MMA: Franklin McNeil
Throughout his career, Vitor Belfort has built a reputation as someone who doesn’t pull punches or cut corners. Whether in the cage or out, he gives it to you straight.
And Saturday night when he steps in the Octagon at UFC Fight Night 32 for a main-event showdown in Goiania, Brazil, with Dan Henderson, fans will get the best Belfort has to offer. He will not shy away from the action or pull punches.
The same can be expected from Henderson.
While the fight is being contested at light heavyweight, Belfort is very much aware that a win likely lands him the middleweight title shot he has coveted for a while. At 36 years old, and competing in a 185-pound division that has gotten much deeper with the recent addition of former 205-pound champion Lyoto Machida, a loss Saturday night could end Belfort’s title hopes.
"“I deserve it [the middleweight title shot],” Belfort told ESPN.com. “I want the [Chris Weidman-Anderson Silva] winner.”
I'm not doing anything illegal. It's a treatment. Actually, if I go without it I will be at a disadvantage. It will be like the other guy is on something and I'm not." -- Vitor Belfort on receiving TRT exemptions.
A possibility of getting a middleweight title shot can’t be completely ignored. Belfort admits that much, but he refuses to allow it to consume his thoughts. His mind is fully on Henderson. To do otherwise would almost assure defeat.
“I’m looking forward to Dan Henderson,” Belfort said. “That’s what I can talk about; he’s my challenge right now. My mind is on him.
“I don’t care what people think, talk or say. It’s doesn’t take my focus away. I do want to fight for and win the UFC title, but I don’t need to keep talking about it over and over.
“I’m about to have one of the hardest fights of my career, so there is no reason to start talking about what is next. It’s totally disrespectful to [Henderson]. And I don’t have that kind of attitude; I’m focused on winning this fight. He’s one of the legends of this sport. He beats guys and he’s defeated me one time [by unanimous decision at Pride 32 in Las Vegas on Oct. 21, 2006] in the past. This is a great fight. What most people remember, however, is your last fight.”
That’s Belfort being Belfort. There’s no need to shy away from the matter at hand -- beating Henderson. He will address what comes next, a potential title shot, when the time arrives.
This method of handling fight-related matters has served Belfort well in recent outings. He’s won four of his five most recent fights, the lone loss coming in a 205-pound title loss to champion Jon Jones at UFC 152 in September 2012.
But Belfort doesn’t just fight to remain relevant at middleweight, he must battle the perception of being a cheater. To be competitive, Belfort regularly requests and receives exemption for testosterone replacement therapy.
No matter how hard he trains; no matter how impressive he looks inside the Octagon, Belfort never receives full credit. His critics are loud and relentless.
The criticism has been a little less voluminous than usual lately; maybe it has to do with the fact that Henderson also receives TRT exemptions. But the attacks will return to normal after the fight, especially if a title shot is granted.
Belfort is prepared for the onslaught.
“The [TRT] critics are always going to be there,” Belfort said. “If you do it, they will say, ‘he cheated.’ What people don’t know is that we do good work.
“I was the only guy to do blood work. Now Dan Henderson has to go through blood work; it’s in our contract. All the fighters have to do blood work. With the blood work you can track if they [fighters] use testosterone. We know some guys do it; they do things to cheat. My lab work is right there. My levels are right there, every week.”
Belfort makes no apology for seeking and receiving TRT exemptions and he does not intend to relinquish the process. He does what is necessary to remain a competitive fighter. There’s nothing wrong with that.
“I’m not doing anything illegal. It’s a treatment,” Belfort said. “Actually, if I go without it I will be at a disadvantage. It will be like the other guy is on something and I’m not.
“If you have asthma you get treatment. If your have high blood pressure, you get treatment for it. This is my treatment. Everybody knows.”
Belfort isn’t hiding anything. His testosterone levels are available to all proper authorities. But there is a circumstance under which Belfort will relinquish his medical treatment -- for a title shot.
Some have questioned whether Belfort is avoiding a bout in the United States, especially Las Vegas, to receive TRT. That’s the furthest thing from the truth, Belfort says.
As usual, Belfort holds nothing back when addressing another attack from his critics.
“I’d love to fight in Las Vegas; I’ve fought in Canada,” said Belfort, who trains in Boca Raton, Fla., but has not fought in the United States since his first-round knockout of Yoshihiro Akiyama in August 2011. “I love fighting in America, I have lots of fans here. I have just as many fans here in America as I have in Brazil. Of course I want to fight here, I live in America.”
HOUSTON -- Several fighters on the UFC 166 main card Saturday night have a lot to lose. But none has more at stake than Daniel Cormier.
Sure, a strong case can be made for main-event participants Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos -- there is the matter of the heavyweight title being up for grabs. But even the loser is expected to remain high on the contender list.
Cormier, on the other hand, has no room for error. He not only needs to beat Roy Nelson in the co-main event, but must do so in impressive fashion. Anything less and Cormier, who plans to begin competing at light heavyweight after the bout, will be forced to make major changes to his master plan.
Despite being ranked No. 3 among heavyweights by ESPN.com, Cormier is opting to leave the division because he wants to become a UFC champion. And he vows never to fight Velasquez -- a close friend and training partner.
So Cormier is heading to 205 pounds to realize his title dream. But at 34, time isn’t on his side.
An upset loss to Nelson will greatly diminish his chances of landing a title shot anytime soon. Even a lackluster performance Saturday night could do harm to his title bid.
"This is the most important fight of my career," Cormier told ESPN.com. "I know the Josh Barnett fight was important because I needed to win that [Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix] tournament. But in terms of importance, in terms of keeping my momentum, keeping things rolling in the right direction, this is the one.
"I’ve got to find a way to get through Roy Nelson in impressive fashion, so that I can take the momentum that I’ve built over the past four years and take it with me down to the lower weight division.
"If I don’t do what I’m supposed to do Saturday night, everything was for nothing. It’s back to the drawing board and revamping my plan."
MAYWEATHER’S RETURN GIVES NELSON BOOST
Nelson looks fit and trim heading into his heavyweight showdown with Cormier. But in this case, the looks are definitely deceiving.
The weight loss isn’t the result of physical changes Nelson made, but the stress he felt during camp because of concerns over the health of his trainer, Jeff Mayweather.
"I was more concerned about Jeff Mayweather and the people in my camp," Nelson said. "This has been the crappiest camp that I have ever had. It is what it is.
"When I get depressed I don’t eat. I lost Jeff about two weeks into camp; he was in the hospital. I just tried to make do with what I’ve got."
Mayweather has fully recovered from the rapid heartbeat he experienced after consuming an energy drink. And Nelson couldn’t be happier. He has regained his appetite, which could mean the return of his usual round figure.
"About two days ago [Monday] was the first time that Jeff was back, so I’m eating again," Nelson said. "Maybe I will be 280 pounds and cut weight to make 265."
MELENDEZ TO BEGIN BID FOR TITLE SHOT
No. 2-ranked lightweight and former Strikeforce titleholder Gilbert Melendez is a heavy favorite to beat highly aggressive Diego Sanchez.
"There is no pecking order in this division right now," Melendez said. "The No. 10 guy can be the champ any day of the week; the No. 1 guy can lose any day of the week."
Melendez, however, makes it clear that he has no intention of falling victim to Sanchez. He not only expects to have his hand raised afterward, but plans to use this bout as a springboard to start his title-shot campaign.
"It definitely comes down to my performance and what the fans want to see," Melendez said. "If I do well I will definitely be campaigning for that shot."
DODSON NO LONGER GIVING SECOND CHANCES
Flyweight contender John Dodson can still see those punches that either dropped or wobbled Demetrious Johnson during their title bout in January. The images are perfectly clear.
How could they not be? Dodson spent a lot of time during the early rounds of that fight admiring his work. Rather than put the finishing touches on his potential masterpiece, Dodson opted to watch the champion recover.
That proved to be a huge mistake. Johnson would rebound, eventually take control of the fight and retain his title. What took place during that fight remains firm in Dodson’s mind.
He was in position several times to lift the belt from Johnson, but failed to capitalize. Dodson blames no one but himself and says he has learned his lesson. Never again will the man in the cage with him -- starting with Saturday night’s opponent, Darrell Montague -- be let off the hook.
"I have to make sure that I go out there and not watch my handiwork," Dodson told ESPN.com. "I watched me hit him, I watched him fall and then I watched my chance to win the title slip through my fingers. I can no longer allow that to happen."
As talented a fighter as Junior dos Santos has proved to be inside the Octagon, there was always a noticeable defect in his game: He was predictable.
It was no secret that the minute dos Santos stepped inside the cage, punches would start flying. And for a long time, there was nothing his opponents could do about it. They’d just take their beatings like men and collect hefty paychecks for their efforts.
“There was nothing any heavyweight could do to prevent dos Santos from using his fast hands, footwork and power to dismantle them. A dos Santos knockout victory had become commonplace. He was so successful at employing this approach that there was no incentive on his part to change it. Besides, toting that UFC heavyweight title belt around served as a constant reminder that he was doing things correctly.
I was too predictable in the cage. Everybody knew that I was coming in there to knock them out. I always relied on my boxing skills and avoiding the takedown.” -- Junior dos Santos, on what went wrong in his second bout against Cain Velasquez
Comfortable with the relative ease in which he was winning UFC bouts, dos Santos prepared for each fight by following the same training camp routine -- hit the pads, spar, and fine-tune his footwork, his head movement and his takedown defense.
Going to the ground in a mixed martial arts fight was an absolute no-no for dos Santos. His prefight strategy never changed: Keep it standing and everything would turn out just fine.
Then he signed to fight Cain Velasquez a second time. Dos Santos entered that fight extremely confident; he had overwhelmed Velasquez in their first meeting -- winning by first-round knockout in November 2011 to capture the UFC title belt.
But the rematch, in December 2012, proved to be very different. Velasquez attacked dos Santos nonstop for five rounds. He hit dos Santos repeatedly in the face with powerful right hands, followed by lefts to the body.
When the final horn sounded, dos Santos was unrecognizable. His face was badly swollen and bloodied. Dos Santos had taken a massive beating in losing his title belt by a lopsided unanimous decision and returned home to ponder what went wrong.
He had trained the way he always did: The sparring sessions were as intense as usual, and his punching power and speed weren’t lacking. There was no reason for dos Santos to believe he would be overmatched by a man he had dominated one year earlier.
But he was overmatched, and, looking back, it was the best thing that could have happened to dos Santos. It was the long overdue wake-up call he needed.
That beating has remained fresh in dos Santos’ mind ever since. It’s as if the rematch happened yesterday. Dos Santos has watched the fight over and over and remembers every detail of the beating he received. And it will be visible in his mind Saturday night when he faces Velasquez a third time at UFC 166 in Houston.
Most fighters would try desperately to erase such a nightmarish experience, but not dos Santos. The former UFC titleholder embraced the outcome of that second meeting and has used it to change his ways.
“You learn more when you lose a fight,” dos Santos told ESPN.com. “I learned a lot from that loss to Cain Velasquez. It was really bad to see myself in that position, getting beat for five rounds. That was very bad for me; I didn’t like it. I won’t let that happen again.
“I was too predictable in the cage. Everybody knew that I was coming in there to knock them out. I always relied on my boxing skills and avoiding the takedown. But one of the things I and my team learned is that we have to use all of our weapons all the time to win a fight.”
Boxing will remain an important part of dos Santos’ fight plan; it remains his greatest advantage inside the Octagon. But he intends to also employ wrestling, jujitsu and Muay Thai -- if need be. That, however, is all the information he is willing to divulge.
Dos Santos is no stranger to wrestling, jujitsu or Muay Thai, he has just failed to use them regularly in his UFC fights. There was not much need for them previously. Velasquez taught him that those disciplines are just as important -- and dos Santos got the message.
“I have more experience now,” dos Santos said. “I learned a lot from my other fights. Now I’m better prepared for my fights, and mentally I am ready.
“I’m feeling very good about this fight. I’ve worked very hard on my strategy, my stand-up skills, my ground skills, all my skills, everything. I’ve trained in every area, all my skills. It’s very important for this moment.
“That fight taught me a lot, especially about my training. I did a lot of things wrong in that fight. I made a lot of mistakes, and I paid the price for that.
“I watched that second fight with Cain a lot. I couldn’t do a lot of things in that fight. I was giving him a lot of space. I can’t let that happen again, I have to put more pressure on him.”
Although dos Santos expects to reclaim the title, he will never return to being the fighter he was before that rematch with Velasquez. At 29 years old, he says he is still growing as a mixed martial artist -- physically and mentally. With each camp, he learns new techniques in all disciplines, including boxing.
Dos Santos changes a little every day. His body continues to grow and get stronger. He is mentally more mature; dos Santos has a better understanding of the fight game now. He is more well-rounded today than he was a year ago.
The former heavyweight champion has developed into a mixed martial artist. He isn’t predictable anymore.
A rematch between UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones and Alexander Gustafsson has officially been placed on hold. The next time Jones enters the Octagon he will defend his belt against hard-hitting Glover Teixeira.
UFC president Dana White confirmed the news Wednesday night to ESPN.com.
While many fans will frown at this decision -- understandably so, considering the memorable performance Jones and Gustafsson put on at UFC 165 in Toronto -- it’s the right one.
Though a large number of fans are sure to accuse Jones of ducking Gustafsson, the criticism will rapidly diminish should both survive their next opponents. Afterward, the highly anticipated rematch will immediately get placed on UFC’s fight docket; Jones, more than Gustafsson, will demand it.
“I said before the [Gustafsson] fight my sights were set on breaking the record,” Jones said, referring to the UFC mark he set for consecutive successful light heavyweight title defenses, which currently sits at six. “I want to crush the record. I want to beat the record so bad it can never be broken [again].
“I’m going to fight Glover and I will answer all critics about the Gustafsson fight. I will fight Gustafsson after I fight Glover. I won the fight but I look at it as a blemish on my record because some people think I didn't. I promise you, he will be next.”
Jones doesn’t have much of a choice but to fight Gustafsson, should he get past Teixeira. No matter how impressive a performance he puts on, it won’t erase the image of him nearly losing his title to the Swedish striker.
Jones won the fight against Gustafsson and all three judges scored it in his favor, as did a majority of eyewitnesses. But he looked vulnerable during a bout for the first time. Before facing Gustafsson, most viewed Jones as unbeatable at light heavyweight. That vision has since evaporated.
Make no mistake, Jones would love to recapture that aura of invincibility, but the only way to do that is with an impressive win over Gustafsson. Jones needs this fight, and he wants it.
There is, however, a huge risk in foregoing an immediate rematch: Teixeira is no pushover. He will be an underdog against Jones, but has the punching power and submission skills to pose a serious threat.
A Teixeira upset will suck the energy out of Jones-Gustafsson II. Even a Teixeira-Jones rematch would lack the prefight punch Jones-Gustafsson II presently enjoys.
Also keep in mind that Gustafsson is slated to fight at least once before getting a second shot at the 205-pound title. UFC officials have yet to determine who Gustafsson will face next, but it is reasonable to assume that a top-10 contender is in order.
And just like Jones, a Gustafsson victory isn't guaranteed. Putting Jones-Gustafsson II on hold is a huge risk, but it could prove well worth taking; the financial rewards are potentially too great.
If all goes accordingly, Jones and Gustafsson will get through their respective bouts victorious and unscathed, then the rematch is set. UFC can then begin promoting what should turn out to be its most lucrative pay-per-view event in history.
TORONTO -- Light heavyweight champion Jon Jones asked for an opponent who could push him to the limit. Jones got what he asked for Saturday night at UFC 165 in Alexander Gustafsson.
And it was exactly the type of fight Jones needed.
The Swedish contender, who very few thought had a chance against the world’s most dominant mixed martial arts champion, gave Jones all he could handle and more. Gustafsson punched Jones in the face, he kicked him in the stomach, hit him with reverse elbows and uppercuts and even tossed him to the ground. No one had done that before.
By the time they had concluded their five-round title affair, Jones looked like the character from the old Jim Croce’s song, "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown." He looked like a jigsaw puzzle with a couple of pieces missing. He left the Octagon with a bloodied, swollen right eye, a swollen lip and could barely walk on his own.
Jones was so badly beaten that he could not attend the postfight news conference. He was immediately taken to a local hospital for evaluation, according to UFC president Dana White. Matter-of-factly, neither did Gustafsson -- he too was taken to a local hospital.
But despite the beating he took, Jones refused to let Gustafsson take his light heavyweight title belt. While Jones was brutally punished, he dished it out just the same. And that says more about who the champion Jones is than any of his previous title defense walkovers.
“I know there are a lot of people who don’t like Jones and boo him for whatever the reason is," White said. "Everybody has a different reason for why they are not a fan of Jones, but I don’t care if you like him or don’t like him. You’ve got to respect him, man. Even today with breaking the record [most successful light heavyweight title defense, his sixth] he went through murderers’ row, Jon did.
“The guy’s got heart, a chin. To get busted up in those first two rounds and to come on the way he did at the end of the fight, he’s a special fighter. He’s a special fighter.”
Of course, some will say that the fight with Gustafsson proves Jones has benefited from being taller, longer and stronger than the average 205-pound fighter. And because Gustafsson is slightly taller than Jones and equally as strong, that's the reason he came so close to taking his title.
But a less biased observer is likely to conclude that a major part of Jones’ success is that he utilizes his advantages better than everyone else. The difference Saturday night between Jones and Gustafsson is that the champ refused to lose. When he realized his title was slipping away, he dug deep and willed himself to victory.
Before the fight, Gustafsson said he would win because he was hungrier than Jones. That proved not to be the case.
Jones fought for his legacy Saturday night. He also fought to maintain his quest to become the greatest mixed martial artist ever.
We all knew he was a exceptionally gifted fighter. But he taught everyone that he also possesses the will and heart of a champion.
Gustafsson gave Jones everything he could handle, plus some. And it is very likely they will meet again in the not-too-distant future. But after this close call, expect Jones to be a much better champion the next time around.
It’s going to get a lot harder to take that belt from Jones. Every light heavyweight hopeful can thank Gustafsson for that.
TORONTO -- The years of hard work and believing that one day he’d get a world title shot, even during difficult times, had finally come to fruition for TJ Grant.
He’d scaled the final hurdle on May 25 -- a first-round knockout of Gray Maynard. That victory, his fifth in a row, cemented Grant as the No. 1 lightweight contender. Next up: A title shot against then-UFC champion Benson Henderson.
Grant was ready and confident. He’d proven himself a worthy contender. This was his time and he was ready to claim what he always believed belonged to him -- the UFC lightweight championship belt.
But as is always the case with Grant, he wasn’t about to sit around and enjoy the spoils of his most recent accomplishment. Besides, his goal was never simply to land a title shot, Grant wants to be champion. He never takes shortcuts, and wasn’t about to start now. So he immediately headed back to the gym and began working on staying sharp and improving his skills.
There was Muay Thai and wrestling and some boxing. Then it was time to revisit jujitsu workouts. And that’s when Grant’s world turned upside down.
Two weeks after the biggest victory of his professional career, Grant was accidentally kicked in the head twice during a jujitsu training session. It truly was accidental, Grant says. There is no kicking in jujitsu.
A training partner’s foot caught Grant as he was trying to avoid a sweep. These things happen in sparring sessions sometimes, but this particular incident happened shortly after the Maynard fight. And Grant admits he got his bell rung in that contest, which likely caused the kick during training to do more damage.
It was later revealed that Grant suffered a concussion. He was forced to pull out of the Aug. 31 showdown with Henderson. former WEC titleholder Anthony Pettis replaced him.
Grant was devastated. He’d worked so hard to get to that point in his career, but he remained positive that, with rest, his opportunity would soon resurface. But just as he had come to grips with this setback, Grant began receiving attacks on his character.
He didn’t know any of his attackers personally. They conducted their verbal assaults online, accusing Grant of taking money from UFC officials to step aside in favor of Pettis. Anyone slightly familiar with Grant’s values knows he’d never do something of the sort. The accusations, however, pained Grant. And he was angered by it.
That, however, was just the beginning. After Pettis defeated Henderson, UFC officials again penciled Grant in as the top lightweight contender. He would fight Pettis for the title on Dec. 14 in Sacramento, Calif.
But who said lightning doesn’t strike twice. Another medical examination concluded that Grant would not likely be ready to fight in December. He’d made progress, but not enough to begin vigorous training. Grant was again pulled from a title bout.
And again haters went on the attack. But this time, Grant was prepared for the onslaught.
“At first I was heated, I was mad,” Grant told ESPN.com. “But now it’s actually hilarious. Since I pulled out of this fight [against Pettis] I’ve seen a couple of people write stuff and I just laugh. I mean I did just buy a new house. Maybe that’s because I got paid off, who knows. To me it’s a joke.
“I’m kind of numb to the whole situation. I’m just worrying about myself, and getting healthy. I don’t really care. I did what I had to do, I won five in a row. If I have to win another one to get a title shot, I will do that.
“If I get a title shot that will be awesome. But right now my No. 1 concern is getting healthy.”
Grant can taste the lightweight title and continues to believe his opportunity will come, sooner rather than later. He remains levelheaded. Grant does not intend to rush back into the gym until he is completely healed. Avoiding another setback is very high on his priority list.
But his patience is often tested. There is nothing easy about training for fights, but it pales in comparison to sitting around doing nothing. Inactivity is killing Grant. He has never experienced anything like it, and doesn’t want to go through this again.
It’s part of the healing process, but Grant doesn’t like it at all. He yearns for the day when he can return to physical contact. And he is slowly getting there. Grant has begun light workouts.
“I find that I have more injuries from sitting on the couch than from going to the gym and going through the grind,” Grant said. “Because my body is so used to being in shape and working all the time that when it’s not I get super tense and sore. I’m looking forward to getting back, though I am doing some light training now.”
Grant can’t say with certainty when he will actually return to the Octagon, but plans to keep a close on Pettis’ first UFC title defense against Josh Thomson. If his recovery continues going smoothly, Grant is hopeful of making his return early next year.
But he can’t make any guarantees. It’s one day at a time, and the first order of business is getting back in the gym to conduct full training. A giant smile forms on Grant’s face at the thought of returning to training camp. Grant knows when that time arrives, his sites will again be set on landing that elusive title shot.
“I really have no idea when I will return, I could be ready to fight in January,” Grant said. “But at the same time I haven’t been on the mats, I haven’t done any training for however long. So I have to get myself acclimated to training and doing all those things.
“I’ve never gone three months with literally no exercise. That’s a big change. But I am exercising now, which is helping to keep me sane. And that’s a good thing.
“I’m optimistic to get back and once I’m 100 percent, I’m training and I feel confident then we’ll ask the UFC to let’s get a fight.”
It's no different with UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones and top contender Alexander Gustafsson. Both are beaming with confidence as they head into their UFC 165 title tilt Saturday night in Toronto.
But there is something less talked about by these two that is having a far greater impact on each man's psyche than confidence. It's their belief in divine intervention.
Jones and Gustafsson have fully prepared for the fight, with each speaking highly of his own training camp. Neither has a doubt that he is physically ready.
But being physically prepared isn't enough. Faith is proving to be key in determining the outcome of this fight.
Faith has guided Jones throughout his life. He points to his belief in God as the primary reason for his success inside the Octagon. And he is certain that God's plan for him as a mixed martial artist champion won't conclude Saturday night.
"I was praying the other night and thanking God, not only for what He's going to do in my life, in the future, but for what He has already done," Jones told ESPN.com. "Everyone wants to beat me, but my job is to continue to work very hard and pray -- that depends on God. The hard work -- that depends on me."
Gustafsson believes that becoming light heavyweight champion is his destiny. He doesn't mention God directly, but he believes Saturday night’s outcome has been ordained -- and he will be victorious.
"It's my time right now," Gustafsson said. "Everything happens for a reason. It's just my time; I feel it. Jon Jones is not winning this fight. I've never felt this good before -- physically, mentally."
While Gustafsson strongly believes fate is on his side, he hasn't taken anything for granted. His work during training camp was vigorous. Without offering specifics, Gustafsson spoke of doing things in this training camp that he'd never done before.
He says that every part of his game improved, and his training partners picked up the intensity during sparring sessions. Whatever we saw from Gustafsson in previous fights should be tossed away -- he will be a completely different and much better fighter Saturday night.
Jones won't know what hit him, according to Gustafsson. There is nothing the champion could have done to prepare for what he is about to experience in Toronto because he has never seen anything like this new Gustafsson.
Despite Gustafsson's high level of confidence and faith, not many people are buying into it. He is the underdog, and you will be hard-pressed to find a person outside of Gustafsson's inner circle who expects him to defeat today's top mixed martial artist.
But Gustafsson couldn't care less what others think or believe. His mind is set. The hard work has been done. In his mind, his future as light heavyweight champion begins Saturday night. It's his destiny. At least, that's what Gustafsson believes.
"People are underestimating me. That's what they do," Gustafsson said. "Hopefully, Jon will do it, too. That's what I hope.
"But it doesn't matter to me, it doesn't matter what people think. The only thing that matters to me is this fight coming up and winning this fight. It’s the only thing that I’m caring about. I'm feeling comfortable. I'm feeling confident, I'm feeling great. I can't wait."
Neither can Jones. He has been down this road many times. Every opponent believes he has figured out the way to solve Jones. Gustafsson is just the latest to get his turn at bat.
Jones is a dominant champion. Not quite yet on the level of boxing's Floyd Mayweather Jr., but Jones is headed there. Like Mayweather, Jones has gotten to the point of being so dominant that fans are flocking to his fights in hopes of seeing him lose.
"That’s going to be the case in any situation where you have a dominant champion," Jones said. "People are going to want to see you fall, but I really don't focus on that. I focus on the fans who want to continue to see dominance -- how far can this guy go, how much better can he get? That’s why I fight."
The armbar: It’s the signature submission hold of UFC women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey. She has finished all seven of her professional opponents in the first round using the technique.
Even the woman who will coach opposite Rousey on this season of "The Ultimate Fighter," which begins Wednesday night at 10 ET on Fox Sports 1, knows what it feels like to be caught in that armbar. Former Strikeforce bantamweight champion Miesha Tate will be the first to tell you that it doesn’t feel good.
Rousey lifted the Strikeforce bantamweight title from Tate via an armbar on March 3, 2012. Tate has been attempting to become champion ever since.
Tate believes that the time has finally arrived to reclaim her status as best women’s bantamweight mixed martial artist. She is more confident than ever of dethroning Rousey and promises the armbar won’t come into play a second time around when they meet Dec. 28 at UFC 168 in Las Vegas.
With each training session, Tate discovers something new about the mistakes she made in the loss to Rousey. She says she won’t make them again. If Rousey is to retain her 135-pound title, she will have to do so with something other than an armbar.
“I learn a lot in every fight, but especially the ones that I lose,” Tate told ESPN.com. “I know the mistakes I made in that [first] fight, and I do believe they are fixable. I’m working on them all the time.
“And I’m keen to the mistakes she made. [Rousey] is not perfect. She makes mistakes in fights, too. It’s a matter of who can exploit them better. In the first fight she was definitely able to exploit the mistakes I made better.
“But I’m much more familiar with her style; I’m much more familiar with judo. I’ve learned a lot. There are things that I’ve taken note of.”
“Tate acknowledges that Rousey won the psychological battle. She was able to get under Tate’s skin, which eventually took her out of her game.
I have the skill-set to beat her. She's not invincible by any means. I know that being emotional and being mean-spirited does not serve me well inside the Octagon. So, I'd rather go in there with a positive outlook.” -- Miesha Tate on fighting Ronda Rousey for the second time.
Rousey never hides her feelings. If she doesn’t like you, she will let you know it right away. Rousey doesn’t like Tate -- and the feeling is mutual.
The difference now is that Tate refuses to lose her cool. Rousey can no longer throw Tate off her game, at least mentally. This rematch will come down solely to skill.
And Tate likes her chances in that arena.
“Ronda isn’t particularly stronger than anyone I’ve fought,” Tate said. “But she’s very good at what she does, she’s very smooth. And I’m very well aware of that.
“I wasn’t able to put it all together in time for that fight. Knowing that now and admitting to the mistakes that I made, and not being emotional.
“I have the skill-set to beat her. She’s not invincible by any means. I know that being emotional and being mean-spirited does not serve me well inside the Octagon. So, I’d rather go in there with a positive outlook.”
Being a coach on "The Ultimate Fighter" helped Tate further develop and maintain a positive outlook. Watching her fighters grow and improve brought Tate great joy.
But it wasn’t a one-way street. Teaching allowed Tate to closely examine her own techniques. And she corrected a few flaws in her game.
“I feel I retain more when I teach,” Tate said. “I learn more because I really have to dissect some things; I have to dissect a move, whereas before I was just doing it. Now that I have to think about them, I’ve learned how to do certain moves better.”
It’s not just that Mir was the victim of a first-round TKO -- the stoppage was a bit premature. It’s that Mir has now lost three in a row, and wasn’t competitive in any of those fights.
Making matters more unfortunate for Mir is that the loss comes against a fighter who hadn’t competed inside the Octagon since 2002. Barnett is still a good fighter, but other than Daniel Cormier, he hadn’t faced top-level opposition of late.
This was the type of fight Mir was supposed to win, or at least be competitive in -- he did neither. Barnett punched him, kneed him and pushed him around. At no time in this brief encounter, which came to an end at the 1:56 mark, did Mir pose the slightest threat to Barnett.
Mir was simply outclassed in his third straight fight. And at 34, and showing little sign of improving, his future as a heavyweight to be taken seriously appears to have run its course.
Never in his professional mixed martial arts career had Mir dropped three fights in a row. If ever there was a worse time to experience such a drought, this was it. And at 34 years old, the odds of Mir rebounding from this hole to get back in title contention are slim.
What Mir has to fight for now isn’t a title shot; that option isn’t reasonable. His goal today is finishing his career on a positive note. It’s about getting wins, even if they must come against second-tier fighters.
“He may no longer be title-worthy, but Mir has achieved enough inside UFC to retain his spot on the promotion’s roster. No one should, for one second, think Mir will be released by UFC. It won’t happen and it shouldn’t.
It felt great to get this win here in the UFC. It's been a long time coming.” -- Josh Barnett on beating Frank Mir in his return to the UFC.
But his name should not even be considered for another co-main event as participants are being bantered about by matchmaker Joe Silva. This isn’t a knock on Mir, especially when he is down -- it’s just facing reality.
Mir looks slow in the cage these days, even with the improved physical conditioning he’s been receiving under the guidance of Greg Jackson in Albuquerque, N.M. And Mir deserves credit for taking the extra step to train in Albuqurque, spending weeks away from his family in Las Vegas.
The determination to succeed remains. It’s just that Mir is struggling to find a way to do so in today’s UFC.
Barnett, on the other hand, shouldn’t be pumping his chest too hard. He had the good fortune to catch Mir on the down side of his career. Regardless, competing and winning in the Octagon for the first time in years had Barnett in a jovial mood.
“It felt great to get this win here in the UFC,” Barnett said. “It’s been a long time coming.”
The best time to gauge where Barnett truly stands at this point in his MMA career will be in his next fight. Hopefully, it will be against a fighter on the upswing.
Travis Browne comes to mind. Byt hat might be stretching it a bit. How about Ben Rothwell, who showed tremendous resolve in his come-from-behind, third-round TKO of Brandon Vera in an earlier main-card bout.
As lightweight champion Benson Henderson and top contender Anthony Pettis head into their showdown Saturday night at UFC 164 in Milwaukee, much attention has been paid to their 2010 WEC title bout.
The fight was as an action-filled, closely contested affair, highlighted by Pettis’ off-the-cage kick that floored Henderson in the fifth round. Pettis would win by unanimous decision, lifting the WEC 155-pound belt from Henderson. With images of that bout still fresh, it’s reasonable for fans to expect much of the same in the rematch.
While Henderson-Pettis II is a safe bet to deliver in the action department, the bout could look quite different than their initial encounter. One major difference is Pettis: He is a more aggressive fighter than the one Henderson faced nearly three years ago.
As hard as it is to believe, Pettis has evolved as a fighter in more ways than one. He is not just prepared to become lightweight champion again, but to hold the title for a very long time.
“My mindset is different; my experience, my striking, my wrestling, my jiu-jitsu, everything is top-notch. My dieting, too,” Pettis told ESPN.com. “This [mixed martial arts] has become a lifestyle for me. When we first met, I was only 22 going on 23 years old. Now I’m 26 and I’ve made this my lifestyle. I’ve learned a lot and I’m way more experienced as a mixed martial artist. I’m definitely a whole different Anthony Pettis.
“There’s no more holding back for me. When I go out there, I’m letting loose. When I hold back, I’m thinking about the other fighter, what’s the game plan and what he’s trying to do and how I’m going to finish him.
“I just need go out there and be myself. When I’m being myself, I’m dangerous. And everybody knows it. That’s why I’ve done so well in my last two fights.”
Pettis put on a striking clinic against Joe Lauzon in February 2010 and against Donald Cerrone on Jan. 26. He finished both fighters by first-round knockout.
“In each of those fights, Pettis showed patience and great balance when delivering kicks that sent Lauzon and Cerrone to the canvas. He finished both downed opponent with punches.
I beat him once already, so it wasn't my place to call for a rematch. Since he's the champ that's the key for me. I want to be the champion, so whoever has the belt at this time, and it happens to be Ben Henderson, that's who I'm going after.” -- Anthony Pettis, on fighting Benson Henderson for the second time.
While his striking was impressive, it’s what Pettis did before unleashing his offense that stands out: He controlled the distance. Pettis is athletic and light on his feet.
In the past, he would use that athletic ability to offset deficiencies in his game. But he has tightened up his technique and put his speed and power to better use. This has come in handy in the larger UFC cage, though Pettis doesn’t expect it to be a big advantage against Henderson.
“The WEC cage was about 5 feet shorter than the UFC cage,” Pettis said. “The more room for me, the better. I’m a rangy fighter, I like to fight at a range.
“But it plays well for both of us. Henderson is a rangy guy. He doesn’t like to be in exchanges much and he uses his footwork well to get out of situations.
“The bigger cage benefits both of us. But I’m not going to base my game plan off the size of the cage. I know what I have to do to win this fight.”
Whether in a WEC or UFC cage, where this rematch takes place doesn’t matter to Pettis; his No. 1 priority remains the same: to become lightweight champion again. And having to go through Henderson again to do it isn’t an issue.
For Henderson, the first fight remains fresh in his mind, especially with that now-famous kick repeatedly shown in prefight promos. But for Pettis, a rematch with Henderson was not on his to-do list until the UFC lightweight title changed hands on Feb. 26, 2012. That’s when Henderson unseated then-titleholder Frankie Edgar by unanimous decision.
“Ben’s an amazing fighter; he’s the champ for a reason,” Pettis said. “But I never had my sights set on fighting Ben Henderson again. Once he won that belt, that’s when I said I want to fight him again.
“I beat him once already, so it wasn’t my place to call for a rematch. Since he’s the champ, that’s the key for me. I want to be the champion, so whoever has the belt at this time, and it happens to be Ben Henderson, that’s who I’m going after.”
Call it a sense of urgency, a must-win, maybe even the most important fight of his career. Any one of these phrases would adequately describe how welterweight contender Carlos Condit feels heading into his rematch Wednesday night with Martin Kampmann.
For nearly 11 years as a professional mixed martial artist, Condit has been driven to become champion. He’s sought ways to improve his skills while seeking to develop new ones to increase his fighting arsenal.
This approach has served Condit well, earning him WEC lineal and UFC interim welterweight titles. Even after a loss, including a split-decision setback to Kampmann in his UFC debut on April 1, 2009, Condit went into his next bout with the same level of determination.
But this rematch with Kampmann at UFC Fight Night 27 in Indianapolis feels different. Despite a two-fight skid -- losses to champion Georges St-Pierre and Johny Hendricks -- he remains ranked among the division’s top contenders. ESPN.com ranks Condit third overall, while UFC.com has him second among the contenders.
But for the first time in his pro career, Condit openly admits feeling that he can’t afford to drop another fight. He, especially, can’t lose a rematch to Kampmann, who is ranked seventh and sixth by ESPN.com and UFC.com, respectively.
“Absolutely, it is [a must-win situation],” the 29-year-old Condit told ESPN.com. “I hate to lose. I’m a competitive person; I’m here to win. It would not be good to lose this fight.
“A win puts me right back in the title picture. This is a great opportunity to get me back in [title] contention. I look forward to getting another shot at one of the top five guys.”
Reflecting on losses to St-Pierre and Hendricks, who are currently the top two 170-pound fighters, does not diminish Condit’s sense of urgency, though he performed admirably against both. He went into those bouts expecting to win, and now he wants a chance to even the score with each fighter.
But he prefers to exact revenge in a title fight. And for the record, Condit believes that when he does get another welterweight title shot, it will be against St-Pierre. The reigning welterweight champion and Hendricks will meet Nov. 16 at UFC 167 in Las Vegas.
“Hendricks has the ability to win,” Condit said. “He’s got a puncher’s chance. But GSP is just too technical. I think he’s going to go out there and do what he’s been doing for the last couple of years and get a decision over Hendricks.”
But to keep his hopes of another title fight alive, Condit must first get by Kampmann. And this time around, Condit believes the outcome will be different.
He is a much better fighter now than the guy Kampmann faced four years ago. His ground game is better, as is his takedown defense. Condit also has better control of himself inside the cage; he’s a lot more poised. Mistakes from Condit inside the cage have become very rare.
“I was a little bit raw [in the first fight],” Condit said. “I had the skill, but I wasn’t as polished as I am now. And I’m definitely a smarter, more experienced fighter.”
Experience, maturity and a greater understanding of MMA have turned Condit into one of the best welterweights in the world. But he won’t be the only improved fighter in the cage Wednesday night.
Kampmann, too, has developed into a more skilled, more intelligent mixed martial artist over the past four years. Striking has been Kampmann’s primary weapon of late, but he hasn’t abandoned his submission skills -- as demonstrated during his come-from-behind victory over Thiago Alves in March 2012.
That knockout loss in November to Hendricks notwithstanding, Condit knows that Kampmann is eager to return to the win column.
“I see a lot of improvement,” Condit said. “In his last fight [against Hendricks] he got caught and knocked out. But that aside, I’ve seen a lot of improvement. I know that he’s been working his striking with Ray Sefo over there at Xtreme Couture. I see a lot of improvement in Kampmann’s striking.
“He’s always been so tough as a fighter. And he’s hungry; he’s coming off that loss. He was climbing up the ranks. He had that win over Alves, that win over [Jake] Ellenberger -- a second-round TKO in June 2012 -- then the loss to Hendricks. I’m sure he’s looking to get back in the mix like I am.”
Punches and kicks are expected to fly when these two begin their main-event showdown Wednesday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. On a number of occasions recently, Kampmann has stated his intent to finish Condit early.
Condit, however, isn’t insulted by Kampmann’s remarks. He views it as Kampmann just answering questions honestly. That’s Kampmann’s belief, and he isn’t alone: Condit also thinks this fight won’t last five rounds, only it will be his hand the referee raises.
“Whether he said it or he didn’t, that’s obviously his intention,” Condit said. “We’re not out there playing patty-cake. We’re there to put each other’s lights out -- to send someone home with a loss and a concussion. We have to do these interviews, but no matter what we say, we know the intention of our opponent.”
BOSTON -- Chael Sonnen is never shy about saying who he wants to fight, when he wants to fight them and what he plans to do to them once the Octagon door closes.
But even Sonnen couldn’t have predicted what would take place Saturday night in the UFC Fight Night 26 main event against former light heavyweight champion Mauricio "Shogun" Rua.
After spending the past few days before the bout favored to succeed, Sonnen walked into the cage at TD Garden as an underdog. It’s not that people were completely counting him out; maybe that two-fight skid made many of them forget what a highly skilled fighter he is -- though no fighter should be considered an also-ran after dropping consecutive fights to former middleweight champion Anderson Silva and light heavyweight titleholder Jon Jones.
But there is a lot of fight left in Sonnen in more than one weight class. He not only proved that he remains among the best middleweights in the world with his first-round guillotine submission of Rua; Sonnen also added his name to the light heavyweight contender discussion.
Before meeting Rua in their 205-pound showdown, Sonnen repeatedly said he intends to return to 185 afterward. This was to be his final appearance at light heavyweight.
Not only has Sonnen softened his stance, but he’s now the guy other high-profile fighters are calling out. Immediately after improving his professional record to 28-13-1, Sonnen became one of the most sought-after fighter on UFC’s roster.
High-ranked middleweight contender Vitor Belfort made it known that he wants a piece of Sonnen. But he wasn’t the only Brazilian to toss his hat into the Sonnen sweepstakes -- former 205-pound champion Lyoto Machida also wants in.
It didn’t end there: Fast-rising light heavyweight contender Phil Davis is offering his services to Sonnen if need be. For a guy who has a reputation of talking his way into high-profile fights, Sonnen finds himself on the receiving end for a change.
Sonnen isn’t used to being the center of other fighters’ attention, especially those in two weight divisions, so he’s taking time to bask in the moment. All that talk about his next fight being at middleweight has come to an end -- at least for now.
He’s decided to explore his options a bit. Besides, remaining at 205 pounds a little while longer will allow Sonnen to continue enjoying dining out.
“That was the plan [returning to 185 pounds],” Sonnen said. “But I’m going to stick around Boston for a few days and visit a place called Regina’s Pizza.”
Don’t think for one second, however, that all the newfound attention Sonnen is receiving has lessened his desire to fight the one guy he most wants to get in the cage at this time -- Wanderlei Silva. He remains Sonnen’s top priority, though Belfort and Machida are now on his radar.
“Wanderlei Silva drives me insane,” Sonnen said. “Wanderlei Silva tells the media that he wants to fight me. I would love to fight Wanderlei. Wanderlei insists that the fight has never been offered.
“This company puts on marquee fights. To believe that fight hasn’t been offered is ridiculous, and it pisses me off. All I need from him is to say he doesn’t want the fight and I’m out. I’m not a bully; I’m not going to pick on him.
“I will beat up Vitor on the way to the ring to kick Wanderlei’s a--. And I will take care of that third guy [Machida] whose name I’ve already forgotten in the parking lot on my way to my after-party. I would take all three.”
And when Sonnen is done with those three, there is one more fighter still on his hit list. All the attention he is receiving hasn’t caused Sonnen to forget about the unfinished business he has with Anderson Silva.
Sonnen will be chasing a third fight with Anderson Silva as long as he is fighting competitively. He knows it’s all about timing.
“I’m not chasing the belt; sometimes I’m chasing guys,” Sonnen said. “I just wanted to fight Jon Jones. He just happened to have the belt.
“The biggest projected UFC event this year is Dec. 28. I’m not trying to interject myself into that. Anderson has his hands full [the rematch with current middleweight champion Chris Weidman]. But the reality is that [losing to Silva] frustrates me, and there are some losses that do.
“I’m a stubborn guy, and I know he has two wins over me, but I think I can get a win over him in a third [fight].”
For a man who recently had a two-fight losing skid hanging over his head, beating Rua in eye-pooping fashion has changed his fortunes for the better. It’s great being Chael Sonnen today.
The guy earned it. He is proof that being able to talk trash and fight at the same time has its benefits.
That, however, would be the furthest thing from the truth.
Sonnen, a former No. 1 middleweight contender who returns to the division after Saturday's bout, will step inside the Octagon at UFC Fight Night 26 against Mauricio Rua as determined as ever to win. This fight is as important to Sonnen as any he's had in his pro career, and he didn't cut a single corner while preparing for it.
"I want to fight Anderson Silva," Sonnen told ESPN.com. "It was never about titles, it was never about the title with Jon Jones; Jon just happened to have the title.
"I wanted to punch Jon in the face; I wanted to beat him up. I heard all his talk of who deserved it [the title shot]; I didn't even care about all that crap. If you want to fight a guy, go fight him. And if there's a belt on the line, that's just a byproduct.
"I want to fight Anderson Silva more than I want to wake up tomorrow morning. I don't care if he has got the belt or not. I don't accept the outcome of either of [our] fights; I don't acknowledge that for one day he was the better fighter than me."
With three title shots, all losses, in the past three years, Sonnen isn't focused on facing the middleweight champion at this time. At 36, the possibility of landing another title shot is fading.
I want to fight Anderson Silva more than I want to wake up tomorrow morning. I don't care if he's got the belt or not. I don't accept the outcome of either of [our] fights; I don't acknowledge that for one day he was the better fighter than me.” -- Chael Sonnen
Still, Sonnen rules nothing out. A victory over Rua would get him back in the middleweight title conversation. And without a doubt, the quick-witted, trash-talking Sonnen will take over from there.
"Anytime you're in the top 10, you're in title contention," said Sonnen, who is ranked sixth among middleweights by ESPN.com and ninth by UFC.com. "We have a new ranking system and it's very important to operate within the confines of that system.
"Anybody in the top five will go for that title. Shogun is in the top 10 [at light heavyweight] and I haven't won a light heavyweight fight in a considerable amount of time. With that said, I have had only one light heavyweight fight. But it's always important to win, especially if you can beat a top-10 guy.
"Shogun is a true legend; he's a former world champion. He's the guy [Jon] Jones beat to win the title. And he's ranked No. 8 in the world [at 205 pounds by UFC.com]. So I have a lot of reasons and motivations to win, aside from my pride and ego."
But nothing is pushing Sonnen to succeed Saturday night more than the possibility of a third fight with Silva. The fact that Silva has a rematch Dec. 28 with the man who dethroned him, Chris Weidman, only serves to heighten Sonnen's enthusiasm.
Weidman shook up the mixed martial arts world July 6 by knocking out Silva in the second round at UFC 162. The loss was Silva's first in UFC competition.
"I believe Chris Weidman will destroy him again," Sonnen said. "This is not a knock on Anderson Silva; he's an awesome fighter. And he's had an amazing career. But in the history of boxing, in the history of MMA, a rematch has never favored the older fighter.
"You're talking about a decade of an age difference. It's very, very unrealistic to believe that Anderson is going to win that [rematch]. This is not to say he can't do it, but it's unrealistic to see how that's going to happen.
"But it doesn't change that fact that he's a great fighter, and it doesn't change that fact that I want to fight Anderson Silva."
First, Sonnen must take care of business Saturday night in Boston. A solid performance will go a long way toward getting him a third fight with Silva, but a win certainly increases the probability. And if Weidman does what Sonnen expects him to do at UFC 168 in Las Vegas, Silva might be receptive to a third go-round.
Overeem sat on the podium for nearly 30 minutes Thursday during a pre-UFC Fight Night 26 media conference as other fighters slated to compete at the event answered questions about their upcoming bouts. For the guy once considered a shoo-in to land a title shot, Overeem wasn’t even an afterthought.
It wasn’t difficult to notice the lack of media interest. But if Overeem felt any disrespect he immediately quashed that notion when a question was finally addressed to him. In fact, he welcomed the snub.
“I kind of actually like [being ignored] a little bit,” Overeem said. “I don’t have to fake it too much. I can just observe it.
“I’m paying attention to the new rising stars. And that’s fine with me, for today.”
While Overeem is enjoying his time away from the spotlight, he immediately made it clear that things will return to normal quickly. Without going into detail, Overeem plans to make a statement against Browne.
“I assume [the attention] is going to pick up after this fight,” Overeem said. “I expect it to pick up after this fight.”
With lots of fanfare surrounding his arrival in UFC, the former Strikeforce champion seemed headed toward a title shot with current promotion heavyweight titleholder Cain Velasquez. But a third-round knockout loss to Antonio 'Bigfoot' Silva on Feb. 2 at UFC 156 derailed Overeem’s title quest.
He now sits behind Junior dos Santos, Fabricio Werdum and Daniel Cormier in the heavyweight contender pecking order. An impressive win Saturday night over Browne, however, is sure to get Overeem back in the title conversation.
And that is exactly what Overeem is seeking to accomplish, whether anyone is currently paying attention or not.
RUA NOT TAKING SONNEN’S BRAZIL REMARKS PERSONAL
Middleweight contender Chael Sonnen never shies away from making his harsh feelings about Brazil and its fighters known. He’s directed several strong words toward former middleweight champion Anderson Silva, and recently has targeted former Pride titleholder Wanderlei Silva.
His opponent Saturday night is former UFC light heavyweight titleholder Mauricio 'Shogun' Rua, a Brazil native and close friend of Wanderlei’s. But Sonnen has shown no interest in disparaging Rua.
On the contrary, Sonnen has expressed respect for the man whom he will face in the light heavyweight main event. And Rua, obviously, has taken notice.
“The only thing that bothers me is when he talks about my country and my friend Wanderlei,” Rua said. “But I’ve tried not to get too involved in that. I’ve tried to keep my focus on my training and make sure that I am 100 percent ready for the fight.”
After the fight, win or lose, Sonnen is returning to 185 pounds. He has lost two fights in a row, both at light heavyweight.
Under normal circumstances, a win Saturday at the HSBC Arena in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, would seal the deal for a title shot. But in the back of their minds, Machida and Davis know there is another fighter -- someone not even in the top 10 of the 205-pound rankings -- hatching a plan to push them aside.
And neither Machida nor Davis likes it one bit.
Highly ranked heavyweight contender Daniel Cormier told ESPN.com on July 22 he intends to make his light heavyweight debut early next year and wants it to be in a title bout -- whether or not current champion Jon Jones is still wearing the belt.
Cormier knows he will ruffle the feathers of more than a few light heavyweight contenders if his plan comes to fruition, but he couldn't care less. If he defeats hard-hitting Roy Nelson in October at UFC 166, which is expected, it is goodbye heavyweight and hello 205 with the likelihood of an immediate title fight.
"What I will be asking to do at the beginning of next year is something that is going to make a lot of people mad," Cormier said. "I'm going to ask to cut the line at 205."
Despite being the likely choice to get the winner of the third fight between Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos, Cormier has already made up his mind to turn that offer down. He will never fight Velasquez, who is a close friend and training partner. And Cormier has no doubt that Velasquez will be UFC heavyweight champion for a very long time.
It's heartwarming that Cormier (12-0) is willing to abandon a shot at the heavyweight title and attempt to cut lots of weight rather than fight a very special friend. But Machida and Davis aren't feeling the love. In fact, neither will stand quietly and let Cormier push them aside.
"I believe there's a ranking and it should be followed. There are a lot of guys in line right now in this weight class [waiting] to fight for a title," Machida said. "I've been waiting in line, there's Glover Teixeira, there's Phil Davis; so there are a lot of guys in there, in the mix.
"If [Cormier] is going to move down to 205, he needs to put a couple of fights in or at least get a significant win in a big fight. I don't think it is right for him to just come in and cut the line. He's going to have to show he deserves that title shot."
Being bypassed in favor of Gustafsson makes Machida a little antsy. He believes, however, that an impressive win over Davis, who is ranked seventh among light heavyweights by ESPN.com, will strengthen his case for another shot at Jones, who submitted Machida in the second round at UFC 140.
Davis is equally determined to make his case Saturday night for a title shot. He has lost just once as a professional, when former 205-pound titleholder Rashad Evans earned a unanimous decision against him in January 2012.
A highly skilled wrestler, Davis has significantly improved his stand-up skills. He is 2-0 with one no-contest since the loss to Evans.
A signature win over Machida could catapult Davis to the top of the 205-pound rankings. And he is not in the mood to simply let Cormier cut in front of him. Davis intends to upset Machida on Saturday in eye-opening fashion, thus ending all talk of Cormier getting an immediate light heavyweight title shot.
"What it really comes down to is being able to sell the fight and being able to perform [well]," Davis said. "After this fight, I think fans are going to be begging for me to fight for the title. It's as simple as that."