The biggest rivalry in Mixed Martial Arts history finally got its long awaited sequel over the weekend as Jon Jones returned from his PED suspension to reclaim his light heavyweight championship belt from Daniel Cormier. Two and a half years in the making and multiple stops and starts, it was worth the wait. There were plenty of questions on both sides coming into the bout since their first fight in January 2015. Obviously Jones has had many well documented issues since then starting with testing positive for cocaine following his first win over Cormier. He would then go on to get involved in a hit and run, leaving an injured pregnant woman at the scene of the crime. He received 18 months probation and promptly violated it with police camera footage emerging showing him berating a cop for accusing him of drag racing. All that and he still got to headline the milestone UFC 200 card last summer only to test positive for performance enhancing drugs two days before the fight was to take place. The only fight in between all this out of the cage drama was a lackluster decision victory over Ovince St. Preux (after Cormier pulled out with an injury a few weeks beforehand). Ring rust can be a real thing for fighters coming off long layoffs. There was also the question of will he be clean and what does that translate to inside the octagon.
For DC, would his age play a factor after years of high level competition and taking some significant damage in a few fights since his first loss in the sport? Also, how was he going to manage his weight? In his last title defense against Anthony Johnson at UFC 210 in April he struggled mightily to make weight before he finally did, perhaps with the aid of a towel. This is a guy who used to fight at heavyweight and only dropped down because his friend and training partner (Cain Velasquez) was the champion of the division. Amazingly it turned out all of these questions were mostly irrelevant. Jones showed no signs of ring rust coming out aggressively and staying active all the way up to the moment in the third round when he cracked Cormier with a head kick and hunted him down for the TKO finish. Cormier showed up looking to be in the best shape he ever has at light heavyweight. Until he got finished he was arguably winning the fight, confidently pushing the pace and controlling the cage. It was an entertaining scrap as they took turns winning exchanges. Jones capped it off by hurting Cormier like nobody has before. DC has taken the best shots from the likes of Anthony 'Rumble' Johnson so to see him with sea legs and out of it was a shocking sight.
As far as redemption tales go, this has a chance to be one of the best. There's still a long way to go to see if he can live up to his word but Jones was humble in victory, going out of his way to praise Cormier for not just his accomplishments in the sport but also for the man he is outside of the cage. He said all the right things now we have to see if he can resist temptation and follow through. Before all his issues over the past few years Jones was on track to become the greatest fighter in the history of the sport and after Saturday he is right back on that path. It doesn't look like he missed a beat and is maybe even more motivated than ever. As for whats next he put an exclamation point on a rumor that was going around and called out Brock Lesnar saying “If you want to find out what it feels like to get your ass kicked by a guy that weighs 40 pounds lighter than you, meet me in the octagon”. If that money fight doesn't come together there is another long awaited rematch finally within reach. Alexander Gustaffson gave Jones the toughest fight of his career, one of the best fights in the promotions history, and has been asking for another shot for a long time. As for Cormier he is just unfortunate to be in the same weight class as an all-time great. He could move back up to heavyweight and make a run there or call it a career and transition into the broadcast booth full time.
In the co-main event Tyron Woodley defended his welterweight championship against Demian Maia by unanimous decision and at the same time proved that he is the most boring champion in UFC history. I didn't think it could get any worse than his rematch against Stephen Thompson at UFC 209 in March but he managed to outdo himself. Against a guy in Maia who's only weapon is his grappling, albeit at an elite level, he was able to keep the fight standing stuffing 20+ takedown attempts. The problem was he was content to defend takedowns and land a few punches over five rounds. Joe Rogan remarked in the post fight interview that they set the record for fewest attempted strikes and that passes the eyeball test. Woodley is just not active enough. He can come out and look like a world beater like he did against Robbie Lawler at UFC 201 knocking him out in the first round and then next time out look like hes scared to throw a punch. He has all the tools to be one of the best pound for pound fighters - great power, wrestling, and strength. Hes a good defensive fighter. I compared him to Floyd Mayweather during the fight as a guy who is content to win each round by one punch. A homeless man's version of Mayweather to be sure. The potential is still there for him to turn the corner but its going to take a while after these last few performances.
Speaking of Lawler, he came back from a year long layoff following that knockout loss to Woodley last July to beat Donald Cerrone in an extremely close, entertaining fight. It was a fight many MMA fans had been anticipating since it was first announced to be in the works for UFC 205. Lawler quickly decided against it, feeling it was too soon to come back following such a brutal knockout not to mention the many wars he has been in over the past few years. The bout was rescheduled for UFC 213 but a blood infection forced Cerrone to pull out. Turned out Lawler made the right decision to take some time off because he looked like vintage 'Ruthless' out there. You wouldn't know 'Cowboy' had just been in the hospital three weeks earlier either. The fight lived up to the lofty expectations. The only disappointment was that it had to end after three rounds. Both guys had success and showed off what makes them fan favorites. Lawler came out hot and won the first round, Cerrone took the the second, and the third round was almost a dead heat. I wouldn't have been able to complain no matter what the ultimate outcome was. Following the lackluster welterweight title fight Dana White told the media that GSP would no longer be fighting Woodley next but instead he will fight Michael Bisping for the middleweight championship after all since interim champ Robert Whittaker needs knee surgery. This leaves an opening for Lawler to get a rematch and a chance to avenge his last loss. A dark horse option for next title challenger is none other than Conor McGregor depending on how everything turns out with his boxing match with Floyd Mayweather next month.
The other title fight on UFC 214 was the second pass at creating a women's featherweight division after the first attempt blew up in their face. They rushed to get the division started in February because they needed something that could justify a pay-per-view main event. When Cyborg told them she wouldn't be ready in time they went ahead anyway and matched Holly Holm up with Germaine de Randamie. After de Randamie won a close decision she immediately started making excuses about not wanting to fight Cyborg in her first title defense and ultimately forfeited the belt when Cyborg was her only option. So in five months there have been two total women's featherweight fights in the UFC, both title fights and both featuring all different fighters. It was reminiscent of a movie studio rebooting a superhero franchise after their first attempt bombed. Luckily things worked out this time. Cyborg might've took longer than fans expected to knock out the tough as nails Tonya Evinger, who stepped in for Megan Anderson and stepped up a weight class to do so, but she got the job done in the third round. It was the culmination of a long, twisted relationship between Cyborg and the UFC. From them saying disparaging things about her and saying she would never fight in the promotion, to signing her but forcing her to try and cut down to 140 pounds despite her already being big for featherweight, to them now relying on her to be their biggest female draw now that Ronda Rousey is out of the picture. The division is still almost non-existent but there are some intriguing match-ups to be made, most likely with 'Ronda killer' Holm up next.