On a different night, with a different plan, Daniel Cormier could be the UFC Light Heavyweight champion. After five hard fought rounds, however, the belt remains the property of Mr. Jonathan Dwight Jones.
But getting hung up on the main event would do a disservice to the rest of the UFC 182 card, which was sublime. Electrifying performances from several young prospects, a couple of cracking finishes, and Donald Cerrone dishing out some of the nastiest low kicks against a downed opponent that I've ever seen.
So without further delay, let's talk UFC 182.
Up and Comers
Every card needs a couple of heavyweights to come out and 'throw them bungalows' at each other, because frankly, people like a knockout, and no-one expects a heavyweight fight to go long. Shawn Jordan brought the goods against Jared Cannonier. Cannonier checked the southpaw's lead hand at every opportunity, but every time his concentration lapsed, a right hook or jab smashed into his noggin.
But the real excitement started when Marcus Brimage fought Cody Garbrandt. I had never seen Garbrandt fight before, or at least never taken note of it, but after last night I'm convinced he's got a future. What carried Garbrandt to the win, amid high kicks and cartwheel kicks, was a short left hook. Whenever he could bait Brimage to step into an exchange, that short left hook would catch Brimage on the way out. “Closing the door” as I often put it. Brimage's low right hand in every exchange got him caught almost every time.
The end of the fight came as one such hook wobbled Brimage and Garbrandt flurried for the finish. Reportedly Garbrandt's counter hook was a back up plan as he broke his right hand early in the fight. Garbrandt emphatically secured a place on my “keep an eye on” pile of prospects.
Paul Felder, one of the biggest lightweights I've ever seen, looked sublime in his bout against Danny Castillo. Castillo telegraphed his early attempts at a takedown, and never even got close after that. Felder battered Castillo with kicks and sharp, simple boxing, between threatening to take Castillo's head off with intercepting knees.
Three of the beautiful ways Felder was using his knees in the fight.
What's even better is that Felder picked up a highlight reel knockout, with a spinning backfist / forearm bash, which was absolutely nothing to do with the clinic he had been putting on otherwise!
On the first fight of the main card, Kyoji Horiguchi put on a show against Louis Gaudinot. The Japanese karateka used his usual evasive movement and flurries. Leading with the left hook or trying to back track and draw Gaudinot onto the right straight. Gaudinot was outclassed but never out of the fight. He almost picked up a standing arm triangle choke off of a missed Horiguchi counter.
Most of the bout was Horiguchi regulating the distance, and coming in with flurries. Occasionally he'd weave under a punch and come up swinging too. Horiguchi is the best thing to come out of Japan in a long while and I look forward to watching him grow further towards a shot at Demetrious Johnson.
Josh Burkman versus Hector Lombard was one sided, as expected, but made Lombard look one-note on the feet. Failing to cut off the ring, Lombard followed Burkman around the ring, swinging with power. Burkman was fighting oddly all bout, but his repeated superman punches off of the cage actually seemed to cause Lombard to hesitate along the fence. Like the crafty stoat, Burkman's leaping around and unpredictability put a caution into Lombard that we don't normally see.
Burkman did a decent job counter punching too. He occasionally went to the shoulder roll or the cross guard and though he was clearly not particularly adept in these methods, it highlighted just how wide and swinging Lombard’s blows are, and the difference we see between professional boxing and being an MMA fighter who punches hard.
The reason you shelled out your hard earned cash, however, was the main event. Jon Jones defending his light heavyweight title against Daniel Cormier. The bout was as back and forth as they come—and certainly anyone who is still saying “Jones is untouchable” has a lot to answer for.
A couple of weeks back I wrote a 3500 worder entitled Killing the King: Jon Jones in which I asserted that without an answer to the kicking and distance game of Jones—not simply to attempt to walk through it—no-one is beating Jones. And after last night, that assertion stands.
Daniel Cormier seemed to be telling the truth when he said that his plan was to get in Jones' face. He did that very effectively for a couple of rounds. The problem was that he walked straight in, through the kicks, elbows, and body punches to do it.
Cormier wanted to move into the clinch, unleash with the punching flurries which earned him the unofficial nickname “Black Fedor”, and wear Jones down.
This is that perfect chaining of wrestling and boxing that we talk about every time we mention Cormier. Just sublime.
But he was taking unanswered blows to get there, every single time. Add to that the fact Cormier has only gone five rounds once in his career, against Josh Barnett, a heavyweight. A cardio based contest just didn't favor him at all.
One of the great misfortunes of the fight game is that people genuinely think that the “better man” wins. The truth is that with slight changes to his game plan, and a focus on lateral movement rather than walking through strikes, Cormier has all the skills to beat Jones. Hell, he gave Jones a great fight by going about it the absolute worst way he could have on the feet.
Daniel Cormier's skills and technical ability are second to none. But the simple act of moving laterally—being the matador rather than the bull—when choosing his engagements could have changed the entire fight. Jones was in optimal position to strike all night, where against Gustafsson he was constantly turning and resetting his feet.
That being said, Jones looked every bit the veteran champion, but certainly not as immortal as he looked against Mauricio Rua, Rashad Evans and Rampage Jackson. The division is catching up and the new talent is for real.
Two years ago it seemed like there was Jones, and then there was everyone else. Now it seems with Alexander Gustafsson, Daniel Cormier and Anthony Johnson just as fresh as Jones and improving just as fast, we might have entered MMA's own era of Four Kings. Where a couple of years ago I barely cared, I now eagerly anticipate any news out of the 205lbs division, and after last night and Jones' bout with Gustafsson in 2013, so should you.
Check out these related stories:
The Mixed Martial Arts of Victorian London
Before BJJ, there was Bartitsu.
Jonathan Maicelo: The Last Inca
Peru's up-and-coming boxing star.
Kron Gracie on Jiu-Jitsu, Skateboarding, Older Brothers, and Famous Fathers
The ties that bind are strong.
Joel Tudor on the Art of Surfing, Fighting, and Style
A surf icon helps MMA keep its sense of tradition.
Japan's Karate Kid: Kyoji Horiguchi
Japan's brightest MMA prospect.