It was an incredible comeback by probably the greatest fighter of all times that ever stepped on the Octagon. And it was an emotional evening at Anaheim, California as the bitter rivalry between the bitterest of rivals in the history of the UFC – the one of Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier – met a beautiful ending as the newly hailed Light Heavyweight champion Jones walked up to DC after the post fight interview and kissed him on the head.
Cormier was in tears and did not even notice Jones. In the interview also, the now two-time champion Jones put all the animosity aside and called his long-time nemesis a “model champion and great human being.”
It was a much-anticipated rematch between two of perhaps the greatest Light Heavyweight fighters in history, after both Jones and Cormier went deep into a heated personal rivalry since they last fought for the title more than two years ago. Jones outpointed Cormier in a unanimous decision victory on January 3, 2015 when the latter challenged the former for the Light Heavyweight belt. That fight was said to be the most difficult for Jones, who remains the youngest to win the title in the history of the UFC, when he took the belt from Mauricio Rua in 2011 at the age of 23.
Since winning the belt, he hasn’t lost it to any challengers including DC. But Jones got stripped off the belt following a hit-and-run incident in 2015, followed by drug-related problems. This paved the way for Cormier to win the belt after submitting top contender Anthony Johnson in a title-match for the vacant Light Heavyweight championship. Since winning the strap, Cormier had always called on Jones to make a comeback so he (Cormier) could avenge the only defeat in his record. The bad blood grew more and more even after the original rematch scheduled on UFC 200 last year was cancelled as a result of Jones’ failure to pass a drug test.
The rematch finally happened at UFC 214 in Anaheim. Jones and then strap-holder Cormier battled through two rounds of exciting action with both fighters gamely exchanging strikes. Jones was the more aggressive striker, landing a barrage of kicks, elbows and punches. But DC was more methodical with his boxing, connecting with some good and clean punches to the head. Round 1 was close but Jones probably won it because of more strikes. But Round 2 appeared to belong to Cormier as the defending titlist blasted the former champion with impactful strikes. Neither fighter was successful with his takedown attempts.
But in Round 3, after some thrilling exchanges between the two, Jones connected with a hard head kick that wobbled DC. Jones chased Cormier with more strikes until another kick to the body floored the champion. Jones followed up with devastating elbows and punches to the head until referee John McCarthy was forced to stop the fight.
The fallen champ wept after realizing he lost his belt to his archenemy. But the new champion was humble in victory and even initiated the peace process with Cormier, who he repeatedly said to hate with a passion prior to the fight.
Interestingly, Jones called out former UFC Heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar before stepping out of the cage. Jones is now 23-1 in his young MMA career to retake his position as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world today. His only loss was by disqualification after an illegal kick against Matt Hamill in 2009. Cormier fell to 19-2, with both losses at the hands of Jones.
Jones put the kibosh on the storied rivalry and gained a fresh start in the division that he has dominated for years, which included eight successful title defenses. But with not so many worthy challengers in the division, a third collision between Jones and DC is not at all improbable. No. 2 Alexander Gustafsson could be the logical next challenger as the outstanding striker from Sweden came close to defeating Jones in 2013 but lost via decision. Another probable challenger is No. 5 contender Volkan Oezdemir, who knocked out No. 3-ranked Jimi Manuwa after 22 seconds of the opening round to open the main card of UFC 214.
In the other featured bouts, Welterweight champion Tyrone Woodley fended off multiple takedown attempts by Demian Maia and clearly won the stand-up battle to retain his belt, while Cris Cyborg lived up to the hype by imposing her will on former Invicta FC women’s bantamweight champion Tonya Evinger to covet the UFC women’s featherweight title. Cyborg, whose real name is Cristiane Justino, dominated Evinger with her aggressive style and brutal strikes until the fight was stopped in Round 3.
Even before Ronda Rousey took women’s MMA by storm, Cyborg has been a most dominant fighter in other promotions and was considered the most feared female fighter in the world. Except for Evinger, nobody wanted to face Cyborg inside the octagon that even UFC women’s featherweight belt holder Germaine de Randamie, a world kickboxing champion, relinquished the title just to avoid a clash with Cyborg. It’s interesting now to see who will have the guts to challenge the champion for the featherweight strap.