THE UFC rolls into Anaheim on Saturday to present its latest PPV offering at the Honda Center, where we will finally see Jon Jones and current UFC light-heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier lock horns in one of the most anticipated rematches in UFC history.
The clash headlines the UFC 214 card, which also features two other title fights which have got the MMA world talking, as well other quality featured matchup’s which set this up as the card of the year so far.
Much of the talk in MMA has surrounded Conor McGregor’s fight with Floyd Mayweather Jr on the August 26, however in terms of the narrative and intensity, there is nothing at the moment that comes close to the rivalry between Jones and Cormier.
The two first met at UFC 182 in January 2015 in an eagerly anticipated encounter which was buoyed by a brawl in the lobby of the MGM hotel in Las Vegas in the build up. Jones, at the time was pound-for-pound number one and defended his title by winning a unanimous, but convincing decision.
Then it all went wrong, although it had been threatening too for years, as wherever Jones went, controversy was usually just around the corner. “Bones” was scheduled to meet Anthony “Rumble” Johnson in May, before a hit-and-run incident derailed those plans.
Step forward “DC”. Cormier stepped in and took the title, before defending against Alexander Gustafsson later in the year. After months of talk and a winning return against Ovince Saint Preux for Jones, it looked like it was going to happen at UFC 200.
Jones, clearly not short of confidence in the Octagon, obviously decided his performance elsewhere was not up to scratch and one failed drug test by USADA later, he is banned for a year and we are left wondering if it was ever going to happen.
The biggest loser in all of this was Cormier, who had to face Anderson Silva at late notice, before sending Johnson into retirement following their rematch and “Towelgate”, but still the doubters remain. He is not recognised by many as the real UFC light-heavyweight champion, until he beats Jon Jones.
Don’t get me wrong, this fight could still fall apart at any minute, but as we edge closer to Saturday night, this is still going ahead and the UFC will be praying that it stays this way. As shown by the trailers for this card, there isn’t a narrative anywhere else in the sport than the one these two have served up.
So, what happens on Saturday. Well, the majority are edging Jones and it’s hard to disagree. He is arguably the greatest of all time and at only 30, providing he stays on the straight and narrow, he has years left in this sport to put the argument beyond doubt.
He is a standout performer on his feet and on the ground, whilst the list of who he’s beaten is like a future hall of fame wing all on it’s own. Jones is the youngest champion in UFC history and his 13 fight winning streak is the longest active streak in the UFC.
Jones may be for the first time in his career at top level fully focused on a single goal. Regaining the championship he never lost in the cage, which could well make him more dangerous than he has ever been before. But, he comes up against a formidable opponent in his own right.
Cormier is a standout former Olympic wrestler, who has already achieved plenty since turning to MMA, both at light-heavyweight, where he holds his title and up at heavyweight, where he started his career and won the Strikeforce Grand Prix.
His move down to light-heavy was instigated because at the time his training partner at AKA, based out in San Jose, Cain Velasquez was holding the UFC’s heavyweight title at the time. There are very few in the UFC who can hold a candle to Cormier’s ground game.
But, at 38 is the Lafayette man on a downward turn and will the Jones rematch, against a fully focused “Bones” be his final tilt at light-heavyweight? He doesn’t have many miles on the clock in terms of his MMA career, so a switch back to heavyweight could be huge for him and give him a chance of adding his name to the list of two weight UFC champions.
I can see Jones winning a decision on the cards and just falling short of stopping Cormier, who will as ever give him everything he has. These two finally meeting in the Octagon is something all fans have been looking forward too and for me, the “Bones Era” will begin once again.
As for the other two title fights, we will finally see Demian Maia get his long awaited welterweight title shot against Tyron Woodley, whilst Cristiane Justino, better known as Cris Cyborg should finally be crowned as the UFC’s Featherweight champion against Tonya Evinger.
Maia is without doubt the best practitioner of BJJ in the UFC and one of the greatest of all time in that department. He could go down as one of the best to never win a UFC title if he can’t get past Woodley on Saturday.
Maia’s game-plan is simple. He’s going to get you on the ground and force you to tap-out, whilst Woodley is clinging on to his title and relevance following his two defences against Stephen Thompson, where on another day it could easily have gone “Wonderboy’s” way on the scorecards both times.
He needs a performance and won’t be left wondering as to what Maia will do. A win over Maia and a good one at that, will do wonders for him and put him in the headlines for his fighting rather than his talking outside of the cage. It may not be a barnstormer and definitely will be one for the purists if Maia has his way, which I believe he will, securing the submission win and the title.
As for Cyborg, she is fighting for the vacant title in the weight class that was specifically created for her. Germaine de Randamie, the inaugural champion should have been the opponent, but she vacated instead of taking the fight, which destroyed her legitimacy as a UFC champion.
Then it was meant to be Invicta champion Megan Anderson, which is the best fight at the weight anywhere in the world, however Anderson pulled out for personal reasons. So Tonya Evinger, the current Invicta bantamweight champion is handed the golden ticket.
Cyborg is arguably the most dominant fighter in the sport and with the UFC title around her waist, she becomes a superstar. The only downside is who will actually, Anderson aside, be prepared to step up in weight and take her on.
She will have far too much for an overmatched Evinger, who will do well to survive to hear the final bell. I don’t think she will and Cyborg will assume her rightful place as the UFC’s featherweight champion, stopping Evinger by the end of the second.
Rounding up the main card is a terrific light-heavyweight encounter between England’s Jimi Manuwa and Volkan Oezdemir, the Swiss fighter who has emerged from sparring partner to “Rumble” Johnson to genuine title threat in 2017.
The winner will go on to likely earn a shot at light-heavy gold in the near future, Alexander Gustafsson dependant, whilst Donald Cerrone and Robbie Lawler will finally meet at welterweight in a clash that could well steal the show.
As for the preliminary card, the highly talented Jason Knight gets his shot at the “big leagues” against former featherweight title challenger Ricardo Lamas, whilst former bantamweight champion Renan Barao will take on Aljamain Sterling in a 140lb catchweight contest that could well see the loser on his way out of the UFC.
UFC 214 genuinely has it all and might well be the card of the year. 2017 has been slow so far, in particular on the PPV cards, but this could well set a torch under the company and show why WME IMG shelled out $4 billion last year to take over. Brace yourself, it should be a good one to stay up for.