“Years from now, this could be looked at as a seminal bout in the sport’s existence in terms of competition and mass appeal. Two superstars in their primes with a championship on the line. What else could you ask for?” – Sports Illustrated
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“In the fight game, you get used to hype: The biggest this. The biggest that. After a while, it rolls off your back.
“But Saturday night is different. You can make a good case that the [fight] is, from an all-around standpoint, one of the true epic matches in the history of the sport.” – Yahoo! Sports
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“Commentators Joe Rogan and Mike Goldberg constantly describe the UFC as the ‘Superbowl of Mixed Martial Arts.’
“This weekend, ahead of American Football’s biggest game of the season, the UFC have matched up a fight to rival any sporting event this year.” – The Mirror
On January 31, 2009, Georges St-Pierre and B.J. Penn met at UFC 94 in the MGM Grand with the UFC’s welterweight title on the line.
St-Pierre and Penn met once before, at UFC 58, with the Canadian taking a split decision. He won the welterweight title for the first time later that year with a finish of Matt Hughes. He would lose the title to Matt Serra before winning it back and beginning the most dominant reign in welterweight history.
Penn, after a three-year stint fighting above his weight (including the first fight with St-Pierre), had returned to lightweight, defeating Jens Pulver, Joe Stevenson, and Sean Sherk and capturing the promotion’s lightweight title along the way. Now he wanted to avenge the loss to St-Pierre.
The feud became personal. Penn insinuated that St-Pierre used steroids. He called St-Pierre a quitter. St-Pierre said he would fight with heart, not anger. The UFC put together a three-part, HBO 24/7-“inspired” documentary to hype the bout.
The promotion had whipped fans and media into a frenzy. St-Pierre walked into the Octagon as a -165 favorite. A half hour later, he had broken Penn’s will. The Hawaiian’s corner stopped the bout while their fighter sat with glazed eyes on his stool.
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Five years, eleven months, and three days after the rematch between St-Pierre and Penn, Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier will meet at UFC 182 in the MGM Grand with the UFC’s light heavyweight title on the line.
It’s not a rematch –not a proper one anyway – but similarities abound. The champion fights out of Jackson’s MMA in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The challenger started his fight career at the American Kickboxing Academy. (The current challenger still trains there.) The champion dominated his weight class for years. The challenger changed weight classes with this fight in mind. The champion is a physical specimen. The challenger has had issues with weight in the past. The champion has the physical advantages. It’s personal. The UFC produced a slick promo special for the event (substituting Anthony Bourdain for Henry Rollins). The hype is high, and fans and media are in a frenzy.
Penn backers thought his preternatural technique and the motivation that both avenging a loss and holding two titles at once would bring would be enough to overcome St-Pierre’s size and strength advantages. But St-Pierre was his own kind of talent, and no one really explained how Penn’s technique would trump the champion’s.
Nearly six years after St-Pierre damaged Penn, Jon Jones will likely enter the cage something near a -165 favorite. Time, apparently, is a flat circle.
Cormier, for all his athletic talents and wrestling pedigree, has a castle ahead of him. To storm this castle, Cormier must cross a moat, climb a wall, avoid the guard towers, ram down a door, and once he’s emerged on the other side, survive the onslaught of battle.
The UFC lists Daniel Cormier at 5’11” tall – probably generously – and a 72” reach. Jon Jones is 6’4” and has outreaches Cormier by a foot. Jones utilizes his reach with jabs, with oblique kicks, with putting his hands in your face. If Cormier is to win the fight, figuring out how to deal with Jones at range is his top priority.
And, you know, maybe he’s successful. He’s fast, he’s smart, he has excellent hips. It shouldn’t surprise anyone if he can take Jones down at some point. But that’s just the start of the equation. Can he keep Jones down? Can he take him down consistently? Can he avoid damage on the way in? In the clinch? Can he avoid Jones’ bottom game, which is an unknown factor that he can’t scout on tape?
Is Cormier even on Jones’ level? We know he’s good. He’s run through enough high-level competition to establish the fact that he’s good. But while Dan Henderson isn’t 50 years old, he is far removed from his prime. Frank Mir and Josh Barnett aren’t spring chickens either. Patrick Cummins worked at a coffee shop when he got the call to fight Cormier.
Yes, you can only fight the men put in front of you, but Antonio Silva is Cormier’s best win. Jones steamrolled Mauricio Rua, Lyoto Machida, Rashad Evans, and Glover Teixeira. Even when he faltered against Alexander Gustafsson, he found a champion’s heart and endured. We know Jon Jones is the best fighter on the planet, and we know he’s a tough son of a bitch to boot.
So don’t be surprised if Jones makes Cormier look as mortal as past opponent’s, because we’ve seen this play before. And we know Jones has seen it, too. He made his UFC pay-per-view debut at UFC 94 with a coming-out party against Stephan Bonnar.