It ranks as one of the most anticipated fights in years and pits two of MMA’s most bitter rivals against one another for a second time.
Daniel Cormier will defend the undisputed Ultimate Fighting Championship light heavyweight crown against former champion and arch nemesis Jon Jones in the UFC 214 headliner on Saturday at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California. The five-fight main draw features two other title fights, as Tyron Woodley puts the welterweight belt on the line against Demian Maia and Cristiane Justino meets Tonya Evinger for the vacant women’s featherweight championship. Further down the stacked lineup, Robbie Lawler locks horns with Donald Cerrone at 170 pounds and Jimi Manuwa takes on upstart contender Volkan Oezdemir in a pivotal light heavyweight affair.
Let us take a closer look at each UFC 214 “Cormier vs. Jones 2” matchup, with analysis and picks:
UFC Light Heavyweight ChampionshipDaniel Cormier (19-1) vs. Jon Jones (22-1)
THE MATCHUP: The time is finally here. It has been over two years since Jones and Cormier last met, and while the fight was rather competitive in the early going, “Bones” used his toughness, conditioning and brilliant fighting brain to outwork “DC” down the stretch. That was a title defense for Jones, but now, after a hit-and-run accident compelled the UFC to strip the Jackson-Wink MMA star of the belt, it is Cormier who sits on the throne. He won the title as a short-notice replacement for Jones himself and has defended it twice. Jones remains the only man to ever defeat him.
As noted, Cormier competed quite well with Jones in the first fight. He forced Jones into exchanges, traded with him in the clinch and landed the occasional eye-catching power punch at range. For the first three rounds, he and Jones went blow for blow, “Bones” outlanding Cormier slightly in the first and third rounds, with “DC” returning the favor in Round 2. Cormier’s gung-ho attitude proved to be his undoing, however -- with a little help from Jones, of course. A staggering 68 percent of Cormier’s strikes were sent searching for Jones’ head, whereas “Bones” landed 52 percent of his strikes to the body and legs. So what seemed at best like even trades in the first round turned out not to be. Hampered by the attritive work of his rival, Cormier flagged heading into the fourth and wasted every ounce of energy he had left chasing a pointless takedown. Cormier’s ego may have enjoyed a brief celebration at the moral victory, but it was Jones who had his hand raised in the end.
Cormier has improved some aspects of his standup game since. He seems more comfortable being aggressive now, having grown into his role as champion. While he still spent much of his fight with Alexander Gustafsson chasing around the Swede, he did manage to cut off the cage a few times, landing hurtful shots in the process. However, Cormier’s boxing -- specifically his defense -- has changed very little. He still stands tall, still backs up in straight lines and still does not move his head, except in exaggerated leans and dips that prevent him from countering. Cormier will have to work hard in the pocket, and doing so will create a natural bridge to the clinch. Here, too, Cormier can compete, but Jones’ height and length give him the advantage of leverage, particularly for throwing powerful knees to Cormier’s vulnerable body.
It is not that Cormier cannot compete with Jones this time around. In fact, if it were not for Jones, we would probably be calling him the greatest light heavyweight of all-time. There is no doubt that he will hang in there and force Jones to work. The bitter truth, though, is that the consequences of doing so are likely to catch up to him before long.
For one, Cormier frequently relies on his wrestling, completing an impressive 42 percent of his attempted takedowns. Jones’ takedown defense, however, is the best in the division’s history. Last time around, he took down “DC” three times before being taken down once himself. Cormier is also strong in the clinch; that is perhaps the most dangerous aspect of Jones’ repertoire, a short game in which his knees and elbows can be put to bloody good use. Cormier throws volume; Jones throws more. When one considers the size difference -- Jones is a full six inches taller than Cormier, with a remarkable 12-inch reach advantage -- it becomes clear that nothing about this style matchup favors “DC.” Still, he is not to be counted out. That he faced the same matchup so aggressively last time is a testament to his grit and determination.
Nonetheless, Jones seems to have done significant damage with that first win. He took down “DC” in the first round, the first allowed takedown of Cormier’s career at that point. He put him on his back and then held him in place, with palm on forehead, like a helpless kid brother. He taunted Cormier in the end, ridiculing him with the most terrifically juvenile of gestures and made sure the world knew who was the better fighter. For Cormier, these insults cannot stand. To invalidate them, however, he will have to fight Jones, and in the cage, there is no question who fights with a cooler head.
THE ODDS: Jones (-265), Cormier (+215)
THE PICK: Cormier certainly could hit upon the perfect strategy to defeat Jones. He could draw Jones into counters from long range, pressure him into the fence and keep him there or find new ways of wrestling him without getting caught up in a clinch striking battle. “DC” is a smart man, and it would not be the first time in his MMA career that he made great leaps from one fight to the next. At 38 years old, however, Cormier is probably done making big adjustments, which means that while he will surely find success on a tactical level, he will once again be outdone by Jones’ strategic thinking. Perhaps Jones’ greatest asset is the sort of cruelty he exhibits both in and outside the cage. He likes making his opponents uncomfortable, and he has done so in every way possible with Cormier. There is, of course, the chance that Jones returns with a generous coating of ring rust after his long suspension, but even if “DC” comes in with a perfect strategy, he may still be too emotionally invested to execute it. One gets the feeling that he hates his rival too much for his own good. The pick is Jones by unanimous decision.
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