Everything you need to know about this weekend's big fight
Daniel Cormier was on a conference call with reporters last week, part of the promotional push for Saturday’s UFC 192, in which he will defend the light heavyweight championship for the first time. He’s an engaging guy, and in his moonlighting work as a host on the Fox Sports 1 show UFC Tonight, he has shown media savvy and a comfortable confidence on the microphone. You just knew he had some sharp words stored up to sell his fight with Alexander Gustafsson.
When the first question came his way, however, Cormier was not asked about his challenger. He was not asked about either of the two other 205-pound contenders who’ll meet on the undercard, Ryan Bader and former champ Rashad Evans, whose clash could very well determine who gets the next shot at the belt.
No, the champ was asked about a man who’s not even an active UFC fighter. Yet that ghostly figure looms as large as the sport itself. When the Toyota Center in Houston is rocking this weekend, the bright lights will in no way obscure the shadow extending from 750 miles away in Albuquerque.
Jon Jones walked out of a courtroom in the New Mexico city where he lives on Tuesday, and did so a free man after a plea deal allowed him to avoid jail time in the felony case stemming from his hit-and-run auto accident in April. That incident had prompted the UFC to strip Jones of the title belt he’d worn for four years, and to suspend the consensus No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter indefinitely. Now the fight promotion is considering whether to reinstate Jones to its active roster, and considering the disciplinary track record of Dana White & Co., it’s hard to imagine that “Bones” will be on the sideline for long.
In the meantime, the light heavyweight division moves on … as best it can.
“The thing that’s really [expletive] up is that we live our day-to-day lives normal, and we don’t worry about Jones,” Cormier told reporters during the UFC conference call. “But you guys will ask us questions about this guy, and then the headline will make it sound as though I’m over here stewing about Jon Jones. I could really give a [expletive] about Jon Jones. I care about beating Alexander Gustafsson. And then if Jones is the next guy, Jones is the next guy.”
Fair enough. For now.
When Cormier (16-1) steps into the octagon on Saturday night (10 p.m. ET, PPV), it will be his first defense but third straight title fight. In January, the 36-year-old two-time Olympic freestyle wrestler lost a lopsided decision in a challenge for what was then Jones’s belt. Then, after the champ was stripped and suspended, Cormier was slotted against Anthony Johnson in a May tussle for the vacant title. “DC” withstood an early knockdown, choked out “Rumble” in the third round, and walked out of the cage with the brass-and-leather prize. He ranks No. 1 in the SI.com light heavyweight rankings, and 10th pound-for-pound.
Gustafsson (16-3) also has a past with “Bones” and “Rumble.” Two years ago, he gave Jones his toughest test, dropping a close five-round decision to the champ. Then, this past January, he was unceremoniously knocked out in the first round by Johnson in Stockholm, a shocking result for the fighting pride of western Europe. Compounding the impact of that knockout blow, the “Rumble” win earned him the spot opposite Cormier in that springtime fill-the-vacancy title bout. Now the 28-year-old Swede, who ranks No. 3 in the 205-pound division, is getting another shot.
In addition to the pay-per-view telecast of Saturday night’s five-fight main card, four prelims will be shown on Fox Sports 1, starting at 8 p.m. ET, and the event’s first four bouts will be available on the UFC Fight Pass online service at 7.
Alexander Gustafsson will not be the first UFC fighter to compete for a championship directly off a loss. In fact, the most recent example is the man he’ll face on Saturday, Daniel Cormier.
These fighters long have been linked. When Jon Jones was reigning atop the light heavyweight division, and he was asked who he believed most deserved a shot at his belt, he suggested that Cormier and Gustafsson should fight it out for that honor.
But then Gustafsson was KO’d by “Rumble” Johnson, Jones was involved in the hit-and-run accident and found himself suspended from the UFC, and when Cormier was booked for a title bout, he was given a different dance partner.
Now he finally gets Gustafsson, who was granted this shot at the brass ring despite not having avenged January’s loss.
Adding to the intrigue is the presence on the card of a bout between fellow 205-pounders Ryan Bader and Rashad Evans. The latter is an ex-champion who was slated to face Cormier in early 2014, with the winner presumably jumping to the head of the line of contenders. But Evans injured a knee and pulled out of the fight. He was expected to return in January against Gustafsson, but his knee was not ready. Until now.
Bader also had a date scheduled with Cormier, but his was cancelled when “DC” was moved into the fight with Johnson for the vacant belt. There had been some speculation that Bader might end up as part of that bout, since he was, and still is, on a four-fight winning streak. But he was passed over.
Then Bader was passed over again after Cormier became champ. The first defense will be against not a fighter on a win streak but a presumably more marketable one coming off a loss. The bottom line for UFC matchmakers: the bottom line.
Last five fights
5/23/15 Anthony Johnson W Sub. 3
1/3/15 Jon Jones L UD 5
5/24/14 Dan Henderson W Sub. (tech.) 3
2/22/14 Patrick Cummins W TKO 1
10/19/13 Roy Nelson W UD 3
1/24/15 Anthony Johnson L TKO 1
3/8/14 Jimi Manuwa W TKO 2
9/21/13 Jon Jones L UD 5
12/8/12 Mauricio Rua W UD 3
4/14/12 Thiago Silva W UD 3
Tale of the Tape
|March 20, 1979||Birthdate||Jan. 15, 1987|
|Lafayette, La.||Birthplace||Arboga, Sweden|
|San Jose, Calif.||Residence||Stockholm, Sweden|
* Official weights announced at the weigh-in (Friday, 4:30 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1)
Other numbers to count on
86: Percent of takedown attempts stuffed by Alexander Gustafsson. That’s a skill likely to be called upon against the two-time Olympic wrestler.
1.71: Strikes absorbed per minute by Daniel Cormier, about half of what lands against Alexander Gustafsson. Cormier also is the more accurate striker (landing 48 percent of his significant strike attempts vs Gustafsson’s 37 percent).
0: Number of consecutive victories by Alexander Gustafsson prior to being given this title shot. (Similarly, Daniel Cormier was on a zero-fight winning streak going into the May fight in which he won the belt.)
Daniel Cormier fights a legend to earn his first title shot:
Alexander Gustafsson rebounds from championship fight loss:
Daniel Cormier is an elite wrestler. Alexander Gustafsson is a boxer with a 747 wingspan. End of story?
No, that’s just where these athletes began their MMA journey. Cormier has spent his post-wrestling career training at American Kickboxing Academy, which has honed his standup skills to the point where he’s not charging out of his corner looking for an immediate double-leg takedown. As for Gustafsson, he’s rounded his game well enough to go five round with Jon Jones, one of the most potent wrestlers in the sport, and fend off all but one of the then-champ’s 11 takedown tries. (Jones was successful on three of his five attempts when he fought Cormier.)
Still, even after acknowledging that both Cormier and Gustafsson are complete fighters, it’s fair to say that the champ would prefer to engage on the inside of the 6-foot-5 challenger’s long reach, while Gustafsson’s mission will be to keep Cormier off of him so he can feed the champ a steady diet of leather.
The Swede’s presumed game plan is more easily formulated than executed, though. Cormier is relentless, so five stuffed takedowns will mean nothing if they’re immediately followed by a sixth, which is successful. For this challenge to be successful, Gustafsson cannot play defense all night long. He must make Cormier pay for every advancement. He has the weapons to do so. Does he have the will and the stamina?
Cormier is the favorite, with a money line ranging from -275 (bet $275 to win $100) to -365 (bet $365 to win $100) at various sportsbooks. The line on Gustafsson ranges from +200 (bet $100 to win $200) to +314 (bet $100 to win $314).
When Gustafsson challenged Jones, the marketing of the fight focused almost entirely on the Swede’s height. He was widely viewed as a striker with length, and not much more. But on fight night he showed more, much more, and “Bones” seemed to be caught off guard. Cormier won’t be. He knows what Gustafsson can do, and having seen “Rumble” Johnson KO the tall man by staying in his face, Cormier also knows where he needs to be. And Gustafsson knows he knows. The challenger will be cautious to not be caught, like last time, but the champ’s pressure will win the day. Cormier by decision.
“Alex, Alex, Alex, just tell them. Just tell them, Alex: Your greatest performance was not a loss. Tell them about your big wins.”
-- Daniel Cormier, addressing Alexander Gustafsson during a conference call with reporters, mocking the challenger’s reputation for having given Jon Jones his toughest challenge, yet losing nonetheless
“Yeah, yeah, of course, but my biggest accomplishment’s going to be on third of October, my friend. That’s going to be my biggest accomplishment.”
-- Gustafsson’s response
The rest of the card
Johny Hendricks vs. Tyron Woodley, welterweight; Ryan Bader vs. Rashad Evans, light heavyweight; Shawn Jordan vs. Ruslan Magomedov, heavyweight; Jessic Eye vs. Julianna Peña, women’s bantamweight.
Preliminary card (8 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1): Joseph Benavidez vs. Ali Bagautinov, flyweight; Yair Rodriguez vs. Dan Hooker, featherweight; Alan Jouban vs. Albert Tumenov, welterweight; Rose Namajunas vs. Angela Hill, strawweight.
Online prelims (7 p.m., UFC Fight Pass): Islam Makhachev vs. Adriano Martins, lightweight; Chris Cariaso vs. Sergio Pettis, flyweight; Derrick Lewis vs. Viktor Pesta, heavyweight; Francisco Trevino vs. Sage Northcutt, lightweight.
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. There will be an hour-long postfight show on Fox Sports 1, starting at 1 a.m. ET.