For months, UFC fans eagerly anticipated the light heavyweight title bout between Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier, in large part because the two fighters genuinely dislike each other. Those fans were rewarded Saturday night with an all-out brawl that went the full five rounds at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. When UFC 182 was over, Jones earned the unanimous decision—all three judges scored the fight 49-46—to retain the belt he has held for nearly four years.
After months of physical and verbal sparring, the two 205-pound fighters came out swinging from the opening bell. Jones (21-1) used kicks, body shots and excellent takedown defense to wear down Cormier, successfully controlling the first round. Perhaps most impressive was the way Jones took away Cormier’s biggest strength. A two-time U.S. Olympic wrestler, Cormier (15-1) struggled throughout the fight to get Jones on the ground, taking down the champion just once with a big single-leg slam in the fifth, and Jones immediately recovered from it. In fact, it was actually Jones who dominated in takedowns, hitting three of his five attempts; by comparison, Cormier went 1-for-8.
“I watched him fight so much, I absorbed who he is,” Jones said. “With my opponents you often see me do to them exactly what they want to do to me.”
Cormier’s most successful tactic proved to be his dirty boxing in the clinch, nailing Jones with several short, hard uppercuts. Jones, who has had the reach advantage in all of his fights, could not prevent Cormier from working inside and tying him up. Cormier pummeled Jones in the second round and much of the third before Jones regained the momentum.
“He has a champion’s spirit, and he showed that in the third round,” Cormier said in the wake of his first professional loss. “Once he took the momentum back, it was difficult to switch it again.”
While he was successful going toe-to-toe with the champ in the middle of the bout, Cormier hit a wall of fatigue in the fourth round. From that point on, Jones, who was clearly the better-conditioned fighter, took control.
“I was aware that I was losing,” Cormier said. “I don’t know how to judge a fight; I just know I lost and Jon won. That’s what it boils down to.”
In the closing seconds of a rather conservative fifth round, Jones threw a sneak punch that angered Cormier, followed by a crotch-grab gesture. Jones once again took on his bad-guy persona in the post-fight interview, citing his disdain for Cormier and reiterating many of his opinions about himself.
While some may be turned off by his antics and attitude, Jones is making a strong case for being the greatest mixed-martial artist of all time—he’s now successfully defended his title eight times, which ranks third all time in the UFC. If nothing else, the not-so-humble champ isn’t about to argue his place in history. “All I got to do is stay focused, believe and work hard,” Jones said. “I think 2015 will be the year I solidify it.”