Tonight the UFC will air their first event of 2015 and it features one of the biggest matchups in MMA history in the main event. Jon Jones is the most dominant champion in the history of the light heavyweight division, arguably in all of MMA, has numerous records in the UFC and will defend his title for the 8th time against undefeated fighter Daniel Cormier. Jones has a strong amateur wrestling background that transitioned well into MMA when combined with his unpredictable style and long reach, but Cormier’s wrestling is in another dimension. Cormier made the Olympic freestyle wrestling team twice, once in 2004 where he placed 4th and once in 2008 when he was unable to compete due to a botched weight cut that left him hospitalized. Cormier has had 2 fights at light heavyweight and has looked dominant in both appearances, knocking out Pat Cummins in 79 seconds and making former Olympic wrestler Dan Henderson look like an amateur wrestler as he ragdolled him until Cormier locked on a rear naked choke in the third round and Henderson went to sleep.
Jones had a tough bout against Alexander Gustafsson in September of 2013, and the fight showed numerous holes in the striking game of Jones that were exploited by his lanky opponent. Jones went through most of his career obliterating former champions with relative ease, but he was challenged and it looked as if beating Jones was not impossible in the Gustafsson bout. Cormier will certainly look to exploit the weaknesses that Jones showed against Gustafsson and the few that he showed against Glover Teixeira in his last bout as well, as the coaching staff at American Kickboxing Academy where Cormier trains is top notch. As I discuss this comparison of accolades I am ignoring one major factor that may play into this bout, and that is emotion. Cormier, initially offended by Jones when they met years ago, held a grudge against Jones and Jones antagonized Cormier at any chance he could get. A boiling point was reached between the two over the summer when a brawl broke out between the two at a press event, and there are countless verbal confrontations that have occurred between the two in interviews and behind the scenes at events.
These have all made for enticing promos depicting the bitter rivalry in this bout, and if either man loses control of his emotions during the bout the other may capitalize on that. I don’t see this happening, and while Cormier may seem like the perfect foe to dethrone Jones, I think Jones will use his reach keep Cormier at bay and make adjustments to accommodate any tactics and takedown attempts that Cormier brings to the cage. I see Jones winning the bout by unanimous decision, but this may be the toughest fight in the career of both men, and has the potential to be one of the greatest fights of all time. I easily see both men getting badly hurt and ending up on their backs during the course of the fight, but I think Jones will figure out Cormier within 2 or 3 rounds, make adjustments and win 3 or more of the 5 rounds to take the unanimous decision.
Speaking on the topic of good fights, Donald Cerrone know a thing or two about putting on thrilling bouts and finding abrupt finishes to bouts and his co-main event fight against Myles Jury is a guaranteed contender for fight of the night. Cerrone is riding a 5 fight winning streak since losing a decision to contender Rafael dos Anjos, and all 5 fights occurred in the span of just 10 months. Cerrone started by finishing Evan Dunham with a triangle choke in November of 2013, and went on to knockout Adriano Martins with a head kick in the first round, he submitted Edson Barboza with a rear naked choke in the first round, knocked out Jim Miller with a head kick and beat the highly touted former Bellator lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez by a clear unanimous decision. Cerrone received bonuses for all 4 of the fights he finished, and will likely earn a title shot with a win over Jury. Jury is an undefeated prospect who easily beat Diego Sanchez by unanimous decision and earned a 92 second TKO victory over former Pride lightweight champion Takanori Gomi in his most recent bout. Jury certainly has an impressive record as he has not tasted defeat yet in his career, but he has not faced near the caliber of opponent that Cerrone has faced, and at times finished. Cerrone has the ability to finish a fight in a matter of seconds, and while Jury is strategically sound I see Cerrone outworking Jury in the striking department en route to a unanimous decision. Cerrone has the ability to finish the fight in the blink of an eye, but I don’t have strong enough evidence that there is a good chance that he will do so against Jury, and that is why I predict that he will win a decision.
Brad Tavares is facing Nate Marquardt in a middleweight matchup midway through the pay per view card. Tavares was on a 5 fight winning streak that was culminated by a decision win over Lorenz Larkin before losing his next 2 to Yoel Romero and Tim Boetsch. Marquardt has been in the UFC since 2005 and earned a title shot against Anderson Silva in 2007 which he lost by first round TKO. Marquardt went on to earn and lose two more middleweight contender bouts to determine the next title challenger, both by decision to Chael Sonnen and Yushin Okami before deciding to drop to welterweight. Marquardt was cut from the UFC due to an elevated testosterone upon his first attempt to make welterweight, amassed a 1-1 record in Strikeforce winning and losing the welterweight belt, and returned to the UFC to lose two fights at welterweight by first round knockout before moving back up to middleweight and defeating James Te Huna by armbar in the first round in Te Huna’s first move down from light heavyweight. In summary, Marquardt has had a long career that has been all of the place at middleweight and welterweight, but has always been a consistent threat at middleweight. Tavares has had less than a third of the fight experience that Marquardt has, and has not shown the ability to hang with the top contenders like Marquardt has. I see Marquardt taking a unanimous decision over Tavares and returning to the rankings at middleweight.
The second bout on the pay per view main card features Kyoji Horiguchi battling Louis Gaudinot in the flyweight division. Horiguchi has lost only once in his 15 fight career to ONE FC bantamweight title challenger Masakatsu Ueda and has a 3-0 UFC record with 2 of those bouts taking place in the flyweight division and owns 2 TKO finishes of those 3 wins. Gaudinot is 1-1 with 1 no contest in the flyweight division, defeating John Lineker by submission, coming up shots a decision to Tim Elliott and earning a submission win over Phil Harris that was changed to a no contest due to a failed drug test. The flyweight division is for the taking due to its small size, and can regularly be broken into two categories of fighters, relatively inexperienced fighters at lower weight classes that have demolished no-name opponents, or experienced fighters that have struggled against some of the top level competition but have shown promise against some of the best. This bout is no exception to that, as Horiguchi has yet to face a stiff test at flyweight and Gaudinot lost to Tim Elliott, a fighter who is consistently in the top 15 rankings in the division. In this case, I think the relatively untested Horiguchi will beat the more experienced Gaudinot, winning exchanges on the feet and avoiding submission threats, and I think the bout will go to a unanimous decision based on the statistically low finish rate at flyweight.
The opening bout on the pay per view main card tonight features Hector Lombard facing a returning Josh Burkman, in a bout guaranteed to be a barnburner in the welterweight division. Lombard has looked terrifying at welterweight since his drop after going 1-2 in a disappointing middleweight run in the UFC, and has gone 2-0 at welterweight so far badly knocking Nate Marquardt out cold in under two minutes and punishing Jake Shields en route to a unanimous decision. Burkman got a pink strip after losing 3 straight in a 5-5 UFC run between 2005 and 2008, and has gone 9-2 since his release. Both Lombard and Burkman have shown a vicious striking game, Lombard boasting 19 and Burkman owning 7 KO or TKO finishes, but with Lombard’s high level judo experience and powerful hands, I think he will find Burkman’s chin and hand him his first KO loss inside the first round.
The biggest question of all, bigger than any prediction, that all of the higher-ups at the UFC has been trying to avoid whenever possible, is will this event prove that the pay per view model is still viable. Last year was a year plagued by injuries and pay per view buys were the lowest they have been in years, this may be a make it or break it night for the future of UFC pay per views. The UFC has done a good job of reserving title fights for pay per views, and often scheduling 2 title fights on the same pay per view card, but with the lack of star power as of late and the new, lighter weight divisions that don't appeal to fans as well as the heavier divisions, it has been a hard sell to get hundreds of thousands, or at times millions of fans to part with $60 for 3 hours of fights. Hopefully the rivalry between Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier will attract all hardcore and many casual fans to watch the fights, as a rivalry built off of bad blood with high emotions is something that anyone in the world can relate to.
What are your thoughts set to air on on Pay Per View tonight? Please comment below with any ideas and feedback.