UFC 166: Is Daniel Cormier a Legitimate Threat to Jon Jones?

James MacDonaldFeatured ColumnistOctober 20, 2013

Oct 19, 2013; Houston, TX, USA; Daniel Cormier (red gloves) fights against Roy Nelson (blue gloves) in their heavyweight bout during UFC 166 at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Richardson-USA TODAY Sports
Andrew Richardson-USA TODAY Spor

It seems like only last week we were lamenting the chronic lack of depth in the UFC’s light heavyweight division.

Once the promotion’s marquee weight class, Jon Jones’ recent dominance over his light heavyweight peers had seemingly rendered the division void of any intrigue.

But over the past few weeks, Alexander Gustafsson and Daniel Cormier have apparently emerged as legitimate threats to Jon Jones’ crown.

Granted, the emergence of two contenders to the 205-pound throne hardly warrants breaking out the party hats, but the division has been so starved of a compelling supporting cast that I’ll take what little I can get.

The threat posed by Alexander Gustafsson is self-evident at this point. In a star-making performance, the Swede took the champion to the brink at UFC 165.

But what about Daniel Cormier, whose next bout seems destined to be at 205 pounds?

We know what the former Olympian is capable of, but should we reserve judgement until we see how he deals with such a significant weight cut?

Cormier’s struggles with the scale at the 2008 Beijing Olympics have been well-documented, so it’s not unreasonable to question whether the drop to 205 pounds will have a deleterious effect on his performance inside the cage.

The suggested headline for this piece included an amusing typo:

“Is Daniel Cormier a Legitimate Treat to Jon Jones?”

I looked at this Freudian slip of a headline and questioned whether my long-suffering editor’s typo is a more suitable headline than my own.

OK, so I’m stretching the truth a little. The inclusion of the erroneous headline was a post-hoc decision, since I felt I could get a little mileage out of the amusing slip.

My point stands, though.

Many fans think Cormier possesses the requisite tools to unseat Jones, but very few column inches have been dedicated to how the pair match up physically.

With the former Strikeforce Grand Prix champion coming down from heavyweight, the assumption seems to be that size and weight won’t be a major factor in the outcome of any eventual fight.

In reality, Cormier fights at heavyweight because he carries around a significant amount of extra body fat. His frame is more naturally suited to the light heavyweight division.

Additionally, the discrepancy in both size and reach appears almost insurmountable on paper, with Jones enjoying a five-inch height advantage and an astonishing reach advantage of almost a foot.

While Cormier coped masterfully with a somewhat similar handicap when he faced Josh Barnett, the 34-year-old has never dealt with anyone who excels at capitalising on his physical advantages in the quite the same way as Jones.

Of course, height and reach would be less of an issue if Cormier employed a similar style to his friend and AKA teammate Cain Velasquez, who is near-peerless at closing the distance and wearing down opponents against the cage.

The former Olympian is instead more content to remain primarily on the outside, popping in and out of range to deliver his surprisingly versatile attacks—his level changes have also turned into a thing of beauty.

Though capable of grinding opponents up against the cage, it’s hard to imagine Cormier being able to consistently close the distance and control the much-larger Jones.

Based on amateur credentials alone, Cormier would appear to hold the wrestling advantage. But as I am often at pains to point out, amateur wrestling credentials don’t necessarily guarantee success inside the cage.

That being said, if there is one particular area of intrigue in this fight, it will be whether the former Oklahoma state standout can bring his amateur wrestling experience to bear and take Jones to the mat.

Strain as I might, I can’t imagine this scenario actually playing out, nor any scenario that ends with Cormier’s hand being raised.

However, I’ve been wrong many times before. For the sake of the light heavyweight division’s health, this is one of those rare occasions when I would gleefully eat my own words.