MMA: Jon Jones
In related news, he believes he is two wins away from a move to the heavyweight division.
The UFC light heavyweight champion has teased a jump in weight class before, but there was something different about him doing so again on Monday. For one, he sounded believable.
Jones, 27, has been asked about the topic for years, and his responses have varied. One month, he's seriously eyeing it. A few months later, he has no interest.
On Monday, he described two fights -- Daniel Cormier on Jan. 3 and a rematch against Alexander Gustafsson -- as "the race" he needs to finish. At that point, Jones says, he will have cleaned out the division, and it's difficult to argue his logic.
"I'm right around the corner," Jones said. "I need to finish the race, and the race, for me, is [Cormier] and Alexander.
"As far as being the greatest of all time, I think me beating Gustafsson and DC -- how do you argue that? The argument is just gone, you know what I mean? I do believe I have the best résumé in the sport's history. I don't think anyone has beaten as many [former] champions as I have. To go on what I've already done and beat DC and Gustafsson? I just think no matter who your favorite is, you can't deny I'm the best in the game."
Jones (20-1), whose eighth title defense against Cormier will headline UFC 182 in Las Vegas, admitted there will always be another challenge waiting in the wings but basically said anything at 205 beyond Cormier and Gustafsson would be unnecessary. Cormier (15-0) is undefeated, and Gustafsson (16-2) gave him his toughest fight in September 2013. Jones won via unanimous decision.
There's always going to be a new guy, right? You beat [Daniel Cormier], [Alexander] Gustafsson -- now there's Anthony [Johnson]. Everybody wants to see me against Anthony. But I mean, after those two [Cormier and Gustafsson], I would consider the division cleared."” -- UFC light heavyweight champion
"I consider [the Gustafsson] fight a win, but it's not a win to others. Me beating Gustafsson and DC would be, 'OK, this dude beat the baddest dudes of the last 10 years. He's beat them all.'
"There's always going to be a new guy, right? You beat DC, Gustafsson -- now there's Anthony [Johnson]. Everybody wants to see me against Anthony. But I mean, after those two [Cormier and Gustafsson], I would consider the division cleared."
Gustafsson is scheduled to face Johnson (18-4) on Jan. 24 in Sweden. Jones acknowledged Gustafsson would have to win that fight for a rematch to mean as much.
Should Jones' plan come to fruition and he win those two fights, he says a superfight against heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez would be a "fight of his life."
"Those two fights and I would consider the division cleared and that's when you entertain superfights," Jones said. "I've been training with heavyweights for years now. I know I would do really good against them, and that would be the next chapter."
Jones, who walks around between fights near 230 pounds, said he would look to bulk up to a "strong" 235 pounds as a heavyweight.
One superfight Jones said he has no interest in is a bout against former middleweight champion and all-time great Anderson Silva (33-6), who is scheduled to return from a gruesome leg injury in January. The Brazilian will fight Nick Diaz at UFC 183 on Jan. 31 in Las Vegas.
A little more than one year ago, Jones vs. Silva was considered a marquee superfight, but that changed when Silva, 39, suffered back-to-back losses in 2013 to current champion Chris Weidman.
"I would never want to fight Anderson," Jones said. "I just don't want to fight the guy. I look up to him so much. I wouldn't want to be the guy to beat him, even though it's happened already. I wouldn't want to lose to him, and I wouldn't want to beat him.
"[Velasquez] would be a hell of a fight, man. It would be a fight of my life. That's what it's about, though. I've been in one of those fights where I'm bleeding and I'm exhausted and it's not fun to be a part of. The Gustafsson fight -- [that isn't] not fun. I'd be willing to do that for the right champion, though, and the fans."
LAS VEGAS -- The Nevada State Athletic Commission fined Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier a combined $59,000 on Sept. 23 for their participation in a now infamous brawl Aug. 4 at the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino.
The question that should be on the minds of each member of the NSAC following the ruling is pretty simple: Did we send a strong enough message that fist-fighting in the lobby of a Las Vegas hotel is not a behavior this commission will tolerate?
Everyone else can question whatever they want: Such as, how many UFC pay-per-view buys the fight will eventually generate, or is Cormier really capable of putting Jones on his back? The NSAC though, as they themselves said numerous times during the hearing, should primarily be concerned with whether their ruling will stop other athletes from straying into a form of public fisticuffs that would get mere commoners like the rest of us thrown in jail.
The commission's task was not an easy one. Clearly, it had an obligation to respond to the brawl, even though it occurred during a media function in which the commission had no one present and zero involvement with.
Whatever punishment it enforced needed to have "economic teeth," as commissioner Anthony A. Marnell put it -- but at the same time, dipping one's hands into the pockets of athletes who, (A) Claimed they had already lost "over six figures" in endorsement deals (in Jones' case, at least) and (B) Are ultimately selling a fight that brings income to your state can be a tricky thing.
In lieu of a suspension, which no one expected from the NSAC (although commissioner Skip Avansino did float the idea), both Jones and Cormier were fined 10 percent of their individual purses when they meet Jan. 3 ($50,000 for Jones, $9,000 for Cormier) and ordered to perform community service.
During its deliberations, nearly every member of the commission credited Jones and Cormier for their apologetic nature -- particularly commissioner Bill Brady, who fawned over Jones, saying the light heavyweight champion "softened" his heart and suggested the greatest example the NSAC could set would be to show Jones mercy because of how incredibly sorry he appeared.
While Brady's take is questionable, the two fighters did appear genuine throughout the hearing. Jones said he had never had an opponent grab his throat during a staredown and, as a champion (in a game of inches), he couldn't let that kind of mental warfare slide. He revealed the loss of a Nike sponsorship, which Nike confirmed to ESPN.com on Wednesday (although there is speculation this was not completely due to the brawl).
Cormier, for his part, admitted to being bullied as a youth and explained how that might have shaped his reaction to Jones' aggressiveness toward him.
All of this is well and good and duly noted -- but none of this "contrived" behavior should have been surprising to the commission. It came from two athletes armed with lawyers, who were facing the threat of suspensions and/or heavy fines.
And anyone who has followed this story knows the two have not been particularly distraught by what occurred between them.
It appeared the NSAC felt confident in its decision to enforce community service as a legitimate punishment, and with pretty good reason. For championship athletes, time is literally money. Having to perform community service (40 hours for Jones, 20 for Cormier) during a training camp, while juggling sponsorship and media obligations, is a potentially heavy burden.
Does it, in addition to the fine, have "teeth," though? Can the NSAC say with any certainty it lowered the chances of this kind of brawl happening again with its ruling Tuesday?
Ultimately, the brawl Aug. 4 will likely go down as a lucrative incident for both Jones and Cormier. Cormier (who, by the way, is 2-for-2 now on news conference "shoves" in his past two fights) was forced to admit as much to the NSAC, when he admitted to a quote he gave Aug. 6, in which he said the brawl was "good for my paycheck."
That, unfortunately, is the loudest message fighters will get out of the hearing -- fighters such as UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo, who has complained about his pay and just so happened to shove challenger Chad Mendes during a photo opportunity three weeks after the Jones-Cormier incident.
Very few would take pleasure in fining Jones and Cormier a ton of money over what essentially came down to business actions by both of them -- but the members of the NSAC needed to set that discomfort aside if it wanted to send a message.
The message that eventually was sent was more along the lines of: Go ahead and throw down, but make sure you feel really bad about it afterward.
SAN JOSE -- Daniel Cormier will challenge Jon Jones for the light heavyweight title at UFC 178 on Sept. 27 with a "technically" injured right knee. There is no hiding that.
Following a third-round submission win over Dan Henderson in May, Cormier (15-0) revealed he went into the fight with a torn LCL. Additionally, physicians informed Cormier he had a partially torn ACL, a previous injury he had been unaware of.
Cormier considered undergoing surgery to repair the ACL, but ultimately decided to forgo it. He says he had already made that decision before receiving an offer to face Jones, in place of the recently injured Alexander Gustafsson.
The 35-year-old former heavyweight says he’s not concerned with the knee heading into a fight against Jones, who will obviously be aware of it. Cormier says the reason is that he’s fought with the partially torn ligament unknowingly before and it never affected him.
“With time, the LCL is supposed to heal,” Cormier told ESPN.com. “There’s nothing you can really do for it. I never felt the ACL. It wasn’t the ACL that was bothering me, so as soon as the LCL stopped hurting, I told myself I didn’t need surgery.
“You have to realize the position I’m in. I went in there with the same knee against [Antonio] Silva. I had the same knee against Josh Barnett. I went in with everybody in the same situation. It’s no different. It’s just something I know about now.”
Is he concerned Jones (20-1) will target the knee with kicks, as he’s been known to do anyway against previous opponents? The answer is Cormier isn’t concerned with a single thing Jones does. He’s felt that way for a long time.
“I’ll put my bank account [on me to win],” Cormier said. “I’m very confident.
“This is no gamesmanship: I don’t know if I can beat Rashad Evans. I don’t really know if I can beat Glover Teixeira. But I know, without question, I can beat Jon Jones. It’s just the way we match up. It’s his mentality and my mentality. Everything about Jon makes me think there is no way he can beat me.”
The two have a history, which dates back to what's sort of become a folk story from 2011. There was a (non-violent) "altercation" in Las Vegas. Cormier was still fighting in the heavyweight division at the time.
Both fighters have acknowledged a rift exists, while generally steering away from going into detail. After the fight was announced on Wednesday, Jones privately messaged Cormier on social media, “I hope you’re ready to come to daddy.”
Cormier publicly posted a screenshot of the message. He attempted to respond but couldn’t, as Jones doesn’t follow his account.
“That’s just how he is,” Cormier said. “He’s kind of protecting an image that’s not real anymore because people have seen through it. It’s sort of passive-aggressive, from putting up tweets and deleting them to sending messages to my coaches.
“Is this fight personal? Jon and I have some things outside of the cage that don’t allow us to be friends. We’ll never be friends. But when that cage door closes, it’s business. I don’t let my emotions carry me into a fight.”
Last week, Kennedy (18-4) wrote on Twitter he would not compete again unless he and his future opponents underwent random blood testing during training camp.
Kennedy asked the UFC to book his next fight in Nevada so that it would be under the jurisdiction of the state's athletic commission, which twice this year has implemented an enhanced testing program for UFC bouts.
Kennedy, 34, has made it clear he is willing to pay for his half of the program, which he has been told could cost anywhere from $10,000 to $35,000. The previous time Kennedy fought in Las Vegas, in July 2013, he earned a $90,000 purse.
“Whatever it takes to ensure we are moving toward having a clean sport, which we are nowhere near right now,” Kennedy told ESPN.com. “Something has to change.”
Kennedy’s manager, Leo Khorolinsky, told ESPN.com Kennedy wouldn’t go so far as to pull out of the fight should random testing not be implemented, but is optimistic the NSAC would approve the request.
Whatever it takes to ensure we are moving toward having a clean sport, which we are nowhere near right now. Something has to change."
-- Tim Kennedy, on requesting an enhanced, random drug-testing program
“In no way would he back out of the fight, because he has a contractual obligation,” Khorolinsky said. “What he’s saying is that he’s trying to make a statement. Let’s make this a real campaign and others will start doing it.”
According to Khorolinsky, UFC heavyweight Andrei Arlovski, whom he also represents, will request the same form of testing ahead of the Sept. 13 bout against Antonio Silva in Brasilia, Brazil.
The NSAC program consists of unannounced urine and blood tests taken during a fighter’s camp. It is far more effective than traditional urine tests on fight night.
The NSAC utilized the random tests prior to a welterweight fight between Jake Ellenberger and Robbie Lawler at UFC 173 and a light heavyweight fight between Chael Sonnen and Wanderlei Silva, which was eventually canceled, at UFC 175.
On May 24, Silva avoided a random drug test administered by the NSAC, which led to him not receiving a license to fight at UFC 175. Sonnen failed two random tests on May 24 and June 5, which led to an indefinite suspension of his license.
Middleweight contender Vitor Belfort is also facing licensing issues in Nevada after a blood test taken on Feb. 7 showed his testosterone levels were above normal.
After seeing three athletes, all of whom have competed in his weight class, admit to working outside the rules, Kennedy says he had to take stronger individual action.
“They randomly test three dudes and all three fail,” Kennedy said. “All in my weight class. All dudes I could potentially be fighting. I went from just being vocal about drug use, to saying to myself, ‘I have to make a stand about this.’ ”
Whether Kennedy will get his wish is yet to be seen. Even though he is willing to pay for his share, there is no guarantee the NSAC will order it.
UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones requested a similar program prior to his title defense against Glover Teixeira at UFC 172, which took place in Baltimore. The Maryland State Athletic Commission approved it and the UFC agreed to cover the costs.
Similarly, the UFC has picked up costs for both enhanced programs in Nevada. The NSAC is committed to randomly testing at least one bout on every major UFC card, but for obvious reasons, won’t disclose which fights it will be testing ahead of time.
“Any fighter can request all they want to the promoter,” Robert Bennett, NSAC executive director, said. “We appreciate any athlete who wants more testing, but we are certainly not going to reveal who, when and where we’ll be testing.
“The less said about who we will test, the more effective the program. The UFC has been very supportive of our efforts so far.”
For the record, Romero has never failed a drug test.
The UFC has taken more action against performance-enhancing drugs in 2014 than any other year in company history. The promotion has agreed, for now, to handle costs of the program in Nevada, which can be up to $45,000 per fight.
UFC officials are also tentatively planning to address the issue this month at the annual Association of Boxing Commissions convention in Clearwater Beach, Florida.
Kennedy says he appreciates the UFC’s recent efforts to curb PED use, but still believes his action is necessary to help fix a serious problem in mixed martial arts.
“I’m really impressed in the change in both the climate and the UFC’s perception of it,” Kennedy said. “The UFC is forking over money for testing, so it’s been top-driven, which makes me proud to be in the UFC. They are really the only organization that is doing it and it’s definitely a step in the right direction.
“But the first time [the NSAC] randomly tested people, everybody failed. Imagine what that looks like across 450 athletes. Are we talking 60 or 70 percent? I really believe it’s somewhere in that range of fighters that are using.”
Jackson, Jones' longtime head trainer, is fairly certain, however, that "being scared" isn't one of them.
Jones (20-1) is reportedly scheduled to meet with UFC officials this week to discuss terms for his next light heavyweight title defense. The promotion is looking to book Jones to a rematch against Gustafsson, possibly on Aug. 30 in Las Vegas.
On Monday, UFC president Dana White revealed Jones has asked to fight Cormier in his next bout. Jones basically confirmed as much in an Instagram post on Tuesday.
Jones' preference has prompted accusations that he is "ducking" Gustafsson, whom he narrowly defeated via unanimous decision at UFC 165 in September. Jackson doesn't see it that way.
"Everybody is looking for a chink in his armor and they are desperate for it," Jackson told ESPN.com. "They are desperate, like, 'Please let us find something wrong with the guy.'
"I've never heard him say, 'I'll never fight Gustafsson again. I'm scared.' I've never seen that from him at all. I don't really think courage is a problem for Jon Jones. He goes up against the best guys in the division."
As for Jones' reasoning for wanting Cormier (15-0), Jackson speculated it might have something to do with elevating his legacy. Cormier represents a new challenge.
Jones, 26, often talks about leaving a mark in the sport.
"It might be a career move," Jackson said. "He already beat Gustafsson. Maybe he's looking for a challenge and doesn't feel that Gustafsson is the challenge everybody else thinks he is. I honestly don't know, but it could be that Cormier would escalate his greatness more than someone he has already beaten."
A rematch between Jones and Gustafsson (16-2) has seemed inevitable since the first meeting, but according to Jackson, he and Jones have spoken very little about it.
The UFC has taken a hard stance recently that Gustafsson would be next for Jones, but Jackson said he rarely discusses or strategizes for a fight before it's announced.
"That's kind of how a fan would think about the sport," Jackson said. "I'm a fan, too, but I don't have that luxury. If I'm in a camp for [Glover] Teixeira and I'm talking about Gustafsson, that doesn't make any sense. I don't say that, 'This fight is inevitable,' because I don't know. I have no idea. There are things I thought for sure would happen that didn't come to pass and the other way around.
"If we fight Cormier, he's super tough. Gustafsson is super tough. Wherever the coin lands on that, it doesn't really matter to me."
As of Tuesday afternoon, UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones had not agreed to a rematch against Alexander Gustafsson on Aug. 30 in Las Vegas.
He hadn’t turned it down, either -- which actually adds to the problem as far as the UFC is concerned.
Jones, 26, is entering perhaps the prime of his athletic career at the same time the UFC is looking to extend his contract. Back-and-forth negotiations might be inevitable.
The issue right now, however, is that no negotiations are taking place. According to UFC co-owner Lorenzo Fertitta, Jones and his management have been unresponsive since the UFC offered Jones the Gustafsson rematch early last week.
That might have had something to do with the UFC’s decision to uncharacteristically announce the Jones-Gustafsson fight on Saturday, before Jones agreed to it. Get it out in the public, get Jones to respond, hopefully get the ball moving a bit.
The announcement, coupled with Gustafsson’s verbal commitment to the fight, has apparently had little effect on Jones, however. When asked if the fighter or his management had reached out to the UFC since Saturday, Fertitta simply answered, “Nothing.”
Jones’ team also has not responded to ESPN.com’s requests for comment.
Ideally, the situation will be sorted out in time for the rematch to headline UFC 177 on Labor Day weekend. The UFC already has secured the Aug. 30 date at the MGM Grand Garden Arena and a Jones headliner would fit well into its schedule.
If negotiations stall, the UFC might consider a September date, possibly in Sweden, although that likely wouldn’t be the promotion's -- or the champion’s (when you consider fighting in Sweden) -- first choice.
UFC president Dana White has gone on record saying the rematch could produce a 50,000-seat sellout in Stockholm. The UFC would want to announce an event of that size soon though, with plenty of time to market it and work out logistics.
“Two things go into having a stadium show,” Fertitta told ESPN.com. “It has to be the right fight and you have to have time to get behind the promotion of it.
“One thing about stadium shows, you get the benefit of the fact the show gets bigger. People talk about it. It becomes more of a spectacle. You sell more tickets, but the cost to set the thing up almost takes away that additional revenue.
“If we did that fight in Sweden, we would probably do it early in the morning. We’d have to deal with, is public transportation open? Are services, fire, police available at three or four in the morning? It’s not as easy as saying, ‘Let’s do a stadium show in Sweden.’ There is a lot we would have to figure out.”
Jones (20-1), despite all the veteran names on his resume, is looking at arguably the most challenging year of his career.
He dominated a durable, athletic opponent in Glover Teixeira last month at UFC 172. A rematch against Gustafsson (16-2), who took him to the brink of defeat at UFC 165 in August, and (if timing allows) a fight against an undefeated former heavyweight in Daniel Cormier (15-0) would make for an exceptional year.
Of course, Jones’ critics have attributed his silence on the Gustafsson rematch to fear -- and it is fair to note Jones has never appeared delighted when speaking about a second fight against Gustafsson.
In reality, however, the holdup is most likely connected to Jones’ contract extension and, at least for now, his current silence during the negotiation of it.
Those numbers aren't promising, but they could be worse. He could be turning 45.
Henderson (30-11) is considered one of the best mixed martial artists of all time -- a distinction that will remain in place regardless of what happens Saturday, when he faces undefeated light heavyweight Daniel Cormier at UFC 173 in Las Vegas.
The big knock on Henderson going into this fight is attached to his age. He's simply too old, man. Not too old to still win a fight here and there, but certainly too old to mix it up with Cormier, who is eight years younger. This can't end well for him.
Things didn't end well for him in November, when he was lifted off his feet by a left hook from Vitor Belfort and finished moments later with a head kick. He rebounded from the loss with a comeback TKO win over Mauricio Rua in March, but was nearly knocked out again in the first two rounds of that fight.
It's the lasting images of those two fights that seem to have many concerned about Henderson's health this weekend. For his part, Henderson says, that's fighting.
"There has been a few fights where that has happened to me," Henderson told ESPN.com. "Obviously, not quite as bad as the Vitor fight but real similar, where I got rocked and had to recover and ended up winning the fight. It wasn't anything new.
"Having it happen back-to-back in big settings where everybody is watching, I think that's why people are talking about it. Am I as quick as I used to be? Probably not. But I don't know. It's hard for me to tell. I don't feel old."
It seems incredible to think that Henderson began fighting professionally in 1997, first fought for the UFC in 1998, has won 30 fights during that time but never won a UFC title. It truly is the last empty space on his MMA bingo card.
And whether he feels old or not, Henderson acknowledges this could be his final run at that achievement. He says he won't lose sleep (at least not "too much sleep") if it never happens, but it'd be icing on the cake. And who eats cake without icing?
"I won't ever say 'never,' but, you know, there's not too many opportunities left for me to get that title belt," Henderson said.
UFC president Dana White has said the winner of Saturday's fight will be next in line to challenge for the 205-pound title.
Henderson had fought almost exclusively in a ring before that title fight and says he didn't acclimate himself enough to the cage beforehand. Six months later, he lost to Anderson Silva via submission in a bid for the UFC's middleweight title.
The one that might hurt the most, though, is UFC 151 in September 2012. Henderson was scheduled to fight Jon Jones in the main event of that card, but withdrew with a knee injury. He lost a non-title bout to Lyoto Machida in his return.
The Jones matchup was one Henderson badly wanted, as he bluntly stated ahead of the fight that Jones, 25 at the time, would only get better with age. Although he still believes he can beat Jones now, he's not as ripe for the picking as he was in 2012.
"I said that three or four years ago, that here is a guy who lacks experience and I'd rather fight him now rather than later," Henderson said. "I think he got offended when I said it, but it was absolutely true.
"He became champ at a young age with not many fights. I would have liked to fight him then, but it is what it is. I still think I can beat him."
To prove it, Henderson will have to find a way to beat an opponent who is a 9-1 favorite over him this weekend. To Henderson, those odds are just numbers. They mean little. Just like the number 43.
Daniel Cormier’s run at a UFC light heavyweight title might soon be less about weight and more about a wait.
Cormier (14-0) will look to improve to 2-0 in the UFC’s 205-pound division when he meets Dan Henderson at UFC 173 on Saturday in Las Vegas.
Already ranked No. 4 in the division by ESPN.com, Cormier, a former heavyweight, says he’s content to sit on the sideline and wait for a title shot should he beat Henderson -- even though that might mean he wouldn’t fight the rest of the year.
Would two wins at light heavyweight really justify that type of layoff? And what are his thoughts on the upcoming fight with an accomplished veteran like Henderson (30-11)? Cormier answered those questions and more ahead of UFC 173.
ESPN: Everyone knows the issues you’ve gone through with weight cutting in the past, but at this point is your cut to 205 pretty much a non-topic?
Cormier: I don’t think it’s an issue. Cutting weight is always pretty tough. It’s not like it’s ever going to be easy. I think if I do the right things and not let it worry me, where I’m on the scale every 30 minutes, it’ll be fine.
ESPN: If you remove Henderson’s right hand from this fight, do you basically take away his only chance at beating you?
Cormier: I’ve been lucky enough to call his last four fights [as a television analyst]. I had to watch him a lot closer than I would have normally. The thing about Dan is he doesn’t wrestle anymore, which is great for me because I’m going to wrestle. If I take away the right hand, it really does limit him. He’s a tough, gritty, durable guy.
One thing I’ve taken from Dan in these fights is that Rashad [Evans] and Lyoto [Machida] actually fought him very conservative. Vitor [Belfort] went after him and finished him. [Mauricio Rua] went after him and hurt him very bad. So, what I took away is that I have to get after this guy. I’ll just make it look like his right hand is tied behind his back.
ESPN: You’ve said if you win this fight, you’d wait for a title shot. In that scenario, your record at 205 would be 2-0 with a win over Patrick Cummins on short notice and Dan Henderson, who would be 1-4 in his last five fights. Is that really enough to make you a title contender?
Cormier: Just because I fought at heavyweight, that stuff doesn’t go out the window. I was scheduled to fight Rashad Evans at UFC 170. The UFC wasn’t trying to give me an easy fight. I was scheduled to fight Rashad up until 10 days before that event. It’s not my fault [he had to pull out with injury]. I still fought and held up my end of the deal.
You look at my resume. I’ll put it next to anybody’s. Alexander Gustafsson beat [Rua], who is a former champion. I beat Josh Barnett and Frank Mir, that’s two. Two is better than one. Glover Teixeira, before he got his title shot, he beat Ryan Bader, Kyle Kingsbury, Fabio Maldonado and James Te Huna. That guy [Teixeira] got a title shot. My resume would include Henderson, Mir, Barnett, [Antonio] Silva and Roy Nelson. I think me getting a title shot is only fair.
ESPN: What if you go and knock out Henderson in the first round this weekend? You would be looking at a situation where your last two fights ended quickly and then you sit out the rest of the year.
Cormier: That won’t happen. With Dan Henderson, it will be a 15-minute battle. He’s too tough to let anybody walk out there and finish him that fast. I know Vitor did it, but Vitor did that to everybody last year.
ESPN: If you win and decide to wait for a title shot, could that negatively affect your weight at all? Is it a benefit to remain active since you’re cutting to 205?
Cormier: I would have to be very disciplined, but in that time off I would get better. There are a lot of things that can come up in a year. When is Jon [Jones] going to fight Gustafsson? That plays a factor. Dana [White] says I like to stay busy, which is true. That’s how you make money. I’m 35 years old so I like to fight. But I just think at some point you’ve got to say, "What if I get past Henderson and the next guy puts me in a war and I’m out for a long time?" Then I don’t get my title shot.
A lot can happen. Am I completely opposed to fighting a non-title fight before I get a title shot? No. I’m not afraid to earn a shot. I just think I already have.
Cormier: You watch the Klitschko brothers fight and they always do that. That’s how they find their range. Tall guys do that and there are things you can do to actually make them stop. I’m not opposed to doing them. I’ll punch him in the elbow or I’ll wrench his arm like he did to Glover in that fight.
ESPN: Pretty quick turnaround for you here, as you just fought on Feb. 22. How did camp feel and are you fully prepared for this fight?
Cormier: I’m getting to fight a guy who I’ve looked up to for a long time. He’s a legend. It takes hard work to beat a legend. I’ve worked my tail off for this fight. I’m pretty thorough in my approach. This is a little shorter notice than I like, but after the UFC found me a coffee guy [Cummins] to fight on 10 days' notice, they can ask me for a favor this time.
LAS VEGAS -- On Thursday, UFC president Dana White clarified his stance regarding Jon Jones’ eye pokes in his title defense against Glover Teixeira on Saturday.
Jones (20-1) recorded his seventh consecutive light heavyweight title defense over Teixeira at UFC 172 via dominant unanimous decision.
In the second round, referee Dan Miragliotta warned Jones for poking Teixeira in the eye. Despite the warning, Jones continued to open his hand and place it on Teixeira’s forehead. Miragliotta never warned Jones again and did not deduct a point.
Immediately after the bout, White said in an interview with Fox Sports, “We’ve got to stop that stuff -- opening of the hands and putting hands on the face.”
On Thursday, White told ESPN.com that while Jones’ foul in the second round made him cringe, he thought the referee handled it well and didn’t mind Jones’ tactics the rest of the fight.
“He stopped,” White said. “I think what Jones is trying to do is, he’s got that range against a hard puncher. So, he’s trying to push him off. It’s no different than what [Muhammad] Ali used to do.
“A lot of guys [open their hands] when they block punches. You have to close your hands. I hate that. It’s very dangerous. Trust me, when Jones did it the first few times I was like, ‘Oh my god, don’t make this fight stop on an eye poke.’
“But that’s what the referee is there for and he handled it. That was it. People will nitpick Jones for anything he does. The guy puts on the sickest performance. He put on a flawless performance.”
Jones, 26, posted a video on Instagram this week in which he mocked his critics by pretending to cry and say, “Jones put his finger in his eye. Dirtiest fighter in MMA.” He has since deleted it from his account.
It was the second consecutive fight in which a Jones opponent complained of an eye poke. Jones caught Alexander Gustafsson in the eye in the first round of a title fight at UFC 165 in September.
Jones is set to face Gustafsson in a rematch of that September fight later this year. White has said the UFC is considering hosting it in the challenger’s backyard, at Friends Arena near Stockholm, Sweden.
White said he plans to speak to Jones in two weeks.
“I’m about two weeks away from talking to him,” White said. “Forty thousand seats. That will sell out like that. I was just talking to AEG [Anschutz Entertainment Group] guys and it’s 40,000. We’ll sell out.”
Yes, Glover Teixeira is 34 years old.
At a time when UFC fighters generally begin their decent into physical and skill-set mediocrity, Teixeira has only now risen to his peak.
Teixeira (22-2) hasn’t lost since 2005 and is 5-0 since coming to the UFC in 2012. In his last fight, against Ryan Bader in September, Teixeira dismantled Bader via first-round TKO. However, against UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones at UFC 172 on Saturday, Teixeira gives away 8 inches of reach and about eight years in age to the 26-year-old Jones.
But consider age a state of mind. Just don’t call Teixeira old. Sure, it took him a while just to get to the UFC, but with the quick work he made of his opponents, a title shot in the UFC never seemed far off.
“Well, I had trouble with my visa and I was stuck in Brazil, so I couldn’t get into the UFC,” Teixeira said. “But some things happen for a reason. So during that time I was able to get more experience. It worked out good for me in the end.”
Indeed, that experience will have to take him far against Jones, who says he was renewed and invigorated in this fight camp after what he viewed as his lackluster performance against Alexander Gustafsson at UFC 165 in September. Gustafsson went the distance with Jones, who broke a toe in the process. Jones said he had the “worst camp of his career” in preparing for Gustafsson, but the champ said he's completely prepared this time.
Teixeira doesn’t seem to care. And why should he? Teixeira hasn’t lost in nine years. He only knows how to win.
He admits he had some butterflies before his first UFC fight against Kyle Kingsbury at UFC 146; it was a happy nervous that he was finally fighting in the UFC. Now, against Jones, there might be some of that in fighting for a title. But it’s not because of Jones.
Teixeira attributes this to the support he’s received at American Top Team in Coconut Creek, Fla. He’s sparring with champions and All-Americans every day. So to him, Jones is just another guy.
“At ATT, I have great coaches and training partners. Muay Thai, jiu-jitsu champions, K-1 champions. They also brought John Hackleman down to train with, and Steve Mocco is one of the best wrestlers in U.S. history. I trained with him for my last three fights. King Mo [Muhammed Lawal] was there for half the camp. There’s so much talent and experience to learn from. Jones is the champ and he is great, but right now he’s just another guy in front of me.”
Teixeira’s wins in the UFC have dispelled the notion that his competition outside the league was substandard. There was some lack of name recognition, both from his previous opponents and for himself. Mauricio Rua reportedly declined to fight Teixeira for UFC 149, citing Teixeira’s then-lack of ranking within the light heavyweight division. UFC boss Dana White was not happy. But Teixeira couldn’t be mad at his fellow countryman.
“I don’t think what he did was cool, but I don’t like, how do you say it -- holding a grudge,” Teixeira said. “That was only a year and a half ago, maybe. And now I’m fighting for the title. So what do I have to be mad about?”
And you can bet Rua would take a fight with Teixeira now.
It is this easygoing, nice-guy demeanor that makes it seem as if Teixeira is still flying under the radar. Certainly, after he got to the UFC, it didn’t take long for him to run through anyone the UFC put in front of him. And calling Jones “just another guy” doesn’t come off as bravado. Rather, it seems simply more like a serendipitous perspective. Whatever comes his way, he’ll take it on. He doesn’t overly self-promote despite a healthy 57,000 Twitter followers. There just isn’t a lot of show.
“I’ll fight anyone who the UFC asks me to fight,” Teixeira said. “It doesn’t matter; I’m just glad to be fighting in the UFC and I want that belt.”
He’ll have to figure out a way to close the distance between him and Jones (that is, Jones' massive reach advantage). To be sure, Teixeira’s chin has yet to be tested.
But he’s confident in both phases of his game: “Since I came to the UFC, I’ve improved everything in my game. My wrestling, my striking and having more overall experience. My coaches have made a good strategy for me so now it’s time for me to do it in the Octagon and take that belt.”
Sounds like Teixeira is just getting started. Not bad for an "old" guy.
White, who was just about to wrap up a media session, suddenly sat forward in his chair. Clearly, he had something to say on this one.
“I like Phil and I don’t want to throw Phil under the bus,” White said, “but Phil needs to get over that mental hump.
“I’ve got guys breathing down my neck for fights, like, ‘I want this fight. I want that fight.’ Phil Davis is like, ‘Eh. I’ll hang out around No. 4 here.’ He’s not that guy that comes across to me like, ‘I f---ing want it. I want to be the best in the world.’”
Davis (12-1) spoke to several media outlets that same day, including ESPN.com, but his best opportunity to answer White’s claim came on Monday during a global media call. He certainly didn’t waste the airtime.
A former Division I NCAA wrestling champion at Penn State, Davis went to work on light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, who also happened to be on Monday’s call. He barely uttered a word about Johnson (16-4).
Some of it was strong (calling Jones “Sweetheart”). Some of it was not (saying Jones got hit in the eye so much in his last fight he almost “turned into a pirate”).
The best moment came when Jones, who played along for the most part, asked Davis which rounds Alexander Gustafsson won in their narrow title fight in September.
Davis: I thought he won all the ones where he put those hot hands all over your forehead.
Jones: Oh man. That’s not nice, Phil.
The realest thing that came out of Davis’ mouth on the call? Probably the first thing he said, when he basically warned everyone listening he was about to go off and -- if you read between the lines -- admitted he’s maybe not too happy about it.
“I try to let my fighting do the talking, but I’m going to have to let my talking do the talking for a little bit,” Davis said. “If you want Phil Davis calling and your texting your phone every day, telling you he wants to fight Jon Jones, that’s fine.
“I thought that just winning would get that done, but that’s not necessarily true.”
It’s pretty obvious Davis read White’s message to him loud and clear: Get people interested. As many fighters before Davis have learned, it’s not always strictly about wins and losses. Sometimes you have to talk.
This is why Davis is practicing his stand-up routine, interrupting one reporter on Monday’s call to ask Jones how he would overcome his fear of fighting (did he buy a night light?).
A win, however, is still the most crucial piece to Davis’ title aspirations -- which he does have, regardless of what White says. Secretly, he understands he’s facing a dangerous opponent in Johnson, who has four knockouts in his last five fights.
Davis has been in a similar position to this before. In 2012, a 5-0 start in the UFC had him closing in on a title shot -- until he lost badly to Rashad Evans via unanimous decision. To this day, Davis says he can’t bring himself to watch that fight.
“I watched halfway through the first round and turned it off,” Davis told ESPN.com. “I couldn’t even watch. I was so pissed. I still haven’t seen it.
“I can barely compare who I was in 2012 to the fighter I am now. It’s just so much different. It’s going to take at least two Rashad Evans in the cage at the same time to beat me right now.”
At the request of his boss, Davis is turning up the chatter ahead of his fight in Baltimore. So far, he’s seemed only halfway comfortable with it. It’s still the actual fight on Saturday where Davis will be most comfortable.
He was at a London fairground, in front of an electronic punching bag game.
“We used to go to the fairground [funfair], and there’s that punchable thing that measures your power,” Manuwa told ESPN.com. “It was from one of those that I knew I could punch. My friends would come around, and we’d have competitions.
“I broke my hand on them. A couple times.”
Manuwa, 34, is an undefeated UFC light heavyweight with serious marketability -- but he’s only been training in mixed martial arts since 2008. He’s 3-0 in the UFC but hasn’t faced anyone in the upper echelon of his division.
On paper, Manuwa (14-0) should not defeat Alexander Gustafsson this weekend at UFC Fight Night 37 in London. It’s not a knock on Manuwa, who is headlining his first UFC event -- it’s just a fair assessment of the fight.
In interviews, current UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones has called this weekend an “easy path” back to a title shot for Gustafsson. Jones defeated the Swede via unanimous decision in a close fight at UFC 165 in September.
The thing Manuwa has going for him, though -- and everyone seems willing to agree on this -- is that he possesses devastating, can’t-be-taught, either-you-have-it-or-you-don’t knockout power.
It’s “God-given,” as Manuwa puts it. When asked if a specific moment stands out when he really knew he had shook someone, Manuwa replied, “I have 14 stoppages. There are a lot of those moments.”
Manuwa has put together one of the most peculiar runs in UFC history. He’s finished three consecutive fights -- all of which were accompanied by unusual circumstances.
His UFC debut in September 2012 ended after the second round when a ringside doctor declared Kyle Kingsbury could no longer see out of a battered left eye. In February 2013, Manuwa earned a TKO when Cyrille Diabate didn’t answer the bell for the second round due to an Achilles injury.
And in his most recent appearance at UFC Fight Night 30 in October, Manuwa kept the weird streak alive when he defeated Ryan Jimmo -- after Jimmo suffered an awkward-looking leg injury in the second round.
Manuwa says you’d have to ask his opponents why they keep “quitting” on him during fights, but he guesses it has something to do with the pressure he applies.
“It’s a bit less satisfying when that happens, but I’ll take the win,” Manuwa said. “They all probably know deep down in their heads they lost those fights.”
It is unlikely Gustafsson (15-2) will fall apart on Manuwa. The 27-year-old is built as durable as they come, but of course even he is susceptible to a big hit.
Gustafsson believes he beat Jones when the two fought for the title in Toronto, but he admits the entire complexion of that bout changed when Jones landed a spinning back elbow with less than one minute remaining in the fourth round.
It took him the entire fifth to recover from the shot.
“It was the elbow that changed that fight,” Gustafsson said. “The whole fifth round I was trying to recover from that elbow. I saw three of him out there and I couldn’t attack. I was just defending and trying to recover.
“When I finally did recover, the fight was over.”
The fact that Jones, perhaps the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world, hurt Gustafsson once doesn’t mean Manuwa will do it on Saturday at the O2 Arena. Oddsmakers have booked Gustafsson at a near 4-to-1 favorite.
Manuwa doesn’t mind the odds. In fact, he says plenty of friends and family have taken advantage of them and will cash in should he earn win No. 15.
“My technique has come along by leaps and bounds,” Manuwa said. “I throw some of the hardest kicks now; those are some of my main weapons. My punches are harder and faster. I’m just a wrecking machine at the moment.”
The silver lining in not getting Jose Aldo versus Anthony Pettis in 2013: We get it in 2014, instead.
Fate apparently knew what it was doing last summer, when it scrapped a scheduled featherweight title bout between the two in August due to a Pettis injury. As good as that fight would have been then, it’s matured into a blockbuster event now.
Instead of Pettis temporarily dropping to 145 as a challenger, you have Aldo moving up to make a champion/champion fight. It gives Aldo a chance to chase history, as he would become just the third UFC fighter to win titles in multiple weight classes.
All things considered -- storyline, fighting styles, mainstream appeal -- Aldo versus Pettis is the second-best fight the UFC could promote right now, in my opinion. What’s the first? And what other fantasy matchups would I love to see? See below.
(Note: This list includes only fighters currently signed to the UFC.)
10. Junior dos Santos versus Alistair Overeem, heavyweight
From a competitive standpoint, this is probably the weakest option you’ll find on this list. They are heavyweights, anything can happen, etc., but it would be real hard to pick against dos Santos in this matchup. There is a history here, though, as you might recall. The two were supposed to fight for the title in May 2012 before Overeem failed a surprise drug test. It’s one of those fights that sells itself.
9. John Dodson versus Joseph Benavidez, flyweight
Two of, if not the best finishers in the flyweight division. Dodson’s lead pipe of a straight left versus Benavidez’s club of an overhand right -- and everything else these two do well. This fight would fly under the radar as far as casual fans are concerned, but with Demetrious Johnson proving to be so far ahead of the pack, this actually might be the most compelling matchup in the division.
8. Ronda Rousey versus Cat Zingano, female bantamweight
There is no concrete timetable for Zingano's return, but unless the UFC signs Invicta FC featherweight champion Cris Justino in her absence, the title shot should be waiting for her. Obviously, Rousey must get by former U.S. Olympic wrestler Sara McMann on Feb. 22 first. This fight was (and still is) intriguing due to Zingano's athleticism and finishing ability. Her strength and explosiveness will help in scrambles with Rousey, and she only needs a short window of opportunity to change the course of a fight.
The first encounter in 2004 was just perfect. Diaz taunting Lawler to the point referee Steve Mazzagatti tells him, “no more talking.” Lawler complaining of a groin kick and Diaz accusing him of faking right in the middle of the fight. The step back counter knockout for Diaz. Little brother Nate Diaz with the bowl-cut, running into the cage afterward. How can anyone not want to see this again?
6. Renan Barao versus Dominick Cruz, bantamweight
Sorry, but I can’t seem to let this one go. As good as Barao looks right now, is he as good as Cruz was in 2012, when he first went down due to injury? You could argue either side of that. Whenever Cruz comes back, I say make this fight. Why not? He’d almost come in with low expectations on him. Everything to gain, little to lose. A “tuneup” fight would actually probably put him under more pressure.
5. Jon Jones versus Daniel Cormier, light heavyweight
Extremely marketable fight, obviously. I have a suspicion plenty of people will pick Cormier to win this matchup, but realistically, if they had to bet the farm on it, they’d change the pick to Jones. When the chips are down for reals, at 205 pounds, you don’t bet against Jones -- even though it would be real tempting to do it with Cormier.
4. Lyoto Machida versus Vitor Belfort, middleweight
Belfort’s offense versus Machida’s defense is one of the most tantalizing battles we could hope to witness in the UFC this year. Chris Weidman is the undisputed king at 185 pounds -- he wears the crown -- but in terms of just a good, old-fashioned, definition of the term “fight,” nothing is better at middleweight than Belfort versus Machida.
3. BJ Penn versus Conor McGregor, featherweight
The two losses to Frankie Edgar became personal for Penn because he despised the way he performed in them. So even though we can all think of better matchups for him than a third meeting with Edgar, he deserves a chance at that redemption. Win or lose, a matchup against the loud, cocky, talented new kid would be outstanding to watch start to finish and it would generate plenty of interest.
2. Jose Aldo versus Anthony Pettis, lightweight
Already discussed this one. Probably my favorite fight here, stylistically. In addition to having the physical tools to match Aldo (which is quite rare), Pettis has the mentality. He’s not a guy who might just “survive” Aldo -- he’ll push him, even in the first round. And that’s something we all want to see.
1. Jon Jones versus Cain Velasquez, heavyweight
This is it. The No. 1 fight the UFC can promote, currently, post-Georges St-Pierre/Anderson Silva. No other matchup could generate as much pay-per-view revenue, and with good reason. Jones is the pound-for-pound best, while Velasquez is considered the “baddest man on the planet.” Both dominant champs would have to adjust for the other. For Jones, it would be a shot at his GOAT quest -- capturing the most iconic title in mixed martial arts. It’s unlikely to happen this year, with Velasquez currently sidelined and Jones focused on light heavyweight, but as long as both keep winning, people will talk and debate this matchup.
Oddsmakers saw it as a mismatch, pegging Jones about an 8-to-1 betting favorite. The UFC's marketing strategy heading into the fight basically consisted of telling everyone how long Gustafsson's limbs were.
Jones, in one of the more ironic moves of the year, walked to the Octagon on Sept. 21 in a shirt that read "Not quite human." Looking back now, of course, maybe Jones was tempting the Fight Gods with that one, but at the time it felt pretty much true.
That's one reason this is, easily, the right choice for ESPN.com's fight of the year. So is the fact that somebody finally made Jones, the UFC's light heavyweight champion, look human in 2013.
It's not as if Jones' career had been nothing but uncontested layups to that point -- he just made plenty of his fights look that way. It was great to see the 26-year-old tested over the course of a full five rounds.
That's not the only reason, though. Some suggested that because the expectation was for Jones to run through Gustafsson, when it didn't happen we were so shocked. Everybody kind of freaked out a little bit.
There might be some truth to that, but at the end of the day this was just an incredible fight. Regardless of who was involved or who we thought would win, the fight itself was competitive, technical, back-and-forth and contested for a world title.
Was it the best fight in UFC history? That's a near-impossible question to answer, even though plenty of observers called it that immediately after. It's far easier to call it the best fight of 2013, which it undoubtedly was.
No. 2: Gilbert Melendez UD Diego Sanchez, UFC 166
UFC president Dana White was so excited about this lightweight fight, he got out of his seat and literally ran around the cage. That happened.
No. 3: Mark Hunt NC Antonio Silva, UFC Fight Night 33
A post-fight failed drug test by Silva puts a sour aftertaste on this heavyweight bout (originally ruled a majority draw), but you still have to admire what these two gave in this one -- everything they had.
No. 4: Eddie Alvarez SD Michael Chandler, Bellator 106
The rematch was just as good as the first meeting, setting up what will surely be a highly anticipated trilogy bout. These two were made for each other.
No. 5: Dennis Bermudez SD Matt Grice, UFC 157
Voted the fight of the midyear by ESPN.com, Bermudez went back and forth for three rounds and nearly stole the show on a historic night for the UFC -- the debut of Ronda Rousey.
In 2013, the UFC crowned two new champions at 185 and 155 pounds. It also lost its 170-pound champion, Georges St-Pierre, to semiretirement.
In 2014, we’ll see at least two new UFC champions in the record books. Johny Hendricks and Robbie Lawler will contend for the vacated welterweight title, and a female strawweight champion will emerge from "The Ultimate Fighter" reality series.
Which fighters are destined to be champions come the end of 2014? I’ll tell you.
Heavyweight: Cain Velasquez
Velasquez is shelved for the foreseeable future, following surgery on a torn labrum in his left shoulder. The heavyweight champ is so tough he was actually practicing with the injury before undergoing surgery, according to teammate Daniel Cormier.
It looks as if Velasquez will face the winner of a fight between Fabricio Werdum and Travis Browne -- and if I had to guess, that will be the only time Velasquez fights in 2014. Maybe he mows through one of those guys and gets booked again immediately, which is entirely possible, but I would lean to just one Velasquez fight in the next 12 months.
Prediction: Browne knocks out Werdum in early spring, only to be a hungry Velasquez’s first meal upon his return.
Light heavyweight: Jon Jones
With the heavyweight belt tied up due to injury and no Anderson Silva superfight on the books, there’s nowhere else Jones needs to be than 205 pounds. This works twofold. With no Silva and no St-Pierre, Jones needs to go out and be the UFC’s breadwinner in 2014. Expect him to stay busy.
Relying on predetermined outcomes of fights is never a good idea in this sport, and I feel that’s a huge transgression in this division right now. Jones versus Glover Teixeira. Alexander Gustafsson versus Jimi Manuwa. Daniel Cormier versus Rashad Evans. Those fights aren’t over yet -- and don’t jump to assumptions on matchups before they are.
Prediction: Jones fights three times in 2014. He beats Teixeira and then Gustafsson more convincingly than the first meeting. Then he wins one more fight … but I’m not entirely convinced it’s against Cormier, who could lose before that.
Middleweight: Ronaldo Souza
The middleweight and welterweight divisions are about to have a really fun year. With Silva gone (for the foreseeable future, at least), the middleweight division looks entirely different.
The Spider’s buddies, Ronaldo Souza and Lyoto Machida, have nothing to prevent them from gunning for the title now. An old friend, Chael Sonnen, suddenly has a path back to a title shot. The bull's-eye on Weidman’s back is about as big as there is right now in all of mixed martial arts.
Prediction: Weidman-Belfort in Brazil. Does Weidman win that? Oh man … yes. He does. On the same night, Sonnen outpoints Wanderlei Silva and calls out Machida. But it’s Souza who earns a title bid with big wins in early 2014 and then takes the title late in the year.
Welterweight: Johny Hendricks
On the way to St-Pierre, it seems that Hendricks beat every welterweight in the division, but if he wins the belt he’ll have plenty of challengers. It starts with Robbie Lawler in March, who just might be the most terrifying man in the UFC right now. This guy was born to hurt people.
You think we hear a peep from St-Pierre in 2014? Gut reaction says no, right? He wanted time off, so he’ll take his time off. On the other hand, when you are as competitive as St-Pierre is, one month away from the cage might feel like three or four. Carlos Condit just pulled about the worst opponent he could in Tyron Woodley, a guy ranked outside the Top 10 but extremely dangerous.
Prediction: Hendricks wins the vacated belt in March, and then beats the winner of Condit-Woodley. Then Hendricks defends the title again … in a fight the UFC books in Montreal, sending front-row tickets to St-Pierre’s address every day leading up to it.
Lightweight: Jose Aldo
Anthony Pettis just needs to stay healthy. The 26-year-old Milwaukee product has been so good when healthy -- which, unfortunately, hasn’t been very often. He hopes to return to the cage by July.
In the meantime, I think Aldo’s days as the 145-champion come to an end. He is a potential star for the UFC and “two-division champion” is a title that would help his drawing power. He will get an immediate shot when he moves up. He and the UFC will argue about his vacating the featherweight belt -- and that’s finally a fight Aldo will actually lose.
Prediction: Aldo defends his featherweight title over Ricardo Lamas in February and then hangs out until Pettis is healthy, narrowly beating him in a Fight of the Year candidate in August, before going on to one title defense late in the year.
Featherweight: Chad Mendes
Aldo moving up to 155 pounds just looks like a no-brainer to me. He has wanted to do so for a long time and the UFC likely wants it to happen, too. It will look as if he’s leaving the keys to the car in the hands of Chad Mendes.
A potential wrinkle in that script is Frankie Edgar. Edgar has to feel good heading into a third meeting with BJ Penn, who hasn’t fought since December 2012. Penn is a warrior and a legend, but Edgar is a tough style matchup, especially at 145.
Prediction: Mendes continues his reign of terror and earns a shot at the vacated 145-pound title against Edgar, who defeats Penn for a third time. It’s a good fight, but Mendes takes a decision and the belt.
Bantamweight: Renan Barao
It’s still officially Dominick Cruz’s division heading into 2014, but maybe only in writing. Barao is the UFC bantamweight to beat this year, and there are really only two 135-pounders up to the task -- Cruz and Urijah Faber.
The circumstances surrounding Cruz’s return -- he’s been on the shelf since October 2011 -- make him a near-impossible pick in his first fight back to beat Barao, but this is Cruz we’re talking about. His work ethic borders on obsessive. If Barao gets by Cruz, he goes immediately to a rematch against Faber, who looks like a pound-for-pound candidate again at 34.
Prediction: Unless Demetrious Johnson gets a little crazy and moves up in weight, this division is a three-horse race. Any one of them could finish 2014 as champion and it wouldn’t be a surprise.
Flyweight: Demetrious Johnson
Unlike Aldo, there isn’t much sense in Johnson moving up in weight in 2014. He can if he wants to, and I don’t think the UFC would forbid it, but he is a natural flyweight. He fought at bantamweight prior to the UFC's adding the 125-pound division and that was only two years ago. Why rush back to 135 pounds?
It makes more sense for him to chase title-defense records than the bantamweight champion. At 27, Johnson is improving between each performance -- noticeably. He may run into a couple opponents multiple times, but there are enough flyweights to keep him busy at least through 2014.
Prediction: Nobody in this division is beating Johnson right now. Nobody. You might read stories about a potential move to 135 pounds, but come December, Johnson will still be a flyweight and he’ll be up to at least six title defenses.
Female bantamweight: Ronda Rousey
Forget defending the arm bar, how about a Rousey opponent defending a takedown first? Occasionally lost in the shuffle of Rousey’s eight consecutive arm bars is her setup -- her takedowns. There might not be anyone in that division who can match her on the floor, so the conversation turns to: Can any of them stop her takedown?
Sara McMann is an interesting opponent, but how comfortable will she be on her back? McMann might be able to neutralize some of what Rousey does, but not all of it. Same with Cat Zingano, although Zingano has the finishing ability to catch Rousey with something, which might be the only way to beat her.
Prediction: Rousey dives headfirst into defending her title -- and makes it look pretty easy. She defends the belt at least three times, finishing at least two more opponents in the first round.
Female strawweight: Carla Esparza
You might think that in an atmosphere as unique as TUF, the best fighter on the show wouldn’t always emerge the winner. There are too many variables, right? The mental strain from being away from one’s family, not having normal cornermen, fighting several times within a short time span, etc.
Surprisingly, though, the best fighter of the group typically does go all the way. You look at previous seasons and, for the most part, the TUF champion has outperformed the vast majority of the average TUF contestants. Keeping that in mind, Esparza has been the best of this group heading into the show.
Prediction: Esparza enters the TUF season a favorite to win and does just that.