There are few things more guaranteed to get the hairs on the back of a fight fan’s neck standing on end, than the prospect of two great fighters going toe-to-toe with something to prove.
That’s the gold nugget at the heart of this mouth watering feast of feuding and fighting, as UFC grandees Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier clash with the force of colliding continents for the light heavyweight crown at UFC 214.
Mark Sylvester puts the monumental moment in perspective.
When the lights dim, the bell goes and Daniel ‘DC’ Cormier and Jon ‘Bones’ Jones start their bid to dismantle each other, the world will be treated to the rare sight of Jones assuming the roll of challenger.
A slight self-destructive streak that runs through the supremely talented 6ft 4in fighter managed to do what eight successive octagon opponents failed to do; strip him of his 205lb belt.
Another dash of self-destruction lost him the interim crown, and landed him with a 12-month ban.
All that means Jones has fought just once in the last 30 months, and this is his chance to prove he’s still the supreme exponent on the Octagon’s dark arts that he once was, and led many to consider him one of the all-time greats.
For Cormier it’s an opportunity to finally carve his own name among the UFC elite.
Despite his 19-1 MMA record, the fact he’s the current light heavy incumbent, and the little matter of four impressive title defences, DC has never quite been accepted as the real deal.
The main reason for that is the long, menacing shadow of Jones.
Jones is that irritating ‘1’ that blemishes his otherwise spotless record, and some see Cormier as simply keeping the belt warm for the ‘true champ.’
That’s not how DC sees it. of course. He’s a powder keg of confidence, who’s desperate to put the record straight using high levels of controlled, and exceptionally skilled, violence.
And the pair can’t stand each other.
How much weight we should give to their first fight at UFC 182 depends on how much you think has changed since then.
Back in January 2015 Jones bossed the dogfight, winning the striking battle, and the grappling battle.
Using his 5in height and 12in reach advantage Bones simply kept Cormier’s power-packed unit at bay. With Cormier needing to get in close to do any damage he simply walked into a barrage of Bones’ bombs.
It was a hard-fought but convincing decision for Bones.
So, can he do it again? Maybe. The explosive combination of bone-pulping power and science-defying technique doesn’t simply disappear into thin air.
If classic Jon Jones turns up, dishes out damage from a distance, and stops former Olympic wrestler Cormier getting close enough for a takedown, a decision for Jones at 6/5 is a decent shout.
We know that, at his best, Jones can tough it out against a beast of an opponent, as he did at UFC 165 when he turned the losing tide against Sweden’s Alexander Gustafsson. At the end he looked like he’d been run down by a Saab – but he still had the belt.
Of course, while DC might have the edge on the mat, Jones is no slouch in the submissions department. He’s got nine of those on his CV including the Americana that ended Vitor Belfort’s titanic effort at UFC 152. You can get a Jones’ submission at a healthy 9/2.
The flipside to all this is that a win for DC depends entirely on getting through Bones’ awesome array of long-range artillery. Cormier does carry plenty of TNT in his mitts, but you just can’t see him wining a slugfest against Jones.
Jones simply has too many sneaky strikes in his repertoire, including those elbows like tyre-irons that have dispatched a series of opponents and dispirited others – such as the spinning back elbow that put Gustafsson in his place.
Cormier can wrestle with the best, and an Olympic bronze medal proves it.
He’s twice snuffed out the menace of Anthony ‘Rumble’ Johnson, one of UFC’s most feared strikers, with near-naked chokes.
If DC can take Jones to ground and unlock his kitbag of pain, he can submit the icon. It’s a long shot because it means breaching Bones’ force-field of flying fists. It’s 21/1, but worth a tickle.
So, who’ll win and how? Great question. Cormier! No, Jones! No, Cormier! Yes, Cormier. And this is why.
I can’t see a KO. Jones stacked a few of those early on, but he’s grown wary of being tagged and his last four have all ended in a decision. Cormier won’t be able to throw a big enough shot at close range.
Jones is rusty. Yes he is. He’s only 30, but he’s rusty. His one fight in the last 30 months was a lacklustre display against Ovince Saint Preux to win (before being stripped of) the interim belt.
Cormier has been constantly active, and since losing to Jones has beaten ‘Rumble’ twice, survived a war against Gustafsson and practically toyed with multi-time middleweight champ Anderson Silva.
Cormier is the supreme tactician and technician at the pinnacle of his powers. He’s crazy hungry to beat Jones. I see him keeping out of serious trouble, out-grappling the big guy and sneaking a narrow points win.
It’s the end of an era and the start of another.
It’s a 4/1 shot, but it’s where my pocket money’s going.