Light Heavyweight champ Jon Jones retained his title Saturday in Las Vegas at UFC 182 in a hard-fought five round decision win over Daniel Cormier. While he didn't finish the previously undefeated Cormier, Jones did dominate the Oympian to take a clear unanimous decision win, repeatedly putting the wrestling Olympian on his back and out-striking him as well.
Bloody Elbow's Phil Mackenzie and David Castillo look back at the bout in this Toe-To-Toe Review.
Conceptions of quality in MMA change really, really fast.
Phil: Whatever else you can say about recent years in the sport, the baseline quality of title fights has been absolutely great. We are a long way from looking at GSP vainly experimenting with submissions against Hardy, or Anderson jiving his way to a win over Maia. Almost every weight class has had its "best ever" title fight relatively recently, and fans, always quick to adapt, have gotten kind of blasé about it. So, there's been a bit of grumbling along the lines of: "That wasn't as good as Gus-Jones!" as though it's some kind of valid criticism to not live up to the greatest LHW fight we've ever seen.
This was a really, really good title fight. To be honest, way better than many of us thought it would be. We thought it would be one-sided (whoever won) but for three rounds at least we got rugged, minute-by-minute back and forth competition.
David: Hey hey hey, I did predict a split decision, regardless of any caveats I might have added. The fight was close and competitive, but certainly not controversial. At least in terms of scoring. Cormier was really winding down towards the end and nothing about his demeanor at the press conference displayed a man who should have had his hand raised. Not that a fighter's demeanor should be part of judging a fight, but I thought Jones had the clear, though very thin edge.
As for the end, it seemed like a blur. I will admit to laughing pretty hard at Jones raising his hands before the bell sounded, Cormier blankly staring at him, and then eating a left before the bell sounded. That wasn't some "give me five/too slow!" sandbox trolling. That was a flat out Jedi mind trick, except Daniel didn't have the Huttese faculties to see it coming. I'm a laid back sentimental dude who doesn't get annoyed when two fighters shake hands, or hug in the center of the octagon. I actually like it when a bloodsport can exchange courtesies in the middle of the battle, but Jones has won me over. No one competes with the kind of swagger that he does, and no one holds my attention in the cage like Jones. That he's consistently in compelling bouts only adds to it all.
Phil: It was so insanely, hilariously dickish. That Good Guy DC was baited into punching poor Herb Dean after the bell was the evil icing on the bastard cake. What more can you take from this man, Jones? It also reminded me irresistibly of this EA sports glitch.
Even beyond his in-cage trolling and whether it makes him a devil or a showman (and I would urge any who haven't to check out David's excellent article here), it speaks to two things about Jones: his irresistible need to win and take any advantage, and his innate understanding of how time is spent in the cage. He knew he still had a precious second or two to act, and he did that. He also understands how to spend his time early to make it count late because...
Cardio and endurance are still king
Phil: This was yet another fight for a belt where we saw the more diverse striker who invested in attacks to the leg and body pull away in the championship rounds. From Aldo, to Lawler, to Jones. Being able to still be there in the fight when your opponent isn't.
David: It's no surprise that this has all coincided with the advent of five round fights. Anyone throughout UFC history you think would have benefited from five round fights? Should fights besides main event/title bouts be increased to five rounds too?
Phil: There are certain fighters who just cry out for five rounds, who will probably never sniff a 25-minute fight. Alex Caceres is a personal pick. Rick Story's investment in body punching and leg kicks paid dividends for him against Gunnar Nelson, but it's difficult to see how he would have gotten there if Zuffa hadn't just thought he'd make a decent and well-known sacrificial lamb for Gunni. Even as a European and a fan of Nelson, I'm kind of glad Story got to upset the applecart there.
I guess my historic answer would be Chris Lytle. Always in the fight, never got legit stopped, had a ton of tools to throw at the other guy, but never in a 5-rounder to the best of my knowledge. At least he passed his general blue-collar violent awesomeness powers on to Matt Brown through that mounted armbar-triangle. It just took Brown a while to master them.
To your last question, I would personally love for title eliminators to be 5-rounders, or for some kind of consistent criteria rather than "Hey, we're going to Country X, who's from there?"
Still, the main card in general wasn't that great, right?
Phil: There's a certain artistry to putting together a good card- it's not just a matter of assembling highly ranked fighters and letting them go at it. It's more like cooking a good meal, where you want to use a palette of flavours to build up to a main course. The best example is the Bellator 120 PPV: it didn't use the best ingredients, but it assembled them in a masterful way:
Michael Page was a quick burst of high-octane violence to whet the appetite. Then decent heavyweight action. Ortiz-Schlemenko provided a kind of old-school, outsized wrestler-vs-striker, old-guy-vs-younger-guy vibe. Chandler-Alvarez was quality MMA, and then finally the grudge match right at the end. Beef as the main course, so to speak. Rampage-Mo underwhelmed somewhat, but the card construction had been so good that no-one really cared.
I think Zuffa were honestly trying for something similar. Borderline squash matches which they thought were guaranteed to end in violence, moving on to skilled, high-level lightweights, then finishing with the grudge match.
The problem is, Silva and Shelby may not have thought quite deeply enough about how their "ingredients" interact. Josh Burkman and Louis Gaudinot might not be the greatest fighters in their respective weightclasses, but they are boiled-owl tough. Nate Marquardt provides some name value, and is always capable of producing spectacular violence. However, he's also more than capable of looking utterly, completely inert in fights, and Brad Tavares simply has no second gear. Cowboy is close to being guaranteed excitement, but Myles Jury is... well, he's Myles Jury.
David: Damn. Boiled owl sounds kind of good. Your analysis is spot on though. It's not enough to throw good fighters with good fighters and hope they produce something exciting. Tarec Saffiedine vs. Jake Shields is fine on paper, but expecting them to create a tiramisu of blood and guts pugilism would be, well, a bit much. Whereas if I stick Nick Diaz in a cage with Matt Brown, those expectations will increase.
Of course, luck plays a factor too. Who knew that Myles Jury was gonna have his Michiyoshi Ohara moment? I'm not proud of this, but I'll be perfectly honest and come right out and say that nothing about Jury's style of fighting excites me. Not only did Cerrone rightly take him to task for his pompous post fight interview after beating Diego Sanchez, but he rightly took to task for doing such an awful job of generating offense.
I've never been one to drunkenly shout "stand them up!", or "knock him out!" in a Dos Equis vacuum. But Jury is risk averse in a way that makes GSP look like Philippe Petit.
Phil: At the least we did a good job of predicting this one- Myles Jury is still a great, great defensive fighter, but fighting defensively really is not the way to beat Donald Cerrone, unless you are absolutely world class. Jury's not quite world class. However, I will say that for all that he looked tentative and inert, he never really looked discouraged. I mean, he was beckoning and smirking at Cerrone whilst Cowboy was landing those humiliating butt kicks. There's something to be said for the underrated mental power of being really smug.
Unfortunately, all of the above led to a general taste of sameyness, with a tone of "one guy steadily winning, and the other steadily losing". Like having repeated courses of soup. I will throw out a (perhaps unexpected) shoutout to Marcus Brimage, though. He was on his way to losing a fight exactly along those lines to Cody Garbrandt (who is an awesome, exciting prospect who I am looking forward to seeing more of), then really tried to change it, and subsequently went out on his shield. All you can ask. I just hope he doesn't have undeserved nightmares of terrible neck tattoos from now on.
Hey wait, there were title contenders fighting! No thoughts on Hector Lombard or Kyoji Horiguchi?
David: I don't expect Lombard to break out this year, but if ever he had the opportunity to become champion, now's the time. Contenders have been either injured (Condit) or experienced setbacks (Rory) while the champs have a brawling style he could easily find moments to capitalize on. It's too bad he didn't make a statement win otherwise an injury to Hendricks, and he's on the fast track to fighting Lawler.
I expected a little more from Horiguchi, who is usually a bit more active, but overall thought he fought well against a tough guy who fought much smarter than expected.
Phil: Lombard's win wasn't that fun, but it was oddly impressive: both this and the Shields fight were clearly contests where his tendency towards inertia could end up being exploited, and he stayed on the offensive. He certainly didn't show whether he could jump the line ahead of Rory, but he's probably done enough to get himself into a #1 contender's fight with the Canadian. Rory is a whole different kettle of moose to Josh Burkman, though. I still remember Lombard struggling mightily with Okami mixing up a jab and a single leg, and it's going to take a lot for Hector to show whether he can handle Rory's massive reach advantage in particular.
I feel like Horiguchi mostly fought like Horiguchi. I mean, he owned Gaudinot, but he fights kind of like a catapult that needs to be pulled back: blitz, back up, reset, blitz, back up, reset. If the blitz doesn't finish the opponent outright, he can't put on the kind of pressure needed to really break a tired opponent.
Phil: Nothing else really jumped out, did it? Evan Dunham mercifully finally showed Rodrigo Damm the door, heavyweights did heavyweight stuff, and Alexis Dufresne fought like people from Xplode Fight Series are wont to.
David: I keep forgetting about the absurd debacle that is Xplode Fight Series. Why the hell did I pick Dufresne then?!?
I kind of tuned out some of the prelims, to be honest. I remember Joe Rogan being unusually sedated more than anything. The crowd too. It's like the jumbotron was emitting large quantities of THC and the MGM Grand had its own vaporizer. That McGregor interview was awful, and awfully placed, and this was Goldberg's best job to date in its own rise below mediocrity; "either way, both men got kicked in the face Joe".
Phil: They sure did, Goldie. They sure did.
So we'll be back next time, breaking down all the subtle technical nuances of the thrilling and ultra-competitive Dennis Siver vs Conor McGregor matchup. Oh, and
Alvarez-Henderson Cerrone-Henderson 3. Hm. I wonder which one of those fights I'd rather have being 5 rounds?