Jon Jones' Secret Weapon

By on January 1, 2015

62,321 reads

35Icon_comment

Dc6f6091a0448a288d63e30a777c2aec_crop_north
AP Images

Brandon Gibson says the first time he studied film on Daniel Cormier, he was in a truck stop outside Amarillo, Texas.

It was mid-summer, and Gibson was on his way home from visiting family in Ohio. He was nearing the end of the marathon drive back to Albuquerque when UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones called with breaking news. Top contender Alexander Gustafsson was out of their UFC 178 bout with a knee injury. Now, Jones would fight Cormier instead.

Gibson was somewhere out on I-40 when he found out all the work they’d put in preparing to rematch the lanky, 6-foot-5 kickboxer would go to waste. The way he tells the story—and certainly he’s paraphrasing—his response to learning Gustafsson would be replaced by the stocky, undefeated former Olympic wrestler was two words.

“All right.”

If anything, maybe that’s Gibson in a nutshell—serene exterior, calculated, a little bit zen—but inside, his trainer’s brain was already spinning. The next time he pulled over for gas and discovered the roadside truck stop had Wi-Fi, he slipped out his phone to see what he could see on the new opponent.

The Olympian

By on December 31, 2014

104k reads

91Icon_comment

De78cbbfd3b38004c9a01eb975c73673_crop_north
Photo courtesy Daniel Cormier

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Daniel Cormier slumps in a metal folding chair. He leans his head back, blood pouring from his nose. A cutman shoves Q-tips up his left nostril in an attempt to stop the bleeding.

Moments earlier, Cormier was in a cage at American Kickboxing Academy. After going three rounds with a near 300-pound super heavyweight, Cormier was sparring with a very small middleweight. He was exhausted but mostly frustrated that he couldn't catch his speedy sparring partner.

He went one way, the middleweight went the same way, and the end result was Cormier dripping blood all over the floor.

His nose is not broken, which is a relief. He has traveled great distances to get to this point, and an injury would be heart-wrenching. He came from Lafayette, Louisiana, making stops at Oklahoma State and the United States Olympic team. And now, he's preparing to face Jon Jones for the UFC light heavyweight championship Saturday in Las Vegas at UFC 182.

8ef18f1f7be0204aafe1ddc25e452fb3_crop_north
USA Today

Daniel Cormier has made a lot of smart choices during the extended lead-up to Saturday night's UFC 182 clash against Jon Jones.

You could argue, in fact, that the undefeated former U.S. Olympic wrestling team captain has yet to make a wrong turn during his five-year MMA career. Certainly, Cormier's impressive amateur credentials had him set for success all along, but he's also been savvy and thoughtful enough to cop to a certain amount of cold, hard pragmatism.

He was already 30 years old when he made his MMA debut in 2009 and will be just two-and-a-half months shy of turning 36 when he tangles with Jones on Saturday. Cormier knows full well that the clock is ticking on his athletic prime and that this fight may well represent his last best chance both to win a world title and make a lot of money in the process.

His distaste for all things "Bones" Jones is obviously very real, but we'd be foolish not to acknowledge that these two guys have also put on a masterclass in fight promotion during the last six months or so—they both probably know exactly what they're doing.

A67f2cec0194114cfc6430bd90366102_crop_north
AP Images

Bleacher Report lead mixed martial arts writers Jonathan Snowden and Jeremy Botter have decided to band together—much like The Avengers or the Mega Powers, except better looking and with no tights—and tackle important questions facing the MMA world. Welcome to The Question

First up: Can Daniel Cormier shock the world and end the reign of the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world?

Jonathan: I've been on the Jon Jones bandwagon since it first started taking passengers. To the chagrin of many, I called him the best fighter the sport had ever seen. Not controversial at all today. Groundbreaking in 2011—and he's only gotten better.

Jones is a five-tool fighter. He has the wrestling prowess, sturdy ground game, striking from distance and clinch work to compete with the world's best in each category. Add a legitimate mean streak and an unquenchable will to win and you're left with an athlete seemingly destined to lord over the sport for years to come.

B0372913949f4e0ab12bc5f133302d26_crop_north
USA Today

These are the times we should all hold dear.

Six months from now, if things go south again and 2015 turns into a repeat of this year's drudgery, MMA fans will look back in awe at Jon Jones vs. Daniel Cormier.

The extended lead-up to Saturday night's UFC 182 main event has been pure pleasure, with Jones and Cormier establishing themselves as one of the greatest pairings in our sport's short history.

At this point, their actual fight will merely be the icing on the cake.

5acbca4b4403a0b11af925cebae55eeb_crop_north
USA Today

LAS VEGAS — In the basement of the Ultimate Fighting Championship office on Sahara Avenue is a gym. It is filled to overflowing with weights and mirrors, but there is also a boxing ring, speed bags and other various fight gear.

The gym is ostensibly designed for employee use, but what you'll often find in the gym are fighters who come to town for media engagements and need a place to work out. A select few—the Conor McGregors of the world, for example—are allowed to work out in Lorenzo Fertitta's private gym at the Red Rock casino. The rest are consigned to the basement.

The basement is where I find Myles Jury, a UFC lightweight tasked with the biggest opportunity of his career when he faces the popular Donald Cerrone in the co-main event of UFC 182 this weekend. Jury has just finished an intensive workout. He is bright red, and he is sweating everywhere. He asks if he can have a few minutes to take a shower before our scheduled appointment, and I tell him yes, this is a good idea.

Thirty minutes later, Jury joins me upstairs in a UFC conference room. I tell him that I won't spend very much time asking him about the fight with Cerrone, and he laughs. In the years since I began covering mixed martial arts, I have discovered that it is mostly a terrible idea to ask fighters how their camp is going, or how they plan on beating their upcoming opponent, or how their weight cut is going. They've repeated the answers to these questions so many times that they are automatic. They are not answers. They are reactions. They are instinct.

F9120edb90fc4eac3f2d16c1e9f1573d_crop_north
AP Images

There is a short list of athletes who can step away from the fight game and instantly become the hottest topic of discussion when there's a mere mention of them possibly, maybe, perhaps making a return.

Fedor Emelianenko, the great Russian heavyweight. Gina Carano, the first female mixed martial arts star. 

Never mind the fact that they've been out of action for years. Forget about the notion that the sport may have passed them by. People still love to talk about them, and any publication that likes money is in the business of giving readers the things they like to talk about.

And then there's Brock Lesnar. You know the guy. He was the pro wrestler who enraged hardcore MMA fans by having the gumption to jump into mixed martial arts with very little experience (this sounds familiar, does it not?) and then proceeded to anger them even further by winning the UFC Heavyweight Championship.

13ad020c7b54e87b59145acd74fbd3a8_crop_north
USA Today

If you work in a particularly horrid office environment, you may be familiar with the "White Elephant Christmas" tradition. The basics are simple—everyone brings gifts and puts them in a giant pile. You draw a number and pick in order.

Everyone brings something. Everyone leaves with something.

Simple, right? Nice even.

But there's a twist. There's always a twist.

Those who follow you in line get the chance to "steal" your gift rather than pick their own. This leads, inevitably, to people stealing the one thing that isn't disposable crap over and over again, hurting feelings and morale in the process.

A6a718da2e3a3d812a147013278e5622_crop_north
USA Today

2014 will not go down as an easy year in MMA history.

At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, it’s difficult to remember another calendar turn when there was such a range of bad news. Cash flow was down, injuries were up, and high-profile arrests seemed weirdly plentiful.

As we thunder toward the home stretch, however, hopes remain high for 2015. Still, choosing a single storyline that “defined” this difficult and occasionally painful year proved a tough task indeed.

Frankly, there were too many headlines to choose from, so please forgive us if your year-defining story of choice didn't make our final list. Here, Bleacher Report MMA writers Jeremy Botter, Chad Dundas (that’s me), Scott Harris and Jonathan Snowden pick their own little darlings and then struggle to come to a consensus.

MMA in 2014: Fight of the Year

By on December 23, 2014

18,543 reads

60Icon_comment

F490952241b946da11d4fc5430abda42_crop_north
AP Images

2014 was a down year in terms of business for mixed martial arts.

But the action in the cage was better than ever, for the most part. There were classic fights from the championship level on down to the lowest of preliminary bouts. We even got the MMA version of a unicorn—and entire Ultimate Fighting Championship card filled with nothing but finishes.

Whittling all of that action down to a single award for Fight of the Year was a nearly impossible task. Our three Bleacher Report lead writers cursed and called one another names. We threatened to quit on several occasions.

But at the end of the day, we were able to figure out a consensus. On Monday, we gave you our Fighter of the Year. On Tuesday, we hand out our prestigious award for the best fight of 2014.