What a helluva way to kick off the new year.
Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) leaves a ho-hum 2014 in the dust with a slam-bang UFC 182 pay-per-view (PPV) event, headlined by Jon Jones vs. Daniel Cormier, in what looks to be the biggest light heavyweight grudge match since Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz went to war way back in '04.
That was a decade ago, if you're in the mood to feel old.
Elsewhere on the card, Hector Lombard continues to loiter in the welterweight "mix" by throwing hands with the returning Josh Burkman. That's in addition to a lightweight co-main that will prove if Myles Jury has been side-stepping landmines en route to a 15-0 record, or is in fact, the real deal.
"Fury" just has to mow down Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone to prove it.
205 lbs.: Jon "Bones" Jones (20-1) vs. Daniel "DC" Cormier (15-0)
Nostradumbass predicts: When people talk about the Alexander Gustafsson fight as proof that Jon Jones is vulnerable, I think it overlooks a couple of important points. Aside from the fact that "Bones" -- like everyone else on the planet -- expected it to be a lopsided squash, the champ had never really faced an opponent of that size.
Especially one as talented as "The Mauler."
We learned a lot about Jones in that pivotal contest. Not only does he have a sturdy beard, he's as dangerous in the last round as he is in the first. That's what makes his title defense against Daniel Cormier so intriguing. Across three rounds, I might take "DC" with greater certainty.
It's those extra two that give me pause.
Part of Jones' formidable offense is his mystique, coupled with his insane reach. Opponents trying to work their way inside are usually shot down like a pixelated biplane in Atari's COMBAT, as the champ has a frightening array of kicks that do more than just hurt.
That said, this idea that Cormier can't get inside -- despite looking like he was plucked from the Lollipop Guild -- is silly. His speed and agility cannot be overstated and his wrestling credentials speak for themselves. If he wants to take you down, you're going down.
Remember, this is a guy who took Josh Barnett to the moon on a high crotch and "The Warmaster" fights north of 250 pounds. Jones may be tall and powerful, but his center of gravity will betray him. The X-factor is how long Cormier can keep his opponent grounded, as well as how long he can keep that pace going after absorbing cumulative damage.
Just as we can expect "Bones" to get dragged to the floor, we can expect "DC" to get lit up with strikes.
Cormier will look dominant in the opening frame and a strong second round would not surprise me, either. But as Jones finds his sea legs and adjusts to the cyclical attack of the challenger, he will undoubtedly make the necessary adjustments and claim the second half of the fight.
Will it be too little, too late?
This championship contest is happening in Las Vegas, the fight capital of the world, and a lot of weird shit happens in "Sin City." But one thing that is very hard to do, is win a fifth and final round when your opponent is punching -- and you're not.
Final prediction: Jones def. Cormier via unanimous decision
155 lbs.: Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone (25-6) vs. Myles "Fury" Jury (15-0)
Nostradumbass predicts: Myles Jury has been yapping about the lack of respect given by fans and media this past year, and to be honest, the promotion shoulders some of the blame. Without a signature win, it's difficult to gauge just how good "Fury" is, or will eventually be.
We're about to find out.
Much has been made about his 15-0 record (in spite of this), which is a considerable feat in a division as deep as lightweight, but his most-celebrated wins come against washed-up punching bags in the form of Diego Sanchez and Takanori Gomi.
For my money, his decision victory over No. 12-ranked Michael Johnson was the more telling performance.
Beating Donald Cerrone is not impossible, but it certainly doesn't help Jury that of his six losses, "Cowboy" has only been defeated by current/former champions, or division No. 1 contenders (that includes Rafael dos Anjos, who is expected to get the next shot at Anthony Pettis).
It's also no secret that for all his bravado, Cerrone struggles in the opening frame. Edson Barboza nearly had their fight in the bag before succumbing to the epic jab of doom. That said, I have trouble accepting a finish by "Fury" in the first round, which is probably what it would take to seal the deal.
As for the wrestling, it's likely a wash. These two want to bang.
Once "Cowboy" takes over in the second stanza and gets his Muay Thai groove on, Jury's going to abandon the pressure game in favor of run-and-gun. He's a fleet-footed counter-striker and Cerrone is hittable, so I predict a much closer fight than some fans are expecting.
Ultimately, this could boil down to a game of volume vs. damage.
Final prediction: Cerrone def. Jury via split decision
185 lbs.: Nate "The Great" Marquardt (33-13-2) vs. Brad Tavares (12-3)
Nostradumbass predicts: Brad Tavares is now 10 fights into his UFC career and isn't ranked in the top 15. In addition, his only finish came back in 2011, when he popped and dropped a bottomed-out Phil Baroni. Add to that a two-fight losing streak and this could be the last time we see the Hawaiian inside the cage.
That all depends, however, on which Nate Marquardt shows up tomorrow night in Vegas.
If it's the same guy who took Tyron Woodley to the woodshed -- and went full Mortal Kombat on Wilson Gouveia -- we may need to have a stretcher on standby. But if this is the same Marquardt who laid an egg during a horrific 2013 fight campaign, he'll likely get run over.
That's unfortunate, because "The Great" is the better striker, has more power, and is good enough on the ground to give any competitor the fits. His mental game, on the other hand, is about as reliable as his chin at age 35, so picking him does not come with a great deal of confidence.
When push comes to shove, Marquardt's level of competition is above and beyond anything his opponent has faced at this point in his career and the former Strikeforce champion has more finishes than Tavares has total fights. Marquardt may have fallen a bit these last few years, but not far enough to lose a bout like this.
Final prediction: Marquardt def. Tavares via unanimous decision
125 lbs.: Louis "Goodnight" Gaudinot (6-3) vs. Kyoji Horiguchi (14-1)
Nostradumbass predicts: The flyweight division is about as desperate for a contender as Japan is for a fighter who can cross over to UFC without getting stepped on. Kyoji Horiguchi has the opportunity to satisfy both needs in what will be his fourth straight appearance inside the Octagon.
So far, so good.
The former Shooto striker has looked outstanding to date, but let's also put some perspective on those wins. Dustin Pague hasn't won a fight since the Bush administration, while Darrell Montague and Jon Delos Reyes are a combined 0-4 in UFC.
Not exactly the stuff of legend.
In addition, Louis Gaudinot is not the pushover his record suggests. He made an example of a fat Jon Lineker in the Brazilian's UFC debut, and also made Phil Harris quit -- though it was eventually overturned due to a failed drug test (diuretic).
How does he win this fight?
I'm not sure he can. Horiguchi is the better striker, as well as the better wrestler. Gaudinot is ever the opportunist, but I can't imagine he's going to have many openings to capitalize on when the shit hits the proverbial fan. He's going to be fighting defensively and the only victory "Goodnight" gets is the moral one for not being finished.
Final prediction: Horiguchi def. Gaudinot via unanimous decision
170 lbs.: Hector "Showeather" Lombard (34-4-1) vs. Josh "The People's Warrior" Burkman (27-10)
Nostradumbass predicts: In 40 professional fights, Hector Lombard has just four losses and has never been finished. And I don't even know if two of those defeats qualify as "oh he got beat by Fighter X" because "Showeather" was just clomping around the cage, perhaps forgetting you have to actually throw a punch to win a fight.
That's what makes it so difficult to build a credible argument for Josh Burkman.
"The People's Warrior" is a lot tougher than some fans give him credit for and one of his greatest attributes is his will to win. He's not scared of Lombard and like his opponent, has never been knocked out in his career, one that happens to span more than 10 years.
That said, there isn't an area in this fight where he's better than his Cuban counterpart. More power that Lombard? Puh-leeze. The Olympian folded Nate Marquardt like a paper airplane. Better grappling? Ask Jake Shields what it's like to roll with the former Bellator champ.
Burkman's best hope is that Lombard mails in the first frame, then gasses in the third. If "The People's Warrior" can stay away from the big punch and look busy for three rounds, it's possible he can squeak by on the judges' scorecards, a la Tim Boetsch.
But who am I kidding ... this kid is getting smashed.
Final prediction: Lombard def. Burkman via technical knockout
That's a wrap.
MMAmania.com will provide LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 182 fight card tomorrow night (Sat., Jan. 3., 2015) RIGHT HERE, starting with the Fight Pass "Prelims" matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. ET, right on through the FOX Sports 1-televised under card bouts at 8 p.m. ET and then main card PPV, which is slated to begin at 10 p.m. ET.
For previews and predictions on the preliminary card fights click here and here. To see all the odds and betting lines for UFC 182 click here and remember to come check us out after the show for all the latest results, recaps and coverage of "Jones vs. Cormier."
What do you think? Now it's your turn ... let us have it in the comments section and share your thoughts and picks for tomorrow night's event.
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