Let’s try this one more time, shall we?
On Saturday, bitter rivals Daniel Cormier and Jon Jones will clash for a second time in the light heavyweight championship main event of UFC 214 in Anaheim, Calif. Given their lengthy history, it's hard to believe they've only butted heads in the Octagon once before.
In that first meeting at UFC 182 two years ago, it was Jones who was in the middle of a historic title run, having defended it seven consecutive times before “DC” stepped up to the plate. Jones dispatched him via five-round unanimous decision and nobody could have predicted that it would be the last time he would leave the Octagon with the undisputed crown on his head.
The circumstances surrounding Jones' downfall have been regurgitated ad nauseam.
He was stripped of the belt after fleeing the scene of a hit-and-run. He lost an interim belt and a chance to regain his championship from Cormier (who was the beneficiary of Jones being forced to vacate) when he was flagged for a USADA violation three days before UFC 200. He lost a year of his career to that ban.
Before things started to go wrong for Jones, he had put together one of the most impressive resumes in MMA history, to the point that you could argue he was already the best the sport had ever seen.
From that perspective, it would seem that he has nothing left to prove, but there couldn't be more on the line for both fighters.
Jones wants his life back. He wants to clear up any doubt that Cormier is just a paper champion, a footnote in a reign that never truly ended.
Cormier wants to avenge his lone career loss and then set up a third fight to settle once and for all who the better man is. He wants to show that the light heavyweight torch isn't being passed on Saturday; rather, that he's been carrying it for the past two years.
They’ve said and done everything they can to slight each other’s reputations outside of the Octagon. It will be a relief for everyone to see them finally get another 25 minutes inside of it.
Now or never for Maia
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Demian Maia faces three challenges on Saturday.
First and foremost is welterweight champion Tyron Woodley. While "The Chosen One" takes a lot of flak for occasionally playing the victim, he's taken care of business when fight night rolls around and he enters his third defense as a healthy 2-1 favorite on most betting sites.
Second is Father Time, the only fighter to ever go undefeated. Maia turns 40 in November, an age where most athletes in any sport are past their prime, much less one where even the slightest decline in performance can have a severely deleterious effect on one's health.
Third is the perception that a fighter can no longer excel if they rely solely on one discipline. While Maia has rounded out his game over the years, his success has primarily come from how he's seamlessly integrated his Brazilian jiu-jitsu mastery into MMA. If he can neutralize Woodley, a power-puncher with explosive athleticism, it will evoke memories of his idol Royce Gracie humbling a horde of more physically imposing fighters in the UFC's early days.
Maia might never get another shot at a UFC belt, so if he can’t upset Woodley, this could be more of a fond farewell to the elder statesman than a coronation.
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As fun as it will be for longtime bantamweight standout Tonya Evinger to finally make the walk to the Octagon, make no mistake about it: The UFC 214 women’s featherweight title fight is all about Cris Cyborg.
The 32-year-old Brazilian is widely recognized as the undisputed queen at 145 pounds, having previously captured titles in the Strikeforce and Invicta FC promotions. When the UFC decided it would implement a women’s featherweight division earlier this year, the news fell flat when it was revealed that Cyborg would not be involved in the inaugural championship bout.
Part of that was Cyborg’s fault for being on provisional suspension as the result of a USADA violation, but that penalty was lifted when she was granted a retroactive therapeutic use exemption for the substance in question.
The last hurdle in her way was titleholder Germaine de Randamie not wanting to fight her, a situation that was rectified when the UFC decided to simply strip De Randamie and set up a title fight for Cyborg.
With Evinger stepping in for Megan Anderson, the stage is set for Cyborg to capture UFC gold, the one major accolade that’s eluded her. It’s been a long, strange trip that may end with Dana White having a legitimate star on his hands, whether he realizes it or not.
Brawl for all
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Robbie Lawler fights for the first time since losing the welterweight championship to Woodley and he couldn’t have asked for a more suitable dance partner.
The violent striking styles of Lawler and Donald Cerrone have left fans salivating for a match between the two ever since Cerrone decided to move up to 170 pounds last February. Neither man knows any direction but forward, and between them they have 28 knockout wins and dozens of memorable standup wars.
For fans of sheer, unadulterated violence, Lawler-Cerrone could be the real main event.
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