IT’SSSSSSSSSSSS TIIIIIIIIIIIME! I’m sorry, but I love Bruce Buffer and I can’t wait for the “veteran voice of the Octagon” to shout those infamous two words before the Light Heavyweight Championship fight for UFC 192.
Brief set up here for those who aren’t avid UFC fans. You might have heard that the former nine-time defending Light Heavyweight champion Jon Jones swiftly had his titled removed by UFC officials after being arrested in a drive by incident. The title was left open for the first time in quite a while. Daniel Cormier, who lost to Jones in UFC 187, became the new champion after his nasty rear naked choke against Anthony Johnson. Now UFC 192 is around the corner this Saturday and it is going to be one of the best fights of the year. The number two contender, Alex Gustafsson, faces off against the recently crowned champ Cormier in his first title defense fight.
This year is a great year to be a UFC fan and this fight will go on to establish the face of one of the prominent divisions in the sport. Having just won his first title in UFC 187, the question still stands if Cormier will be long-term champion for the Light Heavyweight division. Cormier has the chance to clear up any remaining doubt and assert himself as the undisputed champ. But, Cormier will have a very difficult first title defense against a tricky matchup in Gustafsson. Cormier has the Vegas odds in his favor by over 300 points and seems to be the favorite to win the fight. However, let us not forget that Gustafsson was the only person to come close to beating Jones in a title fight and was the first person to ever take Jones down to the ground. Out of any Light Heavyweight contenders, Gustafsson poses the biggest threat and has some attributes that could give Cormier a serious headache in this upcoming fight.
Gustafsson is one of the best takedown defenders in UFC right now with a takedown defense rate of 87 percent. This will be a huge advantage for Gustafsson as he is facing a former Olympic bronze medalist in Cormier, a fighter who relies on takedowns and dominant ground-game control to win most of his fights. If Gustafsson can stay off the ground and force Cormier to face up and box, he may be able to edge out Cormier with his superior size (Gustafsson 6’5”, 79” reach; Cormier 5’11”, 72” reach). Gustafsson is already known as one of the more aggressive fighters of the sport and he needs to stay aggressive early to prevent Cormier from getting too comfortable. Cormier has a decent strike defense rate of 60 percent. If he gets into his rhythm and doesn’t feel too challenged initially, he’ll start to find easy avenues to take Gustafsson down. If Gustafsson finds himself on the bottom often, his powerful standup game won’t be able to outweigh Cormier’s grind-it-out style of fighting.
Prediction time. I am going with the upset prediction that Gustafsson will be able to come out on top of this matchup. Cormier is far and away the better wrestler and might be able to keep Gustafsson on the bottom for a lot of the fight. However, Gustafsson does draw plenty of Jon Jones comparisons with his similar fighting style and size. We already saw that Jones was able to handle Cormier’s wrestling game in a fantastic performance defending his title. Out of anybody in the Light Heavyweight division, Gustafsson is the best fighter to stop Cormier’s relentless ground game. He matches up incredibly well against Cormier and I believe his superior size and takedown defense will allow him to keep Cormier on his toes and off the ground. I believe we’ll see an interesting standup fight with the two fighters having to outbox each other.
The Light Heavyweight division has been one of the most entertaining divisions to watch throughout the history of UFC with fighters like Chuck Lidell, Rampage Jackson, Rashad Evans, Forrest Griffin, Jon Jones, Shogun Rua, Wanderlei Silva, and Chael Sonnen. Cormier v Gustafsson will determine if the Light Heavyweight division will remain one of the most entertaining and competitive classes in UFC. I truly hope that Gustafsson wins the fight because I believe that it will be better for the sport of UFC as a whole. Too often people are turned off from UFC because they don’t want to watch two guys wrestle and tire each other out on the ground for the entire fight. Cormier might be the most technically sound wrestler in the sport, but fans might enjoy the fight more if he finds himself challenged in a fast-paced boxing-style fight. The energy that guys like Jones and Anderson Silva brought delivered some of the most entertaining fights the sport has seen. With an influx of new champion talent across many of the UFC weight classes, it’s a great time to be a UFC fan and see how recent champions like Cormier, Chris Weidman, and TJ Dillashaw shape the face of UFC. And let us not forget that “the greatest fight in UFC history” is coming up soon with McGregor v Aldo at UFC 194.