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Full credit to UFC flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson. He's doing everything in his power to become a star. Tonight, in Kansas City, Missouri, the fighter known as 'Mighty Mouse' not only successfully defended his title against Brazilian Wilson Reis, he did so in spectacular, eye-catching fashion, submitting the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt with an arm-bar in round three.


Nobody would have begrudged Johnson, 26-2-1, cruising to a decision win over Reis. Nobody would have marked him down for that. But it's testament to his progress and his efforts to stand out from the crowd that he went after a man he had dominated for 12 minutes, stepped into his comfort zone and seemingly wouldn't let up until he had become the first man to ever submit Reis. It was that aspect, more than the actual result, and the fact he has now equalled Anderson Silva's records of ten straight UFC title defences, that was most impressive.


As it so often the case with Johnson's title defences, the pace and pattern was set early. The pace was dictated by the champion and was, of course, frantic. Reis did his best to keep up but soon into the bout realised he'd have to secure a takedown if he had any hope of landing so much as a blow on his fleet-footed opponent. He tried. He failed. He caught a Johnson kick in round one, secured a takedown, but could then only watch helplessly as Johnson sprung back up almost immediately as if nothing ever happened.


From there, Johnson was perpetual motion, never standing still for even a second, and was also now wise to Reis' game plan. This meant that when Reis attempted a second takedown in the final minute of round one it was greeted by counter-strikes from Johnson; Reis was punished for his attempt.


Panic starts to set in when a fighter cannot find their range and touch their opponent, be it with strikes or takedowns, and this rang true for Reis in round two. Unable to get to grips with Johnson, he resorted to just aimlessly following the champion, dancing to his beat, and swinging wildly in blind hope more than anything. Johnson, on the other hand, was a picture of composure and confidence. He not only landed punches with ease from the orthodox fighting stance, he also did the same from the southpaw stance, too. He switched seamlessly between the two stances, in fact. On a whim, whenever he felt like it. He was having fun in there.


Eight minutes into the fight Reis finally connected with something – a solid southpaw left hand – but moments later Johnson went one better in the form of a hurtful body kick. It was yet another sign he was too quick for the challenger; he'd land shots from the outside and then get away before Reis even had time to register what had landed, let alone prepare a counter.


These weren't just pokes and prods, either. Johnson might be a flyweight but his attacks are damaging and belie his tiny physique. Take, for example, the right knee he sank into Reis' body with 20 seconds left in round two. The impact of the knee stunned Reis as he prepared a takedown and sent him to the ground, after which Johnson jumped on him and landed a succession of hammer fists and elbows before the buzzer sounded.


Reis, 22-7, was saved.


The Brazilian wouldn't last much longer, however. By now he was desperate – desperate to land something, even more desperate to get Johnson to the floor. It was why he dropped to his back whenever the opportunity presented itself. It was why he beckoned Johnson to join him there. Reis knew he had to make something happen. Rounds were being lost, damage was being done.


Johnson, though, landing over 50% of his strikes, was still doing his own thing. He'd tell Reis to get up whenever he invited him to the ground. If they were going to go there, it was going to be on his terms, his expression seemed to suggest.


So it proved. A sneaky right hand from Johnson set up a takedown, which he executed, and from there he decided to stick around. The time was now. He worked from side control, landing elbows and hammer fists, cutting Reis with one particular blow, and then eventually softened his opponent up and climbed into mount. After that, it was a wrap. It happened so quickly, too. Elbows, mount, arm-bar. The only thing quicker was Reis' decision to tap.  


UFC on Fox 24 results:


Women's Strawweight: Rose Namajunas defeated Michelle Waterson via submission in round two (2:47)


Middleweight: Robert Whittaker defeated Ronaldo Souza via TKO in round two (3:28)


Featherweight: Renato Moicano defeated Jeremey Stephens via split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)


Heavyweight: Alexander Volkov defeated Roy Nelson via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)


Bantamweight: Tom Duquesnoy defeated Patrick Williams via TKO in round two (0:28)


Lightweight: Rashid Magomedov defeated Bobby Green via split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)


Flyweight: Tim Elliott defeated Louis Smolka via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)


Bantamweight: Aljamain Sterling defeated Augusto Mendes via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)


Light-heavyweight: Devin Clark defeated Jake Collier via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-26)


Middleweight: Anthony Smith defeated Andrew Sanchez via KO in round three (3:52)


Welterweight: Zak Cummings defeated Nathan Coy via submission in round one (4:21)


Women's Bantamweight: Ketlen Vieira defeated Ashlee Evans-Smith via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 30-27).  

According to some, the best pound-for-pound mixed martial artist on the planet is fighting this Saturday (April 15) at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri. They, the some, the minority, mean UFC flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson, of course, yet the majority won't be aware of Demetrious 'Mighty Mouse' Johnson's existence, let alone be conscious of the fact he's defending his 125-pound title for the tenth time against Brazil's Wilson Reis. And therein lies the problem both for DJ and the UFC in a year crying out for stars.


To start, some positivity. One thing that's undeniable is Johnson's brilliance in the eyes of anyone who has seen the champion in full flight. Small on stature but big on talent, the five-foot-three Johnson goes into Saturday's fight with Reis having not lost for some six years. In that time he has mostly dazzled and dominated. He has defeated the likes of John Dodson, John Moraga, Ali Bagautinov and Kyoji Horiguchi, essentially clearing out a weight class, and almost redefined what it means to be all-action (and quick) inside the Octagon.


Regrettably, though, he has done all of this to little or no fanfare. It's why many seem embittered if not surprised whenever Johnson is positioned way down mythical pound-for-pound lists or considered some kind of pay-per-view poison. To them, the 'Mighty Mouse' supporters, his diminutive size is not a turn off. Nor are they dissuaded by his penchant for a longer fight. All this means, they say, is more action, and Johnson, whatever his faults, absolutely provides that. Moreover, there are finishes on his record, too, first round ones against the likes of Henry Cejudo and Joseph Benavidez, which serve to exemplify the drama his naysayers accuse his fights of lacking.


In terms of the bigger picture, no other UFC champion, aside from women's strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk, has more than two successful title defences to their name. Jedrzejczyk has four. Johnson has nine. If you can't respect and put a value on that, there's probably no hope for the man from Madisonville, Kentucky.


Maybe it's a size thing. In many ways Johnson, 25-2-1, brings to mind former world minimumweight and light-flyweight boxing champion Ricardo Lopez, the great Mexican who retired undefeated in 2001 with a staggering record of 50 wins from 51 fights. No losses, one draw. 'El Finito', like Johnson, was a grandmaster of his craft. Technically superb, as close to perfect as a pugilist can get, Lopez could also excite and punch and score knockouts and do all the things other fighters in other weight classes could do. In most cases, far better.


But none of this could change the fact Ricardo Lopez's height was five-foot-five and his prime fighting weight was just 105-pounds, and none of this could change the fact he rarely headlined major international events, was routinely hidden away on pay-per-view cards, appearing early, like a dirty secret, the appetiser to bigger names, and is hardly known outside of boxing circles despite retiring undefeated with a record that surpasses that of even Floyd Mayweather.


Johnson's feeling some of this today. He's the 'Finito' Lopez of mixed martial arts; all perpetual motion and technical brilliance; eleven straight wins; the riddle nobody can seemingly suss, much less conquer.


The encouraging news for Demetrious, however, is that his foundations (and therefore chances) are exponentially better than a minimumweight boxer from Mexico City; meaning, he speaks English, for one, and he is also backed by the promotional muscle of the UFC. That counts for something. Or at least it should count for something.


For now the 30-year-old champion can only continue doing what he has been doing since 2012: winning UFC title fights and hoping something, somehow, catches fire along the way.


Whether Wilson Reis, his next challenger, is equipped to help bring a title reign to the boil remains to be seen, but the Brazilian has at least won five of his six fights since cutting down to 125-pounds and was scheduled to fight Johnson last July. He has known about the title shot, then, for a while, and has had ample time to get his head around the exam he's about to sit. Better yet, Reis, 22-6, has trained alongside Dominick Cruz, the only man to defeat Johnson in the UFC, for the best part of seven years.


“It helps a lot because Dominick Cruz talked to me about openings in his game, things that happened,” Reis, 32, told MMA Fighting. “He shares that with me. He fought (Johnson) for five rounds and he knows a lot about his strength and cardio. But the good thing about it is that Dominick gives us so much confidence. Training with him every day is such an advantage for us.”


Wilson Reis may or may not be able to replicate Dominick Cruz and become the man to snap the lengthy run of Demetrious Johnson. If he isn't, which is more than likely, Johnson will match Anderson Silva's record of ten consecutive UFC title defences and simultaneously eradicate another flyweight in a division fast running out of names to appear alongside the champion on a fight poster.


Perhaps then, once he's the last man standing, 'Mighty Mouse' will be seen.

“Where are my coaches?” asked a humbled Anthony 'Rumble' Johnson last night at UFC 210 in Buffalo, New York.


Deemed a somewhat obvious reply to a question concerning a failed game plan, the reply was, in actual fact, the moment a weird and unpredictable night got even weirder, even more unpredictable.


At first it seemed Johnson was beckoning his coaches forward in order to help him explain the reason why he had attacked UFC light-heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier with a fusillade of takedown attempts, most of which failed, as opposed to standing and striking with his opponent, as is typically his custom. Maybe it was someone else's idea, we thought. Maybe we'd now find out who.


Instead, as it turned out, Johnson, becoming more and more emotional by the second, was merely looking for moral support. Moreover, he wanted those close to him to share this moment. The moment, so it transpired, he decided to officially announce his retirement from mixed martial arts at the relatively tender age of 33.


In terms of shocks, it trumped even his decision to shoot double-legs on and engage in clinch work with an Olympic wrestler. It certainly trumped him being called a pre-fight favourite. After all, here was 'Rumble', the deadly knockout machine around whom, we were led to believe, this new era of UFC ownership were intending to build their empire, all of a sudden calling it quits in the prime of his career, without ever having fought former champion Jon 'Bones' Jones and with seemingly so much more to offer – and gain.


“This was my last fight,” Johnson said. “I didn't tell Dana White, only my family and my coaches. I have given my commitment to another job, not MMA-related. I'm tired of getting punched, tired of rolling around on the ground. It's not fun.”


Even Cormier, the champion who had just submitted Johnson with a choke in round two, couldn't believe what was unfolding. Speaking almost on behalf of the UFC and the sport as a whole, he said, “I hope he isn't walking away. He has to so much more to do.”


As for the fight, apparently AJ's last, the challenger's peculiar decision to stay close to the champion, thus smothering his own work, and neglect his striking was the key storyline. There were other subplots – Johnson broke Cormier's nose with a left kick in round one, for example – but the thing which kept the audience both hooked and bemused was this theory that Cormier could be conquered with a series of takedown attempts executed by the most lethal striker in the light-heavyweight division.


It was, in reality, an odd sight to behold, if only because whenever an attempt failed, which was often, they'd become locked up against the fence, from where Cormier would control Johnson with high under-hooks. And even when Johnson did secure a takedown and get Cormier on his back it was only ever momentarily; Cormier would rise quickly and then, in the blink of an eye, emerge in a far more advantageous position.


By round two a couple of things had been established. One, the bookmakers who installed Johnson as a narrow pre-fight favourite were way out. And, two, Johnson's game plan was in great danger of making the fight even easier for Cormier than it had been the first time the pair met in May 2015.


Let's face it, the 38-year-old champion couldn't have hoped for a better sequence of events going into the rematch. Before him was a challenger playing into his hands in every possible sense. A challenger getting close when he needed distance. A challenger wrestling when he needed to strike. A challenger, worst of all, emptying a gas tank traditionally only half-full. Cormier couldn't believe his luck.


In truth, the finish was the most predictable thing about the whole affair. It occurred in round two, shortly after Cormier, now 19-1, took Johnson's back the way he did multiple times in fight number one, and the ensuing Johnson tap, triggered by a rear-naked choke, was as swift as it was inevitable. It came at 3:37 of the round.


“I have no excuses,” said Johnson, who leaves the sport with a record of 22-6. “I lost again to the better man.”


Johnson wasn't dealing excuses in Buffalo. Nor strikes, as it happened. He was instead dealing bombshells.  

Safe to say the knee of Yoel Romero slamming into his face when shooting for a takedown wasn't how New Yorker Chris Weidman imagined his long-awaited Madison Square Garden dream turning out. Wasn't what he expected, wasn't what he forecast, certainly wasn't what he wanted. But it was, nevertheless, the violent reality of the situation in November, when Cuba's Romero improvised and let fly in round three of their fight, thus handing Weidman his second defeat on the trot.


It would have been a painful defeat on any other day, at any other time, but was one made all the more painful given its context: Madison Square Garden, New York City, Weidman's hometown; an event, New York's first, which had been so long in the making; an event for which Weidman was a poster boy; an event for which he had fought and promoted and been doing so for years. This all combined to make a shocking defeat not only that but also the toughest of Weidman's otherwise stellar professional MMA career. It was a defeat akin to getting beaten up in full view of his family. On his birthday. The result hurt more than the knee. It wasn't supposed to be like this.


This Saturday (April 8) Weidman goes again. He fights again, in a match with Dutchman Gegard Mousasi, his first since the Romero shocker, and does so again in New York, albeit in Buffalo rather than on the hallowed grounds of MSG.


Whatever the location, this fight is absolutely crucial for the former UFC middleweight champion. Without a win since May 2015, he needs one of them, desperately, and he also needs to cast out any demons that may linger as a consequence of Yoel Romero's knee scrambling his senses and wrecking every planned homecoming party scheduled that weekend in and around the Baldwin area. His ability to do this – put the horror to the back of his mind – will have a major bearing on whether or not he gets the result he wants against Mousasi. At this point, he just needs a win.


“I think I need to prove myself – number one,” Weidman said on last week's UFC 210 conference call. “I've got to put on good performances. That's what I want to do. I want to go out there, put on a good performance and then I hope the people back me and want to see me fight for the title. They want to see what's going on. I am just going to keep fighting whoever they (UFC) put in front of me.”


The desperation of a challenger is something Weidman, 32, has yet to encounter. Long the prospect, the phenom, the heir apparent, and then eventually the champion, the Ray Longo-trained fighter has always possessed an air of calm, both inside and outside the Octagon, and has benefitted from being the all-American hero of whom great things are expected.


How quickly things change. First Luke Rockhold stopped him in December 2015, snatching his UFC middleweight title in the process, and then Romero tore up the script 11 months later. Now Weidman, 13-2, is not even a winning fighter, much less a champion. He's not the best middleweight in the world, nor is he being called the potential best middleweight in the world. Weidman, instead, has simpler ideas and steps. One at a time. Baby ones. He has designs solely on getting better, improving his fortunes. Better yet, winning.


“I've been more motivated for this fight, and I really got myself in a great place mentally, spiritually and physically,” he said. “I just feel great – healthy. I'm excited to go out there and put on a show.”


As well as being one of the best middleweights in the world, Gegard Mousasi, Weidman's opponent, is also remarkably composed in the cage and has the swagger of a man for whom this isn't his first rodeo. In fact, it could be argued Mousasi, an experienced dark horse of the division, is the toughest kind of opponent for someone like Weidman, a guy looking to rebound and rebuild, because he is buoyed by two things Weidman currently lacks: form and confidence.


Heading into Saturday's fight, Mousasi's confidence is a by-product of Weidman losing his last two fights, but also the result of his own recent form, specifically three consecutive stoppage wins against Uriah Hall, Vitor Belfort and Thiago Santos. Those three knockouts, all racked up during a productive 2016, heralded the emergence of a less sleepy and more dynamic Mousasi, a contender keen to get the job done, make an impression, justify a title shot. They signified a fighter hitting his prime.


“I know how Chris Weidman's going to fight,” Mousasi, 31, said on last week's UFC 210 conference call. “He's going to come forward, he's going to try to put the pressure on me, work on the cardio, do some wrestling, do some striking. But, at the end of the day, I'm prepared. I know exactly what he's going to do. I'm more than prepared. I've got my skills, and I'm going to show it on April 8. I'm very confident.”


Mousasi, 41-6-2, has always projected a quiet confidence, but never more so than right now. For good reason, too. He exacted sweet revenge when knocking out Uriah Hall in the first round of their rematch last November, and with that came a liberation and a chance to start afresh. Grey clouds shifted and questions were answered and Mousasi now approaches his bout with Weidman this weekend boasting a freedom the New Yorker once possessed but currently seeks.


It's not a belt. It's bigger than that, more important than that. While Mousasi fights Weidman for the chance to one day win something Weidman formerly held, Weidman wants some of what Mousasi has now: form, momentum, confidence. Without them, a tough sport becomes even tougher.  


A risky knee, a referee's call, a time-out, a stubborn doctor and, in summary, a series of unfortunate events combined to deliver Gegard Mousasi a wholly unsatisfying second round TKO victory over Chris Weidman last night in Buffalo, New York.


Nobody went home happy. Not Mousasi, the victor; certainly not Weidman, the man who felt most hard done by; not the officials, confused by a flashpoint and left exposed by the New York State Athletic Commission's ruling on replays (replays are off-limits for officials); not the fans, those who paid good money to watch what was otherwise a fascinating crossroads fight at middleweight.


From Gegard Mousasi's point of view, he did very little wrong. In round two, with Weidman in a crouch, one hand on the floor, the other hovering, the Dutchman landed a knee to the American's head, after which Weidman dropped his other hand to the floor to remove the possibility of a repeat dose. Exploiting the rule, it was an intelligent move on Weidman's part. It should have made Mousasi hesitate, think, call off the onslaught. It guaranteed protection, a momentary respite.


But Mousasi went one better. He hoisted Weidman ever-so-slightly, thus removing the former champion's hands from the floor, and then, timed to perfection, reacquainted his knee with Weidman's head, a shot perfectly legal yet one in the heat of the moment considered illegal in the view of both Weidman and, more importantly, referee Dan Miragliotta.


Time was called, Mousasi was admonished, Weidman was given five minutes to recover. All seemed to be in order.


Moments later, however, a series of replays told the truth; shown on the big screen, they revealed just how well-timed Mousasi's knee had been and how ill-timed Miragliotta's subsequent intervention had been.


All of a sudden the picture changed. Weidman was no longer hurt by illegal means but had instead been hurt and sent to the floor legally. What's more, the doctors who had entered the Octagon and deemed a protesting Weidman unfit to continue, were now the ones responsible for the fight ending and Weidman heading home with a defeat as opposed to a disqualification win.


As the picture changed, so too did the faces. Weidman, once seemingly in control, carried a look of panic, one mimicked by Miragliotta, whereas Mousasi, once apologetic, now felt wronged to have been interrupted in his pursuit of a finish. The discomfort was palpable.


The result, meanwhile, after it was established Weidman couldn't continue, was recorded as a Mousasi stoppage win three minutes and thirteen seconds into round number two.


Gegard, 41-6-2, never one for emotion at the best of the times, could do little but shrug at the end of it all. He said, “That's not my fault. I wanted to continue. He can have his rematch, no problem. I think he could have continued but he was stalling. I apologise to Weidman – I like the guy.”


Weidman, on the other hand, a New Yorker currently prone to catching knees rather than breaks, appeared on the brink of tears when he said, “I think that was an illegal knee. Both my hands were 100% down.”


It was then Weidman, 13-3, coming to terms with his third straight defeat, was shown the replay and his face changed once again; gone was the look of indignation, replaced instead by a why-always-me? look of exasperation.


They needed replays in Buffalo. That much is certain. And now, as a consequence of not having that luxury, the fight itself needs a replay. 



Other UFC 210 results:


Women's strawweight: Cynthia Calvillo defeated Peal Gonzalez via submission in round three (3:45)


Welterweight: Thiago Alves defeated Patrick Côté via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)


Lightweight: Charles Oliveira defeated Will Brooks via submission in round one (2:30)





Featherweight: Myles Jury defeated Mike De La Torre via TKO in round one (3:30)


Welterweight: Kamaru Usman defeated Sean Strickland via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-26, 30-26)


Featherweight: Shane Burgos defeated Charles Rosa via TKO in round three (1:59)


Light-Heavyweight: Patrick Cummings defeated Jan Blachowicz vis majority decision (29-8, 29-28, 28-28)


Lightweight: Gregor Gillespie defeated Andrew Holbrook via KO in round one (0:21)


Lightweight: Desmond Green defeated Josh Emmett via split-decision (28-29, 29-28, 30-27)


Women's Bantamweight: Katlyn Chookagian defeated Irene Aldana via split-decision (28-29, 29-28, 29-28)


Flyweight: Magomed Bibulatov defeated Jenel Lausa via unanimous decision (29-26, 29-26, 29-26)




Back due to necessity rather than popular demand, Rafael Carvalho, Bellator's middleweight champion, faces Melvin Manhoef for a second time this Saturday (April 8) at Bellator 176 in Torino, Italy.


An important rematch, as opposed to one which gets pulses racing, the pair's first fight, a five-rounder in Boise, Idaho last May, was far from a classic, yet ended with Carvalho holding on to his belt thanks to a rather fortuitous split-decision verdict. One judge scored the fight 49-47 to Manhoef, while the other two went for Carvalho by the same score. Most who endured the fight, though, believed Manhoef, the veteran globetrotter boasting just three wins from his previous seven fights, was hard done by and did more than enough to walk home as the new champion.


It wasn't to be. Carvalho successfully, if not impressively, notched the first defence of a belt he won when stopping Brandon Halsey with a body kick in 2015, and Manhoef, 30-13-1, licked his wounds and hoped justice would prevail in the form of a rematch.


“It's no excuse, but for that fight I had a very challenging training camp,” Carvalho, 13-1, told MMAjunkie. “I had one injury after another. I fought with my shoulder and lower back both hurt. And on fight day, I hurt my foot, so I fought per our strategy.


“I believe that I, as the champion, walk in with a certain advantage. I can fight within a very strict strategy. I watch that fight video every so often, and I don’t see how he did more to deserve to be champion.


“He threw strikes that didn’t connect. He circled. He moved forward very little. I dominated the center of the cage. I cut him off. I took him down.


“People may say that I didn't fight as a champion, but Melvin didn't do more than me to deserve victory. Now, when we meet again, it's going to be a different story.”


Let's hope so. Let's hope for a different kind of story this weekend.


Whether a case of righting a wrong or merely confirming – with a bit more authority – the same result, there's a definite sense Carvalho and Manhoef need to sort out their differences, establish some sort of clarity and settle this thing once and for all. Anyone who saw the first fight will know they aren't reuniting in the name of entertainment or because of any burning desire on the part of fans. Instead, it's happening because it must. Moreover, it's happening because Manhoef, a well-travelled Dutchman who has represented pretty much every organization outside the UFC, deserves another chance, and because Carvalho, a champion debilitated mid-fight first time round, deserves the chance to show what he can do when fit and healthy.


Indeed, the rematch was originally slated for December 2016, again on Italian soil, but was scuppered on account of an injury to Carvalho. He's over that now, he claims, repaired and ready to go, and has even gone as far as to say there will be no judges required for defence number two; he has guaranteed a knockout within the five rounds. One suspects 40-year-old Manhoef, too, will promise fireworks and a finish.


We only hope this time one of them is proved correct. For their sake. And for ours.


Today's Bellator 176 weigh-in results:


Bellator 176: Carvalho vs. Manhoef II Main Card:


Middleweight World Title Bout: Rafael Carvalho (184.4 lbs.) vs. Melvin Manhoef (184.5 lbs.)


Women’s Catchweight Fight: Anastasia Yankova (133 lbs.) vs. Elina Kallionidou (131 lbs.)


Lightweight Feature Fight: Djamil Chan (156 lbs.) vs. Valeriu Mircea (153.5 lbs.)


Lightweight Feature Fight: Samba Coulibaly (155.25 lbs.) vs. Mihail Nica (153.5 lbs.)



Bellator Kickboxing 5 Main Card:


Lightweight Feature Fight: Giorgio Petrosyan (153.34 lbs.) vs. Amansio Paraschiv (153.78 lbs.)


Women’s Flyweight World Title Bout: Denise Kielholtz (123.2 lbs.) vs. Martine Michieletto (123.86 lbs.)


Catchweight Feature Fight: Nando Calzetta (154.88 lbs.) vs. John Wayne Parr (160.38 lbs.)


Welterweight Feature Fight: Mustapha Haida (157.52 lbs.) vs. Enriko Kehl (157.3 lbs.)


Featherweight Feature Fight: Gaston Bolanos (146.08 lbs.) vs. Luca D’isanto (142.56 lbs.)

Two years ago, at UFC 187, Anthony ‘Rumble’ Johnson cracked the chin of Daniel Cormier with a right hand in round one that sent the Louisiana-native across the Octagon and hurtling towards the deck, and it’s that right hand, and the momentary mayhem it triggered, which provides the main point of intrigue ahead of the pair’s second UFC light-heavyweight title fight this Saturday (April 8) at UFC 210 in Buffalo, New York.

In truth, had it not been for that overhand right, Johnson’s single success in the bout, this rematch would rouse little in the way of interest. After all, Cormier, woken by the haymaker to his jaw, submitted Johnson two rounds later, in the third, and rag-dolled him from near enough the moment the aforementioned right hand landed to the moment the Floridian tapped.

But that was then and this is now and Johnson, the ever-expanding one-time welterweight, has won three fights since and defeated the likes of Jimi Manuwa, Ryan Bader and Glover Teixeira. What’s more, he has claimed those scalps the Anthony Johnson way, which is to say by cutting through each contender within the scheduled distance and in typically violent fashion. Teixeira, the last to fall at the feet of ‘Rumble’, was coldcocked by an uppercut after just 13 seconds of the first round; in total, Johnson has landed this rematch with Cormier off the back of just seven minutes and seven seconds of cage time, a startling statistic that shines a light not only on the dearth of challengers out there but also the speed at which Johnson is able to do damage; indeed, there is perhaps no deadlier first-round fighter on the planet.

Cynics will argue, however, that Johnson’s strengths today are the same as they were in 2015. They will say Johnson still possesses the power to hurt, stun and possibly even stop Cormier early; that he is still explosive and dangerous for every moment he’s upright; that he is still, in Cormier’s words, a serious threat for seven minutes. So what’s new? We were privy to this information two years ago.

“When we talk about him being a completely different fighter, I don’t necessarily know what you guys are basing this on,” Cormier said during last week’s UFC 210’s media conference call. “He beat Jimi Manuwa and he took him down, but of course he’s going to take Jimi Manuwa down. He’s a wrestler. Jimi Manuwa can’t wrestle. Then you’re talking about him and Ryan Bader. If I would’ve shot on Anthony from across the Octagon, he would’ve done the same thing to me. He fought for a total of seven minutes since him and I fought, but he’s this completely different fighter? I have no idea where you guys are getting this from.”

For Johnson, it’s not just about the quickness of his post-Cormier success. There’s more to it than that. Cormier’s right: rate of improvement cannot be assessed on a mere seven minutes and seven seconds of Octagon work. It’s the stuff that goes on behind closed doors that Johnson feels has made a difference to him and will therefore make all the difference on April 8. He’ll point to the work he has done with Neil Melanson, for example, the renowned grappling coach brought onboard after the first Cormier fight, as being indicative of a fighter aware of his flaws and keen to minimise them.

“I’m definitely not the same fighter I was two years ago,” Johnson said. “Every day, every week, every month, every year I’m getting better and better, so you’ll see a different guy out there the next time you see me fight.

“The loss definitely lit a fire under my ass to train harder and I know what I need to do to beat this guy.”

Nobody doubts the knowledge Johnson will have gleaned from fight number one. If he isn’t able to see why he lost the first Cormier fight – when fired up by early success, when on the brink, he thought, of finishing the fight, only to be kneaded like dough for two-and-a-half-rounds – there’s little hope. He wouldn’t have needed two years to work out what went wrong. It would have taken him less than two minutes.

But it’s one thing realising the mistakes of the past and another thing being able to rectify them. Furthermore, though Johnson, at 33, is not beyond the age of improving, his is a style which hardly lends itself to refining, much less an overhaul of the kind he’d probably need in order to flourish against Cormier for any longer than five minutes. There’s a disparity in their striking skills, just as there is in their wrestling skills, but there’s a far greater disparity in the latter than there is the former. And Johnson knows this just as Cormier knows this.

“The majority of the (MMA) community believes I’m just a first-round fighter because most of my fights end in the first round,” Johnson said. “But they’re entitled to their opinion, and that’s fine with me. I have nothing to prove to anybody but myself.”

As is the case with the majority of Anthony Johnson fights, there’s an inevitability to the first round on Saturday night that makes it must-watch for us and dangerous for Daniel Cormier. We know he will start fast. He has no choice but to start fast. We also know it serves him well to capitalise on the moment; meaning, when the two are upright, when he’s relatively fresh, when his sizeable muscles have yet to be starved of oxygen and ransacked by lactic acid. But, equally, the surprise element of Johnson’s blitzkrieg is somewhat diluted this time around, one, because Daniel Cormier, a part-time UFC commentator, possesses one of the most impressive analytical minds in the game and, two, because he has seen it all before.

Moreover, there’s a sense Cormier has grown into his role as UFC light-heavyweight champion. Gone is the feeling he is there by default or merely keeping the seat warm for someone else. He believes it now. Feels he belongs. Feels dominant. The evidence is there, too: Johnson, the man many perceive to be the next best active 205-pound fighter in the world, was handled by Cormier with relative ease and DC followed that with a successful title defence against Alexander Gustafsson and a late-notice, non-title job against Anderson Silva at UFC 200; the enigmatic Jon Jones, he of former UFC glories and latterly an orange jumpsuit, is still the only man to conquer Cormier.

Cormier might not shock or shine like Johnson – boos soundtracked his UFC 200 stinker with Silva – but he’s as consistent and dependable as anyone in MMA right now. There’s a solidity to the 38-year-old from Lafayette. Solid frame, solid foundations, solid game plan, solid bet. It’s what makes Johnson’s task on Saturday night so difficult.

Knowledge, they say, is power. Yet the knowledge Johnson, the most powerful man at 205-pounds, extracted from the events of May 23, 2015 – the night he last tasted defeat – pales in comparison to the knowledge Cormier possessed before that date, after that date and today, just days from fight number two.

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