The Complete Guide to UFC 210: Cormier vs. Johnson 2
The UFC heads to Buffalo, New York, for the first time in more than 20 years with a solid offering on pay-per-view Saturday.
In the main event, light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier defends his light heavyweight belt for the second time against Anthony Johnson in a rematch of their excellent fight from 2015. Until Jon Jones returns, this is the best fight that can be made at 205 pounds. The winner will be a worthy champion.
The co-main event is likewise excellent. Former middleweight champion Chris Weidman attempts to get back on track against the surging Gegard Mousasi, who has won four in a row and six of his last seven. In a wide-open middleweight division with a logjam at the top, the winner of this bout will find himself in the mix for the next title shot after Michael Bisping and Georges St-Pierre finally meet in the Octagon.
The rest of the card drops off in terms of name value, but not the quality of the matchups. Keep an eye on the pay-per-view opener between Will Brooks and Charles Oliveira in particular, which should be a barnburner.
On the preliminary card, talented prospects reign supreme. The welterweight bout between Sean Strickland and Kamaru Usman will determine a new member of the elite in a division that badly needs some new blood at the top. Shane Burgos, Gregor Gillespie and Magomed Bibulatov all have a chance to make statement wins.
Let's take a look at each matchup.
The Fight Pass Prelims
Jenel Lausa (7-2; 1-0 UFC) vs. Magomed Bibulatov (13-0; 0-0 UFC)
The Philippines' Lausa welcomes Russia's Bibulatov to the UFC in a crackling opening bout on Fight Pass. Chechnya's Bibulatov is a big-time prospect with lots of experience against quality regional fighters, mostly in Russia, including a win over UFC veteran Taylor Lapilus. Lausa debuted in the UFC with a decision win over Yao Zhikui last November.
Lausa has experience as a professional boxer, and his crisp, powerful hands and tight footwork form the basis of his game. He throws with real pop and sound technique and has enough takedown defense to stay standing.
Bibulatov is an incredible athlete with great speed, power and strength. He puts together slick combinations of punches and kicks on the feet and mixes in wild spinning kicks for good measure. If that weren't enough, he's also a strong wrestler and has a nasty top game.
Prediction: Lausa is a clean striker with the chops to hurt Bibulatov on the feet, but the difference here should be the Russian's other skills. Bibulatov wins a decision.
Katlyn Chookagian (8-1; 1-1 UFC) vs. Irene Aldana (7-3; 0-1 UFC)
Talented bantamweights meet in a fight that both women need to win to stay in the UFC. Chookagian won her debut but fell to Liz Carmouche in her last outing, while Aldana, an Invicta veteran, dropped a firefight against Leslie Smith.
Chookagian isn't a great athlete, but she moves well at range as she tosses out a high volume of punch/kick combinations. She's strong in the clinch and a solid grappler. Aldana is big, strong and fast, packing serious power in her crisp hands. She has a tendency to get wild, though, and to get drawn into a brawl.
Prediction: If Aldana can stay standing, she has a real athletic advantage and likely one in striking skill and power. She wins a decision.
Josh Emmett (11-0; 2-0 UFC) vs. Desmond Green (18-5; 0-0 UFC)
Emmett, a Team Alpha Male fighter, takes on former Bellator tournament finalist Green in an excellent lightweight scrap. Emmett has won his first two in the UFC, taking out Jon Tuck and Scott Holtzman, while Green has an extensive resume in Bellator and Titan FC.
Green, a southpaw, has evolved into a well-rounded fighter. He throws sharp combinations on the feet, but the heart of his game is still his repertoire of takedowns and top control. Emmett is a powerful athlete who can do a bit of everything, slinging hard punching combinations and working in potent takedowns.
Prediction: This is a close fight, but Emmett's power should be the difference. He wins a decision.
Gregor Gillespie (8-0; 1-0 UFC) vs. Andrew Holbrook (12-1; 2-1 UFC)
Talented prospect Gillespie, a national champion wrestler at the Division I level, takes on Indiana's Holbrook in the Fight Pass headliner. Gillespie debuted in the UFC with a gutsy decision win over Glaico Franca, while Holbrook has sandwiched a pair of close decision wins around a knockout loss in his three UFC outings.
Despite his deep wrestling background, Gillespie isn't a one-dimensional fighter; he throws a nice jab on the feet and has a great sense of distance and timing. Takedowns are the heart of his game, though, and he's a sharp grappler as well. Holbrook can box a bit on the feet but prefers to hit takedowns and get into scrambles on the mat, where he has a nice front headlock and a nose for the choke.
Prediction: Holbrook is a genuinely bad defensive wrestler and that will be his undoing here. Gillespie takes a wide decision.
The Fox Sports 1 Prelims
Patrick Cummins (8-4; 4-4 UFC) vs. Jan Blachowicz (19-6; 2-3 UFC)
Mid-tier light heavyweights clash in a must-win fight for both men. Cummins has lost two in a row, both by knockout, to Glover Teixeira and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira. Blachowicz has lost three of his last four, with only a win over Igor Pokrajac pointing in his direction. The loser will likely be cut.
Cummins is mostly a wrestler—and a good one. He can strike a bit and does a great job of covering his clinch entries and level changes with punches. On the mat he's a stifling control artist. Blachowicz is a striker by trade with a vicious kicking game and power in his hands. He's a bad defensive wrestler, though, and isn't much of a grappler either.
Prediction: Unless Cummins runs into a big shot, which is a possibility, he should control Blachowicz on the mat for a decision.
Charles Rosa (11-2; 2-2 UFC) vs. Shane Burgos (8-0; 1-0 UFC)
New York's Burgos draws Rosa in a fun featherweight fight. Burgos debuted with a decision win over Tiago Trator in December, while Rosa has alternated wins and losses in his four UFC outings.
Burgos is huge for the division at a thick 5'11". He prefers an aggressive counterpunching game, stalking his opponent and looking to use his pressure to draw out a response he can exploit. He's a good defensive wrestler as well. Rosa is an offensively focused fighter who works at pace on the feet, constantly goes for takedowns and can finish on the mat, but he's a mess defensively everywhere.
Prediction: If Burgos can keep it standing, he's the far more powerful and technically sound striker. He finds a knockout shot in the second round.
Kamaru Usman (9-1; 4-0 UFC) vs. Sean Strickland (18-1; 5-1 UFC)
Outside of the top two fights, this might be the best matchup on the card. The Ultimate Fighter 21 winner Usman draws fellow rising prospect Strickland in an awesome welterweight fight that will determine which fighter enters the elite of an aging division that desperately needs some new blood.
Usman is a ridiculous athlete with incredible strength. The former wrestler strikes well, putting together smooth punch/kick combinations from both stances, but he still does his best work when he gets his hands on his opponent. No level of takedown defense can stop his clinch grinding and takedown chains against the fence, and he's stifling on the mat as well.
Strickland is tall for the division at 6'1" and uses his height well with a sharp, tricky jab and nice circular footwork and movement. He packs snapping power in his right hand when he sits down and works at an excellent pace. He's a competent but not outstanding wrestler, but his work from the top might be his best skill set, with a heavy base, smooth passes and a devastating combination of strikes and submissions.
Prediction: If Strickland can't keep Usman at arm's length, he's going to have a long night, and that seems like the most likely outcome here. Usman wins a competitive, grinding decision.
Myles Jury (15-2; 6-2 UFC) vs. Mike De La Torre (14-6, 1 NC; 2-3, 1 NC UFC)
Jury started his career strong, winning his first 15 fights, but has come up short in his last two with losses to Donald Cerrone and Charles Oliveira. He gets a chance at a rebound here against De La Torre, who will likely be cut with a loss after losing two of his last three.
De La Torre is a wild and entertaining fighter. He's a sharp striker who puts together nice combinations with real power on the feet, and he's a solid defensive wrestler as well. Jury can do everything well, melding a potent striking arsenal with powerful takedowns and a nasty submission game on the mat.
Prediction: Jury lands big shots on the feet before securing a takedown and finding a submission in the first round.
Will Brooks vs. Charles Oliveira
Will Brooks (19-2; 1-1 UFC) vs. Charles Oliveira (21-7, 1 NC; 9-7, 1 NC UFC)
Former Bellator lightweight champion Brooks looks to get back on track against longtime UFC veteran Oliveira.
The Brazilian Oliveira, who's still just 27 despite nearly seven years in the UFC, has been on a rough run of late. He has dropped two in a row and three of his last four, albeit all to top competition in the form of Ricardo Lamas, Anthony Pettis and Max Holloway. Brooks has split two bouts since entering the UFC, winning a tight decision over Ross Pearson and then falling to Alex Oliveira (no relation to Charles) after injuring a rib.
Brooks is a calm, athletically gifted fighter with a deep technical game in every phase. He's more than competent on the feet, throwing a steady diet of round kicks from both stances and doing his best work with shifting combinations as he moves forward. His counters are likewise excellent and his stepping knees are nasty.
The clinch is probably the best part of Brooks' game. His entries are diverse and he does a fantastic job of combining them with his striking game, countering his opponent's forward movement with a tie-up or using his strikes to distract the opponent before grabbing hold. Unlike many clinch fighters, Brooks works in combination, delivering knees, elbows and punches in logical sequences.
Wrestling is a real strength for Brooks. He combines his strikes in the clinch with trips and puts together outstanding chains of singles, doubles, throws and trips. His own takedown defense is outstanding. On top, Brooks is a stifling control artist and can deliver serious power in his ground strikes. He's not much of a submission threat, though.
Oliveira is a dangerous, inconsistent and entertaining fighter. He's aggressive and gets after his opponent from the opening bell, pushing forward behind a steady diet of kicks and straight punches as he works his way to close range. He's not especially powerful, but he pushes a great pace and works all three levels nicely.
The Brazilian is a handful in the clinch. His long frame (5'10" with long arms) gives him great leverage, and he works sharp knees and elbows in combination with slick trips and throws. He's not especially strong, though, and it's an open question whether he'll be able to compete with big lightweights in that phase.
Grappling is the real strength of Oliveira's game. He can work from his back with triangles and armbars and he's nasty on top, where he can pass quickly and combine submissions with ground strikes, but transitions are where he really shines. In the scrambles, Oliveira can find his way to a choke or a back-take in no time at all, and once there, his opponent is in deep trouble.
There are some real problems with Oliveira's game, though. He has bad cardio, and more importantly, he tends to fade and crumble if the fight doesn't seem to be going his way.
Brooks -255 (bet $255 to win $100), Oliveira +215 (bet $100 to win $215)
Oliveira is dangerous and could catch Brooks at any time, but the balance of the matchup favors the American. Brooks has great cardio and gets stronger as the fight goes on, while Oliveira tends to fade. Brooks is bigger, stronger, more athletic and better in the clinch, he is a good enough grappler not to get caught by one of Oliveira's chokes.
Brooks weathers the early storm and finishes Oliveira with strikes in the third.
Thiago Alves vs. Patrick Cote
Thiago Alves (21-11; 13-8 UFC) vs. Patrick Cote (23-10; 10-10 UFC)
Two aging veterans badly in need of a victory clash in what promises to be a fun and violent fight. Brazil's Alves has lost two in a row, falling by doctor stoppage to Carlos Condit and then by decision to Jim Miller in an ill-advised attempt to drop to lightweight. Cote had a three-fight winning streak snapped by the surging Donald Cerrone last June.
The 33-year-old Alves has looked a bit shopworn in his last two outings, and that terrible attempt to cut to 155 certainly didn't help. Once one of the very best fighters in the welterweight division, his skill and talent are still obvious, but he doesn't have the same athletic gifts he used to possess.
Striking is Alves' wheelhouse. He works behind a nice jab and throws a gorgeous counter left hook, all interspersed with crushing low kicks. Pace is a strong suit, and he packs real power in his shots. In the distant past, Alves had some of the best takedown defense in the sport, but it was dependent on his athleticism and strength, which have faded somewhat over the years.
Cote is older than Alves (a weathered 37) but has made up what he's lost athletically in increased craft. He remains exceptionally durable and is still surprisingly quick when he explodes. His power, always his trademark, is still present as well.
There's nothing especially flashy about his striking arsenal, which focuses on his potent right hand and has added more jabs and kicks as the years have gone on. He's a sharper counterpuncher than ever before, though, and is happy to exchange in the pocket, where his toughness and power make him a real threat.
The rest of Cote's game is serviceable. He's a mediocre defensive wrestler but makes up for it with an active guard that focuses on creating scrambles, and he can hit an occasional takedown of his own when the mood strikes. On top, he passes nicely and throws hard ground strikes.
Cote -155, Alves +135
This should be fun. Both fighters are aging but still have a bit left in the tank, and the stylistic matchup between the two is compelling. Alves is likely the sharper technician, but Cote hits harder and is willing and able to hang in and counter. The pick is Cote by decision in a back-and-forth brawl.
Cynthia Calvillo vs. Pearl Gonzalez
Cynthia Calvillo (4-0; 1-0 UFC) vs. Pearl Gonzalez (6-1; 0-0 UFC)
Talented strawweights meet in a fun bout. Calvillo debuted just last month with an impressive victory over Amanda Cooper, choking her out in the first round. Gonzalez has compiled a decent record on the regional scene in the Midwest and holds a notable win over UFC strawweight Cortney Casey, whom Gonzalez defeated back in 2013.
Calvillo, who trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California, is a legitimate talent. While striking is the weakest part of her arsenal, she slings a nice jab and puts together crisp punch/kick combinations on the feet, working head, body and legs together in sequence.
Wrestling and grappling are Calvillo's wheelhouse. She's an explosive takedown artist and a fantastic scrambler with a knack for finding submissions and back-takes in transition.
Gonzalez is likewise a talented prospect. She has a striking background and has competed in Golden Gloves tournaments, which shows in her smooth punching combinations, nice footwork and a steady jab. Her wrestling game hasn't been tested much, but she's an aggressive grappler with a slick armbar that she can secure very quickly.
Calvillo -270, Gonzalez +230
This will be a fun fight. Gonzalez should have a slight striking advantage and Calvillo should be the better wrestler and more well-rounded grappler, which gives each fighter a legitimate path to victory. Calvillo could get chewed up on the feet if it stays there, but the likely outcome involves her dragging Gonzalez to the floor and controlling her for a fun, back-and-forth decision win.
Chris Weidman vs. Gegard Mousasi
Co-Main Event: Middleweights
Chris Weidman (13-2; 9-2 UFC) vs. Gegard Mousasi (41-6-2; 8-3 UFC)
Former middleweight champion Weidman tries to snap a two-fight losing streak against surging veteran Mousasi in an awesome fight at 185 pounds.
Weidman won the first 13 fights of his career, including a pair over all-time great Anderson Silva, but dropped his title to Luke Rockhold at UFC 194 and then lost his follow-up to Yoel Romero last November. Both came by knockout.
Mousasi has won six of his last seven, the only blemish a freak spinning kick and jumping knee knockout at the hands of Uriah Hall in September 2015. Since that loss, Mousasi has won four in a row. He avenged that loss to Hall in dominant fashion in November, capping a streak that includes three finishes, including one over Vitor Belfort.
Weidman desperately needs a win here to stay relevant at the top of the division he once ruled. The 31-year-old Mousasi isn't getting any younger after what will be the 50th fight of his career, and now is the time to make his move to the top.
The former champion is dangerous and well-rounded. He's a heavy-footed fighter who appears a bit slow and plodding at first glance, but appearances disguise a quick athlete capable of covering ground quickly when he explodes.
Aggression and intelligent pressure have traditionally been the hallmarks of Weidman's game, though whether that's still the case now is less clear.
He presses forward behind a crisp jab and a steady diet of round kicks, especially to the body, that cut off the opponent's escape angles and force him back toward the fence. Heavy single power punches and short combinations with fight-ending pop make Weidman a legitimate threat on the feet. Herding his opponent into a looping shot, whether a kick or a hook, is a specialty. This is an effective and dangerous approach.
Striking is the weakest part of Weidman's game, though. He's uncomfortable doing anything other than moving forward, and he offers nothing if his opponent pressures him back: no counters, no escape angles, just retreating in straight lines. He's not great defensively, either.
Working and the clinch and wrestling are stronger suits. Weidman is beastly strong when he gets his hands on his opponent and excels at working him against the cage, landing knees and short punches in the clinch and chaining takedowns. The snatch single-leg takedown is Weidman's go-to move in open space, particularly when he can freeze his opponent with punches first.
Grappling is the best piece of Weidman's game. He's a monster from top position, melding thunderous ground strikes with stifling control, gorgeous passes and a nose for the submission. His front headlock is nasty and effective, featuring a variety of chokes.
Mousasi is a slick finesse fighter with an enormous well of skill in every phase. There's nothing fancy about his game, just meat-and-potatoes techniques executed with great acumen. His footwork is razor-sharp and efficient.
On the feet, his preferred phase, Mousasi works behind a punishing and consistent jab. It serves a variety of purposes, measuring the distance in precise increments, keeping his opponent at bay, setting a rhythm and simply scoring. Cracking low kicks form the other standard part of this arsenal. When the time is right, Mousasi utilizes a blazing, accurate straight right hand or a sharp left hook.
For years Mousasi was criticized as a lackadaisical fighter who was content to score and win rounds, but he has turned up the aggression in his last few fights, pushing his opponent toward the fence and unloading combinations much more often. The Dutchman has never looked better or more dangerous.
While he's outstanding on the feet, Mousasi might be an even better pure grappler. He passes quickly and smoothly on top and has an outstanding move to the back. Ground strikes and submissions flow together into one seamless package. He's aggressive from his back and isn't afraid to throw up triangles and armbars, though he's perhaps a bit too confident in his guard.
Wrestling and clinch work are the least imposing parts of Mousasi's game, though. He's not particularly physical and is especially vulnerable when pushed against the fence, where his speed, athleticism and footwork can't come into play. With his back to the cage, Mousasi's takedown defense falls apart and he's vulnerable to being controlled for long periods.
Mousasi -120, Weidman +100
This is a close fight that depends on who does a better job of imposing an aggressive game plan. Mousasi is the more versatile fighter and a far better striker; if he can keep it standing, with him pressing forward, he'll carve up Weidman. If Weidman can press forward and get Mousasi against the fence, though, it's the American's fight to lose.
The latter scenario seems marginally more likely. In a back-and-forth fight, Weidman takes a close decision.
Daniel Cormier vs. Anthony Johnson 2
Light Heavyweight Championship
Daniel Cormier (18-1; 7-1 UFC) vs. Anthony Johnson (22-5; 13-5 UFC)
Champion Cormier and challenger Johnson meet for the second time nearly two years after their first clash, when Cormier ate some enormous shots before wearing Johnson down and finishing with a choke.
Cormier has defended his belt only once, defeating Alexander Gustafsson in October 2015. He also won what amounted to an exhibition match with Anderson Silva when Jon Jones popped for performance-enhancing drugs just before their scheduled rematch at UFC 200 last summer.
Johnson has been a terrifying wrecking ball since that loss to Cormier, knocking out each of his three opponents inside six minutes. Only Jimi Manuwa survived to the second round, while his last opponent, Glover Teixeira, went down in just 13 seconds.
Until Jones finds his way back to the top of the division, this is the best fight that can be made, and the winner will be a worthy champion.
Cormier has focused more and more on forward movement and pressure since dropping down to 205 pounds. This makes perfect sense: He can no longer count on being the quicker fighter, but his squat frame, raw strength and outstanding wrestling game make him more suited to being an inside bruiser than a short stick-and-move striker.
Despite his lack of height—he's generously listed at 5'11"—Cormier fights tall at range. He throws a steady diet of front and round kicks, and does an exceptional job of covering his forward movement with a sharp jab. When he gets into the pocket, he fires off hard combinations of power punches.
Cormier doesn't mind exchanging punches and is an effective, if not textbook, defensive fighter. Still, his constant pressure and lack of height means he spends a lot of time in range to be hit, even if it's not as easy as it looks to hit him cleanly.
While he's a steady, high-output striker who can win fights in that phase, Cormier's pressure game is designed to bring him into close range. Once he's in tight, Cormier can either change levels and shoot for takedowns or, more likely, drive into the clinch.
The former Olympian is one of the best wrestlers in MMA. He's a punishing dirty boxer who excels at controlling with collar ties or underhooks and blasting away with his free hand. Alternatively, he can shove his opponent into the fence and work a quick go-behind that opens up big slams and his trademark single-leg lift. Everything he does is crisp and technical.
This is a grinding approach that can eat up minutes at a time and deliver some serious damage. In combination with Cormier's stifling ground game, opponents drain their gas tanks quickly trying to escape.
On the mat, Cormier generally prefers a loose style of control that allows his opponent to move and burn energy. His wrestling rides are some of the best in the sport, and he combines them with more traditional top control that features brutal punches and elbows. The occasional submission attempt adds some variety.
Johnson is a puncher, easily the most dangerous in the division and perhaps in the UFC as a whole. He's aggressive by nature and loves to stalk his opponent, using a probing jab, sharp footwork and heavy round kicks to force his opponent backward and cut off his escape angles.
At his best, Johnson is an exceptional counterpuncher. His speed, timing, accuracy and triggers are all exceptional, and he's great at picking the right strike to work around, under or through his opponent's guard. He moves his head, blocks or parries and immediately has the right shot ready to go in response. Any shot he lands has the power to finish the fight.
At his worst, though, Johnson lets his aggressiveness get the best of him, and he wings wild hooks and overhands in the pocket with no real plan or sense of the distance between him and his opponent.
The difference between those two versions of Johnson is patience and control. When he trusts his pressure and lets that draw his opponent into something ill-advised, whether a strike he can counter or a takedown from too far away, Johnson is a monster; when he tries to force it or feels like he's losing the initiative, Johnson cracks mentally and tends to tire himself out quickly.
Wrestling is a strong secondary skill set for Johnson. He's punishing in the clinch and throws brutal hooks and uppercuts from the single-collar tie, though he rarely looks to spend much time there, and he shoots a lovely, explosive double-leg takedown. Skilled takedown defense generally keeps him standing.
Johnson -125, Cormier +105
This is a razor-thin fight and both Cormier and Johnson have definite paths to victory. For Comier, that path revolves around weathering the early storm, wearing Johnson down and either finishing late or winning a decision. For Johnson, he needs to stay measured and keep Cormier at distance while punishing the champion with counters when he tries to jab his way inside.
Both fighters have problems to worry about, too. Johnson's tendency to panic when things aren't going his way, with the accompanying habit of going hog-wild trying to finish, is terrible in the face of a tough, tireless fighter like Cormier. Conversely, Cormier is always there to be hit and has been knocked down twice in his last three fights.
Johnson has improved since their first fight, but so has Cormier. The basic outlines of the matchup haven't changed, and with that in mind, the pick is Cormier by fourth-round knockout as the battered, bruised champion rains down shots on an exhausted Johnson for the finish.
Betting odds courtesy of OddsShark and current on Thursday, April 6.
Patrick Wyman is the Senior MMA Analyst for Bleacher Report and the co-host of the Heavy Hands Podcast, your source for the finer points of face-punching. For the history enthusiasts out there, he also hosts The Fall of Rome Podcast on the end of the Roman Empire. He can be found on Twitter and on Facebook.