Last month Jon Jones waited till the final hour to sign to fight Alexander Gustafsson again. Daniel Cormier was fresh off of his dominant win over Dan Henderson and fans were demanding a showdown between Cormier and Jones. Jones felt the same way but Dana White did not share the sentiment and forced Jones to face Gustafsson.
As fate would have it, Gustafsson got injured and Cormier is now set to fight Jon Jones for his light heavyweight title on September 27 at UFC 178. This is undoubtedly the biggest match that could be made today in the UFC and may even go down as the biggest marquee match-up of all time. It brings back memories of Roy Jones Jr. vs. James Toney from nearly twenty years ago in terms of the level of talent and expectations Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier will bring.
Strengths: Height, incredible reach, athleticism, speed. Great footwork and coordination. Excellent wrestling skills and takedowns. Unorthodox striking, good hands and varied kicks, versatile elbows. Solid chin. Excellent takedown defense. Submissions. Ability to adjust to opponent's styles.
Weaknesses: Lacks one-hit power. Could be outboxed. Unproven on his back, has shown some vulnerability to submissions inside opponent's guard.
Keys to victory: Speed. Use height and reach and utilize the entire Octagon. Use jab and front kicks to keep Cormier at bay. Get off first, keep Cormier guessing and make him hesitate. Deny the clinch. Frustrate Cormier into making a mistake and then explode with unexpected power. Elbows during the clinch. Surprise Cormier with a takedown. Do not get overzealous. Keep fight standing for as long as possible.
Strengths: Elite wrestling. Clinch control, dirty boxing. Great takedown ability. Excellent takedown defense. Good hand speed, respectable punching power. Solid boxing skills, quick reflexes. Ground control and submissions. Trains and spars regularly with Cain Velasquez.
Weaknesses: 5'10". Limited kicking ability. Could be flat-footed at times and get a little lackadaisical. Unproven on his back.
Keys to victory: Must close the gap to get the clinch without getting reckless. Apply intelligent pressure. Throw leg kicks to disrupt Jones's rhythm. Stay out of range and use in and out movement. Wait for Jones to commit, then counter with a takedown or a clinch. Make Jones come forward. Watch out for elbows and be prepared for anything, but don't get mesmerized. Do not underestimate Jones's BJJ if the fight goes to the ground. Look to control Jones in the clinch and grind out a win.
This is a classic case of the "unstoppable force" meeting the "immovable object," and something's got to give. Jones can make this easy if he stays mobile and keeps his distance. If Cormier starts getting desperate Jones can exploit his mistakes.
Cormier must not chase Jones around but at the same time not allow him to win rounds by default. Cormier must constantly press and not let Jones get comfortable.
It's no secret that Cormier's biggest and perhaps only advantage is in the clinch, but Jones could prove to be his match or better, as Jones is an expert at utilizing his height and enormous wingspan to maximize leverage. Cormier's best chance would be to maul and smother Jones but it's difficult to picture him trapping the slippery champion against the fence for any significant length of time.
On the other hand, Jones can win in so many ways. He could dance for five rounds and pick Cormier apart from long range or he can wear him down with elbows and a variety of strikes at close quarters. Also, a sudden knockout isn't out of the question with Jones's unconventional and unpredictable striking.
The smart money is definitely on Jones, but we cannot underestimate Cormier's skills, strength and heart. Despite the height disadvantage, Cormier is still a naturally bigger man than most of Jones's previous foes. Cormier is used to manhandling heavyweights and has a lot of experience rolling with Cain Velasquez.
Also, we cannot rule out Cormier's superb boxing. By itself it may not be enough but combined with his wrestling he could very well give Jones all that he could handle and then some.
Cormier is mentally tough and if there is any fighter today capable of dominating Jones, it would be Cormier. We will find out on September 27.