UFC 214: Daniel Cormier VS Jon Jones

With the well-publicised and, at times, farcical MacGregor-Mayweather world tour dominating headlines in the combat sport sphere over the past few weeks, it is easy to forget about the biggest MMA fight this year: Jon Jones versus Daniel Cormier for the UFC Light-Heavyweight championship. This may well be the best-credentialed MMA fight of all time, with two of the top four, pound for pound best going at it for both a championship and bragging rights. Tomorrow, (Saturday July 29th) we will find out whether Jon Jones still has the hunger after multiple personal controversies, and if Cormier can lay claim to the title of best Light-Heavyweight champion of all time.

Background

Daniel Cormier, a former Olympian and StrikeForce heavyweight Grand Prix champion, is the current UFC Light-Heavyweight (186-205 pounds) champion.  He has won his last four fights, including two dominant victories against Anthony Johnson and a close contest against perennial contender Alexander Gustafsson.  His last, and only, defeat came against the then champion Jon Jones in 2015 after a five-round unanimous decision.

For his part, due to his various personal indiscretions Jones has only fought once in the last two and a half years; a scratchy five-round decision victory against Ovince Saint Preux.  Interestingly, Jones did not opt to have a warm-up fight before facing Cormier, perhaps providing an insight into his level of confidence against the current champion.

The Rivalry

The origins of the hostility between Cormier and Jones starts with the lead-up to their first fight. Personal barbs were exchanged, and culminated with a press conference brawl the likes of which the UFC has not seen.  If the public still had doubts about how the two men felt about each other, a subsequent off-air media exchange confirmed the tension.

Jones-Cormier Media face off fight

Jones-Cormier interactions through the media

After the heated build-up, the first fight was closer than Jones’ previous encounters. Whilst Jones won both the stand-up and grappling exchanges, Cormier had his moments, able to land significant upper cuts in the clinch, and taking Jones down. Keeping with the theme of the build up, the two men continued to exchange blows despite the horn signalling the end of the fight. The decision was unanimous however and Jones retained his coveted title.

UFC 182: Jones vs Cormier 1

The two men were scheduled to fight several times in the last two years, all of which never eventuated for varying reasons. The most controversial of these was the much-anticipated UFC 200, due to take place in July 2016.  Days before the fight, it was revealed that Jones had tested positive for a banned substance and would not be able to compete. Cormier was obviously devastated and has since been using Jones’ many indiscretions as fuel for his personal attacks.

Daniel Cormier reacts to Jon Jones testing positive

Jones was suspended for a year and Cormier has been on the verbal attack ever since.  Lambasting Jones for his supposed drug problems, his brushes with the law and the performance-enhancing drug suspension, Cormier is attempting to position himself as the good guy. This reflects their personalities perfectly.  Jones’ is the lovable rogue: unimaginably physically talented, confident with a penchant for partying. Cormier is the consummate family man.  A hard worker, he is not blessed with the genetic gifts that Jones possesses but makes up for those shortfalls with sheer hard work and a Spartan-like lifestyle. The fight, therefore, is as much a clash of characters as it is of talented mixed martial artists.

The Fight – Tale of the Tape

Daniel Cormier (Champion) Jon “Bones” Jones (unranked: coming off USADA suspension)
Height 180cm 193cm
Weight 93kg 93kg
Reach 184cm 215.5cm
Record 19-1 22-1

Striking

Whilst Cormier has improved his striking from its agricultural beginnings in Strikeforce, Jones still has a distinct advantage in this department. Long and rangy, Jones’ freakish reach means he is able to effectively dictate the range in which the fight takes place. This was evidenced in the first fight, where Jones was able to utilise long kicks and his jab to keep Cormier on the outside. Further, Jones’ elbows were effective when “DC” attempted to close the distance, catching his opponent numerous times on the way in, and in the clinch. Cormier has certainly gotten more proficient on his feet having worked with coach Javier Mendes consistently since the last fight, and will need to control the clinch, or hope to catch Jones with one or more powerful overhands from faked takedown attempts.

Grappling

Given Cormier’s wrestling pedigree, one would think he has the distinct grappling advantage. This is not necessarily the case, however, with Jones out-grapping most of his opponents and taking “DC” down multiple times in the first fight. Further, Jones has shown a flair for submission grappling, beating wrestler and MMA legend Dan Henderson easily in that arena. Cormier will have to utilise a smothering style, using the cage to wear Jones down if he is to have a chance of out-grappling Jones.

The X-Factors

“Ring Rust” is the phenomenon in fighting referring to the ‘dip’ in performance a fighter may experience after not competing for an extended period of time. For Jones, this is a real possibility, particularly given the relatively lacklustre performance he put on against Ovince Saint Preux coming off of a 15-month layoff. He has now had another 14 months off, only having fought once in nearly two and a half years. If Cormier is to catch him cold, now would be the time.

For Cormier, his age becomes a genuine factor in his performances. He is now 38, and has some significant miles on the clock, having wrestled for years at the very highest level, as well as his MMA career.  He has already been injured multiple times as a mixed martial artist, one time of which was in preparation for a rematch against Jones. How did Cormier fare through his gruelling camp, will he manage to ‘trump’ it after all? All will be revealed tomorrow!

Jones is better than Cormier at every aspect of MMA, and should beat him again handily and show that he is the greatest Light-Heavyweight of all time, and potentially the best mixed martial artist ever. But this is MMA, and anything is possible. Cormier’s chance lies in either a complacent or out-of-practice Jones presenting to the fight, and we know that if anyone can exploit a weakness, it is “DC”.  Regardless…tomorrow can’t come quickly enough!

Matt Ho is a physiotherapist and martial arts enthusiast, originally drawing inspirations from Jackie Chan’s "Police Story". Himself Asian he spent time in South-East Asia and possesses a deep appreciation for the culture. He trained in Karate briefly as a child and took up boxing six years ago training for fights in late 2015. He's had one amateur bout and several “smoker’” events. Matt now lives and trains in London, where he has also taken up Brazilian Jiu Jitsu with a goal of competing in MMA in the future. Matt also has a keen interest in the politics, matchmaking and economics behind professional MMA.

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