Jon Jones regained the UFC Lightweight Championship after a powerful head kick sent Daniel Cormier stumbling towards only the second defeat of his professional career during the third round of the rematch between the fiercely-contested pair.
Forget about the prelims. As ruthless as it suggests, no-one truly cared much about those encounters and it just served as an appetiser for the main card to begin.
The main event of course, was Cormier-Jones II and after the history between the pair, it made things extra spicy ahead of the fight itself.
When asked by Megan Olivi on Friday, Cormier’s head coach Javier Mendez stressed the fact that they “screwed” up last time and weren’t competitive in the final two rounds – but this time were keen to make amends for his first professional loss.
“A hard-fought, five-round gruelling war. This time around, it’s going to be competitive and we’re [Cormier] going to edge him out.”
After their war of words and the continued barrage of criticism and hate for Jones after getting himself caught up in the drug scandal twelve months ago, it was clear.
Their rivalry was a genuine one and this rematch? A very important and equally competitive fight between two of the best in the Lightweight division.
“I need to win this fight. I need to get my life back.”
Manuwa vs Oezdemir (R1 W by KO – 0:42):
Despite being ten years older than his opponent on the evening, number three ranked Jimi Manuwa was eager to stress his championship credentials against Volkan Oezdemir.
Well, he was in for a shock and less than a minute into the early exchanges, found himself lying back helplessly on the canvas as the referee tended to his aid.
A surprising knockout, so soon after Manuwa himself put Oezdemir into the clinch position, the Swiss national responded quickly with a flurry of punches which caught Manuwa unaware and helped him finish the job swiftly to devastating effect.
15 wins, 12 of those have been first-round finishes and after his quick start here, it’s no surprise.
3-0 in the Octagon, he immediately cited a bout against the winner of Cormier-Jones in his next fight. Whether he’ll get his wish remains to be seen but after performances like that, it won’t be long before he gets another big opportunity.
Cerrone vs Lawler (R3, W by dec. 29-28 x3):
Both of these fighters were making their respective returns to the Octagon after extended time away. Cerrone at 34 and Lawler, 35, it makes sense that both would want to recuperate and recover after lengthy battles in the past with different rivalries.
Ruthless Robbie Lawler against the no-nonsense Cerrone, who seemed unfazed and ready for action.
Key word being seemed, because Lawler came flying out of the blocks with a flurry of hard punches to the face. Cerrone was overwhelmed and quickly you could see his left eye swelling too.
Robbie chants reverberated around the arena and his tactic was effective in making it a brawl. It certainly wasn’t one-way traffic though, as Cerrone himself did well with a takedown attempt and connected a few significant knee strikes to the body too before round one was complete.
A nasty-looking elbow as well as a right high kick would’ve helped Cerrone’s cause but it’s fair to say that Lawler won the round.
The same couldn’t be said about the second round though, as Cerrone continued to mix up his attack and frustrate Lawler with a range of different strikes. He landed plenty despite Lawler’s best effort to block and there was plenty to battle for ahead of the third and final round.
It was back-and-forth and neither was prepared to lose, making the spectacle even more of a tense encounter to watch.
In the end, I had Cerrone just edging it a narrow victory by a point but the scorecards were ultimately in Lawler’s favour. His confused reaction said it all, as he too thought he had done enough to win by decision but alas, Lawler’s fast start in round one set the tone for all three judges.
Evinger vs Cyborg (R3 after 1m 35secs, W by TKO):
The first of three championship fights, this one at Featherweight. Cyborg, unbeaten in her last seven fights, was up against a heavy underdog in Tonya Evinger – previously successful at Invicta.
Despite being the underdog, Evinger justified her label as a tough nut to crack by absorbing a plethora of strikes (just under 65 after ten minutes) in the first two rounds.
In round three, it became too much for her and a devastating knee to the face sent the 36-year-old sprawling onto the mat. A few punches and the referee had no choice but to stop the fight, thus crowning the new Featherweight champion by TKO: Cris Cyborg.
Germaine de Randamie was reportedly ducking Cyborg and consequently stripped of the belt she had previously beaten Holly Holm to win, and after Evinger’s durability on this occasion, Cyborg will be keen to retain her title with future fights a possibility at this 145-pound weight class.
Maia vs Woodley (R5, W by dec 50-45, 49-46 x 2):
It was always going to be a different challenge for Tyron Woodley after two intriguing battles against Stephen Thompson previously. Demian Maia’s tendency to go for takedowns was highlighted and quite evident in the early stages here, but Woodley’s defence was mightily impressive too.
Maia had attempted seven takedowns and Woodley stuffed all of them, a few of which he was met with a powerful right-hand strike by the 35-year-old.
Woodley’s speed and variety of weapons made him an even tougher opponent to break down, especially given his leg strength and accuracy with punches. Maia continued to bleed as the contest approached the championship rounds and although supporters showed their disapproval with a chorus of boos, it was more of a tactical battle than the exciting brawl everyone would’ve wanted.
Maia himself didn’t land enough strikes and his one-dimensional approach was regularly denied, though Tyron was content letting him tire. Neither man managed to finish the fight before 25 minutes were up, meaning a result came from the judges’ scoreboard. 50-45, 49-46, 49-46 was the final result in Woodley’s favour, which couldn’t really be disputed in fairness.
Cormier vs Jones (R3, W by KO):
The wait was over. April 2016 was the last time we’d seen Jon Jones in action and he quickly wanted to make up for lost time in the Octagon against his main rival here.
His reach advantage was a significant one and both were keen to establish an early lead. Powerful knees, kicks and punches had clearly hurt Cormier in the early exchanges before he responded to take the first round, finishing strongly.
He was landing punches of his own, forcing Jones to utilise a few oblique kicks to try and open up the distance between them. But it just spurred Cormier forward as he continued to connect with uppercuts and smart strikes to the body too.
A clash of heads saw the encounter temporarily stopped with Cormier drawing blood early in the second round, though it wasn’t enough to stop either man from continuing to land powerful strikes as the bout intensified.
Cormier began to almost chase Jones and shake his head too as he managed a number of significant shots to Jones’ head and face. The crowd were loving it, DC chants were met by Cormier oozing confidence and despite the fact that Jones had outstruck him, the younger man was behind and needed something to change.
Fight momentum can swing in an instant. Just like in any sport, things change instantaneously and you have to respond accordingly. Jones’ aforementioned reach advantage was always going to be a persistent threat for Cormier to deal with, regardless of whether or not he had a lead or not.
So with just under 3 minutes left in round three, you could almost sense that a knockout was coming. Cormier advanced too far forward and played into Jones’ plans.
He didn’t keep his hands up to protect his face and paid the ultimate price for that, as Jones took advantage with a devastating head kick which stunned him – seconds before a flurry of punches on the ground saw the contest finish in dramatic circumstances.
“I made it back man. Such a beautiful moment. If anyone [of you] at home has let anyone down, know that it’s never over as long as you never quit.” – Jones during his post-match interview with Joe Rogan.
“Cormier has absolutely no reason to hang his head. A model champion, husband, father, leader. I aspire to be a lot more like that man because he is an amazing human being. Unfortunately we are opponents but outside of that, he is a true champion for the rest of his life.”
Jones then went to commiserate Cormier’s corner, embrace his rival – clearly distraught after seeming being in control of the match.
“I don’t know man. I thought the fight was going well, don’t even know what happened. [They said] I got kicked in the head, I’m just so disappointed. I guess if you win both fights there is no rivalry.”
Jones is now joint second for the most title fight wins in UFC history alongside Demetrious Johnson and Anderson Silva, one behind Georges St-Pierre.
But after a fight like that, he had to finish with another memorable moment:
“Brock Lesnar. If you want to know what it feels like to get your ass kicked by someone who weighs 40 pounds less than you, meet me in the Octagon.”
Alexander Gustafsson, especially after an impressive win over Glover Teixeira, won’t be happy about those comments. But if it’s what the crowd want to see after Lesnar’s suspension is complete, then why not?
McGregor-Mayweather is scheduled for August 26 and there will be a few more intriguing bouts before 2017 is over. What’s next for both Jones and Cormier remains to be seen.