Hoooo baby here we go. The best card of the year featuring possibly the most storied grudge match of our time. Coming live from Anaheim, UFC 214 boasts 3 title fights, 2 additional fights pitting two top-10 fighters from a division against each other, and as I mentioned earlier this week, a slew of opportunities for nearly-there contenders to make their presence felt. Let’s do it!
The Main Event
The UFC 214 Main Event puts two fighters against each other who have the utmost contempt for each other. In this Light-Heavyweight Championship clash between champion Daniel Cormier and former champion Jon Jones, the loathing between the two fighters hangs in the air as heavy as the summer’s humidity. It’s not even an explosive hatred as it once was – sending Dave Sholler through a fake photo op wall. It’s a hardened unpleasantness, like a molten lava-based resentment slowly cascading toward Saturday night.
In one corner you have “DC”, the former Olympic hopeful and dominant heavyweight, even winning and defending that belt in Strikeforce. When he arrived in the UFC he decided to downshift, painstakingly, to 205lbs as his teammate Cain Velasquez was the Heavyweight Champion at the time. The late-in-life (first pro fight at age 30) MMA ace has only lost once, to Jon Jones in his first attempt to win the 205lb title. Back when the hate was still fresh.
Jones’ story is the opposite of Cormier’s. He’s a true prodigy. He is the youngest champion the UFC has ever seen, winning the UFC 205lb belt at 23. He defended it 8 times, capped by the aforementioned win over Cormier, only to throw it all away. There was a positive test for Cocaine. There was a planned rematch with “DC” on the “biggest card ever”, UFC 200, that was scrapped 72 hours prior when Jones tested positive for what at the time appeared to be PEDs. There was a hit and run (on foot) involving a pregnant woman, after which he was stripped of the belt. It seemed like Jon Jones would lose it all forever, and it seemed like he didn’t care.
Now they meet again. Cormier out to prove he has what it takes to beat Jones. Jones out to prove he is not only on the straight and narrow, but is still the dominant fighter he once was. The hate may not be as fresh, but it is still palpable.
There really is only one major issue in getting hype for this fight: the first one was a snoozer. Jones was largely dominant from beginning to end and there never was a ton of action, at least not the frenetic kind we’re used to inside the octagon. “DC” seemed burnt out by then, physically and mentally. He was hesitant to engage to an extent and quick to back off when he did. We can only hope now for a more exciting rematch. Jones says he is clean and Cormier, now having the belt himself, appears confident; not as concerned with the drama surrounding them. It’s confounding indeed though, this rematch taking place with “DC” now the champ – having beat Anthony Johnson after Jones was stripped – and Jones the challenger without ever having lost.
In terms of what happens when he actually gets to it, “DC”, a Former Olympic wrestler and American Kickboxing Academy standout is, to put it in simple terms, a load. He seeks to wear out his opponent in whichever phase they find themselves in, although he favors two of these phases the most. In terms of what he is credentialed in, Olympic-wise, his wrestling is set up using sound boxing and forward movement, snatching, when in position, what is normally a high crotch or a body-lock, the latter of which he will use to make his opponent wear his weight from a standing position until he finds a trip or a throw. On the ground Cormier makes for a most heavy and uncomfortable blanket, suffocating his opponents while unleashing brutal ground and bound and keeping his eyes open for his patented rear-naked choke. The champion is also a beast in the clinch, the other phase he absolutely loves. Shorter men tend to thrive in the clinch, especially ones as strong as Cormier, as they can simply reach up and use the organic leverage they find to pull their opponent’s head down and control them. From this position, Cormier will use elbows, punches, and knees – whichever and whatever is available – to punish his foe. He will also hit trips and/or the previously mentioned high-crotch from this position to bring the fight to the ground. I’m not jealous of anyone who has to be in close quarters with a 5’11 former heavyweight. His stature is Cormier’s only weakness, really, with rangier opponents such as Jones and Alexander Gustaffson able to hit him from a distance.
Across from Cormier is an unenviable riddle to solve. Really what is there to say about Jon Jones? He out-wrestles wrestlers and out-strikes strikers. In terms of the former, Jones employs primarily body locks, from which he’ll hit anything ranging from hip tosses to lateral drops, and double legs, mostly of the turn-the corner variety. There has also been occasions where he’ll casually score a knee-pick turned unto a knee-tap double. In terms of striking, “Bones” is very well-known for his oblique kick, a move that is always an injury risk for his opponent (due to where it lands, just above the knee) and he is therefore criticized for. It is legal all the same. He throws this kick from the side or as a forward facing Thai-style teep, using either his front or rear leg, while at range or leaping forward. Fun. Jones Also employs probing jabs to keep his opponents at range, waiting for an opportunity to smash them with one of his signature elbows, of either the spinning or straight-on variety. When his opponents hit the ground, via either his wrestling or strikes, he lays in with truly vicious elbows and constant submission attempts, just as apt to get the stoppage via strikes as a choke. Jones weaknesses are hard to pinpoint. I suppose he takes his dominance for granted sometimes and gets tagged due to complacency. To this end he is also susceptible to offense when his opponent is not as overwhelmed as he thinks they are and they are able to land.
Summary: I’m not going to keep blathering on. While the champion is without a doubt one of the better fighters of our time, Jones is again in his head and is just a bad match-up, as long and fight-saavy as he is. Jones by UD.
Fan/MMA Nerd Fight of the Night
The welterweight bout between Robbie Lawler and Donald Cerrone might be the most interesting, high-stakes fight between two guys coming off a loss I can remember. Lawler returns a year after losing his title in a fight he perhaps should have waited to take. Cerrone also may have been a victim of activity and looks to jump back into contention under the bright lights he seems to loathe. Despite both losing their last fight the winner of this one could very well either be given a title shot or earn their way to one through a live mic, and they surely would not be more than one more win away. Though both combatants have a ground game (Cerrone’s is the better of the two) this one is going to be contested on the feet.
Lawler – In interviews and outside the cage, Lawler is placid – he is quiet, chill, relaxed. Then the cage door locks and he goes from surfer bro to savage. Stylistically the southpaw Lawler has a heavy reliance on his hands, particularly that anvil of a piston-like left. Although known for when it lands as a straight, Lawler will also throw his power hand as an uppercut, particularly in close quarters. He likes to set it up with a right hook – either a fairly standard one or a sort of looping, overhand technique – although it could comes from anywhere. The left hand is not Lawler’s only weapon, though. The lower body of Robbie Lawler is also something you have to watch out for. He likes to and will throw knees, as Jake Ellenberger, among others, learned the hard way. He also has developed a left high kick, which both serves to earn the finish (Bobby Voelker fight) or as simply another atomic weapon his opponent has to worry about defending while Lawler looks to land something else. “Ruthless” also has a decent turn-the-corner double should the opportunity arise and seem worth it. Lastly, and something that is not always discussed, Lawler can and will go aerial with his attacks. He has employed flying knees and superman punches throughout his career to further keep his opponents guessing, or end their night. Now in his 30’s however, it might be fair to expect Lawler to stay grounded, moving forward and looking for that left hand. In terms of weaknesses, Lawler is a bit of a plodder and not an exceptional athlete. This combines with the fact that he is a bit binary, either on offense or defense, and over-aggressive at times to cause him to be vulnerable when you think he is otherwise winning.
Donald Cerrone is the UFC’s Cowboy – he may not be the only fighter with that nickname but he lives, sleeps, eats and breathes the life behind it. He is not only a high octane, but also a highly technical kickboxer, which he doesn’t get enough credit for. How many other guys are there in the sport, period, with punch/kick combos both elegant and lethal enough to be turned into “DragonBall Z” parodies. To summarize what he does in the cage, Cerrone is indeed looking for a head kick. 5 of his last 11 wins dating back to 2014 were finishes based off of shin hitting skull. Although a slow starter, “Cowboy” knows how to use his footwork to get out of range when in trouble and his boxing in close quarters to do the same. Although he employs a sort of typical kickboxer bounce – I would say it is of the Thai style but the fuck do I know – it is also awkward and unique enough that I don’t think it gets enough credit for keeping opponents off balance and unsure of his next move. It must also be said that should his UFC 214 opponent hit one of those double leg takedowns, “Cowboy” is an absolute bastard off his back, either using his long legs to lock in a body triangle and hit elbows from the bottom or maneuver into a triangle choke, which he has won by 8 times. Cerrone’s weakness are twofold and well publicized. The slow starts are one part of it. He just seems to need to get clipped a couple of times before his on switch is flipped, which you really can’t afford to do against Robbie Lawler. The other part, as also discussed, is he tends to crumble at the biggest moments. This is a big moment.
Summary: This is certainly a tough one. My heart says what is on paper, which is that Cerrone is too dynamic for Lawler and that he’ll get the KO. My head however, remembers the Coloradoan’s fights against Rafael dos Anjos (x2), Benson Henderson, and Nate Diaz and just doesn’t know if Cerrone can do it on the biggest stage. Lawler has never had that problem. Lawler by 2nd RD TKO/KO.
Intriguing Fighter To Watch
I’m breaking the one fighter rule and picking two, Jason Knight and Brian Ortega. They are two of the best young prospects in the featherweight division and both bring a lot of their own flair and style to the table, with some key similarities. Both guys were street scrappers growing up, Ortega on the streets of Torrance, Knight on the back roads of D’Iberville, Mississippi. They both love to tap people out, although “T-City” Ortega is the black belt, under Rener Gracie of all people. Those youthful brawls have paid off as well as they both have a handful of knockouts to their credit. Here Knight may have the edge as he has one more knockout and overall seems to have a bit more of a knack for the big shot, if not more pop in his hands altogether. So the questions are many. Will they both win? Will they both lose? Will one fail while one prevails? If they both win who will impress more? Fuck it, no matter what have them fight each other after this.
Another Fighter To Watch
I’m taking Volkan Oezdemir here. He was a completely unknown quantity who, on 3 weeks notice, was basically fed to OSP as a safe replacement opponent to pump the former Tennessee Volunteer back up. It was not to be. The UFC’s first Swiss fighter won via split decision, although I think he was the clear victor. #judges. From there Oezdemir just kept being an asshole, going and knocking out top 205lb prospect Misha Circunov. He now faces Jimi Manuwa, who is openly, in Dana White’s own words, on this card in case “DC” or Jones don’t make it to the fight. A win against Manuwa would probably earn Oezdemir a fight against Alexander Gustaffson in a #1 Contender’s bout. He is mainly a striker – a kickboxer who has spent time training in the famed Golden Glory gym in the Netherlands. He employs smart combos which land with quite a bit of power. It’ll be interesting to see what he looks like against some top competition of his ilk.
-Although he is the underdog I am taking Demian Maia over Tyron Woodley. Maia has only been truly KO’d once, by Nate Marquardt almost 8 years ago, so I’m not confident such a careful fighter is going to be caught by one of Woodley’s right hands. I think the careful, deliberate Maia survives the first couple rounds and grinds out a decision, maybe even snatching a late submission.
-Yes, I’ve completely ignored another title fight on the card because I think one of the fighters is an abomination to professional sports in general. Do not @ me.
– As I mentioned in a previous blog , Boston-area fighter Calvin Kattar makes his UFC debut against Team Alpha Male’s “Touchy” Fili. That’s a brutal first task but we like those around these parts, don’t we?
-Debuting flyweight Jarred Brooks is undefeated and is nicknamed “the Monkey God”. I’m tuning in just to see what the fuck this kid is about.
-As I mentioned Ortega and Knight, I should also give some attention to Renato Carneiro and the previously mentioned Andre “Touchy” Fili who are also excellent featherweight prospects.
-Here’s to Aljimain Sterling getting that big win he so sorely craves and breaking out into the big time against Renan Barao. As Burt Watson said Aljo, “Don’t leave it to the judges, they’ll break your heart everytime.”
Enjoy this card as ones like this don’t come around often, I’ll be tweeting from @JoeyB300s.