Daniel Cormier defeated Alexander Gustafsson by split decision after a grueling 25-minute slugfest in the UFC 192 main event on Saturday in Houston, as he held on to the title he won in May after Jon Jones was stripped. Cormier launched his Swedish challenger with ease early in the first round and looked like he might dominate him with his wrestling, but Gustafsson rebounded well to keep “DC” and his takedown game at bay for the remainder of the fight.
While the decision was split, I felt Cormier dominated bigger stretches of the fight and out-landed Gustafsson by a wide margin. The only time Cormier was in any real danger was towards the end of the third round, where Gustafsson planted him with a hellacious knee that nearly finished it. Other than that, the Swede was routinely on his bike, turning and sprinting away from the pursuing champion. I wouldn’t be shocked if Gustafsson logged close to a mile over the five rounds.
The fight, while not as close as some of the scores had it, was as entertaining as it gets in the fight business. Both men traded big shots and had each other stumbling and bumbling at different times, but in the end, the right guy won.
MAIN CARD THOUGHTS: Ryan Bader won his fifth straight fight, beating former champion Rashad Evans to cement his position as a top title contender at 205 pounds. The Arizona product beat Evans to the punch time and again and dictated the pace of their 15-minute affair to notch a unanimous decision that should anchor him firmly in the title picture. Evans was away from the cage for nearly two years while he rehabbed from a knee injury, and the ring rust was apparent. He continuously stalked Bader but didn’t seem to be able to pull the trigger when it came time to fire. Bader used much improved footwork and a jab we have seldom seen in the past to keep Evans at bay throughout much of the fight, cruising to one of the bigger wins of his career. His title hopes will most certainly be linked to former champion Jon Jones, who agreed to a plea deal that should allow him to return to competition in the coming months, provided he and the UFC decide such a return is appropriate. If Jones comes back in a timely fashion, Bader will have to wait, but if not, the man they call “Darth” should get the next crack at interim ... oops ... undisputed champion Cormier.
UNDERCARD SHOTS: The Ultimate Fighting Championship has not been bashful about its desire to make inroads into the Mexican sport’s market, and Yair Rodriguez looks like he may be a significant part of the promotional push to convert the traditionally boxing-rich fanbase. He has done his part so far by rattling off three straight wins to kick off his UFC career. Despite a suspected broken foot, Rodriguez navigated the final two rounds in dominating fashion against an overmatched Daniel Hooker to get the shutout win via decision. Careful matchmaking should keep him relevant as he continues to develop his considerable skill set, and Rodriguez could very well become one of the first major homegrown stars for the UFC in Mexico if all goes well ... Albert Tumenov won his fourth consecutive UFC bout in vicious fashion, knocking out a very durable Alan Jouban with a flurry of strikes, including a massive left hand that flattened his foe at 2:55 of the first round. Tumenov ran his UFC record to 4-1, with his sole loss coming by way of a close split decision. Tumenov has been a destructive force throughout his four-fight winning streak, racking up three stoppages and a thorough beatdown of Nicholas Musoke en route to an overwhelming unanimous decision. It is time for the creative striker to take a step up in competition; hopefully matchmaker Joe Silva will be able to find him a welterweight that will provide just that in the coming months ... Sergio Pettis showed marked improvement in his return to the cage after a disappointing loss earlier this year. The flyweight prospect ran his UFC record to 4-2 and looked like he would do it easily before former title challenger Chris Cariaso turned the tables on him in the final round. Pettis came to the big show with a ton of hype and has failed to live up to it through six appearances. He is still only 22 years old and has plenty of time to develop into the fighter many pegged him to be when he arrived on the scene. With that said, there is still some serious work to do before he steps into the upper echelon of the 125-pound division.
JESUS H. NORTCHUTT: There’s a new messiah, err, prospect in town, and his name is Sage Northcutt. Now I can’t quite confirm he was born in a manger, but I’m pretty sure he can walk on water after watching all the hype shows leading up to his promotional debut. All joking aside, Northcutt is assuredly a gifted athlete who may very well have a bright future in the sport, but it is just way too early to tell. Beating Francisco Trevin was by far his best win, but Trevino is now 1-2 in the Octagon, with his only win coming over a pedestrian Renee Forte. There are a ton of questions that still need to be answered before we really get an idea of just how good young Northcutt can be. We need to know what his ground game is like, what he does when he gets put in a bad position and how he handled all the pressure of being propped up by the promoter; and what is he going to do when Conor McGregor gets ticked at him for diverting his uncles’ attention from his antics?
Greg Savage is the executive editor of Sherdog.com and can be reached via email or on Twitter @TheSavageTruth.