Single sentence summary:
Phil: Two light heavyweights #battle for the belt in a fight with almost as much potential #action as the new #xboxlive #warzone mode in #Halo5, a heart-stopping #thrillride, out October 27th!
David: Two men, one victory, in this sudden death struggle between the horizontally vulnerable and the vertically impaired!
Daniel Cormier (c)
History lesson / introduction to the fighters
Phil: Daniel Cormier. Tragically failed Olympian, who failed in his bid against Jon Jones, but managed to find some redemption in taking the vacant strap in a fight with Anthony Johnson. But let's get onto important things: can we spend some time saying just how awful those Halo 5 sponsored "beef" tweets were? I can't think of many more eye-rolling promotional stunts in the history of the company, and that is not something I say lightly. Corn to the core, David.
David: Normally I'd be OK with this, like when The Wizard shilled hardcore for Nintendo. At least Super Mario Bros. 3 teased us, and delivered in a way no video game had before. What happens in the alternate universe where Depression Quest is just a regular ass commercially successful game? Will Daniel Cormier threaten to knock the Lexapro out of Gus?
I could stomach all of this if the UFC didn't feel the need to infect each brand with its bizarro world masculinity. I don't need my 7-Eleven snacks to remind me of testicular mayhem, just like I don't need my alien civilization warfare to recall Scandinavian-on-Ebony crime.
Phil: Alexander Gustafsson had a strange path through the light heavyweight division. He was probably the most roundly-discounted of all Jones's challengers, but took the champ and P4P king to the brink and beat him up worse than anyone else has before or since. This elevated him to the de facto #2 in the division for a while, despite the fact that he hasn't really picked up any marquee wins. He's coming off a devastating knockout loss to Anthony Johnson, the man that Cormier just submitted, which explains the wacky odds.
David: I remember when Gus was considered a project more than prospect, validating the notion upon losing to Phil Davis. His development didn't stall, but he hit a rough patch in his life just when he was peaking. I think he's still a significant threat in the division. Anthony Johnson just happened to revitalize himself, and Gus caught him in the middle of beast mode.
What are the stakes?
Phil: The lite heavyweight strap (h/t to Jordan Breen) is waiting for Jones to come back and upgrade it to the full-fat version. Both Cormier and Gustafsson have a say to being Jones' greatest rival, and this fight basically confirms who it is.Other than that, this fight is particularly dangerous for Gus. As said, many of his marquee wins have aged (or weren't that good to begin with), and a loss to Cormier here could permanently chuck him out of the elite at 205.
David: I'm just ready to see Jon Jones back in action. Jones and Cormier have something much more sinister going on between them both. And watching it play out in the ring with that Jedi Mind Trick at the end of the fight when Jones raised his hands before the bell is still something I relish. So the stakes are higher for Cormier, since that's a huge money fight. Regardless, Cormier has his work cut out for him in a big (my bad Zuffa, I meant "tall") way.
Where do they want it?
Phil: The Cormier-Jones fight was considered to be a match-up of distance vs fighting in close, but this is actually a much more defined version of that style clash. Gustafsson fights much taller and is a much more pure out-fighter than Jones is. This is illustrated in the way that they stand- Jones is more heavy on his front leg, with a lowered base. This allows him to maximize his reach and punch more horizontally at his opponents, and leaves him a bit less vulnerable to "short man" punches like the overhand. It also means he doesn't have quite the footspeed of Gustafsson. Gustafsson is a much quicker and more mobile outside fighter than Jones, and is far less willing to concede the pocket. Jones outside striking game is an outer layer which he's relatively OK with being breached, because his best skillset is the inside anyway. Gus's best skill genuinely is out-fighting. He'll be flickering back out of distance way more than the former champion did in his own match-up with Cormier.
Gus's outboxing game is based around a crisp jabs and hooks to the head and body. His historical over-use of the uppercut has faded, but he still likes to throw it every now and again. He's one of the most stout defensive wrestlers in the sport, and has his own strong trip takedown game which he isn't scared of using against wrestlers who are far better than him. In general he's going to be throwing short combinations and then pivoting out against Cormier's step ins.
David: I love that Gustafsson makes good use of the uppercut. The uppercut is still way too underused in MMA. Maybe too many fighters watched Chuck Liddell lead with it against Rashad Evans to violently disastrous results, but even within boxing, it's a specific punch requiring a specific setup. I guess I'm answering my own question, but I respect fighters that make good use of it. In order to throw it effectively in MMA, you have to be able to shuffle, and Gustafsson shuffles around the cage like a lightweight.
I don't feel like we learned much about his deficiencies in the Johnson fight; Gus just got cracked, plain and simple. The Jones fight is the bout that reveals the versatility in his game.
For Gus, the real feather in his cap is the relationship between his wrestling and boxing. Because MMA started with a chaotic mixture other martial arts, those arts always defined a zero-sum analysis. If you want to be hang with strikers, learn how to box. If you want to hang with wrestlers, learn how to grapple, and so forth. So little understanding is dedicating to how one can inform the other.
Connor's Judo Chop distilled this philosophy brilliantly; rather than trying to counter takedowns with sprawling, or resets, Gus counters takedowns with footwork that keeps his boxing active, and wrestling that neutralizes grappling offense. My Miyagi wisdom would argue that to be interrupted in MMA is to be vulnerable; if fighters feel like each art has to be interrupted (stop boxing, and sprawl, or stop grappling and strike) in order to counter another, efficiency will suffer. I've said it before and I'll say it again, fighters like Demetrious Johnson are the proof that an MMA fighter's flow guarantees his/her efficiency more than their mechanics.
Phil: Cormier reminds me of Johny Hendricks a little in his stance and the way he fights. They're both stocky for their weight class, yet neither fights like a short man- they stand straight-backed, and throw short hooks and kick off combinations in the pocket. Like Hendricks, Cormier can do this because he is preternaturally fast for a tubby-looking wrestler. He doesn't have the traditional penetration step into blast double or overhand, but instead microsteps incredibly quickly into boxing combinations and the clinch. Once there he's one of the finest clinch wrestlers in the sport, and has only effectively been stifled by Jones.
David: The difference between Cormier and Hendricks (besides punctuality) is that Cormier doesn't admire his work, or suffer from deficiencies in strategy. Cormier possesses a real no-holds-barred attitude in the way his clinchwork and striking combine to break opponents down. Cormier always reminded me a little of Fedor in the way he could strike like a tall man. And like Fedor, he's as adept on the ground as he is on the feet. They're also way more athletically gifted than they look.
It'll be interesting to see how Cormier deals with Gus' attack from afar. Cormier can duplicate at least some of what Johnson accomplished on the feet. Johnson is a much better striker than Daniel, and used his lengthy arsenal to breach Gus' defense, but Gus is pretty hittable in general. Cormier should be able to get in and out with strikes just enough to make this back and forth on the feet. But without being able to do it consistently, he'll be left to his wrestling, where Gus defends so well.
Insight from past fights?
Phil: I think Gus's odds are so exaggerated because of the Rumble fight, and the MMAth of Cormier>Rumble>Gus. Even aside from the fact that these stylistic match-ups were nothing alike, I have to say: I honestly don't consider the Gus-Rumble fight to be particularly representative. I thought Gustafsson was winning relatively handily before he made the colossal mistake of listening to his corner when they announced a hugely vulnerable strike. He took Rumble's biggest punch while standing on one leg. Similarly, I thought Rumble kind of fought... stupidly against Cormier. He seemed to have far more knockout tunnel vision than he did in his dismantling of Phil Davis, and threw himself over his feet and got taken down.
David: Agreed. I'd talk about "luck" but you've got the dead dinosaurs angle covered. Why didn't you tell me that you got into paleontology briefly because Jurassic Park inspired you to do work that could bring you closer to Jeff Goldblum?
Phil: The wisdom of crowds? A lot of the analysts around are picking Gustafsson, who is a giant underdog, including our own Zane Simon and Connor Ruebusch, and Bleacher Report's Pat Wyman. This actually makes me a little worried for my (spoiler warning) forthcoming Gustafsson pick- when we're all in sync this much on an underdog, it often it means we're keying in on something technical and missing something on the macro level analysis.
David: Whatever foolish predictions you experts are reaching for better be a sandwich because you're gonna have to eat it!
Phil: Cormier doesn't wrestle or box in a way which is designed to cover distance, and doesn't throw the punches (lit: overhands) which have troubled Gustafsson in the past. If he wants to the clinch, he's going to have to work for it harder than he ever has before. I think he'll definitely have some success due to his freak speed and chin, but I don't think this style matchup favors him. Alexander Gustafsson by unanimous decision.
David: Cormier all the way. Only a minor part of me is picking Cormier because I do think Gus is still a little wet behind the ears in some ways. But the biggest reason is that 'working hard' is what Cormier excels at; there's an intense drive to his game few opponents can match. Cormier doesn't have to "get inside" to win; he just needs to get close. Daniel Cormier by Decision.