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UFC analysis: A comparison of Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier

An in-depth look at the skills sets of the men headlining UFC 182.

American Jon Jones is seen as one of UFC's top talents.
American Jon Jones is seen as one of UFC's top talents.
Image: Chris Young

EVEN AT THE apex of mixed martial arts competition, it is extraordinarily rare when two fighters with no discernible weaknesses are matched.

More often than not, a bout hinges on one combatant exploiting the shortcomings of another. The ability to consistently create scenarios where an opponent is unable to utilise their most potent weapons and forcing them to engage in areas in which they do not excel, is what often ensures a fighter’s long-term success.

The former welterweight champion, Georges St Pierre, was master of the practice and, subsequently, sustained little damage throughout his career.

However, doing so requires a level of humility some fighters do not possess, because it is a tacit admission that their opponent is at least partially superior. St Pierre had the presence of mind to recognise the futility of allowing ego to trump reason.

UFC light-heavyweight champion Jon Jones has never once been found wanting in any aspect of the sport, nor, for that matter, has Daniel Cormier.

Thus, when the two come together for the main event of UFC 182 in Las Vegas on Saturday night, their tried and tested paths to victory may no longer be applicable.

With that in mind, here we take a look at where those pivotal fine margins may materialise.

Striking

It’s a testament to the prodigious talents of both men that, despite coming from a wrestling background, each are so accomplished in this facet of the sport.

The evidence tells us that Jones enjoys an advantage in terms of technique and variety, while Cormier has the greater speed and power.

Much has been made of Jon Jones’ incredible reach, which is a staggering 84.5 inches. It has allowed him to inflict damage on opponents while keeping them at a safe distance, but there’s more to it than that.

Source: DeadFoundLiving/YouTube

It’s not just a case of using a long jab to stifle an opponent’s advances; Jones has excellent spatial awareness and almost always picks the correct shot depending on his proximity to a target.

When fighters plant on their front foot while moving forward, he invariably punishes them with low-kicks to their shins, thighs and knees. This tactic not only serves to keep them at bay, but also hinders the explosiveness they can generate off their lead leg.

Furthermore, as shown in his bout with Rashad Evans, the champion uses powerful snapping elbows as a substitute for jabs, which usually preface him moving into a clinch, where his knees are lethal.

In having similar height and range, Alexander Gustafsson showed that Jones can have limited head movement but at 5’10 and with a reach of 72.5 inches, Cormier is unlikely to exploit this.

Jones’ striking is inimitable so preparing for it is close to impossible. He is almost equally effective from short, medium or long distances and can switch stance in the blink of an eye. He does not possess a knockout punch or kick, but as the holder of the record for most significant strikes (824) landed in light-heavyweight history, that hardly seems to matter.

Source: UFC - Ultimate Fighting Championship/YouTube

It’s worth noting that Daniel Cormier was 30 before lacing up a pair of boxing gloves. Yet, of his 15 career wins, six have come by knockout. He has the ability to render Jones unconscious with a single blow but getting close enough to do so will prove tricky.

By setting Jones up through the threat of his takedowns, Cormier will be presented with moments when the champion’s hands are lowered — it is then he must uncork his straight punches and uppercuts. Giving Jones a taste of his own medicine with leg-kicks would also be advisable.

Wrestling

Once ranked the number two freestyle wrestler in the world, Cormier is the best the division has to offer in this area. He placed fourth in the 2004 Olympics and, despite not competing due to kidney failure, captained the American team four years later in Beijing.

Jones’ resume may not be as impressive, but he has consistently out-wrestled men with better amateur records. Moreover, at 96%, he has the second best takedown defence in the entire sport. Only Gustafsson has ever got him to the mat and when he did, he couldn’t keep him there.

Source: UFC - Ultimate Fighting Championship/YouTube

However, Cormier is an altogether different animal. His natural strength and flawless technique is something Jones has never encountered before. That Cormier has fought the majority of his career at heavyweight and man-handled fighters far bigger than he, at the very least suggests he can do likewise to Jones.

Unlike GSP, Jones revels in beating opponents at their own game, so it would not be surprising if he initiates takedowns of his own. While his reliance on wrestling has dissipated over time, he has scored at least one takedown in all his title defences, so do not be surprised if he becomes the first man to ground Cormier in his MMA career.

Grappling

If and when the fight goes to the mat, the battle for top position should be intriguing. Offensively, we know both men are capable of inflicting damage through strikes or submissions. Jones has submitted BJJ black belts such as Lyoto Machida and Vitor Belfort since becoming champion and has arguably the most vicious ground-and-pound in the game.

For his part, Cormier has four wins by submission, including the rear-naked choke he used to put Dan Henderson away in his most recent bout. What makes him so dangerous after landing a takedown is his ability to immediately assume a favourable position. Through his wrestling, he can manipulate an opponent’s posture and base, all the while landing punches.

Because of their ability to thwart takedowns, Jones and Cormier are unknown quantities off their back, so it is yet to be seen if they can conjure submissions or sweeps from the guard. It is in this area the fight could be won or lost.

Psychology and experience

Their hatred for one another is well-documented at this stage and the emotional quotient in this fight will be higher than usual. Whoever has tempered or harnessed their anger to a greater degree is unquestionably a step ahead.

Jon Jones has been competing at this level for most of his career and has never looked out of his depth. He is a calculating and cerebral fighter who thrives in a pressure-cooker environment.

Source: UFC - Ultimate Fighting Championship/YouTube

It’s debatable, but the stakes might be higher for Cormier. Countless times in his wrestling career, he came close to the pinnacle without ever reaching it and, at 35, may not get many more opportunities such as this. If he shows even a hint of desperation, Jones will recognise it and punish him accordingly.

All things being equal, we have two men at the peak of their powers who despise each other and have 25 minutes to sort out their differences. The world title is just the icing on the cake.

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About the author:

Tom Rooney

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