The oddsmakers have this rematch an even fight with Daniel Cormier currently coming in at -112 and Anthony Johnson is a -108 on the UFC’s website. It is a bit surprising to me. When you go back and watch the first fight it was a whole lot of Cormier dominating with a few brief moments of excitement for Johnson. It looks like the oddsmakers and the fans have gotten swept up in the Tsunami that is Johnson’s power and are expecting a much closer fight than the original. I think we are in for another sequel that will look a lot like the first one.
Rumble ‘The Destroyer’
However, it is understandable that the oddsmakers and others have this as a close fight. The power that Rumble possesses is intoxicating and he has looked fiercely fantastic since that loss to Cormier. After that loss, Johnson went out and destroyed Jimi Manuwa, Ryan Bader, and Glover Teixeira stopping them all in dominant fashion. During those destructions, he out-struck those three opponents by a combined 40-9 in significant strikes. In overall strikes, Johnson holds an even more impressive 54-9 margin. What is most astounding about those numbers is Manuwa accounts for eight of the nine landed strikes against Johnson in the three fights.
It’s easy to watch those fights and come away thinking that Johnson will walk out of the octagon with the light heavyweight belt as the new champion. But for me this is a classic “styles make fights” situation. Cormier is a much different beast than anyone else that Johnson has faced. And while Johnson has looked almost mythical against three of the top light heavyweights in the world today it is difficult to see how that success will translate in this rematch.
The challenge that is Daniel Cormier
The challenge that Cormier presents in so different from Manuwa, Teixeira, or Bader. Of those three fighters, Bader has the best wrestling pedigree on paper. Going into their fight Bader was riding a five fight win streak and it was thought that if could avoid getting caught by Johnson’s power and get the takedown, he could grind out a victory on the ground. In the opening moments of the fight Bader made it very clear that he wanted nothing to do with Johnson in the standup department.
That telegraphed shot made it easy for Johnson to stuff and he quickly went on to destroy Bader on the ground bringing about the quick and merciful stoppage.
Johnson himself is a solid wrestler who has been able to stop the majority of the takedown attempts against him during his UFC career. He is almost virtually identical to his opponent in this department according to the UFC website. Cormier checks-in having defended 80% of them while Johnson has stopped 79.31%. It certainly helps when opponents make it as easy as Bader did.
The desperate takedown attempt from an opponent is what happens when you have the kind of power that Rumble possesses. One clean shot is all he needs. In the first fight he was tantalizingly close to landing that clean blow.
But, it just missed the bullseye. Despite not catching him completely clean, the blow sent Cormier careening across the cage. At first Rumble displayed patience in following Cormier across the cage but it only took one instance for that patience to leave him.
Repetition can be your downfall
Rumble essentially went for the same combo that almost sent Cormier into the next time zone. This time he went lighter on the jab and really sat down on the righthand. Cormier slipped it easily, got the body lock and the takedown. In that moment Cormier shifted the momentum of the round and took control of it.
Johnson made one big mistake and that was how much he loaded up on the second righthand. Sure, if it had landed Johnson is the champ. But even a slightly dazed Cormier could still see the strike coming. The cause of that mistake was due somewhat to the success of the righthand that landed moments earlier.
Sometimes, one the worst things that can happen to a fighter against a high level opponent is a moment of early success. After a big blow lands, especially one that hurts their opponent, it will lead to a fighter looking for that strike again. Against a lower level opponent that can and often does work. Fighters at the lower levels cannot make the kind of adjustments mid-fight like Cormier. If you continue to give him the same look he will find a way to exploit it usually with a takedown or with a well-timed and placed strike.
At the start of the second round Johnson made the mistake of throwing four left kicks at Cormier.
The left kick is one of Johnson’s better weapons but by allowing Cormier to see the same similar look he was able to once again avoid the danger to get inside and get the takedown.
That allowed Cormier to wear Johnson down more sapping much of his strength, energy, and will. On UFC Tonight, Cormier mentioned that he had heard Johnson’s corner telling him to not give up in the third round. This indicated to him that Johnson’s coaches were worried about that happening. Instead of Johnson giving up, Cormier seized the title by getting the takedown and the submission.
Against most other light heavyweights Johnson would have emerged victorious with the belt. Most fighters would have been done after the big right hand that sent Cormier careening across the cage. However, Cormier is not most fighters his only loss in MMA is a close battle with Jon Jones. The fighter many consider to be the G.O.A.T.
Passing the test of ‘The Mauler’
Two of the best light heavyweight title fights have contained Alexander Gustafsson as one of the combatants. His fight with Jon Jones was an instant classic and had many thinking that he deserved to be the new champion. Gustafsson pushed Jones into new territory.
We learned on that night that Jones was able to comeback from adversity. There was more of the same when Cormier faced Gustafsson.
Once again, ‘The Mauler’ pushed the champion to the brink forcing Cormier to dig deep to get the win. It was not the first time we had seen Cormier in trouble and comeback. However, it was for many fans the toughest test of Cormier’s career that he has passed. The only fight that was tougher for him was the Jones loss.
More than just a wrestler
Throughout his career, Cormier has used his wrestling to dominate his opponents. Including his rag-dolling of Dan Henderson, another high-level wrestler. But he has proven to be more than just a wrestler in his career.
Cormier used his striking to defeat Gustafsson. Throughout his career, Cormier has displayed underrated striking skills. He used his jab and combinations against Roy Nelson. We saw those on display against Gustafsson also. When the fight goes to the ground, Cormier looks to do damage instead of just controlling the position.
The other trait Cormier has shown during his MMA career is his desire to hit his opponent back when he gets hit. That is a nastiness that a fighter either has or does not and Cormier has it. When he gets hit he looks to return the shot often looking to land the same shot that he got hit with. It is a classic alpha-trait trying to show you that he can do it better than you, trying to dominate his opponent.
We saw that against Gustafsson. After the Mauler landed an uppercut we saw Cormier go multiple uppercuts. Now, his were different as he used the clinch and some classic dirty-boxing but you get the idea. That’s a trait can be used against him if Johnson understands that after he lands a body kick that Cormier will look to land his own. Then Rumble can look to counter Cormier’s body kick with something that could end the night. Understand that is much easier for me to type than to do actually do it against Cormier.
Johnson should take a page from Gustafsson’s book
During his title fight with Cormier, Gustafsson found success behind the takedown attempt. Not only did he match Cormier with one successful takedown, but he also used them to set up his strikes. The takedown threat is an under-utilized element of MMA striking.
The fake-takedown into an overhand right has long been a part of the striking arsenal of Team Alpha Male. We saw Gustafsson expand upon that in his battle with Cormier. First, Gustafsson established the threat of the takedown early by faking it several times. Then in the second round he got Cormier down twice while being credited with one official takedown.
From there, he then started faking the takedown following the fakes up with uppercuts – similar to what Fabricio Werdum used to stop Mark Hunt. Werdum used his knees instead of uppercuts but the concept is the same. They are trying to catch their opponent ducking into a strike.
It would not be the best idea for Johnson to try to engage in a grappling battle in this rematch. But, if he can establish the threat of the takedown and catch Cormier with one of his uppercuts, knees or kicks there will be a new champ.
Into the unknown or ‘We still know what we already knew’
Going into this fight we know Johnson has devastating power the kind that stop anyone if he lands cleanly. The above .gif shows that he just misses landing the one clean shot in their last fight. The one in the first round was just that fraction of a moment off from ending the fight. We know that Cormier is tough with a great chin, cardio, and heart.
We also know the path to victory for each fighter. Johnson will be looking to land that big shot. For him to do that it will help if he has made some adjustments. In the past Rumble has looked for the early KO. If he has improved his cardio, is a little more patient and lets the KO come to him he can emerge as the new champ.
Johnson will also need to vary up his attacks. He cannot give Cormier the same looks very often. In their first fight Cormier exploited those moments to get the takedown and wear Johnson down. This served to slow Johnson down and sap some of his power. If Johnson can avoid the early takedown and maintain better cardio he can bring his power into the later rounds.
It is also important that Johnson maintain his aggressiveness but he cannot be reckless about it. He needs to be like a master Texas Hold’em player with controlled aggression. It would be a mistake for him to try to be a fighter he is not. Johnson is at his best putting pressure on his opponents. We saw Robbie Lawler another pressure fighter get KO’d while going backwards against Tyron Woodley.
Look for Cormier to try to get inside of Johnson’s power. Once he is on the inside he will of course look for the takedown to wear on Johnson. We also saw him use his dirty boxing against Gustafsson landing multiple uppercuts in that fight.
What makes Cormier a difficult opponent is his ability to stay in the moment and take what his opponent is giving him. Cormier is a well-rounded fighter with the ability and adaptability to attack in many different manners. This makes him a very dangerous and difficult foe.
Can Johnson land his one big strike? Can Cormier avoid that strike and grind out another win? And new? And still?
We will get our answers at UFC 210. I like Cormier to retain but the chaos side of me wants Johnson, the scariest light heavyweight to win. I really want to see Johnson versus Jones to see how Jones deals with Johnson’s power.
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