win back? At least that was a title defense – against an opponent that can obliterate anyone with a pulse. Haven’t we seen rematches with far less importance to the sport; to their respective divisions as well? We’ve seen rematches pause entire divisions because ego trumped the responsibility of holding that gold strap with the shiny U-F-C letters.

Bisping’s wrong for looking to get the financial purses only a few fights can net him? St-Pierre is undeserving? With his resume of performances and consistent, spectacular, representation of a company that has been disrespectful, and at times classless – queue up the post-fight press conference at UFC 167 – he should be able to take part in some fantasy booking.

Most of the fans following MMA, or specifically the UFC, are fools. I’m not saying it’s the best fight to make for either man. It’s not – and that’s clear. Yet to look at this bout as a virus in the sport, the bane of competition among all the other fires the UFC has set for itself is a gross exaggeration. I would rather have both athletes compete in their natural weight classes against obvious opponents but I won’t begrudge either of them for taking advantage of a great opportunity from either point of view.

As for the actual fight, I have no clue where it goes. Do you? GSP has been on the shelf for four years. You can complete an undergraduate education in that time. How does his sabbatical go unnoticed here?

Secondly, as the fight coverage intensified over the last three weeks I’ve heard that his fighting style is outdated. Honestly, I don’t see that. He’s (still) probably the best MMA-wrestler with excellent cardio. He’s a good striker – and we all know the piston-like jab. He dominated opponents with top control and efficient ground-and-pound. His takedown defense is/was among the best in the sport. Which of the aforementioned skills are ancient?

Fast forward to present day and I do worry about his gas tank once the cage door closes. The defending champion pushes a torrid pace and doesn’t hit the brakes even if he’s hurt or on the verge of being finished. Bisping’s conditioning paired with St-Pierre’s lack of activity makes this main event such a chore to predict.

Bisping is on the verge of being the only fighter to claim a victory over Anderson Silva and GSP; let that sink in. The guy is overlooked at every turn but he has the most wins in the history of the promotion for a reason; let that sink in. If he can keep the fight standing, St-Pierre will need more than precise footwork and a jab to survive.

An aspect of the fight that intrigues me is the amount of damage GSP can endure. While he’s been a fighter that traditionally checks all the boxes, he’s been alarmingly bruised and bludgeoned in his last handful of fights. I’m not sure if he’s become lazy with head movement or his reaction time has dulled with age but it’s a point to consider. Look to the punishment he absorbed in the Johny Hendricks battle and there’s a tangible reason so many people felt he lost the welterweight crown. Personally I think he managed to win because he took round one and round five when Hendricks coasted to the bell, evidently pleased with his performance. Taking all that into account, my eyes widened when the decision was read.

Size will probably be the biggest factor in the outcome. GSP was resistant to move to 185 during the time the super-fight with Silva was simmering. Why didn’t Dana White – or anyone – pitch that fight at 177, by the way? Although it’s great for marketing, they didn’t have to put the middleweight title on the line if the two supernovas ever passed each other in the universe.

Sorry, I’m back on track now. How will Georges react to the extra weight? Putting on mass is one thing but competing with it against a larger, natural, middleweight is something no amount of sparring can adequately mimic. There’s a reason he’s been training on his grappling with elite submission practitioners; I think he’ll aim to snatch a swift submission victory to avoid five-round tug-of-war.

The rest of the card…

This Team Alpha Male vs. TJ Dillashaw feud is…whatever. So it’s a crime for an athlete to train with other camps/fighters/instructors to ensure he maximizes the short window he has to compete at an elite level? Has everyone forgotten how training and improving works, across ALL sports? Lastly with the intensity of the smear campaign coming out of Sacramento, why would they want him on the team? Isn’t this behavior proof that he made the right decision? If he’s such a traitor, why are they holding on so tightly? They’re treating it like he abandoned them at the altar. It’s tired – and it never should’ve garnered the level of attention that it has. If they truly valued him as a teammate and friend, shouldn’t they be happy for the improvements he’s made in his career? Wouldn’t you be elated for a friend if they’re living their best life?

I’m going to table the feelings I have towards the treatment of Rose Namajunas by Joanna Jedrzejczyk over the challenger’s battle with mental and emotional obstacles in her past. Depending on the event, I stay away from the UFC Embedded series that precedes the pay-per-view. I watched the episodes for UFC 217 and it lived up to some of the quotes I’ve heard and read from some of the journalists I read within the sport. The champion doesn’t come across and someone that’s…personable. She’s a fighter, I get that, and she’s kind and cheerful in a way that a lot of competitors in MMA can’t purchase at a yard sale. However she does not come across well on television when belittling Namajumas.

As for Thug Rose, I just don’t think she’s ready. She’s earned the fight, unquestionably, but I think it’s a byproduct of a dearth of contenders in the division. She’s 25. Two years from now I think this is a completely different title fight.

Enjoy the card!

Picks: Bisping, Dillashaw, Jedrzejczyk, Thompson, Costa and Duffy.

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.

Ronda Rousey

By: S. Davis

The mob mentality of fans never ceases to amaze me or prove my thought about the cult of fandom. Ninety-nine percent of all sports “fanatics” are putrid beings of flesh with the remaining 1% expressing the ability to view athletes as actual humans. Who knew?

We’re a few months removed from Ronda Rousey’s second consecutive defeat, and since this piece has been gestating in my brain from the Friday before the UFC Bantamweight title fight with champion Amanda Nunes…it’s time to type. Let’s just get this out-of-the-way early: Rousey defeated all the fighters that were placed in her path. She prevailed over every woman she was supposed to turn back on her way to becoming the biggest star in mixed martial arts. Now it can’t be ignored how much of the UFC machine aided her upon her rise but she was the one that had to step into the Octagon and deliver. Zuffa couldn’t manufacture that, she was tasked with stacking wins on top of one another. Alone. She entered the cage and had the door slam behind her. She fought. The world watched. She won.

“Overrated!”

“All hype and nothing else!”

“Brat!”

“Entitled!”

“Cocky!”

“One-dimensional!”

A few of the aforementioned labels are apt but not the ones you think. Overrated? No. All hype? No. Brat? Yes. Entitled? Maybe. Cocky? Isn’t that a prerequisite in all sports, especially the individual ones? I think so. One-dimensional? No.

She’s as dominant in judo as any fighter has ever been in their strongest discipline. Demian Maia is an uncanny jiu-jitsu practitioner, Anthony Pettis is a spectacular striker and Jon Jones is well, great everywhere, and I think he’s an alien but you should be able to follow my path. There’s a weird aura surrounding the sport of MMA and its competitors; when a fighter’s dominance is based, primarily, in the grappling realm they are viewed and judged in a harsher manner than the exciting fighter, per se. Peculiar.

Holly Holm excels as a striker, yet – up to the recent present – she struggles with her takedown defense and aggressive striking (she’s a classic counter-fighter; the sole reason I thought Rousey’s forward marching, bullish, style could haunt her the longer the fight went). Additionally the game-plan, apparently was to trade with a decorated standup artist but there’s no need to rehash that evening. Nunes is just as gifted in that aspect of martial arts and yet she’s susceptible to gassing out. Are they one-dimensional as well? What about Maia? Pettis?

Rousey’s problem was born from the fool’s gold in the aftermath of her knockout of Bethe Correia. That evening doomed her. It was the worst result…and she won the bout. She made a successful title defense! It steeled her belief that she was a boxer, a true standup fighter; she had thoughts of being a high-level one. Or at least that was one of the subjects spewing from her trainer’s mouth. Well, then she had to defend the title against Holm.

Holm and then Nunes; the outcomes are well-known at this point. While she made improvements in the striking arena leading up to the title defense against Holm, she clearly regressed in her devastating loss against Nunes. Where was her defense? “Head movement!” She would get tagged in some of her prior fights but she stood as straight as a pole and her head was an easy target in the one round she lasted against Nunes.

Unfortunately every fight begins on the feet. For Rousey that means she has to enter striking range in order to put her expertise to use. Her limited striking features no kicking to speak of and she doesn’t employ traditional takedowns like doubles, singles, knee-taps, etc., so her head movement and creation of angles must be stellar. They aren’t; at least not recently.

As for her legacy and impact: She met every challenge – until her last two outings – and was as dominant during that run as any athlete has ever been in any sport. There is no reasonable debate otherwise. Is she the most complete fighter? No. However, in my opinion, only Jones, Georges St-Pierre, Demetrious Johnson, Cris Cyborg, Joanna Jedrzejczyk, Cain Velasquez, Daniel Cormier and Jose Aldo fit that description. Tyron Woodley, Max Holloway, Rory MacDonald, Tony Ferguson and Rafael dos Anjos are worthy of mention as well.

Is she the best female in MMA? No. I never thought she was – even at her apex. That title belongs to Cyborg. Period. It does speak to Rousey’s gable grip on the sport and her excellence that respected members of MMA media picked her to win a long-rumored bout with Cyborg. Those journalists deserve to have their credentials torched. It was lazy then and it’s preposterous now.

Is she great? Yes. That can’t be deleted from her story. Holm and Nunes are the only two women that were able to topple her. (A legitimate argument can be raised that the third woman on that list is Rousey herself; at least mentally and emotionally.) The sports world and all of pop-culture screeched to a halt on those Saturday evenings when she competed and still remains the biggest crossover star under the UFC banner. She honored whatever the hell the ideal is of a champion in this peculiar time in MMA. She burst out to 12 victories – over four years – before her first loss. She won the title and actually defended her crown six times, event after event; didn’t fail at weigh-ins and held up her media obligations to promote (with the exception of UFC 207).

Rankings, belts and champions – as far as MMA is concerned – matter as much as the interim title I recently drew on a piece of paper, crumbled into a ball, and threw for my dog in a game of fetch. She infused substance into those gold “UFC” letters slung around her waist. Her championship had true meaning; it was layered and respected.

Pride comes before the fall. That’s the saying, right? I would add “Immense” to begin the statement as it pertains to the former champion. No, the former title holder. Hubris. In an interview leading up to her defense at UFC 193 where she was onstage with Jedrzejczyk, she answered a question by stating she could defeat the entire female bantamweight division with “one arm tied behind” her back. That was cringe-worthy.

Personally, I hope her last fight wasn’t the final act of her athletic career, so to speak. I don’t want it to end the way it seems like it has, presently. Naturally the mob is out to defecate on her achievements, and, over enough time I see her name drawing snickers. Hasn’t it already?

Predictably, it’s already begun. Its’ unfortunate that she’ll be remembered in a fashion unfit for the stature she earned within all of sport. If she’s taken the cage for the last time, I’m positive that idiot fans will feel pleasure and their own form of personal satisfaction. They already do.

Whether she retires or not, I respect her time in MMA and all she accomplished. I wish her all the happiness and success in the world. She excelled in an arena where consistency is its own martial art.

It was a joy to watch her perform. Damn, I’m going to miss her walk to the cage.