By Jaime C. Feal
In what some are calling the biggest fight since rivals Chuck Liddell and Randy Couture squared off a decade ago, UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Jon Jones takes on the undefeated former Olympic wrestler Daniel Cormier. There is no love lost between Cormier and Jones, who have exchanged heated trash talk, and even came to blows in a scuffle at the MGM while promoting the fight. All the controversy and bad blood will only sell more Pay-Per-Views, of course, but the truth is that this fight didn’t need any extra hype as Cormier is the biggest test of Jon Jones’ young but outstanding career.
Middleweight Division (185 lbs.):
Nate “The Great” Marquardt (33-13-2, 11-6 UFC) vs. Brad Tavares (12-3, 7-3 UFC)
UFC veteran Nate Marquardt takes on TUF alum Brad Tavares in a middleweight fight sure to provide plenty of action. Both these fighters are always willing to stand up and exchange in a brawl, with Tavares especially preferring that style of fight. Marquardt has shown submission prowess in the past, but he still is most comfortable on his feet throwing strikes, like when he knocked out Demian Maia with a single punch in just 21 seconds of the first round at UFC 102 in one of the classic KOs in MMA history.
These days, Marquardt is aging and doesn’t quite possess the same one-punch KO power, but has stayed in great shape and is still a force to be reckoned with. After 3 consecutive losses in 2013, many wondered if Marquardt should consider hanging it up, but he rebounded in a big way with a 1st round armbar victory over James Te Huna in June of 2014, earning a “Performance of the Night” bonus along the way.
On Saturday night, it is a very similar matchup, as the well-rounded and experienced Marquardt takes on yet another young brawler intent on punching him into retirement. Vegas has the odds on this fight nearly dead even, after Marquardt proved he can still hang with the young lions with his dominant performance over the rising Te Huna. Whether Marquardt can earn the win depends on his willingness to engage in a brawl with Tavares. Expect the more tactical version of Marquardt to come out tomorrow night and pick his spots while avoiding Tavares’ power punches.
Prediction: Nate “The Great” Marquardt wins by unanimous decision.
Lightweight Division (155 lbs.):
Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone (25-6, 12-3 UFC) vs. Myles “Fury” Jury (15-0, 6-0 UFC)
In a battle of the old guard vs the new breed, two of the most exciting fighters in the lightweight division square off in a bout loaded with title shot implications. Cerrone has consistently proven he can beat the upper echelon of the division, most recently defeating Eddie Alvarez, but to date Cerrone hasn’t been able to capture that elusive title. Jury, a fighter very much on the rise, has never faced a fighter the caliber of Cerrone. Not only is Jury much younger and less experienced, but he is also less physically mature, and Cerrone will have a strength advantage tomorrow night.
Jury has a very interesting statistic in his favor, as he is the proud owner of the best striking defense percentage in UFC history, meaning he makes his opponents miss a lot. This could come in very handy against a volume striker like Cerrone who constantly comes forward looking for the kill. Cerrone employs a Muay Thai approach, utilizing kicks, knees, and punches to wear down his opponent. Cerrone also has excellent cardio, but so does Jury, as both men like to fight at a fast pace.
Cerrone clearly has an advantage on the feet as the more experienced and diversified striker, as Jury mostly plays defense standing up until he can score a takedown. While Cerrone has scored many slick submissions in his career, most of them have come after he has stunned his opponent with strikes, and Jury may have the better ground game between the two fighters. Vegas has instilled Jury as a 2:1 underdog, and as the old MMA saying goes: “Every fight starts standing up.” Cerrone possesses enough strength, takedown defense, and jiu jitsu to keep himself free of Jury’s submissions, and in doing so will be able to keep the fight on his terms en route to a unanimous decision victory.
Prediction: Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone wins by unanimous decision
UFC Light Heavyweight Championship (215 lbs.):
Jon “Bones” Jones (20-1, 14-1 UFC) vs. Daniel Cormier (15-0, 4-0 UFC)
A huge grudge match goes down tomorrow for the Light Heavyweight Belt, as everyone’s favorite villain Jon Jones takes on Daniel Cormier in what promises to be one of the UFC’s highest selling fights in years. Both men are virtually undefeated, with Jones’ lone loss coming via way of a controversial DQ due to illegal elbow strike. Tomorrow night, for the first time, either Cormier or Jones will truly lose an MMA match. It is very rare you have that scenario in a title fight, which makes it all the more exciting.
Adding fuel to the fire is that these two men literally hate eachother. They have come to blows at media events, insulted one another both behind closed door and on camera, and at one point, Jon Jones said he would “literally kill” Daniel Cormier
Cormier truly believes he is the one to dethrone Jones, and the cocky champ sees Cormier as just another contender in a long list of victims during his dominant title reign. The key to this fight is wrestling. Cormier, a former Olympic wrestler, is easily the best in the division at clinch work, and getting his opponents down to the mat with takedowns. Once there, he uses smothering top control and his heavy frame (he is a former heavyweight) to dominate his opponents. Cormier has nasty ground and pound, and also showed submission skills when he choked Dan Henderson unconscious at UFC 173. The scary part for Jones, of course, is that much like Jones did at the start of his career, Cormier is learning rapidly and getting better with each fight.
Helping matters for Cormier is the fact he has an amazing training partner like Cain Velasquez, the current UFC Heavyweight champion and one of the most well-rounded fighters in the world. Still, Jon Jones possesses unique attributes that are impossible to simulate in training, particularly his extremely long limbs and reach advantages. Jones is adept at using a variety of techniques, from spinning elbows, backfists, push kicks and the like, to traditional hooks and straight punches. Cormier absolutely has to get this fight to the mat. He is much shorter and slower on the feet. The longer it stays standing, the easier it will be for Jones to frustrate him and pick him apart with his superior striking.
If, however, Cormier can get Jones on his back early and often, something no other fighter has done, it is a complete game-changer. Now Jones’ cardio and heart would be tested like never before, as he finds himself in an unfamiliar position of having to play defense. If Cormier can establish his dominant wrestling tomorrow night, he has an excellent chance at wearing down Jon Jones and finally being the first man to crack through his armor and take his Light Heavyweight belt.
Prediction: Daniel Cormier wins by TKO, Round 3.