The rematch. Finally.
This has been a snakebitten matchup for the UFC, with multiple dates falling through for various reasons — but at UFC 214 inside Anaheim’s Honda Center, we’ll finally see it for the second time.
Jones has fought once in the last two years, due to a failed drug test and legal issues. Cormier is the reigning champion, but 0-1 in his rivalry with Jones.
This UFC 214 event features two additional title fights. Cris ‘Cyborg’ Justino meets Tonya Evinger for the vacant featherweight title and Tyron Woodley looks to defend his welterweight strap over Demian Maia.
Here’s everything you need to know about UFC 214, courtesy of ESPN’s Cheat Sheets.
Daniel Cormier (19-1) vs. Jon Jones (22-1), Light heavyweight championship
Odds: Jones -260; Cormier +240
Daniel Cormier stood in front of a horseshoe of cameras and reporters on Thursday, inside a UFC gym just outside Anaheim. Talking about fighting Jon Jones, yet again.
It’s something Cormier has gotten very, very good at. At any given time, Cormier can perfectly articulate just about anything you’d ever want to ask him about Jones. That comes with two years of practice.
“Can we weigh in tonight, so I can go kick this guy’s ass?” asked Cormier, in response to the media’s very first question. “Come on, man. Let’s go.”
Any time there’s bad blood in combat sports, one of the first things viewers want to know is whether or not it’s real. So, here’s the reality about the Cormier, Jones feud.
Their personalities genuinely clash. They were never going to be friends. As the story goes, it all started in 2010 (in Anaheim, ironically), when Jones, a 24-year-old champion at the time, told Cormier, a former Olympic wrestler, he could take him down.
A first introduction gone wrong is nothing to still be fighting over seven years later, but therein lies the issue. This rivalry has taken a long time to play out. And as it’s grown, both men have actually mastered how to be the other’s foil.
For Cormier, Jones is the man he’ll never be, until he can best him. The only fight he’s lost in his MMA career was a decision to Jones in 2015, but that one tends to overshadow his 19 wins. He’s been a UFC champion for two years, which also means he’s spent two years listening to fans tell him he’s not the real champion.
It’s obviously had an effect on him.
“What if I said, ‘OK, this is my last fight,’ and let him deal with the s— I’ve had to deal with?” Cormier said. “Would that not be the ultimate, ‘F— you?’ I’m sure he’ll win again after I’m done. After I beat him twice and walk off to the sunset, he’ll probably be the champion again. I want him to deal with what I’ve had to deal with, where he will be berated for something that is not his control.
“That’s what’s going to happen after the third fight. I want him to be champion [again]. All the people who say, ‘He gave you a title,’ — I will literally give him the title and say, ‘You’re the champion now. Deal with this s—.'”
And for Jones, Cormier is the celebrated “good guy, role model” he initially set out to be. Especially earlier in his career, Jones was obsessively concerned with his image. He remains so today.
Cormier knew this about Jones, and exploited it. He’s a regular commentator for the UFC, and one of the best fighters on the roster at capitalizing on media opportunities. He’s accused Jones of using performance-enhancing drugs over the last year, and kept his character flaws in headlines — even when it seemed most media had moved on from that part of the story.
During a conference call earlier this week, Jones was noticeably wordy. He made a concerted effort to defend himself against Cormier’s words, particularly the steroid accusations.
“I just feel like I’ve got a lot to say,” Jones told ESPN after the call. “I’ve been on the sidelines for so long. I’ve watched Daniel Cormier have a platform to paint a picture of me that isn’t necessarily true. I think he’s tried to paint me as a monster. My platform to respond has really only been social media.”
UFC president Dana White likes to say nothing solves a problem between two individuals better than a fight, and that certainly applies to Saturday’s rivalry between Cormier and Jones.
Either Cormier will finally beat “the man,” and arguably move into the “best fighter of all time” conversation himself — or Jones will reclaim his official place at the top, and take sole possession of the telling of his story.
Another great piece of this rivalry is that inside the cage, these two negate so much of what the other does well.
Cormier’s best path to victory, always, is using that Olympic wrestling pedigree to slam opponents to the floor and control them there. Jones, as offensively diverse as he is, is at his best when he can either use his length or out-wrestle an opponent as well. None of that is likely to happen on Saturday, though.
As world class of a wrestler as Cormier is, he managed just one takedown against Jones the first time they fought. And even if he’s able to lift Jones clear above his head and throw him forcefully to the ground, he can’t keep him there. Jones’s size, athleticism and balance at 205 pounds is almost unfair. Wrestling can certainly be a component of Cormier’s game plan, obviously, but it can’t be the foundation of it. He may use it to steal a close round, but not much more.
On the other side, Jones can’t keep Cormier at a distance. Cormier is too good at cutting off the cage and maintaining that boxing distance. Any time Jones did get a little length in that first meeting, he used it well — side kicks to the knee, front kicks up the middle, the left hand — but he never got to enjoy that long range for extended periods of time. Cormier was in his face the entire fight.
Keeping up that high of a pace though, constantly walking down a smart, dangerous fighter like Jones, is such a tall order for Cormier. The amount of cardio and mental will power it takes to do it is already incredible, then add the sinister knees and elbows of Jones he’s walking into. The body work Jones did in their first meeting was a key piece of the fight. Cormier almost had to take a round off at some point, which is costly.
Jones is dealing with the very real potential of ring rust, with just one fight in the last two years. Meanwhile, Cormier’s confidence is at an all-time high. If Jones is not 100 percent mentally ready to go from the opening bell, that could definitely spell trouble.
At the same time, it’s also been two more years of wear and tear on Cormier’s 38-year-old body. And he’s dealt with injuries during those two years. Those are numbers that do not favor him in the rematch.
Prediction: Jones by decision.