Based on past history and after what happened with UFC 213, it might be premature to celebrate the long-awaited rematch between Daniel Cormier and Jon Jones actually happening on Saturday, July 29, at UFC 214. So keep your fingers crossed that everything we’ve penned below doesn’t become irrelevant later this week.
The UFC returns to the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif., with three title fights and one of the deepest cards of the year. In addition to the light heavyweight title clash between the aforementioned Cormier and Jones, welterweight kingpin Tyron Woodley puts his belt on the line against Brazilian Demian Maia and a pair of former Invicta FC champions clash for the vacant featherweight title when Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino meets Tonya Evinger.
Joining the title tripleheader, former welterweight champion Robbie Lawler meets all-action fighter Donald Cerrone and light heavyweight wrecking machine Jimi Manuwa meets the surging Volkan Oezdemir.
The 12-fight card kicks off with three contests streaming live on UFC Fight Pass at 6:30 p.m. ET. Four additional preliminary-card bouts follow at 8 p.m. ET on FXX, with the five-fight main card airing live on pay-per-view at 10 p.m. ET. Combat Press writers Bryan Henderson and Rob Tatum present quite the take on UFC 214 in this edition of Toe-to-Toe.
On four separate occasions in the past, Daniel Cormier has been slated to meet Jon Jones. Three of those bouts fell through. The other ended in a frustrating loss for Cormier. Does Cormier finally get his revenge at UFC 214?
With all of these previously scheduled fights, it seems like we’d have a larger sample size of direct competition between Cormier and Jones to make a prediction, but there’s only 25 minutes from that January night in 2015 at UFC 182. Yet, I’d say that’s really all the evidence we need. Some fighters have one archrival they just cannot beat. Rich Franklin had Anderson Silva. B.J. Penn had Frankie Edgar. And Cormier has Jones.
Jones sports a rare blend of athleticism with a solid skill set, a significant reach and no qualms about throwing in some creative moves. The reach alone — 84.5 inches to Cormier’s 72.5 inches — is enough to keep Cormier at bay and make takedowns difficult. Jones also proved he could take the Olympic wrestler to the mat himself. If Cormier can’t win in the wrestling department against Jones, then he’s all out of options. Jones has the length to keep Cormier from using his underrated striking, and the bad boy doesn’t tend to fade in fights the way Cormier’s other rival, Anthony “Rumble” Johnson, did on two occasions.
Cormier’s a great fighter. He’s capable of dominating an entire division, but only if that division doesn’t include “Bones” Jones.
Tatum: My colleague pinpointed one of the biggest reasons why Cormier won’t leave Anaheim with the belt: length. Jones is freakishly rangy and yet fast enough to avoid being bullied by stout foes like Cormier. The only fighter to truly test Jones was Alexander Gustafsson, a man with a similar build to Jones and a high-volume striking attack.
Cormier is one of the most accomplished wrestlers to ever enter MMA competition, and he’s proven to be one of the sport’s pound-for-pound elite with his accomplishments at both heavyweight and light heavyweight. However, the sole blemish on his resume is courtesy of Jones. During Jones’ escapades over the past two years, Cormier has faced the aforementioned Gustafsson and Rumble Johnson (twice), but despite coming away victorious, there was little evidence to show why he’ll beat Jones on Saturday night. Even though the belt will be around his waist when they enter the cage, Cormier is the one who has something to prove.
The wildcard in this fight is the layoff for Jones.This is only his fourth fight in the last four years, and his performance against Ovince Saint Preux at UFC 197 was lackluster at best. If Jones comes out flat against Cormier, this becomes a much closer contest. But assuming Jones fights to the best of his abilities, he’ll pick Cormier apart on the feet and counter-wrestle enough to recapture the title on the scorecards.
Bonus question: Over/under — if Jones wins the title, he holds it for at least two years.
At this point, how can anyone have faith in Jones? He’s one of the most talented athletes the sport has ever seen, but he can’t get out of his own way. He’s had multiple run-ins with the authorities over his career and he’s tested positive for cocaine and hormone/metabolic modulators in the last two years. It’s not that Jones can’t hold the belt from an in-cage perspective, but his inability to stay out of trouble with the law and the USADA leaves me no choice but to choose the under.
Henderson: Not only does Jones have a history of issues outside the cage, but he’s still talking like he doesn’t get it. I’m not confident in anyone who brags about taking a bump one weekend and winning a fight the next as if it’s perfectly fine. That demonstrates that Jones could still be immature enough to make the same mistakes again. I, too, will take the under.
The last time Demian Maia challenged for a UFC title, we were forced to witness a horrible middleweight fight between Maia and fellow Brazilian Anderson Silva. How much better will Maia perform when he goes up against welterweight titleholder Tyron Woodley?
Henderson: A thousand times better. He’s not facing a legend at the height of that legend’s prime, when fighters were defeated before they even got in the cage. Instead, Maia is taking on Woodley, a solid wrestler but hardly a fighter who strikes fear into the hearts of challengers in the same way Silva did back in the day.
The question here is how Maia approaches the contest. He still has to be wary of his opponent’s striking ability — Woodley might not be Silva, but he does have big power and six knockout victories — and find a way to take the fight to the ground. Woodley is a strong wrestler, so Maia might have to get creative. However, Maia has looked like an absolute beast for a while now. He swarmed Neil Magny, Matt Brown and Carlos Condit for submission finishes, and Condit’s no slouch on the ground.
I’ve almost talked myself into picking Maia to win this fight, which shows how close the action should be. However, Woodley can get conservative at times, and that might be the proper approach here. He needs to be at the top of his takedown-defense game and turn this into a boxing or kickboxing fight. He’s done it in the past, and he should find a way to make it work against Maia. Eventually, he’ll rock the Brazilian and add to his knockout tally.
Tatum: I have to admit, my fellow writer made a compelling case for Maia to pull off a win in this fight. And I completely agree that the Brazilian is going to perform much better in this fight than his past title conquest at middleweight. He’s not going to be flopping on his back and butt-scooting across the Octagon. Maia has looked like a completely different fighter since moving to welterweight, where he’s defeated some very talented grapplers like Jon Fitch, Dong Hyun Kim, Ryan LaFlare and Gunnar Nelson. However, it’s important to note that each of those fighters was willing to engage Maia on the mat.
That’s not going to happen with Woodley. Woodley falls into a category of athletic wrestlers with power striking, which has traditionally given Maia fits. His losses, albeit at middleweight, to Chris Weidman and Mark Muñoz are good examples of the problems that Woodley will pose for the Brazilian. Woodley wrestled collegiately at the University of Missouri and has the ability to keep this fight standing for five rounds. He’s a more complete striker than Maia and has a significant speed advantage.
Maia’s path to victory in this fight relies on Woodley making a mistake and the fight going to the ground. It’s not out of the question for this to happen, but Woodley has showcased a conservative approach in his most recent title defenses — remember the staring contest with Stephen Thompson at UFC 209? — so I expect Woodley to remain on the outside and patiently score from range. Maia will push forward and try his best to drag the fight to the canvas, but it won’t be pretty. In fact, I expect it to be a buzzkill over five rounds. Woodley keeps his belt with a decision win, while Maia will be left wondering what might have been yet again.
Tonya Evinger has finally made it to the UFC. Her reward? A showdown with one of the sport’s elite, Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino, who has rolled through her last 17 opponents with relative ease. Is Evinger the one woman that can give Cyborg a true challenge?
Tatum: If there’s a woman in MMA right now that can test Cyborg, it’s Evinger. The Missouri native has a hard-nosed, don’t-give-a-shit fighting style that is unlike many of the fighters that have stepped into the cage with the Brazilian over the past few years.
That said, Evinger certainly has her work cut out for her. No one has even come close to defeating Cyborg in recent years. Of her 15 career knockout wins, nine have come inside the first round, including five of her last seven. The power and explosiveness of the Brazilian is something that most fighters cannot handle. Even battle-tested veterans like Leslie Smith and Marloes Coenen have been left a bloody mess by Cyborg’s handiwork. And Coenen is the only fighter to make it into the championship rounds with the world’s best featherweight.
Evinger comes from a wrestling background, but it’s the evolution of her skill set in recent years that has really taken her game to another level. Since moving to Houston, Evinger’s submission game has become one of her biggest weapons. She tapped veteran grapplers Ediane Gomes and Cindy Dandois with relative ease inside the Invicta cage. Mix in the eight career wins by strikes and the 36-year-old is nearly as efficient of a finisher as Cyborg.
Where this fight really gets interesting is the clash of styles. Cyborg’s strength comes in her ability to put away opponents quickly and violently. But in 25 career fights, Evinger has never been stopped by strikes. Evinger thrives at pushing the pace and making fights dirty. When was the last time we saw Cyborg on her back? If Evinger can get takedowns, the fight may swing on her ability to zap Cyborg’s explosiveness.
Although I think Evinger has the tools to give Cyborg trouble and will result in the most competitive fight of Cyborg’s career, I can’t overlook Cyborg’s path of destruction. No matter who has been put in front of her in EliteXC, Strikeforce, Invicta or the UFC, she’s turned out their lights. Evinger’s toughness will get her to the third or maybe even the fourth round, but eventually she’ll succumb to the unmatched power of Cyborg by TKO.
Henderson: Remember the late-career surge of Randy Couture? I’m talking the Couture who unexpectedly dethroned Tim Sylvia as UFC heavyweight champ. Well, Evinger, in my eyes, has become Couture in female form. She’s a scrappy, veteran fighter who went from a seemingly forgotten pioneer after her disappointing TUF 18 showing to a member of the female MMA elite when she cruised past Sarah D’Alelio, the aforementioned Dandois and Gomes, and Irene Aldana to capture Invicta bantamweight gold and then defended the title against Colleen Schneider and Yana Kunitskaya. This is not the same fighter who was once submitted by Gina Carano, Alexis Davis and Raquel Pennington. She’s evolved, and she might make a Couture-esque push against Cyborg, even if she eventually does fall short.
My cohort pointed out one of the most significant details of this match-up, Evinger’s lack of knockout losses. She’s going to be a tough out for Cyborg, who relies heavily on her fists and rarely on her grappling. Evinger will need a true career performance here, but she’s quite capable of making use of her dirty boxing, the clinch and takedowns to make the Brazilian’s night a difficult one.
Calvin Kattar and Jarred Brooks — do we need to know these names?
Henderson: If nothing else, you should know Brooks because he has the incredibly crazy nickname of “The Monkey God.” In all seriousness, though, Brooks is an undefeated flyweight through 12 pro bouts, which does qualify him as a name worth knowing as a potential future title contender. The 24-year-old holds notable wins over recent Dana White Tuesday Night Contender Series participant Cee Jay Hamilton and formerly undefeated Pancrase fighter Jun Nakamura. Brooks has a tough task in front of him in the form of Eric Shelton, who managed to push Alexandre Pantoja to a split decision in his last outing. It’s a tough call to pick the winner — I actually flip-flopped from Shelton to Brooks on this one — but even if Brooks doesn’t win his Octagon debut, he has the youth and potential to make an eventual run into the top 10.
The 29-year-old Kattar is a different story. “The Boston Finisher” has built up an impressive eight-fight winning streak, but he’s also suffered losses to the rather mediocre combo of James “Binky” Jones and Don Carlo-Clauss. Based on his history — he does have a win over Saul Almeida — it’s possible he hangs in there as a mid-tier fighter for the UFC, but it’s doubtful he ever climbs into serious contention.
Tatum: I’m with my colleague on this one. Brooks is the name you need to know out of this pair. No disrespect to Kattar, but Brooks has the skills to be a future contender at flyweight. And, like my cohort, I believe his bout with Shelton is one of the most difficult fights on this card to predict. You don’t earn a moniker like “The Monkey God” without strong scrambling ability and grappling chops. Combine that with the speedy Shelton and you’ve got a recipe for one hell of a fight. I’m already rethinking my pick for the sleeper fight on this card.
Kattar isn’t just a warm body, despite coming in as a short-notice replacement. An eight-fight winning streak is nothing to ignore, and the losses to Jones and Carlo-Clauss came more than seven years ago. What is concerning is how a fighter dubbed “The Boston Finisher” has gone to the scorecards in seven straight bouts. More like “The Occasional Finisher,” amirite? Anyway, Kattar has paid his dues in the sport. He actually took three years off to run his own promotion, Combat Zone, in New Hampshire before returning to competition in 2016. He’ll test opponent Andre Fili over the course of three rounds, but he’ll inevitably come up short.
Who’s the biggest winner at UFC 214?
Tatum: Tonya Evinger.
If you read my answer above, you might be a little confused at the moment, but hear me out on this one. Evinger’s last official loss came in 2011, a span of 11 fights. Seven of her 10 victories during that stretch came before the final bell. Yet, somehow, Evinger was repeatedly overlooked by the UFC. Whether it was her brash attitude or poor showing on The Ultimate Fighter 18, Evinger didn’t care. She went to Invicta FC and proved she’s one of the world’s best bantamweights by capturing a title and defending it multiple times. Now she has the opportunity to compete in the UFC for a title on one of the year’s biggest pay-per-view cards. Evinger put in the hard work necessary to reach the Octagon and, win or lose in the cage on Saturday night, she now gets to showcase her skills to a wider audience. Even if she falls short against Cyborg, don’t be surprised if a bantamweight title shot follows soon after for Evinger.
This really is a long-overdue debut for the veteran. Even more insulting, Irene Aldana and Cindy Dandois, a pair of fighters who dropped bouts to Evinger, landed inside the Octagon before the Invicta champ. It’s time the world got a glimpse of what Invicta fans have known for a while — Evinger is a top fighter and a personality who could bring the same type of brash outspoken personality to the women’s side of the UFC roster that fighters like Conor McGregor and Jon Jones deliver to the men’s ranks. The UFC is a business, after all, and it could use a female star like Evinger.
Who’s the biggest loser at UFC 214?
Henderson: Aljamain Sterling.
The dude’s nickname might be “Funk Master,” but right now Sterling is stuck in a funk. First, he dropped back-to-back split decisions to Bryan Caraway and Raphael Assunção, which really wrecked his hype train. Then, he went the distance with Augusto Mendes without really putting a significant stamp on the fight. Now, he’s stuck with a catchweight bout against Renan Barão, who might be in better shape to hand Sterling a loss now that he doesn’t have to suffer quite as difficult a weight cut.
Tatum: Anyone who bought a ticket to UFC 213.
Not only did the promotion’s last pay-per-view card lose two title fights from the time it was announced to fight night, it also lost a sure-fire “Fight of the Night” contender between Robbie Lawler and Donald Cerrone. Combine the fact that UFC 214 has three title fights and the Lawler/Cerrone match-up, and UFC 213 feels like a hit-and-run accident on an Albuquerque street. Only in this case, running back to the car to retrieve a wad of cash isn’t an option.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Tatum: This is a very deep card and almost any fight in the lineup could be a candidate for “Fight of the Night.” It’s a bit of a stretch to call the preliminary-card headliner a sleeper, but my pick is the featherweight contest between Ricardo Lamas and Jason Knight.
Chicago’s Lamas isn’t exactly a guy that people are lining up to fight. Since moving over from the WEC in 2011, he has gone 8-3 inside the Octagon. The losses? A title defeat to then-champion José Aldo, a TKO loss to three-time title challenger Chad Mendes, and a decision loss to current champ Max Holloway. More importantly, he’s gotten the better of fellow top-10 fighters Cub Swanson, Dennis Bermudez and Charles Oliveira. The Oliveira win might be the most impressive, as Lamas submitted the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt with a guillotine choke.
Knight, affectionately known as “Hick Diaz” by fans, is taking a big step up in competition. After falling short in his UFC debut against Tatsuya Kawajiri, Knight has reeled off four straight victories and captured three post-fight bonuses in the process. I was fortunate enough to be cageside for his wins over Alex Caceres and Chas Skelly, and I know firsthand the type of entertaining fight that Knight can produce inside the Octagon.
This fight will come down to whether Lamas’ wrestling can neutralize Knight or if Knight’s scrambling ability and general disregard for his own well-being will allow him to catch Lamas with something expected. I’ll play it safe and pick Lamas by decision, but he’s going to have his hands full with Knight.
Henderson: Let’s return to the flyweight scrap between Jarred Brooks and Eric Shelton that we touched on earlier. Flyweight fights tend to entertain, and here we have two flyweight prospects paired up in what’s essentially a coin-flip fight where there’s a strong case to be made for either fighter winning the match.
Brooks has posted some significant wins, but he’s a UFC newcomer who will have to battle Octagon jitters as well as a game opponent. Yet, I’ve already provided plenty of reason why he should come out on top in this affair.
Shelton did give Alexandre Pantoja a tough fight, but he’s also suffered losses to the rather unheralded duo of Sid Bice and Kevin Gray. While it could be said that Shelton exceeded expectations against Pantoja, this is also the same fighter who entered The Ultimate Fighter 24 flyweight tournament as the No. 15 seed and went on to submit No. 2 seed Yoni Sherbatov, decision No. 7 seed Ronaldo Candido and push eventual tourney winner Tim Elliott to a majority decision.
Now I almost want to change my pick back to Shelton. And that’s what makes this fight sleeper material.
Pair this card with…
Henderson: A few lines of cocaine. Celebrate in true Jon Jones style, right? (I’m being sarcastic, of course — don’t do drugs, kiddos.)
Tatum: Well, if you’re going to start your night off with some blow, then you’ll probably need some Cialis later, right? Wait, what the hell are we writing about again? Only a card with Jon Jones could generate this level of snark. If you do pick the Cialis route, you might have a really awkward night of watching fights. Just remember to see a doctor if you’re still excited after the event ends. Now that I’ve lowered the bar and resorted to dick jokes, I think it’s time to wrap it up.
|Fight||Henderson’s Pick||Tatum’s Pick|
|Main Card (Pay-per-view, 10 p.m. ET)|
|LHW Championship: Daniel Cormier vs. Jon Jones||Jones||Jones|
|WW Championship: Tyron Woodley vs. Demian Maia||Woodley||Woodley|
|Women’s FW Championship: Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino vs. Tonya Evinger||Cyborg||Cyborg|
|WW: Robbie Lawler vs. Donald Cerrone||Lawler||Lawler|
|LHW: Jimi Manuwa vs. Volkan Oezdemir||Manuwa||Manuwa|
|Preliminary Card (FXX, 8 p.m. ET)|
|FW: Ricardo Lamas vs. Jason Knight||Lamas||Lamas|
|Catchweight (140 pounds): Aljamain Sterling vs. Renan Barão||Barão||Sterling|
|FW: Brian Ortega vs. Renato Moicano||Ortega||Ortega|
|FW: Andre Fili vs. Calvin Kattar||Fili||Fili|
|Preliminary Card (UFC Fight Pass, 6:30 p.m. ET)|
|Women’s StrawW: Kailin Curran vs. Aleksandra Albu||Albu||Curran|
|FlyW: Jarred Brooks vs. Eric Shelton||Brooks||Brooks|
|LW: Josh Burkman vs. Drew Dober||Burkman||Dober|