Keep your fingers crossed.
Two and a half years have passed since then-champion Jon Jones and current champion Daniel Cormier first squared off for the undisputed Ultimate Fighting Championship light heavyweight title. While Jones took the unanimous decision victory that night, their respective careers could not have gone in more separate directions.
Jones went on to get stripped of the title after a series of extracurricular mishaps, while Cormier proceeded to claim the championship and defend it twice while “Bones” was on the sidelines. Jones briefly made a comeback in April 2016 at UFC 197, where he won an underwhelming but definitive decision against Ovince St. Preux for the interim title, setting up a highly anticipated rematch with Cormier at UFC 200 three months later. Of course, he was pulled just three days out from the fight and stripped of his interim title after testing positive for banned substances in a pre-fight drug test. This will be his first fight back after serving a one-year suspension for the United States Anti-Doping Agency violation.
Since suffering his only career loss against Jones, Cormier has defeated Anthony Johnson twice, Alexander Gustafsson and a late-replacement Anderson Silva, who filled in for Jones. He was last in the Octagon in April, when he submitted Johnson for the second time en route to notching his second title defense. The Strikeforce heavyweight grand prix winner and Olympic wrestler has enjoyed a solid championship reign so far, but his 2015 loss to Jones has always been an asterisk in need of redemption. Should all go according to plan, he will have his chance to solidify the legitimacy of his championship in the UFC 214 main event this Saturday at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California.
There is no doubt that these are the two best light heavyweights in mixed martial arts today and arguably the two best ever. It is a fantastic matchup with a number of angles to explore. Let us first take a look at the Tale of the Tape:
The former champion is an anthropometric nightmare for just about anyone. Jones is five inches taller and has a foot of reach on Cormier. His lanky limbs are put to use at range and in the clinch, which is part of why Jones has so far been an unsolvable puzzle. Physical gifts alone do not make a fighter, but under the expert training at Jackson-Wink MMA, Jones has been able to utilize them fully. Then again, Cormier has spent his career fighting against bigger, longer opponents at heavyweight and is also well-coached at an elite gym: the American Kickboxing Academy.
The eight-year age difference is also a hard pill to swallow for anyone in Cormier’s corner. As a NCAA All-American and Olympan, Cormier has been competing at a high level since Jones was a teenager; and while Jones started competing in MMA 17 months before “DC,” the type of accumulative mileage of two decades worth of competition will eventually start to show. On the wrong side of his 30s, it is only a matter of time until Cormier starts to slow down.
Despite these undeniable advantages for Jones, Cormier has been the more active fighter lately, and he has looked better, too. When Jones last fought against St. Preux, it was easily his least impressive performance since winning the belt, even if it was a clean sweep on all the scorecards. It is also worth noting that Jones was coming off of a 476-day layoff in that fight, or basically the same timespan that applies to this fight. Meanwhile, Cormier finished a top contender twice and staved off the always-tough Gustafsson in a “Fight of the Year” candidate. Even though Cormier is much older, we have a better idea of how he will perform.
The real meat of this fight, however, will be in the standup department. Here is how the striking numbers stack up:
The majority of the first fight between Jones and Cormier took place on the feet, and the rematch is likely to lead to more of the same.
It is hard to overstate just how rare it is for a fighter to land more strikes per minute, be more accurate and eat fewer shots at the same time. Volume almost always comes at the cost of accuracy or defense, but not for Jones. That is a testament to how dangerous Jones is on the feet. He is an offensive wood chipper, with layers of weapons to his game. From range, he is an effective hand fighter, adding a sliding oblique kick and a sneaky jab to keep opponents frustrated. Inside, he is vicious in the clinch, where his length allows elbows and knees to find a home from awkward angles. Of all his strikes, 65 percent are aimed at the head, with 17 percent to the body and 18 percent to his opponents’ legs. Distance strikes account for 69 percent of his attempted output, with clinch and ground strikes registering at a clean 15.5 percent each.
Cormier may be known more for his wrestling, but he is an effective striker, as well. His game is built off of constant pressure. He moves forward behind a high output of punch-kick combinations, getting into close range to either work for a takedown or, more frequently, get into the clinch. His strength and stout frame make him a powerful dirty boxer in the clinch, and despite his relatively short reach, Cormier is still more effective than not at range. He is primarily a headhunter, with 82 percent of his strike attempts aimed upstairs; body shots account for 11 percent of his strikes, and the remaining seven percent come in the way of leg kicks. His preferred range is balanced in a similar way as Jones: 65 percent of his attempts come from distance, while 18 percent are in the clinch and 17 percent are to grounded opponents.
The main issue will be how Cormier closes the distance and what he will be able to do when he gets in the clinch. In their first fight, Jones got the better of most exchanges in both areas, though Cormier still landed big shots of his own. Another factor will be general punching power. Neither champion nor challenger is known for one-punch power, and they have the same amount of career knockdowns in the same number of fights. However, Jones has never been knocked down and Cormier has been knocked down twice, both of which occurred after their first match. At 38 years of age, Cormier’s chin is not getting any better, so it would not be a shock to see this come into play.
Both men are also accomplished wrestlers in their own rights, so here is how the grappling matchup breaks down:
Cormier has a layered arsenal of wrestling tools at his disposal and almost always has the upper hand in grappling exchanges. He has a variety of takedowns, including trips and throws, and he chains techniques together fluidly to eventually take down his opponent. Slams and single-leg lifts are his trademarks, and once he is on the ground, he has excellent top control, strong submissions and powerful ground-and-pound. Although no one had taken him down for the majority of his career, Jones was the first to do so, and since then, both Johnson and Gustafsson have taken him down, as well. Still, his takedown defense is elite.
Jones is also a stout wrestler, even if he comes from lesser pedigree than his opponent. In spite of that, Jones takes down opponents more frequently than Cormier and in fewer attempts. His takedowns usually come via trips or from the clinch, where his length gives him tremendous leverage. He is also nearly impossible to take down; only Gustafsson and Cormier have been able to put him on the mat. Once he is on the ground, Jones is devastating from top position, where he rains down punishing ground-and-pound and snatches limbs and necks effortlessly. Jones not only holds the record for the most submissions in light heavyweight history but has also submitted everyone he has tried to submit, with the exception of Glover Teixeira. Neither Jones nor Cormier has ever been submitted.
What else can be said about this fight? Jones has shown himself to be a nearly perfect fighter, but his layoff is a huge question mark. Cormier has been dominant against virtually everyone except Jones, and he has been active against the division’s best while Jones has been in legal trouble and rehab. The first fight was competitive, but it was not exactly close; Jones took all but one round on every scorecard. Naturally, the odds favor Jones, who is anywhere between the -246 and -270 favorite compared to Cormier’s underdog status in the range of +190 to +240. The legitimate bad blood between these two is added narrative intrigue for what is a beautiful stylistic matchup on its own. Whether Jones makes a successful comeback or Cormier avenges his only career defeat, this will be a redemptive story either way.
Data for the analysis was provided by FightMetric. Eric Stinton performed all analysis. Stinton and Sherdog.com assume no responsibility for bets placed on fights, financial or otherwise.