UFC 232 Jones vs. Gustafsson 2: The Biggest and Best Fights Set for Las Vegas

Steven Rondina@srondinaFeatured ColumnistDecember 10, 2018

UFC 232 Jones vs. Gustafsson 2: The Biggest and Best Fights Set for Las Vegas

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    Th UFC's late-December pay-per-view has long been appointment viewing for MMA fans. Amanda Nunes vs. Ronda Rousey, Brock Lesnar vs. Alistair Overeem and Chuck Liddell vs. Tito Ortiz 2 have all taken place in this slot and the UFC, commendably, has put together a great show to close out 2018.

    Sitting in the main event is the long-awaited rematch between Jon Jones and Alexander Gustafsson. Behind that? A compelling superfight between UFC featherweight champion Cris Cyborg and UFC bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes.

    The full card currently stands as follows:

    Jon Jones vs. Alexander Gustafsson
    Cris Cyborg vs. Amanda Nunes
    Carlos Condit vs. Michael Chiesa
    Ilir Latifi vs. Corey Anderson
    Chad Mendes vs. Alexander Volkanovski
    Andrei Arlovski vs. Walt Harris
    Cat Zingano vs. Megan Anderson
    Douglas Silva de Andrade vs. Petr Yan
    BJ Penn vs. Ryan Hall
    Brian Kelleher vs. Montel Jackson
    Andre Ewell vs. Nathaniel Wood
    Uriah Hall vs. Bevon Lewis
    Curtis Millender vs. Siyar Bahadurzada

    There are a load of interesting fights on this card, but which ones are the biggest? And which are the best? Read on and find out.

The Main Event: Jon Jones vs. Alexander Gustafsson 2

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    Even years later, Jon Jones vs. Alexander Gustafsson remains a treat to watch. 

    Gustafsson flustering Jones with his rangy striking and slicing up his face with jabs; Jones weathering the storm, making the adjustments and taking control late.

    It was one of the few MMA fights that truly tells a story about the two men competing, and it's a pairing that fans have wanted to see revisited many times over the years. 

    It's nearly happened on plenty of occasions, but injuries suffered by Gustafsson and Jones' frequent outside-the-cage issues have made it feel like their first showdown was doomed to be their last.

    Poetically, the person who brings them together is Daniel Cormier. Both men have had ugly beefs with the light heavyweight champion, but his impending retirement and capturing the heavyweight title has created a void at the top of the division. Gustafsson and Jones are both looking to fill that spot and that finally brings them together once again.

    Can the sequel possibly live up to the original? That will be a tall order, given how much it has working against it.

    Jones hasn't been seen in the cage since his July 2017 showdown with Cormier, which saw him get suspended for a failed drug test. Gustafsson has been out even longer, last competing opposite Glover Teixeira in May 2017. Both men will likely be a bit rusty and that will slow down the action a fair bit.

    That said, this makes the fight trickier to call. At his peak, Jones is essentially unstoppable on every level but his two latest fights have seen him struggle to assert himself more than in years past. Gustafsson, meanwhile, has seemingly worked on the cardio that ultimately cost him his first fight with Jones. If that holds up, can he turn the tables and outwork Jones late?

    There are a lot of X-factors in play here. Jones is undeniably the favorite entering the cage, but Gustafsson has all the tools to finally snatch the title.

The Co-Main Event: Cris Cyborg vs. Amanda Nunes

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    Women's MMA has come a long way over the last few years.

    From a freak show to a novelty to a curiosity to a legitimate sensation, modern women's MMA has advanced to the point where it's a standard part of the UFC's offering with talents that can rival anyone in the men's divisions.

    It isn't all sunshine and roses, unfortunately. The UFC is still struggling to deal with Ronda Rousey's departure which has led to most women's contests sliding down cards.

    Meanwhile, the introduction of a strawweight and featherweight division has stretched the roster thin, leading to many less-than-exciting fights featuring competitors of questionable skill.

    On the business end, things are trending down to the point where it needs a new chapter to be started. It needs something to renew interest in that half of the sport and remind everyone how exciting women's MMA can be.

    It needs something like Cris Cyborg vs. Amanda Nunes.

    While the "superfight" label is thrown around often these days, this is arguably the first bout that fits the bill. 

    Previous "champion vs. champion" fights like Daniel Cormier vs. Stipe Miocic and TJ Dillashaw vs. Henry Cejudo didn't bring together long-reigning, undisputed champions and largely distinguished themselves based on the simple novelty of having two people putting belts on the tables at press conferences. 

    Cyborg vs. Nunes, however, brings together two of the most dominant fighters in the game today, possibly ever. 

    In divisions often loaded by grappling technicians, the two Brazilians have cemented their places at the top with brutal knockouts and pure physical power, overwhelming nearly everyone who entered the cage to challenge them. They're both regarded as unconquerable champions at this point and both had few credible opponents available to them.

    This fight came together not because of a gimmick or because the UFC wanted to have some extra gold on the UFC 232 poster. It came about because the sheer domination of Cyborg and Nunes necessitated it.

    So who wins? 

    Size matters in MMA and Cyborg is big even at 145 pounds. Nunes faces an uphill battle because of that, but her sheer knockout power might make the difference.

Fight to Keep an Eye On: BJ Penn vs. Ryan Hall

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    Combat sports have seen many legends tarnish their legacies over the years. From Muhammad Ali to Andy Souwer, few people are able to kick the addiction of the ring. Few, though, have had as saddening a decline as BJ Penn.

    In his prime, he was a model mixed martial artist. His grappling was on par with anyone in the game, and his striking evolved to the point where he was slicing up opponents with punches and kicks. Those toolscoupled with a ruthlessness that saw him famously licking blood off his gloveshooked fans and renewed interest in MMA's lighter weight classes at a time when that seemed impossible.

    He stood as one of the UFC's most dominant champions for a time, but when his reign ended, the UFC was quick to put him on jobber duties and functionally force him out of competition. He has retired and unretired twice over now, but while some legendary fighters seem to get refreshed by lengthy layoffs, Penn left something of himself behind each time.

    He was a shell of himself when he fought Frankie Edgar in 2014. He was even more so when he came back again to face Yair Rodriguez. Now returning to the cage 18 months after his fifth consecutive loss, it's hard not to dread what new low Penn may have reached.

    The barometer for that is Ryan Hall. 

    Hall has been an interesting commodity for years now. A top-notch BJJ player, he seemed ready to take the full-time MMA plunge in 2015 when he won season 22 of The Ultimate Fighter. Despite fighting just once sincemost recently besting Gray Maynard in 2016he remains an interesting prospect and a massive favorite to beat Penn.

    It's possible Penn will find some way to resurrect the man who sliced up Diego Sanchez and demolished Jens Pulver. Odds are, though, he will look slower and more fragile than ever.

Best of the Rest

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    Carlos Condit vs. Michael Chiesa

    Michael Chiesa is looking for a fresh start at 170 pounds, and given how he's fighting Carlos Condit, he's likely get just that.

    Despite being a fan-favorite and savvy veteran, the Natural Born Killer has been victimized by Father Time. That should make for a fairly straightforward win for Chiesa that could slip him right into the top 10 at 170 pounds.


    Ilir Latifi vs. Corey Anderson

    The UFC seems to be regularly making backup plans for title fights these days, and this fight gives the UFC a strong pair of options in case Jon Jones or Alexander Gustafsson is forced out of the fight.

    Both are coming off back-to-back solid wins, and while neither is an elite talent, they make for a decent challenge for either of the main eventers.

    Should everthing go according to plan, Ilir Latifi has the better shot of winning given his solid wrestling and superior finishing skills. That said, if Jones gets in trouble or Gustafsson gets injured, look for Corey Anderson to get the nod for a shot at the belt.


    Chad Mendes vs. Alexander Volkanovski

    Chad Mendes returned from a two-year hiatus and reasserted himself as a contender at 145 pounds with a brutal knockout of Myles Jury. That said, he's evidently some way from a title shot.

    With old rivals Jose Aldo and Frankie Edgar sitting ahead of him in the rankings, he's forced into taking a risky fight against unknown up-and-comer Alexander Volkanovski. His power and savvy will likely be enough to carry him to victory, but this is a tricky draw.


    Cat Zingano vs. Megan Anderson

    Like Latifi vs. Anderson, Cat Zingano vs. Megan Anderson serves the dual purpose of being an interesting undercard bout and a well to tap into should anyone pull out of the headlining title fights.

    Anderson has long been a hypothetical opponent for Cris Cyborg, but she got a heaped helping of reality when she was dominated by Holly Holm in her UFC debut. Zingano, who is coming off a strong win over Marion Reneau, is a much bigger threat to take the belt and and win this bout, should it happen.