Thursday January 1st, 2015

Everything you need to know about this weekend's big fight.


He’s not Michael Jordan. Sure, Jon Jones is the best that the sport of mixed martial arts has to offer to the compendium of elite modern athletes. But sublime agility and jaw-dropping creativity are just part of what has sustained “Bones” as UFC light heavyweight champion. It is his mixture of those poetic traits with some vital biological measurables that completes the package. With too much size, strength and length for other 205-pounders to handle, Jones is Wilt Chamberlain, a big man competing against little boys. 

So as Saturday’s tipoff approaches, the question is: Can Daniel Cormier fill the Bill Russell role? (He’s shaped more like Charles Barkley, a round mound of ground-and-pound.) 

The hoops analogy could have instead been Willie Mays and baseball. Bobby Orr and hockey. Lawrence Taylor and football. Johan Cruyff and the other football. It didn’t even have to be from the athletic arena, really. The parallel could have been set anywhere the greats performers, from theater to library to museum to nightclub. Coltrane. Chagall. Blake. Brando. Insert genius here. 

Narrowing the field of visionaries to within sports, though, gives rise to an undercurrent: This weekend’s fist fight offers the sports world something grander than what’s usually contained in the fringe niche of MMA. 

When Jones (20-1) and Cormier (15-0) step into the octagon for the main event of UFC 182 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, it will be the most magnificent moment in the sport’s recent history, one of its most notable ever. Of course, to keep things in perspective, this will not be the biggest sporting event of the evening. The NFL rules the world, so the AFC wild-card game between the Steelers and Ravens will take top billing. But the football playoff will be over long before the marquee fighters walk to the cage. 

So even if you’re a pro football fan who knows nothing about the fight game played by Chandler and Arthur Jones’s brother, even if you’re a college gridiron follower sated by the afternoon’s Birmingham Bowl or a basketball or hockey or soccer fan, this one’s for you. 

Jon Jones, who sits at the top of’s MMA pound-for-pound heap, is the greatest fighter of his generation and perhaps of all time. And yet, while he has beaten five former champions as part of his reign of nearly four years, he’s never faced anyone with the world-class resume of Daniel Cormier, a two-time Olympic wrestler. 

In addition to the pay-per-view telecast of the five-fight main card, four prelims will be shown on Fox Sports 1, starting at 8 p.m. ET, and the event’s first two bouts will be available on the UFC Fight Pass online service at 7. The main card also will be screened by Fathom Events at select movie theaters nationwide.


Jones and Cormier have been sizing each other up for four years, if not longer. They first met backstage at the UFC 121 weigh-in in October 2010. Cormier was in Las Vegas to support his friend and teammate Cain Velasquez, who would become heavyweight champion that weekend by smashing Brock Lesnar. Jones, who was still five months away from laying claim to the light heavy belt, had teammate Diego Sanchez on the fight card. 

As both men tell the story, Jones approached Cormier and said, “I hear you’re a wrestler,” which sounds like cheeky understatement when speaking to a two-time Olympian. Then “Bones” ramped it up by adding, “I bet I could take you down.” Jones insists he was joking. Cormier didn’t laugh. 

Cormier was fighting at heavyweight at that time, so Jones’s impertinence wasn’t a direct challenge. But it was clear even back then, with Velasquez about to take ownership of the big-boy belt, that “DC” eventually was going to have to trim to 205 pounds if he wanted to compete for a championship. He finally did so in early 2014, and continued to dominate just as he had at heavyweight. 

In late July, after Alexander Gustafsson was forced to pull out of a scheduled rematch with Jones because of injury, Cormier got the call to fight for the belt. Just over a week later, Jones and Cormier appeared at a press conference in the lobby of the MGM Grand hotel in Las Vegas to trumpet their bout. When they were brought onstage to face off for the cameras, Jones put his forehead on Cormier’s. “DC” shoved the champ away by the neck, and “Bones” went back at him. Fists were flying, bodies too, and we had us a fight. 

Later in the day, while waiting in separate rooms for a previously scheduled joint TV appearance, Jones and Cormier sparred verbally, unaware that the cameras were rolling and every cross word and vile sneer was being seen on a split screen. Promotional gold. 

The original Sept. 27 dance had to be scrapped after Jones tore his left meniscus and sprained his ankle in training. And while a delay of over three months may have lowered the heat to a simmer, when the cage door closes on Saturday night, we’re all in for a hot time.

Last Five Fights

4/26/14 Glover Teixeira W UD 5
9/21/13 Alexander Gustafsson W UD 5
4/27/13 Chael Sonnen W TKO 1
9/22/12 Vitor Belfort W Sub. 4
4/21/12 Rashad Evans W UD 5

5/24/14 Dan Henderson W T-sub. 3
2/22/14 Patrick Cummins W TKO 1
10/19/13 Roy Nelson W UD 3
4/20/13 Frank Mir W UD 3
1/12/13 Dion Staring W TKO 2

Tale of the Tape


July 19, 1987​​


March 20, 1979​

Rochester, N.Y.


Lafayette, La.

Itaca, N.Y. 


San Jose, Calif.













 ​* Official weights announced at the weigh-in (Friday, 7 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 2) 

Other Numbers to Count On

96.6: Percentage of success in takedown defense over Jon Jones’s career, second best in the UFC history, according to FightMetric statistics. Jones has been taken down just once, by Alexander Gustafsson. (Daniel Cormier has never been taken down in his MMA career, but since he has fought only four times in the UFC, his 100 percent doesn’t qualify among the promotion’s leaders.) 

2.41: Strikes landed by Jones for every one by an opponent, a differential that’s fifth best all time in the UFC. 

70: Percentage of opponents’ significant strike attempts evaded by Cormier. 

0: Five-round fights for Cormier since joining the UFC. He did go five with Josh Barnett in a 2012 Strikeforce bout. Jones has fought five rounds three times, including in his last two bouts. 

1: Shoe that went flying, thrown by Cormier in the general direction of Jones, after they’d brawled and been separated at their August press conference. (One PR man went flying, too.)    

Greatest Hits

Daniel Cormier earns a title shot by mauling Dan Henderson:


Everyone knows you cannot stand in front of Jon Jones within striking distance, that you’ve got to get in his face. Everyone knows because challenger after challenger has let it be known that he’ll be the one who will take the fight to the champ. We’re still waiting for that to happen. 

Alexander Gustafsson is the only opponent who has troubled Jones, and he did so not by rushing in but by moving in a different direction. Actually, two different directions: left and right. The tall Swede’s lateral movement allowed him to avoid the straight kicks to the knee area that Jones specializes in, which have hobbled past opponents and kept them out of attacking range. 

Cormier has to be concerned about these kicks. He’s at a distinct reach disadvantage, which means there’ll be a range at which Jones can hit him but he cannot hit Jones. “DC” has to close that distance in order to present danger via either his striking or grappling game. But only fools rush in. He has to find a better way. 

Maybe he’ll kick with Jones; Daniel’s legs are powerful. Maybe he’ll emulate Gustafsson a little and attack from an angle. Maybe he’ll time one of those low kicks and use Jones’s leg against him in a takedown try. 

If Cormier is successful at closing distance, that’ll bring his superior wrestling into play, but he’ll have to act quickly, because to jostle with Jones in close proximity means that sharp, concussive elbows will be coming your way. 

The two fighters have one thing in common: Each has outclassed pretty much everyone he’s been in the cage with. I say “pretty much” because Jones was stretched to his limit by Gustafsson. No one’s given Cormier that kind of fight, but he hasn’t competed against the level of opposition that Jones has. Whereas Jon has taken on a murders’ row of ex-champions, many of them in their prime or a reasonable facsimile of such, Cormier has been matched against good fighters but no greats. No current greats, at least. Josh Barnett had his day and Dan Henderson is a legend, but neither was in even the same time zone as his prime when he stepped in with Cormier. 

The flip side to all that: Thanks to Gustafsson, we have a blueprint for how to beat Jones or at least drag him into deep water. We have no such instruction manual for Cormier. So Jones must predicate his game plan only on his own strengths, not on any perceived weaknesses in Cormier, because whatever those weaknesses might be, we’ve never seen them surface in a fight.

The Odds

Jones is the betting favorite, with a money line ranging from -172 (bet $100 to win $58.14) to -190 (bet $100 to win $52.63) at various sportsbooks. The line on Cormier ranges from +131 (bet $100 to win $131) to +160 (bet $100 to win $160).


Back in the summer of 2013, I was writing a fight preview much like the one you’re now reading. When I came to this very section, where I’m asked to predict the outcome, I just stared at my computer screen, typing nothing. I’d been wowed by Chris Weidman and had a sneaking suspicion he was going to be champion, but pick against Anderson Silva? C’mon. I just couldn’t do it. 

I’ve just finished staring at my screen, wordlessly, again. Daniel Cormier is a stud. He has what it takes to be champ. But picking against Jon Jones, the pound-for-pound No. 1 in the sport and maybe the greatest ever, is unthinkable. 

So now I’m about to write the unthinkable. 

First, let me toss this out: If Jon Jones walks out of the octagon with the UFC championship belt around his waist, he will have solidified his place among the all-time greats. He’s already there in the minds of many, but any holdouts surely couldn’t deny “Bones” his due after he’d faced down the toughest challenge of his career. 

But he’s not walking out with the belt. Cormier is. The pivotal factor, I believe, will be Jones’s ego. Typically, in any fight, “Bones” challenges himself by attacking his opponent’s strengths. If he had any inclination to veer from that modus operandi for this meeting with a truly elite wrestler, don’t count on it in the wake of all the acrimony. Jones will be more determined than ever to attack this fighter where he thrives -- wrestling Cormier rather than utilizing his length to fight from distance -- and I believe it’s going to cost him. Cormier by TKO. 

Fighting Words

"Hey [lewd reference to female anatomy], are you still there?

-- Jon Jones to Daniel Cormier, while waiting to be interviewed by ESPN, unwittingly caught on tape

The Rest of the Card

Donald Cerrone vs. Myles Jury, lightweight; Brad Tavares vs. Nate Marquardt, middleweight; Kyoji Horiguchi vs. Louis Gaudinot, flyweight; Hector Lombard vs. Josh Burkman, welterweight. 

Preliminary card (8 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1): Danny Castillo vs. Paul Felder, lightweight; Marcus Bimage vs. Cody Garbrandt, bantamweight; Shawn Jordan vs. Jared Cannonier, heavyweight; Evan Dunham vs. Rodrigo Damm, lightweight. 

Online prelims (7 p.m., UFC Fight Pass): Omari Akhmedov vs. Mats Nilsson, welterweight; Alexis Dufresne vs. Marion Reneau, women’s bantamweight.

Programming Notes

Mike Goldberg will handle blow-by-blow and Joe Rogan analysis for the main-card telecast on pay-per-view as well as prelims on Fox Sports 1 and the UFC Fight Pass. An hour-long postfight show begins at 1 a.m. ET on Fox Sports 1.

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