MMA: Jon Jones

Cormier explains why knee isn't an issue

July, 24, 2014
Jul 24
4:29
PM ET
Okamoto By Brett Okamoto
ESPN.com
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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.

[+] EnlargeDaniel Cormier
Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty ImagesDaniel Cormier is confident a knee injury won't dampen his chances of lifting the UFC light heavyweight title.


“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.”

Kennedy requests random blood testing

July, 9, 2014
Jul 9
3:27
PM ET
Okamoto By Brett Okamoto
ESPN.com
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UFC middleweight Tim Kennedy has requested an enhanced, random drug-testing program ahead of the Sept. 27 fight against Yoel Romero at UFC 178 in Las Vegas.

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.
[+] EnlargeTim Kennedy
Ric Fogel for ESPNTim Kennedy, right, believed it was his responsibility to take a stand and request random drug testing ahead of his next bout.

“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: Courage not a problem for Jones

June, 4, 2014
Jun 4
8:53
PM ET
Okamoto By Brett Okamoto
ESPN.com
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Jon JonesNick Laham/Zuffa LLC/Getty ImagesGreg Jackson, left, believes Jon Jones' interest in Daniel Cormier has more to do with his own legacy.
Greg Jackson is not familiar with the exact reasons Jon Jones has for wanting to fight Daniel Cormier, rather than Alexander Gustafsson, in his next UFC title defense.

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."



Jones mum on Gustafsson rematch

May, 28, 2014
May 28
6:55
AM ET
Okamoto By Brett Okamoto
ESPN.com
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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.
[+] EnlargeAlexander Gustafsson, Jon Jones
AP Photo/The Canadian Press/Chris YoungThe UFC hopes for an Aug. 30 rematch between Alexander Gustafsson and Jon Jones, but Jones has not signed off on the bout agreement.

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.

Henderson looking for final shot at UFC title

May, 22, 2014
May 22
3:48
PM ET
Okamoto By Brett Okamoto
ESPN.com
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LAS VEGAS -- The average age of the current UFC champions is 27 years, 10 months. Dan Henderson, who wants one final crack at a UFC belt, will turn 44 in August.

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.

[+] EnlargeDan Henderson
Ed Mulholland for ESPN.comAt 43, Dan Henderson isn't shaken by the long odds against him on Saturday against Daniel Cormier at UFC 173.
A former champion in Pride and Strikeforce, Henderson has flirted with the UFC belt on several occasions, but never brought it home. He lost to Quinton Jackson in a light heavyweight title bout in September 2007, a fight he'd take back if he could.

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.

Cormier on Hendo, Jones' tactics, more

May, 20, 2014
May 20
6:40
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Okamoto By Brett Okamoto
ESPN.com
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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.
[+] EnlargeDan Henderson
Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty ImagesAs of late, Dan Henderson relies more on his punching power than he does on his wrestling.

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.

[+] EnlargeJone Jones, Glover Teixeira
Patrick Smith/Zuffa LLC/Getty ImagesDaniel Cormier feels he has a strategy to combat Jon Jones' open-hand tactics.
ESPN: Jones was criticized for poking Teixeira in the eye during his last title defense at UFC 172. That technique in which he places his hand on an opponent’s forehead, he’s probably doing that to you and your 5-foot-11 build. What’d you think of that?

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.

White's clarification on Jones' eye pokes

May, 1, 2014
May 1
5:42
PM ET
Okamoto By Brett Okamoto
ESPN.com
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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.”

Glover Teixeira improving with age

April, 24, 2014
Apr 24
10:51
AM ET
Huang By Michael Huang
ESPN.com
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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.
[+] EnlargeGlover Teixeira
Dave Mandel/Sherdog.comTraining with the likes of King Mo Lawal has helped prepare Glover Teixeira for what's to come against Jon Jones.

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.

Davis rips Jones in response to Dana White

April, 23, 2014
Apr 23
6:06
AM ET
Okamoto By Brett Okamoto
ESPN.com
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Phil Davis and Vinny MagalhaesEd Mulholland for ESPNCome out swinging: Phil Davis isn't holding his tongue -- thanks, in part, to Dana White.
Last week, UFC president Dana White was asked what he felt light heavyweight Phil Davis would gain with a win over Anthony Johnson this weekend at UFC 172.

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.
[+] EnlargeRashad Evans
Ross Dettman for ESPNRashad Evans, facing, humbled Phil Davis when the two met in January 2012.

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.

Jimi Manuwa on his power-punching ability

March, 5, 2014
Mar 5
9:43
AM ET
Okamoto By Brett Okamoto
ESPN.com
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Jimi Manuwa wasn’t in a boxing gym when he first learned of his natural born ability to throw punches harder than the average human being.

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.
[+] EnlargeJimi Manuwa
Martin McNeil for ESPNA leg injury prevented Ryan Jimmo from further punishment at the hands (and feet) of Jimi Manuwa.

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.”

Ten UFC fights we want to see this year

February, 10, 2014
Feb 10
6:13
AM ET
Okamoto By Brett Okamoto
ESPN.com
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Anthony Pettis David Banks/USA TODAY SportsBlessing in disguise: An untimely injury might do more good than harm to Anthony Pettis' career.

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.
[+] EnlargeLyoto Machida, Mark Munoz
Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty ImagesLyoto Machida, right, and his karate style would likely mesh well with the fan-friendly, ultra-aggressive Vitor Belfort.
7. Nick Diaz versus Robbie Lawler, welterweight

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.

Fight of the year: Jones-Gustafsson

January, 4, 2014
Jan 4
9:13
PM ET
Okamoto By Brett Okamoto
ESPN.com
Archive
Gustafsson, JonesJosh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty ImagesAlexander Gustafsson gave light heavyweight champ Jon Jones all he could handle for five rounds.
Let's be real, none of us had Jon Jones-Alexander Gustafsson on our short list for potential fight of the year candidates, right?

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.

Which champs stay (and go) in 2014?

January, 1, 2014
Jan 1
11:03
AM ET
Okamoto By Brett Okamoto
ESPN.com
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Johny HendricksStephen R. Sylvanie/USA TODAY SportsA second chance: Johny Hendricks, right, is staring the UFC welterweight belt in the eye this year.

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.

2013 proved all bets are off in title bouts

December, 28, 2013
12/28/13
5:12
PM ET
Okamoto By Brett Okamoto
ESPN.com
Archive
Chris Weidman might have said it best, moments after knocking out Anderson Silva for the UFC middleweight title in July: No one is invincible.

If 2013 reminded us of one thing, it’s that no one is untouchable in mixed martial arts. Not every UFC belt changed hands, but dominant champs such as Georges St-Pierre, Jon Jones and Ronda Rousey each danced with defeat at some point this year.

Silva had lost before Weidman knocked him unconscious, but not since 2006 and never in the UFC. We all tend to agree with the general idea that no fighter is “perfect,” but Silva has been, in the eyes of many, the closest thing to it.

His loss, to an undefeated fighter no less, highlights an interesting question: What is perfect relative to MMA? Will we ever see a fighter pitch a career shutout -- an undefeated record at the highest level? Is it even possible?

In the minds of those who still have a shot at retiring undefeated, it’s quite possible.

“Absolutely,” said light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, when asked whether the UFC will ever see one of its champions retire undefeated. “If I were to retire right now, I would consider myself undefeated, so it’s totally doable.

“I’ve felt [unbeatable] a lot of times throughout my career, watching my old fights and seeing the way I’ve dominated people. I’ve definitely felt invincible at times. I think it’s important to feel that way, but still respect your opponent.”
[+] Enlarge Jon Jones
Ed Mulholland for ESPNDespite one loss (via disqualification), Jon Jones feels as though he can walk away from the sport as an "undefeated" fighter.

There are currently (and this number might surprise you) 32 fighters on the UFC roster who have yet to lose as a professional. Of those 32, however, 23 have fought 10 times or fewer and are well outside of title contention. Jones is 19-1, the "1" thanks to a disqualification in 2009.

The competition level of the UFC will spoil undefeated records pretty quickly, says Weidman (10-0), who still believes that it's possible for a fighter to retire undefeated but that his or her final record would look nothing like that of boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr., who is 45-0.

“There are more ways to lose in MMA,” Weidman said. “You have striking, wrestling; there’s always a guy that’s going to come around that might have something better than you.

“You could have a guy go [undefeated], but not with the numbers of a Mayweather. I don’t know about that many fights. And in boxing, they start you off fighting 15 guys with losing records. In MMA, you get thrown in right away. I’m 10-0, and I’m already the champion.”

The greatest challenge of remaining perfect, it seems, is finding a perfect balance in multiple aspects of the sport.

You have to feel invincible, but know you’re vulnerable. You have to fear losing, but remain unaffected by the pressure of that fear. You have to win every training session, but hold back enough to not injure yourself in the process.

“When I’m about to fight, I am laser focused on my fear of failure,” said Rousey, a former U.S. Olympian in judo and 7-0 in MMA. “That’s why I try to raise the stakes in every fight, because I’m more likely to make a mistake when I feel it’s not a big deal.

“The mental thing is really the hardest part. I think if they would line up 20 fights and I could have them happen in a week, it would be easier for me to do it than over the course of several years. It’s the buildup to every fight that takes it out of you.”

Of course, there is also the challenge of walking away from competition itself with a perfect record intact. This year, St-Pierre essentially became the first modern-era UFC champion to willingly vacate his belt -- and even he left the door open for a return.

Frank Shamrock vacated the UFC middleweight title (now the light heavyweight title) when he retired in 1999. He had seven losses on his record before that decision. He returned after a brief absence and suffered three more defeats.
[+] EnlargeRonda Rousey and Liz Carmouche
Ed Mulholland for ESPNRonda Rousey flirted with disaster before eventually submitting Liz Carmouche at UFC 157.
Bas Rutten vacated the UFC heavyweight belt that same year and announced his retirement, although he would return for one pro fight seven years later. He finished his career with a record of 28-4-1.

Phillip Miller retired from professional MMA in 2003 with a perfect 16-0 record, including two appearances in the UFC, but he never fought for a title. Royce Gracie was 11-0-1 when he left the UFC in 1995, but he returned to action five years later and eventually lost to Matt Hughes at UFC 60 in 2006.

Depending on what way you look at it, several have come close to sort of walking away from the highest level of MMA undefeated -- but it’s a distinction no one can legitimately, inarguably claim thus far.

Frankly, odds seem very much against it. There are too many ways to lose in MMA.

Jones was disqualified for a rarely used rule in a fight he was dominating. Heavyweight Travis Browne suffered his first loss when he tore his hamstring muscle in a freak-accident type injury against Antonio Silva. Seemingly unstoppable Cain Velasquez lost his perfect record in a split second, thanks to a Junior dos Santos right hand.

In the words of Silva, speaking to ESPN.com, “A perfect fight doesn’t exist. You can only dream about a perfect fight.”

If a perfect fight doesn’t exist, how reasonable is it to believe that a perfect record could? Well, there are those who do.

“My mom says there’s never a history of anything happening until it does,” Rousey said. “And then there it is.”

Close decisions to the champ are UFC norm

November, 18, 2013
11/18/13
3:13
PM ET
By Andrew R. Davis
ESPN Stats & Information
Archive

At UFC 167, many felt that Johny Hendricks did enough damage against Georges St-Pierre to become the new UFC welterweight champion. On Glenn Trowbridge’s scorecard, Hendricks did just that. The other two judges (Sal D’Amato and Tony Weeks) saw the first round for the champion, giving him the 48-47 decision and the victory for St-Pierre’s UFC record-breaking 19th win inside the Octagon.

While the decision can be argued for both fighters, it marks just another recent example of champions barely leaving the Octagon with their titles.

UFC 165 - Jon Jones defeats Alexander Gustafsson (48-47, 48-47, 49-46)

In September of this year, Jon Jones made the sixth defense of his UFC light heavyweight title against his toughest challenger to date, Alexander Gustafsson. While Jones outstruck the challenger 28-19 in significant strikes in the opening round, Gustafsson scored a takedown while Jones was stuffed on all three of his attempts.

Gustafsson won Round 1 on all three scorecards. Rounds 2 and 3 are where things got tricky with the judging. Neither man gained a takedown (Jones 0-for-3, Gustafsson 0-for-2), but Jones held the striking advantage in Round 2 26-15 and Round 3 29-26.

Jones won four of the six cards in those two rounds. Round 4 was again close in significant strikes (27-26 Jones), but the champion did more damage, winning all three scorecards.

Round 5 was again close, with the significant strikes even at 24 for both fighters and Jones landing a takedown while stuffing all four Gustafsson attempts.

When the final scorecards were read, Jones was ahead on all cards, earning the unanimous decision.

UFC on FOX 7 – Benson Henderson defeats Gilbert Melendez (48-47, 47-48, 48-47)

Benson Henderson made the third defense of his UFC lightweight title in April 2013, defeating former Strikeforce lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez.

Round 1 went to the challenger despite landing fewer significant strikes 9-7. Melendez did land his only takedown of the fight and landed the better strikes in the eyes of the judges.

Round 2 was again close, with the champion holding a 15-13 significant strikes advantage. Both fighters landed hard shots in the cage, but Henderson won the round on two of the three judges’ scorecards. Henderson responded with his best round of the fight, landing 15 of 29 significant strikes (52 percent) and landed two leg kicks during the round that knocked Melendez off balance.

Rounds 4 and 5 were virtually even on the cards despite Henderson outlanding Melendez 29-16 in significant strikes. Henderson landed 12 leg kicks to help him win Round 4 on two of the three cards.

In the final round, Melendez won two of three cards despite landing only 15 percent of his significant strikes. Melendez won the fight 48-47 according to the first card, but Henderson won 48-47 on the other two cards, retaining his title.

UFC 125 – Frankie Edgar draws with Gray Maynard (48-46, 46-48, 47-47)

Frankie Edgar held onto his UFC lightweight title after a very tough fight with the only man to beat him, Gray Maynard, to start the fight calendar in 2011.

The first round of the 2011 Fight of the Year was its most memorable, with Maynard knocking the champ down three times and furiously landing punches to the head. Maynard would win the round 10-8 on all cards, outstriking Edgar 47-10, with 25 of those deemed significant.

Edgar would rebound in Round 2, outstriking a hesitant Maynard 21-6 to win the round as well as landing the slam that you see in the UFC PPV entrance video today.

Round 3 was the closest round of the fight, with Edgar holding a 21-17 significant strike advantage, but Maynard landed two takedowns.

Round 4 went to Edgar across the board as he landed 52 percent of his significant strikes, the highest in any round. Edgar also landed two takedowns.

With the fight on the line, Round 5 was a 20-16 advantage to Edgar with neither man gaining a takedown (Edgar 0-for-3, Maynard 0-for-7).

Maynard would win on two of three judges’ scorecards to close out the fight. The first announced card of Glenn Trowbridge (only one to pick Hendricks) was 48-46 Maynard, while Edgar won a card 48-46 and the final judge scored the bout 47-47 for a split decision draw.

UFC 104 – Lyoto Machida defeats Mauricio Rua (48-47, 48-47, 48-47)

In October 2009, Lyoto Machida made the first and only defense of his UFC light heavyweight title against Mauricio “Shogun” Rua. Rua came out the gates with his best statistical round, landing 70 percent of his significant strikes (19 of 27).

Machida landed nine significant strikes and stopped Rua’s lone takedown attempt, winning the round on two of three judges’ scorecards. Machida unanimously won Rounds 2 and 3 on the scorecards, but was outstruck 40-16 in significant strikes. Machida did stop each of Rua’s takedown attempts in the rounds and quality kicks the body and legs to win each of the rounds.

The fourth round was a 10-1 striking advantage to Shogun, and he won on two of the three cards. Round 5 was unanimous to the challenger, who mixed in 11 significant strikes to the head and legs while the champion Machida landed six.

In total, Rua outlanded Machida 80-38, with a 49-4 advantage in strikes to the legs. Machida did his damage with punches and kicks to the body, holding a 24-16 advantage. When the scorecards were read, Lyoto Machida won all three cards with identical 48-47 scores to retain his UFC light heavyweight title.

In the UFC’s 20-year history, only one champion has ever lost his title by way of split decision (Kevin Randleman to Bas Rutten at UFC 20). Whether it’s intended to be or not, the words of the famous wrestler Ric Flair come to mind: “To be the man, you have to beat the man.” In the world of the UFC, most of us are still wondering if there’s an exact definition to what that means.

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