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UFC 182: Toe to Toe Preview - A Complete Breakdown of Jon Jones vs. Daniel Cormier

Phil and David have recovered from their New Year's Eve Dungeons and Dragons hangover, and here to tell you everything you need to know about the most anticipated matchup of the year in Jon Jones vs. Daniel Cormier

Up close and personal, like only two archenemies can.
Up close and personal, like only two archenemies can.
Photo by Brandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

The Match Up

Light heavyweight (205lbs)

Jon "Bones" Jones (Champion)
Odds: -170

Daniel Cormier
Odds: +150

Jon Jones takes on Daniel Cormier for the light heavyweight belt in the main event of UFC 182 in Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas, on January 3rd

Single line summary:

Oathbreaking bully of Swedish teenagers takes on face spitting bully of recently terminated Starbucks workers.


Do you really think I'd let you get the first line in the single-line summary in David... do you think I'd just sit here and let you do that?

History Lesson / Introduction:

David: Instead of introducing these guys, let's just talk about your incredible Jon Jones article the other day. Jon Jones has become Rocky IV among MMA observers: so assured in their indictment of his character that the fandom is purely ironic. And yes I mean to say that Rocky IV is terrible. Outside of James Brown, and Apollo's struggle to maintain Rocky's attention while Paulie flirts with a robot, any trace of substance is lacking.

I've always maintained an admittedly weird level headedness about Jon Jones the individual. I think. Early on when he was saving the world from purse snatchers, and more Stephan Bonnar fights in the UFC, the criticism was kind of uncomfortable. As if we needed to trust Jones first and foremost. I've said my peace on the "racism" angle in the comments section of your article, so that's not what I'm talking about. Setting aside who we know Jones to be now, our history with Jon Jones as fans, and media has always been a powder keg of incoherent bandwidth.

In a lot of ways Jones has been the perfect storm for controversy, achieving a sort of trifecta; bad management, bad PR, and bad eccentricities. When the story about the kid from Sweden came out, Malki Kawa, who is presumably paid for damage control, couldn't even get his story straight with Jones' version. Then there was the UFC 151 debacle, which Dana White used to humiliate Jones. And then there's Jones himself. One of the things I liked about your article, hinted at more than anything, is that if we step back, Jones is just kind of a weird dude. Who else but someone with extraterrestrial sensibilities gets a kick out of doing an interview with a British accent the whole way through? And to Luke Thomas no less, who you can hear rolling his eyes, ready to explode like a ConSec victim.

Jones experiences so much social, psychological, and outside turbulence from those around him, why should we expect the man to be any different? To casual fans, this discussion feels extraneous. Consider the words with massive fonts to be breadcrumbs; you're free to skip this part. But it fascinates me. In his own eccentric way, Jones is exactly who he says he is: a fighter. He's paid to physically struggle with a mixed martial artist for a living. That his search for an identity is also a struggle seems inevitable.

Phil: Thank you for the kind words, it really means a lot. Anyway, I do think that Jones, and this fight in particular, showcase that type of MMA fan: those who look for the moral lesson in their fighters. People really, really want to root for simple good guy-bad guy dynamics, and Jon Jones is increasingly someone who lets them do that on a very simple level. But I think he's something much more interesting and nuanced than that.

What are the stakes?

David: Now that we have all that out of the way, the stakes are clear. I'm not a big fan of the UFC's method of marketing: like their choice of music, it's crass, and dull to the senses. But there's an unfiltered animosity between the two you sense would exist even if they worked on Wall Street and calculated their credit amnesty next to each other.

Phil: How often do we see something like this? Two undefeated (to all intents and purposes) fighters, fighting for a marquee belt. It's a fascinating match-up at every level: technically, athletically, and in the clash of personalities. Jones is already well on his way to becoming perhaps the greatest fighter of all time, and Cormier has been almost flawless thus far in the UFC and Strikeforce. It's the big one.

Where do they want it?

David: Cormier would like this fight on the ground for obvious reasons. Jones has never shown to be particularly effective from his back. Like most fighters these days. But that's not the real key to victory.

Phil: Well, we've never actually seen Jones on his back for any protracted length of time, so it's more of an unknown than a weakness, right?

David: I'm gonna call it a weakness for argument's sake. If he can't dunk a basketball with his reach and height, I'm just gonna assume he can't armbar a member of SAFTA. Anyway, Connor talked a lot about Jones' faults. The leg kicking, and particularly the conditions under which they need to be thrown, the lateral movement, and the chaining of offense. Cormier is capable of a few of these, but not all, and especially not underneath the blanket of Jones' onslaught. Being so much shorter than Jones will be its own battle, though as we saw with Evans, Jon doesn't mind an up close and personal exchange.

Phil: Yep, the borderline-comical physical disparity between the two fighters tells you all you need to know about where the fighters want it to be. Cormier needs it to be on the inside, because he is physically incapable of doing anything to Jones on the outside, short of landing a dragon punch FADC to one of Jones's extended limbs (or, more likely, using counter leg kicks as Connor alluded to). His wrestling style makes this an interesting challenge: his clean focus on the fundamentals and the basics mean that he's not the double-leg focused, aggressive bowling ball that might be expected to knock down the Jones skittle. He can shoot doubles and singles better than almost anyone else in the division, but fundamentally he's an extraordinarily powerful upper body and clinch wrestler whose weakness at the highest level was in attacking the legs. So he needs to navigate the layers of Jones's defense, battle into the clinch, and get him down from there.

Can he do that? To be honest, double legs haven't been the way to get to Jones anyway- he tends to fall straight on opponents like a tree when he sprawls. Gustafsson managed to get a clinch trip in on Jones, so it seems more than possible that Cormier can replicate that success. The question then becomes how much it will cost Cormier to navigate through the Jones bullet hell.

David: Don't you mean a dragon punch FADC into ultra? The odd thing about a Jon Jones fight is that they unfold both predictably and unpredictably. As in, Jones ends up victorious, but always with a different method. What sucks about DC's fights at LHW is that they tell us nothing. Until his rematch with Shogun, which he nearly lost, Henderson hadn't won since 2011, and the Patrick Cummins fight is its own forgotten time capsule/suppository. I keep worry that Jones' guillotine might end this fight too quickly, but I suspect something far more interesting.

Phil: Light heavyweight fights against guys who aren't at the very beginning or the very end of their respective careers would be nice. In his heavyweight bouts, Cormier has been able to paper over some technical deficiencies in the standup by being much, much faster than everyone he was fighting. He's certainly the best wrestler that Jones has fought, and may be the strongest individual that Jones has gone up against (flipping Josh Barnett through the air like a pancake was simply incredible) but Jones is absolutely the fastest person he has fought, by a very significant margin.

Insight from past fights:

David: Jones vs. Teixeira not for what happened, but for what it represents. Everybody said going into that fight that Jones had to avoid the clinch. He had to avoid close quarter combat. Instead he embraced it. I suspect a significant part of Jon Jones craves that; the ability to beat someone at their own game.

The promising thing about the fight is that, along with the Gustafsson classic, Jones' durability was revealed. I honestly wouldn't be surprised if Jones comes out, throws absolutely zero strikes for the entire bout, and tries to win with only switches, suplexes, kneetaps, and granby rolls. It would be the definitive mic drop to an already stellar career at LHW.

Say what you want about Jones' "fakeness", but there's nothing fake about his conquest in the cage.

Phil: Glover was interesting to me. I'm not sure whether Jones specifically wanted the clinch, or whether, starting with Gus, opponents are starting to figure out how to close in past the kicks and crack him, and so the clinch (always his strongest attribute) actually became an area of relative safety for him.

I'll take Mir vs Cormier. This showed two not-so-good things for Cormier. Firstly was the bad reaction he showed to Mir's sporadic body kicks. Jones is going to be throwing round kicks to DC's body and head to keep him from moving laterally. Secondly was the fact that while he clearly won the fight by dirty boxing, Cormier wasn't able to showcase enough pure clinch offense to put the reasonably fragile Francisco Miranda away.

In fairness, Cormier was clearly not going for takedowns to avoid tangling with Mir on the ground. This is really the key question of the fight: if DC is firing on all cylinders, using his dirty boxing to enable his clinch takedowns and vice versa... just how good is he? It's a very exciting question.

David: I'd also look at Fedor vs. CroCop. Obviously, that's a bizarre choice but DC has that ridgehand jackhammer thing going, and Fedor's gameplan against Mirko always intrigued me because it was my first real introduction into what the mechanics of striking mean in a mixed martial arts context. Cormier is not as versatile as Jones, just like Fedor wasn't in contrast to Mirko, but he made it work with forward movement; cutting the ring, and making the fight feel more claustrophobic than it had to be. Daniel's a smart fighter, so I wonder if he can pull off something similar; calculated aggression.


David: Besides a full on brawl during the staredown? Jones' commitment to a body attack, and his guillotine. You could also argue his grappling off his back. As long as this fight goes more than two rounds, Jones will be put on his back. Has he prepared for that?

Phil: FOULS! Fouls. Jon Jones stiff-arms people a lot. If he eyepokes DC, a significant proportion of the crowd will just absolutely lose it. Fire and brimstone coming down from the skies. Rivers and seas boiling. Cats and dogs living together... mass hysteria.

The champ has never been penalized for this kind of thing before (although I think the Glover fight was his only really egregious performance when it comes to gouging corneas), but the crowd has shown the ability to influence refs and judges before. Point deductions could finally be a factor.

David: All that pop culture minutiae, and the best you could come up with is cats and dogs living together?

You're right though. I don't know how Jones' proclivity for ocular violation escaped me. Jones lives by the Major League rule of just ‘win the whole fucking thing'. So I'm not sure he would actively care. He might even take a DQ loss before following the rules. It's not like it would be the first time.


Phil: The sheer disparity between these two fighters means that, unfortunately, it may not actually be all that competitive, whoever wins. Instead, as generally happens in cases of asymmetrical balance, the dominant style will only become more and more dominant over time, and I think we learn what kind of contest it's going to be within the first few minutes: if DC demonstrates that he can close the distance, work a bit, and then dump Jones on his head, then the champ is likely doomed. However, if Cormier initially struggles with the takedowns, if he spends too long eating kicks on the outside or in the clinch with the Jones threshing machine, then he's just going to get worn down over the course of the fight. I think this, in the end, is the more likely outcome. Jon Jones by unanimous decision.

David: Cormier will give Jones scares, but both of Jones' last bouts have shown me that he's more than just a talent, and a champ with reach (not that I ever suspected otherwise); like a great hockey talent he can dangle and deke as good as he can dump and chase. He doesn't just win via technique, but through volition. For every exchange Cormier initiates, watch his comfort level decrease as he eats a standing superman elbow (or just a lowly spinning back elbow). That's the brilliance of Jones. Where normal fighters of his size and length grow accustomed to their inherent advantages, Jones keeps learning and fighting as though his size were a limitation itself.

I think Jones' advantages at range outweigh Cormier's advantage in close, and Jones ability to adapt in close outweighs Cormier's ability to adapt at range despite their world class talents. Jon Jones by Split Decision (there's always one judge who turns a 4 to 1 fight into a 3-2 scorecard).

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